On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) For 8 Days – Part 1
This entry is sadly so so late. I tried pretty hard to make this entry short but it turns out I am incapable of making anything brief so I’ll write a TL;DR version here and you can click through if you want to hear some more details of my trip. I will put the first half of the trip here and the second half in another post.
I ended up in Mexico alone after some two friends unexpectedly canceled on me at the last minute. I wasn’t mentally prepared to travel alone or things may have gone much differently. I spent the first night in Mexico in a complete panic, I cried A LOT and wanted to go home right then and there. But I stayed (mostly because I had to, I guess) and I’m glad I did. Being alone in Mexico was one of those really important life experiences that kind of suck at the time but end up being really valuable. While I did take Spanish in school for many years, I have always been able to read Spanish better than I could communicate verbally. I spent the first three days in Mexico mostly incapable of communicating and feeling like an ignorant tourist. It was extremely difficult and overwhelming, and it made me have a lot of respect for folks who move to countries where they don’t know the language. I really thought this trip alone would be a total AHA moment for me and would make me feel more independent and comfortable with being alone. In some ways it did, but more than anything being alone in Mexico made me feel more lonely than I have in my entire life. My best friend Kipp has been traveling the world by herself since January and says this feeling passes with time, but I don’t think I was away long enough to really transcend the negative aspects of feeling lonely. Fortunately, I still feel like the entire experience was valuable and helped me grow as a person.
I should mention that Mexico wasn’t ALL bad and lonely. It took me a day or two to get comfortable being out and about by myself, but once I did I explored a different beach area every day (with the exception of one day when I went to see Dos Ojos Cenote instead). I got to see both tourist-y spots and some smaller local hang outs that Suzan and Dan suggested. I even made some Mexican friends two days before I left! My main take aways from Mexico were:
- I CAN travel by myself.
- Drink bottled water, but don’t worry about things like salads and fresh fruits, it’s a myth that it will make you sick.
- Fish tacos are amazing no matter where you eat them.
- Mexico is CHEAP. I spent $100 for my food, travel, entry to private beaches, etc for seven days. The most expensive part was traveling to and from the airport, and that was largely because I couldn’t communicate well enough to not get ripped off.
- Salsa in Mexico is HOT. Like, melt your mouth hot. Always ask about the heat before consuming.
I decided to go to Tulum, Mexico when I discovered I would be leaving my job at Jefferson. A former colleague and friend of mine left Jefferson three years ago and opened a B&B called Dos Ojos Lodge with her husband and I felt it would be the perfect way to kick off my first (and likely last) summer off in fifteen years. After two unexpected cancellations within days of the trip I ended up traveling alone. I had never been to Mexico before this and I had not mentally prepared myself to travel alone, so it was extremely overwhelming at first and I was in total culture shock due to my lack of travel prior to this trip.
I arrived in Mexico on June 24th. I took Spanish for many years but found that I really couldn’t communicate almost at all. After some overwhelming haggling with a taxi company, I got a ride to my first hotel in Cancun. I originally planned to go straight to Tulum, but my flight landed at 7pm and by the time I made it to Dos Ojos Lodge it would have been 9pm or later. I knew from Suzan that the hotel was about a mile down a dirt road that taxis most likely would not go down. I am illogically afraid of the dark and I am a city girl, so walking through the jungle alone at night was a scary thought but I was willing to do it… until I told my mom my plan and she insisted I spend a night in Cancun and go to Tulum in the morning. It took me around thirty years to realize that Mom always knows best. Here is a photo of the road I would have walked down in the dark:
I spent my first night in Mexico at Grand City Hotel and I highly recommend it. The room was affordable, spacious, and quiet (despite some negative reviews online about noise levels). When I got to the hotel my bank card was declined, I had warned my bank about my travel but they still canceled the card within ten minutes of my arrival in Mexico (fortunately they canceled it AFTER I took out some pesos). Because this wasn’t stressful enough, I also didn’t realize the front desk didn’t hand my passport back when I checked in so that caused a fun ten or so minutes of total terror before I figured it out. From what I could tell I was the only person in the entire hotel, which was a bummer because meeting other travelers likely would have made my first night a lot easier and fun. Instead I spent the first night in Mexico completely overwhelmed, sobbing in my hotel room and freaking out. The positive side of this is that I can tell you crying on the floor of a shower in another country is just as comforting as crying in your own at home!
The next day was such a TL;DR debacle. Seemingly anything that could go wrong did. Long story short, I spent a lot more money than I needed to because I was not clear on where I had to go and how I should get there. I eventually ended up on the right bus to Tulum and was dropped off directly in front of Dos Ojos Lodge, which is not a regular stop for the ADO bus, I was dropped off here after almost accidentally getting off at the wrong stop (at a waterpark, LOL) and irritating my bus driver with my cluelessness. I was very very grateful. I felt like the cliche city girl walking into the jungle down a dirt road with my wheeled luggage and way too many bags and I’m sure I was a comical sight for anyone driving by, but I finally made it and the first thing I did was drink a much needed beer.
Dos Ojos Lodge is a great spot for real travelers. It lies somewhere between the $10/night hostels and the $200+/night beach front all inclusive hotels. It’s a way to experience what Suzan calls a “Mexico lite” version of Mexican living. Surrounded by the jungle I’ve heard more noises from more species than I’ve ever heard elsewhere (bear in mind I am not well traveled). The shower water comes from the cenote (deep natural wells or sinkholes) on the property, which I thought was pretty cool! You can explore the cenote and Suzan and Dan have told me it extends for quite some time but my combined claustrophobia and severe fear of the dark kept me from doing more than entering into the main section. The water is crystal clear and they’ve added stringed lights which make for a cute, cozy environment. My ridiculous paranoia and history of having seen too many water/cave based horror movies (The Descent specifically) kept me from going down there much, but I could see myself hanging out down there if other people were around. It was the wet and very hot season when I went to Tulum but I was surprised at how well I fared for all except the last two nights when the humidity spiked and I thought my skin was dissolving. The major downside of staying in Mexico during the wet season is the hoard of Mosquitoes that descends upon you as you enter the jungle from the highway when returning from town. The mosquitoes are everywhere but the wind on the beaches tends to keep them more at bay. DEET is your best friend during the rainy season in the jungle, followed by these neat coil things that keep them away.
One of the coolest parts of Dos Ojos Lodge was the spider monkey that lived next door, George. I will say that George is kept tied up by the neighbor and that kind of made me sad, but he is well taken care of so it could be worse, and at this point he’s been kept that way for so long he wouldn’t last in the wild so I opted not to set him free even if I wanted to a little bit. I hung out with George while I unpacked and periodically throughout the week.
My day was so hectic that I hadn’t eaten anything at all. After figuring out a solution to my bank card debacle (thank god for being able to paypal my friends in exchange for cash!), I had my first experience trying to figure out the colectivo system (Mexico’s public transit). I felt kind of clueless and overwhelmed but I finally got to town. I had my first meal at a restaurant called El Capitan, I had decided to eat as many fish tacos as possible and these did not disappoint. One of the biggest lessons I learned during this meal was that Mexican salsa is HOT. Like, when they say hot they mean “Your mouth will melt off your face if you eat this,” and the level of heat cannot be determined by the color of the salsa so always ask which one is going to brutalize your mouth in advance. After a somewhat lonely dinner I walked around town a little but but was nervous about heading back to the hotel after dark so I headed back and had a pretty early night.
My friend Sarah had raved about a beach club called Papaya Playa Project that she spent time at in Tulum so I woke up early and took a colectivo to town then walked to the beach (gotta hit those Fitbit goals!). The beach in Tulum is a two mile walk from town and everyone in the world honked at me to try to offer me a ride. People in Mexico are so friendly I was offered rides everywhere I went (I did a lot of walking) and I had to keep repeating “I love walking” to them (in Spanish), which they apparently found absurd. PPP was just as awesome as Sarah said it was. They have little beds under cabanas you can sit at right on the beach and they bring drinks out to you. This is probably the norm, but I don’t take vacations like this ever so it was super exciting to me. I had one cliche mixed drink on the beach and my second order if fish tacos, they were awesome.
The rest of this day was low-key, spoiler alert: All of my nights were low-key because I didn’t want to be out after dark alone. I walked back from the beach and sat in a cool coffee shop for a while to cool down.
I got some sunburn on day 3 so I decided to take the day off from the beach on day 4. Dos Ojos Lodge is named for Dos Ojos Cenote, one of the biggest and most famous cenotes in Tulum, located about a mile and a half down the road from the lodge. I walked to the cenote and once again tons of people offered me rides. I have to admit, I considered a few of them after a few tense anxiety moments walking down the dirt jungle road. My hosts had told me that the scariest thing they encountered at Dos Ojos was a jaguar coming onto the property last summer during a very dry season. I was told there are big cats in Mexico, but they typically stay away from populated areas. This didn’t make me feel any better when I was walking down the dirt road completely alone and wondering what the heck I would do if I suddenly saw one. Fortunately, I never had to find out and made it to the cenote in one piece. I stopped at the restaurant just outside the cenote and skipped the fish tacos but DID get the best guacamole I’ve ever eaten. It was so cheap and I had enough to last me for two meals! I finished up and went inside. The cenote is incredibly beautiful and peaceful. I met a Mexican man who looked so much like Bill Clinton I thought it was him until the man started asking me if I spoke Spanish. By this point I was starting to remember things and could make light conversation, not enough for us to make a lot of conversation, so we sat together in silence at an empty eye of the cenote until he got up and left. I stayed there for a while reading and letting my feet dangle in the water, intermittently watching the bats bounce around the top of the cave.
I eventually walked to a deeper eye to check it out. I had a snorkel with me but was anxious about leaving my things alone and I was starting to find that doing things like swimming and snorkeling alone isn’t so fun (for me personally), so I mostly sat around with my feet in the water and read all day. I eventually left and went and hung out in a hammock with George reading and watching Netflix in Mexico, mostly because I could. I brought a selfie stick to Mexico thinking I may want photos of myself there, but I was too embarrassed to get myself to use it. I did try it out in the hammock, though. See photo below.
That was the first half of my trip. Click here for part two!
Links from post:
- Dos Ojos Lodge – Bed and Breakfast in Tulum, Mexico where I spent the bulk of my time in Mexico.
- Flip Belt – I took this part out of the post, but I wanted to keep this here and say that this is good for storing concealed items while traveling. I wore mine under a loose shirt and stored my passport, License, main bank card, and half of my cash in it. I have an old iPhone and a new iPhone. I used my old iPhone as an iPod and stored my current phone in the belt incase of emergency. I am admittedly over paranoid but this method made me feel a lot better.
- Grand City Hotel – The hotel in Cancun I stayed at for my first night. Highly recommended.
- El Capitan – restaurant where I had my first real meal in Mexico
- Papaya Playa Project – Private beach club in Mexico, I’d have gone there every day if they didn’t have a minimum spending rate per day
- Cenote Dos Ojos
- On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE) for 8 Days Part II