Cancun 2014-Solo Sojourn-Part II

First of all, a big sorry for not posting this soon. I was stuck with my graduation, post-graduation formalities, NY trip, job procedure and a couple of other things. As I write this onboard A380, en-route Dubai-Houston, after completing one more solo journey. I might write about that later on.

So, after visiting the beach, we decided to have dinner at one of the local eateries in downtown Cancun. In downtown, you can find several roadside restaurants which serve amazing food. In Cancun, downtown is not popular among tourists, all the tourists live in the¬†hotel zone and dine nearby. While in downtown Cancun you can see all the local guys enjoying food and mingling near one big circle which seems like their Times Square. ūüėÄ

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There were many shops selling street food surrounding the circle. While some of the food items were really appetizing, some of the food items were strange to me. There was one cart selling a strip kind of textured layer dipped in slimy liquid and fried wafer kind of a thing. Asking upon he told me, it was chopped pig skin and fried pig skin which looked like a¬†wafer or in Gujarati we call it “Sarevada or Papdi”. There was one more hawker who sold fried insects with spices sprinkled. I had very hard time finding something suitable to eat. One nice food item which I had is called ‘Marquesitas’, it is a waffle kind of a thing but a¬†bit thin. It can be filled with Nutella or Hershey’s or milkmaid.

IMG_20141217_184415478After having Marquesitas we went ahead and saw the deserts cart. There were my favorite tres leches. I ordered one and ate it as fast as I could. That thing was heavy and filling. I was eyeing one more desert and there was this lady who was having the similar kind of chocolate cake. She came forward and offered me a piece from her plate, I was bit reluctant. But, she fed me the whole piece by then. That thing instantly reminded me of my mom. No matter how far you travel or interact with different races, some basic courtesy always stands true. People will always try to depict or create a certain perception¬†about some races or communities, well, it doesn’t stand¬†true every time. That’s why someone said it right that the more you travel, the more wisdom you gain. It was time to call it a day. The day which started almost 36 hours back but was one of the best days of my life. The Long pending dream was accomplished and it was just a beginning. The day after I decided to go to an island called ‘Isla Mujeres’ which translates as “Island of Women”. Sounded exciting!!

By no means, it was ‘that’ island of women as you guys thought of. It was simply named because of the many images of goddesses. I had a quick breakfast and grabbed fruits for the journey. One thing that I like to do while traveling is to use options of public transport. It really helps you to grab the essence of country and lifestyle. You will meet different types of people and will have a close look at the culture and condition of the country.

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Waiting for the Bus, Streets of downtown Cancun

One thing which I observed was the absence of conductor in the bus. The Driver was playing both the roles. I was amazed by the efficiency and the speed by he was dealing. You have to keep change ready as you plan to board the bus¬†since the driver will issue the¬†ticket and deal the transaction. The port is named “GranPuerto”. I took the ticket for ‘Isla Mujeres’. ‘UltraMar’ issues the tickets for travel, I used my¬†Hostelling International membership card to avail 10% discount. ¬†ūüėÄ

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The boat has two sections, lower deck, and upper deck. While, lower deck is air-conditioned and with TV showing live footage from the CCTV. Upper deck has its own charm, with wind brushing past you. It is the feeling which is very hard to describe. While on the boat I asked a fellow passenger to click my picture¬†and realized that she too is lone traveler as me. we clicked instantly and decided to¬†spend the day together. As one say, you should start alone and you will find a¬†company. We decided to have a quick lunch and go to the easternmost point of the island. Being vegetarian was a problem in Cancun region when the whole area loves and thrives on Seafood. My staple order would be Guacamole as ‘subji’ and tortilla¬†or chips as a ‘Roti’.

IMG_20141218_124328841After having quick lunch, we looked at bicycle hiring stands. One can hire a bicycle, for 80 pesos a day. It is a great mode of a commute as the island is only 7 km long and 650 meters wide.Finally after haggling with the vendor, we paid 110 pesos for two bicycles for a day. It was very funny for two Indians to bargain with a Mexican guy.

The Destination was a tortoise farm, where they breed and protect them. The word for tortoise in Spanish¬†is ‘Tortuga’. But, we both didn’t know it and we were there in the streets of Isla Mujeres explaining everyone we came across in our broken Spanish what a tortoise looks like. Explaining as ‘animal’, ‘agua’, ‘Quattro’ ,’granja’ finally someone told us that we were looking for ‘Tortuga Granja’ which means Tortoise farm. The farm was a very small scale one but totally impressive.

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Farm keepers take care of the tortoise right from the moment it’s born to the moment when its set free to venture into unfathomable waters. It was a well-informed session on the tortoise. After having enough of the fauna, we went to see the natural beauty of the island. Surprisingly, we stumbled upon the ‘easternmost point’ of Mexico. After some point, the lanes for cycles became narrow and we felt that the island was squeezing and becoming narrower. Finally, we stumbled upon the sign which claimed that the land on which we were standing was the easternmost point of Mexico.

 

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Cliff of the Dawn

 

The view from the point was exhilarating and breathtaking. The Endless sight of blue water made me so happy.

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I just spent half an hour sitting on the edge of a sidewalk and admiring the beauty which the mother nature had. It made me forget all the worries and insecurities which I carried with me. The eastern point of the island was totally worth it. On the way back, I saw a wonderful sight. There was a girl standing in bridal gown kind of an attire and was surrounded by guys in Jacket and pants. This sight was totally new to me and the girl seemed too young to be married. Jajajaja( That’s how you write haha in Spanish).¬†Asking more questions to my co-traveler, she briefed me that the procedure is called ‘quinceanera’. It is similar to sweet sixteen. I asked for the permission to capture that beautiful sight.

 

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Quisinecera

After viewing such beautiful sight, we left to see the other part of the island. There was one more wonderful sight of the lighthouse, which was vintage.

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The road was beautifully constructed along the seashore, it ran all the way across from point A to point B. After we reached a certain point, all the beautiful villas started to show up. Remax was one of the real estate companies which were selling them. I was wondering about the pricing structure that was working.

After travelling all the way from the east to west, we were sunkissed and the breeze was adding the awesomeness into the fun. It was amazing to find the way and to be lost again. Sometimes we need little bit chaos to keep ourselves in order.

 

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Easternmost part of Mexico

 

Finally, it was time to go to the beach and unwind ourselves. We decided to go to, Playa Norte beach, which was the top attraction of the island. As expected the beach was having white sands and crystal clean water. It was a glorious debate whether to enter the water or not. No public restrooms were in sight which made our decision really ambiguous. So, we stayed there watching the beautiful beach and kids playing. At one point, waiting became really hard and we decided to jump. Water felt cold initially until we adjusted to the temperature. It was amazing to swim as the shore was flat compared to Playa Delfines.

 

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Happy Me

 

After swimming for almost an hour, it was time to witness the surreal sunset, I captured it at the exact moment. It amazingly describes the spirit of Cancun and Mexico. Boat with sails, blue water, kids playing and natural beauty.

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All these hectic activities and swimming made us hungry again. We decided to go to some offbeat restaurant in the streets. We stumbled upon the restaurant which seemed popular amongst the locals. There is a key to finding the nice food spots abroad. Always choose a place where locals are thriving to eat. Most likely the food will be nice and fresh. As usual, I was left with a handful of options. I decided to order beans and rice. I usually hate beans but at that time, it seemed like the only option.

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After having food, we went back to the dock and boarded return ferry for Cancun. It was an amazing day. The schedule for the next day was ‘Chichen Itza’. will be writing about it in the next post.

 

Adios Amigos!!

 

Riken

 

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Cancun 2014-Solo Sojourn-Part I

One day I set totally in silence thinking about the dream which was deep down buried inside. What I was doing with my life. It was almost one and half years that I took a perfect break or hiatus. Moving to the¬†USA was indeed a tough decision for me, but at the same I was looking at the better future, and definitely that future has a ‘cost’ attached to it.

So, there was a sense of boredom attached with my life. I decided to take a break, probably a break from the world and from all the known ones. Mind started wandering and deciding on the options. In between, one day I watched ‘Queen’ movie once again. Nevertheless, Bollywood movies are sort of great inspiration for us Indian guys. Never ever do that, #period. And I decided that I will be going to somewhere out of this country to have the same sort¬†of experience. However, looking for destinations was pretty much the tough part. Looking at the budget and Visa requirement attached with it. Cancun, Mexico was the place filtered down to the choice. ¬†I e-mailed to the Consulate in Houston, and the reply I got was,

If you are US citizen, or if you have a valid passport and a valid US visa (any type) stamped in your passport, or if you are a permanent resident of the US (green card), you do not need a Mexican visitor visa and you are allowed to travel to Mexico up to 180 days without permit to perform paid activities. In this case, you only need to travel with both documents.”

Bingo!!, I exclaimed, this is going to be the destination. The Second step was to ask permission from my parents, and surprisingly they said yes in the first go with only two word of advice ‘ Stay Safe’. The Third step was to ask for permission from my manager and get my leaves approved. That turned out to be easy. I had to manage working couple of extra hours in lieu of the non-working days.

So after all the legal formalities time came to search for the cheapest tickets to the destination. I made the best use of my gujju mind then :D. Starting from Kayak and Skyscanner, didn’t leave any stone unturned. At the end, found the cheapest of the lot in a newly started airline called ‘Vivaaerobus.com’. They seem to be a joint venture between, Ryan Air and some major bus operator from Mexico. The best part comes into the picture now, where to live. Well, long ago dad inspired me, rather ordered me to get life membership of Youth Hostels Association of India. That turned out to be blessing in disguise. Also, leaving in a dorm could be one of a kind experience. Lo and behold, five days for a 4 person co-ed dorm costed me around 80 bucks!!

After all the possible planning, finally I started looking for destinations to explore on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet. Found couple of good destinations to travel.

Day before departure:

 This turned out to be a hectic a day, because I was just done with an exam around 6 PM and had a flight in the 7 AM in the morning. Packed my stuff in a duffel bag, since the lack of planning and money became a villain in buying a backpack. But, I already had one sturdy day pack, which would help me in day to day travel. Bought one passport and money belt, which would help me to keep my passport and money concealed.( This is the link to buy one-works perfectly-HTTP://amzn.to/1ffn0qT)

Well, How can I forget my best companion so far, CAMERA. ¬†I have the Sony DSC HX 9V right now. Clicks good pictures, does wonders sometimes. I love playing with its manual feature until I plunge into DSLR’s.

Day of departure:-

Lack of sleep was evident on my face as soon as I woke up after an hour of sleep. No matter how much hard I try to sleep, that little anxiety always keeps me awake before each and every trip of my life. Checked for my passport and I20 for the last time, as those two documents were my only identity. I am amazed how a piece of paper can be your sole identity abroad. I certainly wish that the time for the biometric passport or an alternative paperless identity like Retina scan.

The first and foremost thing was to call my parents, to inform them that I am safe and sound and ready to take one more solo trip. Mom told me to be in constant touch with her through any of the IM and call via Viber whenever WiFi is available. Somehow, Mom thinks that I am dead if I miss her one message or take a time to reply :D. Finally, checked in my baggage and went on for the boarding call. I still remember those goosebumps.

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And, then I see my flight docking.Boarded and found out that we were only 50 passengers, that means I will get my window seat, without even paying for priority boarding. Yes, Viva is same as Southwest. You have to claim your seat upon the boarding of aircraft. DSC00118

And, it set off to flew.

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One not so good step was to sit on the right side of the airplane, which had all the boring view while we were about to reach Cancun. After reaching we were transferred from the airplane to the airport by bus. Entry to the port was very quick followed by the custom check.

Immigration Counter:-

Immigration Officer (IO):- SO, how long you are planning to stay in Mexico?

Me:- 5 days mam

IO :- What do you plan to do here?

Me :- I will travel and venture out through Cancun.

IO :- Where are your friends in the line?

Me :- Mam, I have no friends with me on this trip. I am traveling alone.

IO :- (exclaimed look) All alone, well all the best. Have a nice trip Mr. Pandya!!

Well, I didn’t know whether to consider her words as a wish or as a mild warning. Or might be nature’s omen to warn me.¬† As soon as you step out, there are swarms of cab drivers who will amaze you with their talent in English. However, you can not expect that luxury while you backpack. I headed towards the ADO bus stand and looked out for a¬†bus towards Cancun downtown. There was a bus scheduled after half an hour. Bought ticket for 6 dollars, which was roughly converted to 10 pesos for one dollar, while the¬†rate was 13.5 pesos=1 $. I was not carrying any pesos with me from Houston, as I was planning to withdraw from ATM’s there.

I step out of the bus-stand at downtown Cancun. Bus stand seemed same as the bus-stands are in India minus cleanliness. I started looking for ATM. I withdrew money that will last me with my 2 days expenses. Now the real challenge was to find my way from the bus-stand to the hostel. With my very limited knowledge of Spanish, it was real difficult to find ways. The task turned out to be easy one as I started to look for the backpackers going to the nearby buildings and I knew where my hostel was. I paid¬†money on the¬†desk and presented my identity documents. As I was going through this process I saw an Asian couple discussing to go to somewhere. I asked them and realized they were going to ‘Playa Delfines’ and ‘Playa Chac Mool’. After requesting them to wait for me and plonking all the luggage in the room, I joined them. It was only an hour in the new country, new city and I ventured out.

One can flag down a bus and jump upon the bus. Seemed pretty much like India. I was glad that the couple whom I went with paid for my ride. It is good to travel as student :D. I spotted some of the restored Beetle off the streets of Cancun.

beetle of the streets of Cancun

beetle-streets of Cancun

We got a bottle of water for ourselves and went to the beach. I was just mesmerized to see the sight. Crystal blue water. It was so serene that it makes all your worries go away. I had my swimming trunk with me. I changed into swimming attire and immediately jumped into the water. Couple of hilarious things happened over here.

Pristine Waters

Pristine Waters

I was in my swimming trunks and wearing Janoi or Janeu, a sacred thread for brahmins. The Filipino couple asked me that ” Is this the thread to hang and secure your specs while swimming? “. I chuckled a bit. After then I explained them the whole theory behind it. As I was wading into the water I met a Mexican kid. He asked me something in Spanish and I reverted in English. He asked me why I don’t speak Spanish, Was I forgetting our roots. I told him that I am an Indian and I can’t speak Spanish. well, I should blame my brown skin for that confusion. ūüėÄ

Water Sports

Water Sports

Playa Delfines

Playa Delfines

Here is my photo with  the famous Cancun sign.

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After all the fun, we went to the downtown Cancun to have our dinner.

Updating on the next part soon. Till then, see y’all.

Signing off,

Riken