My trip to Cancun, Mexico was uncomfortable. But I’d be lying to you if I did not confess that uneasiness was the entire point of the trip.
I have always been a man of punctuality and structure. I do not schedule every moment, but if I am not certain about the upcoming events, I get anxious. My wife, Rian, hates when I get anxious. And to be honest, so do I. I stop enjoying things when I’m nervous. I’ll walk entire city blocks and not have noticed a single person, place or thing that we passed. I have learned that my anxiety reaches a new level when, my 3-year-old son, Jai is with us. I become focused on making sure he’s comfortable, keeping him out of the way of people and attending to regular needs.
I admit my being ill at ease when plans fall through is not ideal when you are preparing to travel with your family for an indefinite period. Rian and I talked about how my tension would make our 9-month trip less enjoyable. Being an awesome wife, she urged me to travel alone as a trial run for the uncertainty that will surround our lengthy journey. Psychologists call it “exposure therapy”. Cancun was an experiment of sorts. Send a man to a new location with an unfamiliar language, no real agenda, and see if he can learn to go with the flow.
Upon arriving in Cancun, a bus took me from the airport to the city center for 70 pesos, which works out to about $3.50. My hostel was only 8 blocks away from the bus station. I stopped by a local Taquieria called Las Tostadillas Del Mar II for a taste of Mexico. This is where I realized the buying power of the U.S. Dollar. I ate Shrimp Ceviche’, 2 fish tacos and drank a Corona for 77 pesos (less than $4). Amazing meals at low costs were a common theme of my 5-day escape.
I stayed at Hostel Mezcal; a party-friendly spot for world travelers to meet and exchange stories. It is a few miles, on the R1 bus, from the glitzy tourist area. Staying away from tourist hot spots is a great way to save money on your food and lodging costs. They offered unisex shared rooms (of 6 or 8 people) and private accommodations as well, and a pool with a fully stocked bar nearby. The staff created an exciting atmosphere by playing drinking games, hosting competitions or shuttling you to night clubs. They also provide breakfast and dinner. I stayed for $16/night.
My first night, I had no idea what to do, so I bought a VIP ticket to a club in the tourist area that was organized by the hostel. It included entry to the clubs VIP area, unlimited drinks, and a ride to (not from) the club. Dance clubs are not my thing, but everyone looked like they were having fun. I danced, ironically, to songs that I secretly hate and sipped my beer. I had a great time, but I would not return to another club while in Mexico. Head’s up. It’s real easy to get cocaine in club bathrooms. There was always a bathroom drug-concierge. Don’t worry, I didn’t do any, I just didn’t want you to be as surprised as I was.
I woke each morning, dressed for the day and headed to the free breakfast in the pool area. This is where my days were planned. A new friend that I met at breakfast or a drinking buddy from the night before and I would talk about our plans for the day. I called these ‘breakfast summits’ and they often ended with an invitation to stick together. Each day I was never sure what I’d be doing or who I’d be doing it with. I took day trips to Chichen Itza and Isla Mujeres with different people by doing this.
The only thing that I was set on seeing while in Mexico, was Chichen Itza. I was shown a cheap tour company by a hostel friend and we set out the next morning. The 3-hour bus ride through the Yucatan allowed me time to bond with my group of co-travelers for that day. The guided walking tour takes you through the ancient ball field where warriors would play a violent, physical, game that honored the sun. The winner was then sacrificed to the sun. Yikes. We walked between the thousand columns and learned about the specific celestial designs that were built into the massive step-pyramid known as El Castillo. If you go, remember to clap while walking around the grounds, the Mayan acoustics were very accurate.
Our tour also stopped at Cenote’ Il Kil, which is located a few miles from Chichen Itza. The body of water lies 30 meters below the earth’s surface. The water, from surface to bottom, is another 50 meters deep. A few waterfalls trickle from the surface and land in a hole filled with dark water. Make sure that you jump off the 20-foot platform while you are there.
After a couple days of jumping on the city bus for beach visits and sight-seeing, I was part of another Breakfast Summit that took a boat to Isla Mujeres. It was a quick 25-minute boat ride to the island and round trip tickets were $20. I ate lunch, laughed and joked with 8 strangers on a pristine beach. The north beach, a 15-minute walk from the docks, was where we spent most of our time. Wading in thigh high water to a covered dock that stands 200 yards from the shore, I was able to capture some beautiful photos of the sunset. I didn’t go to the underwater museum, MUSA – Underwater Museum of Art, but I heard that snorkeling near the submerged statues was surreal.
I arrived home tired, glad to have a chance to broaden my views and a wife to encourage it. I may not automatically go with the flow now, but from this trip I learned how to enjoy the water.
I am finally comfortable being uncomfortable. Not to say that it fundamentally changed me and I’ll never be nervous again, but I know now that great things can come from being spontaneous. I took the trip seriously and pushed my boundaries.