Saturday, April 4, 2009
Stop in the name of drugs
Since we’d moved out of our apartment at the end of February, we had moved enough that packing up in the morning was getting to be really easy. This morning however, we were just a little more thorough. Reports on the internet mentioned that the night buses to and from Palenque have often been the victims of bandits who hold up passengers. We don’t usually have more than $500 dollars on us and at the moment we were down to $20. But my biggest worry was losing my camera and hard drive full of photos, music and movies. So we carefully divided and packed up our electronics into our two packs and securely locked them. That only took a half an hour and our bus didn’t leave until 9pm which left us another day to find something to do. So it was back to town and the internet café for another day of surfing. Thankfully, it was only 35 degrees this day.
We went back to El Panchan to have dinner and pick up our packs then took a taxi to the bus station. Just beyond the curve in the road, our taxi was pulled over by an army check point. Carrying big guns, the officers shone lights into the taxi. The driver got out nonplussed and opened the trunk which they searched. Finding nothing they sent us on our way. What were they searching for? Drugs? Guns? Relics from the ruins? Endangered animals? Who knows, but I was just happy it was the army and not bandits.
At the bus station we spent two hours in hurry up and wait mode. Talked to an Aussie girl who was headed off to Merida with two friends and then headed for Tulum as well. They were eventually going to Cuba so I shared some tips from our visit. Then their 10 oclock bus arrived before our 9 o'clock one. I was concerned that maybe we had somehow missed ours but when I asked the attendant she pointed to 10 o'clock and said “mas o menos” since it was already after 10 I realized it would be more mas than menos.
At about 20 after 10 it arrived – only 80 minutes late. It wasn’t as deluxe as our first night bus. No fully reclining chairs. No coffee machine. No eye masks and earplugs. But we had our own and put them on and drifted off.
A few hours later we were awoken by a voice yelling at everyone. Taking off my eye mask, I saw it was a gun. And when my eyes adjusted, I saw the soldier behind the gun. Phew not a bandit and if I hadn’t have been half asleep I’m sure my heart would have stopped for a second but I was more annoyed at being woken up than anything else. Everyone got off the bus and I could see we were at a checkpoint and the soldiers were searching bags. Adrian’s bag was still on the bus but mine was on one of the tables. However, they had no interest in ours picking on some locals and a few hippies instead. They did a cursory search of their stuff and finding nothing they waved us back on the bus and we were back asleep.
Waking up at dawn, I pulled back to curtain on a completely different part of Mexico. This was Quintana Roo state on the Yucatan Peninsula. It was flat, rocky and covered in what I can best describe as jungle scrub – a sprinkling of palm trees but mostly it was just twiggy bushes thanks to the dry season. Not exactly picture perfect. And Tulum, the town wasn’t much more impressive. I can best describe it as a touristy strip mall with souvenir stores alternating with restaurants named things like El Mariachi. We got into a cab and headed to Papaya Playa where I had made a reservation.
It was one of the first cabanas on the beach after the town (and big fancy all inclusive resort) and the only one that didn’t have completely negative reviews that we could book in advance. It was also $36 US a night. Gulp. Checking in the woman at the desk gave us some song and dance about the website – they don’t have any connection to it. Someone else had the passwords. But they’d give us a 10% discount for the hassle – however, that 10% was the same as the deposit we’d already paid so it wasn’t really a discount after all. Instead of the 3 person cabana we got a 2 person shack on the beach that had only a bed, a mosquito net and a light bulb. It was also at least 150 metres away from the shared bathroom. Immediately sticker shock hit us. We tried to shake it off and enjoy what we were paying for – the beautiful white sand beaches and clear blue waters of the Caribbean. It was hard, especially when the meals and drinks were also double or triple the prices we were used to paying for. We didn’t get held up on the bus but we were certainly getting robbed here.
But an afternoon soaking up the sun and floating on the waves did help, as did the 2 for 1 cocktails at 3pm. Soon I’d shaken off the beginnings of the crusty traveler.