What took me so long to visit Mexico ?
Arriving in Cancun.
Flying from San Francisco International Airport on a non-stop flight to Cancun, Mexico, I knew I would arrive late in the afternoon and was anxious about finding my way in the dark to where I was staying. A recording of the directions had been sent to me on “What’s App” – not that I know much abuut that !! I had been up since 3.30 a.m. that morning to be at the airport in time and was exhausted from the flight. Standing in the Rental Office, completing the Rental Agreement for the car, I could see it was getting darker by the second. Just thinking about driving a Rental Car in a City I did not know in the dark was causing my anxiety to increase by the nano second. I was doubly anxious because my Air bnb Hosts were out of town and they had told me they would leave the key well concealed and I was to let myself in – perhaps it would be so well concealed that I would not find it !! And all these thoughts were racing through my mind as daylight was diminishing
By this time I was radiating waves of high anxiety thinking that I may sleep in the car at the rental company rather than venturing out into the night – with limited Spanish !!
Taking pity on me, Jose, who was filling out the rental agreement forms suggested that he would drive my car to where I was staying and be accompanied by a second driver and car to drive him back to the airport – twenty five minutes each way !! I had heard horrendous stories about renting a car in Mexico, and was being offered” “white glove treatment” from Mexican Easyway Car Rental, so opposite to what I was expecting and accepted the generosity of the offer. Jose took the drivers seat and said he knew more or less where the house was located and even with “What’s App” guiding the directions, it was difficult for me to recognize any of the landmarks I was supposed to note on the route or read the street signs. How would I have managed on my own ?
When we arrived at the destination after what I thought was a complicated drive, there were special instructions how to find the well concealed key to the apartment and was it ever concealed ! I could not find it in the dark, relying on the “spare”driver to search for it. Once inside the house, turning on the lights, a suiciddal staircase was revealed leading to my accommodation on the second floor. How would I ever manage to carry my luggage up those treacherous stairs ? Once more the two drivers did not hesitate and carried my luggage upstairs , checking that I felt safe and had everything I needed. before they returned to the airport. There are times in life when age is a plus and this was one of them because it definitely was not youth or beauty that was getting the sympathy.
Surveying my surroundings I had no idea where I was, except that I knew from the photographs that it was the apartment I had reserved and I could sleep in a bed that night which was a lot better than sleeping in the car. and finding my apartment the next day at sunrise.
Waking up after a good nights sleep and looking out the windows, I found I was in a little residential neighborhood, very quiet, away from the main noisy thoroughfare,just a few blocks away. I was expecting Alejandra, the manageress of the rental unit to come and greet me ( where was she last night !!) and needed to ask her where to find what I needed most urgently, gas for the car and a chip for the cellphone so that I could use the trusted GPS.
Alejandra was a lovely young woman who spoke impecable English. She explained how to find Pemmex, the gas station , and that I could get a chip for my cellphone close to the gas station. Plus, I was near a Walmart, a Costco and the Mercado 28. Leaving the security of the apartment, I descended the suicide staircase hanging onto the wall and the apology of a bannister, carefully taking one step at a time making sure I was steady before taking the next step. After all, I had a new hip that was on a test run and did not want to go through that one again !!
Getting into the car and driving a few blocks from where I was staying, I found the Mercado 28. This is the heart of downtown Cancun, where local families shop for their daily requirements. The market is actually a series of market buildings selling an assortment of items. I think they sell everything and then some: handwoven artisan fabrics, locally hancrafted items, hammocks, ceramic cookware, jewelry, Mexican made cowboy hats, cigars, fruit and vegetables and several restaurants. You can also get a tattoo either permanent or henna, and have your hair made into braids like one of the local senoritas, get a shave or have your shoes shone. An interesting place for sure !!
This wonderful sign was painted on the wall where I turned off the main thoroughfare into my neighborhood enclave, Glad I did not see it the night I arrived !! I love Graffitti but not in my neighborhood……………….
From Mercado 28, I could see the gas station a few blocks further on and felt re-assured that I would soon have Internet and be connected to the GPS. Looking across the street, I saw something familiar – it was the Walmart Logo and from there it was a short drive to Costo. These superstores are almost identical in layout to their American counterparts and I found shopping here easier than going to an Oxxo, the biggest local mini market chain or a Seven Eleven – shame on me !! The one serious error I made on leaving Costco was that I failed to have my receipt validated – a requirement to get out of the secured gate.. Consequently when I got to the exit to leave the parking lot and inserted the parking ticket, the “arm” did not release and before I knew it about thirty cars were backing up behind me while the Gringa tried to reverse to go back inside to get my ticket validated.
The locals clearly remember that until about twelve years ago, Cancun was nothing more than a small fishing village that suddenly grew very rapidly due to the tourist explosion. In its “haste”, one of the oversights was that they did not take care of storm drainage. One day we had a short extremely heavy rainfall, that turned the roads into fast moving rivers. The drivers seemed unfazed even though it looked like vehicular traffic had become amphibious due to the changed road conditions. Cars were up to their windows in water as they crossed the intersections and motorcycles seemed to be swimming !!
That more or less sets the scene for where I was living and with each day I felt a little more confident. I became familiar with the one way systems and the names of the streets even though I could not pronounce them. I was challenged by the roundabouts (circles) and asked my Air bnb hostess to explain who had the right of way and her reply surprised me, but made sense: she said: “everyone goes at the same time beause no one has the right of way !! Do the best you can……….”
There was much to see and do and Cancun became my base. Each day I mapped out an area that I would visit and allow myself to take in the new experiences.
CANCUN – the Hotel Zone
My prior knowledge of Cancun was that it was a place where Americans go to lie on the beach, party up a storm, and drink too much alcohol , having heard many stories about Americans behaving badly while visiting Cancun.
According to the Mexican Tourist Board, Mexico had thirty five million tourists in 2016 and their next milestone is fifty million visitors by 2020. Americans, Australians, Europeans, Latin Americans, wealthy Mexicans and now the Chinese as well – always a good sign for business.
Short of fifty years ago, what is now the Cancun Hotel Zone was a pristine seventeen mile stretch of untouched white sandy beaches with azure blue waters and wild mangrove swamps. Viewed from the air, this piece of land looks like the number seven floating in the water connected by a narrow strip to the mainland. Fast forward to now and it is built up with close to thirty thousand hotel rooms of all classes. The hotels have excellent amenities, open air beachside restaurants, great chefs,luxury spas, discotecs, golf courses, tennis courts, shopping malls with spectacular shops that cater to everyone from designer labels to cheap beachwear and then some. There are many restaurants including floating restaurants, nightlife to suit every one. and a new Marina. It is a playground for vacationers and it is evident the Mexican Tourist Board got it right.
The Hotel Zone is about a thirty minute drive from where I was living – and when I got there, it was the antithesis of the residential neighborhood where I was staying, I could not believe what I was seeing. . This is a well planned community with hosed down streets, landscaped gardens and manicured lawns being tended from early morning by teams of gardeners. There is one huge hotel after another, with driveways and liveried doormen, each one built facing the ocean for the view and anything and everything to accelerate the pleasure experience for the guests on holiday.
How did this all happen ?
From 1969 onwards, the Mexican Government has been encouraging tourism, that took off like a rocket and conitnues to fire on all its cylinders. The first hotels opened in 1974 and development has been steady since then . Developing this area was a major undertaking, requiring acres of topsoil to be brought in for the construction, the roads and the golf courses. Wells were dug, electricity was connected .
Homes, hospitals and schools were built for the workers and there have been major improvements to the infrastructure. Investment is encouraged and today in addition to the hotels there are Walmarts, Costcos, Home Depots, Office Max’s, and a host of American franchises as the world becomes more generic.. This is said to be the fastest developing economy in the world and investors, both Mexican and International have responded to the opportunities.
The Cancun International Airport.
The airport is a prime example of this planned development, whereby runways were constructed to carry wide body planes from the inception. The completion of the airport was planned to co-incide with the completion of the hotels to fly in the foreign tourist. Presently there are three terminals with a fourth under construction. It is second in volume only to Mexico City Airport but is more important for international travelers and tourists who are attracted to the area for vacationing. In 2016 twenty one and a half million passengers passed through and when Terminal Four is completed it is expected this will rise to thirty million. There are direct flights to North, South and Central America, Europe and Asia. In the winter, Snowbirds from Europe, the US and Canada swell the ranks of the tourists as they escape their harsh winters in search of the sun.
The roads connecting the Airport to Cancun and the Riviera Maya were planned to move the arriving tourists to their destinations along the Caribbean Coastline as quickly as possible. The airport is equidistant to both Cancun and Playa del Carmen making it possible for arriving passengers to reach their destination within thirty minutes of walking out of the terminal.
Cancun is presently the main tourist magnet in Mexico and the most important resort City bringing in a huge revenue of tourist generated pesos and taxes for the State of Quintana Roo. The hotel industry has also created employment for thousands of people who keep this well oiled machine going. It is a win win situation, as the tourist industry has raised the standard of living. for a lot of the local population.
One of the changes the tourist industry brought was the number of women employed in tourism and this has changed the demographic, because previously women did not work outside of the home. Today they are employed in executive and administrativee positions as well as housekeeping and the kitchens.