The Myer's Misadventures in Mexico
Disclaimer: This is longer than a usual blog post but is a story I feltl compelled to tell, so thank you for indulging me. I also want to express gratitude for my sister and brother-in-law who have offered us their Tulum condo and without whom none of this would be possible. Nothing in this post is intended to diminish that appreciation. 😉
Most people come to Mexico to relax: enticing images of white sand beaches, blue waters and endless margaritas under palm trees. This is what we thought our three weeks in Mexico would bring us because for the first time all year, we didn’t have any plans. See some ruins, go to the beach and relax. That was the agenda.
Alas, Mexico has another reputation: things are hard here. After all, in Mexico you can’t drink the water or flush your toilet paper in the toilet. Initially, this was okay with us as this is an adventure year and we didn’t want to spend all our time in America-Lite countries. We knew we didn’t speak the language, but I had two semesters in college and had visited a few times before; we were armed with a phrasebook and Google Translate, so we figured we could make it work, especially in Tulum, a major resort area.
However, after our first week here, I regret to realize that perhaps the idea of this adventure and the reality are quite different. After too many times of reluctantly fishing toilet paper out of the toilet with a chopstick, I have a major confession. I think I’m a Poser World Traveler instead of a real one. ☹ This is painful to admit, but I have not exactly handled our first few days well.
The first sign that we weren’t in Kansas anymore was the cellular data SIM card. In New Zealand, it took 10 minutes at the airport to get up two months of NZ data on our current phones. In Mexico: 3 airports, 2 stores, and lots of mistranslations just to locate the SIM cards. Then an hour online and one more store store to get them to work. Finally, a week later, several more hours online (because the Telcel website doesn’t always work) and another trip to the store to get more data to keep going. So much for the bloggers who brag “it’s so easy and cheap to get data in Mexico”.
Minor inconveniences it’s true, but doing it all without transportation or speaking Spanish reminded us that “simple things” aren’t really simple away from home. It was a lot of running around and some confusion but a good lesson for all of us, including Lucas—who maintained more patience than we did at times. (Spoiler alert: This will be an embarrassing trend.)
Acquiring food also proved more difficult than we assumed even with our list of recommended markets. We don’t have a car, didn’t have data, and I guess were a bit intimidated by buses or taxis our first day, so we kept close to home. After the SIM card scavenger hunt, we finally made it to the nearest market, but it was an expensive Euro-organic market with overpriced everything. In our jetlagged stupor we spent $75 US on two bags of grocries that didn’t even make a decent Mexican meal. Hmmm.
Then we got lost walking the half mile home. We didn’t have working data yet and only some of the streets are marked. We ended our first day with the reality of the two goals we had--cell phones working and get food—both needed to be done again the next day. Lucas just wanted the beach, I just wanted a margarita.
With the wonder of Google Translate and the patience of Telcel store workers, we managed to finally get online to better navigate the streets of our new home. We decided that was enough “figuring” for a couple of days, so we postponed deciphering the large supermarket and more errands. Today we would get some transport: bikes to get us around more easily and hopefully even have some fun.
Enroute we did a little souvenir shopping, and I overpaid for some Mexican jewelry (which I’m praying is real silver) because I am terribleat haggling. I honestly hate the famous Mexican bargaining culture: tourists work to get “an amazing deal;” shopkeepers work to wring every peso from their privileged visitors. I get it, but it stresses me out. I just want a fair price without feeling that I am taking advantage or being taken advantage of. It seems to me that this act breeds mistrust, and I hate what that does to me. Can I really trust that this person is being nice, or do they want to sell me something? Is that the real price of the taxi, or is he taking advantage of me? I am normally trusting and believe people are honest and kind, but what is happening to me?
As I walk out of the store calculating the pesos into dollars and grumbling that I think I overpaid and I shouldn’t have done that so impulsively, it hits me that I had just handed over a sizable amount of our limited pesos on hand. No big deal except I had told Dan to leave the ATM card at home so we wouldn’t be carrying too much cash/credit. (See, trust issues.) We were just starting our day and now had limited cash in a cash-based society. Dumb.
For those of you who know me, I don’t shrug things off easily. ☹ This is probably the biggest thing I’m learning and working on during this year. As I near my 50th birthday, I simply cannot spend the next half-century getting worked up and worried about things. But, at this point, I haven’t yet mastered this skill, so I was busy beating myself up for wasting our precious pesos as we made it to the bike shop…where we promptly needed cash to get the best deal. Shoot.
So at the bike shop, we make another quick decision—as we’re trying to translate and negotiate—to rent them an entire week. We can pay at the end. Bueno! We soon head off down the bike path to the beach with my very brave and novice bike-riding husband as he tries to remember the skills he used only three times prior. The path eventually ends at the beach road, and we still have to find food and the beach. Have you ever ridden a bike on Mexican roads? I do not recommend it—especially with two beginners. There are no helmets available and no shoulders on the road. For hours that day, I watched my beloved husband and son wobble their way through cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, pedestrians, and potholes. I really tried not to imagine the worse but I prayed harder than I had in a long time!
Then as soon as I thought we were safely on the bike path, it happened. Some jerk on a ten-speed bike passed us all very quickly and very quietly. I was a bit startled so shouted to Lucas to watch out, but Dan was too far ahead. The biker whizzed by him closely just as he was passing a pole. Dan veered right and crashed right into a pole, flipping over. I pedaled as fast as I could as he lay on the ground, fearing the worst. Thankfully he was alright—only some scraps and bruises. But we were all exhausted by our “leisurely bike ride” and seriously questioning our decision to use bikes as our primary mode of transportation. It was yet another moment of “it seemed like a good idea at the time” and “we didn’t think this through.”
However, by the time we got home and jumped immediately in the pool, we exhaled literal and figurative sighs of relief, and were super proud of ourselves. It was the the adrenaline rush let-down, and we were congratulating ourselves at how well we worked together as a team. We played (even “frolicked”) for the rest of the day and had SO much fun together! Lucas was affectionate and continued to offer us (unprovoked and maybe undeserved?) exclamations that we were the “best parents ever!” Maybe this was bringing us closer together like we hoped. By the time I turned off the lights, I marked it up to a good day.
Leaving the bikes at home, we were ready to conquer to the supermercado. Well, maybe not ready but we were out of food. We thought we’d walk there and taxi back. But the mile and a half trek was longer and hotter than expected, and we should have stopped for lunch on the way. I usually enjoy browsing foreign food markets and discovering what’s available, but it takes time, especially when translating things. By the time we finished, it was 2:00. While Dan and Lucas were checking out, I made a spontaneous dash to check out the hats and swimsuits available. (Chedraui is like a Super Walmart.) This turned out to be a terrible snap decision. But I didn’t know it until an hour later at home.
We had just finished a quick late lunch at home, and I was going to lay down to rest and let my blood sugar recover. That is the moment I realized that I didn’t have my phone. It was gone! I knew in an instant that I had left it somewhere in the store, most likely it had fallen out of my pocket in the dressing room when I tried on those stupid swimsuits in such a hurry. Oh S@#t!!
Did I calmly and rationally handle the situation? Nope. I was overwhelmed and exhausted so went directly into panic mode. As in complete meltdown: “Oh my God, I lost my phone. Oh my God, I lost my phone. What am I going to do? Oh my God I lost my phone in Mexico! What do I do?” It took my husband rationally trying to use “Find My Phone” (unsuccessfully) and my son compassionately hugging me and telling me it would be okay to calm me down enough to get out the door. Another embarrassing moment as I continually apologized both for my stupidity in losing the phone and my complete freak out in front of my son. So much for modeling healthy traveling and dealing with adversity. Sigh.
We rushed down the street, finally flagged down a taxi to get back to the store as I tried to figure out how to translate “I lost my phone. Has it been turned in?” As you can imagine a gringa tourist who loses her phone in a Mexican supermercado does not generate a lot of sympathy or assistance. We made some valiant attempts with two security guards and three customer service workers but nada. We tried with the taxi company out front, thinking maybe I dropped it in there, but when you don’t remember the number of the taxi, there’s not much they can do. (And I know the rule to always write down the taxi number in case you forget something. Dumb.)
We were wandering around outside the main taxi station when Dan suggested I should get a new iPhone to download all of my stuff so we can wipe the other phone. It was a really good idea at the time, but in hindsight it was another rushed decision. Finding an iPhone in the small town of Tulum is not easy. Finally, Lucas remembered that the Telcel store we had been to earlier had one, so we went back to visit our kind non-English speaking ladies there and explained what happened. They had an iPhone 6s, my model, for what seemed a reasonable price. And even though I was KICKING myself for having to spend our precious money on something I already owned, we went through with it. But to use a credit card, we needed our passports which were back at the condo. Two more taxi rides and two hours later, I have a phone. The other has been marked as lost and erased. (Thank you, Apple for remote services like that!) I’m still furious with myself but it appears we did it. Only later did we realized we bought a 16 GB phone, where I had had a 64 GB, so not many apps or photos fit. Sigh. We decide Dan’s phone will house most our crucial travel life apps and photos.
It’s important to note that because we’re traveling and away from home, Lucas had to come with us for all of this. He was a direct participant in this “adventure.” And it turns out our kid is pretty amazing during adversity. He must have been bored out of his mind and frustrated that he’s now spent three days in cell phone stores rather than the beach, but he never once complained. Instead, he repeatedly showed maturity and graciousness, often helping both of us feel better about our stupid mistakes. Maybe this lesson/realization was worth it the frustration.
I refuse to leave the condo. I just need a break and I don’t have the energy to figure out my new world anymore. We rest, play in the pool, journal, do schoolwork and finally do that thing we intended to do: relax. Until dinner. While we’re listening to music, Dan’s phone suddenly stops working. It’s stuck in the Apple icon loop where he can’t start it up but can’t shut it down. Then it starts blinking crazy Matrix-like symbols across the screen. Then the red screen of death. We are devastated! How could this possibly be happening?!?! Have we done something to piss off the Mayan gods?
Hours of Google searches on “how to fix the red screen of death” and texts to Dan’s techy friend leave us with the reality that we must get to Playa del Carmen, an hour away, to either fix it or buy a new one. Again. It’s at this point that we’re seriously considering hopping on a plane and going home. Nope, not handling travel adversity well.
Because, after all, these are FIXABLE problems. We haven’t lost a person; no one is hurt. There’s no actual disaster. Just time and money, which feels precious, but technically we planned for things like this. We set aside extra money and had the extra time. It’s funny though how it’s hard to go with the flow when it all goes wrong, and it did seem that nothing was going right. But we were determined to turn things around and show Lucas that we can handle hard things.
I also decide that something seriously needs to change in how we are Being and putting energy out into the Universe. This is getting ridiculous. I am trying to get to my Zen state of “What is the lesson here?” I journal, we talk. We need at attitude adjustment and a time-out. The next day, we already had tickets booked for Xel Ha water park, so we decide to take a break from “adventure travel” and just play as tourists.
It was fun, and the intermission day worked beautifully! I felt more balanced and ready to handle life. We were all more positive and decided to laugh adversity in the face. Even more miraculous: suddenly, Dan’s phone was working better. Maybe we didn’t need to rush to buy another phone in Mexico. We decided to wait another day since he could at least get into it (even if it didn’t stay on). On a hunch, Dan decided to delete the Mexican bus company app he had downloaded. Then it was completely cured. (So, don’t drink the water and don’t download the apps??)
There may be a perfectly good technological explanation for why it is now working, but I can’t help but think it’s the Law of Attraction and our Way of Being shifting perceptions and events. (And/or we have appeased the Mayan gods and they have taken mercy on us.)
Life has gotten better since those first fateful days. Our Spanish is improving and I’m no longer throwing toilet paper in the toilet. Yet Dan and I still find ourselves doing stupid things for some reason. It’s not Mexico’s fault that he left his ATM card in the machine (only to be quickly returned by the nice lady behind him). It’s not Mexico’s fault that as I attempted to replace Lucas’s forgotten headphones, I shipped them to the wrong address. It’s not Mexico’s fault that we continue to misplace or drop important things like bike lock keys. But something about being here has really discombobulated us. We’ve had many talks about it, and I’ve done more journaling than I’ve done all year as we try to work it through. Our trip is about figuring out the world, but also figuring out our own stuff.
So I think the misadventures gifted to us by Mexico will prove very valuable in the long run as we decide how we want to Be in the world and how we want to Be with each other. Already we’re learning to slow down and not hurry, think and talk through our decisions, and definitely eat before venturing out. As a family we’re learning to better play on the same team and not reflexively snap at each other or assign blame when things go wrong. We’re learning that obstacles are opportunities and we can indeed do hard things. If we really get these lessons and they stick, I’ll be forever grateful for these moments.
Muchas Gracias, Mexico!