April 5, 2011 § 4 Comments
Before coming to Cancun, I looked up the tours offered by the resort, some of which sounded amazing. ATV ride through the jungle? Horseback riding to a cenote? Sign me up PLEASE. But mother [& her wallet] had other ideas, so after some deliberation, we settled on a tour to Chichen Itza instead.
Neither my father nor brother wanted to go, and at $77/person, this full-day tour wasn’t exactly for the softcore tourist. My dad was actually grumpy about it, demanding why we would want to spend all day on a bus. My brother was more or less the same: “Have fun going to see a stupid pyramid.” It’s so difficult living with uncultured brutes. We gladly ditched them at the hotel.
We set off at 7:10 in the morning on a coach bus full of other tourists. Right away, we could tell that this wasn’t going to be some crappy quality tour, as the tour guides began the day by offering us orange juice, coffee and pastries. We had three conductors, each of whom was very good. I wish I had gotten pictures with them :(
Marco Antonio gave details and instructions on the places we were going to see, which were not simply limited to the Chichen Itza site. Tony, who was part Mayan, told us a brief history of the Yucatán province. “Don’t worry about leaving your belongings on the bus,” he said. “There are no more banditos in the area.” His eyes shifted. “They all left and became politicians.” LOL. Norma was our guide through Chichen Itza; she, too, was incredibly knowledgeable about the history of the place.
In elementary school, I was part of the gifted program, called Project Arrow. It was there that I was first exposed to the Mayan civilization, with their dots and dashes and hoop ball game and astronomy. Looking at historical artifacts arranged behind glass in museums is incredibly boring, but learning the history while seeing the structures up close was immensely gratifying to the brain. This is the land where they walked. This is the alter where they sacrificed humans.
I learned things such as the fact that Mayans sacrificed young boys, not girls. The adults who were beheaded and otherwise sacrificed were considered heroes who gave up their lives for the good of the people. Mayans had a fixation with serpents and planetary movements. There was a small stone hump on their alter because it’s easier to tear somebody’s heart out of his chest when his back is arched. White limestone highways are blinding to walk on during the hot day, but they glow in the moonlight. It is commonly accepted that Mayans had Asiatic roots. The ball game that they played wasn’t for sport; it was a religious ritual, and the winner was beheaded as an honor. It’s false that Mayans no longer exist — apparently they are 7 million strong.
One thing that the tour guides emphasized was the fact that tourism fuels the economy here. “Prior to 40 years ago, Mayans were moving away from the Yucatán to more metropolitan areas to find better jobs,” Tony told us. “But when Cancun opened, when Chichen Itza opened, they provided ways to make a living.” It was something I had wondered about as well — how much does Mexico’s economy benefit from/depend on tourism? Mother told me she heard a joke about Americans coming to Mexico for vacations while Mexicans went to America for jobs.
Anyhow, it was apparent from the countless vendors lined up at Chichen Itza that this was how they survived. I thought about this as mother haggled with one of them for some souvenirs I wanted to buy. I had already brought the price down to 30 pesos [less than $3] for three trinkets, but mother insisted on getting three for 20 pesos. I understand that this is also my parents’ hard-earned money, but really, who needs that dollar more, we or the peddler? In most circumstances that I’ve ever experienced in any country, I’d argue the latter.
Chichen Itza was significantly hotter than Cancun — it’s 150 miles inland and as flat as Illinois — so as much as I enjoyed taking photos with my parents’ DSLR, I was ready to throw up and pass out from heat and dehydration by lunchtime. Mother said it was more than 100 degrees out there. After lunch, our tour took us to a cenote, which is basically a huge, naturally occurring underground water reservoir. Steps had been carved into the stone so that we could climb down and see from inside. People were encouraged to change into their swimsuits and take a dip in the refreshing water.
There was a small Mayan dance performance taking place near the water as entertainment. I appreciated the show as much as they appreciated the tips, I’m sure, but it led me to wonder at the authenticity of everything. Is that how ancient Mayans actually dressed and danced, or is that simply what they know tourists want to see? I picked the Chichen Itza tour [as opposed to some exotic-sounding waterpark] because I wanted to experience real Mexico, but as a tourist, I can never truly be sure if I’m getting the authentic thing.
In any case, the tour was satisfying and definitely worth the money. It’s different going on things like this as an adult, guided by people who clearly believe in the worth of what they’re promoting. That’s what sets this experience apart from all the excruciating historical tours I’ve been on with my parents in China.
Note: “chicken pizza” is the incorrect pronunciation of Chichen Itza, according to our tour guides. But my mom likes saying it that way :P
March 28, 2011 § 1 Comment
We took a red-eye flight to Mexico, leaving the house at 10:30PM via Aeromexico. I guess it was due to the size of the airline, but we were relegated to the outer terminal at O’Hare. It was relatively empty. When we got in line for Aeromexico, the nearby usher guy gestured to us and said, “The line for Shanghai is over there.” I raised both eyebrows. I mean, we did look out of place, but really? Damn.
I barely slept that night. For some reason, I forced myself to stay awake during our four-hour stopover in Mexico City, and after we arrived in the humid mid-morning of Cancun, I pretty much wanted to die. We’re staying at Royal Solaris, which is the first all-inclusive hotel we’ve stayed at. All necessities are included — drinks (alcohol), pools, food, entertainment, etc.
As my parents sat down with one of the staff to go over hotel information, my brother and I wandered over to the bar to order some soda.
“Where are you guys from?” asked the bartender, a young-ish Mexican guy.
My brother and I answered simultaneously. “Chicago.” “USA.” “Chicago,” I corrected myself.
He asked again. “Where are you from?”
“Chicago,” I repeated.
He looked at us. “You’re really from there?”
We nodded. Did he not believe us..?
“You were born there? Not Japan, somewhere?”
Inwardly, I scoffed in disbelief. The ethnicity question can be an awkward one to ask, but the “Where are you from no where are you really from” tactic is just rude. I didn’t expect to encounter it here, but I guess I shouldn’t expect too much racial sensitivity in this tourist haven.
Going on vacation can bring out either the worst or best in people. Spending five days at a resort in Cancun should undoubtedly make any family happy, and my parents and I would be at maximum cheerfulness if it weren’t for my selfish prick of a brother. Now that he’s arguably stronger than me and our aging father, he takes every opportunity to poison the mood.
“Shut up,” he says to anyone in any given situation. He acts ostensibly chagrined to be anywhere near us or do anything with us, always sulking in a corner somewhere. He threatens to smash the camera if we try to take a picture of or with him. He’s no longer afraid to swear audibly in our presence. I’d really like to punch him in the face, but I don’t think that would teach him to be a better son.
I used to attribute this behavior to mere teenage moodiness, but there is no foreseeable improvement. I don’t particularly care what he says to me, but the tremendous disrespect he delivers to my parents is appalling. They choose to ignore it half the time.
Now that I’m 21, I’ve started to drink somewhat openly with my parents. I ordered some banana-pineapple mixed drink at the pool bar today. My mom’s eyes widened when she realized it was alcoholic, but she got over her initial surprise pretty quickly. I ordered a margarita at dinner [it turned out to be disgusting], and later traded it for a Miami Vice [it was delicious]. My brother tried some of my margarita and got a mouthful of salt LOL.
I’m not sure if it’s the journalist side of me or if it’s simply a personal habit, but when I look at some people, especially those in the business of service, I can’t help wondering who they are outside of this job. How did they get here? Do they like the job? Is it enough to provide for their families?
I thought about this as I watched the waiters work the buffet area during dinner last night. I thought about it at the beach today as I watched the handful of Mexican men selling sunglasses and other trinkets to sunbathing tourists. I also thought about it while watching the Mexican dance show provided by the resort’s theater.
In high school, I occasionally read the blog of a guy who worked as entertainment staff at Disney World — he and the other workers seemed to hate it. Indeed, donning a Goofy costume is not considered a very good job in America. But is performing in hotel shows in Cancun considered good work in Mexico? Do these people hate their jobs too, despite the bright smiles they show the audience? How much money does a sunglasses-seller make every day? What are the ambitions of the waiters who serve us drinks? All this thinking makes it difficult to enjoy the social privilege I have as a tourist here.
Anyway, these are my thoughts from the first two days here. I haven’t done much except eat, drink and tan. I wish I had photos to share but I haven’t used my camera at all, and I haven’t had time to get the pictures I’ve taken on my parents’ Nikon. I’m currently sitting with them while listening to the two-person band in the lobby/bar area, which is the only place with wi-fi. A 24-year-old Vietnamese girl from Toronto that I met this afternoon told me that the nightlife here is better than Vegas, but I don’t think this is the right opportunity to go clubbing, as much fun as it sounds. A girl at the table next to me just said that the cover for the VIP club is $49, which is pretty heinous anyway.
That’s all for now! I’ll have more to share in a few days :)