Friday, 24 December 2010

Dictator of the Caribbean

Wait no more reader, I am back. After blogging about Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador, my tough life as a man of leisure took me to Mexico - Cancun to be exact.

As I left the old and cold European continent, it did not come as a surprise that my first contact with Latin America was in Miami. I had heard a lot about it being very Latino but never realised it was actually owned by them.

I had a five hour layover in the city and decided to go for a spin in town and meet up with a good non-latino friend of mine. Every hip person knows someone in Miami, and it's even cooler when that person's not Latino.

From immigration to customs, the taxi ride and the coffee place, I was spoken to only in Spanish - not one single encounter in Shakespeare's language.

Notice how poor Miami is. This is a guy selling Coca-Cola cans on a red light.

My stop in Miami was rather short but I had the time to feel unimpressed by the city - maybe because the weather was crap.

Empty apartment buildings, globally known as Condos. Miami was among the most hit by the US real estate crisis

After flying crappy American Airlines and feeling bad about having put on some weight this year, I made it to Cancun, Mexico's most famous Caribbean destination.

You probably all heard about Cancun in American movies when young university students fly there for Spring Break to get drunk and fornicate as much as they possibly can - well it's pretty much that in real life. Though most of the tourists now were couples, young and old, going to all inclusive resorts - but all and I mean ALL of them (99.75%) were from the US.

It was the first time I went to an all American mass-tourist zone, it's even more pathetic than the European version. When an area is highly US of A infested, then everything becomes American. First, you have to tip 10 to 15% everywhere and if you don't, then Jose Pedro Gonzalez Dominguez gives you the "I'm not satisfied with your cheap attitude" look - and as a non-American who is not used to tipping a guy for just anything, I got this look quite often.

Then, you get all these very real American clichés.

1) The "Caution wet floor" is literally everywhere, even in the obviously wet places: by the pool - this is all probably to avoid a potential law suit.

2) The fit and sexy American men:

3) The young, loud and drunk - please note the 2 drinks in his hands, it was about 11am (in an all inclusive resort):


I felt more in America after having spent a couple of hours in Cancun than after 5 hours in Miami.

Though, regardless of this unattractive tourist populace, Cancun has nice beaches, soft white sand and a warm sea. Also, the Mexicans are among the nicest people I've seen in Latin America - not only because they want a tip.

What most people don't know about Cancun and its surroundings, is that it was the home of...

Chichen Itza: the Mayan Capital in the Yucutan peninsula

..the Mayas. Yes, this great Central American civilization chose the Caribbean sea as its home base and just with that, they won many points in my heart. It may not be a very known fact because Cancun is the last place on Earth where you'd expect culture to be found, but if you look thoroughly in the tourist brochures offered by your hotel, you'll find great cultural activities hidden behind Amusement Parks, Water Parks, All you can eat buffet or Outlet Shopping tours.

Since I also had the chance to discover the Inca culture this year, I couldn't help but compare both. It wasn't as easy as I thought since getting information about the Mayas was rather hard and limited even though I had a tour guide (within a big group) while visiting Chichen Itza.

The Mayas played a very ancient version of Basketball. The winner had to be sacrificed and given to the Gods

I had never had such bad tour guide and as a European wannabe - but Lebanese at heart - I blame it on the Americans, yet again. This mass tourism doesn't necessarily bring the brightest of people and to keep mass tourists interested in a 90-minute tour it has to be interactive. So instead of telling us about the Mayan culture itself, their architecture, their beliefs, their lifestyle and so on, I witnessed a tour filled with stories of who killed whom, who hated whom and details about how they sacrificed their men by chopping their heads off. I kept interrupting the guide to ask him very smart questions - as one would expect from me - and he was pleasantly surprised to see that someone cared a bit more about the culture than about their circumcision techniques.

This is a Cenote - a hole in the earth filled with fresh water. You can swim there while being surrounded by this beautiful scenery

So, Incas v/s Mayas, who wins?

- Culture: well they were pretty similar - they worshipped the sun, they sacrificed people, they were ambitious, they both had a civil war and they both got dominated by the Spaniards. I can't get really much deeper in the Mayan culture, but I haven't seen a Maya Cola in Mexico, whereas there is an Inca Kola in Peru. Incas (1)

- Famous site: even though the pyramid is very impressive, Machu Picchu is still out of this world. Incas (1)

- Location: The Andes or the Caribbean? As much as the Machu Picchu's location in the Andezon is one of the most magnificent sites I have ever seen, choosing to be next to the most beautiful sea in the world is really something I respect. Mayas (1)

The archeological site of Tulum, the Mayan port

- Physical appearance: both native populations (mixed with Spanish blood) are not what I would call attractive, but Incas have small men with big noses and huge women with enormous shoulders. I was less horrified by the Mayan population of Mexico. Mayas (1)

View from the Tulum port. Tough life being a sailor in the world's most beautiful and calm sea (unless there's a hurricane)

- Current tourism: Both have the same techniques of organised mass tourism involving a lot of child labour and tacky events. But I was particularly disappointed by the guide in Chichen Itza compared to the fantastic guides of Peru. Incas (1)

Child labour always makes tourism cheaper

I guess the Incas win that battle, maybe because I haven't learned much about the Mayas or just because I am bias after having lived in peru - you should go and judge for yourself.

The Coba Pyramid - the tallest in the peninsula, and you get to climb it

The entire Yucutan peninsula is very forested and green - a sensation I like especially when you get to see this view from the top of the Coba pyramid

So if you ever go to Cancun, do enjoy Hooters and Coco Bongo but take the time to go outside of the hotel strip and discover some of the fascinating Mayan vestiges that are still there. The seaside along Cancun and the South - what is called the Riviera Maya - is all very beautiful and paradise-like (though filled with hotels and resorts non-stop for about 200km).

Now, let me get back to my rum on this beautiful beach while you read this next to your heater.


  1. ok. so what are their circumcision techniques? :P