Fifth Corner of the World

Monday, November 02, 2009

So I’m at it again, crossing my fifth continent off the list: South America. Long time readers will remember my last expedition took me to Australia and Asia (that’s two), the trip prior to Europe, and of course North America is a given. With South America under my belt (hopefully) in the next six months, that’s five continents down with only Africa and Antarctica to go. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find a cheap trip down to the South Pole for a few weeks of dog sleds, penguins, and unspoiled wilderness. One can hope. For now though, I’m starting my South American Sojourn (TM) in an unusual place: Mexico. Because I’m not just trying to complete a checklist, I want to see as much of the world as I can so Central America is on the chopping block too.

Over the next six months, I will take you from the unlikely starting point of Cancun (cheap, cheap $225 flights from Calgary) on the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula down into Belize. Over to Guatemala where I hope to spend a few weeks on the volcanoside town of Xela hiking and studying Spanish. From there into El Salvador. Because it’s on the way. Who knows what I might find there? You may be aware of the recent strife in Honduras: time will tell the safest path through (or over) that country into Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and finally Panama. That’s Central America, and I hope to be at this point by December. From there, it’s a question of whether I fly to Chile to meet a friend for New Years or sail across the Darien Gap into Colombia. The itinerary is open, of course, but highlights I expect to hit are Bolivia, the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu, Carnival in Rio, hiking in Patagonia, Ecuador’s Galapagos islands (dad, if you can get away for this, you definitely should!), Argentina’s Andes mountains, and more.

The trip started where they all start: Saskatoon. A 6 AM flight to Calgary meant I didn’t bother getting any sleep the night before (well, I tried but failed). I had just enough time to board the 9:00 Mexicana flight from Calgary to Mexico City, which is basically the only way to get to Cancun same-day. I even managed to catch a few minutes of sleep here and there, though if I really drifted off, turbulence would very abruptly wake me back up like God’s hand shaking me awake. Flying over Mexico City is an experience all its own. We had a rare clear day (little smog) and the city was mostly low-rise but packed tightly, in fact right to the edge of the runway. The airport left a lot to be desired in terms of clarity and on top of that, there were no indications aside from a “B” on my boarding pass where to go to catch my plane. Still, coming in was very Total Recall: they had a thermal scanner measuring temperatures as we walked by looking for H1N1 and “Health Security” personnel on hand. Also interesting was that I didn’t have to go through customs even though I’d arrived internationally – just immigration. When I did land in Cancun and push the random selection button, it went red but the only thing the customs agent questioned me about was the sandwich my dad had made me

150 pesos later, I was finally at Oasis, where I would spend a few days decompressing and enjoying ‘the good life’ before settling into that backpacker routine of hunting: hunting for new and interesting places to visit, hunting for cheap and clean places to sleep, hunting for good restaurants, good activities and always good prices. With about 40 hours since I’d last slept, I didn’t do much aside from grab a bite at the cafe, walk the grounds of the resort, and check out the “Circus Show” which was hit and miss. And sleep... and sleep. No worrying about what else needed to get done before I left home, nothing on my mind at all, it was a nice sleep though I did wake up after about 6 hours and could’ve sworn I heard Buffalo Soldier coming from the pool (a backpacker classic).

What can you say about resort life? Wake up when you get around to it, sit by the pool or belly up to the pool bar, swim in the sizable waves off white sand beaches, grab a bite anytime – buffets are great in that they’re always ready. Do some reading, get some sun, and at night, hit the clubs. I did all of these things. The first full day, I wandered the grounds noting how quiet things were before finding a lounge chair and studying some Spanish. And I did sit at the pool bar and try to make a new friend or two, but though I chatted with a few people, nothing stuck. I grabbed a late lunch and an early dinner, noting an increasing headache which is not usual for me, so I forced down a Pepsi (I really need to be more careful about booking non-Coke resorts, eh Mariah?) in case it was caffeine-related and a couple litres of water to play the odds of dehydration. That evening was the foam party at Oasis’ Up and Down club, so I thought I should check that out but as you might guess I wasn’t feeling up for it. I sat in the lobby bar for a bit until a 21-year old largish girl sat beside me rather drunkenly and started telling me how this was the longest stretch she’d gone without getting pregnant – she had been getting knocked up every three months for the last couple years, apparently – and now she’s on month 9. Now, I’m not great at small talk so this is probably natural conversation to have with a stranger and I politely listened as she then continued to expound on this and other aspects of her life, including her very high intelligence especially compared to me because I didn’t get vaccinated for the swine flu.

I had asked her early on if she was doing the foam party thing and she adamantly said no, so this was all the motivation I needed. I wandered over to the Grand Oasis and somehow got locked out of the hotel after taking a wrong turn (they were mopping the floors so I could go around to the next building). I decided to try and find my own way through the labyrinths to the front of the building where the entrance must surely be and stumbled on a guy from Virginia doing the same thing. The next thing we knew, we were at the back door and walked right by the DJ booth into the club without paying any cover whatsoever. !todo inclusivo! The numbers here were better than prior nights though still not crazy. The foam, on the other hand was everywhere. I met up with Virginia guy’s (nicknamed Cougar, I don’t think he knows what that means in Canada) cousin from Hamilton and after a few drinks and being discovered (at which point I paid and got my bracelet) we were meeting all sorts of people.

Foam parties, where suds fall from a bubble cannon, have the obvious ‘interesting’ appeal of making everybody slippery as well as the means to flirt rather easily by tossing suds or styling them into hair. They had one advantage I never considered: as a result of the fact that the foam was at times chest high and always above the waist, I was (as far as people could tell) as good a dancer as anybody else. Couple that with the fact that I can at least keep a beat, and I wasn’t doing too badly at all. I hung out with a couple from Utah, some folks from Vancouver, a couple Phillipino girls, and we all had a good time right until 4.

Now for the disadvantages: The bubbles burn. Breathe it in, get it in your eyes, or in a cut, and you will feel it. Although again, as a result of the fact that I was wearing a shirt unlike my more experienced colleagues (including a couple girls I should add), I could turn the collar inside out and wipe a girl’s eyes clear of soap for her. Chivalry lives on! Now the burning in the eyes is especially a problem with contacts, which I was wearing, and my eyes were still red and sore the whole next day. Secondly, the bubbles and dancing in wet and soapy duds, well, it chafes. Enough said there. Thirdly, the slipperiness makes sandals a bad idea and the wetness makes shoes even worse. I was kicking some suds and lost one of my sandals, though I did find it eventually. I then put them off in a corner. When I got home and took them off, I realized that my sandals no longer matched. They are eerily similar in shape and style, but concealed by all the foam I didn’t notice that one was black and the other brown. So I’m walking around with mismatched sandals as a permanent treatise against foam parties.

The next day was much the same, except I unfortunately got down just as water polo was wrapping up. I spent some time on the beach swimming in the waves, I won a competition for running to the middle of the pool on boogie boards and going feet first into an inner tube. The prize? A t-shirt (XL) for The City, “The biggest night club in Latin America”. I should mention that my first attempt resulted in a head-first dive through the tube where I basically hit the tube with my head and bent my neck good. So now I’ve got a massively sore neck to add to my chafing, mismatched sandals walk wearing a shirt three sizes too large for me. We played some pool volleyball afterwards and I did yet more reading before jumping on a bus to sandal shop and grab a little free internet. The flimsiest sandals were over $20, a stable pair much more so, and I decided I could continue to not match for a little while.

That second evening, Friday, I sat myself in the ‘steakhouse’ which was a definite meat-lovers treat. They came to the tables with skewered meats and sliced off whatever you wanted. Turkey wrapped in bacon, filet mignon, sliced beef, I loved it all. But the best part, which I discovered too late, was the lamb, medium-rare to rare on the spit and just simply delicious. The third day’s lunch brought another culinary discovery, and that was a sushi restaurant. I filled up on sashimi, sushi, and cones (which I would probably pass on next time) while the rain slowly abated then took my Spanish lesson book (the so far excellent Living Languages book) outside along the pool. It was cloudy and cool but that was okay since I was bordering on red (rro-ho) anyway. The Spanish is coming along pretty good, at least as far as the lessons go. I’m putting in about an hour or two a day trying to make sure the lessons really sink in and hopefully by the time I get to Guatemala I will be able to make much better use of a proper teacher.

Now I may be getting older, or perhaps the Foam Party Debacle of ’09 made me gun shy, but I didn’t end up clubbing again in Cancun. I’d just get too tired at night and without somebody else to go with, paying big money to go to an all-you-can-drink club can be rather daunting. Especially if you’re not a big dancer. So, quite simply, I found excuses everynight... fatigue, expense, whatever. I just about went out on my last night to Coco Bongo because I was intrigued by this idea of a club with a show – that way if I didn’t end up meeting up with anyone or dancing I could at least be entertained. But I wanted to get up early and enjoy the poolside life a bit more before leaving the next morning so that’s just what I did. Got up, packed, went down to the pool for a few hours, had breakfast, and checked out. I grabbed a few last drinks while waiting for my burger overlooking the beach, then donned my trusty backpack and set off on the next adventure.

Cancun Photos

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