A Cancun Experience

Beryl Gorbman

Why would anyone go to Cancun to have fun when you can be in Merida? If you want water, go to Progreso. If you want to shop, go to Miami. If you want to walk the streets safely, stay here.

This past weekend, LG and I went to Cancun to hang around the edges of a conference that interested us, and perhaps pay to attend a session or two. Going there was a culture shock and made us appreciate just how lovely a place Merida is.

We arrived by ADO around ten a.m. Saturday. The GL bus ride was a pleasant experience. When we walked out of the bus station, there was a large group of predatory cab drivers waiting for prey. We picked one and he drove us ten minutes to the hotel Melia ME (?) for 150 pesos. A lot. Driving out, we observed that the old hotels on The Strip, the ones with the bizarre, fantastical shapes, were all gone. They’ve been replaced by square, sturdy things designed to withstand hurricanes, probably a good idea, but….

The hotels are all like self-contained cities, and the happy tourist never has to leave the premises and often doesn’t. The beachfront seems dominated by hotels of the Riu chain (seven enormous hotels, some with multiple buildings). Riu is a Spanish family-owned corporation with resorts all over the world.

A uniformed footman at the Melia ME guided us out of the cab and into the conference entrance. We  walked into a pretentiously appointed, sterile area with conference goers milling about and two stern women at the registration desk. We soon learned that not only could we not register for specific events, but that a one-day lecture pass (about four sessions) cost $150. We sat around for a while, ostracized into a hallway area so they wouldn’t think we were trying to sneak in, and thought it over. When in doubt, eat. We decided to have breakfast.

The buffet was $22 USD and had all the food in the world. There was a great view of the Caribbean, which almost made up for everything else. The waiters were rude and did a poor job. The food was fresh and ungreasy, but uninspired. No hot sauce, no pico de gallo, no music, no surprises.

The whole first floor of the hotel was populated by oversized “art” installations that looked like they were designed for a huge airport. One installation, which was unfortunately placed in front of the window to the water, looked like three heavy steel open-weave baskets full of big ostrich eggs. LG pointed out that they were supposed to be huge reproductions of metal whisks (mixers used to beat eggs, etc.) filled with eggs. Chicken eggs.

Another installation, in a massive corridor, comprised about thirty rough metal posts of varying heights stuck into the floor, standing in a vertical group. Lovely. Warm. Inviting. Looked like a ruined prison. And I was getting a little dizzy from walking around the huge space. The entire first floor had walls about 75 feet high.

As you can read between the lines, so far, we were really enjoying ourselves. In our element.

After our dining experience, we returned to the conference area.

The conference, 2012: The Tipping Point, featured noted writers and speakers on the subject, all except one of them from the USA. There were a lot of sessions about the Maya predictions and glyphs, but no Maya speakers. Most of the attendees, who had paid a fortune for the conference, were American women of a certain age, affluent grey-haired couples, and quite a few people who looked like moneyed, high-functioning schizophrenics.

When it became clear that we couldn’t attend the single session in which we were truly interested for less than $150 USD (although they were under-enrolled), we decided to leave. Since a single room at the Melia ME was $173 at the special conference rate and since we disliked it, we were out of there. We contemplated getting right back on a return bus, but decided to stay in town and hang out in Cancun for an evening. Downtown Cancun, as both of us remembered it from fairly recently, is kind of cool, right? A Mexican town with Mexican stores and Mexican music. Wrong.

We went outside and took a cab back downtown. This time the trip didn’t cost 150 pesos. It cost 250 pesos.

We stayed in a great little hotel, the Kin Mayab, near the bus station. Unpretentious, immaculate, nice people, pool, cable TV, $45 for a room.

We walked down the Avenida Tulum where we were approached by at least 20 people pushing tours, “free breakfasts,” crappy products made in China, etc. in the few short blocks we walked. Even Farmacias Similares had hawkers on the street and a guy in an oversized costume of a pharmacist who looked like a pig. One jocular tout became so annoyed with us when we weren’t interested in what he was selling that he actually said, “Get away. Far away.” I guess things are so bad there that people are desperate and mean. And a lot of people were high. I observed at least one drug sale. Creepy place.

Interestingly,  I had left the hotel forgetting to put the battery in my camera. They would have been depressing photos.

We walked around enough to get a little lost and found ourselves in a plaza with real Mexican families. A group of young people from the Army were putting on a show of amazing athletics, where a guy would take a running start and dive over a line of as many as ten other guys who were kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder on all fours, and the jumper would end up somersaulting onto a mat. It was actually kind of breathtaking. One of the athletes told us they were going to a competition in Houston next month. Children driving rented colorful plastic cars (foot-powered) were meandering across the path of the athletes, who patiently waited for them to head elsewhere. No one yelled. No one was impatient. For a few minutes, we were in Mexico.

LG talked to a local resident and commented that place would probably be lively around Carnaval. The woman looked at her sadly and said there was no Carnaval in Cancun, just one little parade. There are no public events for Day of the Dead or any of the other traditional Mexican holidays. How sad for the children there, to be brought up without their wonderful culture.

From the square, as the sun was going down, we walked toward where we hoped we’d encounter Av. Tulum, and stopped in a callejon lined with restaurants. We made a fortunate choice, a place named Gory Tacos (swear to god), and our personable waiter Bartolome, from Merida, chatted with us off and on for the three hours we sat there people watching. Families, girls with heels higher than the Empire State Building, boys in gang attire, people who were so high they could barely walk, cute chihuahuas, older gringo men with young local women, tourists who (like us) couldn’t afford the exorbitant prices on the beach, a gamut of the watchable. We had a genuine good time there at Gory Tacos.

It was about 9:30 p.m. when we left, and we walked briskly through the hawkers and addicts on Av. Tulum to our quiet little hotel, happily went to our rooms pretending we were going to read, and watched cable TV.

LG, happy to be leaving Cancun

LG, happy to be leaving Cancun

You should go to Cancun. It really makes you appreciative of what we have here. We have genuine culture. Wonderful hosts. People who smile. People who become good friends. Restaurants with real food and hotels with actual personalities. Beautiful classic architecture. A police force that works hard to make this a safe place. A fabulous symphony orchestra. A library. El Triunfo.  Domo Blanco ice cream. A sense of humor. More free concerts and cultural events of all kinds than you can possibly attend. Community. Home.

The City of Cancun is a devastation, economically and sociologically. The downtown buildings are all made of crumbling concrete block and made as cheaply as possible. The infrastructure is minimal and the place is dirty and unsafe. If you find a decent meal and hotel, you’re lucky. Even Sanborns is scary. It appears that city resources (police, maintenance, etc.) are all directed to the hotel zone, with little or nothing left for the fast-growing inner city.

Since the city is one hundred percent dependent on tourism, or providing services to people who work in it, fluctuations of tourism brought on by things like bad weather or flagging economic times have a profound effect on everything. We saw families living in shacks that reminded me of the ones in Mexico City near the dump. We saw very few churches or markets, we saw chain grocery stores that looked like fortresses, and almost no local stores for household goods, etc. According to Fodor’s, there is a mall in the city called Gran Plaza. I’m afraid to think about it.

Just another of my completely un-opinionated articles. Feel free to differ. Or agree.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
This entry was posted in General Blog, Merida Expat Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to A Cancun Experience

  1. jillian says:

    “There was a great view of the Caribbean, which almost made up for everything else” – about sums it up.

  2. Ellen says:

    Hmmm, been in Cancun (the city, not the hotel zone) recently and it wasn’t THAT bad. But in general, I agree with you… always makes me happy to be in Merida. Except for that Caribbean, of course.

    By the way, the one photo you did manage to get is fabulous. A smiling LG makes my day!

  3. Alinde says:

    Thanks for another interesting article, Beryl. It confirms my heretofore decision–not to go ever go there.

  4. Soňa Králová says:

    Sadly, Cancún was never different from what you saw nor ever will be. It is what it is: a nest of vipers( from Latin vipera=snake). Nomen Omen.

  5. Barbara Bode says:

    Never gave Cancun a thought until shortly before moving to Merida from Puerto Vallarta. Peaceful Pacific villages was what I was researching and writing about until the drums announcing “Riviera Nayarit” became too loud to ignore. Not knowing the history of Cancun or the Riviera Maya, it didn’t strike me that I was in on the beginning of the end.

    Beryl’s good eye and incisive reportage made me first fully understand, that while I stood there in San Pancho, a new kind of government land re-distribution was happening and a new kind of suffering had begun.

  6. michael minihan says:

    My wife and I stayed in the PARADOR hotel, across the street from MAYAB, in late January 2010. Same comments, same price. I couldn’t believe there’d be such decent lodging for that price in CANCUN … and TWO such -located conveniently places!


  7. Chamako says:

    Well, for a place with zero history, built relatively few years ago solely for tourism, with zero provisions for worker housing (much like US-border zone maquiladoras), it sorta almost functions. A little.

    People from all over Mexico flocked there in hopes of jobs. Hell, they came from Belize, Guatemala and South America too. They promptly discovered that the huge multi-national corporations which violate Mexican law by claiming the beaches are “private” or “exclusive” don’t care a whit for the problems and issues of their very own employees.

    Should guests of the ‘all-inclusives’ become ill from a suffering employee who lives in a tin shack without any plumbing whatsoever…? Meh. Just a cost of doing business and then only when the tourist finds a way to blame their wretching on the hotel chain.

    Cancun: (1) A place of (former) great natural beauty desolated by heartless greedy foreign entrepreneurs for the sake of foreign tourists’ ability to claim they were “in Mexico.” (2) A place operated solely for the tax revenues provided to the national government, without regard to the citizens’ need for services from same government.

  8. Chabex says:

    I love your article. I’m from Merida but right now I’m living in Cancun for work reasons, i miss merida like you now can imagine, they have no culture here but the worst thing is that people are not aware of that, they dont know how great is to live in a place where u can have the whole package, safety, hospitality, cheap prices and amazing places to visit. I found your page doing a little research about Lachlan, and it make me laugh a lot your “I personally feel cheated because I never had the pleasure of meeting him” hahahahaa, well, u should feel that way because I met him, and he’s actually CHARMING, I kind of feel dissapointed of myself, i can’t believe that i share nice moments with him ignoring the fact that he was a criminal… Shame on me… i should activate my sociopaths’radar… Well, im gonna visit ur blog more often, and i would like to chat with u sometime, take care!

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