June 28, 2010

Nightlife in Playa del Carmen

Dubai Club (Ex Bali)

Dubai night club is a fairly new place to party in Playa. However, in little time it has become one of the best places to enjoy music, dance, and party.
All in all a great club, with Indonesian inspired decor and a good sound system. The music did tend to vary rather drastically from deep house, vocal trance, to local pop. The decoration evokes the mysticism of Indonesia's Islands, perfectly mixed with the modernity of the night club.
Dubai's concept provides a multi-level, eclectic DJ, and indoor air-conditioned, inside you have a great view to the dance floor, as its capacity is for 1,200 persons. It's located in a great location opposite La Santanera club on 12th between 5th and 10th.
Dubai is popular among celebrities as is very common to see live concerts here. It also has live performances by outstanding International acrobats on week days (Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays).

Blue Parrot

The Blue Parrot is a lively outdoor club/bar with BBQ and lots of action. This club goes after hours and has theme nights as well.
Blue Parrot was named by Newsweek in 1998 as one of the best ten bars around the world. This place is a must-see to party for locals, and has become famous for its big wooden swing chairs around the bar. You can enjoy the music while resting in the white sand beach and the waves are literally touching the dance floor. Inside the Palapa lounge yo will enjoy chill out music and a mix of progressive popular music.
This is a day and night club, so if you are not interested in partying by night, you can relax throughout the day will listening to de DJ put soft and sensual music. You can also eat and drink from 7:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon.

El Alux is most definitely amazing - it's a real, alive cave that has been turned into an incredible bar, restaurant and series of winding passageways that lead to various VIP bars and hang-outs complete with growing stalagmites and stalactites and the coolest of uber-cool decor.
Walking down into the cave you're first greeted by hosts at the entrance and shown into either the bar or restaurant. Each of the cocktails are stamped with the bars signature take on the drink, many even created purely by the bar itself and utilizing traditional Mexican ingredients. The service here is top notch.
For the use as a restaurant, the cave was developed similar to a show cave. There are concrete paths, electric light and handrails. Numerous chambers were transformed into different kinds of pubs. There is a restaurant which seats 150 persons, a Bar Lounge for 110 persons which allows live concerts, a side branch of the cave is coverted into a VIP space, Bar Tortuga is a private bar for up to 50 persons, which may be booked for receptions, and finally Salón Califa is another VIP area.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen is located in the Mexican Caribbean coast, just 40 miles (60 kms.) south of Cancun, Mexico. The town of Playa del Carmen hugs the coast along blue Caribbean water and fine white sand.

Originally a small fishing town, tourism to Playa del Carmen began with the passenger ferry service to Cozumel, an island across the Cozumel Channel and world-famous scuba diving destination.

Although most of Playa's population is local, many people come here from other parts of Mexico and the world. Among them you can find painters, musicians, dancers and actors who may surprise you with high quality performances in some local bar or café.

The city of Playa del Carmen is divided into several sections. Avenida Quinta, "Fifth Avenue", is a pedestrian only street running parallel to the beach north from the central plaza. Fifth Avenue is the heart of Playa del Carmen's cultural life, and is lined with restaurants, shops and hotels. The northern end of Fifth Avenue is called the "New Fifth". This is an upscale area with new construction, brick lined streets and a more European flavor. 

A Mayan-themed "ecological theme park", Xcaret is a popular tourist destination just south of the town. 

Most shops and establishments are attended directly by the owners; therefore, service in Playa's restaurants, dive shops and clothing stores is excellent. The Riviera Maya is well known for it delicious food and great variety of cuisine; Playa is specially diverse in it's cuisine, given the large amount of tourists and locals from South America and Europe.

The wide variety of activities offered along the coast is also available here: windsurfing, diving, horseback riding, bicycle rentals, snorkeling and gyms, as well as yoga, dance and drum classes. 

Nightlife is definitely important in Playa del Carmen, but is not as wild as its neighbor to the north, Cancun. Typically, Playa's shops and restaurants close around 10pm, but nearly all of the clubs stay open through most of the night. A number of the best nightclubs are located on the beach. If you are interested in nightlife, then be sure to visit Blue Parrot, El Pirata, Santenera, and Hotel Deseo.

June 23, 2010


Merida is the cultural and financial capital of the Yucatan Peninsula, as well as the capital city of the state of Yucatan.

Merida was founded in 1542 by Francisco de Montejo, a Spanish Conquistador. It was built on the site of the Maya city of T'ho hills, which had been a center of Mayan culture and activity for centuries. Because of this, many historians consider Merida the oldest continually-occupied city in the Americas. Many of new city's buildings were constructed using stones expropriated from the Mayan ruins and some of those stones can still be seen today in the walls of Merida's main cathedral.

Called "the white city" because of the limestone construction of many of its buildings, Mérida is beautiful, clean and safe. It has a European air about it, perhaps because it is closer to the cosmopolitan culture of the Caribbean islands than to Mexico City. Being located inland, it was not subject to attack by pirates or foreign invaders, so it lacks the fortifications typical of many Mexican cities. Its central area was built with stones recovered from Mayan temples which the Spaniards destroyed. It has a beautiful Plaza Mayor (zócalo), bordered by government buildings and one of North America's oldest cathedrals (late 1500s), but unlike many Latin cities this is a landscaped and peaceful place for family relaxation, rather than one for official functions.
Unlike some Mexican cities where tourism is the main business, Mérida relies on poultry and hog farming in the surrounding area, textiles, light industry, museums, universities, and craft markets. 

In 2000 it was officially designated "Cultural Capital of the Americas". Fiercely proud of their heritage, the residents consider it the cultural centre of the Mayan world, and usually call it "Mérida, Yucatan", without mentioning Mexico at all.

Merida is an inviting place to visit. In the past, it has only been a stopover on the way to the magnificent Maya ruins. Lately, more and more people have discovered what a  great treasure the city is. Merida is a city rich in Mayan folklore and colonial history; a city of contrasting sights, cultural blends, and a warm friendly people. 

Chichén Itzá
Chichén Itzá
Various tours, to suit every wallet or time-frame, to the most famous of all the Maya ruins.

June 22, 2010

Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta is a unique hybrid of colonial village and mega-resort, where a tangle of quaint streets leads to the lively malecón (boardwalk). Beyond that, the beach takes center stage, making way for whale- and dolphin-watching expeditions, diving with giant manta rays, and stunning Pacific sunsets. Most of the north side of the bay lies in our neighboring state of Nayarit while Puerto Vallarta, is in the state of Jalisco, the home of Tequila and Mariachi. The whole bay is developing rapidly, with Nayarit developing faster than Vallarta. Unlike Cabo San Lucas and Cancun, Vallarta is ringed with jungle covered mountains. In many places the jungle is footsteps from the beach. Numerous year-round rivers feed the Bay.

Puerto Vallarta is quite simply one of the most beautiful, cultured, luxurious vacation spots in all of Mexico, and indeed in the world. Here you will find the ultimate fusion of traditional Mexican culture, from bullfights to grilled marlin served beachside; and the finest of resort living, from spectacular sport fishing to all-inclusive resorts that cater to your every whim.

Puerto Vallarta offers amenities and attractions not readily available in any other part of Mexico and perhaps not in the world. Weather hovers in the mid 80's (30ºC) for much of "high season," giving way to rainy summer season from late June to early October. Some people even prefer those months, delighting in the electrical storms that produce an orchestra of lightning that dances throughout the sky. Then, it's back to those glorious sunsets that attract visitors to every rooftop across the town. As the sun sinks, everyone waits to see if the proverbial "green flash" will be visible. For those content to walk established paths, there are many tour options: hiking, sport fishing, golf, whale watching, ATV, jungle tours and restaurants galore.

Golfers will find courses designed by Jack Nicklaus and Tom Weiskopf among the 7 championship layouts in the area. Puerto Vallarta's climate makes golf a year-round option.

If romance is in the air and the ultimate destination wedding is your goal, Puerto Vallarta offers many wedding coordinators who will effortlessly handle the paperwork and arrangements to make your ceremony (and honeymoon) the ultimate in romance, beauty and tranquility.

For family vacations, you won't find a finer destination. There are abundant activities for all ages and interests, from beachside fun to craft and sports gatherings for kids and adults.

The art and music abound in the city, with live concerts of all types, beachfront sculpture displays and hundreds of other exhibitions and performances both large and intimate. The local Indian culture is prominent, with an abundance of crafts and local wares available for purchase.

With so much that Puerto Vallarta has to offer, every moment in this beautiful vacation spot can be shaped to meet your individual desires. Find yourself strolling back in time as you meander down the streets of the historic area of town, or the village of San Sebastian (15 minutes by plane) or follow your own steps to the rhythms of the Mariachi.

June 21, 2010


Considered as the city that never sleeps, Acapulco is a major sea port in the state of Guerrero on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and 190 miles southwest from Mexico City. Acapulco is located on a deep, semi-circular bay with hills and cliffs on either side. Many of the restaurants, clubs and hotels are located to take advantage of these incredible views.

There are three distinctive areas in Acapulco. The real heartbeat of Acapulco is in the main street, Avenida Costera Miguel Alemán, known locally as just "The Costera". If you are going almost anywhere in Acapulco (dining, drinking, shopping, or beaches) you will come in contact with the Costera, due to the incredible scenery and true nightlife experience.

This true nightlife experience is represented by the best clubs in Latin America such as El Alebrije, considered the largest club in Latin America; Palladium, where the large panoramic glass wall which forms one side of the dance floor is very impressive, and Baby’O the most luxurious club in Acapulco.

During the day most of the focus in Acapulco is on the beach. The whole bay is lined with beautiful beaches with incredible views, such as the famous Quebrada, where you can watch divers perform their impressive jumps into the shallow stream of water of dangerous tides that forms in the bottom part of La Quebrada.

The zócalo or town square is a peaceful area, which represents the cultural side of Acapulco, is shaded by giant rubber and mango trees. Here you can mingle with the locals as they go about their daily business. Also, visit the cathedral or dine at the many little restaurants of typical Mexican food.

Main attractions in Acapulco are sport activities such as golf in the huge courses home to four championships, fishing, tennis, and aquatic activities such as wave runners, peddle boats parasailing, banana rides and even a beachfront water park.
If you get tired of the beach, city activities will give you then fun you need. Go karts and bull fights are very common in Acapulco. Also, shop in the modern malls and small markets that will provide you with luxurious items such as designer clothing and cultural souvenirs.

June 18, 2010

Gay Vacations in the Riviera Maya

Riviera Maya is the coastline from Cancún down to Tulúm. It is fast becoming the vacation destination of choice for the international gay community. They are all the same reasons that heterosexual families flock to the Méxican Caribbean - the paradise setting; the tropical weather; the beautiful beaches; the Mayan archaeological sites; the party atmosphere; the food, drink and fun. However, there is the added benefit that, unlike many other countries, México welcomes them. The gay vacationer can enjoy the same civil rights as at home or, in some cases, even exceed them.

Gay Pride Flag

Homosexuality was never banned in México. This legal status was strengthened in 2001, when the Federal Constitution, article 1, was amended to prohibit discrimination based on 'preferences'. This was clarified further in 2003, when a Federal Anti-Discrimination Law was passed. The wording made it absolutely clear that no-one could be persecuted for their homosexuality. A whole department was set up to enforce the law throughout the country.

Finally, in 2009, federal law legalized same-sex marriage, though it was up to the individual states whether they wished to allow this under state law. So far, México City and the state of Coahuila have signed up, but Quintana Roo can't be far behind. It is also legal in México for transgender people to officially change their name and gender; and for homosexuals to adopt children. There are openly gay and transgender elected politicians. (For details about the age of consent, please see a previous blog entry, 'Is It Legal?')

The Riviera Maya isn't awash with exclusively gay resorts and clubs, though they do exist. This is mainly because it's not seen as that big a deal. Gay men and women just merge with their heterosexual counterparts, simply eyeing up a different gender in the clubs. However, Cancún traditionally hosts an International Gay Festival in May and a smaller festival in the fall. There was a Pride Parade in the city during June.

There are three main exclusively gay clubs in the Riviera Maya:

* Picante Bar, in Cancún, has been going strong since the 1980s. The clientele are mixed gay men and lesbians. There are theme nights, including drag queens, strippers, Go-Go Boys and drink promotions. Thursday is always tequila night, complete with free shots to start the party rolling. It's quite a small venue that can get very crowded after midnight, when all of the locals turn up. It is located in downtown Cancún, at El Centro, in the Plaza Gallerias, on Av. Tulum 20.

* Karamba BarKaramba Bar, in Cancún, is the largest club/disco catering mostly to gay men. The party only really starts after midnight, when the locals finish work and rush to the club. Entertainment includes drag queens, strippers and karaoke, but the club is mainly known for its disco and great atmosphere. There will be a Mr Gay Mexico Competition held there on October 26th, 2010, though there's plenty of eye candy for the rest of the year too. It is located in downtown Cancún, at El Centro, on Av. Tulum 11. More details on their website

* Playa 69, in Playa del Carmen, is the only exclusively gay hangout there. The clue to the tone of the place is in its title, so expect a lot of explicit cruising inside. The crowd are generally 20-30s; the decor is largely mirrored; and the music a mix of hot beats and trance. Again the party really kicks off after midnight with the arrival of the locals. It is located in 5th Ave, between Calle 4 and Calle 6, next door to the 7-11 store.

As for hotels, you will not find one turning away your custom based on your sexuality. If you do prefer that extra security though, it's worth noting that Cancún's Hyatt Hotel has listed itself in the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association; while the six room, boutique hotel, Casa Sirena, on Isla Mujeres, is not only owned by a gay couple, but was named TripAdvisor's number one B&B on the island.

There is no 'official' beach catering solely for gay men and women. Unofficially tourists and locals alike tend to congregate in a section of Playa Delfines beach (just south of the Hilton Hotel), in Cancún. This is often the starting point for festival and Pride activities too.

In addition to these venues, the gay community get to visit all the same attractions, clubs, bars, restaurants and beaches as every other tourist. Therefore, it's not hard to see why Rivera Maya is being recommended on gay travel sites and is increasingly awash in the pink currency.

June 17, 2010

Party Night in Cancún

Cancún is synonymous with parties. From impromptu beach gatherings to organized festivals, this is the Caribbean destination of choice for the party-goer. The buzz, so in evidence all year round, heightens to fever pitch with the arrival of the Spring Breakers. Even now, the American high school seniors and college students are looking forward to next March, booking their rooms to get the best ones secured. Meanwhile, Cancún has moved onto the next great happening. International clubbers dancing through the night, staggering on a high through the dawn back to their hotel rooms.

The lure is easy to see. The sun, sea, sand, bikini-clad beauties and bronzed, topless men; the free-flowing alcohol (all hail the legal drinking age being 3 years earlier than in the USA), the atmosphere, the entertainment and the music. It is taken as read that Mexicans know how to party; and people from all over the world come here to show us that they know too. So where to go, what to do and what do you need to know?

Cancún is home to several superclubs. The film above introduces just one of them, Coco Bongo. With the capacity to hold 1800 people, Coco Bongo is in a class of its own. All senses are filled at once, with non-stop shows, music and amazing acrobatics. This club is internationally famous, recognizable even if you've never heard of its name. It is forever being shown on shows like MTV or E!Entertainment, while some blockbuster Hollywood movies, like 'The Mask', have used it for their club scenes. There is more than a little stardust sprinkled over the place. Celebrity impersonators strut their stuff on the stage and dancefloors alike; while real celebrities are certainly spotted there from time to time.

If celebrity spotting is your thing, then Bulldog Cafe Cancún is worth a visit. Bands like U2, Guns and Roses, Radiohead and AC/DC have played on that stage; while the club also showcases rising talent. There is a 2000 people capacity here, including VIP special areas and an exotic jacuzzi for sophisticated visitors. Most of its nights are dedicated to sheer, unadulterated partying. There are theme nights, including an indoors beach party, complete with Bikini Contest.

For theme nights per se, then you would be hard pushed to beat Basic Discotheque Cancún, especially if your partying tends to leave you feeling overheated. This 1800 people capacity venue is half open to the elements, affording tremendous views across the lagoon. Periodically, water rains down onto the dancefloor from the framework above. Everyone soon dries off in the warmth of a Caribbean night, refreshed and re-energised for more dancing. Every night is a theme night there, from Wet T-shirt through to Foam Parties (where, yes, the dancefloor is covered in foam).

These are just three of the 100s of clubs that Cancún has to offer.


As with any new place, there might be little tips and local culture that isn't immediately obvious to a visitor from abroad. Here are some of them:

* Many entrance packages, including those offered by ourselves, include an open bar. This does mean that you can drink the bar dry should you wish without paying a penny. However, most clubs have a waiter service. If you use that service, then you will be expected to tip the waiter. In some clubs, you will not be served if you don't use the waiter.

* Depending upon the club, and the level of entrance package purchased, not every drink behind the bar will be included in your open bar deal. Some clubs operate tier systems (basic = domestic bar; premium = imported brandnames etc.). However, if you do fancy something not included with your wristband, you can still purchase it by paying by the glass.

* If you have bought an all-inclusive drink package, then be aware that this will not cover those drinks being offered by random people wandering around. What usually happens is that a gorgeous man or woman appears at your side with a huge bottle of something wonderful. Often it's top brand tequila. You will be invited to have a shot. If you accepted, then you will be charged extra for this.

* Most clubs display the notice: 'Gracias, por no fumar'. Sorry smokers, this means that it's a non-smoking club. Either stock up on nicotine replacement lozenges/patches and make do as best you can with them; or else you'll have to step outside to smoke. This can sometimes involve waiting in a long queue to get back in again.

* The longest queues are outside the most popular clubs. If you just turn up, then you will be in it. If you pay a package beforehand, from hotels or tour operators, then most clubs will just wave you to the front and let you go straight in.

* The restrooms often have a member of staff inside them, handing out useful items like brushes, hair-spray, paper towels, deodorant and all of those other little things to make you beautifully refreshed and gorgeous again. If you use this service, that member of staff will expect to be tipped.

June 16, 2010

Xcaret - The Secret Sanctuary

XcaretFor the majority of people, Xcaret EcoPark is a tourist attraction. It is the place for lying around in paradise, swinging on hammocks over white sand beaches; or snorkeling in the pristine, turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Some may turn up to swim with dolphins or nurse sharks. Others to don an oxygen helmet and follow a guide along a seabed trek.

However, for many animals, Xcaret is much more than that. It is a sanctuary and relief from past abuses. It is life and the hope of a wonderful future.

This isn't a facet of the EcoPark that is greatly publicized. The majority of those animals rescued are not on public display. They are nursed back to health in private, then helped to readjust to a more natural, compassionate world. If possible, they will be rehoused or else released back into the wild. Xcaret will only keep them if they are indigenious to Mexico and if it is in the interests of the creature to stay; or, of course, if there is nowhere else for them to go.


For example, let's examine the case of Bryan the Chimpanzee. Bryan was approximately 18 months old when he arrived at Xcaret. It is believed that he had been born in Africa, where the likelihood is that he would have been torn away from his mother, then watched her killed for bush meat. The usual route is for him to have been smuggled into Mexico via Cuba.

Once here, he was put to work on a Cancún beach, as a photographer's prop. At only a few months old, he had his baby teeth knocked out, so that he wouldn't bite the tourists paying for a photograph with him. This is known because later health checks found fragments of the teeth embedded in his gums.

Such things are not tolerated in Mexico and, fortunately, he was spotted and reported to the Animal Protection Society of Cancún. Bryan's owner refused to co-operate with the authorities, but eventually the baby chimpanzee was seized in a joint operation between the Animal Protection Society and PROFEPA (Procuraduría Federal de Protección al Ambiente (Environmental Protection Agency)).

Baby ChimpanzeeChimpanzees are not indigenious to Mexico. There are primate sanctuaries in the country, but they are set up to deal with local species, like howler and spider monkeys. Chimpanzees are very different. They may be cute and loveable, doubling as surrogate human babies, before puberty, but once those hormones kick in they change.

They have 9 times the strength of a human man, coupled with aggressive, territorial tendencies. In the wild, chimpanzees live in families overseen by a powerful alpha male. To human eyes, this regime can seem brutal in its violence, as the alpha male puts down any pretenders to his crown. But this is their nature and these instincts are what would out as Bryan grew.

In anticipation of this, many chimpanzees are locked away or simply killed, as soon as they grow out of the cute baby stage. But Bryan's rescuers also had to anticipate this. If no home could be found for him, then whichever Mexican sanctuary took him may have to look after him into adulthood. No facilities were ideal, as no sanctuary had families of chimpanzees into which Bryan could be introduced. He was also mentally traumatized and in bad health. He was half-starved. The cost of looking after him, even in the short term, would run into the thousands. It was in full knowledge of these issues that Xcaret EcoPark invited Bryan in.

Spider Monkey at Xcaret
Spider Monkey at Xcaret

Xcaret has a number of sanctuaries within its expansive site. Butterflies, birds, endangered marine turtles and manatees are amongst those species with their own special areas. Xcaret works closely with national and international experts in ensuring the best conditions possible for the fauna that they rescue. They also have Monkey Island, which is home to rescued primates. The spider and saraguato (howler) monkeys there are local species and can be viewed by the public. Xcaret's site explains how they came to live in the EcoPark:

In February 2003, 20 saraguato monkeys arrived to Xcaret. 11 of them were in danger because of the destruction of their habitat by the cattle industry. Other 9 saraguato monkey babies were donated by the PROFEPA (Federal Office for the Protection of the Environment). Today we have 22 saraguato monkeys due to 2 births that occurred inside the park.
Xcaret - Monkey Island

However, neither of these species are chimpanzees.

Saraguato Monkey at Xcaret
Saraguato Monkey at Xcaret

For another 18 months, Bryan lived at Xcaret EcoPark. He was taken there without the need for sedatives and he was treated with such care, that he never required them for calming down during his stay. He was restored to full health and blossomed as he became well fed. There was also a program of behavorial correction, helping him become a chimpanzee again, instead of his unnatural pseudo-human habits. It is important to note that this wasn't done with punishments, but with rewards.

Little by little, Xcaret's compassionate people worked with love to salve Bryan's troubled mind. By the time he was three, he looked and acted like a different chimpanzee, as happy and settled as he could be without a family of his own. All of this time and expense, he was never exhibited to the public, because he isn't Mexican. He was there to be given sanctuary, not to make money for the park.

Bryan at Monkey World.

Finally, a permanent home was found for him. After arduous months of bureaucracy and paperwork, Bryan was flown to England to the world-reknowned Monkey World. This is a sanctuary for over 240 primates, including 60 chimpanzees, rescued from across the world. Their primates have generally been traumatized and/or physically hurt, so the staff have a long history of caring for them. The chimpanzees are housed in families and environments as natural as possible. Here experts can access the needs of each individual chimpanzee and act accordingly.

Jim Cronin, the American born owner of Monkey World, was asked about Xcaret, while Bryan was there. He replied, "I think Bryan couldn’t be in a better place. We have worked with many organizations, but Xcaret is the most professional we have treated with. We are really happy. We can notice that Bryan was very well fed, they really took care of him and, above all, it seems to me that everybody there loves Bryan."

Once in England, Bryan was placed in the 'nursery', where an older female chimpanzee named Sally immediately adopted him as her own. Within days, he had been accepted by all of the others, instantly gaining a mother, an aunt, brothers and sisters. At three years old, his life could move on from the pain of the past and start again. He will be able to live there for his entire life, surrounded by his adoptive family, in a suitable environment. You can read about him on the Monkey World site.

An English tourist recently filmed Bryan playing with a seesaw in the nursery at Monkey World. He's watched over by his Aunt Lulu and appears to be having a lot of fun.

It is wonderful to know that Xcaret EcoPark played such a vital role in Bryan's rescue. Yet it's not just Bryan who benefits, as the work there goes on. The species of manatees indigenious to Mexico are on the brink of extinction. At the request of PROFEPA, Xcaret took in a couple of manatees rescued, in a critical condition, from a polluted lagoon. The pair are now thriving in their permanent home in the EcoPark, cared for by manatee experts.

The local flamingos are also considered endangered, but a special program at Xcaret has seen 55 live births amongst its population of 96 adults. The Flamingo colony grows and grows. Just two more examples of the amazing work done at this EcoPark.

So next time you are relaxing on their beach, sipping a cocktail, and trying to decide between the Shark Adventure or a meander through the Mayan Village, allow yourself a extra smile. You know that your entrance fee is being put to good use, not just in creating a stunning tourist attraction, but in saving lives behind the scenes.

Xcaret Full Day

Xcaret Plus Full Day

June 15, 2010

Roger Waters, 'The Wall', in México City, 2010

Roger Waters

Roger Waters needs no introduction. As one of the more vocal members of Pink Floyd, as well as its chief songwriter after Syd Barrett left, Waters has spent half a century in the celebrity spotlight. Pink Floyd have sold, to date, over 200 million albums worldwide; and they are inducted into both the UK and US Rock'n'Roll Halls of Fame. Waters, personally, has received the 'Media Event of the Year' and the 'Cinema of Peace' award. They were both for performances of the Pink Floyd album, 'The Wall' - live in Berlin and as a film, respectively.

The announcement that Roger Waters will be touring, with a full concert rendition of 'The Wall' was met with international excitement. It will begin in September 2010, in Canada, before progressing through the Americas and Europe. After a grueling 80 performances, Waters will finish in Germany, in June 2011. The last date of the North American leg of this tour is at Palacio de los Deportes, in México City, on December 18th, 2010.

Then came the added information, given in an interview with the BBC, that this is the last ever Roger Waters tour. The frenzy of ticket-buying can be heard across the globe, as those waivering over going suddenly realised that this might be their last chance to see him. A rock'n'roll legend, performing an iconic album, After all, 'The Wall' is the third best selling album of all time in America; it is the top selling double album globally. Moreover, 'The Wall' was mostly written by Roger Waters, as a biographical, cathartic exercise.

The WallEven the younger generation, born long after Pink Floyd split up, can sing along to songs penned by Waters. This is often because they have been remixed and become instant cover hits for later artists. Two of classic tunes, 'Comfortably Numb' (recorded by the Scissor Sisters in 2004) and 'Another Brick in the Wall' (recorded by everyone, or so it seems, but notably by Korn in 2004), are from 'The Wall' album.

So what is the 'The Wall'? It is a concept album, released on 30 November 1979, charting the mental detoriation of a rock star named Pink. Themes of personal isolation, private abuse, war and alienation are explored in a musical journey from childhood to stardom.

Pink's father is killed during the Second World War (just as Roger Waters's own father was); his mother is over-protective of her son, stifling his play and directing his every move (as Roger believed that his own mother was with him and his brother). The story moves onto adulthood and Pink's band ascending into rock stardom (as was the case with Pink Floyd); but the pressure is too much for Pink, who finds refuge in drugs before crashing into mental health issues (much resonance here for Pink Floyd's founder, songwriter, singer and guitarist, Syd Barrett - in fact, the lyrics to 'Comfortably Numb' are practically verbatim from a conversation that Syd had with the group, before he was ignobly kicked out of Pink Floyd). Pink's marriage, to an over-bearing wife reminiscent of his mother, ends in infidelity and violence. Meanwhile, his drug use and fragile sanity result in hallucinations on stage, where he believes that he is a Neo-Nazi dictator at the helm of a rally. Pink sets bouncers on the fans. Eventually, his mind throws up a mock trial, wherein Pink starts to see himself, his past and the people around him with a little more clarity. He is able to grasp his life back.

Throughout the show, the wall is growing on-stage. Each block represents another obstacle or knock in his life, until the climax sees Pink with a massive wall separating him from society and, indeed, reality. After 'The Trial', Pink smashes down this wall, in order to remove the alienation and reach out again to the rest of the world.

Palacio de los Deportes, in México City, was built for the 1968 Olympic Games, which were hosted in the city. It will seat 26,000 people for the performance of 'The Wall'. If you wish to be one of them, please visit Pink Floyd Online for ticket information.

Edit: Roger Waters is now doing three dates at the same venue. Please visit Ticketmaster Mexico to secure your ticket.

June 14, 2010

Cancún and Isla Mujeres Underwater Art Museum

The Silent Revolution

The picture above is entitled 'The Silent Revolution' by Jason de Caires Taylor. At first glance, it may appear as people trudging slowly over a strange, barren landscape, while the sky above casts a heavy, blue glow. However, there is something very different about this artwork. For a start, the ground is the seabed. The bizarre blueness is explained once you realise that it is all the Caribbean Sea. This is concept art and the finished product will be underwater.

The figures are life-sized sculptures, their faces cast from real life people living in the Yucatan today. They are shown as a progression of the historical population of Mexico. Some are in the dress of the earliest settlers of Mexico; others clothed as the Maya or the Aztecs or the Spanish Conquistadors or the 19th century revolutionaries or any other period that you care to mention. Those at the front are modern people; some have been cast from the faces of international tourists.

'The Silent Revolution' is currently being installed, in the strait between Cancún and Isla Mujeres. It is just one of a series of intricate and immense artwork being lowered into place there, creating the largest underwater art display in the world. The whole project will eventually consist of 400 sculptures, occupying 150 square meters of ocean floor. It began in November 2009 and will continue being added to until 2012; then it will remain as a permanent, 120 ton exhibition.

Some sculptures have already been secured into place:

La Jardinera de la Esperanza (The Gardener of Hope)

El Coleccionista de los Sueños Perdidos (The Archive of Lost Dreams)

Hombre en Llamas (Man on Fire)

The sculptures are more than just beautiful works of art. They have an important environment purpose too. They are especially created from materials which enable natural coral growth. The marine life that ordinarily clings to reefs will also form around this artwork; an attribute which is vital in an area where the coral reefs have been damaged over time. They provide somewhere for this life to cling onto. In turn, the marine life changes each sculpture, as flora forms upon it and fish, shrimp and other creatures teem around it.

Moreover, the sculptures lift the pressure from the entirely natural reefs. Tourists, snorkelers, divers and fishers may well choose to visit the art, instead of the coral. The sight is just as stunning and the fish are the same, only the foundation is less fragile. With fewer visitors than before, the actual coral reef is given a chance to repair and heal.

All in all, Jason de Caires Taylor's vision has grown from a magical concept into a wonderful, life-saving, stunning reality. To see more, please visit his site.

June 11, 2010

Mexico City - The City of the Gods.

It was 1519 and the Spanish Conquistadors had been hearing about the fabled Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlán all the way from Veracruz. Their leader, Hernán Cortés, was determinded to find it. As they marched across the country, moving ever closer towards it, the descriptions became more fantastic, more lavish. The Spanish covered hundreds of miles, through difficult, ever-changing terrain, lured on by the knowledge that this was the big one. If Tenochtitlán had just a fraction of the grandeur promised by reports, then it would be the jewel of their new empire. It would make them rich men. It would make Spain the envy of the world.


Then there it was, in the valley below. The largest, most glorious city in the Aztec Empire. It was home to 100,000 people, including their ultimate ruler, Emperor Moctezuma II. Tenochtitlán glittered, in ornate splendor, upon a massive island in the midst of an even larger lake. It connected to the mainland by three causeways. It held the Emperor's palace and several huge temples - with the main temple, bigger and more richly endowed than any seen before. Fertile gardens and canals intersected the city at strategic points. Tenochtitlán surpassed all stories told about it on the journey there. It was the greatest display of wealth, ingenuity and beauty in all the Aztec lands. It was more splendid than any European city of the time; smaller only than Constantinople. Hernán Cortés wanted it.

It would take the Spanish two years to take Tenochtitlán, despite forces swelled by the enemies of the Aztec, the Tlaxcalans. Aztec legend had told of the return of the god Quetzalcoátl. It was reported to Spain that, initially, Emperor Moctezuma II had assumed that Cortés was this deity and so had invited him into the city. They were lauded in luxury, feasting on food fit for kings. Moctezuma dressed him with flowers from his own garden, a great honour, though Cortés didn't understand the significance of the gesture. Cortés, along with his 3000 Spanish and Tlaxcalan entourage, were installed in the palace of Moctezuma's own father.

It didn't take long for Cortés to start making demands. At first these were humoured. Gigantic icons of Aztec gods were removed from the central temple; shrines to the Virgin Mary and St Christopher were set up in their place; a seemingly endless supply of gold was produced and handed over as gifts (or tribune, depending on who is telling the story). Cortés responded by seizing Moctezuma in his palace and holding him hostage.

Over the next two years, war raged throughout the city. Cortés left at one point to intercept a Spanish force coming to find and execute him for disobeying orders; but he successfully defeated them and persuaded the survivors to join his own cause. At times, the Aztec repelled the Spanish from Tenochtitlán. Moctezuma died in chains under Cortés's care. The fighting went on, sometimes house to house, street by street. It was never a foregone conclusion that the Spanish would win. On the night of 1 July 1520 alone, 600 Spanish and several thousand Tlaxcalans were killed, while trying to flee the city in the face of a massive Aztec force.

The war continued on the mainland, in pitched battles throughout the surrounding countryside. Without the Tlaxcalans swelling their ranks in their thousands, the Spanish would never have taken Tenochtitlán. When they did, it was as the result of a long, drawn out seige. For eight months, Tenochtitlán was surrounded. Its inhabitants could not cross the lake for supplies. Inside the city, food was rationed, then became scarce. They were bombarded with cannon fire. European diseases, like smallpox, ripped through the population, which had not been exposed to it before (a third of the population of the whole valley died in six months from smallpox). Until, 13 August 1521, the last Aztec Emperor, Cuauhtémoc, surrendered the city.

Cortés moved in immediately. He asked for gold, food and women with fair skin; then he expelled the rest of the Aztecs from the city. Cuauhtémoc was tortured and executed. The population were banned from ever returning to it nor even the surrounding countryside. Then Cortés set about rebuilding Tenochtitlán. It was to be even more ornate and glorious. Spanish buildings and icons to replace the Aztec. It was designed to inspire awe in all that saw it and to impress upon all visitors that the Spanish were the rulers here. Tenochtitlán rose again quickly with splendor on top of splendor. Bigger and better places of worship - Catholic churches and cathedrals now, instead of Aztec temples; more magnificent palaces; grand avenues; beautiful plazas.

Mexico City

There was only one technicality. The Spanish had always had trouble pronouncing Tenochtitlán, with its Aztec consonants strange to their tongue. They asked around and discovered a nickname for the city - the place where the God, Mēxihtli, lives, or, in the Aztec tongue, Mexico. This name they could say more easily and so the city was renamed - Mexico City. Eventually, as the importance of the city spread, it would lend its name to the whole country. Mexico, named after the city, not the other way around.

In the intervening centuries, Mexico City has continued to grow. It's no longer in the center of a lake, as expansion saw that drained and built over. It's been the scene of many of the most momentous events in Mexican history, becoming the nation's capital in 1824. Today, it is home to nearly 9 million people and covers an area stretching 1,485 square kilometres (573 square miles). It is still one of the largest cities in the world, beaten only by Tokyo, Delhi, São Paulo and Mumbai. Successive rulers have continued to pour the lion's share of their country's wealth into this single city. It is the showpiece and the jewel of Mexico.

As a result, it has been nicknamed, 'The City of Palaces', in response to some of its residences. Many of its public buildings or artwork boast the title, 'the biggest in the world'. It hosted the 1968 Olympic Games, with a grand stadium still in evidence. Thousands of tourists and business people visit the city every year. Its vibrancy, creativity and productivity remaining unparalleled throughout Mexico.

Cortés got his wish. The city that he took from the Aztecs is world-reknowned and glorious, though his name is rarely mentioned in the same breath. Yet the Aztecs live on too. Their canals remain and it is a pleasant trip, for locals and tourists alike, to sail along them in a punt. People still marvel at the grand Spanish buildings, but, as archaelogists uncover and restore it, the people admire the Aztec architecture too. Meanwhile the expansion of Mexico City goes on - several skyscrapers are due to be built in the next few years - and the city goes from strength to strength.

June 10, 2010

Drug Wars - Cancún is Safe for Tourists.

It was Monday morning and the blogosphere was buzzing. Bodies had been found near Cancún! Everyone should run away! Stay at home! Batten down the hatches! Hide under the bed! From the unsettling details of the original news sources, each blogger seemed to build upon the last person's blog, until a wave of hysteria had piled on heaps of fiction as fact. A casual reader would be forgiven for thinking that Cancún tourists were being collected up en masse, taken out to deserted places, then tortured slowly to death.

Er. No.

Let's try and gain some perspective here. Yes, there are drug wars in Mexico. However, Mexico is a very big place and it is important to note where these drugs wars are occurring. They are on the main route between Colombia and the USA. Colombia, where 90% of the world's cocaine is produced; and the USA, which is the main market for the finished product. For this, Mexico is best described as a thoroughfare, a highway, the delivery route. Other types of drugs might be home-grown/produced, but they are mostly all heading in the same direction - up into America. It is in the American border states where trouble flares. The American Government's current travel warning names three of them: Chihuahua, Coahuila and Durango. Cancún is in Quintana Roo.

Mexican states

Because maps don't really give you the scale of distance, let me clarify. Cancún is 2145 kilometers (1333 miles) away from Chihuahua.

Cancún is miles away from the flashpoints of violence.

You might point to the port in Cancún, then move upwards to highlight its marine proximity to the American state of Florida. This is very true, but also extremely problematic. If you read the previous blogs on the pirates of the Caribbean, you will have noted that they died out because the Caribbean Sea became too well policed for piracy to continue. This is still the case. There is a naval base on Isla Mujeres for a start. Plus Cancún relies upon tourism for its economy. Tourists only come if they feel safe. Therefore Cancún is one of the most heavily patrolled cities in Mexico. No city is totally without crime, but the crime rate in Cancún is very low. If you were a drug baron, would you prefer to move unmolested through the jungles and outbacks of central Mexico or run the gauntlet of police, armed forces and customs officers in Cancún?

Cancún is extremely well policed; its economy relies upon keeping tourists safe.

Of course, the sceptics will still be pointing towards those bodies in a cave, which most definitely did occur in Cancún. Yes, it did. The bodies have not yet been identified, but they are unlikely to be tourists. The big clue is in the fact that no tourists have been reported missing. Without an official word on the subject, any attempt to identity them or their murderer(s) is pure speculation. However, it is known that the victims were all Mexicans, which makes it unlikely that they were tourists. Even the lurid details are mostly exaggerated rumour, based on early reports getting it slightly wrong. The victims did not have their hearts cut out. They were stabbed repeatedly in the heart, hence their demise.

Now let us enter the world of speculation: The precedent of previous similiar situations (generally hundreds of miles away) leads us to assume that the six victims were members of a drug cartel themselves. That is how it tends to work. Gang-warfare. Horrific and stomach-turning, but it's gang against gang. It's point scoring. It's a power struggle. It's one cartel saying to another cartel, this is my territory and my livelihood, so go away. Now why on Earth would that point be made by targeting random tourists, rather than, say, one cartel's best delivery men and women? If anything, that's like killing off potential customers!

Cancún is completely safe, unless you're a member of a drug cartel. In which case, you already know the risks.

So why is the American government warning people to stay away from Cancún? Why is the media full of dark portents and dire speculation for the future? And why is there a wave of shrieking bloggers flailing in panicked print and telling us to flee?

American FlagTo address the first point, Americans aren't being officially warned against Cancún.

Please read the advice for yourselves: US Department of State Travel Warning: Mexico. Here are the relevant bits for the subject of this blog:

Some recent confrontations between Mexican authorities and drug cartel members have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades. Large firefights have taken place in towns and cities across Mexico, but occur mostly in northern Mexico, including Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana, Chihuahua City, Nogales, Matamoros, Reynosa and Monterrey. During some of these incidents, U.S. citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area. The U.S. Mission in Mexico currently restricts its U.S. government employees’ travel within the state of Durango, the northwest quadrant of the state of Chihuahua and an area southeast of Ciudad Juarez, and all parts of the state of Coahuila south of Mexican Highways 25 and 22 and the Alamos River. This restriction was implemented in light of a recent increase in assaults, murders, and kidnappings in those three states....

... U.S. citizen visitors are encouraged to stay in the well-known tourist areas.

In other words, the warning isn't for the whole country. It's for the border areas, right up in the north of the country. You are far closer to it in California, Arizona, New Mexico or Texas, then you are in Cancún. But if you are travelling, then keep to tourist areas. The message here is clear: the tourist areas are safer.

The first thing that any government does, when trouble strikes, is to remove their personnel from the area. The US Consul is still fully staffed in Plaza Caracol, Cancún. (Surely that is the best posting in the world? Imagine the scene: you've just been made a US ambassador and you're waiting to find out there. Will be it a warzone? Will it be somewhere cold or dull? No, it's Cancún. Hurrah!)

The papers are full of nay-sayers, because that sells newspapers. Have a read of Greenslade's Blog, The Good News About Bad News - It Sells for more about that. Though the crux of it lies here:

... peoples' interest in news is much more intense when there is a perceived threat to their way of life... Fear and poverty stimulate greater interest in news... Note how fear in developed countries, created in recent times by terrorism, also sells many thousands more newspapers.

In short, a headline screaming, 'Lots of Fun, Partying and Alcohol Happened in Cancún', is hardly going to be read, let alone reproduced across the blogosphere; unlike 'People Tortured to Death and Dumped in Cancún'.

As for blogs, many are reactive. This blog is reactive. It's been written as a reaction to the list of other blogs out there telling me that Cancún is now a hotbed of dangerous gang-warfare, with people dragged off the streets and horrificially murdered. *looks out of the window* Really? Because right now it's looking as chilled out as ever. Beautiful people lounging on white sands in front of a turquoise sea. Flip-flops clop-clopping as people drift along the boulevard without a care in the world. Sun rising in a cloudless sky. But what do we know? We only live here.

Cancun beach

Though you could have a look through the testimonials of other people who live and work here: Cancun is Safe! That's a website founded by a native Cancunese called Camilo, who became so tired of the smear stories about our amazing city, that he fought back with reality. Please avoid his website if you only like to read bad news.

June 9, 2010

Travel in Cancún - Taxi!

Cancun taxi

One of the quickest, easiest, simpliest and safest ways to travel around the Hotel Zone is via taxi. The drivers know all of the main attractions around Cancún and so you may even get an impromptu commentary on the journey. You will certainly have a captive local, who is usually happy to share tips and stories.

There are universally agreed taxi fares in Cancún. Many of the hotels display them, on a board outside their doors. It is worth reading these boards and having a mental check-list of what you should be paying. Some taxi drivers aren't above overcharging, if (s)he thinks that you don't know the going rate. Ask the taxi driver the price of the fare before you get in and, though not mandatory, remember to tip him/her afterwards, if you received a good service. If you're travelling within Cancún, then a reasonable tip is 10-20 pesos ($1 USD). If you're travelling to or from the airport or one of the attractions within the city, then tip a little more. Obviously the amount you choose will depend upon the quality of the service. Don't feel beholden to tip, if you feel that the service was bad.

Incidentally, a taxi driver usually won't give you any change, so try to pay the exact amount. They do actually carry change though, so if you wish to receive some, please do press the point.

Cancun taxi signTaxis may line up at ranks, which are usually signposted with a frontal view of a taxi, in white, against a blue background. Alternatively, they can be flagged down with an upraised arm in the street.

Note that the taxi might not be exclusively your own. If there is room and another person flagging down the vehicle, then the driver will pull over and take them too. For the same reason, don't be surprised if you climb into a taxi to find someone else already sitting there; and don't feel that you can't signal for a taxi, if it is already carrying a fare. This might extend your journey slightly, if the other passenger is dropped off first. If you can't live with this, then you would be better off booking private ground transportation (see links at the bottom).

It is possible to hire a taxi for the day or part of it. For example, if you wished to travel to Chichén Itzá and stay there for 3 hours, then return to Cancún, then this could be worked out with the taxi driver. (S)he will wait at the site, so you are hiring the taxi for the entire duration. This can sometimes be cheaper and less hassle than renting a hire car; but allows you the freedom to devise your own schedule. Naturally, if you intend to do this, then you must negotiate with the taxi driver before you set off, so that there are no misunderstandings regarding costs and time. For long journeys, it is permissable to haggle the price. For short journeys, don't.

If you do not speak Spanish, then write down the address of your destination and show this to the driver. That avoids you being taken to somewhere else, because the driver misinterpreted your attempts at Spanish pronunication. However, many drivers speak perfect English and all of them will be used to driving tourists around.

Private Shuttle/Ground Transportation

Cancun shuttle

The advantage of a private shuttle is that there will only be your party on it. There will be no stops between airport and hotel, unless you request one, and so the whole journey will be quick and efficient. It can save around an hour of time because of this. Most private shuttles are also air-conditioned, which is a bonus in the Cancún heat.

There will be some shuttles available for hire at the airport, but it's always a good idea to book one in advance. Many of those offering it at the airport will be timeshare representatives in disguise. You do not need to pay when you make the reservation, as that will be sorted out when the transfer takes place. However, do ask how you will recognise your driver. Most will stand at the airport entrance with your name on a card, but it is better to check in advance.

Shuttles cost between $60-$65 for a private passenger van carrying 4-7 people. This is for a roundtrip, so you will have the same van taking you back again at the end of your holiday. Some companies will ask for a portion of that during the first journey, then the remainder after you've been dropped off on the return leg. Some companies will want the entire fare paid up front. It is best to ask which is expected as you book.

Most drivers are happy to stop off en route, for example at a liquor store, if you ask them to. There will be no extra charge for this.
However, it is polite to tip your driver, particularly if they've helped with your luggage, been helpful with local information or detoured to a store for you. 20-40 pesos ($1-2 USD) is the standard rate.

Endless Tours Ground Transportation

June 8, 2010

Travel in Cancún - Fun on the Bus

The cheapest and most convenient way of travelling throughout the Hotel Zone is by taking a bus. It can also be a lot of fun. Cancún public buses are known for impromptu sing-songs, especially if someone brings a guitar along. They are also the quickest means of travel for musicians and DJs, on their way to entertain the crowds, and many seem to start early. Film sharing sites, like You Tube, are filled with shaky tourist footage of vibrant Cancún bus journeys. Happy, smiley faces abound; voices raised in song; guitars and makeshift instruments leading the way; all on a public bus.

Here's just one example, taken at night, presumably en route to or from one of the nightclubs:

The buses on the ocean side of the boulevard are heading towards downtown; those on the lagoon side are heading towards the airport. Both of them will make regular stops along the way. The rate is $6 pesos (60 US cents).

The Hoteles R1 buses go in a huge circle through the hotel zone, along Avenue Tulum and back to the bus station (crucedo). Therefore, buses run up and down Boulevard Kukalcan every few minutes. The R2 and R15 buses will go downtown, including a stop near to the local Wal-Mart.

They can only stop at the designated bus stops (parada). These are signposted along the boulevard as a blue square with a white picture of a bus on it. However, they won't necessarily stop unless you ask them to. If waiting at the stop, then stick out your hand. If sitting on the bus, then call out 'stop' or pull on the cord. Again, they can only stop at the designated bus stops.

During the day, these buses can be very crowded, so you may have to stand up. During the night, when most passengers are intoxicated and in high spirits, they can seem like a mobile party.

Major Routes

R1 - Take this route to go downtown, or to Puerto Juarez, Wal-Mart, Plaza 2000, Mercado 23 and the Cancún bus station.

R2 - Goes to Wal-Mart & Mercado 28.

Minor Routes

R15 - Goes to Wal-Mart & Mercado 28.

R27 - Goes along Tulum Ave to Plaza Las Americas where you catch the collectivo to Playa del Carmen and Tulum.

There is an interactive map of the bus stops along the Hotel Zone here.

For those wishing to go further afield, then you will need to go to the bus station (crucedo) and purchase tickets. These will reserve your seat. There's no real difference between first and second class buses other than the fact that the former will reserve seats. There are also luxury buses available to go to places like Merida or even Mexico City. The longest single journey you can make on a bus is to Mexico City and takes 26 hours.

Ticket Bus has a list of all of the prices for long-distance trips via bus.

June 7, 2010

Travel in Cancún - Walking

The pace of Cancún is slow. Anyone attempting to rush around, particularly during siesta (2pm - 5pm), might as well have a neon light over their head flashing out the legend, 'tourist'. So when walking, booking a taxi or tour and using public transport, please bear in mind that it might take longer than anticipated. Just set your internal clock to 'vacation' and it won't be a suprise or a hassle.

The Hotel Zone is basically one long, long street, so it's incredibly difficult to get lost there. This street, Avenida Kukulcan (Boulevard Kukulcan), is divided into equal sections every kilometer (around half a mile) with signposts telling you where you are. Just look to the center of the boulevard. kilometer marker Between the two streams of traffic are the stone km signs. On a blue background, with white writing, they will tell you which km you are entering. There are 25 km zones in all, starting from one in the north and ending at 25 in the south. As you know which km your hotel is in, then it's basically a straight line along the boulevard back to it, using the markers to show you whether you're heading towards or away from it.

This blog entry kicks off a trilogy explaining the various ways of getting out and about around Cancún. We'll start with the most obvious one: walking!

Walking through the Hotel Zone is very easy. There are sidewalks lining each side of the boulevard. It is therefore a great way to explore, wandering from shop to shop, via the beach, or into an attraction, pausing for lunch or stopping to admire the view over the lagoon. This is invariably done at a very slow pace; vacation speed aside, it's difficult to jog in that heat.

Most people will be wearing flip-flops or sandals. In fact, for many tourists, this is the only footwear they will bring to Cancún. If you are planning to go into some of the more select restaurants or a night-club with a dress code, then you will need to change into appropriate footwear. Flip-flops may see you refused entry. The vast majority of establishments though will welcome you in casual dress, even in beachwear. If you are venturing further, particularly into the jungle or to one of the Mayan ruins, then tennis shoes/sneakers are much better. The combination of mosquito bites, potential sunburn and extensive walking there will make you glad that you covered up your feet.

Two warnings when walking in Cancún:

* Break in your footwear first. It's very tempting to splash out on some brand new flip-flops for your Cancún holiday, then spend the first day with them rubbing holes into your feet. Getting band-aids to stick under flip-flop thongs, especially when you are sweating in the heat, is very difficult.

* Watch out for the sun. It is very hot in Cancún and people can get sunburn even in the shade. Those who never have to use sunscreen often have to lather themselves in it, while in Cancún. One of the most common areas to be burnt is on the soles of the feet, because tourists cover every inch of the rest of their body, then sunbathe on their front. Their forgotten, exposed soles are pointing towards the intense sun and next thing you know they can't walk for a week. Rule of thumb: If your feet are uncovered under the sun, then use sunscreen on them.

If you have arrived without appropriate footwear, then never fear. There are no end of stores selling everything from cheap flip-flops through to expensive designer dancing shoes. It's not recommended that you go bare-foot on the sidewalk. You'd end up burning yourself on the slabs.

June 4, 2010

Surviving a Hurricane in Mexico

hurricane Yesterday we talked about the hurricane season and what that can mean for Mexico. Though it's rare for a hurricane to have landfall in Mexico (only 4 times in Cancún for example), it can happen. We are in 'The Season' now, but the most active months are August, September and October. The first tip to surviving a hurricane is to be aware that you're in 'The Season' and that you now know.

There have been 4 major hurricanes in Cancún during the past 42 years. So for 15,336 days in that time, there was no hurricane. For four days, there was. That gives you odds of approximately 4000 to 1 of encountering a hurricane on your vacation. And that's historically only in September and October. The odds fall during June, July, August and November. They dwindle to nothing for the rest of the year. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this blog, let's assume that you were extremely unlucky and there is one on the way, while you are there.

If you do nothing else, nor remember nothing else, then the single most important tip is this: follow the lead of the locals. These are people who have seen it all before. They may well have lived through Wilma at least. Most of the hotels have been built to withstand hurricanes. The staff have been trained in emergency procedures, designed to protect themselves and their guests during a hurricane. The federal, state and municipal authorities all have policies in place to cover all eventualities. There are even state-funded hurricane refuges in Cancún. In short, all of the people there know what they are doing and most of them have plans that include ensuring your safety too. It's in your interest to do what you're told.

However, you could be prepared too. If you are heading to Cancún during The Season, then you could do these things:

1, Register with your country's embassy/consulate. Let them know that you're here!

2, Make enquiries with officialdom. Will your airline help if you're stranded or are required to be evacuated home early? Will your hotel refund pre-paid rooms, if the official order comes to evacuate? Does your travel insurance cover hurricanes? Is there advice from your tour operator about procedures during/after a hurricane? Will your tour operator look after you in the event of an evacuation?

Evacuation from Cancun

3, Prepare a grab bag. The idea of this is that the hurricane warning comes and you are given notice to evacuate. You dash into your hotel room, grab it and run to safety. In reality, this bag is probably to survive an overnight stay in a refuge or snuggled in a reinforced inner hotel room. However, pack like you're in dodgier surroundings for longer.

Items you might wish to include are:

* Water - at least one gallon daily per person for 3-7 days
* Water purification tablets
* Food - non-perishable food and snacks for 3-7 days. Tinned food is good, but remember the tin opener (non-electric is best, in case the batteries run out). Also think about plates and cutlery, plus, if you need to cook it, a camping stove with fuel.
* Drugs/medication - Anything that you need to generally stay alive, hurricane or not
* First Aid Kit
* Clothing - it's probably best to think sturdy shoes, as you may be walking over rubble as you leave
* Blankets and pillows
* Torch/Torch candle - let there be light! But if your torch needs batteries, don't forget a spare set, or else remember the matches/lighter for the torch candle
* Bin-bags/garbage bags - you would be amazed at how versatile and useful these waterproof sacks are. They can hold all of your stuff; they can be makeshift raincoats; they can cover you while you get changed; they can be makeshift sleeping bags (if you're small or curl up really tightly); they can be tacked up for partitions/privacy or used as emergency toilets; they could even be made into very flimsy, noisy tents; use your imagination! Oh! And they're good for holding the trash as well
* Toiletries/hygiene wipes/moisture wipes - you can't be guaranteed access to a five star restroom, while you're hiding out from the storm. Baby wipes can be used for a wash; you might want to include something like DentaBurst or Oral B Brush Ups to clean your teeth
* Radio - it is better to buy a wind up radio, which doesn't need batteries. It's also best to get one with a weather band; though, to be fair, if you're using it whilst hiding from a hurricane, you could probably guess the weather report yourself. However, it will keep you informed on what's going on in the real world and where you need to go next. For example, after Wilma, the US Embassy put out special information for their nationals, which was to head for Mérida and fly to the States from there
* Important documents - passport, travel documents, driving license etc. Put these into a waterproof, resealable bag or container. You really don't want to get these wet
* Telephones - fully charged with a spare battery. Ensure that it works internationally, particularly inside Mexico. Also a list of telephone numbers on paper. If your telephone does die on you, you still have your contact numbers
* Cash/Credit Cards - in a category 5 hurricane, you might emerge to discover that there's no ATM out there anymore, and those that structurally remain might not work due to the lack of electricity. This is emergency money in case there is none accessible, once you leave the shelter
* Keys - To get back into your hotel room/house/car/business etc
* Special items - you know your party better than me. Do you need diapers/nappies for the baby? Will someone panic without their lucky stone? Does granny only find religion at times like this and therefore needs her rosary beads?
* Books/toys/games - It might be exciting at the refuge at first, but after an hour or two, you'll be looking for entertainment
* Pet care items - It's unlikely that you will have your pet with you on vacation, but if you have, remember to pack for him/her too

4, Create a plan for you and your party/family. Research the hazards and take the worse case scenario. What if all 'phone lines are down, but you and individuals in your party/family have become separated? Where should you meet back up? When should you meet back up? If you have been given the order to evacuate, then what should each person grab on the way out? (V gets the children; W gets the blankets; Y gets the grab bag; X gets the passports and travel documents; Z gets the rum - all important things covered and off you go.)

5, Work out where to go. Cancun shelter If you are going to rely upon the offical evacuation procedures, then check in advance where you should congregate when the warning goes up. This might not be your own hotel. All Cancún hotels are built to withstand hurricanes, but not necessarily a category 5. Find out, in advance, where you should be heading instead by asking in your hotel lobby or with your tour operator. In 2008, the hotel's assigned shelters were listed here.

If you would prefer to make your own evacuation plans, then make reservations in advance and don't delay. The second you feel you should evacuate, then go. Any delay will just put you in a traffic jam full of the other thousands of people evacuating. Please note that all Cancún official plans include ensuring the safety of the tourists. These plans haven't failed in the past, so they are to be trusted.

6, Monitor the weather. You could invest in a radio with a weather band, which can carry this to the beach or everywhere else. Check it regularly, even when glorious sunshine is beaming down upon you. Then you'll know if a hurricane is coming. Alternatively, you could check the hurricane watch websites.

National Hurricane Center
Caribbean Hurricane Network

5, Stop worrying about hurricanes and enjoy your holiday. You're as prepared as you're going to be. There's only a 1 in 4000 chance of a hurricane occurring and, if it does, you will most likely see it out safe and sound.

If a hurricane did hit Cancún, then you would probably be asked to remain in your hotel for a category 1-3. By the next day, you'd definitely be chilling out on vacation again, with a great story to tell back home. The above preparation is really for categories 4-5, another Wilma. In that case, just follow the instructions given by your hotel.

For more local links and advice, please check out the TripAdvisor page: Cancún: Traveling During Hurricane Season. For more real life stories about Cancún hurricanes, try Hurricane Cancún, the home of a collective of bloggers telling their experiences as they occurred.
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