Thursday 3 September 2009

Cancun vs. Isla Mujeres

As I write this, Ewelina and I sit at Puerto Juarez, the port in Cancun where the ferry to Isla Mujeres will pick us up in 20 minutes or so. The sun has set and the moon is bright, a tower of clouds still sports a crazy hot pink top.

We are sticky from the heat, weary from a fruitless day of hunting for bookstores in Cancun. As our boat pulls up, mosquitos swoop in by the dozens, biting us so badly that the ride to the island is spent discovering new places that itch. Cancun's bloodsucking goodbye is an oddly appropriate end to our second visit to this so-called vacation paradise.

Cancun is not paradise, far from it. It isn't even really a city. It is something else, something artificial and strange. The whole place is built to suck tourists dry.

It has its charms, of course: beaches, sun, palm trees, bikinis...

The Cancun for tourists is a seemingly endless parade of modern-day pyramids, shining hotels where visitors worship the sun, as has always been the way in Mexico. The sacrifice today is the dollar and peeling skin, human sacrifice is hidden by the years and the statistics of skin cancer.

Mexicans in Cancun worship the dollar. They live in the other Cancun, the ugly, noisey, no-frills Cancun of unpainted one-story brick houses, of supermarkets, flea-markets, busses and taxis and colectivos, clothes shops and travel agencies and cell phones. And noise, of course, in the real Mexico of Mexicans there is always something to be heard.

Neither of these Cancuns have much in the way of bookstores, and nothing at all catering to English speaking backpackers headed for Cuba and another continent.

We found a bikini for Ewelina and the most expensive Coronas in Mexico (there was cheaper beer in Dublin!), but that was about it.

As our ferry docks at Isla Mujeres, our spirits lift. Swimwear-clad pedestrians, smiling shopkeepers and ridiculous golf-carts milling about on the cute little streets, all seem familiar and, more importantly, friendly after the concrete wasteland/bustle of the two Cancuns. Of course they want our money here too, but who doesn't? It's more relaxed, more human. As we walk by, our waiter from yesterday's lunch invites us in for another meal. "Despues", I tell him, with a smile.

We know of three places with books, we recognize faces in the street. We end up at the Poc-na hostel, borrowing books about Cuba and Colombia and ordering the cheapest food on the island with reasonably priced Coronas.

Later, our rented 2nd floor condo will welcome us with cold air, warm water, fast wifi and a view of the pristine beach. A little slice of luxury, so close and yet so far from the modern pyramids of Cancun.

And it's cheaper too. Don't tell the sun-worshippers, or they will surely ruin it!

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