Looks Like Heaven – Our First Day in Mexico
The palm fronds sway languidly in time with the beat of the bus as the driver swerves left round a corner, missing a gardener trimming the airport hedges by a hair’s breadth. My mind barely registers the close call. For a moment I’m still up above the clouds, marvelling at the cotton candy sunrise we witnessed only an hour ago from the plane window.
It was our first flight of 2017, short but sweet, catapulting us away from mainland USA, over the Bermuda Triangle and down onto the sandy shores of the Yucatan Peninsula and country number 35. Now my eyes greedily drink in my first views of Mexico, the tropical greenery spilling out onto the winding road ahead of us, pink and orange hibiscus flowers lining the pavements, birds zipping in and out from behind the trees and on the horizon, the colourful buildings that make up Cancun.
We pull into the bus terminal and scramble for our luggage. With a start, I realise just how much this parallels our days backpacking South America. We’ve all changed so much from those six months of traversing Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. I remember feeling the hot glow of my cheeks turning red from embarrassment during those first couple of days in Bogota when we walked the kilometres to the bus station, laden with backpacks and suitcases. Now I look up and call out greetings to those passing us by and can’t for the life of me think why I could ever have felt ashamed. The smile on my face is contagious and by the time we reach our hotel’s reception desk, we’re all grinning like fools through the wilting heat.
It isn’t long before we’re back out on the street hailing down a beach bound bus. I slide the windows wide open as we speed down the road, revelling in our instant air-conditioning. We stop at a red light and we all look to our right, our eyes spying out a large green sign. Dad slowly sounds out the words, translating from Spanish to English as he goes: “Do Not Feed The Crocodiles.”
“Crocodiles!?” I leap up from my seat, my eyes anxiously scanning the marshy green backwaters of the inlet that snakes to our right, as if at any moment the scaly skin of a crocodile might emerge. “Where?!”
“Nowhere,” Mum scoffs, but she casts a quick glance out at the water.
Rose pink and faded blue buildings line the streets, zipping past us in a colourful blur as we speed onwards towards the playa, also known as Tourist Central. I watch as the buildings turn from simple Mercados to the carbon copy chain stores and restaurants that we had known all too well in the States: Forever 21, Starbucks, IHop, even an Outback Steakhouse, its brick walls blaring an advertisement for their Chocolate Thunder From Down Under. I catch my Dad’s eye and it’s only seconds before we both dissolve into laughter.
The bus driver gives us a friendly smile as we disembark and cross the road, trying to follow the faint call of pelicans out to the ocean. We weave our way through the slight gap of towering high rise hotels and onto the public beach. I wince as I see another sign, this one warning against sharks, stingray and jellyfish. But my apprehension melts away as we look beyond the thatched huts and ever-present palm trees. The ocean calls us forwards until we’re standing right on its shore staring out at the water in awe.
The colour is unlike anything I’ve seen before, more vibrant and turquoise than even the islands of the Bahamas. Looking out it almost looks fake, as if someone had purposefully dropped a boatload of aqua paint into the ocean to appease the tourists. But as I step forwards to test the temperature of the water and the foam runs over my feet, I feel my face break into another uncontrollable smile. It’s real.
Mum rushes forwards into the water fully clothed and Dad, Lalika and I watch in disbelief as she laughs and splashes around in the waves. Dad and I decide to take the few seconds to undress before dashing into the ocean ourselves.
The waves plough forwards at an alarming rate, choppy and uneven, wrenching the sand beneath my feet into what I would imagine the inside of a washing machine to be. For a moment my limbs freeze up, the grains of sand churning in between my toes, I see my dad dive into the foam and in that moment I feel my arms loosen, cutting through the break. I plunge at the last second into the mouth of the wave.
As I come up for air I am stunned to see that the horizon has gone a magenta pink, the light reflecting off the water contorting the colours. Aqua, fuchsia, azure, mauve, I struggle to find a name for the shades that flash before my eyes in between the sets of waves. In the end, I can only come to the conclusion that if mermaids existed, I imagine they would call the waters of Cancun home.
We emerge from the ocean, dripping wet over the fine sand to face another wave but this one of humid air. I can already feel the sticky heat seeping into my skin and hair but I can only smile. After weeks and weeks of bitter cold and minus celsius degree temperatures in Canada and upstate New York, this tropical weather seems almost too good to be true. Why, just a week and a half ago, we were still shivering our way into Spring in Atlanta. But now, here on the beach in Mexico, in the blinding light, there was no denying it, the sun was back and it was here to stay.
We stroll down the shoreline, our feet sinking into the soft sand. With the landscape of 5-star hotels unchanging for as far as the eye can see, we turn left and soon find ourselves within an empty pavilion, a little haven amidst the busy traffic of the beach. For almost an hour it’s just us and two giant lizards getting their tan on. We break open a box of Gluten Free snickerdoodle cookies and relax in the salty breeze. Lalika posts a photo of the view and within a few seconds, a comment whooshes into his inbox. “Looks like heaven.”
As we pick up our things to leave, to save time we decide to walk through the hotel to our right as a quicker route back out to the main road. The side door opens without a key card and we step inside to a lavishly decorated sitting area. It takes a few moments for me to figure out what the opulent R and C painted across the walls stands for. We’d just entered the Ritz-Carlton.
As we walk through the gold and glass halls out onto the plaza, I can’t help but think of it as a paradisiacal maze, with lagoon style pools, beachside bars and rows and rows of sun chairs taking the place as the metaphorical hedges. Before we can try to find a way out, a woman in a white uniform handing out towels to other guests smiles and strikes up a conversation.
“Hola, Buenos Dias! How are you all?”
“Muy bien gracias y Tu?” We reply.
“Muy bien, muy bien! Are you heading out to the beach?”
“Not at the moment,” Dad responds.
“Ok but don’t forget that the white umbrellas and chairs are complimentary for all guests. However, if you prefer a cabana those will cost you $100 a day. Are you hungry? Would you like to eat? The buffet is available all throughout lunch and dinner and the cafe has some delicious options! Sit down, sit down!” The lady pushes three menus into our hands as she ushers us towards a table.
Dad hands the menus back with a smile. “Thank you really, we’ve just eaten.”
“Are you sure? Seafood specials today are amazing!”
“Really thank you, we’re just going to walk around and explore a little bit.”
“Did you only arrive here today?”
“Yes,” Dad answers pleasantly.
My cheeks burn as I try to hide my smile in the shade of the perfectly manicured hedges.
“Oh well, enjoy your time here!”
We navigate our way through a final obstacle course of colourful umbrella stands and smiling waiters until finally, we step through the doors into a large air-conditioned foyer. There’s no exit in sight. We turn left past a concierge desk and follow the hall all the way to the end. Only one door lies to our right and I twist the handle hoping with all my might for a portal out. Instead, we almost stumble into a team of staff setting up for a tropical themed ball. Feathers and jewels twinkle from inside Convention Room 3 and we casually turn away from the expectant gazes of the employees as if we’d been planning on a quick pop-in all along.
We latch onto the shadows of two hotel guests and follow them upstairs out into a palatial lobby. Crystal chandeliers sparkle light down onto bouquet after bouquet of white lilies. A wave of relief washes over me as the exit comes into sight. The doormen sweep into something resembling that of a bow as we step out into the sun. We follow the rows of waiting taxis out of the property gates and back onto the main road. Not even two minutes later the R1 bus comes into view and all four of us raise up our arms simultaneously to hail it down. It’s only when we’re sitting in the bus, speeding back towards Cancun that the explosive giggle that has been slowly building up inside me detonates. Twenty minutes later, when we pull up outside a Supermercado for a quick snack refill, I’m still shaking with laughter at our five-star experience.
We return to our hotel laden with shopping bags of fruit and vegetables and lime popsicles. Mum, Lalika and I are drawn like magnets towards the pool and while Dad takes a nap, we swim laps as the sun rays transform from bright white to the burnt orange of the late afternoon.
By the time we return to the room we’re all hungry and so Dad leaves to pound the pavement in search of the best Quesadillas while we whip up a Zucchini Salad. The end result is a Mexican feast and by the time I’m hanging out the towels on the balcony, watching the sun set in a blaze of red resembling the pepper in our guacamole, we’re all experiencing the onset of fatigue.
“You sure get a lot done when you wake up at 3 am.” I laugh jokingly.
“Yeah, maybe we should do it more often,” Dad says as he closes the screen door to the terrace.
I lean back against the pillows and let one last wave rush over me. A wave of sleepiness. I register in my drowsy state that we’ve all been up for more than 19 hours straight. Through the curtain, I can see the lights of the city slowly flickering off one by one until all that’s left is the pale glow of the moon.
I smile as I realise that the stars burning against the dark clouds are twinkling over a new sky in a new country. We are at the beginning of a new adventure and there is something about that realisation that would never cease to excite my love of learning and discovery. Mexico had been calling us for a while. Now we had finally picked up the phone.
“Buenas Noches,” I whisper, and smile as I hear the hushed voices of three other people who love me calling back: “Buenas Noches.”