A small preface
This was supposed to be a fishing trip. This was our first time in Mexico, or any part of Latin America for that matter, and naturally, we managed to squeeze a lot more than fishing into our schedules. Therefore, rather than a fishing report, this is more of a travelogue which unfolds itself in three different places; Playa del Carmen, where we stayed. Punta Allen, where we did the fishing, and finally, a day in Mexico City.
These pages are supposed to be about fly fishing, and that you will find in the middle of this page. The other stuff, I fear, might only be useful if you're really, really bored or headed to Mexico for the first time yourself. This page probably takes an eternity to load as well, but I generally dislike the concept of splitting up stuff into separate pages (primarily to ease offline reading, some 3rd. world countries such as Norway still have metered telecom rates).
As usual, your comments are greatly appreciated.
Navigation: [Where to?] [Playa del Carmen #1] [Boca Paila] [The fishing in Punta Allen] [The ruins at Tulum] [Playa del Carmen #2] [Mexico City] [Reader's comments]
Winters in Norway suck. We desperately wanted to get away, to sun, summer and fishing. We dream about it every year, but this winter, amazingly enough, we had both the time and money to make it happen. We were ready for the trip of our lifetime.. We just needed to figure out where to.
We originally wanted to go trout fishing in Patagonia, but as we starting doing more detirmed research, alas not just daydreaming, we eventually found Patagonia to be too risky and difficult in terms of finding great rivers, which were expensive as hell anyway.. Despite the Patagonia setback -- What a wonderful feeling indeed, as the cold wind raged ruthlessly in the darkness outside, to be examining numerous books and travel reports from all over the world, well aware of the fact that we soon would be on our way.. The anticipation and optimism mixed with a grain of unshakeable disbelief made it a process to be cherished, not rushed. We eventually turned our attention away from trout, and to that of the bonefish. A fish, and a type of fishing, which I originally did not think too highly off. A stupid and ugly fish only appreciated by a handful extremist Americans, we had thought, unworthy of our attention. The best cure for ignorance is education, and the more we read about flats fishing technique, and the sheer strength and fighting spirit of the bonefish, the more we wanted to be a part of it..
One of our books told the tale of a bonefish paradise located on the Yucatan-peninsula in Mexico. These Americanized lodges shamelessly asked for USD $2000 a week, per person mind you!, a price we could perfectly well afford, as long as we skipped the airfare and sailed over to Mexico on a homemade raft. As boring traditionalists with no real sense of adventure, we quickly abandoned the raft idea, and pursued the possibilities of budget fishing in Mexico. Many late nights of surfing the net convinced us that Yucatan-peninsula did in fact offer several opportunities for cheap accommodation and fishing.. Well perhaps not exactly cheap, but inexpensive enough for us to sqeeze at least one day of guided fishing into our budget. The archives of the coolest newsgroup on this planet, ROFF, was packed with articles about Yucatan bonefishing, most authored by Bill Kiene, a longtime contributor to ROFF. Bill suggested we try Cuzan Guesthouse located in the little fishing town of Punta Allen in Sian Ka'an Biosphere. Aside from the guided fishing in Punta Allen, there was supposed to be plenty of opportunities of fishing on our own, without boat or guide, by Boca Paila, a place halfway between Punta Allen and civilization.
The closest tourist place of reasonable size was Playa del Carmen, and we quickly arranged travel and accommodation there. And we were on our way..
Playa del Carmen
Late evening on the 29. of March, we finally landed in Cancun, not overly fresh nor rested after 20 hour travel. Judging from the seating space on the 777, or more specifically lack therof, we can only assume that BA must fly an awful lot of er.. vertically and horizontally challenged people. Oh well, cramp enough people into coach, and prices go down.. We were ushered into a cab, and playing the role of inexperienced tourists to perfection, we enjoyed both the drive to Playa and the rip-off price.. Playa del Carmen is a charming little place, with only 20.000 residents, of whom approximately 19.994 work in tourism. The main street, 5th. Avenue, was packed with restaurants, pubs, annoying salespeople and tourists. Luckily, there was room for two more of the latter.
Dead-tired and exhausted, we roamed aimlessly along the 5th. Avenue for a few minutes, until we just crashed at an extraordinary lame place called Fat Tuesday, which business idea was to establish a Twilight Zone feel combined with the worst of the 80s and MTV. Whether people came of a sense of belonging or merely a sense of curiosity to this monstrosity, is unknown -- seriously, what kind of people would visit the exciting and beautiful land of Mexico, and then go to such a place??! Ooops, that would be us. In thirst we trust!
We approached a random representative of the roaring army of energetic Mexicans serving drinks, complemented him on the fascinating versatility of utter tastelessness of the place (in Norwegian of course!), and demanded beer and margaritas. We started realizing that we actually were in Mexico, and eventuelly we came close to actually not disliking this weird place. But that quickly changed as we asked for the check. Perhaps they got confused as we had to ask for it twice (slow they were as well!), but they had multiplied it with a factor of two. Which did not impress us at all, and to display that we were not at all affected by their little scam, we promptly paid and added a generous amount of tip. That oughta teach them a lesson!, we triumphantly agreed as we stumbled our way back to the hotel. We later discovered a significant flaw in our counter-move, but what the hell... The Mexican economy needs all the help it can get!
Before we hit the sack, we stopped by a small cigar-store and picked up some overpriced and overhyped cubans, which we enjoyed with a few beers in the hotel bar. We quickly discovered the bartender to be a very independent guy, who could not be bothered with insignificant details such as customers requesting a check or something more to drink. We fruitlessly tried interupting his shallow, emtpy stare into nothingness, but to no avail. In fear of falling asleep at the bar, we just left enough Pesos to buy the whole place, and retired for the evening. We reviewed our first night in Mexico before we went to sleep, and with a unmistakable sense of pride and anticipation, we concluded that we had been ripped-off at every god damn place we had been to. A admirable start, and if we could maintain this impressing consistency throughout the week, we might be eligible candidates for the Tourists of the Month award...
We got up at 7am the next morning, and went on to have a look around in daylight. The city didn't look so charming and sexy in daylight, but the white beaches and blue-green ocean was all the more appealing. We quickly declared this a beach-day, not a bad decision at all, as the water was 25 degrees celcius and the beer cheap and cold. But as the day progressed, the long of activity set in, and we decided to sober up some and go snorkeling. The conditions were far from ideal, in fact, they sucked. The wind left the best areas off-limits for inexperienced swimmers, and the waves would twirl up sand to degrade the clarity of the water. Still, it beat the hell outa dying of boredom, and besides, we had a packed schedule the next few days anyway..
Pretty non-impressive pictures, but just floating lazily around in the water and studying the colorful fish while enjoying the numb feel of alcohol was kinda cool. Could have done without the leg cramps and the taste of salt-water, but still no complaints. In fact, this whole expedition was promptly deemed a success the minute we met our guide in the shop. She was nice. :-)
The snorkeling set us back USD $25 each, but that included a free dinner at a restaurant by the beach. As a student of economics with a general interested in food, I easily estimated this dinner to be correctly priced in terms of taste. After a long day in the sun, we found ourselves once again exhausted come evening. We barely managed to finish off a bucket of beer at a rather lame American pub, who's general business plan was to stuff various bottles of beer into a bucket. Their name, of course, clued observant bypassers in on their brilliant concept, utilizing the art of subtle, linguistic hints: "Beer Bucket". We could only imagine business must have been pretty slow before they thought of the bucket-part..
Never-the-less, the closely planned acclimation days, which we had needlessly feared spending on a toilet, approach its end. We declared ourselves ready for further adventures into the real Mexico. First thing tomorrow we would return to Cancun and pick up our rental-car, with which we could expand our mobility radius to both Boca Paila and Punta Allen..
There's a lot to be said about Mexico and Mexicans, but they must rank pretty high on the international stuff-as-many-busses-as-possible-into-limited-space ratings. Besides, busses are a remarkably good way of transportation in Mexico --it's inexpensive, comfortable and departures seemingly everywhere, anytime. I believe there are quite a few arrivals as well! We got our car, a lame but airconditioned little Nissan, and with sheer luck, we made it out of Cancun without physical casualties. We immediately headed for Boca Paila, which should offer opportunities of bone fishing, without the hazzle of boats or guides. Of course, we needed to get there first, and we eventually discovered that the road-marking budget correlates heavily with tourist activity. Just keeping on driving until you see a big sign marking your destination usually works well as a strategy, but things tend to get somewhat fucked when no such sign exist.. Halfway to Belize, we shamefully stopped and asked directions. As we finally got on the right road, time was running out. It turns dark at about 6pm in Mexico, and driving at dark in Mexico isn't generally considered an extremely smart thing do to.
A run in with the military
Right in the middle of nowhere, someone had set up a military control post of all vehicles. The reason being that the humorless Americans haven't yet learned to appreciate the drugs- and arms traffic here. In addition, labor costs are low down here, so that a bunch of people are hired to absolutely nothing sensible in the middle of nowhere, is perfectly normal. The guys we ran into didn't speak a word English, and we quickly discovered that our Spanish appeared to be somewhat too specialized within the drink-ordering business. The military enquired where we were headed, and we confidently explained that we were headed for Boca Paila. With a suspicious look, we were informed that we were already in Boca Paila. Incidentally, this key piece of information had very little effect on our position, mainly because we at the time didn't understand a single word they uttered. Perhaps if we'd had the brains to explain that we were headed for the Boca Paila bridge, this encounter might have had a more desirable outcome, but we persistently maintained our claim that Boca Paila was in fact located much further into the jungle.
Remarkably ungrateful for this brilliant lecture in geography, the somewhat annoyed military troops started searching our luggage, without taking much of an interest in it. Until, that is, they found my polaroid sunglasses. Which seemed to possess a magical attraction on one of the soldiers, who promptly tried them on and rapidly offered 6-700 Spanish words in our direction. The fact that he really wanted those glasses soon became obvious, linguistic incompatibility never-the-less. Uhu, now what?!? He's a little skinny guy, only about 5'4" -- he looked like a guy you could effortlessly break in two, and besides, they would not dare to harm a tourist. Luckily, my instinctive analysis was supplemented by a more rational view, which basically reminded my neanderthal perception that we're in the middle of a friggin' jungle, I don't speak their language, and those machineguns hanging over their shoulders look awfully ..er. loaded.. After a long, intense and undoubtedly rather amusing-looking bi-lingual (one language each) haggle-process, in which I persistently claim the glasses cost 500 pesos and they are not for sale, I'm given 80 pesos and ordered to continue driving.. It would have been pretty cool with a picture of a grinning Mexican proudly posing with his brand new Aqua glasses, but I suspected the going jungle rate for Nikon SLR cameras to be around 50 pesos. So we drove off -- before our trading friends made us another offer we could not refuse..
In retrospect, we were told that one is to act politely but firmly toward the military controls. In which case, one has nothing to fear from them, and they would never harm tourists anyway. Oh well, perhaps I should try to suppress this genetic flaw of mine, the one which make me overly agreeable when dealing with people carrying loaded guns in the middle of a jungle.. Hmmm... Think I'll settle for improving my Spanish and carrying an extra pair of polarized sunglasses..
The big fishing adventure
Well, enough whining about that incident, we soon arrived at the Boca Paila bridge. We immediately started looking for good fishing places, and we were disappointed. The water was too deep, and the bottom too soft for wading, at least in the close proximity of the bridge. An ad-hoc expedition into the jungle didn't tempt us very much, as we had been reading a little too much about the magnificent wild-life in the area. Snakes, panthers, and crocodiles, we can live without. Alongside, and the very outlet of the lagoon system didn't look unfishable, but for some reason, we got into the car and drove further on, convinced that the perfect flat would be just around the corner.. Or the next corner.. or.. The clock kept on ticking, remarkably inconsiderate of our situation, and we soon realized that there was less than an hour before we had to head back. We stopped at the very next place, and quickly got into the water. Bound to fail, of course, but what else is new with me and Julern on fishing trips?! :-) We have to give it shot anyway. The water was refreshing without turning cold, and the wildlife and surroundings were nothing short of amazing. Forget the fish, we felt privileged just to be here. We did actually see fish, but only outside casting range. So, we eventually head back for Playa, well aware of that we're going to Punta Allen tomorrow, and for the day after tomorrow, reservations are made for both guide and boat. Foolproof setup!
A few days later, when returning from Punta Allen, we spotted this promising-looking flat, just by the Boca Paila bridge. Still can't figure out how we missed it the first time, the below picture is taken standing on the damn road.. Oh well, it is tough to spot things without a good pair of polarized sunglasses..
(1) The lagoon system inside of the bridge. (2) The outlet seen from the bridge. (3) The place we fished. (4) The promising looking flat we didn't see until later.
Soccer, TV, and El Umb˛
Back in Playa del Carmen, we feel surprisingly fresh. Spending the day in an airconditioned car rather than in the sun, apparently has its advantages. And disadvantages, as we would soon discover. We ate at a very charming Argentinean place called El Umb˛. A cozy atmosphere, good but inexpensive food and drinks, a big TV fixed on a South-American soccer station, and very pleasurable waitresses :-). They also had my favorite Mexican beer, Montejo, and enough brands of tequila to make us struggle to find the damn exit when we left.. We continued to the Blue Parrot bar, where there's constant happy hour and plenty of people. Luckily, Blue Parrot was only one block away from our hotel, which we considered a convenience as we entered. The state, in which we ended the night, made it a necessity.
The Punta Allen Road
Compared with rural Norwegian road conditions, the roads in the tourist parts of Mexico holds impeccable standard. Apparently, unlike the Norwegian system, people with a genetic fascination for curves are in fact NOT headhunted for the road-construction service down here. Weird, we thought at first, but some light was shed on this mystery, as we discovered just how much of a challenge a straight road really represents for the average driving Mexican.. Or what the hell, if you got a steering wheel, you might as well use it.. Who are we to judge?? We quickly adapted to the Mexican driving style, which means honking your horn, flashing your lights, making sudden shifts in direction and generally making every possible effort of attracting attention, but yet at the same time, concealing your next move in the best possible way. (We found the killer-crossover and hesitation fakes to be particularly effective!) The rules of the game are straight-forward, if the other cars can predict your next move, you lose. It was great fun! I think we did pretty well, and I remember several buses flashing their lights on us as we faked overtaking right in front of them, no doubt in appreciation and admiration of how quickly we had mastered the Mexican style! We politely honked our horn twenty-three times to return the greeting, and occasionally, Julern would even stick his upper body out the window and offer obscene gestures as a small token of our appreciation.. Slightly exaggerated as this paragraph might be, I assure you one thing about driving in Mexico: boring it is not!
But what really took us by surprise, was the final part of the Punta Allen road. Up to Boca Paila, the road is very agreeable, for a dirt road that is. But then, all hell breaks loose. Major pits and holes, amazingly big rocks in the middle of road (how the f... did they get here anyway?), jungle plants, bunkers of sand, and of course, enormous piles of dirt left by rather non-pedantic maintenance workers. It turned dark, as in pitch black, and we weren't exactly overly cocky as we slowly manoeuvred our way past the obstacles. Luckily, we had a fully insured rental-car (otherwise, we would have given up and returned to Playa). But we made it to Punta Allen, vowing never again to come here in anything but a 4WD. Preferably in a Hummer. Ideally in a tank. (Why a tank? well..: KADONGKADONG - BRRRRRRRR (sound of turret aiming) - Hey you! Yes YOU, el soldato! I want my f...ing sunglasses back!!! :-)
We had arranged accommodation and guided fishing at Cuzan Guesthouse, which was a very nice place. We lived in a big cabana by the beach, which even had luxury such as electricity (occasionally anyway), water, and bathroom with a shower. And of course, a hammock on the porch. Punta Allen was originally a small fishing village with approximately 400 inhabitants, but these days, fly fishing services (mostly targeted at Americans) plays a key role in every-day life here. We found the prices to be somewhat steep, with USD $350 for a day of fishing and USD $75 a night for the cabana. But then again, we are new to the entire concept of guided fishing, and besides, either I got some prices wrong or we were given a discount when we settled the bill. In general, our impression of Cuzan was favorable. The people were very friendly and helpful, and the food was absolutely, amazingly fantastic. But note that there are other lodges and alternatives in Punta Allen, which offer a more Mexican price level.
We met some other fly fishers there as well, most notably two Americans who's names have long escaped my Alzheimer memory. But nothing the Internet can't fix in retrospect. Brendan McCarthy and his brother Matt they were. We quickly started talking, and according to them, fishing was decent, but not great. The chances of catching a handful bones in a day's fishing were reasonably good. But of course, good sun-glasses were an absolute necessity. I was kinda lacking in that category, and we told them of our little involuntary trade with the military guys. Julern, with a sudden taste for drama, might have exaggerated the story slightly. Brendan promptly got his gear bag out, and gave me his extra pair of glasses. Wow! Stunned and amazed, I tried to convey my appreciation, without much success I fear.. There are many good people on this planet, but among flyfishers, perhaps especially so......
Down to business
Eat this, bonehead!
We wade slowly, and suddenly I see the mother of all bones swimming lazily RIGHT IN FRONT of me. Holy Moses! It's headed away from me, so there's no way of casting without spooking it, and I just follow it patiently with my eyes, hoping to see it halting and tailing.. And then the sun disappears, and I lose it. Meanwhile, Julern and Manuel have located a school of bones, and from my point of view, Julern appears to have many good shots at is.. But his cast is too close and the school swims away in panic.. I proceed on the flat, and suddenly Manuel is screaming and pointing. There's a school headed straight for me. I can't see it, and I try to figure out where Manuel is pointing.. There! I get my rod ready, and as the school swim by me, I promptly place the fly in the middle of it.. And just how smart was that? Not particularly so, judging from the panic-stricken bones exploding in every direction, well every direction but mine.. This isn't funny anymore, and I declare it's about f***ing time I get my act together!!
Over to the next flat. Julern and Manuel wade together, while I'm on my own. A pattern is quickly established, as I repeatedly see Manuel pointing, Julern casting, and then, the school escaping in panic.. :-) They were nice enough to scare one off in my direction, and I fire off a lengthy cast.. And then the sun disappears again, and I lose sight of both my fly and the fish.. But then, my rod twitches! Something has taken my fly! Yes!!!! And then flyline is ripped out at amazing speed. Then it halts, and lets me get back some of the line.. And suddenly, another run.. Not a long one, but the speed of it was highly impressive.. Then it's my turn again, and I retrieve like a madman, until another run by the bone puts an end to my efforts.. This is absolutely amazing.. The speed of the runs.. It's not a big fish, and I got gear powerful enough (AFTM #8) to tow a damn submarine (ok, a small submarine), but this is awesome! Five crazy runs it made, before I finally grab it in my hands. Only 1,5 pounds, and I can't help imagining how a 5 pounder must feel like. Seems like a smart situation in which to keep one's fingertips well away from the reel-shank.
We fish for another 30 minutes here, and then we return to the boat for lunch. Julern notes that I, as usual, am a lucky bastard, who incidentally has rather red legs. Whoa! I've forgotten to apply sunblock from the knees and down.. And as we were wading most of the time, I didn't notice anything. We brought sunblock with us, but my legs are way beyond repair now. Doesn't hurt -- yet.. Oh well, at least I'll have a tan to show off back in Norway.. as soon as shorts season starts, anyway..
How to really fish effectively for bones.
Last stop: the lagoon
I find another fish within range. I manage a few good presentations, and the retrieve is decent as well. I didn't get the fly close enough, or maybe the fish simply wasn't interested. The next cast splashes too close, only a yard away from the fish, and it's outa here.. Damn, this is frustrating. It's pretty hard to predict where the fish will go next when feeding like this, but it's your only hope. And if you guessed correctly, you need some luck as well, to avoid getting tangled into vegetation as you retrieve the fly.. The alternative way would be casting to fly very close to the fish. But it always scared them off. Paranoid little morons! Maybe with a longer leader, and a smaller (not-so-hard-splashing) fly? Maybe we should have read a book or two about this before we came?!
In terms of results, this was pretty lame. We did pay USD $350 for this day, and in that respect, our tradition of outrageous price/kilo ratio was maintained in a convincing manner! Ok, we can claim some bad luck with the conditions, but the main blame for the poor performance lies admittedly by ourselves. We had been practicing our casting all winter, and in the indoor sports arena, casting 30-40 yards with some consistency was feasible. In case someone still haven't figured it out: indoor arenas differs greatly from windy flats! Personally, casting length isn't the problem --accuracy is.
Back in Punta Allen, my legs are getting annoyingly sore. They turned bright red. The similarities of burned flesh and boiled lobster are striking, Julern points out. After serveral hours of souring, he now has a smile on his face as he takes a closer look at my legs. We'd cleverly left all soothing after-sun lotion back in Playa del Carmen, and I paid a visit to the local store in desperate search for anything that would help.. No luck, but I couldn't stand the thought of returning empty-handed, so I bought the closest thing to skin lotion available; a family-pack of talcum powder. The shopping specialist strikes again! My skin was so sore, that even walking hurt, so I limped like an old woman, while moaning painfully and occasionally cursing loudly in Norwegian. I desperately tried to apply some talcum, which had no effect other than giving me the feeling of at least doing SOMETHING. With the wind picking up, I left a trail of white powder, which quickly grew into a cloudlike shape. My parade through downtown Punta Allen must have been quite a sight. I feel sorry for that little Mexican girl I came across -- boy!, did she ever turn pale and run for her life! (I wonder what she told her parents, and more so, how they punished her for making up stupid stories about angry looking red-legged gringos, cursingly limping through downtown with his white smoke screen?? :-)
We had another wonderful dinner at Cuzan, and we spoke to the other fly fishermen again. Brendan had been fishing for Permit today, but with no luck. So at the end of the day, he turned his attention to bonefish. And caught four of them in a short time.. We told him we didn't fish for permit it all, but if we had, we probably would have caught 10-12..:-)
We still hadn't decided whether to fish tomorrow, and Brendan tells me to keep the glasses, just in case. And then, as if he hadn't done enough for us, he brings me some leaves from the cactus plant aloe vera, which is the best you can get for burnt skin. I'm naming my firstborn after him. -> www.mctrout.com.
A new day in Punta Allen. Not as cloudy, but just as windy as yesterday. Julern is still game for some fishing, but there's no way of talking me and my legs into another day in the sun.. Besides, we don't really have another $350 in cash with us. However, if dealing directly with the guides, prices are usually more reasonable, or so we were told. But, we headed for Playa del Carmen again (and I must admit thath this decision was mostly based on my whining. I needed that after-sun lotion badly!), well aware of that we could always come back here or to Boca Paila during the rest of our stay.. And equally well aware of the fact that we probably wouldn't. Btw., the drive back on the Punta Allen road was a breeze, and we couldn't for the life of us figure out why we had struggled so much the other way. I guess the combination of daylight and actually knowing what we were facing, are not to be underrated.
We never did go back to Punta Allen or Boca Paila (surprise!). I don't quite understand why, because this day of fishing was one of the most fun I've ever had. Bonefish is a difficult fish to catch, at least for beginners (ok, I'll say it: or for people who suck, like us!), but the sight-fishing concept is really cool. And I would really like to feel a 5 pound bonefish in the other end of the line, must be like a 20 pound salmon in terms of speed and strength.
Back in the cold Norwegian winter, the regrets of lost fishing opportunities became very evident. Another visit to Punta Allen is definitely tempting, but in such case, there are a few improvements to be made. First off, in terms of casting, medium distance accuracy will be the primary target for practice, forget the long distance stuff. Secondly, we shall not party all week in Playa del Carmen when we can be fishing. And third, and perhaps most importantly, sun block is to be applied with utmost attention and accuracy.
The Ruins at Tulum
On the way back from Punta Allen we stopped by the ruins at Tulum. Tulum (the ruins, Tulum itself is quite another matter!) is swarming with tourist activity, but that's primarily because of their location near-by Cancun and Playa del Carmen. In all honesty, the ruins themselves aren't that spectacular. Compared to the big pyramids and similar displays of ancient engineering, sheer physical efforts and estetics, Tulum is nothing but a collection of stupid little stone-buildings, that happens to be stashed together in the same place. The ruins of Tulum are relatively new ruins, or rather less old perhaps, and they were in use only 500-600 years ago. The place itself was (one assumes) used for religious purposes only, whereas ordinary people lived outside the place. Tulum is surrounded by a several hundred yards long stonewall on land, whereas the sea-side is naturally protected by steep cliffs. Despite the fortress-like layout of the place, historicans doubt the place had any military role or functions. (The religious leaders probably wanted to make sure that non-believers wouldn't sneak in and steal er.. all the stone. :-)
(1)The popular beach of Tulum. (2)The first major temple after the entrance.(3) An overview of the site.
On the sides of this paragraph, you'll find one of the very few present inhabitants of Tulum. We barely avoided stepping on this fellow (he knows his camouflage, that's for sure).. That would have caused some interesting scenes, no doubt. Ideally, Julern would have stepped on him, making Iguana-boy rather pissed off. That could have turned into a pretty cool photo-shoot:
Well, except for the big iguana, we both found Tulum to be somewhat of a disappointment. My legs were pretty sore, and the opportunity of staring at some broken stone-buildings didn't QUITE justify being out in the sun for me. But whoever's running this universe apparently wanted to make sure I got the message that this was not my day. On the way out of Tulum, I slipped with my one foot, and instinctively kicked my other foot into the ground for support, crunching my big-toe. Quite an amusing and artistic achievement, and I received quite a few admiring looks from other tourists as I performed my one-legged circle-jump dance while bleeding an impressive amount. As we entered Tulum, I walked like an old disabled woman, and as we left, I proudly chalked up "unbalanced limp" to my ever-growing list of involuntary walking styles. My poor state made the walk up the parking-lot seem like a marathon, and we happily joined hoards of Americans for the 400 yards long bus-ride. But (and I'm not making this up) one of the damn bus' tires exploded halfway up (obviously!), so I had to walk anyway.....!!
So, in summary: Tulum sucks! Feel free to speculate on the reasons why I feel this way. :-)
And so the week progressed.. The car, which we'd optimistically reserved the entire week for our planned bonefish adventures, was left collecting dust in one of the alleys at $65 a day. Clever. In case someone actually bothered to read this far, I shall be considerate and refrain for boring anyone with further details of our bar-side accomplishments throughout the week. However, for those of you considering a visit to Playa del Carmen, the next paragraphs might be of some use..
According to several guidebooks and other sources as well, Playa del Carmen is one of the most popular destinations for Europeans, unlike Americanized places like Cancun. Oh really?? Guidebooks are supposedly never wrong, so we can only wonder just where our Euro-friends were hiding out.. We only met about 20-30 Europeans during our day, and compared to the hoards of Americans, that's practically nothing (of course, we went in Spring Break season).
The overall quality of drinks, both in terms of pure inventory and bartender handling, left much to be desired. It seemed that any mixture of less-than-tasty sweet-sticky fluid, ice, and (a tiny dash of) tequila served in a colorful glass qualified as margarita, to be consumed with great enthusiasm and pleasure by most. With the obvious exception of the excellent tequila variety, one had better keep an eye on just what the bartenders served you.. Well, at least during the early parts of the evening where one actually cares.. :-)
The prices are pretty high here, at least by Mexican standards. The most popular tourist places such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Acapulco etc. in general offer double rates that of Mexico City and similar places. But if you're accustomed to the outrageous Norwegian price level, your main challenge in Mexico is basically limited to not laughing out loud when the check arrives. In Norway USD $10 buys you a tiny drink, in Mexico, that's often enough for the entire bottle. The prices varies rather dramatically with location, and the longer away from the 5th. avenue, the cheaper (and more exciting) things get.
We stayed at Hotel Pancho's, located in the northern end of 5th. avenue, and we were very pleased with the hotel. Our room had everything necessary, it was clean and big enough, and of course fan, AC, shower and bathroom. Albeit somewhat pricey at USD $80 a night --you can find decent hotels in the $30-40 range, if you're willing to move outside 5th. avenue. (Pancho's was the cheapest hotel offered by our travel-agent, but we would happily settle for a less fancy hotel the next time. Seriously, when in Playa del Carmen, the hotelroom is not where you'll be spending most of your time.. Well, unless.. you know.. :-). The service at the hotel was impeccable, but it had one major disadvantage if you're traveling with people like Julern. The reception closes at midnight, and if you'd happen to lose your key, you can look forward to spending a night at the beach. Or if one should happen to lose one's wallet (Hello Julern!) in the late hours, expect no assistance. The restaurant/bar of Pancho's was located in the middle of the hotel, but apparently, that is merely a location coincidence rather than an expression of customer-service cooperation. The bar was still open as a wallet-less Julern asked for some assistance to make a phone call to Visa in order to report his card stolen. Despite explaining that we were guests at the hotel, and that we would happily cover any expenses of the phone call (and then some), we were arrogantly told that that clearly was the responsibility of the hotel, and not that of the hotel-bar, mind you! They even less-than-subtle hinted that we must be pretty f...ing stupid not to understand that, and then we were ignored, presumably to reflect on this gracious display of generosity and helpfulness.
We never quite figured out the Pancho's system. The bar sucked incredibly, with lousy service from an amazingly disinterested attendants, a perfect match for the inflated prices and poor quality drinks. But on the other hand, the restaurant was definitely very nice, with several very helpful and friendly attendants, and the food was absolutely brilliant. We would specifically recommend the Calamaris Fritas and CafŔ de Mexicano. The latter consists of tequila (of course!), ice-cream / butter, cinnamon, sugar, and finally a dash of regular coffee just for hell of it. An impressive show is included, as the the tequila is set on fire, and poured from a variety of cups, until it finally ends up in your glass, topping off a very tasty and delicate Mexican Coffee alÓ Pancho's.. So, in summary, restaurant and hotel ok, bar = bad.
Stuff not to miss in Playa
|Hotel Pancho's Restaurant||Wonderful sea-food. Especially recommended: Calamaris Fritas and CafŔ de Mexicano. Prices are high, but you get your money's worth, and them some.|
|Coffee Press||Very good Ice-coffee, with hazelnut and vanilla. We quickly became regulars here. Bonus points for a good view of the senoritas working at the next-door place, Hooters.. :-)|
|El Umb˛||Charming little place a few blocks off 5th. avenue. Fast and friendly service, Montejo, excellent food, Big-screen TV with soccer, and amazingly low prices.|
|Cafe Sasta||A small coffee-bar on 5th. avenue. Absolutely amazing Cafe Mocha, even available in 1/2 liter cups (approx. 80.000 calories, for those who care). Excellent ice-cappuchino, as well. A notch or two better than Coffee Press, but the location was too far away from the beach, in our opinion.|
|Baja Beach Club / Hooters||Takes pride in playing extremely loud music, and presistently refusing to acknowledge that the 80s are history. But very tasty and inexpensive chicken wings, and a very favorable local beer (the negro variant!). Attracts customers by posting attractive se˝oritas in bikinis all over the place. A sexist idea which we appose (uhh..), but when on vacation in another country, one should be open-minded and appreciative of the local customs, so we visited frequently.. :-))))|
|Blue Parrot||A bar/restaurant by the beach, occasionally featuring live music. Very social place, and opportunities of dancing on the bar when sufficiently fueled with tequila.. .. ..|
|CapitÓn Tutix||The place to go to after Blue Parrot closes. Disco-like setup by the beach, packed with people every night. Doesn't close until morning, and if still capable of walking, the place next-door place doesn't close for another hour. Next step is to locate a 24hour convenience store, pack up beer and head for the beach.. :-)|
|Tequileria||Tequila place on 5th. avenue. Swarming with Americans sipping to their tequila like it was a 60 year old wine, but still, the availability of tequila is impeccable. (about 150 brands). Rather pricey, but a great way to test different brands. Our tips: Tres Generationes, or runner-up: Don Julio Reposado.|
But stay well clear of these
|Fat Tuesdays||In all honesty, decent food and drinks, but the rather shameless attendants will happily rip you off come La Cuanta-time. Pretty tasteless place, really.|
|Mexican Caribe||Not 100% sure of the name, but it was located on 5th. avenue, just across from La Parilla (a nice BBQ-place we never got to try). The service at Caribe was amazingly poor, despite the fact that there were about 130 working waiters.. The food was without a doubt the worst we had the entire trip (airline food from BA included!). pricey as well.|
|Hotel Pancho's Bar||Stay away. Everything sucks.|
We strolled aimlessly around the city, trying our best to get robbed so that we would have some cool stories to tell when we got home. We hailed numerous WW-beetle cabs from the street, but to no avail. Seriously, going to Mexico City without taking a WW-cab in rushhour, ranks right up there with going to Paris and refusing to see the Eifeltower. In fact, we didn't see a single murder or robbery the entire day, so in disappointment we concluded that all the crime-commercials were rather misleading.. :-) We did in fact find everyone to be both polite and geniunely friendly and helpful. So sue us!
We were really impressed with the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, and we surprisingly spent several hours there (whoa! us in a museum!). Definitely worth a visit when in Mexico City! Otherwise, Zona Rosa was nice and worth a visit. Pay close attention to the color-coding of the city, though! Confuse Zona Rosa with Zona Roja, and you're in for a surprise.. -- and the opportunity of a life-time to see just how much "love" your dollars can buy... We tried to explore more interesting parts of the city, and there's definitely a lot more to D.F. than the upper-class Zona Rosa district. But a single day in Mexico City is rather pointless. You need a week or two just to cover the basics. That we had not, so we had to settle for a brief Been There, Done That-visit.
And then we went home. And slept for a week, dreaming about next year's mighty adventures of bonefish........
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