The humidity hit me as soon as I stepped out of the plane. It was like a thick wet cotton ball that made me want to shower and fall asleep at the same time. What followed was lots of sticky sweatiness as I stumbled through the Cancun airport through customs in my sweat pants and light Spring jacket. Customs was long but I didn’t mind the wait- there was so much to take in. I began scanning my environment, immediately overwhelmed by the humidity, the smell of salt in the air, the sound of Spanish and broken English and the sight of the many Americans and Asians around me with that intense as soon as I get out of the airport I can start my vacation look.
I was in and out of customs and had picked up my bag in less than 1 hour. Once outside, I was greeted by the Mexican jungle, an even heavier humidity that had me peeling off layers and a huge mass of airport employees, sunburned tourists departing and eager travelers with tired children and straw hats.
Something funny happens when you travel to beautiful places like Mexico- people that usually wouldn’t talk with you are suddenly friendly and welcoming. Admittedly, it was contagious. When I first left D.C., I was annoyed by people taking too long to pick up their tickets, irritated at people who walked on the wrong side of the escalators and generally not wanting to talk to anyone. I was in my usual I am invisible and you can’t see me mode I adopted while living in the East Coast.
But when I stepped off that plane the humidity did something to me and even I had this silly childlike glow that oozed from my pores and shouted, hey I’m on vacation, let’s be friends, let’s kumbaya in Cancun! Other people were feeling it to and before I had left the airport I exchanged information with several other travelers who invited me out with them later that night.
The ride to my hotel was too easy. I was greeted by incredibly (and genuinely) friendly staff that seemed very appreciative of the fact that I spoke Spanish and was travelling alone. I arrived at my hotel in less than 20 minutes and what I will refer to as the Cancun kumbaya effect was in full force by the time I met Vilandy, my personal concierge. I was given tons of info about my all inclusive hotel and invited to learn about a time share in exchange for an awesome breakfast and some sweet discounts– again all too easy. I headed up to my room, dropped off my things and immediately headed poolside to check out the entertainment, the food options, grab a beer and of course, say hello to the Caribbean.
Along the way I met and spoke with a lot of the hotel staff. I think I literally spent 2 hours speaking with my concierge who studied ecological tourism and wanted to open up a private ecological resort of her own one day. Another staff member Nelly, who worked at the jewelry shop became a good friend and somehow managed to explain all of Mayan and Aztec history to me (maps included) in less than an hour with nothing but a piece of paper and a beautiful Spanish accent. Before I go any further, I have to thank Senor Duval and all my other Spanish teachers for all the cheesy Spanish homework I had- this conversation with Nelly and the ease of the first day would have been impossible if it weren’t for their well thought out lesson and passion for the language.By 8 ‘oclock I was already bored with the hotel. Free beers and the sounds of drunk Americans can only hold your attention for so long.
I immediately began hitting up the folks I met on the plane AND managed to meet another hotel staff member who was selling tickets to Coco Bongo and invited me to meet up there for drinks. Fast forward some 4 outfit changes and 4 hours later and I was walking what I can only refer to as the strip in Cancun. For those of you who haven’t been to Cancun, just imagine Las Vegas only with 18 year olds who can drink. Definitely not my scene.
On the plus side, I did get to meet up with the Coco Bongo guide for a beer and some great tacos on the strip. He paid for my meal and we walked along the Ocean for a bit alongside many other travelers who preferred the splashing waves to the sound of drunken laughter. My belly was full of tacos and I was so happy to be in Mexico. After a short stint at the beach, I thanked my friend for the great food, grabbed a bus back to my hotel and pleasantly drifted off to sleep after perusing through my photos.
So how do you kumbaya in Mexico with the locals? Speak Spanish, smile big and laugh loud! The humidity and beautiful beach will take care of everything else.