It's been a while since I've traveled. My last adventure was in Daytona Beach, Florida back in March and I was itching to explore a new place. Mike and I had never gone anywhere on a plane together, and we really waned to go on vacation before I transitioned to the oncology unit and he applied to schools. We wanted an international place that was obviously affordable. So Cancún it was, but we didn't want the college spring break experience.
We arrived in Cancún pretty late. We had trouble renting a car, considering the majority of the cars there are manual drive. We managed to find an automatic pretty last minute after much frustration and struggled to find our AirBnb. *Tip: use the offline Google maps function and download the area before you go. I underestimated Mexican traffic and it took us far too long to find our first home. But once we got to the guest house, called the Sak Nah Guest House, we were welcomed by our first English speaking friends and got our first taste of a Mexican style home. Our host, Benoit, even helped us order the best tacos we had ever had after traveling the whole day. They were chorizo tacos topped with pineapple and this spicy, green hot sauce that tasted amazing. Mike doesn't even do spicy, but he sweated the whole time we were in Mexico eating the sauce even though it killed him.
We drove our rental car two hours into the mainland and went to Chichen Itza. The weather suggested rain and isolated thunderstorms our entire trip, but we really lucked out and all of our adventures had beautiful weather. You really have to take Cancún weather day by day. It was sunny but mild when we got to the Mayan ruins. I think the coolest part about coming to places with architecture is imagining the building process. The temples were man made structures compiled together by hand. They were no means "perfect" by social guidelines today. No clean cut curves, gloss, or shine. But the preliminary foundation that they had back then served their purposes simply. It was nice to see everything down to its bare bones.
By day three, we were in Puerto Morelos in another Guest House, called Casitas Kinsol. This was the most perfect little hut! I know it might sound unorthodox but after finding AirBnb, traveling has become more enjoyable because I realize how important your temporary home is to your travel experience. I know people usually opt for the cheaper route for obvious reasons - there is the option of hostels if you're on a budget, and by all means hostels provide a whole other type of experience. But the affordable, unique, eccentrically-decorated, local homes I've been able to find through AirBnb are truly hidden gems. You don't need luxury to have a wholesome experience. Casitas Kinsol is filled with lively, lush plants and trees, pets, and specially designed rooms. Mike and I stayed in a mezzanine room with an upper loft and additional bottom floor, all Mexican style - radiant colors, tiles, and all.
On day three we went to the cenotes, which are natural wells. One was outdoor, called Cenote Azul, and one was indoor, called Cenote Dos Ojos. The water was such a strong cerulean color in both places, so crystal clear you could see your toes and the rocks on the bottom. We snorkeled and got natural pedicures aka the fish nibbled at our feet and tickled the shit out of us. At night, we roamed the central plaza, checked out a local cafe, and tried to spot out constellations amongst the blanket of stars out on the dock.
We woke up and saw the sun rise by the ocean. Then we drove out to Playa del Carmen to return our car rental, and in the mean time were approached by vendors who gave us a good deal for exploring Cozumel Island. We took a ferry out to Cozumel (I got sea sick for the first time, it was terrible) and when arrived rented a scooter to explore the island. There's no public transportation on this small island, and there is only one main road about 60 kilometers long that encircles the city. Mike learned to drive it pretty quickly and we checked in to our last destination, a studio apartment a block from the beach for less than $30 USD, which also had the friendliest dog (we met a lot of dogs and dog lovers in Mexico). Then we beach hopped! First Playa Palancar where our first bike broke down because I told Mike to floor it (some hotel workers graciously allowed us to use their phone to call the rental company and they met us out in the middle of no where with a brand new bike with a full tank of gas), then Punta Sur where we got the tastiest nachos, and last, Playa Bonita. We ended up having to drive back to our apartment in a rainstorm, and rain drops hurt at 60-mph or whatever speed we were going. But it was definitely an experience. I felt like I was one of the storm chasers you see on tv.
We woke up early to return our scooter and boarded the ferry back to the mainland to catch our flight back. I had been dying to visit this local coffee shop the day prior which had the best ratings and was fortunate enough to snag an iced coffee five minutes before our ferry was supposed to depart. The owner opened early and gave us a quick coffee tour and made me one his most popular drinks. The cafe was called Coz Coffee Roasting Company and it had the zestiest blend infused with molasses, cinnamon, and I forget what else. It was so good I bought a batch of beans to bring back to Boston.
Our trip was full of nice, hard-working people trying to make a living. It reminded me a lot of Vietnam. Not many people we ran to spoke English, but they were eager to help with whatever tools they had despite the language barrier. I approached them expecting to get ripped off, but looking back, everything we got was appropriately priced. Their hot sauce was humbling - I thought I could handle spice, but let me tell ya . . one of their chillies was so spicy it made me dizzy and I couldn't stand up (that's when I got sea sick, too). Despite our fun time there, there were also things we hated seeing, for example, young children struggling to sell coconuts on the side of the street every time we slowed down at a speed bump. Old men, retirement age, hustling tourists to eat at their restaurant so they could make a living. Other children stuck in a restaurant all day helping their families make a living, not being able to enjoy a "regular" childhood like so many of us can do here in the states. Stray dogs, lots of stray dogs, sleeping under cars and sniffing out trash bags for food. And this was only over the span of a few days.
I guess it goes to show with the beautiful also comes the ugly, but regardless of the place lies this idea of "stubborn happiness." I was once told Vietnam was one of the happiest countries in the world, which was hard to believe a long time ago. But I've now become a believer, and I owe my commitment to this idea to the concept of this "stubborn happiness." I was starting to explore this concept on my own, but it really came to fruition when I watched an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert (I know, I'm obsessed with her ideas). It is the idea of being happy despite the bullshit that gets thrown your way, choosing to live on the brighter side despite the dark times that come. It's really easy for anyone to be happy when nothing is stopping you, but how easy it to be happy when bad things happen? In debt? Someone dying? Trouble at work?
Being in Mexico really helped reaffirm my idea of constantly maintaining my own stubborn happiness.