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Monday, March 30, 2009

MEXICO--and TIME IN CANCUN

Viva Mexico! Caribbean paradise or Pacific heaven—the choice is yours. The country is beautiful and diverse; the people welcoming, the culture historical, preserved, and interesting.

A two-week winter break in Cancun seemed like a good idea to us last Spring so we booked it—magnificently warm weather, Caribbean’s green water and silky, cool white sand, an all-inclusive hotel suite big enough to invite company, and plenty of cultural venues close by should we muster the energy and inclination to coax ourselves off the chaise.

Love sailing? Sailing Hobie Cats on the Caribbean is exhilarating. The spectacular greens of the water sparkle like jewels, the rushing wind speeds us around windsurfers and kite boarders. All of us prefer the power of nature to the power of loud motors.

Love snorkeling? We snorkel off Isla Mujeres’ reef. This is an island we see in the distance from our patio. It sparkles in the night’s blackness. A trimaran trip drops us at the coral reef where we spent time with the vividly colored fishes. We spend the rest of the day exploring Isla Mujeres, dining in a hotel there, and enjoying the sights.

We decided to visit some distant places but not cheat ourselves of the beach. One day in the city of Cancun would be fine.

Have a yen to experience Mexican culture via the bullfight? Each Wednesday at Plaza de Toros there is a bullfight performed as it is all over Mexico and other Latin American countries. Preceding the fight itself is a show featuring pig chases, dancing, lariat twirling, horsemanship, and other colorful folkloric acts. That’s a nice hour.

The bullfight is modeled after Spain’s, ritualistic and choreographed. We saw the real thing. Once is enough for me. But the pictures do tell it.

Click to play this Smilebox slideshow: Bullfight in Cancun

Plaza de Toros is in downtown Cancun and before the bullfight, a short walk takes us into the Mexican business and residential section where my rudimentary Spanish helps. There we visit an upscale mall geared to upscale Mexicans rather than to tourists. No bilingual signs, for instance. It’s good to visit here for a number of reasons, and one is to permanently debunk a slew of stereotypes. In Cancun, the tourists are really congregated in one major area, and over and over again we find we have to go looking for Mexico.

After the bullfight we head to Mercado 28, the biggest flea market I’ve ever seen and in some ways the equivalent to NYC’s lower East Side. There isn’t a tour book that doesn’t highly recommend a visit. Booth after booth of merchandise with hawkers outside telling me to “Start here; you won’t need to go elsewhere!” That line emanated from silver merchants, t-shirt merchants, postcard merchants, leather merchants, clothing merchants, wood sculpture merchants, etc., etc., etc. (as the King would say). Overwhelming, for sure. If you want to bring home a piece of Mexico, this is the place to find it. Rob brought home three beautiful leather belts.

From Mercado 28, a 15 minute walk through a business and residential neighborhood with one more stop to ask directions in my shaky Spanish from a man sitting in a store’s doorway, we head to Parillas, a restaurant highly touted for its Mexican authenticity and mariachi music (a favorite of ours). Too touristy, I’m afraid. Michael, Rob and I tried dinners that provided samples of different Mexican foods, but something was lacking—it seemed geared toward non-Mexican tourists—and I can’t recommend this restaurant.

The mariachi band proved to be strolling musicians willing to play a song at your table for 70 pesos. Not expensive. BUT their repertoire seemed to be limited to La Bomba and several versions of Happy Birthday. We ordered seconds of excellent, delicious, and potent margaritas instead, and I report that we were much happier for that experience.

There are places in Cancun where Mexico is lost, or where Mexico is what we see in the movies. We had to go far afield to find what we were really looking for, but I will write about that next month.

We took a taxi back to Blue Bay Club. Our day in Cancun proper was long, varied, and interesting. We also compiled a list of things to do for our next visit, which may be this coming winter.


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