Mexico, before the Wall

Hi dear RIP friends,

If you followed me so far you know I’ve recently been to Mexico for 2 weeks.

I wanted to write about my experience and share some thoughts about money, freedom and society.

Be prepared, this is a very long post (the longest I’ve published so far).

I’ve even added a table of contents, here it comes:

Decision Making Process

(i.e. the “why, how, when, what, where“)

Why?
Earlier this year the RIPs and a couple of our Very Close Friends (let’s call them the VCFs) decided to try a dreamy trip together, the four of us. The ideal plan we came up with was a 2 weeks trip where the first week would be “traveling and seeing stuff” and the second one relaxing at the sea/ocean.

When?
The best time of the year to ask for 2 weeks of vacation all together would be mid of November.

Where?
Candidate destinations were:

  • India & Maldives
  • Africa & Madacascar
  • Mexico & Galapagos

We ended up choosing Mexico and … well, still Mexico. Galapagos turned out to be a little bit hard to reach.

What?
We spent an evening brainstorming the four of us together and came up with “what to do in Mexico”, trying to filter places that appeared to be touristic traps. We ended up selecting places in the Yucatan peninsula (Tulum, Chichen Itza, Palenque, Campeche, Merida, few Cenotes) and another cluster of things in Chiapas (Sumidero, San Cristobal, Agua Azul).

That’s for the first week. To make things simple, the second week would be “close enough” that we’d reach relax destination without too much hassles. Candidates were Mexico’s islands like Holbox, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel.

Final decision would be made once the first week had been finalized.

How
Do it yourself? Go with a tour operator? Just get a guide? A driver? Here RIPs approach differed from VCFs. We are more “wild” and proposed a DIY solution, while the VCFs voted for a more structured one. We ended up leaning toward structure: send our plan to several tour operators and see what they offered and then negotiate. After few bounces we picked a tour operator that offered a 7 days tour for 1160 USD per person, with a driver, a guide, 7 hotel nights and other fees like entrances to Maya ruins and cenotes.

This is the first time I travel this way. I accepted it because “do you really want to drive a car in Chiapas??“, which is actually a nice threat if you want to convince me 🙂

It’s easy to express judgement in retrospective, but beforehand we had no clue about what was waiting for us. I think if I’d do another Mexico trip in the same area I’d rent a car and handle hotels’ booking and attraction tickets on my own in Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Campeche. Definitely not in Chiapas.

Once the first week had been finalized, we decided to spend the second one in Isla Mujeres due to simplicity: we’d take an internal flight from Tuxtla to Cancun, landing on Saturday late afternoon. We want to reach the destination hotel before night. Holbox is far and we don’t want to waste a night in Cancun (which btw should be avoided at any cost).

The Map

here’s the full itinerary on Google mymaps:

click on the image to go to the actual map

Trip overview

Overall, this trip was awesome. We’ve experienced a completely different world and relaxed a lot. Taking a bath in the ocean in December is something I’ve never done before and it’s great. Getting tanned while temperature at home is below zero feels really good.

The RIPs and VCFs double couple dynamic was close to perfection. We took decisions together, spent a lot of time together and played funny games on long distance commutes by car. The friendship is strong and well tested: I and Mr VCF work together at Hooli, while Miss RIP and Mrs VCF work together at another company. We live close each other and meet regularly the four of us for a Pizza at home, to play board games or to go on short trips.

Let’s talk about money

Total costs (in CHF): 7,123. Pretty high for our standards. We’ve been 3 weeks in Japan in 2015 for more or less the same amount and 2 weeks in California in 2013 for less than 5K.

  • 2,185 – flight tickets. Very expensive. We could have cut it down by a lot following classic advices: (1) Never flight from Switzerland – prefer flying from Italy, (2) Never flight on weekends, (3) Purchase tickets more in advance, (4) accept a longer journey.
  • 2,296 – first week tour. As said, a DIY solution would have costed half the price.
  • 1,609 – Isla Mujeres hotel. We picked one of the most expensive hotels on the isle. I don’t know why. I let Mr. VCF take too many decisions. At booking time we both agreed that 100 USD per room more to upgrade our standard room into a Honeymoon suite (with a Jacuzzi on the balcony) was worth the deal. We booked on the Hotel website and we got a discount: 7 nights at the price of 6. Needless to say there are a lot of cheaper hotels on the isle. Be careful about the cleanness. We are picky on that (all four of us are Italians) and discarded options with less than excellent feedback on cleanness.
  • 1,033 – various expenses. Eating, gifts, tips, fees, theft… We’ve eaten out every day and never went to a fast food or a cheap alternative. We’ve had few luxury dinners with lobsters and other amazing food. Never spent more than 20 USD per person. Mexico in very cheap when it comes to eating. We could have saved something here but given the high value per dollar spent, saving money here was not worth. Well, theft apart… more on this later 😉
image: www.mexperience.com

Local currency is Mexican Pesos or MXN. The currency is not publicly traded, i.e. you can’t buy it on your brokerage account or on the internet. I heard it’s illegal to exchange it outside the country.

How to handle expenses then?

You can choose to pay with credit cards wherever possible, but I’d avoid (and I so did). I heard that cloning cards is a national sport.

You can choose to use USD almost everywhere in Q.Roo, Yucatan and Campeche, but exchange rates offered by business owners and hotels are close to theft. The exchange rate during our stay was roughly 20.5 to 1 but I’ve seen no shop offering more than 18 Pesos for a Dollar. The more you go far from touristic places, the more rates go down. We’ve seen 15 and even 10 somewhere. Crazy. Just don’t do that with your Dollars.

You usually can’t use EUR or other currencies (CHF? Lol) almost anywhere.

The only good option left is to “get some Pesos“. Here you have few alternatives:

  • Withdraw from “strange looking” ATMs on the street or at your hotel. No. Just don’t.
  • Withdraw from a bank ATMs. It’s OK, it’s what I did twice. Just be sure to understand fees on both sides. I’ve withdrawn 10K Pesos the first time for less than 500 CHF + 20 CHF fee and 5K pesos the second time for roughly 250 CHF + 15 CHF fee. Acceptable but… you can do better.
  • Exchange currencies at money exchange shops. It’s the most efficient solution but:
    • If you want to survive 2 weeks you need to bring with you lot of cash (at least a thousand USD).
    • Avoid airports. They apply the worst rate ever.
    • Prefer banks. They have little margin, you can get almost the market price.
    • Prefer touristic locations. Less spread since they can buy and sell, while far from crowded areas they have hard time buying back Pesos.

Let’s move to the actual detailed trip report!

Detailed Trip Report, Part 1: Maya stuff

Day 1

Cancun

We landed on Saturday November 19th in Cancun airport at roughly 3pm, after a ~12 hours trip from Dusseldorf. We did our best to avoid Cancun. We just used its airport 3 times and it’s ok. The “Taxi” area outside the airport is super super messy. You have to find your way within 30 degrees, 100% humidity and a herd of 150cm tall men trying to sell you a convenient taxi ride to wherever you need to go for “just 100 USD“… “no wait, 60 is ok“… “50, let’s do 50, cmon amigo!“.

Note on Transportation: negotiate brutally. Always negotiate in Pesos. We got that ride for 600 Pesos (30 USD) and that’s just because we didn’t have any internet connection (no free internet in Mexican Airports) else with Uber we’d have paid much less than that! We used Uber in few occasions in Merida and San Cristobal for 15-25 Pesos (a Dollar) each 3-4 km ride.

We had our transfer arranged by our tour operator, so we had to “just wait for the driver”, which meant an hour and few scary moments. Btw, the driver showed up, the guide too. We discovered we have 2 people at our service (and expenses). We thought the driver/guide was a single person. Let’s call them D&G. Ok, time to go for an hour ride to our first hotel.

Playa del Carmen

PDC is roughly an hour south of Cancun and it’s like Cancun: to be avoided. Well, let’s say that it strongly depends on what you’re trying to get from your vacation. If you care about discos on the beach and noise and people everywhere, then PDC is your place. Not ours. It’s a good place for getting Pesos though. Both currency exchange and withdraws are reasonable (in the right places).

Food is mainly touristic and to be avoided. We had an acceptable dinner at Don Sirloin, which is a fast food chain. Ultra cheap and good.

Our hotel, supposed to be high quality, didn’t have hot water working at peak time. Both evenings we had to call them and witness their embarrass.

Btw, ok, PDC is to be avoided, I agree.

But what about its sunset?

Day 2

Left PDC early in the morning for a 1 hour ride south to reach our first Maya site:

Tulum

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The ruined city is a rectangle 400 x 800 meters, with a wall on 3 sides and the ocean on the fouth. The site is small compared to other ruins we visited and, comparing them in retrospect, I’ve found there nothing “spectacular”. But I loved them at first sight. Maybe because Tulum has been the first archaeological site we visited, maybe because of the amazing ocean view…

I wish I’d known that you could swim there! I would have brought my swimsuit with me for an unforgettable “swim with the Mayas”.

Cenote Dos Ojos

After having tempered our souls with ancient Mayan spirits, time to refresh! Since I was the only one pushing to have more cenotes in our menu we ended up with only one.

What’s a cenote? According to Wikipedia:

A cenote (pronunciation: American Spanish: [ˈsenote], /sᵻˈnoʊti/ or /sɛˈnoʊteɪ/) is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.

Anyway, the one included in our tour was this “two eyes cenote”. 30 minutes from Tulum, this complex is composed by 2 sinkholes connected underwater. A lot of scuba divers were there for the underwater passage. We didn’t.

Anyway, the view was magnificent and bathing in a cenote is something I’ve never experienced. It’s like a cave. It’s dark, there are bats, it’s cold and your voice echoes everywhere. Awesome!

Sadly I don’t have pictures for this cenote. Look it up on the internet if you’re interested 🙂

Back to PDC

We went back to PDC early afternoon for a half day of freedom. I had ambitious plans of swimming in the actual ocean, but my plans had to be shut down: the water was so uninviting and the beach so noisy. Just avoid PDC, seriously. The experience culminated with a sheetty fish dinner. Let’s run away!

Day 3

Waking up early again to leave the Riviera Maya and the Quintana Roo state. Experienced Mexican highways quality (and their incredibly high prices) and reached at 10am the second and probably the most famous Maya site:

Chichen Itza

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The ruins are impressive and Chichen is the biggest Maya site in the Yucatan peninsula. Probably the most famous too. I didn’t enjoy it too much because the government allowed locals to sell everything inside. With no rules. You can’t just walk and “breathe” Mayan history. You have to be bothered by everyone, every time, because you absolutely have to buy their sheetty souvenirs. Plus, once upon a time visitors were allowed to climb temples but now they’re no more. Sorry Chichen, you didn’t impress me much (but I still love you).

After a fulfilling lunch in a nice Maya Restaurant G told us “guys, we should now go to Merida. But it’s early and I saw you liked yesterday’s cenote. What about visiting another cenote? It’s way better than yesterday’s one!

It was a no-brainer, just shut up and take our money! Well, I didn’t mean literally though… more on this later.

We then headed to…

Yokdzonot Cenote

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This cenote was one of the highlights of our Mexico trip. It’s a hole 25 meters dip, with water that goes 40 meters below. There’s room for diving, but we didn’t had guts for it.

When we arrived there were none bathing. We were alone in this astonishing “lake”, full of strange noises and hanging lianas. A very unique experience. Then came a group of a dozen noisy Californians and the spell broke. I strongly recommend you to go there if you happen to visit Yucatan.

Only a single picture of this gallery is ours, the other two are from the internet to give you a better idea.

After the refreshing stop we headed to our next destination.

Merida

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We stayed in Merida just for a night. Merida is a very cute mid-size city and it deserves maybe a slightly longer visit. We spent time walking around and eating in an “expensive but awesome” restaurant. Expensive I mean 20 USD per person, tips included.

Day 4

The morning of day 4 was filled with visits to local gems like an old Hacienda that used to be an Agave workshop, a honey farm with cactus view and a local Maya market that sells almost only chili peppers (for half a Peso each) where we purchased every kind of Habanero available. We also spotted few monkeys trying to cross the highway 🙂

At lunchtime we reached the unexpected masterpiece of the Maya world:

Uxmal

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The best of the best of the best. We all agreed this was our favorite Maya site, with no doubts. Why? Well, you can climb ruins. The ruins are not so frequented, so there’s no crowd. No one is bothering you to sell you their stuff. The ruins are so well integrated with nature that you breathe history, breathe ancient earth. There are few structures, but they are gigantic and dominates the view. I felt like an explorer visiting this place for the first time!

After a very long and totally worth visit to Uxmal we headed (slightly late) to the last city of the “safe side” of our tour.

Campeche

Sadly, we arrived in Campeche at dinner time. We didn’t visit enough of this apparently gorgeous and rich town. It’s a walled city on the seaside, but we hadn’t time to walk along the sea like I would have done. The city center is very romantic and restaurants’ reviews are awesome. The one where we had dinner was close to perfection.

It was in Campeche where we discovered the theft.

I was sitting on my hotel’s bed, before dinner, fully focused on one of the activities I like the most: counting money. We were spending roughly 1,000 Pesos per couple per day (50 EUR/USD). 3 full days have been passed so I expected to be 3 – 3.5K below the amount withdrawn & exchanged, i.e. between 9.5 and 10K out of the 13K in my possession (10K withdrawn and the 3K exchanged for 150 Euro).

I counted 6.7K Pesos.

I did the math another time and actually wrote down expenses. I totaled 3.7K expenses give or take few hundreds. I was missing no less than 2.5K pesos (125 Euro).

Strange.

I went to the VCFs and told them the story. We’ve spent the same amount of money, give or take few hundred Pesos. They checked and… they were missing the same exact amount, plus 200 Euro.

I sometimes separated from my wallet but Mr VCF was sure: he never did. Almost never. The only 2 situations were at the Maya restaurant (day 3) and yesterday’s cenote. We almost immediately discarded the maya restaurant: we had money in our backpacks, they couldn’t have known exactly where and they would have had too little time to perform the synchronized theft.

We had been stolen 2.5K Pesos each (+ 200 Euro, just the VCFs). It’s a strategical theft, one meant to not be discovered. A well thought one. Stealing 20% of someone’s money would probably be unnoticed. Good if you still need to interact with your victim.

First lesson learned: always track your spending. Luckily we, FIRE seekers, are well trained.

Second lesson learned: never trust the good luck. You can’t just “hope for the best”. You should work hard, avoid traps and build your good luck. The second cenote was a trap. We were bathing, 25 meters below the entrance, with a nice view from above and all our belongings easily accessible.

Third lesson learned: try to transform a bad situation into a strategic game. We had no doubt it has been our driver that stole our money. With a likelihood of 90% the guide was teaming up with him, but we also considered the hypothesis that G was clean. We’re talking about 125 Euro for us and 325 for VCFs. Enough to make us angry but too little to risk to ruin our trip. We explored together our options, goals and designed a strategy that maximized the chances of getting back the money (but it didn’t fully work). We were able to firmly communicate with D&G and with the tour operator. We didn’t accuse but we showed our disappointment. We didn’t give them a final tip (we initially planned that D&G’s tip would have been in the order of 100 Euro each, so damage amortized).

Most important of all, we put everything in perspective: our disappointment lasted just few hours and the tension dissolved quickly. 125 EUR out of 7K total costs means if sadness would have lasted half a day, then the self inflicted consequences of this episode would have been worse than the actual episode.

As a plus, we’ve strengthened our double couple relationship thanks to a tough situation we had to face together and a memory that will last for years. In the end one could actually say that the overall experience we had was worth the theft.

Btw, we have few ugly pictures of Campeche, sorry. Too focused on solving the theft problem 🙂

Anyway, tomorrow is another day!

Detailed Trip Report, Part 2: Chiapas

Day 5

On day 5 we spent the majority of our time driving (well, playing our version of “guess who” while the driver drove) thru the states of Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas. Early in the afternoon we reached our last Maya site:

Palenque

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This ruin site is in Chiapas, you can smell the difference with the Yucatan/Q.Roo sites. The weather is more jungle-like. It’s an actual jungle, with howler monkeys! The ruins are amazing and you can climb some of them. Locals continuously sneak into the the site to try sell you everything. Not as annoying as Chichen Itza though.

After the site visit we were supposed to spend time in the city of Palenque. We were so tired we preferred to relax and chat a little bit while swimming in our hotel’s swimming pool. So I have no idea how Palenque (the city) is. Anyway, it’s Chiapas now. Everything look poorer, riskier and less attractive.

So Maya ruins are over now. Time for a:

Maya Ruins Ranking Game

Maya ruins are obviously worth a visit. We’ve visited Tulum on day 2, Chichen Itza on day 3, Uxmal on day 4 and Palenque on day 5. Our guide said “you should not rank them, they’re like children” and it’s partially true: each one has something special and unique. But still, I need to rank them 🙂

  1. Uxmal. As I said, a deep immersion in history and nature. Unique.
  2. Palenque. The oldest site visited. The jungle. The monkeys. Amazing.
  3. Tulum. Nice fusion between ocean and ruins. Maybe having been first site visited helped.
  4. Chichen Itza. I think it’s evil to rank Chichen in last position, I feel bad about it.

Day 6

Another day of long commute. Another 6 hours ride fragmented by few interesting but scary episodes. We’re crossing Chiapas now. The entire day. Highways are long gone, we’re driving on a frequently interrupted street with tons of small villages built along it. Villages with more or less 10 “houses”. Free roaming farm animals like chickens or pigs. Women at every road bumper selling you bananas or other things a same man should never consider eating.

We were instructed that along the street we could have been blocked by locals that simply locks down the street and ask for money (and you have to pay to keep going). This luckily didn’t happen.

Image: svgosling.blogspot.ch

Tough, we experienced families trying to stop cars with metallic chains that cross the whole street. If you don’t stop you may hurt someone or damage your car. If you do stop you’ll be cannibalized by dozens of people, probably hidden in the woods.

Scary.

Our driver knew how to handle it. Just don’t stop and shut “NO” few times and the women holding the chain will release it (at the very last second).

If you want to read other Chiapas experiences on other blogs read thisthis and this.

As planned, we reached our first destination of the day at 11am:

Agua Azul Falls

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We expected something more. It’s essentially yet another sheetty marketplace with a nice but not amazing waterfall. Maybe next time we’ll visit Misol-ha falls instead. The area where you can take a bath is limited and not so inviting. We bathed anyway.

Another 3 hours ride in scaryland, with a stop for lunch in an incredibly nice and clean small restaurant and we finally reached our final destination for this tour:

San Cristobal de las Casas

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San Cristobal is a pearl in an ocean of desperation. A clean, beautifully colored and apparently safe city totally worth a visit. We moved from sea level and 30 degrees to 2000 meter above the sea and less than 10 degrees. It looked very strange. It has 200K inhabitants but looks like a metropolis. Its territory is vast due to lack of “second floors”. All houses have a single floor. Just walking on the streets looks somewhat magical. It’s a place one may consider transferring to once FI. Food for thought.

Day 7

Plans for day 7 are: visiting 2 local communities in the morning and spend the afternoon in San Cristobal.

Zinacantan

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First local community we visited is Zinacantan. A small town, full of child beggars that will make your heart brake. Worst thing you can do, for their safety, is to start giving them something. If you really want to help, just donate to charities that operates in the area or buy local products at shops (like we did).

We visited a church, a textile shop and a bakery where I purchased a tasty sweet bread piece for 1 Peso (5 cents).

San Juan Chamula

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The second community visited was life changing. Chamula is a slightly richer town, where almost anyone dressed with the same coat.

The main square in Chamula is full of people doing any kind of job we are no more used to see around, like shoe cleaners and rope makers.

But the main attraction of the town is with no doubt the church. The church is… can’t be fully explained. It’s a community. Everything is happening inside at anytime. The floor is covered with an infinite amount of pine needles and candles (and I still don’t understand how they manage to keep the two worlds far enough to not set everything on fire). People inside are chatting, singing, performing “church stuff” and even some unconventional sorcery/which spells involving killing chickens. Not joking. Anyway, visiting this church has been an experience that alone would have made my trip worth its price.

Sadly, I wasn’t allowed to take picture inside. I’ve found this video on youtube though. Take a look!

Ah, you didn’t believe the chicken thing? take a look here! Few more links for those who want to know more about this place: here and here.

Back to San Cristobal

We spent the remaining of the day walking thru streets and markets and churches of San Cristobal. A magical place. Here you need so little to live. I’ve found a Hostel for 70 Pesos (3.5 USD) per night!

Day 8

It’s Saturday, we’re expected to be at our Isla Mujeres resort this evening. But our Chiapas adventure is not over yet. We’re waking up very early this morning to go to:

Sumidero Canyon

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This Canyon was… ok. Nothing special, no “wow”. In 2 hours we spotted 2 crocodiles who seemed to be there for tourists, annoyed by life, swimming in a river of thrash. There’s a nice bird-centric ecosystem though. And few landmarks, like the xmas tree, that moved the visit above the acceptability bar.

After this very last bite of Chiapas we headed to Tuxtla Gutierrez to take our internal flight back to Cancun, negotiated a taxi ride to Gran Puerto and crossed the sea to start the second week of leisure.

Detailed trip report part 3: Isla Mujeres

Life in Isla Mujeres has been less intense and I guess it’s not worth splitting this report day by day.

Our resort was a pretty luxurious one. more than 200 USD per couple per night. They offered soon an all-inclusive extra for 40 USD per day, we declined. I generally don’t like to go all-inclusive, I usually skip lunches while on vacation in favour of a rich breakfast and an early dinner. Plus, I like to explore local restaurants and I know that with an all-inclusive I’d never leave the resort. Plus if I know I have unlimited access to food and beverages I’d consume them (like… at Hooli) and my body would have to digest all of it. Finally, we’d spend way less than 40 USD per day to eat&drink, given that breakfast are included anyway.

Anyway, here’s our suite

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As I said, we decided to book a luxury resort and a luxury room within the resort. That’s our Honeymoon suite, equipped with Jacuzzi and 60 square meters of room space. More than our Swiss apartment.

I know, I know, I’m here being proud of my frugal tactics and now I’m bragging about my luxury spending… but let me explain few things. We could have booked our rooms via the same tour operator we used for the first week. We didn’t, extra costs saved. We could have booked the room on booking.com, at a higher price. We didn’t. We monitored the resort website for a while since they occasionally throw special offers. As soon as they offered a “pay 6 nights, stay 7” offer we blocked it. They offered to come to grab us at Cancun airport for 70 USD per person per leg, we refused. We spent roughly 80 USD total for 4 people for the transfer. Total for both ways (instead of the 560 USD offered by the resort). Let’s say that we cut few extra useless expenses to allow us to maximize what we considered to be fun, given our budget. Totally worth it.

The resort has a couple of swimming pools and a bar inside the main pool. It looks cool, but it’s an “all inclusive bar”, so it’s always full of fatty Americans that drink a low quality, watered cocktail after another.

That’s where we are. In an American amusement park, built for Americans and obviously frequented by Americans. Still don’t understand why these guys voted to build the wall between Mexico and USA.

A horde of fatty Americans drinking blue colored water a la’ Wall-e occupies the swimming pool area and the portion of the beach reserved to our resort. A bunch of humble Mexican waiters running around to bring cocktails to fatty Americans on their rare 3 days vacation after 362 days of work this year. How depressing this view is.

Here are few personal considerations about Isla.

It’s not a Caribbean isle with easy to access “quiet and relax”. It’s Mexico, it’s full of people and noise is mandatory. Kiosks, bars, radios, catamarans, everyone has to play some kind of music at high volume. You won’t hear ocean waves, seagulls and other natural seaside sounds. No, you’ll hear 3 to 5 different noises that horribly overlaps at different magnitudes and amplitudes, generating a spectrum of hate and a strong desire to deploy few bombs here and there.

There are few accessible beaches, all are in the north. The north of the Isla is the “downtown”, where everything lies. Everything touristic, I mean. Wall-e guys never leave the downtown. Restaurants, noise, things, stuff… why the hell would you want to visit the rest?

It occurs to me that I like to explore. With tremendous resentment I must admit that the rest of Isla, the savage south, sucks too. Wait, not that much though. That’s the problem with Isla… it sucks. But it’s ok, since you’re taking a bath in December, have you ever done it??

It sucks because the rest of Isla is all private, there are no public accesses to the ocean/caribbean sea. You have to pass thru bars to access their private beaches. Holy sheet, I’m so not used to something like that. Come to Sardinia, get lost into an eternity of free beaches, silence and relax. Here you have to pass thru an Ice bar (a bar built with tons of Ice, not joking) to access a small beach, pay a damned bill for it and get annoyed by people with high volume music. And btw, the sea sucked that day so we spent time in the bar’s swimming pools. But it’s still cool, look at this:

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It sucks because the north is so densely populated and noisy, with safe waters that extend just for 10 meters, after that catamarans playing annoying music try to convince you to buy their sheetty tour. But it’s still cool because look at the sea, isn’t it amazing?

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… and btw, every sunset was a special event we never missed!

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So my one sentence opinion of Isla is: I hate it but I also love it. But as one of my virtual mentors says: “No ‘yes’. Either ‘hell yeah!!’ or ‘no’“, I’d say it’s a no. There are better place to relax, and I value relax, silence, being able to read and think, let my mind explore the unknown.

I must also admit that while going on vacation with a group is awesome – you build memories together and make your connections stronger – going on vacation alone or just in two is even more awesome. To most of the people vacations means detaching from normal sheetty life and doing something extraordinary like swimming with dolphins and drink a lot of cocktails. Vacation to me means creative time. It means allowing myself to explore the gift of having time to waste. It means giving myself the gift of focusing my attention on whatever I want. I don’t want 10 sources of music/noise and waiters asking if I need a cocktail every 5 minutes.

nicely performed behavior #3, mr. dolphin!

Did I say swimming with dolphins? In Isla there’s a place where you can do that. It costs an outrageous amount of money. Basic entrance fee is 130 USD for “behaviors“. If you want the full experience of something like 12 behaviors and 3 dolphins instead of 2 it’s 299 USD. Go fock yourself, dear dolphins lady. 300 dollars to “enjoy” this fake experience where someone is measuring dolphins behaviors is not something I want to even try.

You may not be able to swim in December, but Italian islands are way waaaay better than Isla. Anyway, as I said in the planning phase, probably Holbox Island would have been a better experience.

Ok, you won few extra pictures of Isla 🙂

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Fun facts and Conclusions

Fun fact number 1: I broke a premolar tooth with my tongue while trying to remove food between my teeth 🙁 I know, it sounds ridiculous but it’s true. It’s a small piece of tooth that fragmented itself and left a small hole. I panicked, never happened to me. I’ve been given the gift of never having visited a Dentist in my whole life. Till age 39 it seems. Anyway, it didn’t hurt and still it doesn’t. As even Swiss people do, I avoided a Swiss dentist visit. On December 17th, during yet another trip to Milan, I’ve been visited for free by the dentist where all Miss RIP’s family member go and got a temporary fix. Next step would be to apply a permanent fix and maybe devitalize the tooth. Costs are 170 EUR for the sole permanent fix, eventually +200 EUR if devitalization is needed. I’m scared as hell, but at least it won’t be a financial disaster 🙁

Fun fact number 2: I hate connecting flights. I always try to avoid them, even if this means paying more. This time we were forced to, there were no direct flight from here to Cancun. Both ways we had a very tight connecting flight. On the way to Mexico we had to run thru Dusseldorf’s airport to make it, and we did with 5 minutes margin. On the return flight we missed it. The flight from Cancun was 15 hours late and the German security guys were irremovable and had to carefully check we were not terrorists. 27 people lost their connecting flight. We had to take another flight with another stop and reach home at 7pm instead of 10am. On Sunday. Without our luggages. Luckily in 3-4 days all our four luggages have been found and returned safely home.

Few hateful thoughts now 🙂

I hate tips driven economy. I hate it, full stop. I mean, I’d really like to give feedback on services and have a person’s salary bound to the quality of their service, but that’s not how it works where tips are the rule. You must always tip at least 10% if not 15%. It’s sometimes included in the bill. But if there’s the suspect you won’t tip, you’ll get the worst service ever. It’s closer to extortion than gratitude. You are expected to tip for everything, even your car rental clerk is expecting it. There’s no connection with quality of service, it’s essentially just tax evasion.

Btw, speaking of taxes… I’ve seen no official receipt during the whole two weeks stay. Guys, seriously, do you pay taxes? You show your pride everywhere, you love your country, you love to dress traditionally but… what about paying back?

I hate begging. I know I’ll be unpopular here and it’s ok, I accept it. But still I hate adults (let’s put children aside here) asking money without providing any kind of service. I’ve always been disturbed by that. I do happily tip people who play instruments or perform some form of street art, but no, if you’re not even able to use your time in a creative way stay away from me, please.

I hate when I don’t see price tags. I don’t want to have to fight for prices. I want a clear price tag you should be proud of exposing. It’s not like you’ll ever convince me that: “amigo, this is good stuff, it’s 100 Pesos but only for you let’s do 50“. No no no no. Put a price tag of 100 Pesos then let me see how many products you sell and only then maybe I’ll trust your special offer.

I hate when merchants annoy me. I generally don’t like to go for shopping. I hate to go for souvenir’s shopping. Sadly, Miss RIP is an incredibly (too much) social animal and she has a list of all the people who we should buy a gift this time so… let’s go for souvenir’s shopping trip. Just once and just for a couple of hours, not more. Wherever you go, as soon as you make eye contact with a merchant or just look at some of their sheetty products they’ll jump on you trying to convince you to buy their craps. Please no. Every time you do so all you gain is that I simply walk away. The items we purchased where from stores where the merchants didn’t care about us wandering around. I don’t know, is there someone who really changes their mind when bothered by merchants? If they keep doing so it must mean that yes, this tactic works. Not with me though, I’m sorry.

That’s all folks!

Are you still here?

Wow, thank you so much for following me till the very end of this incredibly long post about Mexico where I can’t believe I never mentioned the word Iguana once!

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Have a nice Holiday season!

3 comments

  1. Hi RIP,
    did a similar trip 12 years ago (the first part, no island).
    At the time tourist were allowed to climb the temple at Chichen Itza (little bit scary – and dangerous – to climb down, though…).
    Drove a rented car without problems (in Chiapas too, where you’ll be a little scared the first time you see these chains strained in front of you, then you get used to…). Only problem we had driving up to San Cristobal, the car overheated and wasn’t able to climb anymore…luckily we were pulled along by a truck full loaded with water carboys… 🙂

    1. You brave for driving in Chiapas!
      And lucky too, I know til few years ago (in the order of… 2-3) you could climb the ruins 🙁

      Personal curiosity: how was the interaction with the Truck driver who escorted you to San Cristobal? Did he try to sell all his water reserve to you? 😀

      1. No problem at all with the truck driver ! At the beginning we were a little bit scared cause the car was connected to the truck with an old rope and we were concerned about safety…
        Generally we have had a really good experience with the people and didn’t get bothered at all (perhaps only some tenacious sellers in the 2 pueblos S. Juan Chamula and Zinacantan). From this point of view I think we had a better experience than you (I also don’t like being bothered too much while hanging around), maybe less tourists around ? We were there in February 2005.

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