Tuesday, June 7th
We made it. The flight was fine. There were only about 80 passengers and everyone was wearing masks. The man at the counter had been kind to me when TSA let my family through without boarding passes. He printed them for us. I haven’t flown in four years, and this would be the first flight my youngest son and daughter have ever been on.
We made the horrific mistake of taking the bus to Wal-Mart. They only let me in and made my family wait outside in the heat. COVID requirements. People were mostly annoyed with me and my lack of proficient Spanish, except the lady at the deli and people trying to sell us stuff. We hadn’t eaten in twelve hours and we were hot. Despite many of their frustrations with an American tourist like myself, Stone Temple Pilots were playing throughout the store. On the way back from the store I saw a billboard that said, “HRoof Club- #Not for everyone”.
Once we procured food and drink, things were looking up. Our VRBO has a beautiful view of the ocean. It needs a few repairs and the elevator doesn’t work. We are on the fourth floor. Mexico’s beaches are only open to tourists. The locals cannot come unless they are staying at a resort. Ours is called Solymar and I take comfort in the fact that we are a great minority at this hotel. The Mexican people can use their tax-funded, public beaches when staying here.
The costs we saved on not reserving an all inclusive hotel allowed us to purchase Go City Passes for outings. Our first outing this morning involves swimming with the dolphins at an eco-park called Xel-Ha, which is run by a massive corporation called Xcaret Group which employs thousands of locals in the seven parks under their operations. Their billboards and advertisements speckle the roads and buildings of Cancun more than any other product being pushed.
My socio-economic privilege sticks out like a sore thumb. I have never been to a place that was so built upon tourism, including Las Vegas. Everyone wants to give me something for my money. I’m like a walking wallet. For our two hour drive out to Xel-Ha, we witnessed resort after resort. In between the towering marble, impeccably designed, security-guarded entrances into the gated communities were cinder block dwellings draped in plastic tarps and duct tape. People lived there. We drove by an exit to a club called, “Privilege Beach”. Despite all of the eco-friendly tourist destinations, the highways were littered with trash. Piles of refuse drifting in every area except those reserved for wealthy travelers staying in the stone facade laden resorts. There were also amazing murals along the overpasses created by local artists telling stories and sending messages long after the paint had dried.
We swam with the dolphins. A worker told me how happy he was to have people back in the park after months of governmental restrictions forbid him from earning wages for his family. Another worker was annoyed with my lack of Spanish, though I think I speak fairly well, especially concerning food. My middle son was afraid of the dolphins. They were big and had sharp teeth. After encouraging him and standing with him, he pet them, let one “kiss” his cheek and relaxed. He said they were soft and their skin was so smooth.
They wanted $480 dollars for the photo package. I graciously declined the saleswoman down to $100 dollars for 63 pictures delivered electronically and three printed and framed. That was still $20 over my daily allowance. I’ve divided our entire peso stash into 15 plastic baggies, each containing 1800 pesos, one for each day. There are three additional baggies with each of the children’s spending money and another in American for a fishing charter. If we don’t use all from one day, it goes into the next day’s baggie. Our tax return was generous, as was our stimulus check. The safe in our roof is not functioning. Carrying that much on you everyday is a bit daunting. After each day of spending, a little weight is lifted off my shoulders and from my purse.
From the dolphin encounter, we ate breakfast and went for a bike ride up to the mouth of the river so we could float in its cool, mangrove canopied waters. In an attempt to avoid flattening an iguana, my daughter crashed off the path into a pile of roots skinning her knees while the lizard looked on with smug pleasure. She says next time she will run that sucker over.
The jungle was full of Mexican Raccoons, or Coti, scavenging for food along the floor. They would move in a herd running to a fro like a tan and orange striped flock of seagulls. They were super cute, especially the babies. I wonder if they can catch COVID like house pets? I hope not.
All of the workers told us to choose either the inflatables for floating OR the snorkel equipment, as we would be charged for losing the fins or masks. The snorkels are ours as a souvenir. We didn’t listen. We floated on the tubes slowly through the mangroves. Very slowly. I attached the fins and masks to my life jacket. Once we emerged in the main river, there was a cliff you could dive off of. We attempted to float over to the dock to exit but it was full of people doing the same thing and the stairs were full.
My daughter had predetermined to do all of the things her brothers were afraid of doing before we even got on the plane. As she disembarked and ran up to the cliff face, I was still in the water. The man in front of her walked to the edge and hesitated before deciding to walk back down instead of jumping as his family yelled, “Pollo!” at him from the bank. Then Evee was there. Her little seven-year-old frame standing on a 15-foot edge, me stuck in the water. Then she jumped. Everyone applauded and commented on her bravery. I’m sure the man who had left before her was feeling great about the situation. She made it down safely, but not before I imagined her slipping and hitting her head, knocking her unconscious into the river below. That is always where my mind goes.
I had to jump after that. I couldn’t let her do it without her momma encouraging her by following in her footsteps. It was high. I leapt before allowing my mind to contemplate what was happening. Even with my life vest on my feet touched the sand ten feet below the water. “Was it scary Mommy? Or fun?” “A little of both”, I replied. She agreed.
We finally met up with my boys a few docks down. My husband had lost his phone in the river. I was determined to find it. I love snorkeling. I asked God for guidance and set my mind to it. After 30 minutes, my husband had swallowed a good deal of brackish water. His bigote prevents snorkel masks from creating a water-proof seal. I swam up the river and asked a lifeguard if a phone had been turned in. It hadn’t. I swam back to the other dock and asked my husband where he lost it, the line he had taken. He told me to give up, but I was determined, and guess what? I found it. It was a miracle, and it still worked. We won’t be losing a phone again on this trip.
By the time we reached the inlet, we were gassed and the brackish water had made my husband sick. We went to turn in our equipment, and had only lost one mask. I told the woman at the counter I didn’t know where it was and she didn’t charge me the 400 pesos. That was awesome.
We decided to shower and go to the water slide. It was huge. We climbed 7 flights of stairs to reach the top of the slides. The view was fantastic and beautiful, but the tower swayed in the wind causing my palms to sweat. My children stood near the railing. I have not been OK with heights and my children since I chased my daughter along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I couldn’t catch her. I almost vomited.
The slide was the longest I had ever been on and would have been much more fun if I didn’t worry about flying off of the side the whole way down. We made it down safely. Of course, my daughter wanted to go on it again. Why can’t everything be enclosed? The stairs, the slide? Why do I immediately go into fight or flight as soon as I sense a hint of danger with my children in tow? I don’t like it.
We finished the day with really decent ceviche and fresh fruit. It was lovely. Then we got into our shuttle bus to ride back to the hotel. Once again we passed resort after resort, barrio after barrio. I made sure to tip our driver well.