Cancun Baby! Who wouldn’t?
A couple of years ago I had the amazing opportunity through a travel industry incentive to travel to Cancun, Mexico. It was the opportunity of a lifetime because living at the bottom end of Africa many destinations classify as long haul travel and Mexico is definitely up there under the “too far, let’s try something closer” category but I’ll tell you about my 29 hours journey home another time.
As much as I had been looking forward to this trip and how grateful I was for the opportunity, most of the trip I had felt disconnected, disheartened and every so often disappointed about how the trip was unfolding. Looking back, there was a simple answer – my expectations were misaligned with the intention of the trip. In the excitement, I created unrealistic expectations that I will be discovering a new destination and exploring a new culture on my terms, but I wasn’t there on my terms. It was a sponsored trip with a set itinerary and the expectations were for us to give useful and constructive feedback on how we experienced the sponsor’s product which was justifiably the purpose of the trip.
It was predominately a UK incentive so I was required to meet the rest of the travel group in London so I added in a couple of days in London before heading to Heathrow to meet up for the direct flight from London to Cancun. It was a day flight which proved interesting in itself as I had only ever done such long flights overnight before. There is a different vibe on a day flight which I experienced intimately, as the couple sitting next to me were getting ready for the party in Cancun. For the duration of the flight, they were either spilling drinks on themselves, climbing over me or fighting with each other. I hardly needed to watch my onboard entertainment because this was mad entertaining!
Upon arrival I was super impressed, with the only green passport, I whizzed through immigration while the rest seemed to get a little stuck – one person in particular, whose name I won’t mention, was detained for smuggling in too many cigarettes.
It was a whirlwind trip from start to finish, we visited 10 properties in 8 days. One beautiful resort after the next, one more luxury than the previous! We were living it up, 4 and 5 star all-inclusive. Honestly, what more could you want? Walking through each resort was breathtaking, each one offered elegantly manicured landscapes as backdrops to the endless margaritas and tacos. Although, I couldn’t shake this feeling of disconnection as my mind kept questioning “Is this the real Mexico?”. Few moments I felt like I could have been in Mauritius but I was reminded by the friendly resort staff greeting me with “Buenos Dias” and the sombreros magnet souvenirs in the boutique gift shops that it was not Mauritius.
One of our outings beyond site inspections and the resort buffets was a visit to the Tulum Ruins. Since the group was mainly made of Brits, they did not fare well in the scorching heat of midday. The small Mexican tour guide spoke with such passion about the ruins with his cue cards and historic diagrams neatly bound together in the order of the walk through the ruins. I did feel a little sorry for him as the group struggled to focus while they desperately searched for any slither of shade. During the short time we spent here we spotted over the cliff edge, one of the famous beautiful white sand beaches (see behind me in my selfie pic). All I wanted to do was be left behind so I could explore this gem of a beach, go for a swim and chat with the tour guide. Alas, I could not, we were given some time to shop in the market before we were piled back on the bus to head back to our lux hotels, cocktails and buffets.
While everyone was shopping I did stumble upon some men hanging upside down, tied high up to a blue pole and they were twirling around at an insane height in the middle of the market! There was no one around to tell me what these madmen were doing, but I later found out it is an ancient ritual called Palo Volador (flying pole) or Danza de los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers). That pole is 30 meters high! I was reminded of why I love to travel, to learn about different cultures first hand and at that moment I had a glimpse of something spectacular, ancient is its form and a symbol of Aztec culture! I felt strangely disappointed to return to the free margaritas and unlimited tacos.
Reminding myself why I was here and realised the resorts could offer me one unique experience I wouldn’t forget… Diving with a Mexican Sea Turtle! As I tried to rally some recruits, the only takers were 2 dutch ladies. Since we only spent one night at each hotel, it required some special organisation to get us through the ‘Discover Scuba’ pool session at one hotel and then a couple of days later the actual dive with a Dive Master at Akumal, Riviera Maya, which was not just any resort but the one famous for their sea turtles! They were most accommodating.
It was amazing to be under the water, no noise, just the calm blue ocean and a few minutes before our dive was up – there she was, the majestic Mexican Sea Turtle. I found my connection to this trip. On the last morning the turtles were in the bay, just off the beach you could swim with them, no gear required. Even though I had participated in the ‘last night’ festivities – I managed to still get up early and go snorkelling in the bay with the magical turtles again, they were so chilled and my heart was happy.
The lesson I took from this trip was to be clear in my mind on why I am travelling, whether the reasons are yours or created by someone else. Opportunities like this do not happen often but they do come with very specific expectations from the traveller. My feeling of disconnection made for some unnecessary disappointments because I was not mindful of these expectations above my personal desires. Would I do Cancun differently on my terms? Yes, of course, but I learnt to respect the reason why trips like this exist and appreciate and be grateful for that they do exist.