On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) for 8 Days – Part 3
Welp, we have finally made it to my final installment about Mexico! The final days were mostly low key with a little drama on my way out of Mexico. But I’ll provide all the details anyway before sharing my overall post-Mexico thoughts and feelings at the end.
I decided to spend the sixth morning in Mexico relaxing at the hotel and taking a break. Partially because of sunburn, and partially because of exhaustion. It really wasn’t THAT hot compared to the heat at home, but the humidity is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I drank water pretty constantly but I think I was still dehydrated a lot of the time which made the exhaustion worse.
Dos Ojos Lodge has an upstairs roof deck with locally made hammocks and hammock chairs to lounge in. I had only spent a little time up there in the morning and evenings to visit with the monkey next door, so I decided to spend the morning there getting some reading and writing done since I had been on the go all of the other days. Because life is always an adventure. I moved one of the hammocks to be closer to the monkey and secured it incorrectly leading me to fall and bust my ass on the roof. I swear the monkey laughed at me.
This was my final night in Tulum so I met my new friend Amel when he was done work (he’s one of the main doctors in Tulum, pretty cool!) and he showed me around town a little more. We went to a local restaurant La Flecha for dinner and it was delicious! I mentioned the hot sauce the other day, and am glad I learned my lesson before this meal because I tried the tiniest dab of their salsa verde and felt like I had put molten lava in my mouth. Amel laughed at my reaction and proceeded to cover his tacos in the salsa. I saw him do it and kept insisting he try it because “IT IS SO F-ING HOT DUDE, SERIOUSLY” and he just laughed and told me he is Mexican and used to it. Well, joke was on Amel because he bit into his taco and it was so hot he began sweating profusely and desperately trying to drink water to cool his mouth off. It was hilarious and I regret not videotaping his reaction.
After dinner, Amel showed me his neighborhood which was really beautiful. The neighborhood he lives in is very small and quiet compared to where I live, it was really nice and made me wonder if I’d fare better in a smaller community like this. We drove past a ton of street art that I wished I had time to photograph but we were trying to make it to the beach before sunset so I’ll have to do it next time I am in Tulum. If you visit Tulum I highly suggest going off the main road and walking around the neighborhoods, there’s endlessly beautiful street art all over the place. They also offer street art tours if you aren’t comfortable walking around alone.
After dinner, Amel took me to his friend’s beach front camping spot Mayaluum (this is currently closed I have been informed). Reviews say you can camp at Mayaluum for $10/night, which is impressive because the property is beautiful! Fair warning because I forgot to mention this before and was unaware until this trip: The septic systems in Mexico are very different than the US. You aren’t supposed to flush toilet paper which took some getting used to, and the campground toilet had some instructions that said something about a bucket that I couldn’t figure out and I couldn’t make it flush which was kind of embarrassing and a total first world awkward problem moment.
Once I figured that mystery out we drank some beers and talked about our lives, it was one of the most beautiful and relaxing times I had in Mexico.
After Mayaluum, Amel showed me the public beaches in Tulum. They were beautiful but there was a ton of seaweed from recent storms, which apparently isn’t the norm. Fortunately, even the seaweed in Mexico makes for beautiful photos.
We left the public beach and got some ice cream at a popular local store called Panna e Cioccolato. It was really delicious and I regret not eating it every day while I was there. After ice cream we headed back to Dos Ojos Lodge so I could introduce him to George the monkey (who I wouldn’t shut up about). We hung out for a little while but I was exhausted and ended up going to bed pretty early so we said our goodbyes and Amel insisted I come back to Mexico soon. And has insisted this ever since I left, and also been patiently waiting for this blog entry (LOL, Hi Amel!).
My flight out of Tulum was early the next day and my mom generously booked me a really nice hotel room at the Marriott’s Courtyard Hotel near the airport in Cancun for my final night, so this was my final morning in Tulum. I spent time with Suzan and Dan and met their friend who is opening a Brewery in Tulum! Pretty neat stuff, and exciting to know I’ll have some awesome local craft beer to drink when I visit again. I said goodbye to George and gave him half of my morning muffin as a going away gift. It’s weird to think I may never see the little dude again, and weirder that I managed to get attached to a monkey I hung out with for a little while each morning for a week. I was fortunate enough that their friend was heading north so I hitched a ride with him to Playa Del Carmen. I originally planned to buy a bus ticket and then wander around Playa for a while but I was a little anxious walking around with all my luggage so I ended up jumping on a bus right after I got there. I sat next to a really nice Swedish woman who was just finishing several months of backpacking through Mexico and Central America alone. I admired the courage she had to do so as even one week alone was overwhelming for me, and I wasn’t even backpacking!
This is where things almost get very interesting again. My plan was to take the ADO bus to the airport, then get on an airport shuttle to my hotel, however I didn’t pay attention while they loaded the bus so I didn’t know they load the luggage underneath depending on which terminal you were going to. I tried to get off at the first stop and discovered my luggage was completely buried. This wasn’t a huge deal because I wasn’t in a rush, but I confused the hell out of the ADO Staff and greatly irritated the bus driver. This ended up being a blessing in disguise, because what I hadn’t realized until I re-boarded the bus was that I was so distracted by my new Swedish friend that I left my gym bag on the bus when I got off. The gym bag containing my wallet, passport, and most important belongings. I can’t even imagine what I would have done if I my luggage hadn’t been buried and can picture myself running like a wild woman to the last terminal stop to try to get my things back.
I finally got off the bus and discovered that while I was at the departure part of the terminal, I couldn’t enter the airport to try to use a phone to call my shuttle because I didn’t have a ticket for that airline. I thought maybe the shuttle would come at specific times but learned from an airport worker that they only come if you call them. None of the staff at the booths outside the airport would let me use their phones. I nervously looked around for another traveler who was nice looking to ask if I could borrow their phone but the departure terminal was a shit show filled with people frantically trying to catch their flights on time, etc. The taxi drivers kept approaching me trying to get me to use their services but I told them I had a free shuttle coming… once I could get ahold of the hotel. One nice driver tried to call them for me, or so he said, and they didn’t pick up and he wouldn’t let me try again. I spent the next 30 minutes stubbornly negotiating with another taxi driver who wouldn’t let me use his phone and kept offering me a good deal on a taxi instead. I had learned my lesson when I arrived in Mexico and was royally ripped off because of my limited Spanish, and refused to accept his offer of a 600 peso or $40 taxi. My Spanish had vastly improved during my week in Mexico and I was able to tell him my ATM card had been canceled and I had limited pesos left so I was not interested in blowing them on a taxi when I still had to buy dinner later that night. My hope was that someone else would eventually go to my hotel and I would catch the shuttle with them. Holding out worked to my advantage because the taxi driver kept coming back and offering me lower and lower prices, which I refused. I kept saying no and he eventually conceded and I took a taxi to my hotel for 225 pesos ($15).
I finally arrived at my last hotel for my Mexico trip and walked inside to feel air conditioning for the first time in a week. I breathed in deeply with relief to be out of the heat and suddenly thought to myself “Holy shit what is that smell.” It was at this very moment that I realized how dirty and smelly I was. I took quick, cold showers all week at Dos Ojos but I had foregone perfume during my time in the jungle to avoid mosquitos, and I had on deodorant but I was wearing gym clothes and had sweated on them so much that it didn’t do much. I smelled like a gross, sweaty mess. I learned upon arriving that Mexico itself kind of smells weird so I guess I didn’t notice my own BO until I was inside a more filtered and cool environment. I suddenly felt really sorry for anyone who had been in close proximity to me for the week. I checked in and when I got to my room I discovered everything I had with me smelled weird and musty. The humidity made it so most of my clothes felt damp so I used a hair dryer to dry some off and then took a long, glorious bath while drooling over the room service menu.
This is where the differences between home and Mexico really set in. Walking into that hotel room and back into a scenario more resembling my comfort zone, I realized just how different life at home is and how easy we really have it. This is not to say that home is in any way better than Mexico, but there are a lot of luxuries I am so used to that I never consider how much easier life is with them (toilets you can put toilet paper into, air conditioning, etc). Had I not stayed somewhere more authentic like Dos Ojos, and instead stayed at one of the swankier all inclusive resorts, I wouldn’t have experienced REAL Mexico and seen this difference for myself, and I think that was one of the most valuable parts of this trip.
I finally had time to call my bank from my hotel room and discovered that though I was told my ATM card was canceled and I wouldn’t have access to my account until my new card came in the mail, they had actually reinstated my card days prior! I was irritated and frustrated but also relieved and decided to splurge on dinner. I had dinner alone in the hotel restaurant and though I knew it would be frozen and imported and that I should eat something more local, I couldn’t fight the urge to eat a giant cheese burger and fries. Because I was splurging I had a beer and got both cheesecake AND ice cream to bring to my hotel room. I laid in bed watching the movie Identity Thief on Netflix (one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, sincerely), eating junk food, and patting myself on the back for surviving my first trip out of the country relatively unscathed.
I woke up early antsy to get home and return to normal life. I’m a nervous traveler so I spent a lot of the morning trying to calm myself down before the flight. I made it to the airport without any issues and got to my airline check-in. Check in was relatively quick and easy but the guy circled my airline ticket with red pen and I thought it a little insulting he circled the ticket thinking I wouldn’t know where to go. I got to customs and ended up in line behind a family of 9 but waited patiently. The security man took my ticket and instructed me to come with him. I hadn’t really heard or understood him well so I stood still thinking he had said he’d be right back, at this point he yelled at me to follow him and I did. He took me out of the longer luggage x-ray check line and into a short line to the side and I thought he had taken pity on me and was doing me a favor since I waited patiently behind the family. I had no idea what was going on but felt lucky to be pulled from the longer line… until I discovered I had been pegged for an additional security search.
I’ve never been searched in an airport and have heard a lot of nightmare stories about these procedures where they throw your belongings all over the place, but I have to say this search was really quick and easy. The Mexican TSA folks were friendly, respectful of both me and my belongings, and made the entire process really painless. I wouldn’t realize until later that the red circle on my ticket would ensure that I got checked at every single security gate, including to get onto my flight, which was a little annoying because I had paid extra to board early so I wouldn’t be anxious about my carry-on luggage not making it on the plane with me, but otherwise was once again pretty easy and painless.
After a long flight home, and a long but easy trip through US Customs I finally made it home (thanks to Phil for coming to pick me up, it was great to see a familiar face at the airport).
So I survived my first solo trip out of the country. I’ve heard for so long how these kinds of trips are really transformative and important for building character and was both excited and nervous to take a trip alone. My time in Mexico went nothing as I expected it to, I expected to enjoy every moment alone in Mexico but found that my independent traveling woman dreams were squashed pretty quickly. I had anxiety and loneliness on more extreme levels than I’ve ever felt before. I learned how difficult it can be to travel if you’re not fluent in the country’s language and was really glad I had SOME background in Spanish to fall back on and that so many of the residents in Tulum spoke English. I experienced what it’s like to be alone without the comfort and security of a cell phone to just text someone or even go online to feel like someone else was there. I feel like this was one of the most important aspects of the trip, because when I feel lonely at home I often text a friend (hey, SP!) or go on facebook to feel like I’m involved in some way. Without a functioning international cell phone, I spent my more lonely moments truly alone and wonder if I would be better at handling loneliness if I was able to do this more often in every day life. The internet and technology have become such a security blanket for me and so many others that we forget that people lived and experienced life without them and functioned just fine. It was challenging and sad at times but it was also one of those experiences that are really overwhelming at the time, but good to look back on later. And while I had a lot of extreme anxiety moments, I pushed through and I didn’t stay holed up in my hotel the entire time as I sometimes may have wanted to. I went out and did things alone and it ended up being a great overall experience that showed me that while it may not be my favorite thing to do, I CAN travel alone.
My introduction to Mexico was a positive one. Mexico is beautiful and very different than home. I got to experience being in a jungle and seeing a vastly different environment and way of life. The people there are all welcoming and kind. I had so much fun with my new Mexican friends and am thankful to have had them around for the last half of the trip to balance out the lonelier moments of the first half.
Most importantly, I am so grateful to Suzan and Dan for inviting me to stay with them at the ever beautiful Dos Ojos Lodge and get a taste of “Mexico Lite” as Suzan calls it. Knowing I had them around made being alone in Mexico a lot less scary and lonely, and our time having coffee in the morning and beers in the evening really rounded out an incredible trip.
I highly suggest checking out Tulum whether you’re traveling alone or in a group. If you read this and have any questions please feel free to comment or email me!
Links from post:
- On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) for 8 Days – Part 1
- On Traveling to Mexico (ALONE!) for 8 Days – Part 2
- La Flecha
- Mayaluum – beachfront camping in Tulum
- Marriot Courtyard Cancun