Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Ian and I just took a whirlwind trip to Mexico, to attend the wedding of one of his oldest friends, T, (and by oldest, of course I mean they've been friends over 20 years. T is probably about 34, like Ian is). The event was held at the Iberostar Tucan and the Iberostar Quetzal Hotels on the Riviera Maya near Cancún, which are sister all-inclusive resorts (really, they're one resort for all practical purposes) on the beach. We only stayed for the minimum 3 nights—leaving last Thursday at 4:00am and arriving back at home Monday morning around 1:00am—because a Mexican beach in August is not really our kind of travel, but we definitely wanted to attend this wedding.

And let me say, before I go any further, that the wedding itself was beautiful and sweet, and the DJ at the reception was A W E S O M E. Meaning, he played all the songs I danced to in high school, which are all the good dance songs in the world, plus a medley from Grease. Also, the first dance between bride and groom ROCKED. E, huge props to you for getting T to do that choreography. It wasn't Tiny Bubbles like we had, but it was pretty good. Also, the bride and groom chartered a motor/sail catamaran to take a four hour tour including an hour of snorkeling and lunch on Friday and invited all the guests; I think 30 of us went, and that trip, out in the sun on clear, warm, turquoise water, was fantastic, too. I had covered myself in 15 SPF sunscreen before the boat ride and wore a lycra swim cap and a long-sleeved T-shirt while I was snorkeling and the result, even though I laid out in only my swim suit (and normal hat) on the huge web at the front of the boat for our 1 ½ hour motor back to port, was that I did not get any color at all, except for two little red streaks on my ass where my bikini bottom shifted after I lotioned up. That led me to pretty much eschewing sunscreen for, instead, the option of filtered sun on the beach for several hours the next day (except my face, which had 30 SPF) . . . and led, with the assistance of several limonata-and-vodka cocktails . . . to a bit more sunburn than just those thin strips on my ass. It wasn't awful though, because I really did have a pretty good base tan, and now I simply look like a spent some time in a lower latitude than the 47th. And naked I look like I'm wearing a startlingly white bikini.

Yeah, but, in a lot of ways, the resort itself was like a beautiful, beautiful prison.

First of all, I'm assuming that time and materials are relatively cheap in Mexico, and that safe, tasty food and clean water is a bit harder to come by. Therefore, the buildings and the pool looked like a 5-star setting, complete with mini-jungle teeming with lizard, rodent and monkey life . . . but the execution of the whole thing was 2-star at best. Even though we never left our door open longer than it took to go through it, we had mosquitoes in the room every night. I think they were coming out of the drains in the bathroom. Our TV worked, and our toilet never backed up, but that was not true of many of our friends. One couple, after the third backing up, was asked "Well, are you putting the paper in the toilet? Stop doing that." Now, in Greece, it's pretty standard to have a little, lidded bin next to the toilet where you place your used tissue. There are signs everywhere, and they tell you about it when you check in to hotels and inns, and it's because there's little water, and the pipes are, like, 4,000 years old. These bins are emptied every day, and the whole system works well once you grow used to it. And I grew used to it easily, having spent six months in Kenya, where occasionally just squatting in the bush is much tidier that your "toilet" options. At the Sofitel Athens, however, which looks as posh as the Iberostar, you can just dump your paper in the bowl. Anyway, pipes at the Iberostar? Evidently the equivalent of 4,000 years old, and yet there were no signs requesting you not to flush your paper, and the trash bins were open-topped.

Also, even though the rooms were air conditioned, there was some sort of motion detector (a possibly logical money-saving device) which caused all power in the rooms—including the AC and the beer fridges—to go off after a period of time. Outside it was in the 90s and humid. Inside it was frequently in the 80s and humid. We made our in-room coffee the first morning and it was never replaced, but it wasn't very good and so complaining about it smacks of "Airplane food is awful and there's not enough of it!"

There was food—or maybe sustenance is a more appropriate noun—available 24 hours a day, which was very, very nice. The availability, that is. I had a wizened hotdog and some chips with cheese sauce all by myself at the midnight food place the first night we were in there, after a gender-divided trip to bars in town. Much appreciated salty, fatty, convenience. But mostly the food was mediocre and uninspired, and not very Mexican. I had been hoping for taco or burrito bars and tropical fruits, but no luck. Aside from tortillas, bland guacamole, one inferno of a jalapeño and the ubiquitous viscous cheese sauce, you could've been eating anywhere in the world. Which I expect appeals to a lot of people. We had the rehearsal dinner meal in one of the "reservation only" restaurants, a steak house. My tenderloin was actually excellent, but many of the other steaks were unappetizing, and the "vegetarian option" that had been inquired after and confirmed before the meal began ended up being simply the sides—corn, rice, and baked potato with a crust (yes, crust) of sour cream on it. I enjoyed my meat and pretty much avoided my vegetables. The biggest complaint I heard about the steak restaurant was again like that old joke about airplane food—it was too hard to get reservations for the reservation-only restaurants. The few guests at the wedding who were not initially on the reservation for the steak dinner were almost not served, even though the restaurant had about 20 empty tables in it while we were eating. My feeling is that the reservation wasn't for a seat, but for a meat—and the meat was expensive and so they didn't want to supply it.

The ocean was clear blue and the beach glowing and golden, and it was pretty awesome to swim, even at night, until the second night when two of our friends were badly stung by an invisible jellyfish which put an end to the midnight capers. Alcohol was available all day from the beachside bar, or from servers who came right to the umbrellas and chaises, and it certainly worked for me, although some in our party felt it was watered down (they weren't taking alcohol-interactive Keppra, though). There was also a self-serve soda fountain, and a guy dishing out small ice cream cones. I had Oreo. Beach or pool towels were included and could be exchanged at any time from 9 to 6, but boy were they worried about them! At check-in each person was issued a "towel card", and if you didn't hand it in at checkout, having returned your towel to the kiosk, you were charged $10. It was not allowed to check out by merely leaving your keys and towels cards in your room: before your airport transportation could take you away, you had to give your checkout slip to the bellman.

There was even an adults-only swim-up bar, in a separate pool near the main pool, and the water was decidedly murkier. I heard once that a lot of people, instead of finding a restroom, routinely pee where they're sitting at swim-up bars—more need, from the alcohol, and less inhibition. We did not go in.

Possibly the most annoying part for me was the bracelet. At check in, we were each tagged around the wrist with a vinyl strap that we were required to keep on for the duration of our stay, so that employees in the hotel could tell at a glance that we belonged there. When coming back from town the first night with the other girls, we had to hold up our wrists from the back seat of the taxi so that the security guard would let the taxi driver through the gate. The vinyl felt uncannily like a hospital bracelet, and I found it triggered responses that were not really what I was after in a tropical vacation.

Finally, we were completely separated from anything and everything that could possibly be considered Mexican. The hotel was in a large, fenced and gated community of other hotels and vacation homes. There was not a grocery store anywhere, let alone a taco stand. The best meal we had was some tacos and fajitas at the airport on our way out.

BUT—as I said, the wedding was beautiful, and we really enjoyed hanging out with our friends. We're already planning the next tropical trip—to a house where we can cook, a real town that we can walk to, and the beach, the water, and the booze (of course!).

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