Sunday, July 22, 2007

Last Day

It's the last night of my vacation in Cancun and while I'm not overwhelmingly stoked to return to work in 36 hours, I am most definitely ready to come home. I feel disenheartened to complain so much about this trip for which I invested a great deal of time, money, energy and enthusiasm. To all those who treated my pronouncement of a solo vacation with awed epithets and adulations of bravery, I feel almost humbled. Sure, I made the bold choice to take this trip and fling myself in, full of unbridled spunk as I do in so many of my life's endeavors.
Given the description of my accomodations by my travel agent - great location, lots of singles, built-in activities - all the variables should have fallen into place with a few "alone days" sandwiched by outings to local drinking establishments with my new-found, if temporary friends. Unfortunately and rather cruely, this did not come to pass. My hotel is located far from Cancun's many nocturnal attractions, making a late-night bus trip back alone potentially dangerous. Additionally, the hotel seems to attract mostly couples, either on a honeymoon or another type of getaway that makes 3rd or 5th wheeling awkward. While I have met some good people, spending time with them occurs by pure happenstance. No one has made solid plans with me, meaning the choice of eating alone or with live humans depend solely on timing.
Making my hotel even more frustrating is the sudden appearance of scores of children, white trash (complete with mullets) and scantily-clad Italians (travelling in co-ed packs, meaning no Paolo for this Rachel). While the basic rules of human harmony prevent me from castigating the latter two groups, the hotel's supposed "adults only" policy gives me plenty of room to gripe about the prescence of rugrats, rapper poseur tweens, crying babies and unwanted pool splashers.
In the interest of learning from my own mistakes and of helping you, dear reader, avoid making your vacations anything less than fabulous, I offer a few quick travel tips:
1. RESEARCH! Read, check everything out on the Internet, make some calls, ask some friends and then read some more.
2. Always wear sunscreen.
3. Remember that "all-inclusive" is a relative term.
4. Approach boats, motorized vehicles and escalators with appropriate caution and respect.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Lesson Learned

Blogger's note: The computer ate this post the last time I typed it up and I've been out of town for a few days so it has taken me a while to catch up. Only one or two more left from Cancun, I promise!

There are times when even the most rebellious among us must concede that our mothers were right about something... never talk to strangers.
Tonight I made a little excursion downstairs to find out if my calling card worked. It didn't, so I made a stop at the bar because I'd seen someone there who I'd met earlier in the week. My acquaintance was talking to some guy I hadn't seen yet and who was both a little drunk and very European. It was quickly mentioned that I am single which was both slightly embarrassing and rather inconvenient. The dude, who's half-Polish, half-German and inexplicably speaks Spanish, speaks very limited English but knows enough to randomly invite me to his brother's home in Spain. He also begins to quiz me about my dating status. In light of the fact that he kept touching my arm, hip and shoulder, I quickly invented a boyfriend. "Why is he not here with you?" he asked."Oh, well I planned this trip 6 months ago and I've only been seeing this guy for about 2 months so it was too late for him to make plans," I quickly replied, mentally patting myself on the back for such quick thinking.
"Do you think he is the one?" he inquired. Drawing on my Spanish skills, I said, "Vamos a ver, we'll see."
He then asked, "Will you go directly to the priest for a blessing when you get home?"
In Spanish, I answered that I'm not Catholic and that I'm a Jew.
He literally backed off about six feet. This, not the revelation that I have a boyfriend is what finally got him out of my face. Already plotting my escape, he proceeds to call my fictitious boyfriend a “pussy.” Of course, he knows this English epithet.
Here I draw the line and to quote Carrie Bradshaw, I can’t have anyone talking shit about my boyfriend. I thank him for the company and hightail it out of there.
Comfortably ensconced in my hotel room with Saturday Night Live reruns, I wanna give a little shout out to my mom who taught me to never talk to stranger. Happy Birthday Mom!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Dia Cinco: La Isla Bonita

Still on detox from an overly ambitious meals in downtown Cancun, I ate a granola bar, OJ and one of those Dannin Activia drinks in my room rather than putting my body through another morning of fried food and processed fruit at the buffet. Satisfied by the bounty of the local 7-11 equivalent, I headed out to Isla Mujeres.
I got thoroughly snookered by the tour operators into taking this excursion for $60 on their boat versus jumping on the $8 public ferry as I'd originally planned. Despite the cost, there were some positive outcomes. On the pleasure boat ride over, I met two guys my age from LA. Though they never got my real name and spent most of the day under the impression that I had come to Cancun with friends who were back at the hotel pool, they became great traveling companions. We quickly decided our docking site and its attractions were too family-oriented and too hot, so we eventually got a taxi into town and rented mopeds.
All my readers who know me personally can attest to my klutziness and incapacity to grasp anything too technical (ironically, I AM coordinated enough to African dance). Therefore, it should come as no surprise that early into my moped excursion, I jumped a curb and fell off the bike, seriously bruising my legs below the knee and getting a nasty cut. This, just as my shins had finally recovered from December's infamous escalator incedent!
Despite this initial setback, I got the hang of things and had a great time cruising around the five-mile island, stopping to take pictures with my new friends, visit one last set of Mayan ruins and feel the island breeze.
Friday evening, I magically timed my dinner in the hotel buffet to coincide with many of the people I've met so far. I pulled up a chair to eat with one couple and then traipsed around the dining room to chat with other friends as they chomped down copious amounts of shrimp and plasticine-tasting cake.
After dinner, we cruised up to the outdoor bar and I finally slugged back enough watered-down Corona served in plastic cups to get a mild buzz. Rounds of stories about work, dating, high school football, bad movies and differences between British and American slang (a few guys were from England) followed, much to my conversationally-deprived delight. Though not the prototypical Cancun evening, I headed back to my room feeling for the first time on this vacation like I'd had a great night. This day and night were finally representative of the kind of vacation I'd anticipated.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Dia Cuatro: Que Lastima

Apparently, even on vacation it's possible to have bad days. Today started well enough, breakfast at the hotel and then the pool and beach. I've tried to be a responsible tanner during this trip with plenty of SPF 45 applied multiple times daily. My best efforts failed me and I got burned quite a bit today. I'm holding out for this to turn pleasantly golden soon enough.
The brightside of staying at the hotel all day was that I saw the people I've already met and made some new friends. Plus, I got to speak English all day which was a welcome change.
From there, things have gone downhill. I've battled waves of nausea, had $40 stolen from my room (which the hotel staff doesn't seem to care much about), and on the way back from dinner, my sandal broke. It is currently held together by a staple and scotch tape arrangement worthy of McGuyver.
Because of the theft, I only have $20 US to last me for the rest of the trip and the ATMs here only give pesos. I've paid for a lot with my credit cards and luckily they haven't yet minded all the charges from Mexico.
Thus, at 8:30 p.m., I have (wisely) retired to my room to watch tv and order room service. Besides, tomorrow I'm off to Isla Mujeres.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Dia Tres: La Ciudad

Today I decided to do some more sightseeing of the adventurous variety. Fortified by a random collection of breakfast foods, I set off for Ruinas del Rey a small Mayan site about 2 kilometers from my hotel. I didn't stick around too long since the site was full of iguanas who chased me and the extreme heat didn't help either.
I pressed on, this time by bus, to a big shopping center complete with a drugstore stocking cortisone for my mosquito bites, an Internet cafe and the nicest bathroom I've seen in Mexico. If you are ever in Cancun, I highly recommend Plaza Kukulkan.
My next stop was the Embarcadero and the Museo del Arte Popular. For $5 US, you get an audio guide (in the form of an old-school Walkman) and admission to this fascinating and charming museum of folk art from all over Mexico. The museum is sorted by object type: musical instruments, masks, nativity scenes, gourds, etc. The also have life-size scenes of pastoral Mexican life in the mercado, the home kitchen and the church. It's not a big space, but the collection is staggering. Here are some pics.
Another public bus ride takes me into downtown Cancun, which I am pretty much the only white person randomly walking around. As I mentioned earlier, my Spanish skills have proven invaluable and today they got put to the test since I had to ask no fewer than four people for directions to a restaurant I had read about in my guidebook. Specializing in Yucatanean cuisine, Labna lived up to its expectations, even though I was the only person in the restaurant at first. My waiter, Tomas, proved that Mexican hospitality is supreme and he even walked me through the kitchen in order to give me better directions to my next stop.
Market 28 is similarly hyped in the guide books as THE place for souvenirs and it sadly does not live up to the hype. It's one tacky shop after another and if you don't have the stomach to say no a lot and to haggle, then don't come. (Plus, I found out later that the bargains are sometimes better in the Hotel Zone.) Luckily, I can count in Spanish and have some balls so I found a few good gifts.
Desperately needing some lighter, healthier food, I retraced my steps to 100% Natural, a local chain of sandwich/smoothie/granola-type shops that has tons of vegetarian options. I got a snack and waited out the day's second rain shower. A short walk takes me to the appropriate bus and I make it back to the hotel in time to catch a few rays.
Now I'm relaxing with a little Mythbusters (in English!) before dinner and a possible dancing excursion. Tomorrow I'll finally channel my sister and have a lowkey day by the pool and beach... of course, I may still try to sneak in a trip to the gym.

Dia Dos

Tonight's entry is bound to be shorter because I've been up since 6:45 a.m. (no thanks to the wake up call I had requested for 6:30 but didn't get until 6:50), because it's now 12:30 a.m. and I've been up meeting new people AND because really bad porn is on TV.
Why get up so early? Today, I went to the Mayan ruins at Tulum which were amazingly set on cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The ruins are small compared to other sites in the Yucatan, but are still architecturally and archaeologically fascinating.
After Tulum, our bus went to Xel-Ha, a water park on steroids. Imagine Sunsplash, Raging Waters or whatever you had where you grew up with real, natural water, a picturesque setting and free Mexican food! You can go tubing down a river, snorkel, play with dolphins and snuba which is some bizarre combo of snorkeling and scuba that I declined to try.
Since I'm not such a fan of swimming in non-chlorinated bodies of water, I opted for tubing and then lunch, a massage and a little laying out. Everything was great and I was the most relaxed that I've been in ages... until I realized that my massage exposed me to crazy mosquitos who took advantage of my partially clothed status and bit me! Sadly, the most action I've gotten on this trip is having the first aid guy at Xel-Ha dab antiseptic and cortisone on the top of my right breast. Fun!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Shtetl Fabulosa en Mexico!

Just a preface.... the next several posts are all dispatches I wrote while in Cancun. I've tried to back date them appropriately, starting with "today" - July 16 - my first day away. If you have no interest in my vacation travels and only read this blog for my rants on race and a few good laughs at the expense of my love life, then come back in a week or two. I should be up to something new by then.

Well it's about the end of my first day in Cancun and I've learned a few things. One, my originally buoyant enthusiasm has been somewhat dampened bt the ubiquitous humidity and the absent A/C in my hotel's lobby. Two, I found the hotel staff doesn't always tell you critical pieces of information. Such as: you have to make dinner reservations several hours in advance. In order to receive a towel, you need a towel card, but the hotel only has towels until around 5:30 p.m. Three, the Casa Bonita episode of South Park is even funnier in Spanish. Four, I remember quite of bit of my high school Spanish which is great for watching South Park. It was also useful during dinner tonight with my new Mexican friends from the city of Monterrey. Leave it to me to find the one fag and hag posse in my hotel. This is actually a boon since my new amigo Pedro speaks enough English to make up for my Spanish, and of course, thinks I'm fabulous.
Thankfully, the exchange rate is approximately $1 US to 10 pesos which is good because while my Spanish has evolved, my math skills never really got past junior year and have certainly deteriorated since.
The people here have been mostly nice, though the copious married couples are a little less friendly. Tomorrow I'm off to the Mayan ruins at Tulum and snorkeling at the Xel-Ha water park. The tour operator told me my travel companions are four guys - this should be interesting.
So far, my solo status has been met with varying degrees of disbelief, but not outright horror. On two occasions, Mexican men have asked me if I am married or have a boyfriend. When I say no, they say why. I reply as my grandfather taught me, "Because."
Also, I have been using my new identity as "Ava" so far. It's a little tough to remember my own name, but I am enjoying the oppportunity to experiment with being someone else. Who knows how long it will last, but who cares? I'm on vacation!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

South of the Border

As many of you know, I'm off to Cancun tomorrow for a much needed (and solo) vacation. It's my first time traveling alone and I'm taking only a carry-on bag and a backpack for a week-long expedition. Hopefully, I will come home with plenty of stories, new friends, minimal sun damage and enough fodder for a few good blog spots. Have a great week everyone!

Monday, July 9, 2007


I'm going to start off this post with a disclaimer - if the comedic works of Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Sara Silverman, or Carlos Mencia offends you deeply then stop reading now. I can't promise that I will be as eloquent as these people have been about issues of race in our society, but I am gonna drop a few "n-bombs."
Today, the NAACP held a symbolic burial for the word "nigger." Citing centuries of whites using the term to racially disparage blacks and blacks using the term to denigrate themselves, the NAACP chose a formal funeral procession, complete with coffin and headstone, as a way to end their use of the word.
I don't want anyone to interpret my comments as racist, and I am 100% in favor of black Americans claiming the dignity and respect they deserve as citizens of humanity. That said, I have a really tough time with the outright elimination of a word from our common usage. First, as the Daily Show pointed out - rappers simply need "nigger" for their lyrics. Case in point from Kanye West... "I ain't sayin' she a gold digger, but she ain't goin' for no broke..." I mean, "bum" doesn't really have the same effect.
Every racial and ethnic groups has various epithets, slurs and insider terms that when used within the group bear greater social acceptance then when used outside. For example, Jews using the term Heeb as the title of a magazine, good. The KKK calling us kikes, bad.
Spike Lee created one of the most powerful racial films with "Do the Right Thing," and its montage of really damn hateful speech culminated with a good ol' fashioned riot. It got us talking about the words we use to describe ourselves and others rather than silencing people and wrapping them in a fuzzy little blanket of ignorance. Back in the 1970s, Mel Brooks created his genius work, "Blazing Saddles," that likewise skewered blacks, Jews, Hispanics, Native Americans and whites - with the latter group hilariously enduring the greatest abuse. What do we learn? Racism CAN be funny and if we lose sight of that, we lose a bit of ourselves.
Finally, words are simply collections of letters strung together until humans embue them with meaning, power, significance, shame or glory. They may go out of style, they make take on implications of badness, but rarely are they stricken from the record OR the dictionary (and yes, nigger is in the dictionary). When we ban words or make them "dirty," we give them the extra power of the forbidden. So what to do about nigger? Or for that matter - chink, spic, WOP, towel head, fag and Republican? While I have no intention about spewing them out the next time I pass a playground, I'm not throwing out my copy of "Straight Outta Compton" either.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Catch my Disease

No, this isn't a post about Michael Moore's latest opus, Sicko, though if you're looking for an interesting and appropriately skeptical review of that movie, check out this article: Rather, this is just a little post about the ridiculousness of today's globe-spanning Live Earth concerts.
Billed as 24-hours of self-righteous pop starts blathering about climate change on all 7 continents, including a performance for an audience of penguins in Antarctica, apparently this one day and concert will magically change the world, turn back the clock of impending global warming doom and make everyone under the age of 30 a blissful little environmentalist. Yeah, and Woodstock ended Vietnam. Oh, and We are the World really ended all those starvation problems in Africa.
Forgive my sarcasm, but wouldn't the planet have been better served if everyone hadn't driven themselves to the damn concert?! While it's great to hope to enlighten a whole generation and pray for the best, they aren't the policymakers, they aren't the "deciders," and they don't vote! Personally, I am doing my part today by not driving to Giant Stadium. And one last thing - stop saying Live Earth North America is happening in New York. This is Jersey, people, and if I gotta rep the Garden State, then so do you Al Gore.