When I was in first grade, I had a friend who was a well-known thief. He would steal things directly in front of people and immediately deny that he did it. I remember him stealing a pair of sneakers from someone’s gym bag, wearing it to school the next day, and denying that the sneakers were stolen. “But Wilton*, the sneakers that you’re wearing have my name written down the sides…they’re mine!!” At this point, he was too far into the lie to abandon it, so with the confidence of 11 Kanye Wests, he replied, “no, my name is Elizabeth too!!” I went to Mexico last month, and it reminded me of my friendship with Wilton*, because although the fun times were really fun, I had to stay on guard because at any moment I could fall victim to a number of different unethical acts of crime.
Prior to my cousin and I landing in Cancun, we thoroughly researched all travel tips for visitors of Mexico, as if we were preparing to write a doctoral thesis on the country. One recurring comment that past travelers left is that corruption in the country is rampant, even among the police and government officials. Because of this, we were on guard from the moment that we landed. Well…I was significantly more guarded than my cousin—probably because I used to listen to too many rap songs that said “don’t trust these streets and always pack heat!”
Shortly after arrival, we went to get the rental car that we reserved and there were 5-6 people who immediately approached us because we probably seemed like easy targets. They basically told us that Budget Car Rental is out of business and our only option was to book our car with their shady service for 5x the price. Unfortunately, my one semester of Spanish didn’t prove to be too helpful as I responded with the only phrase that I learned in Spanish: “Por favor, abra la ventana.” Eventually we got our car and we were on our way to the condo where we would spend the next few days.
The condo and it was ridiculously nice for a ridiculously low price. On the first day, I kept expecting someone to show up and ask us what we were doing in their room. Luckily, this did not happen, but on the third day of our stay, I looked onto our balcony and saw someone climbing into it from the outside. Were we being robbed?!? Was he coming to reclaim his room? It turns out that he was simply a daredevil who wasn’t into the idea of taking stairs, so he took the path less-traveled. He lived. We lived also.
Mexico was great, especially the beach. The entire beach was very peaceful and the water was warm and clear, just like in the travel catalogs. Also, in the vicinity of the condo, the stores and restaurants were great and we were able to try new foods at very reasonable prices. My favorites were the mango chow for around $1, banana waffles for about $6, and a horchata drink for $.75.
Being in Mexico without any knowledge of the Spanish language wasn’t too bad until the one day that we left the tourist area and wandered into the heart of the city to try to play basketball. After driving to a basketball court at 8pm, we were surprised to see a group of about 30 people playing full-court soccer on the basketball court. My cousin suggested that we politely ask them to leave, but I didn’t think that “por favor, abra la ventana” would summarize our request, so we went to a local food stand instead.
At this stand, there was a little girl who wouldn’t stop staring at us, because apparently we didn’t look Mexican enough. Not one to shy away from a challenge, I immediately accepted the staring contest. She won after 2 minutes when I was forced to break eye contact to order. I asked the food stand worker, “what do you sell?” He said “qué??” At this point, the language divide wasn’t going to get any smaller, so I pointed to a random thing on the menu and handed him 100 pesos. When I got the ice pop of some sort, it was brown and tasted like sour grass, so I gave it a valiant effort to eat as much as I could tolerate, then I threw it away.
When it came time to leave and go to the airport, the number one tip that we learned was to try our best to avoid the police, as they tend to target tourists driving to the airport to extort money from them. So on the morning of our flight, I drove as slow as ever and kept a keen eye on my surroundings for police. We made it to the airport without any issues, so I took a sigh of relief and then boarded our flight for the next portion of our getaway— 24 hours in Miami.
* Name changed to protect his identity and his crimes