Chuck & Connie
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Friday - Getting to Cancun
Saturday - Making it to Cozumel
Sunday - Diving
Monday - Dining
Tuesday - Moped touring
Wednesday - Cenote Diving Adventure
Thursday - Hassled by the locals
Friday - Going Home
|Exchanging Money - Use an ATM
Rent a Villa in Cozumel
Bargaining in Mexico
Mainland Cavern diving
What it cost & Photo Gallery
Frommer's 2001 Cancun, Cozumel
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Our plane left Washington National Airport at about 7:45 am. Getting to and through the airport went smoothly except for a rude ticketing agent named Anne Thurston who did not want to short check one of our bags to DFW. We planned to drop off our two kids in DFW with my folks, so had one suitcase with their clothes in it that we wanted to stay with them while the other two went to Cancun. The kids handled the flight very well. Kiernan and I watched "Green eggs and ham" on my laptop for part of the flight. The flight to DFW was about 3 hrs. When we got off the plane, my sister Jenni was there waiting there on the ramp (she works for American) and my folks were eagerly waiting in the terminal to take the kids. We all walked to the gate where our connection was, and when it was time to board they announced that the plane was overbooked and were offering $300 to anyone who would take a later flight. Connie gave me a look that said very clearly "Don't even think about it."
We got to Cancun in about 2 1/2 hours. Once in the terminal, I made the mistake of exchanging some money there because I feared I wouldn't have any money to tip the porter with. I got 7.10 Pesos Per Dollar (PPD) By the time we got through customs the exchange places were offering 8.10 ppd. I exchanged some money later at a bank in Cancun and got 8.40 ppd. The cash that I took out of ATM machines in Cancun and Cozumel paid the best rate of all, about 8.54 ppd. I didn't find that out though, until I got my statement. I would recommend taking just a little cash with you and taking it out of ATM's while you are there. Banks in Mexico don't charge the outrageous fees for withdrawing money from their machines that banks in the states do, and you won't have to carry around so much money. I don't believe in traveler's checks anymore, now that ATM's give you access to instant cash worldwide.
We picked up our bags and proceeded to customs. There is a stoplight at each line, and you push a button and the light turns either red or green. Green, you're free to go, red, you get your bags searched. I was sure we'd get red, since I'd locked up all of our bags with flex cuffs. Someone just ahead of us got zapped, though, and we sailed through.
We had to walk at least ten feet to the National car rental desk. National had been the cheapest that I had found while calling around for a car in Cancun, and I had reserved a VW bug a couple of weeks before our trip. It was about $36/day, plus 10% tax. The LDW was $8/day for 90% coverage and $20/day for full coverage. We got the full coverage, so our total was $61. The guy at the desk directed us to a minivan out front that took us about 1/2 mile to the National lot. Our car was a new red VW beetle with a standard transmission. It drove like a lawn mower with doors. The traffic in Cancun and Cozumel is nothing compared to Rome or Paris or Monaco, but it had Connie ready to walk in about ten minutes. Actually it wasn't too bad until we got into Cancun City, and started looking for our hotel, when it started to pour rain. Until then, the weather had been very nice. The streets started to flood immediately. We were starting to feel very lost when we rounded a corner and found our hotel. The Suites Albatros is a hotel that you won't find on the net, or through a travel agent. I found it in a budget guide highly recommended. It's at Yaxchilan 154, SM. 20, Cancun, Q. Roo, Mx 77500. Telephone: (98) 84-22-42
After almost spending $100/night on a non-beachfront Holiday inn which would have looked just like every other Holiday inn on the planet, Connie and I decided at the last minute to take a chance on a locally owned hotel that I found in a book at the library. (the rooms on the beach were going for $200/night) We called from home and made a reservation with Pepe, the owner. The hotel is bright yellow and sits right across from the red cross on Av. Yaxchilan in Cancun City. The rates were in pesos, 180 single, 200 double, 250 triple, 300 quad. At 8.4 ppd it cost us about $24/night. Pepe was very amicable and greeted us by name at the door when we arrived. Our room (#18) was very large, with a kitchen and dining area, front and back balconies (the one in back looks at a wall, however). There were also tiled floors and two double beds. The room was very clean and had an air conditioner. The beds were quite firm due to being a mattress laid on a tile/concrete base. They were not uncomfortable, though. The front balcony looked down on a very pretty courtyard. No TV or phones in the room, btw, but for us that was a plus. I've stayed in much worse hotels in the U.S.
Once we had checked in and locked up our bags in our room, we went out exploring in our car. The rain had stopped, but it was still quite flooded. After about 15 minutes of driving around, the traffic was starting to put a strain on our marriage, so we went looking for the "Hotel Zone". Once we found it, the traffic was much better. The hotel zone is an Island in the shape of a 7 that is the "Cancun" that you see in the brochures. The road is very well kept, and the median is nicely landscaped. As soon as you cross into the hotel zone, it is like driving into Panama City, Fl or Virginia Beach, VA. All the signs are in English, you pass a Pizza hut, Burger King and Outback Steakhouse, etc. I was kind of turned off by the whole thing. The setting is beautiful, but it's so commercialized that it looks just like any beach in the states. I came to Mexico to see Mexico, not imported America. As far as I could tell, things in the Hotel Zone cost about what they would in the states. We drove the entire length of the Hotel zone and then back north on Avenida Tulum into Cancun City.
By then we were getting hungry, so we parked along the street and walked around looking for a restaurant. On the way, we almost got lost in a seemingly endless sort of flea market made up of lots of interconnected shops all selling basically the same things. My Spanish got a good workout, although everyone hailed us first in English ("Hey, amigo! I got good junk for you, almost free!) Connie was making a great attempt to use her limited Spanish (she just started learning it 6 months ago), and except for calling an armadillo a "yellow", did very well. Somehow, we eventually escaped from there without buying anything, (no small feat).
We found a nice outdoor restaurant called the Paraiso Mexicano, and sat down to watch a three man band pound out Latino music on some sort of Xylophone thing. Later they had Mexican folk dancers and actually got Connie up there to do a dance with them. I was impressed at how well she picked up the moves until she pointed out that it was "just like Jazzercise." The food seemed kind of bland, but that might have been because we both accidentally tried the green ha-ha-habanero sauce that came with our chips, thinking that it was guacamole. One of the waiters had a hat that he had made out of Coconut palm fronds, that I thought was really cool. Later one of the other waiters came by wearing it and offered it to me for $5. By the end of the meal he had agreed to sell it to me for 30 pesos. Apparently, though, he hadn't checked with the owner, because a moment later the guy who had had it originally came and snatched it out of my hand and walked off. I stood there bewildered for a second before the waiter came up and returned my money. We all laughed it off, and resumed shopping. This time, we found a bookstore and Connie bought some Spanish books for the kids, as well as a Spanish version of a Winnie the Pooh video tape. We returned to our hotel and turned in.
Saturday, 2/21/98 Oops, Jetlag!
A leisurely morning had been the plan, but we both woke up early excited about the day ahead. We found a dunkin doughnuts and ate a hurried breakfast and then checked out of our hotel and headed for the airport to catch our 11:30 flight to Cozumel. We got there with an hour to spare by my watch, but soon found out that my watch was an hour behind. In my 1997 guidebook, Cancun was on Central Standard Time. What I didn't know was that in January, 1998, Cancun changed to Eastern Time! As a result, the plane was leaving as we got to the airport. I realized at that moment that I hadn't looked at a clock since we arrived, other than my watch. Oops.
AeroCaribe, the company that flies the route between Cancun and Cozumel, said that they would try to get us on the next flight out, standby. We waited an hour and a half before we found that the next flight was also full. While we were waiting, I figured out how to use the Mexican pay phones (you have to buy a phone card and dial 95 and the U.S. area code and number) and called my folks. They said that the kids' bag had been shipped to Cancun and so my sister was working on getting it straightened out. AeroCaribe said we'd have to wait another two hours for the next flight, which was also expected to be full. I made a command decision to get to Cozumel on our own, since we were supposed to meet the rest of our group there and we were already late. We went back to National and rented another bug, this time one way to Playa del Carmen, ($50 with 90% LDW). It took a little over an hour to get there, If I had sedated Connie before we left, it would have been much better on our marriage. That's not to say that driving the highways of Mexico is especially stressful, just that driving them with me is. J We got stopped at a military checkpoint just south of the airport, they were searching vehicles at random. The truck that they were searching in front of us was taking a long time, so the teenage soldier allowed us to back up and go around.
We arrived in Playa hot, cranky, and stressed. To lighten the situation, I drove around in circles in Playa looking for the place where we were supposed to drop off the car. Once we found it, we trudged down to the dock carrying our luggage (I was glad we had packed light). We bought one-way tickets to Cozumel on the next ferry ($5 each). Playa is extremely beautiful, but we were having a hard time enjoying it at that moment.
By the time we got to Cozumel and retrieved our luggage, it was 4:30 p.m. We found an ATM directly across the main street from the pier. Then we set out to find a cab to our Villa. We were supposed to meet my aunt and uncle and their group from Kansas at 1 p.m. Our group of 13 people had arranged with an agency called At Home in Cozumel to rent two villas north of town, the Corales and Caracoles. There are others for rent from the same company here. The villas are right next to the all-inclusive hotel Playa Azul. Unfortunately, the first two taxi's that we stopped didn't know where they were. About that time we saw Bob, Becki and two others from our group go by in a rented convertible VW. We yelled, and they yelled, but they weren't able to stop because of the traffic. I hailed another taxi, figuring we'd have him follow them once they got turned around. We waited for about ten minutes, but they never showed up. This taxi driver knew where the villas were, so we went on ahead.
The villas are north of the airport about 3km, right next to the all inclusive Paraiso Hotel. There wasn't anyone there, so we got in through the back door and dropped our stuff. When no one showed up in about 30 minutes, we decided to go out for something to eat. We caught a cab (35 pesos) to the blue bubble dive shop, thinking that some of the group might be there. They weren't but we filled out all of the paperwork that we needed for our diving. No one ever asked us for our dive cards.
Three blocks west, to the main drag, and we found a KFC, and settled for that for dinner, because it was fast and we were very hungry, not having eaten since dunkin doughnuts that morning. It was actually very good, and cheaper than the states by a little bit. We felt much better after dinner, and went for a walk around el centro. There is an inexpensive hotel there called the Hotel El Marques ($35/night double). We shopped a little, but didn't see anything that we hadn't seen in Cancun the day before. The prices were higher than I had expected them to be in Mexico, that may be because we were in a spot that is usually inundated by cruise ship tourists.
Bargaining in Mexico
Basically, it went like this:
I ask the price.
The shopkeeper tells me, adding that that happens to be a very good price.
I usually counter by offering 60% of what he had asked, adding that THAT was a good price.
The shopkeeper scoffs, mutters something about his dying mother, etc, and states a new price, usually about 80% of the first one.
If I really want the item, I could usually get him to come down another five to ten percent.
Carnaval was going on in Cozumel the week that we were there, so after we finished shopping, we went to the main drag to watch the parade. It was a very long, loud, happy parade, and it seemed like the whole island was there. I was struck by two things:
We watched the parade, wearing earplugs, for over an hour, and then caught a taxi back to the villa. No one was there yet, but they had left us a note and put our bags in one of the rooms. It was on the third floor of the villa, and didn't have a balcony, but did have it's own bathroom. It also had windows facing the water, which we later figured out how to climb out of, and use the roof as a balcony. The view was great. We had already gotten into bed when we heard everyone come in at about 11:30. We went downstairs and met the rest of our group and laughed about how we had kept missing each other.
Sunday, 2/22/98 The Un-derwater Camera
We woke up at about seven and dressed hurriedly. We got to the dive shop by about 8:30. It had gotten very windy during the night, and the boat ride to our dive site was quite choppy. The dive boat was a small 20' skiff with twin outboard engines and a crew of one, plus the dive master, Javier. He was fantastic.
Our first dive was to be a drift dive at Cedral Pass. When we jumped over the side and tried to descend, Connie didn't have enough weight, and had problems clearing her ears. The sea was rough, and Connie got more and more frustrated and scared. I looked down and noticed that the current had carried us far away from the rest of the group, as it was stronger at the surface. I decided we should abort the dive. Connie was very discouraged and wanted to give up diving forever, but I talked her into another one later that day. It had been too long since she had dove and a drift dive in rough seas was not the best way to get back into it. When everyone else got back in the boat, they were very encouraging. At that time, the divemaster informed us that the port had been closed due to strong winds. We scrapped the second dive that we had planned. The boat captain took us to a little cove where the boats are normally kept, and we unloaded our gear and took a taxi to the dive shop. Some of us decided to try to do a shore dive on the plane wreck at La Ceiba. We got some tanks from the dive shop and then drove our rental van to the hotel La Ceiba, We dove off a dock and swam to the plane wreck. This time Connie did much better and really enjoyed herself. The waters were calm and the max depth was about 25 feet. The only mishap on the dive was when Connie's weightbelt accidentally came undone and I had to hold her down and retrieve it for her. Also, I had brought along one of those "underwater" disposable cameras that is supposed to be good to 12 feet. Believe me, when they say 12 feet, they mean it. I remembered that I had it at about 25 feet, and when I pulled it out of my pocket, it was full of water. I probably could have gotten away with it if I had put it in a heavy ziplock bag and only taken it out in less that 12 feet. Next time maybe I'll "modify" the camera a bit by putting silicone around the seal just to be safe.
After the dive we got a hard time by the La Ceiba staff for trying to take a shortcut through the hotel with our wet dive gear. Before we left I ran across the street and bought a T-shirt, since the only one that I had brought from home was pretty ripe by now. This was to become a daily ritual, and I came back with a nice collection of $3 Cozumel T-shirts.
A shower and a change later, we were back at the La Ceiba for lunch. Not cheap, ($16 lunch for two) but great guacamole and an unbeatable view. Lunch was cheap compared to what dinner cost me. That said, it was well worth it because I now hold the dubious distinction of being the only person in known history to have ever purchased a meal for Bob Burr and gotten away with it.
It was Bob's 60th birthday, and we all went out to a nice lobster restaurant south of town near the police station. It was right on the beach and had a neat interior. It had a huge palapa roof with menus that were 5 foot tall and made of wood. I had melted cheese and shrimp on flour tortillas. Very good. Our waitress was an American who had attended UW-Lacrosse when Connie and I were there. She had taken a vacation to Cozumel once and liked it so much that she moved there and married a Cozumeleno.
The parade was going for the second night in a row, and it ended right in front of the restaurant. As we were leaving, there were some drunk guys dressed in drag going around dancing with people and rolling in the streets. Possibly the dirtiest human beings I've ever seen. Yech.
Monday, 2/23/98 So this is Ceviche?
The dive boat left at 8:30 again, and this morning the weather was fine. We did two fantastic dives, the first on Palancar reef, and the other on Paraiso reef. I think that those were two of the best dives that I've ever done in my life. Paraiso reef is a shallow drift dive and the colors were fantastic.
After the dive, we went to Joe's Reggae bar for lunch. (they were playing nice classical music) I tried some Ceviche, Conch cooked in Lime juice. It's supposed to be a Cozumel specialty. It was cold and the meat was rubbery, not something I'd order again.
That afternoon we sat out under the palapa on the beach in front of our villa and read/wrote/slept. Very relaxing. That night we went shopping again and Connie found a necklace that she really liked.
Tuesday, 2/24/98 Life on a Moped...
On the dives this morning we hired a videographer named Victor Meza Rivero to come and video our dive. He did a great job and I would recommend him highly. He works for an outfit called Dreamland U/W video & photo, located at Michelle's dive shop on the corner of 5th Ave Sur and A.R. Salas, one block east of planet Hollywood. Victor dove with us for about 3 days and charged about $200/day. The video ended up being about $80 per couple. He put our dives to music with cool special effects, and did a very professional job.
After the dive, Connie and I rented a moped and set off on a tour around the island. We went clockwise, travelling across the island first and then down the windward side. We stopped at a little store that had a sign out front that said "Mexican K-Mart". The owner had a small raccoon - like animal tied up out front. In Panama we called them Kudamundis, he called it a TejÓn. Connie liked it. It was obviously wild, and couldn't decide what to think of us. Next we stopped at San Gervasio, Cozumel's biggest Mayan ruins. The map of Cozumel is a bit misleading. It looked like San Gervasio was just a couple of hundred yards off of the main road. It's really about 3 miles.
San Gervasio was interesting, but not what I'd call spectacular. It was crawling with iguanas. I saw one up in a tree that was bright orange and about 5' long. I found an interesting small cave off the path a little way from one of the ruins. I jumped down into it and, with my flashlight, explored back into it about 60 feet. I scared the heck out of a couple of tourists who happened to be near the entrance when I burst back into the light (it was a little spooky down there). We never made it to any of the major ruins on the mainland, so I don't know how it rates compared to them. Worth seeing, though. Especially if you like iguanas.
From there we continued east until we came to the windward coast, I had wanted to go north from there and see the lesser - visited of the two lighthouses on Cozumel. The man at the car rental agency said that it was unsafe. (he didn't specify how exactly, I gathered that he meant the road condition.) I also noticed a sign in the agency that said "If you take your rental car on the north road, you will void your LDW".
By the time we got to the intersection where the paved road turns south, I was getting a better idea of the size of the island. The road leading north from there looked passable only to 4WD vehicles, so we decided not to chance it on our little moped. (which would do 0-60 in about 5 seconds, if the cliff were tall enough.) There is a little bar right there and a beautiful beach. We stopped and Connie got her picture taken with a kid and his pet iguana for $1 and a pack of gum (he wanted $2). I wanted to tell him he could charge a lot more if he'd offer pictures with the Latin American Bikini team or something, but couldn't think of how to say it in Spanish.
Then we headed south. There are miles and miles of picturesque beaches populated only by the occasional beachside bar and one hotel, which is probably in the $50/night range or less, and is very secluded, but wouldn't be practical if you were there to dive. We stopped a couple of times to take pictures, and wanted to go to the southern lighthouse. The turnoff for it is right by a reggae bar, and we missed it the first time, not realizing our mistake until we saw signs for El Cedral, which is an another ruin south of town.
We started to go see El Cedral while we were there, and ran into a couple from Brazil whose moto had broken down when they hit a bump. They were walking it back towards town, a good 8 miles away. We stopped to see if we could help them, and upon inspecting their moped, found that the sparkplug wire had been bumped off of the plug. I reconnected it and they were good to go. I think God made us miss the turn so that we could go help that couple.
Then we decided to skip El Cedral, since it was getting late, and went back looking for the road to the lighthouse. We found it, with a little guard shack and a gate. The guard took our names and let us pass. The road to the lighthouse was not paved, and had lots of holes and bumps. After our recent experience with the people from Brazil, we tried to drive very carefully. The lighthouse was about 2 1/2 miles from the gate. Just before it there is a small Mayan ruin of some kind that looks like an ancient Mayan pillbox.
The lighthouse itself was closed to visitors, but it was still a very pretty and peaceful spot. We drank a couple of cokes that we had purchased at one of the roadside bars and then collected a handful of small seashells and headed back.
As we continued around the south side of the island we found that if we both leaned forward on our moped, we could milk enough extra speed out of it to keep from being run over by cars that were going our way. On the backside of the island, one can find Mexican blankets for $2. In town they are $4-5 and at the airport in Cancun they are $8. I should start an arbitrage business in Mexican Blankets.
Tuesday night was Fat Tuesday, the night of the biggest carnival celebration. I didn't see too many fat people though. I think they were already too tired from the two previous parades. Several cruise ships stayed in port this night to allow their throngs to view the parade. The police had blocked off the main street at about 5pm, so we couldn't return our scooter to the Aguila Rental agency. Instead, we parked it on a side street, and walked to the rental office. They sent a boy to retrieve the moto and walk it back for us. The rental cost $25 for the day. Mexican law requires the use of a helmet, and we wore ours, but most locals we saw didn't. "Going local" in this case would be an open invitation for some underpaid policeman to stop you and give you a ticket, you dangerous (in Spanish that's spelled r-i-c-h) gringo. (We learned our lesson on this later.)
I found the moped to be the best form of transportation on the island. The only thing that would have been better, in my opinion, would be an enduro motorcycle. Unfortunately, it's illegal to rent them to dangerous gringos on the island. In town, things are so crowded, that it's much easier to get around on a moto. I read a guide book that advised against using them because they are dangerous, but I didn't feel any safer driving our rental VW bug. I certainly didn't feel safer in our rental VW Van, which had a reverse gear that ran and hid every time you needed it (Captain Bob made a good substitute, and probably has less miles on him than that van did). If you're careful and drive like the locals are out to get you, you should be fine on a moped. ( The taxi drivers may be, since you rented a moped and not a taxi). Of course, if you have no experience riding a motorcycle, downtown Cozumel is not the place to learn.
We stayed in town that night and watched the parade again, and then took a taxi home.
Wednesday, 2/25/98 The Great Indiana Jones Adventure!
The first ferry to the mainland from Cozumel leaves at 8:00 am, so we had to get up earlier than usual to catch it. ($10 each, round trip. It looks like they reuse the tickets.) When we got downtown to the dock, we parked in and empty section of curb, right in front of a moped. As we were unloading, a very drunk Mexican stumbled over and tried to get on the moped, but fell off. I helped him up, and to our amazement he was actually trying to drive the thing away, even though he was too plastered to even walk! He seemed to be having some trouble getting the moped in gear, though, and after about 5 minutes, we realized that he had forgotten to remove the lock from the back tire. Probably just as well. He wasn't going anywhere. There were over-partied little brown guys scattered all over the streets from the previous night's debauchery. We ate breakfast at the Las Palmeras restaurant directly across from the pier. The food was good, if a little pricey. We got on the same ferry that we had crossed over on four days earlier, and the same video was playing inside. The ferry is set up like a very wide airplane inside with comfortable seats and a video monitor at the front. You can sit outside if you want to on metal benches shaped like church pews. The ride takes about 40 minutes. When we got to Playa a van came to get us and dropped us off at the Hertz rental agency. Two white VW bugs were waiting. I've never spent so much time in a VW in my life. They are everywhere in Mexico. Probably because sewing machine motors are cheaper to put doors on down there. No airbag requirements either. Driving one of those VW bugs is about like driving a 1940 Willys Military Jeep. Only not so fancy. We transferred all of our gear and headed south.
Dos Ojos is only one of many "cenotes" or underground caverns that you can dive in the area around Tulum. You can see great pictures of Dos Ojos at their website. Buddy Quattlebaum has been living there for over nine years, and has explored over 65Km underground of the Dos Ojos Cenote. He hasn't yet found either the source of the water or the outlet. He was on the team that broke the world's record for the longest underground dive in 1996. Explorers have been as deep as 364 feet and haven't found the bottom. The cave seems to go on forever.
Once we found the dive shop, Buddy gave our group a briefing and then we were loaded up into the back of a 2 1/2 ton pickup truck that looked like something out of a mad max movie. We were then driven about 3 miles back into the jungle, passing farms with Mayan Indians scratching out a living of about $300/year from the rocky soil. It really makes you realize how blessed we are. Finally we stopped at a group of thatched roof huts in a small clearing. There was a very small opening with a ladder leading down about 30 feet into a dark hole. First, our dive gear was assembled on top and then lowered down into the hole on a rope. We then descended the ladder into a cavern that was about half full of water. There was a platform built above the water where we donned our scuba gear and then jumped in. We took a 1 hour tour in groups of 4 or 5 with Buddy as our guide. He claims that it's the best cavern dive in the world. I believe him. It was astonishing. I have never before seen water with unlimited visibility. It felt as if we were floating in a vacuum. The water seemed breathable. My house could fit in some of the underground chambers. We had to watch our buoyancy to keep from bumping into things, but other than that it was an easy, shallow dive that does not require you to be cave certified or anything.
When we finished the dive, I walked over to one of the nearby huts, it looked like they were building a small bar there. There were some little Mayan guys working on the hut, and I bought some cokes from them and talked to one of them for awhile. He had never been to the US, but his view of it was very rich, very clean, very organized. (he'd obviously never heard of Chicago.) He told me how they constructed those huts, and that the palapa roof that they put on it in two days would last about nine years. I was impressed.
We loaded up and drove back to the dive shop. It was already about 4pm, and we had planned on taking the 5pm ferry back to Cozumel. Some of our group hotfooted it back and made it in time, Connie and I went with Bob and Becki and headed about 5 miles further south to Tulum. Not to see the ruins, to shop. I had been told that the hats like the one I had tried to purchase our first night were made at Tulum. After asking around a bit, I found THE guy who makes the hats, and he had a couple for sale, although they weren't "fresh", so they were brown, not green. I got one anyway. Then we found an ice cream shop called "Senor Frosty's". A sign in front said "Frozen Yogurt imported from Kansas!" We stopped and bought some. While we were eating it, the owner of the store came by, an American from Colorado. He said that he had just built a 2k sq ft house on the beach south of Tulum for 40K, including the land. You could literally see the wheels turning in Bob's head..."Now, let's see, If I buy 100,000 Mexican blankets at $2, then sell them for...."
We made it back to Playa Del Carmen with about 30 minutes to spare before we caught the 7pm ferry back to Cozumel when we arrived, our van was gone, so we figured that the rest of our group had taken it home. We found a taxi back to the villa. When we got there, our group had a great meal of chicken prepared for us, and they told us that the van had been towed! We called Didier, our house manager, and he arranged for us to go to the police station and pick it up. $20 later we were on our way home with our van. Too bad I couldn't have liberated someone else's and left ours there. Maybe I could have found one with a reverse gear that wasn't 60 years old and named Bob.
Thursday, 2/26/98 - The long arm of the Law!
We were on the water by 8am for our last two dives of this trip. Victor came along again to video our dives. The wind had picked up during the night, and the ride to the first dive was something reminiscent of the beginning of Gilligan's Island. Our little boat was fighting waves twice its size, chugging up one side and freefalling down the other. My dive computer was already giving me no-decompression times before we got in the water from all of the waves washing over the sides. We couldn't wait to get into the water. Our first dive, on Punta Sur reef, was rough for me, because I was so worried about Connie getting swept away from our group while she was descending to the bottom that I burned 1000 pounds of air fighting the current and holding onto her on the way down. Turns out it was unnecessary, but better safe than sorry. We saw a small nurse shark and a large sea turtle on this dive. I almost caught the turtle, but didn't know how to hold onto him for a ride. Since I was working so hard on this dive, I ran out of air early, and Connie and I had to buddy breathe on the way up so that I didn't drain my tank completely dry. We surfaced with me at 300 pounds and Connie at 1200. How does she do that?
It was difficult to find the rest of our group because of the choppy water. Fortunately, the divemaster had an inflatable red marker thing that helped us find them. ( I gotta get me one of those.) He said that was the first time he had ever had to use it.
Our next dive was on Paraiso reef, my favorite. It went flawlessly, and was the perfect way to end our dive trip. We were almost at the international pier when we surfaced.
Once we finished our dive, we returned home and showered. I took a short nap, and it felt very good. Connie slept some too. Later, we went into town to find Victor and see a copy of our dive video. He put it to music that we really liked, so we asked him where we could get the cd "Fiesta Total". He told us, and we went and purchased it. Connie has been listening to it ever since.
We continued shopping until dinnertime, and then went back to the villa for dinner. Bob grilled up some of the best steaks I've ever had. Wow. Later, Connie and I took the convertible bug into town to spend the rest of our pesos. We bought all of the gifts on our list, and still had 150 pesos left over. We couldn't find anything worth buying for 150 pesos, so we headed home. On our way out of town, I passed a cop in a (what else?) VW police car. He turned on his loudspeaker and said "Please to turn on your lights!" I thought that I had, but apparently the button was not pressed all the way, only my parking lights were on. I complied, and watched in my mirror as the policeman drove up a side street away from the road that I was on. About three miles further down the road, two taxis flew by me, and a third vehicle came up behind but didn't pass. Moments later the blue and red lights were flashing in my mirror.
I pulled over and got out my license. The policeman approached and went to the front of the car to check the headlights. Then he said in Spanish, "You were speeding, and now I'm supposed to give you a ticket." I wanted to point out that I had just been passed by two local vehicles, but knew that it wouldn't do any good. I waited for him to go get his ticket book. Instead he just stood there. I looked up at him and he said "You know, it's OK with me if it's OK with you." I was confused. "Que?" I said. "You know, Senor, it's OK with me if it's OK with you," was his answer. I got the hint. "How much is the fine?" I asked. "At least $30" said he. "I'm sorry, Senor, " I countered, "We are going home tomorrow, and I only have 150 pesos ". I showed him the money. He balked at first, but when he realized that I really didn't have any more money, he said, "Well, it's OK with me if it's OK with you!" I said, "It's definitely OK with me!" He took my 150 pesos and put it in his pocket, told us to drive carefully, and left.
The moral of the story: If you get pulled over for being a filthy rich gringo, hide all of your money except for 150 pesos before the cop gets to your car. We met some brits in the airport who had been detained for being drunk in public and it cost them 300 pesos to get out of that one. The average cop in Mexico probably makes $200/month. So for a mere 150 pesos, he gets an income supplement, and I get a story that I can talk about for years. Not a bad deal, if you ask me. If you really want to be prepared for anything when you travel overseas, check out Fielding's Dangerfinder Online If you get a chance, read the book, too. Great adventure travel tips and stories.
Friday, 2/27/98 Going Home!L
The next morning, we finished packing and said our good-byes, then Bob and Becki drove us to the airport. We took a quick hop on AeroCaribe back to Cancun, and then waited a couple of hours while our flight to Ft. Worth was delayed. In that time we got a great appreciation for smoke free airports in the U.S. Then it was back to see our babies!
When all was said and done, the entire trip cost us about $3,600. $1,200 of that was airfare, $850 of it was our villa, and $600 was for diving. If I were to plan a trip like this again, knowing what I know now, I could probably do it for half the cost. It was worth every penny, though.