February 11, 2016:
No, that’s not a mega resort, that’s Akumal. The resort comes later. And it’s worth the wait, there’s yelling involved. To see who yelled, you’ll have to read on.
Returning to the “Mayan Riviera” from the interior is like entering a different country:
But really, we’re still in Mexico:
Very different from, say, Campeche:
Speaking of shopping in Mexico:
Anyway, we returned to Akumal on January 24 to meet up with Michael’s mom and sisters who were vacationing there. Protests long gone, the beach was really crowded, but that didn’t seem to take anything away from the experience. The snorkeling conditions were amazing. There was no sargassum, and we had the clearest water we’ve ever seen there. In parts of the bay, the coral seems more healthy than we’ve noticed it in the past, and the fish, turtles, and other sea life were abundant. Great snorkeling and great company made for a fun and relaxing time. But on Friday the 29th, we bid fair well to the familia and headed to a new world altogether.
The Mega Resort
In our years of traveling together (more than 20) we have never been to a big resort. We’re talking about the kind of place where you can’t go unless you’re staying there, and to show you belong, you have to wear a wristband that you can’t take off during your stay.
It’s a place and you can’t spend cash anywhere, you have to charge everything to your room. In many ways, it’s like a cruise that doesn’t go anywhere.
The grounds are beautiful:
There are exotic animals, including the largest iguanas we’ve ever seen:
There are beautiful buildings:
And giant palapa buildings housing great restaurants and shops. (Who cares if they’re South Pacific style roofs?) There are nice winding boardwalks that take us nearly the full 3/4 mile from our room to the beach:
Or we can wait for a shuttle that will take us to a place where we can wait for another shuttle to bring us fairly close. There are also a set of shuttles that will eventually take us the half mile to where our house is parked. We almost never took the shuttles, though. Walking was faster, and the view was nice. Except where there were no sidewalks, and you have to walk in traffic. But that was only a few places.
And there are interesting . . . mysteries:
It’s a wonderful fantasy theme park and a horrible antiseptic Stepford paradise. Every single employee greets you whenever you pass by (“Hola! Buenas tardes!”) like clockwork. When we overhear people mentioning how nice the people are, we want to tell them, “Mexican are super nice! They usually extend a friendly greeting to strangers, and usually it doesn’t feel like they’re trying not to get fired!”
It’s a perfect place for a Mexican beach vacation, if you don’t like Mexico and you don’t like the beach.
Why not the beach? This particular beach resort is a little lacking when it comes to the beach. There is a beach, but it’s rough and rocky. But the resort does have an enormous pool, the largest on the coast:
The pool even contains an actual reference to the culture of the place we’re in:
This very cool statue represents a Mayan (perhaps Itzamná) coming out of the mouth of Kukulkan, the feathered serpent. The rest of the serpent’s body emerges from the water off to the left of this frame. It’s a modern interpretation of a common image seen in Mayan ruins. For example:
At least that’s our interpretation. We didn’t see any explanation of the statue.
Some of the rooms, including ours, are very, very far from the beach. Dozens of identical buildings all in a line. While you have nice meandering boardwalks outside to get from place to place, we discovered that the shortest route was simply to walk right through the buildings, one after another. It feels like walking in a cheap 80’s cartoon where they use the same background frames over an over. Imagine passing through this hallway 20 times in a row:
I guess it’s a matter of perspective. We talked to some fellow guests who are way more adventurous than most. Though they do keep traveling to these resorts year after year, they now rent a car and get out and about a little (mostly to shop at Walmart). They mentioned having gone to John Gray’s Kitchen in Puerto Morelos. While they highly recommended the restaurant, the woman mentioned that Puerto Morelos wasn’t much, just the kind of place that had trash in the streets and stray dogs running around. We couldn’t help but think maybe we were in the wrong place.
Some people never want to leave gates suburban communities and spend time in dirty and dynamic downtown. This place is essentially a transplanted gated suburban community that lets those people travel without being made to feel uncomfortable. But just as you can’t go to The Met without stepping around something unfortunate on the sidewalk, you can’t really go to Mexico without seeing some trash in the street and some dogs running around. There’s nothing about the experience here that you couldn’t get in Florida or Arizona or probably suburban Cleveland in the summertime. (Although, if you are going to a big resort, definitely consider Mexico. The weather is better, the people are nicer, and it’s a lot cheaper.)
Just about everyone who visits the resort owns a timeshare. Therefore on arrival we were encouraged to attend a timeshare presentation so we too could learn about the wonders of membership. For our time and trouble we were offered a free breakfast at a restaurant that charges $25 US per person (probably just to make the free breakfast seem like a steal), a trip to Tulum for $5 each and a 10% discount plus 1000 peso credit on our expenditures while at the resort. We had never attended a time share presentation, and so out of curiosity we agreed. The nice young woman who signed us up made it clear that we were committing to one hour, and at the end of that time we were free to get up and leave.
We showed up the next morning as agreed and were shuffled between a half dozen different employees before being taken to breakfast. We were surprised to find that joining us for breakfast was the guy pitching the time share sale. So while the person who signs you up implies that you’re in for nothing more than an hour after breakfast, in reality, they have you for the whole morning. However, he didn’t make the pitch during breakfast, we talked about ourselves, giving him familiarity and insight into our lifestyle. It was an interesting conversation, and the breakfast was pleasant.
The presenter was a nice enough guy. In fact, he seemed to totally understand that there was little chance that we were going to buy anything, but still gave it a an admirable try, even attempting to reason why such a purchase could serve us in our current lifestyle. He made some good points that weren’t instantly dismissable, which we didn’t expect.
The fantasy turned into reality when he lightheartedly asked whether we wanted to put the down payment (of $16,000) on one or two credit cards, financing the remainder of the $45,000 asking price at impressively high interest (no credit check!) We made it very clear that we enjoyed talking to him, but the hour was up, and there was no chance we were buying anything. He took this well, but told us that he had to get a manager to “check us out.” Fine. We’re still playing the game.
Then the boss came over. She was not so nice. She started asking us what we knew about the time share industry. Because things had changed, and she needed to know what we know. Laura calmly told the manager that her salesman had done a great job showing us the benefits of their offer, but we had listened to the presentation as agreed, we were not going to buy anything, and we were now going to leave.
Of course, she didn’t take that as the final word. She attempted to take command of the situation, telling us she “needed” to know if the salesman had done his job, she “needed” to check the paperwork, and, most insistently, she “needed” to know what we knew about the timeshare business.
Laura calmly responded, “I am not going to discuss the timeshare business with you today.”
The woman started to become unraveled. She attempted to double down on the command language, trying to make us think we were obligated to talk to her. Laura told her that she didn’t want to be rude, but she would be if she had to. We stood up.
The manager was pretty interested in keeping us. Probably a little too interested. She put her hand on Laura’s arm and yelled, “WHERE are you going?” as if she were a mother scolding naughty children who just wouldn’t listen. It was certainly loud enough to disrupt some of the other sales presentations groups in the room (of which there were dozens going. Our sales guy admitted to us that the property exists to sell memberships). Had we had some lingering interest in purchasing a time share, we certainly wouldn’t be doing business with them after that. It wasn’t the worst experience ever, but it’s very hard to believe that such antics yield positive results. Without saying anything else, we walked out.
A couple days later, thinking a $5 trip to Tulum, with it’s beautiful beaches and laid back restaurants, might be a nice diversion, we went to the excursion desk to find out what the almost-free trip to Tulum was all about. We were told that it’s a “shopping excursion.” Basically for $5 each we would agree to sit in a van all day, stopping periodically at various locations along the coast for opportunities to buy jewelry and trinkets. Then, a quick tour of the ruins at Tulum (Worth seeing once. We’ve been there twice.) No thanks. Not if you paid us.
So why are we here?
Our dear friend Sarah who has a time share situation got us a very reasonable week at a the resort, which we have parlayed into two very reasonable weeks. We had the opportunity to spend 5 days with Sarah and her beau Ryan, including Super Bowl Sunday, which got late and delightfully rowdy. To keep on a sustainable path, we have been constantly telling ourselves that this adventure is not a vacation, it’s life. But when Sarah and Ryan came down, it turned into a serious vacation.
We watched the big game at a beach bar in Playa del Carmen. We could see the game and the Caribbean at the same time. Ryan was able to place a winning bet on the Broncos, we watched classic rock videos at Tequila Barrel after the game (there may have been some singing along) and we ate tacos after 1 a.m. It was a good day.
In Mexico, taco meat is often cut off of these gyro-like rounds. Here you see pork al pastor with the pineapple chunk on top, and sirloin on the right. The meat gets fired and shaved off to order. The 4 of us ate more than we should have and had plenty of beer for less than $20. If you’re in Playa, you can’t go wrong with Don Sirloin. There are multiple locations.
We also happened to be in Playa during carnaval (Mardi Gras). We stumbled upon a festival with a wide variety of street food. Laura decided to try a giant chicharrón (fried pork rind) topped with a variety of veggies, sour cream and hot sauce.
We also came across this in Playa. The little brewery in Shiner, Texas is getting around:
While we were at the resort, another dear friend, Heather, was in Cancun with friends and family. We spent a nice afternoon catching up at an entirely different timeshare resort.
Well, that’s it. We’re done with the resort, heading out tomorrow. Where to? We don’t know.