©1996 by Lynn D. Troldahl Hershberger (Lynn@ColorJoy.com)
First Impressions of Cancún: The Hotel Zone
We were advised to return to Cancún on our last evening, as our flight was from the Cancún airport and flights have a way of being rescheduled at the last minute. We had a hard time finding our intended hotel. Thank goodness I had a little Spanish figured out by then or we never would have found it. By the time we found the hotel, dark was on its way.
The hotel, El Pueblito, was much more expensive than we had expected but it seemed too late to go searching for more affordable accommodations. We ended up getting a "discount" rate of $90 US for a room without an ocean view. (In comparison, our room in Playa del Carmen had been $65 US with no view; and the hotels in the interior of the Yucatán had been $10 to $20 US.) I was initially quoted $120 US (also without an ocean view), when she found I spoke English. She even quoted the price in dollars. However, when I told the woman that "our family in Tizimin" had thought it would not be that expensive, she offered $90 US, a 25% discount. A double-pricing standard for residents and tourists is widespread in Mexico. Our economies are so different, it almost makes sense. I should not have been surprised.
[Photo: El Pueblito (Hotel), Cancún.]
Nevertheless, if we choose to stay in Cancún again, we will take the time to go to the downtown area and find a standard, Mexican-run hotel away from the water. We saw some in town (not the hotel zone) the next day, advertised for N$60 pesos. At seven pesos to the dollar that is less than $10. Certainly they would not have an ocean view or live music in the courtyard; they may not even have a courtyard. However, we no doubt would sleep as well for a much lower price. Also, we would prefer to support a Mexican establishment, and most hotels in the hotel zone are owned by non-Mexican corporations.
Cancún has a skyline nearly as lit up as Chicago, without the interesting skyscrapers. It seemed as tacky as Las Vegas with none of the kitsch that could make Vegas charming. In addition, Cancún seemed to take its kitschy stuff too seriously for me. For one thing, many businesses are named in English, a pet peeve of mine. For me, traveling to a different country should celebrate their culture, and not borrow mine to make me feel more secure or comfortable. Second, there are places such as a dance bar called Mango Tango. It has a huge sign that looks like monstrous fiberglass fruit, and it didn't have any funny flashing lights or silly things to show that they know it is a joke of sorts. It was too extreme for me to take it seriously.
Besides Mango Tango, we saw some malls that looked just like ours in the USA, three McDonald's, a Dunkin' Donuts, a Denny's and places like Carlos O'Brien's which aren't true to anybody's culture. They are particularly not true to the country Cancún's tourists are supposedly visiting. You can speak English and spend US dollars anywhere in the Hotel Zone. You won't really experience Mexico that way but you can do it. I guess our guidebook was right. To paraphrase: "all it takes to have a good time in Cancún is a credit card and a brainstem!" Unfortunately, you miss out on the uniqueness of Mexico itself if you enjoy Cancún that way.
Once settled in our room, we went for a walk down the beach in the dark. We didn't like Cancún too much the first night; it was far too glitzy and it seemed so un-Mexican. We "crashed" one luxury resort. It might as well have been a hotel in Toronto or a cruise ship for the way it looked inside.
[Photo: The pyramidal hotel at left is the one we "crashed."]
Disappointed by our adventure to the Cancún mega-hotel, we walked back to El Pueblito, which fortunately was Mexican-owned and operated. We enjoyed our Yucatecan meal in the courtyard by the fountain, listening to a band of four excellent musicians, who played guitars of all sizes and sang remarkably well. Perhaps we enjoyed it more having seen Denny's and the "luxury" resort first.
I must say that there was one thing that stood out as true to the roots of the area, in the Hotel Zone itself. The zone is a long, 7-shaped island of limestone. It is very narrow and has one major street that extends the entire length of the island. Because the street is so long and it so easy to become lost while driving on it, there are Kilometer markers on its boulevard.
I was happy to discover that not only did they number the kilometer markers in the numbers that are familiar to many of us, but in addition they had Maya numbers on the signs. Maya numbers are represented by bars and dots in a specific pattern. I happened to know how to write Maya numbers up to 20, so I recognized this detail. I was delighted to see that one piece of culture being celebrated among the otherwise very un-Mexican buildings and businesses in the Zone.
Next: City of Cancun
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