Posted by: jeanne | July 10, 2009


we arrived in cancun on sunday. hartsfield airport had signs up warning about swine flu, and in cancun airport we had to fill out a report about what symptoms we might have. i cançt = sorry, no apostrophe = imagine why anyone in their right minds would say they had any symptoms at all, when içm pretty sure they would just quarantine you. and whatçs the point of going to the beach if youçre going to report sick and be forced to stay in bed.

we brought the two grandkids with us, theyçre 8 and 12. contrary to all the denial about swine flu that i find in the states, these kids were actually paranoid about falling sick, and used up their supply of antibacterial wipes on the plane coming down here. i of course had a whole huge box of wipes that i doctored myself  = alcohol and essential oils like geranium, tea tree, eucalyptus = antibacterial all by themselves.

cancun is very nice, especially if you like artificial. pristine beaches only because the workers sweep them clean after every high tide. big hotels, paradise-looking grounds, immaculate white rooms, 600-count sheets, ice with everything, air conditioning everywhere you go.

i hated it.

we went to cuidad central, the cancun that was built for the workers. the cancun that was built for the tourists is on the barrier island, and like i said, looks pristine. the cancun built for the workers looks like any spanish city, with colorfully painted buildings that look falling down, apparent squalor everywhere, barefoot kids in rags. when i was younger, this kind of apparent squalor would make me very depressed. i thought it meant poverty. but it doesnçt necessarily. i had to learn that in the tropics, the roof over your head is all you need, and it can be made of scrap materials. in fact, the less money you spend on your housing the better, because a hurricane will come along soon enough and whip it all away. so tarpaper shacks is all you really need in that environment. the people here make do with what they have or find, and are much better off, because theyçre not spending all their money keeping roofs over their heads.

the priorities are completely different in the tropics. you get your work done early because itçs so fucking hot, and then you hang out and eat and rest during the heat of the day, and after about 5 oçclock everything opens back up again, everyone comes out, everyone eats and socializes and parties, and goes home to rest sometime around midnight. itçs the same thing in spain when i went there a dozen years ago. itçs a very laid back lifestyle. i like it.

i actually enjoyed cuidad cancun. it reminded me of a cross between barcelona and new orleans. if i werençt so intimidated by vendor tactics, i would have explored the market a bit better and maybe come away with some harmless little things to take back. but the vendors are quite aggressive, maybe because there arençt any tourists, or fewer. the occupancy rates at the hotels are perhaps approaching 45 percent, which is dismal, and i guess the vendors are hurting.

we came out to the island after 2 days in cancun. betty, who is mexican, had all sorts of running around to do, including taking her 8 year old son to a local doctor who is very good, hoping to solve an obscure medical problem. see, the doctors are better in other parts of the world. i told you so.

the island içm talking about is isla holbox, which was settled by pirates centuries ago. itçs a backward place, with nothing over two stories, sand roads, no english spoken, no sunglass shops, only recently water and ice you can drink. the inhabitants used to be fishermen, going out for the lobsters. now, theyçve made the decision to go after the tourist bucks, so the best lobster areas are now fished bypeople from other islands and ports, and the locals now spend all their boating efforts taking turistas to look at the whale sharks. there used to be only one store, bettyçs auntçs store, but now it seems every other palapa is a tiny little mini-super, and the streets are full of tourists mainly from europe, where they donçt expect ice and air conditioning.

all this smallness and privacy and old fashionedness is going away. it used to be you couldnçt buy property on the island unless you were from one of the three or four original families. but theyçve opened that up, and gridded off the western edge of the island, and now theyçre starting to build, the city is starting to creep out from the center, theyçre starting to run water and electric farther out, and strangers are starting to build houses out of cement block instead of tar-paper and sticks. of course, even with large windows and ceiling fans, theyçre installing window air conditioners in these new houses, because nothing is as breezy as stick walls and palm-thatch roofs, and mostly theyçre not building things like that now. there are a few, tho, because the islanders are still aware that thereçs nothing like a breeze. but the lure of modernity hits everywhere. they all have tvs. they sit in their hammocks of an evening and watch the tube.

every room in every house has three sets of hooks on the wall. these hooks are used to string hammocks in the evening. they have beds, but thereçs nothing cooler than a hammock. and everyone uses them. i caught jim taking a nap in one the other day, and 8year old jamie insists on sleeping in one.

la comida is wonderful. in cancun beach it was all expensive resort cuisine, which i find boring. in cuidad cancun it was regional. we chose a vera cruz restaurant in mercado 28 and had huevos mexicanos and some great garlic soup and black beans con arroz and cerveza mas fina. jay persuaded everyone to take a taste of his omelette de langostine so that we would be able to tell the difference between fresh lobster and lobster just now dragged from the sea, like we would be eating in holbox. just now lobster is sweet, thatçs the difference.

so, the farther away we got from the tourists, the better the food got. while weçve been here on the island, weçve been eating at the tiaçs place. tia cooks fish that tio just caught, they make lobster salad, lobster ceviche, lobster scrambled eggs. the kids wonçt eat anything, and cry and whine for macaroni and cheese, and the only solution for that is to let them starve, so thereçs a little of the ordeal around every meal, but the oldest one has come around after 3 days here, and the youngest one has promised to eat something for lunch if he can have a hotdog later. as they get older theyçll get over this. i remember being just the same.

weçre not seeing any flu here. thereçs nobody sick on the island, and altho the next state over, yucatan, has has a recent upsurge in cases, with 30-40 cases a day and 50 hospitalizations and 6 deaths. so weçre still using sanitizer and içm taking my herbs, but so far weçre pretty convinced that we had more of a chance of picking it up in the states than here in mexico. going back might be problematic, because itçs in places like airports and airplanes that the virus is spread, with that closed, air conditioned air system. but içve got masks and alcohol wipes coming out of my ass.

i was sick when i first got here, but that was because i get sick when i travel now. for the last five years or so, since i got cancer, i get sick whenever i go somewhere, and itçs because içm away from my own bed and my own routines. it takes me a couple of days to remember this and learn to cope, but for the first day or so i forget to eat lightly and sparingly, and go ahead and stuff myself with all the wonderful food.  but içve been here most of a week, and my digestion is much better, thanks.

jay and betty have property here on the island now, and in the next 5-10 years, as the kids grow up and get into college, theyçll be building here. he plans to make a restaurant, and she to make a hotel, and theyçre very entrepreneurial, as is everyone on the island, so i have no doubt theyçll do just that, and bring a new standard to the island, as bettyçs family is famous for.

itçs great. her dad was one of the only people to leave the island, and he is a very sophisticated world traveller. so he came back and built the first cement house for his mother, and so they had the first store on the island. and every cousin and every tia and tio are also entrepreneurial, so theyçve got the only gas station, a bunch of tiny hotels and restaurants, and one cousin is poised to become fly-fishing king of the island. the youngest member of the family has just opened a little hot dog stand, and the islanders and tourists alike are lining her pockets. she dreams of opening up a restaurant upstairs from tiaçs shop, and she will no doubt do very well.

you expect islanders to be all about mañana. and these folks know how to relax and enjoy themselves. but they work their butts off, too.

bettyçs here, itçs comida time. weçre going. more later.


  1. […] cancun « an irish travel guide… the better the food got. while weçve been here on the island, weçve been eating at the tiaçs place. tia cooks fish that tio just caught, they make lobster salad, lobster ceviche, lobster scrambled eggs. the kids wonçt eat anything, … Read more […]


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