Mexico. Land of tequila and tacos, sombreros and siestas. Sun and sea, Sol and Corona. Relaxing. All-inclusive. Terrifying.
Last week I completed my first (and probably last) ever genuine “holiday” type vacation in Cancun, where I did not do any of the following:
– wonder which hostel I should book for tomorrow
– decide if I should eat the dodgy street food
– wear the same jeans for seven days in a row
– avoid eye contact with strangers
– visit a new part of town every day
I’ve been thinking about this, and I want to be very clear that while I am critical of the notion of “all-inclusives” for myself, I found both our resort and Mexico generally to be beautiful, with wide-open skies, clear water, lovely flora and fauna (mangroves, birds, coconut palms, rat-pigs, etc.).
Caveat: I booked this trip with the understanding that it was less a “vacation” and more a “scientific experiment” to prove the hypothesis that all-inclusive resort vacations where the main attraction is the beach are not for me. This carries on the tradition of an earlier experiment where I proved that Danielle Steel was not for me by reading one of her books. That way, when I said “Danielle Steel writes trash”, I was speaking from a position of authority, not talking out of my ass.
Here’s a summary of my core problems with resort life:
- I hate feeling trapped.
- I hate not using my brain.
- I hate being coddled.
The trapped feeling was the result of many factors. We were issued scary bracelet-manacle-handcuff things (see below) that we were told we had to wear the entire time we were at the resort ON PAIN OF DEATH. Okay, maybe not death per se, but without it I would not get fed, as the awful White Bracelet of Power was the only thing indicating that I was a human being who had paid the Fiesta Hotel Group oodles of money and was thus worthy of food and shelter.
Upon removal, bracelet-monitoring resort robots would instantly detect my naked wrist, relegate me to “refuse” status in their tiny databases and bodily remove me to fend for myself on the Yucatan peninsula. I hated it, and it kept scratching me when I rolled over on it in my sleep.
Remoteness was a factor. Being 2 hours outside of Cancun and 40 minutes from Playa del Carmen meant the only convenient thing to visit near the resort was a massive highway. The one time we took the “Colectivo” bus into town, we didn’t spend much time there. The transition from resort-vacation to adventure-vacation mode was too abrupt for comfort, and my Scottish self loathed the idea of paying for dinner twice: the pre-paid buffet at the resort was wrapped in dollar-signs in my mind.
Yes, I visited the ancient ruins of Chichen-Itza. It was interesting, and swimming in a cenote (freshwater underground pool) before walking around the ruins was probably the highlight of my trip. But seeing the appalling living conditions of the Mayan villages we passed along the bus route stole some of the glory from the ancient pyramids.
It would probably be healthy for me to stop using my brain more often. To let the old grey cells idle in neutral, let the meat-CPU cool down every now and then and just meditate on the sea. But I simply can’t turn it off. Drinking works to a point, but to stop myself from spending hours meditating on the economic plight of the Mayan natives would involve a dawn-to-dusk commitment to alcohol that I am not willing to endure; there’s too heavy a penalty the next day when the Hangover Fairy visits.
Yes, I brought books. I finished three while I was there. But “all-inclusive” does not include room service, just a minibar full of pop and beer. So, instead of lounging about in the morning enjoying a hot cup of tea (Mexico’s worst failing: they serve LIPTON, gasp, horror!) and a biscuit while reading in my PJs, I had to suit up for the loud, bright, human-infested buffet as soon as I wanted food in the morning. Wireless Internet is not available in the rooms, so if you want to check your email you have to go to the lobby and sit amongst drunk, smoking louts (which explains a lot about why this blog post is being written a week late). Not my idea of luxury.
I think the biggest problem I had was with the society on the resort, or lack thereof. The people flaunting their bikini-bodies on the sand, playing beach volleyball, and lounging by the pool soaking up the sun’s rays are not of my nerdy, book-loving, computer-addicted tribe. They are sun-worshippers; the sun strikes fear in my heart. “Put on some SPF!” I wanted to yell at the young woman slathering herself in tanning oil. “You’ll have melanoma before you’re 45!”
Every day when I tried, against all reason, to run 5km in the sweaty, sticky heat, part of me wanted to leave the perfectly-manicured, almost video-game perfect grounds, and dart off into the jungle, to see some “real” Mexico, and maybe meet a Mexican who would not make a self-deprecating joke about themselves, but actually converse with me about something *real*.
My final issue, not enjoying “coddling”, is really the nail in the coffin of why I should not go to an all-inclusive again until I am either a baby-mama seeking respite from the daily grind of housework or a very old lady. The whole point of these getaways is to be pampered. To have unseen staff clean your room and launder your towels, make your food and wash your dishes. It’s creepy; I don’t like it.
The buffet encourages excessive consumption of foods you would never normally eat. To add insult to overindulgence, I couldn’t enjoy my forbidden hash browns because of the morbidly obese man wearing a NASA shirt standing directly behind me in queue, heaping six of the same on his overburdened plate – an instant reminder of the evils that result from gorging on the buffet.
I think the trip could have been improved considerably if I had gone with a large group, or if I was brave enough to try SCUBA diving, or if I was a better drinker and could choke back more than 3 glasses of margarita without wanting to hurl.
No, but seriously, go to Mexico. See the friendly rat-pigs. They’re so cute! Look!