PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF A THREE-DAY WEEKEND

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I’ve squeezed a heck of a lot of activities, driving and flying in the span of a two or three-day weekend. My good friend Sean Nickley (of a previous guest post here on Weekend Roady) and I managed to get all the way up to the top of Mount Washington (that is in central New Hampshire) and back in the span of some 40-odd hours (leaving from D.C., driving through NYC to pick him up and back the same way).

So would it surprise you if I said we decided to outdo ourselves?

The spread at Diego's. YUM - to say the least...

The spread at Diego’s. YUM – to say the least…

Earlier this month, Sean and I embarked on a three day weekend for Mexico (strategically leaving Thursday night) from our respective cities (poor Sean had to wade through the infamous Newark terminal). Destination: Cozumel. In all, we’d spend Friday afternoon and evening on the island (after overnighting at a Houston airport hotel) before an all-day tour out to Chichen Itza on Saturday. Sunday morning we’d catch breakfast somewhere back on Cozumel and get back to our hometowns late that night.

An iguana playing through the weeds in an empty lot in San Miguel

An iguana playing through the weeds in an empty lot in San Miguel

Why? 1) One of my resolutions was to get to three countries this year. Check. 2) I’ve never been to Mexico and it was about time. 3) I really liked the idea of seeing Chichen Itza. 4) I had a United credit that was soon expiring.

Mi Amigo on the sidewalk

Mi Amigo on the sidewalk

What followed was about as close you could get to a total washout without actually crossing Chevy Chase’s infamous threshold of hell.

Did a trash can blow up?

Did a trash can blow up?

We arrived in sunny Cozumel at 11:30 a.m. local time. We exited the plane out onto the tarmac and made the walk over to the customs building. It would be the last time we’d see sunlight.

We didn't spend too much time outside that Friday night in Cozumel, but we heard a lot fewer sales pitches as the cruising crowd had left for the day.

We didn’t spend too much time outside that Friday night in Cozumel, but we heard a lot fewer sales pitches as the cruising crowd had left for the day.

Passing through customs and inspection was a relative breeze. Trying to stay tightly budgeted (and only carrying backpacks), we skipped the taxi line and decided to walk right into town, stopping for a meal at Diego’s, an unassuming little taco place just outside of the airport. Eric, the current manager, couldn’t be more likable. The food was so good that we decided it would be our final stop the following Sunday before we left.

The huge grocery store in Cozumel was fun to walk through

The huge grocery store in Cozumel was fun to walk through

The rest of the overcast day was spent walking through the town of San Miguel, which has little to offer those that are just trying to waste an afternoon. We found more enjoyment walking around residences and local storefronts than the main drag, which was teeming with merchants looking to unload their wares on those coming off the cruise ship. Walking a mere 2-3 blocks, I could count about 25-30 offers of “Hey, amigos, cuban cigars?”

Or…

“This is the place, come here, let me show you”

“Hey guys, need some women?”

“T-shirts? Really good deals here guys”

“Try some tequila guys, come on, don’t you want some?”

“Want to see a menu guys?”

“Something for the girl back home? The wife? The neighbor’s wife?”

We had some humble, er, pot pie in Cozumel. It was quite good, and quite authentic (as in British)

We had some humble, er, pot pie in Cozumel. It was quite good, and quite authentic (as in British)

Needless to say, the whole song and dance got real annoying, real fast. I don’t mind the shops, restaurants and relative catering to the casual vacationers, but to the relatively initiated, the whole scene is completely unappealing. I’d feel better walking into a souvenir store without being harassed about it. I don’t understand the technique. My feeling is that they actually succeed in chasing potential buyers away.

Boarding our ferry in the early hours

Boarding our ferry in the early hours

With that, we decided to nap away the rest of the afternoon at the hotel and grab a pot pie dinner at “The Pub”, a cozier eatery tucked just far enough away from the bulk of the tourist-oriented establishments. A nearby bakery opened late, just in time for dessert and then it was back to the hotel. Staying out late was out of the question, we had a 5:45 AM ferry to catch.

***

Ducking from the rain in Playa del Carmen

Ducking from the rain in Playa del Carmen

Serenity now! Well, that’s what I got when we stepped outside of the hotel at 5:20 AM. Emptiness pervaded the area where, just yesterday, multiple hawkers were peddling their wares. Rain had fallen through the night, adding to the peaceful glow of a morning where the sun had yet to rise (and, actually, wouldn’t).

Me in front of the church in Valladolid's center square

Me in front of the church in Valladolid’s center square

Then the rain. Oh, and how it rained.

We, and maybe a couple hundred locals, chartered course for the coast and Playa del Carmen. The relatively scenic beach town was not so this morning, as a tropical depression moved in and pounded the shoreline relentlessly. We had to make shelter under a ferry terminal that was under construction. We booked a tour (with USA Transfers) for some $40 per person online and were told to wait at the Senor Frogs restaurant for Viejes Mestizos. I’m interested to hear of other people’s experiences with Viejes. It seems USA Transfers contracts out some or all of their tours through Viejes (as Viejes Mestizos doesn’t seem to have their own website sans a Facebook page).

Loved the park in Valladolid, would have loved to stay longer than ten minutes...

Loved the park in Valladolid, would have loved to stay longer than ten minutes…

Well, the trip almost ended in disaster as the clock hit 8 AM (our supposed meeting time). Nobody from Viejes showed up. I was worried this would happen. When I booked the tour I got an e-mail saying to meet by  such and such a hotel. When I re-confirmed, someone else with the USA Transfers said to meet at Senor Frogs. Apparently Viejes didn’t get that message, and were over at the hotel (which was a good 5 minute walk and out of our sightline from Senor Frogs). Had it not been torrential rain, I suppose one of us could have sauntered over to the hotel and sat there waiting, and run back to get the other person. As it was, we called USA Transfers (luckily Sean had a Mexico-friendly phone contract) and they were able to get the Viejes driver (who had left) to turn back and retrieve us at Senor Frogs. Phew…

Buffet lunch...

Buffet lunch…

Three hours of driving awaited us as we were ferried from resort to resort in the Riviera Maya, picking up more Jane and Joe vacationers. We wasted an hour at a Mayan souvenir stand, that sold stuff we could have bought at Chichen Itza later. We wasted another hour at a cheap buffet (part of the ticket cost, at least). We finally got to the park at 2 PM, with only two hours to tour the grounds. It was worth it, just being there, but it could have been so much more. As one guide put it, “Chichen Itza was once home to great warriors, noble politicians and able merchants”. Well, the merchants sure stuck around, as every step you’d take that wasn’t part of the immediate hallowed ground was packed with tents and more hawkers, this time with some new expressions…

Finally! Chichen Itza!

Finally! Chichen Itza!

“Only a dollar” (not)

“Everything on sale today” (true fact, everything is offered for sale today and everyday)

“Cheaper than Wal-mart. Cheaper than K-Mart” (my favorite)

Don't worry, he doesn't bite...

Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite…

Worse was probably the jaguar noisemakers. That lost its novelty after hearing it for the thirtieth time. God forbid one of our fellow van-mates just had to buy  one and play with it on the ride back.

This souvenir tent was one of hundreds lined up around the Chichen Itza site

This souvenir tent was one of hundreds lined up around the Chichen Itza site

At least the rain let up, and, being totally honest, it was just really cool to be there. I love history, I love cultures, and I wanted to just eat it all up. I didn’t get a whole lot of authenticity on that tour, but the structures were very real and very awesome. I’ll live with that. (Note – we also stopped in the colonial town of Valladolid. We were given just ten minutes to tour the main square and church, not nearly enough time – I easily would have sacrificed the buffet and souvenir stop for an hour here and an extra hour at Chichen Itza).

The ballcourt. Much larger than I ever expected it to be...

The ballcourt. Much larger than I ever expected it to be…

The ride back? In a nutshell. A sweaty, smelly van. I left my camera on the seat (it likely fell out of my pocket during one of the many speed bumps at the various resorts – yes, I was dumb not to double check). We made it for the 8:45 ferry which was cancelled due to the obscene weather and waves crashing ashore. Another company had the final ferry ride out at 10 PM (which we desperately needed to catch), so we took that and ate a overpriced (and underwhelming, except for the great guac) dinner at a restaurant near the ferry. Still getting over the loss of my camera, we managed to make it back to Cozumel despite boarding a boat that was listing heavily at the dock.

Chichen Itza is so much more than just the pyramid. Their are many different kinds of structures all around the grounds.

Chichen Itza is so much more than just the pyramid. Their are many different kinds of structures all around the grounds.

The next morning brought more heavy rain. We ended our very interesting weekend at Diego’s where his mother whipped us up some amazing breakfast burritos. Referencing a waterfront salesman, I told Eric I’d hit up Yelp and let everyone know “this is the place”!

Chichen Itza is a massive rebuilding and restoration project. This was all mostly collapsed and covered under thick jungle. Here you can see a great example of  the continuing process of restoring the site.

Chichen Itza is a massive rebuilding and restoration project. This was all mostly collapsed and covered under thick jungle. Here you can see a great example of the continuing process of restoring the site.

In the end I was able to get my camera back (for a little more than the tour cost). I e-mailed USA Transfers that morning and had it by Friday, sent via FedEx. Would I do the same thing again? Eh, maybe not. Heck, maybe I’d just go straight to Cancun if I was ever going to take that tour again. Would I rent a car? Perhaps, but I heard nightmares about particular line-item insurances when renting in Mexico, so I wanted to avoid the hassle. That said, I met some awesome people in Mexico, saw some awesome thing (though, not for as much as I wanted to) and can chalk up another crazy adventure. When you squeeze everything into three days (or less), you’ve pretty much made your bed. You won’t have the time to go around all the small hassles and get to all the good stuff, you just got to deal with whatever comes your way. In the end, we managed to do what we set out to do and had a memorable time of it. It is why I love to travel.

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