- Observations of a Freelance Writer
Today we’re going to see a great deal of punditry about the situation in Ferguson, Missouri. Fine. This post is not about that, but it is about the source of racial tension in America. I recently read a Facebook post claiming that the source of racial tension is that one black kid gets shot and the press goes nuts, but four hundred and something police officers are killed on duty every year and nobody says diddly. Well, that’s not good that nobody says diddly, but consider this. We pay police officers to put their lives on the line. Not enough, in my opinion, but their job is to stand between us and danger, so that it isn’t national news when somebody who voluntarily steps out into a dangerous situation pays the price. It’s to be expected, really. In Vegas, the local news makes quite a big deal out of an officer’s death, I can vouch for that, so it’s not true that nobody notices when a police officer dies on duty.
On the other hand, what I witnessed in the local supermarket the other day is not expected, at least not by me. There was a man in front of me buying some wine for a party for his girlfriend. The clerk called him “darling” and “honey” a lot. That is sometimes passed off as “Southern Manners,” and is common amongst waitresses and others around these parts. I’ve never cared for it, because I don’t think any waitress knows me well enough to be that personal. In fact, it is done deliberately to let customers know who is in charge, and it ain’t the customers. Okay, I can’t stop it, but I do dislike it. This particular clerk was being really egregious in her usage of terms of endearment on this man she never before met. To the point where I was planning to use some right back at her when it was my turn, to see how she liked that crap. But when I came up, it was “Sir this, sir that, thank you sir!” Also probably overdone, but at least it was respectful. Then when the guy behind me stepped up she was right back to the “darlings” and such. Guess what the difference was. I’m a white guy. The man in front of me and the man behind me were black guys. That’s the difference. If that clerk were my employee and I caught her treating customers that way, I’d fire her ass. But my point here is that such idiocy is the actual source of racial tension in America. Do you think that those two black guys were so dim that they didn’t notice? Hah!
So, whatever happens in Ferguson today, keep in mind that black people did not start the racial tension merry-go-round turning. If you’re white, you have it in your power to at least not keep pushing it.
Otherwise, you’re just a bigoted a-hole like that clerk at the market. And that’s where racial tension comes from.
I vastly underestimated the degree of apathy in the Democratic base. Ah, well, I better not hear any of them bitching about the government for the next couple of years. Their loss.
There’s always next cycle!
Really. Check it out along the right border of this page. Weather Bug abandoned its WordPress users, so I switched to Accuweather. Less colorful, but accurate. (It’s right in the name, innit?)
Here, quoted from my post of January 29th, is my first prediction for the year 2014 in its most succinct form:
“Just that the Republicans will not take over the Senate, and may lose some seats in the House.”
I copied and pasted that line. I’m repeating it so I can either look especially good or especially loopy tomorrow evening. We’ll see, I guess. Popular sentiment now seems to suggest the opposite, but I’ve never been one for believing what the media says popular sentiment is. So . . .
This is a wrap-up of information and advice for anyone thinking of visiting Cancún. Which, by the way, I would recommend as it’s lovely, the food is excellent, and it’s pretty cheap compared to a lot of places. I write Cancún, but what I’m writing here applies to the entire Mayan Riviera, which is the North-East Coast of the Yucatán peninsula.
Getting There, from Vegas at least, generally involves going through Mexico City on Aeromexico. There are worse airlines, but it’s still air travel. They have a cute safety video. If you have the means, charter a jet and go straight to Cancún.
The Water looks fine, but don’t drink it. At a minimum, there are organisms in it that you’re not used to, and you’ll just end up chewing up pink tablets every morning. The good news is that they changed the flavor to anise, which is much better than wintergreen, but still, you chew that stuff down and then you have a problem whichever way things go, Know what I mean?
Don’t stay in your resort all of the time! I know that a lot of people do, but I don’t understand it. Some of the finest food on the planet, not to mention a slew of excellent activities, are waiting outside. I posted about some of them in this series, but there is also a water park, miles of public beaches, a big-ass mall (Plaza las Americas) and enough tourist traps to make Orlando jealous. Seriously. Sure, your resort has good food and things to do, but there’s so much better food, and better things to do, outside.
Driving is just driving. The only thing different in the road markings and signage is the speed limit sign, which uses the everywhere but the US and Canada symbol of a red circle with a number in it. It’s kilometers per hour, but the speedometer is too, so there’s no big deal. No reason to be afraid of metric. The US was the first country outside of France to adopt that system, you know. Nobody makes anybody use it, but it’s perfectly legal for trade. Remember that next time you grab a 2-liter bottle of soda. The only caveat I have is that the bus drivers are fearless and aggressive, which I suppose that they have to be. Oh, and don’t speed. Rental cars have coded license plates and they watch for you.
The food is fantastic. You can stay in your resort and eat what they’ve got, of course. Our hotel had the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever seen, for example. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with the food outside, and in fact it is incredibly good. Don’t let fear keep you from trying a local hole in the wall restaurant. I said that the water will drive you to pink tablets. The food won’t, honest. It sometimes looks like what we call “Mexican” food, but it sure tastes better. Better than Del Taco? Well, yeah!
Finally, safety. I wrote about this topic in my first post of this series. You know, you’re as safe as you keep yourself. Safety isn’t from never getting into any sort of trouble. Safety comes from thinking ahead, and being ready to deal with trouble. That said, we encountered very little trouble on our trip. There was that Yucatán state cop who was probably looking for a bribe, but my Spanish got really bad as he was talking to us and he had to let us go. (That’s what I mean about thinking about how you’ll deal with trouble — we were too ignorant or dumb to understand him so he couldn’t work his scam.) And here’s the first rule of self defense: don’t go into a dangerous situation. If there’s a dark alley, don’t go there. If there’s almost nobody around, go somewhere else. Don’t get roaring drunk and expect to stay safe. (You can get roaring drunk in your living room, if that’s what you want. It’s safe.) Nothing in the world is “safe” in the sense that you are guaranteed not to be hurt in some way. But by dealing with situations as they arise, you are “safe” in the sense that you actually, in the end, don’t. Get hurt in any way, that is.
Cancún is a lovely place, first world all the way, with good roads, good food, and world-class resorts. (I’m from Vegas so I know a world-class resort when I see one.) Go, don’t let fear stop you from meeting the locals, eat the food, drink bottled water, take in some local activities, and you’ll have a great vacation. I promise!
We were in Mexico for five days total, including travel to get there, so I’ve already described what we did. Our first full day we shopped and ate and such things, and it’s the eating that I’d like address now. First, Mexicans do eat tacos and burritos and other items we call “Mexican Food,” but they aren’t like the ones you buy around here, unless that is you go to a local Taco Bell or something. I mentioned before that you do not have to eat any exotic or unfamiliar foods if you don’t want to. Not in Cancún, anyway. But you should.
Here’s a place you can start eating real Mexican food. It’s called Los de Pescados. A quick and dirty translation of that would be “fish stuff.” Which pretty much describes the menu. What we both had was empanadas pescadas (fish empanadas.) An empanada is a small pie like thing. Think a hot pocket or a Hostess Fruit Pie. Only, you know, good. Los de Pescados has locations all over the Yucatán peninsula. The one in Cancún is on Av. Tulum, not far from the North End (KM 0) of Av. Kulkulkan, the main drag through the Hotel Zone (Zona de hoteles on the signs.) Kulkulkan becomes Av. Cobo, and the first traffic circle is Av. Tulum. Turn left (3rd exit) and then immediately get onto the frontage road. A block or so down, park in the diagonal spaces to the left and there it will be, with the best damned fish pies you could ever imagine.
There’s a picture of the menu board, but those aren’t the only selections. In fact, the corporate website doesn’t even list fish empanadas, just fish tacos, which I’m willing to believe are also excellent. Next time I go I’ll be a lot hungrier, as the total cost was less than we pay for breakfast for two at our local diner. Maybe 13 or 14 bucks. Well worth the charge.
Our first evening in Mexico we found a place in downtown Cancún called El Callejon. This time I even have the address (and only this time, I’m afraid.) It is
Their web presence is a Facebook page, but it’s informative. The place is owned by a gentleman from Canada. When I asked how a Canadian came to be running a restaurant in Cancún he told me that there wasn’t enough time to explain. Doesn’t matter, because the food is great! The owner recommended, and we accepted, ordering a dish that he said “my employees eat.” Not sure what it was but it had several items maybe chicken and fish, rice, and some excellent vegetables. If that’s what his employees eat, then his employees eat very well indeed. This, too was incredibly cheap.
So as you can see, it is possible to get incredibly good food in Cancún for very little money. But, if you want you can spend more. Why not? You’re on vacation! For example, at km 16.5 is Captain’s Cove. Not that they’re expensive by Vegas standards. Heck, you can spend a hundred bucks on a sandwich in this town, but it’s not incredibly cheap either. It does feature (duh) seafood, and the food was good. As was the view, which stretched all the way to the largest flag I’ve ever seen. It’s a Mexican flag, of course, right up at the tippy top of the Hotel Zone. Here’s a picture of it, taken from Captain’s Cove. Compare the size of the flag with the size of the adjacent buildings. There is no trick of perspective used in the photo; it really is that big. We saw no alligators or crocodiles (the signs use both names) but the lagoon seen here is said to be fairly crawling with them. Swell, huh?
We also ate at Ik-Kil, you remember the Cenote place. They have a really unimaginative buffet. It was okay, mind you, and reasonably priced, but it matched a place like Sam’s Town in terms of selection and general atmosphere. So, not all of the local food is to die for. Go here anyway, because you’ll want to swim in the Cenote and no mistake.
At Xcaret we had the Xcaret Plus! tickets, which entitled us to a buffet lunch that even included a free beer. There are four buffets to choose from, and we ate in La Laguna, which has a wide selection of really good stuff from all over the world, including, if you just can’t find anything else, pizza. I ate no pizza, but I did enjoy a whole lot of different dishes both of the sea and of the land, and one of the best glasses of cold beer of my life. No pictures of this place, I’m afraid. You should visit Xcaret anyway, you don’t have to eat here to enjoy it. Besides, they’ll give you a map.
We also ate broiled grouper at our hotel on the first day, and every day we had an excellent breakfast buffet. A couple of nights we were too tired to eat out so we ordered room service, which is convenient, but nothing to write home about. The only other place I’d like to mention is on Isla Mujeres. I was going to be clever and use Google Earth to pin it right down, since I never did catch the name of the place, but as it happens it is on a pedestrian only street, so Google Earth can’t go there. Well, they could, the lazy louts, but they haven’t. If you go, it’s two streets in from the ferry dock and a couple of blocks to the left (north.) I wish I knew the name because it was delicious and, yes, cheap as dirt. For the food, I could hang out in Cancún indefinitely.
I’m going to post one more post about this trip, for the benefit of our gracious hosts there along the Mayan Riviera. I’ll sum up the overall experience, the weather, driving, and maybe offer some light advice. If you enjoy this sort of thing, do check back!
Isla Mujeres is a strip of land 1/4 mile wide by 5 miles long, visible from the coast near Cancún. There are several ferry services that go there on a scheduled basis. The name means “Island of Women” because the Spanish found a lot of statues of a goddess there. Now there is one great big one on the southern end, and I don’t know what happened to all the smaller ones the Spaniards found. Here she is now:
Ixchel is sometimes called the goddess of midwifery, fertility, rain, the moon, war, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Okay I made those last two up, but the rest is true. Her statue is about ten feet high. But she’s not the only statue in that location. There’s also this iguana:
As you see, the iguana is no slouch in the size department either. Both of these things are on the extreme southern end of Isla Mujeres, along with a restaurant and a genuine fake Mayan village that you can visit for a fee. Never seen the place, myself.
But what of the north end, you ask? The north end has a town chock full of places to buy souvenirs, liquor, food, and very little of a practical nature. That explains why we saw a ferry unloading with people carrying things that appeared to be automobile windshields, tires, door frames and other practical items with them onto the shore. I guess if you live on Isla Mujeres, you use that ferry. A lot. Maybe they sell season passes for locals or something.
It was raining as we rode to the island. In fact, we delayed our departure and visited the Mayan Museum along Avenida Kulkukan, which is a worthwhile thing to do, in order to let the worst of the storms pass. Not that you get significantly wetter in the rain, mind you. But it’s easier to see without all that fresh water splashing into your eyes. The museum has archaeological zones aplenty, along with displays interpreting the earliest people to live on the peninsula. That would not be the Maya, by the way. The Yucatán goes back a long way, it seems.
But back on the island, we arrived hungry, but a short walk brought us to a restaurant where the food was excellent. I actually don’t remember what I ate but it was top notch. If I was anywhere near the place I’d go back today. I’ll try to determine which it was before I write my post about the food in Cancún. I’ll give you a hint: it’s delicious. We then rented a golf cart, which is what tourists do on Isla Mujeres, and drove around the island. Our second stop was the south end, where this post begins. Our first stop was a turtle farm, or tortugana. Yes, a turtle is a tortuga in Spanish, so those islands beyond Key West are properly called the Dry Turtles. But you want to see the ones we saw, so here you go.
It’s a turtle “farm” so I think perhaps a large specimen like this one might not be long for the world. I also believe that they are involved in restocking the wild stock of sea turtles, so maybe this guy is just not quite big enough to hit the open sea yet. Whichever, they have tons of them, some about the size of the ones kids get, up to this big one here.
On the trip back there was a musician on the ferry, which was very crowded as it was the last trip back for the day. He hit every standard song in Spanish that Americans tend to love, like La Bamba, Guantanamera, and others, plus just for grins, “Who’ll stop the Rain?” in English. This was our last night. We had to be at the airport by 4:30 or so the next morning, so instead of excellent Mexican food we ate a Dominoes thin and crispy pizza. Which was perfectly fine, by the way. I mention that because if you’re the sort of person who travels but doesn’t care about what’s there (a lot of people go to Cancún explicitly to get drunk) you can still eat familiar stuff and pretend the native dishes don’t exist. That pizza is excluded from my post on the food. If you want to know how it really was, order one.
Next time I’ll write about all the great stuff we ate, and probably a bit about the city of Cancún itself. Do check back!
Xcaret is about 70 km south of the Cancun airport. It owes a lot of its layout and ambiance to Walt Disney’s genius, but it is in fact more than Disneyland, or even Disney World, claims to be. It is not only an amusement park, zoological garden, snorkeling site, thrill ride center, and display of Mexican culture, it is also an effort to preserve the natural beauty of the Yucatán and the Caribbean. Like Disney, it isn’t cheap, but it’s cheaper than Disneyland, and that’s something. 1 day for 2 adults, purchased at least 3 weeks in advance, runs $219US. (At a reasonable exchange rate that runs to about $2800 in Pesos. At the Xcaret exchange rate that’s about $2400 in Pesos. Take a lesson.)
Here are some Flamingoes at Xcaret. This is the only picture we have that actually includes the name of the place in the frame somewhere, so I’m using it right up front. The population of flamingoes has been decreasing in recent decades in the Yucatan, and as you may imagine, the loss of a lovely native bird isn’t what people hope for. One of Xcaret’s largest projects is breeding and release of flamingoes to replace those lost to, well, whatever is causing numbers to drop. I imagine shrinking habitat, pesticides, the usual culprits, are to blame.
These parrots are near the front entrance. There are some flamingoes there, too, as you might notice, but the parrots come even before the giant gift shop (told you they copied Walt’s ideas) that you must either walk around or through to get to the good stuff. We bought the “Xcaret Plus” package, which I would recommend. It includes the underground rivers (more below) and snorkeling, plus even a free buffet lunch (very good) which even included a free glass of beer! Free beer! And, while I’m on that subject, here’s a brief aside:
I generally prefer the darker ales, especially English style. My favorite beer is called Hobgoblin Ale from Oxfordshire. It has no hops. I have poo-pooed cocktail beers in the past, but I have to say that, in the hot, muggy jungle Corona was just what I needed. So, I guess I have to apologize for bad mouthing lighter, hoppy beers, because in the right time and place, there is nothing better.
There are Mayan ruins in Xcaret, too. “Archeological Zones” they call them in Mexico. And, unlike that expensive place to the west, they are included in the price, and one can sit on, or climb on, them at one’s leisure.
Here I am, sitting on one of them. The peninsula is fairly crawling with Mayan ruins, and as the Mayans aren’t using them any more, and in fact don’t mind people poking around on or in them, it’s easy enough to find a place to check out ancient stonework without driving two hours and being harassed by a state cop. But old stone structures aren’t really my thing. If they were I’d be a big fan of the US Senate. But, I digress. I do like the fishies, though, and Xcaret has a nice aquarium. Here’s something from in there:
There are lots of sponges and other interesting items, including what I call the “ugliest fish in the world.” I don’t have a picture of the thing good enough to publish, but trust me, that thing is ugly! Corn smut runs at its approach. Faux Tuscan houses crumble to the ground when it’s near. I mean, it’s horrible looking. But, meh, everybody’s gotta live, right?
Now, the underground rivers, they are something special. The advertisements mention an “underground river,” but don’t mention that there are actually three of them to explore. We took the darkest one, and paddled up another one just a bit. Here is a view from inside the one we floated down:
As you can see, it was less than sunny in there, which was great! I don’t really think that I felt any wetter when this photo was takcn than I did walking down the path to get into the river. You need water shoes, or they’ll throw in a pair of swim fins if you don’t have any. I’d forgotten how easy it is to swim really fast with fins on. Wowzers! Upon returning to Xcaret, we plan to do the other two. You can, in fact, do all three, or one or two, as many times as you’d like as long as they are open, which is up until 5:30 PM. And, yes, I would enjoy returning. In fact, if you click over to their website (see the first word of this post) you’ll see that they have a whole slew of parks, and you can do a Disney thing and buy a multi-day pass and visit them all. In fact, you can stay right there and never leave their property. Walt was an inspiration to many, wasn’t he?
We were running out of time after the river, and had to walk about a quarter mile over to the snorkeling lagoon. And that is really cool! One of the first things I saw was a stingray (not the car, a real one) swimming directly below me. I had to resist the urge to reach out and touch it, as it was wild and for all I knew spent Saturday nights talking to its stingray friends about the “time they got that wacky Aussie guy.” Tami’s attempt to do underwater photography failed for some reason, so I can’t post any pictures, but it was an excellent way to finish our day at the park. If you’re ever in that part of the world, I’d recommend a visit. And get the “plus” pack because it’s worth it.
This is a coatimundi. You may have seen them in a zoo. In the Yucatán they are more like squirrels. Wild, that is, and extremely interested in whatever food humans drop. We saw about a half dozen of them ducking in and out of a trash receptacle. They’re cute, though. Other wildlife of note are the Parrots, and not to be forgotten, the crocodiles/alligators. Not sure just which they are but I’m happy to report that we didn’t see one. I’ve seen them before. They’re green. They eat people. I don’t need to know more than that. Besides all that I’ve mentioned, Xcaret is home to quite a few feral cats, which I imagine are employed to keep the rats down to a mild roar. At least I didn’t see any rats. Did you?
Finally, once again here are a few random photos from our day at Xcaret. (If you pronounce it as if there were an “i” in front of it, you’ll be close enough.)
I copied and pasted the name Chichén Itzá to avoid having to press too many keys to get the Spanish accents right. Also, since I stole it from the official site, I’m pretty sure that I have it spelled correctly. In case you aren’t familiar with the name, Chichén Itzá is a Mayan city that was in its day a major trade and governmental center on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a World Heritage Site, which is why we wanted to visit. There is a good four-lane highway connecting Cancún with Mérida, which is a city on the West side of the peninsula with a lot of French influence. Note the accent mark in the name Mérida. The stress is on the first syllable, which is not the standard. See how much you can learn reading this blog? Anyhow, we would have liked to go there as well, but Chichén Itzá is already 2.5 hours away, and Mérida is a couple of hours beyond that. Ah, so.
The road is Mexico 180D, known locally as the “Federal Highway” (Carerra Federál on the map.) It’s a nice road, a lot like a similar road in the United States. One reason it is in such good condition is that they charge 260 Pesos to drive it. Other than that, you can enter and exit at leisure, although in fact there aren’t a lot of exits. For Quite a way, maybe 40 or 50 kilometers, it’s about the dullest road I’ve ever driven. It’s a jungle out there, so all you can see is the edge of the jungle and a strip of sky. There are no billboards, no junctions, only a few roads crossing on bridges, and a speed limit of 110kph. (I’m not going to translate the metric. I believe that you’re smart enough to do that if you really need to know.) It was broken up on the way by a small convenience store just inside the Yucatán state line. Right where the cops were waiting to pounce on the unwary. It reminded me of my birth state of Ohio.
Except in Ohio they don’t pull rental cars over for questioning. The officer was using good Spanish and I mostly understood him. He looked at our rental agreement, fair enough I suppose, and then noticed that the licence number of the car wasn’t printed on it. Well, so. Then he started telling us about how there was supposed to be a card on the front window with the license number on it. He looked in the trunk. Then he started making small talk about a good place to get coffee in town. He started talking to Tami but she genuinely is lost in Spanish, so he switched to me. I understood a little of what he said, so far as he’ll ever know. After about ten minutes of sweating in the tropic heat I asked him if we could go and he said okay, but get the problem fixed when we got back to Cancún. We didn’t, for the record. If he wanted a bribe he had only to ask, but there’s no way I’m offering one in a foreign country.
So, on to Chichén Itzá! Whoo Hoo! The picture above is one often used to represent Mayan culture. Honestly, I have no idea what they did in there. What I do know is that the place was expensive (for Mexico) and hotter than holy Hell. Also you can’t so much as touch one of the ruins, much less climb on it or anything. We were pressed repeatedly to use a guide (by prospective guides) but we declined. That was good, because neither of us lasted long enough in the heat to finish a tour. You can buy guidebooks (which may disappoint a bit) that will help you find your way around. In truth, the Mayans were impressive in their building skill. They built that Castle, and everything else, without metal tools, and without wheels. How, I don’t know, but they did it. Here’s a detail of a head of a plumed serpent at the bottom of one of those giant stairways:
And, as a bonus, not only do you see the head of the plumed serpent in that photo, but also un lagarto el el sol. I took a video of this guy, but it looks just like this still, except that I walked around and changed the angle a bit. Obviously lizards like that kind of heat. Not me. One can also see many other impressive structures, a Cenote used for religious purposes, a ball court, and then us, hiking back to the car to turn the AC up as high as it would go. It worked!
But we did not simply drive back to Cancún. No, instead we went to Ik-Kil, a marvelous Cenote not far from Chichén Itzá. I have some pictures, but in case you want more, more more!, here is a link to a Google Image Search for the place: https://www.google.com/search? Click Here . But, to save you time, here’s a picture from our own collection:
Here’s another, showing the water:
It’s about 50 meters deep and surprisingly chilly when you first get in, but it is just the thing to restore the spirits of a damp and bedraggled pair. 50 Meters refers to the water depth, not the height of the opening. Mangrove roots reach right down to the water, and it’s fairly crawling with plecostomi, those bottom feeding tank cleaning fish that are popular in freshwater aquariums. Hey, they have to come from somewhere, right? There is also a restaurant here and lodging available. Among other languages I heard Russian, Dutch, and German spoken amongst the crowd in the Cenote, which may give you an idea that the place is popular with a lot of people. After lunch and a swim, we did then get back on the Federal Highway and return to Cancún. But on the way, we stopped by the lovely city of Valladolid, where the tremendously old church turns out to be a replacement for one destroyed in the “Revolt of the Mayors,” a bit of Mexican history of which we were ignorant. The link will take you to a Wikipedia article about the city, where you can learn more. Apparently we took no photographs, but did note that there is a nice Plaza and also some French colonial influence as well. I will close by posting a few more photographs from this day. Until next time, then. ¡Disfrute!