Travel is inherently selfish…

Thursday, February 26th, 2009
…no matter what type of spin you put on it.

I stumbled upon the the travel blog, Travelvice, and the author humourously points out in a post that a lot of young, white travelers seek not only to travel, but to do so in a strange or alternative way so as to impress their friends. The practice has even been lampooned in Stuff White People Like #120, Taking a Year Off, he points out. I can’t help but feel a perfect example for both of these claims. It’s true, not too many people, young especially, travel by boat;  the high price of owning and maintaining a boat usually limits the activity to someone older or retired. Unless, of course, you’re like me and you’re freeloading on someone else’s boat.

I get a kick out of telling people what I’ve done and what I’m going to do, and while vanity may be my reason for telling other people, it’s certainly not the reason I’m actually doing it. I’ve been sailing for 8 years now and since I spent the night on the Balclutha in San Francisco in the 4th grade, I’ve always wanted to go on a sailing voyage. The nature and history surrounding seafaring have always been lures for me. Most of the best cities are situated on the water. Another attraction is the price. Different skippers have different requirements, but usually, sailing as a crew member means that lodging and transportation are free, leaving food as the only expense. Some people think that you get paid to crew, and in most cases that’s not true. It’s simple supply-and-demand; there are plenty of qualified sailors who are willing to lend a hand in exchange for a free trip.

Craig Heimburger, the author, is interviewed by RooshV (Part I, Part II). One question is how he keeps his budget so low. Most surprisingly, he reccommends drinking tap water. It’s true I spend a lot of money on bottled water and drinking the tap would save me quite a bit of money, but everything I’ve ever been taught was don’t drink the tap water; and I’ve had turista a few times—it’s not pleasant. If it’s just a matter of acculmation, maybe it’s worthwhile to sack-up and drink the tap. Whatever doesn’t kill me will make me stronger, right?

Not Miami but Boca Raton

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Disc golfing at Tradewinds ParkBoca Raton. The Rat’s Mouth. It sounds better in Spanish. I think the name is supposed to describe the shape of the bay. Boca is a 1 hour, 4 minute train ride from the Miami airport. Adam picked me up from the station and drove us back to his apartment. I lived with Adam for two years in college, before I moved to San Francisco. He’s been living in Florida for a little under 2 years. He works for a capital management company and he’s studying for his second CFA exam. He’s doing well for himself. After work he helps coach junior high basketball. He didn’t know anybody when he moved out here, which is always a difficult move to make. But he’s pretty well settled now and even kindling a new relationship with a girl who also works at the junior high where he coaches.

It’s weird being back in the States. Miami would have been a good buffer zone from which to transition myself back into the American lifestyle. In fact, some people say that Miami isn’t even the US. Here in the suburbs I find an eerie silence and an agoraphobia-inducing surplus of space. Vast, mostly empty parking lots. Wide streets. Stretches of well groomed grass. The passing cars carry only one person and I can barely hear or smell them go by. Everything is stretched out. There are many stores on the main streets, all of which are trying to sell me cheap wares I never realized I didn’t need until I’ve lived without them. Everyone seems to be on a schedule and going along with the master plan. Maybe they’re just not on vacation.

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Mexico City

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

Mexico City, ZocoloFor my last night in Playa, I went out to dinner with Guillermina, Sebastian and Sebastian’s girlfriend, Lourdes, who just arrived. Lourdes lives in San Francisco but she’s from Guadalajara. After dinner we bought some rum and coke and drank cuba libres in their hotel room. Later, the security guard knocked on the door saying they couldn’t have guests for longer than 15 minutes so we went to our hostel to drink and later to a bar.

After going to bed at 3am, I woke up at 7am for my 10:40 flight to DF. I had to pack and the bus to the airport was to leave at 7:50. I barely made the bus. I slept the whole way on the flight, waking up with sleep paralysis periodically and lucidly dreaming that all sorts of weird things were happening on the plane that actually weren’t.

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I Have a Plan

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Dos Ojos CenoteEver since Canice left last Friday I’ve still been hanging out in Playa with a couple of people that I’ve met here at Hostel Casa Santiago. There was one Aussie in my room, about the same age as me, who was living in San Francisco for 4 months until he got (surprise) laid off. I’ve also been hanging out with an Argentinian girl, Guillemina. She’s helping me out with my Spanish. I’ve never heard Argentine Spanish before, they pronounce their Ys like SH.

Since they’re both new to Playa, they’ve been pulling me out of bed in the morning to sieze the day. We’ve gone to Xpu-ha beach, Akumal beach, Dos Ojos Cenote, and Grand Cenote. The cenotes are basically underground lakes and rivers. The Yucatan Penninsula consists of limestone and there are no above ground bodies of water. I just snorkeled in the water, but I watched some scuba divers who were able to go deeper and farther into the cavern where there are no pockets of air. I regret not going to a cenote with Ali; I know he would have loved it. They surpassed my expectations.

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Illegal Ticket to the US: $3000

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

I had the most interesting conversation last night with a guy who said he works on a human trafficking cartel, getting people across the border from Mexico to the United States. The entry costs $3000 and is payable on successful transport accross the border. The penalty for welshing on the deal is death, he explained rather simply.

I asked him how, because I know there are tunnels and boats, but he said trucks. I asked him if it was mostly men and he said no, a lot of women go to. Then I asked if it was for prostitution and he said it depends. Cubans, Colombians and Venezuelans, he said, usually go into prostitution. I tried asking him what work these illegal immigrants did once they arrived and I didn’t really get an clear answer. I think it’s because that’s where his job ends. Once they’re in and they’ve paid their $3000, he’s got nothing to do with them. There’s plenty of ways to make money under the table: construction, farm labor, gardening, domestic servitude, selling drugs, prostitution. A job is the easy part, getting in—that’s the hard part.

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Roughin’ It in Playa

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

Sean and Canice in Playa del CarmenMahahual was the same as I remembered it. I introduced Ali to Gary and Larry and showed him my home for the past two months. Since I left, the port captain prohibited Gary from taking Crystal Blue Persuasion out for business until he gets all his paperwork in order. We lounged on the beach a couple of days and did some snorkeling. We had a little foosball competition. I was down by two games after the first day. The second day, the table was freshly lubricated and I won 6 games in a row. The last game I was down 9 to 1, when Ali, confident he would win, said “I think I’m going to win this one.” Not so. I came back from the eight-point deficit and beat him again. After that, I think he decided to retire from foosball.

After Mahahual we drove to Tulum, the site of coastal Mayan ruins halfway to Cancun. We stayed in a hut on the beach at Papaya Playa. Tulum is the best beach I’ve encountered on my trip. The sand was very fine and white and the water calm and turquoise without any obstructions. Our second day we ran into our French friends, Sylvie and Clarisse. They just arrived from a 20+ hour bus ride from San Cristobal de las Casas. It was also the day that my old coworker, Canice arrived. He’s doing a good job of Twittering his trip and wrote upon our meeting: “I have made contact with the conaty. He is thinned, tanned and mustached. I am the exact opposite. Should be interesting.” The five of us plus another French guy the girls befriended at the hostel, Antoine, went to the beach outside our hut. We tossed the Frisbee around and played some volleyball, France versus the United States, except Canice played for France and Clarisse was on our team. Sad to say the US team lost the two games, the second one after lots of tequila and beer.

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Yucatan Road Trip

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Ali and Sean at UxmalI left Mahahual Sunday at noon. I asked people around town and they said that there was a bus leaving at 10:30, which would give me enough time to make it to the airport and meet Ali when he was scheduled to arrive at 3:30. It happened that the 10:30 bus was going to Chetumal; I would have to wait till 12:30 to catch the bus to Cancun, making me late for Ali. On the bus, the driver told me I should transfer in Playa del Carmen because it was either cheaper or faster, I couldn’t understand. I heeded his advice and transfered in Playa del Carmen. I ended up having to wait for an hour and 15 minutes in Playa del Carmen. I called Ali, who had been waiting at the airport, and he decided to go the the hostel and wait for me there.

I finally arrived at the airport by 7 and went to the National rent-a-car. I mistakenly signed up for an extra driver and total coverage of insurance, thinking it wasn’t costly per day, especially divided by two people. When I made the reservations, the price was listed as $10 a day. The car for two weeks, with total coverage, after I upsold myself, came to about $850. I wasn’t really thinking of the total price, just the daily price, which still didn’t seem that much. I checked the car for blemishes with the attendent, where he proceeded to demonstrate that there was a spare tire. I don’t even know if I saw it though. I drove through the hotel zone looking for the International Club, which is the hostel where Ali booked our beds. I stopped in front of a gigantic hotel on the beach by the name of International Club and had my doubts that this was the place that Ali had booked. I called him up and, after some questions and answers, I discovered that he was in Downtown Cancun, on a small street, which I identified on the map. Actually getting there proved to be more difficult. I drove in circles for about an hour and stopped to ask directions twice. I’m still not used to the road sinage in Mexcio. Eventually I found it, parked, went inside and greeted my friend.

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Cancun Spare Tire Scam

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

I got scammed by the National Car Rental at the Cancun Airport. Here’s a reply to a thread I posted on TripAdvisor:

This happened to us too. It’s a total scam.

I got a car from National in Cancun for two days. January 11th and January 12th, 2009. I was going to have it longer but decided I would save the money and just bus it.

When I returned the car, surprise, surprise, no spare tire! Although the jack was still there, and there was no forced entry. Who steals a spare tire out of a trunk? And magically without making a mark. And leaves the stereo and everything else.

Everything became clear. When I picked up the car, the attendant pointed out that there was a spare tire and jack, he even showed me, which I thought was a little odd. I didn’t get a good look at it because I wasn’t planning on getting scammed. I can’t even say for certain if it was in there to begin with.

I started to raise my voice and tried to reason with them. I said how could this have happened without there being a mark? Someone must have had a key. Does this happen a lot of Cancun? Are there spare tire thieves preying on rental cars at National? I plumb accused them of robbing me. I said I wasn’t paying and I wasn’t going to sign the receipt. Later I realized that I already signed two credit card receipts when I picked it up. I’m going to try and cancel it with my credit card company. They charged me 2700 pesos, that’s nearly $200 for a spare tire. I mistakenly bought the full coverage insurance and thought if I crashed the car, I wouldn’t have to pay anything.

Their reactions sealed their guilt. They were not moved by my reasoning or anger. If it had been stolen, you would think they would have been sympathetic or surprised. They bowed their heads in shame and maintained their well-practiced stone-like posture. Eventually, all they rebutted with was, “you were responsible for the tire.” Not, “Don’t accuse us” or “we didn’t do it” or “this thing happens all the time” or “I’m sorry for your misfortune.” At least they could have faked it. They just kept saying, “you were responsible for the tire.” It’s not there and you have to pay us.

I’m sure they took it out after they showed it to me when I went in to sign the papers. These missing spare tires can’t be a coincidence.

Things Begin

Friday, January 9th, 2009

View of Crystal Blue Persuasion taken from Tequila Beach, Mahahual
The day after my doubtful last post, we took 10 passengers out for a two hour sail. Five were a group of Arkansas teenagers from the cruise ship. The others were from Mexico City. One girl worked on one of the cruise ships and was with her Norwegian boyfriend and her parents. It felt good to finally be putting the boat to work, to have a purpose and to not be so bored. Gary let all the teenagers take a turn at the wheel. We were out for two hours and everyone came back happy. The tour guides at Tequila Beach sold the tickets so they got 30% of the $40 ticket price. There’s not much Gary can do to lower the percentage of their share as that’s the price for using their facilities. The best we can do is find business independently, online, at the hotels, through taxi drivers, wherever.

The next day, Wednesday, turned out to be prosperous as well. Tequila Beach had 25 people lined up for the cheaper, $20 snorkeling trip. Normally they do these on their own, with their pontoon boat, but 25 was more then they could handle at one time, without going twice—which there wasn’t enough time for—so they asked Gary if he could take the party. Five people ended up changing their minds so we took out 20 people on Crystal Blue, with a guide from Tequila Beach, and we used their snorkeling equipment. This party was composed of some Americans and Brazilians. This time Tequila Beach took 50% because of their guide and equipment. It was what Gary expected, so he wasn’t disappointed.

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Mahahual Blues

Monday, January 5th, 2009

bikiniI’ve been in Mahahual for a week and a half and feels like forever. I’m sort of in limbo now, waiting for my friend from San Diego, Ali, to come on the 11th. I haven’t ventured outside of the town because I don’t want to do anything twice. I’m also saving my money because I’m sure I’ll spend a lot when he gets here. We’ll have two weeks, with a car, to explore all of the Costa Maya. I thought about flying to Mexico City and couchsurfing but I haven’t bought a ticket yet. Perhaps I’ll go before Havana. If I buy tickets now, I can get them for $60 one way from Cancun.

On New Years Eve I went to a party on the beach, surrounded by jungle, just north of the lighthouse. It didn’t get going until after midnight. There was no count down, just a bunch of shouts when the clock struck 12. The crowd was mostly the ex-pat locals. There were Canadians, Germans, Italians, Austrians, Mexicans and Mayans. I took a nap beforehand, from 6 to 8, so I could last longer. When I awoke Gary and Larry already turned in for the night. At 1 I called my friends in the States to wish them a happy New Years. I went home at 4.

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