Maxin' and Relaxin' -- travels in Mexico & Cuba in Summer '05

Below are the travel blogs I did when in Mexico and Cuba in summer 2005.

6.12.05: Timida
Today I arrived in Cancun, where I am trying to segue into Spanish speaking. On the plane, I reviewed a Spanish grammar book and found a lot of it coming back to me: I could picture my high school Spanish teacher explaining the preterito to us, and I was feeling good. But once I got the ground, I became so shy and nervous that I found myself whispering when buying a bus ticket. Timida means shy in Spanish. I had to look it up because it was one thing that I felt like I should know how to say - I´m sorry, I´m so shy. I am very shy in Spanish, literally, afraid to talk. I can get around, make basic conversation, buy things. But even in my head, I can´t tell a story, make a joke, be charming. And that makes me feel so... worthless.
But when I am just thinking to myself, even in Spanish, I think that Quintana Roo, the state Cancun is in, is beautiful. I don´t know how to say beautiful. Linda is pretty, I think, but this is beyond that. Beyond all the cognates I reviewed on the plane: fabuloso, perfecto, encroyable -- oh wait, I think that´s French. There is jungle as far as you can see flying in, and the beach... the beach is perfecto. The water is light blue and warm. The sand is soft and white. Every hotel on the beach has a little pool for you to wash your feet in before you come back in. The beach tonight was so nice I considered changing my bus ticket to Merida (for 10am tomorrow) so that I could have more time here and come back to the beach in the daytime. But then I walked off the beach to get some food and found myself in the middle of Cancun tourist hell... Las Vegas-like hotels, TGI Fridays, The Hard Rock Cafe, everything tropical paradise is not. And hordes of drunk teenagers. I mean, hordes. On the way back to my hostel there was a group of drunk American kids loudly working out how to say ¨give me head¨in Spanish.
So I think I´ll go ahead on to Merida as planned. But Cancun has some nice parts -- on the way to this internet cafe, I walked into a park where two clowns were performing before a crowd of people. Kids were sitting crosslegged in the front and adults lined up 3 or 4 deep behind that, laughing. Again, I wished my Spanish were better... I could only understand a word or two here and there. As I walked away an impromptu downpour started, and I hopped under a church awning in time to avoid being soaked and in time to watch everyone else run for cover. A couple joined me under the awning, giggling, and took to kissing in the corner. Not necking, not making out, in fact, completely conscious of the public (like me!) around them and seemingly a bit embarrassed by this. They were just laughing and kissing a little. There seem to be a lot of couples out and about, doing these old fashioned romantic things like holding hands and hugging in the rain. It is a touchingly chaste public display of affection. I miss you all already, but I telling myself that being alone will help me break out of the Spanish shyness. More from Merida tomorrow.

6.14.05: Muchos Dulces
I´m here in Merida now, and had typed a little entry about it last night but either the computer malfunctioned or I hit the wrong button (it was after a rum punch with my hostel mates...) and the whole thing was erased. So anyway... Merida. Merida is cool. It is fun to walk around and look at all the stores (there are a million!) and try different foods and sweets. I feel like an eating, buying machine here, because the food is so great, and the stores so enchanting. I just want to touch, taste and stare at everything.
For better or for worse, though, my hostel has many English speakers and my Spanish is not progressing. My plan was to bike out of Merida today, and head down to the ruins, but sadly there is not a bike to be rented in Merida -- nada. There are many bike shops, and people are riding bikes, and bike repair places, but the bike touring shop will not rent for less than 4 days (at $10 per day) and the hostels that have bikes only rent them to guests during their stays. So my plan of biking on, getting away from tourists and speaking Spanish isn´t happening... yet. Tomorrow my hostel proprietor may have a bike for me to rent so I can take day trip, and after that I will head out to Chichen Itza by bus to see the ruins and work my way back towards Cancun.
So today is a mellow day. I´m just TCB... doing laundry, buying my Chichen Itza bus ticket, swimming in the pool, shopping and eating more. I already went to the bank, tried to get my cellphone changed (no luck, FYI... were it a Nokia or more current model I think it would have worked, but my old Freecycled Samsung seems to cause much confusion here) and bought a handkerchief, a necessity in this humid climate. Much like the neck towel in Texas, the handkercheif or washcloth is kept readily available to wipe one´s brow, although Mexicans tend to keep them in their pockets, not around their necks, or draped over their heads, as one sees the neck and head towels in Austin. Merida, by the way, is really nice. There are many parks and colonial buildings and pastel colors. Last night I saw a folkloric dance performance which culminated in the dancers doing a vaquero dance, on a 1´sqare platform, with a tray of beer on their heads. The city center is compact, and everything is walkable. It is fun, but I am itching to get out and about, to climb ruins, bike by jungles and so forth. I feel a little cooped up here in this hostel with other tourists who love Sol beer and prefer not to speak Spanish. And to add to this, it´s raining -- it rains just about every afternoon here. The streets flood, cars splash and it´s kind of a drag to be walking. But at least it doesn´t last -- a few hours, at most -- so I´ll be hitting those cobblestones soon to run my errands and pick up some more pan dulces.

6.14.05... later
I love walking around here. Even slipping along the wet streets in my flip flops -- cuidado! -- was fun this afternoon. Some observations about Merida: lots of barbershops. Almost every block you see a guy sitting in a barber chair, getting a trim. I mentioned this situation to an Argentinian woman who was staying at my hostel and she said, "Yes, but they all get the same cut!" Hmmm. I would not agree, although there are some that do show up reguarly, especially the 80s trim sides, bowl on top look. But you see that everywhere. There is also the tendency for similar businesses to be located close together, which is especially noticeable on my favorite street, which I think of as the party street. Every store on one side has pinatas, trinkets and party favors and every store on the other side has candy. Am I in heaven? Speaking of, today I had to pop into a place called "Paradise Helado" for a coconut paleta, dipped in chocolate and then coated with coconut flakes. Delicioso!
But when I´m here in the hostel, things are less fun. Right now I´m waiting for my laundry to dry and before blogging, resorted to reading the biography of Aristotle Onasis from the hostel library. The hostel library has no books in Spanish, but a very odd collection of English ones. Really, everything from "Macroeconomics" (nice light vacation reading) to "How to Start a Business in Mexico." Ay yi yi. Luckily there should be bikes available tomorrow so I can bike around the outskirts of town before moving on to Chichen Itza tomorrow evening. I am anxious to move out of the hostel lifestyle.

6.15.05 My Niche
The bike never came through in Merida. Well, it did actually, but it was about a day later than expected and I was feeling ready to move on at that point. ¨That point¨now seems so far away... actually, it was only this afternoon! I spent this morning checking out the north side of Merida (my hostel was on the south side of downtown, near the bus station.) As is often the case, the area by the bus station is not the nicest part of town. This hit me full force as I strolled down the Paseo de los... oh, I forget the name now but the scenic boulevard in Merida. Why aren´t there more streets in the US like this? It was so beautiful -- wide sidewalks, cafes, museums and historic houses lining the streets, trees everywhere, bougainvilla, and even modern art sculptures on every block. Esculpturas. I was eating a sorbete de elote (corn sorbet, que delicioso!) and just thinking it couldn´t get any better when a Mexican woman asked me for directions. Asked me! All I could tell her was, ¨No se,¨(I really didn´t.) I took in some public art and then a guy crosing the street said hello to me (in English.) I responded in English and he said ¨hello¨again in Spanish. I responded in Spanish and he smiled. He told me he wanted to practice his English, I told him I wanted to practice my Spanish, and we started chatting, mostly in Spanish (my Spanish was better than his English) with some English as well. He walked me to the Museum Anthropologico as we talked and then we exchanged emails to practice more in the future.
In the museum, I went without a guide and had a fair amount of success reading about the history of the Maya in Spanish. The background on Maya cosmology got me really jazzed up to see Chichen Itza, so I hustled back to the hostel, checked out, and caught the next bus here, to Piste (the little town outside Chichen Itza.) Leaving late in the day as I did, I has to take the second class bus. Although I had been told it was air conditioned, it was quite hot and stopped a lot... it seemed that in every little town someone got off or on. It was time consuming, but neat because I got to see a lot of Mayan villages and little towns along the way and also sometimes the people getting on the bus would sell snacks and I got some interesting marshmellow candy.
But by the time we arrived in Piste, I was feeling sweaty and dirty, from all the walking around I had done in Merida and the 3 hours on the bus. The bus dropped me off at The Pyramid Inn, as I had wanted, and I walked in there alone, not sure what it would be like.
Well, the Pyramid Inn is blowing my mind. Instead of getting a room, I have gone the cheap route ($4/night) and have strung my hammock (bought in Merida) under a palapa (thatched roof hut) in the ¨campgrounds¨of the Pyramid Inn. I say ¨campgrounds¨because they are worlds nicer than any campground I have ever been to before. There are about 8 palapas clustered together on the hotel grounds, which are full of hibiscus and mango trees. The shared bathrooms are close by, next to the pool, which is absolutely lovely. There are many other young backpackers there and they seem much cooler than the ones in Merida. I went for a swim today as soon as I got in today and every time I dived under, I wondered if it would all still be there when I came up for air. This is what I had hoped to find on my vacation!
Also, the young front desk man at the Pyramid is very friendly and we have already talked quite a bit in Spanish and English. (He wants to learn English, but my Spanish is better than his English so we talk a bit in both.) Like the guy earlier today, this guy is younger than me and a bit dorky... this is my niche, I guess. While the hot Mexican guys are out impressing girls in Spanish, the geeky ones who want to learn English gravitate towards me. That´s OK. They both asked me if Iwas married, and I was glad to say, Ï have a boyfriend. I only wish my boyfriend could actually be here in the flesh to see this tropical paradise!
Tonight I walked around the market, had dinner and enjoyed a walnut/chocolate paleta in the main square, where it seemed like every kid in town was playing while a few adults sat on benches and looked on. I picked up some more pan dulce for breakfast tomorrow and am very excited to see the ruins of Chichen Itza.

6.16.05 Angor Wat it ain´t
Fui a Valladolid
and oh, am I so glad I did!
When traveling in Asia in 1999 with my friend Christina, she would often make joking comparisons between things there and emblems of Western civilization. Of Saigon, she said, ¨Paris it ain´t.¨Of the dark coffeshop in Dalat, where we squatted on plastic stools, she quipped, ¨Starbucks it ain´t.¨ Well, after seeing Angor Wat, Chichen Itza was a bit of a letdown. I had to keep reminding myself that Chichen is about 1000 years older, which explains the rubble-like appearance of the ruins and the extreme wear on the stone relief. After the Museo de Anthropologia, I had expected to be wowed, as I was when I saw Angor Wat for the first time. Although the main pyramid in Chichen is in good shape (enough so that people can climb it) there are many roped off areas and when looking for stone carvings, I seriously wondered if all the well preserved stuff had been shipped off to museums. But still, the cultural aspects were fascinating and the view from the top of the big pyramid was breathtaking.
Sweaty and sunburnt from a morning at the ruins, I headed out in a taxi for a cenote (cave/sinkhole) about 5 min away. The cenote was really magical... lots of tropical flowers above and a spiral rock staircase leading down into the cave, which was half cave and half hole and was filled with water. Moss and stalagtites grew on the sides and roof and tree roots dangled down into the water from the hole at the top. It was amazing, and when I lay in the water and looked up at the waterfalls that fed the swimming water, I realized that this is what I had pictured heaven looking like. Well, heaven with lots of German tourists... and as my visit wore on, lots of Americans too, mostly families on tours from Cancun. While waiting for my taxi to pick me up, I decided that although Piste and Chichen Itza had been great, I´d seen what I came to see in Piste and was ready to move on to the colonial town of Valladolid, where I needed to catch my bus back to Cancun on Friday.
I hustled out of Piste and caught a collective taxi-van to Valladolid, which is only anout 45 min away by car. I was a little worried about staying in a new hostel, fearful to repeat my Merida experience, but my hostel mates here are great. I am in a room with 3 other female travelers, all solo like me. And although all speak English, they told me, ¨Ingles es prohibido!¨ because like me, they want to practice Spanish. We walked around the town today before I stopped in to this internet cafe.
This town is nice and smaller than Merida, so easier to manage, but with some of the same colonial charm. Bike rentals are common and if I had more time, I´d rent a bike and go to some more cenotes which are closeby. But I don´t have time, because manana at 7am I have to catch a bus back to Cancun. Then the excitement really begins.

6.20.05 Cuba Libre
Call me your man in Havana. I am here, exploring Cuba with a Korean woman named Jean who was on my flight from Cancun. Although she looks innocent and young, Jean has traveled all over the world -- India, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Peru. We are sharing a room in a casa particular, a private apartment, in a grand old building in the middle of Havana. Havana is great -- as you have probably heard, parts of it are frozen in time. There are beautiful old hotels, many classic cars, many references to the past in the culture. This can be very interesting for a tourist, but also has some disadvantages, namely $6/hr, incredibly slow internet available in only a few places. So this may be my only entry from Cuba.
But I have had a very interesting time. Cubans are very friendly, very helpful with directions and always asking, Where are you from, what are you doing here, do you like it, etc. Many are just trying to make conversation... I guess because they cannot leave Cuba, they are curious about people from other countries, especially the US. I have been practicing Spanish a lot this way. But many others are hustlers, who want to take you to a restaurant where they get a comission, or somehow get money from you. And sometimes it is hard to tell the hustlers from the friendly folks.
Case in point -- yesterday, my first full day in Cuba, Jean and I were walking around and ran into a friendly guy named William, who started talking to us about his band, who were playing that afternoon. Then William offered to walk us to Havana`s Chinatown. We talked about music, he told me he had some old records in his attic, collecting dust. Well, I told him, I collect records. Would you like to buy mine? he asked, and had to check myself to make sure I was understanding his Spanish correctly. We agreed that later that day, after his band's show, he'd take me to his house to look at the records.
That afternoon, William took us on a whirlwind tour of Havana: to all the important monuments in Habana Vieja, to his cousin`s house so Jean could buy cigars, to the club where his band was to play (sadly, cancelled due to a power outage) and then salsa dancing. After midnight, we went to his house and I bought what I hope will be 11 great Cuban records from the 50s to the 1970s. Que buen suerte! Hanging out with William was fun at first. I was practicing Spanish, we were seeing cool places, he was nice. But by evening, it was dawning on me that William was getting hard to lose. Plus, hanging out with William was expensive. Other than the bar where his band was supposed to play (which was quite cheap) William liked to have mojitos in fancier establishments. And William did not have money to pay for the mojitos -- when the bill came, he handed it to me and looked away. By the time I went home for the night, I was feeling pretty awkward about the whole situation.
So this morning, I broke up with William. I told him Jean and I were running out of time in Havana and could not go to the concert and dance club he had planned for us this afternoon. He was clearly disappointed and told me he was all dressed up to dance. I told him I was sorry. He asked if we could go to a restaurant and talk. I told him I needed to use the internet and did´t have time. He said he`d walk me there, but I held firm and William and I parted ways. Oh well, I got some records & conversation, he got some mojitos and dancing, I hope he feels like he got something out of the time we spent together.
Now I am going to plan my trip to Santiago De Cuba, hopefully leaving tomorrow. I will update you from Mexico, if not before.

6.22.05 Los Pobres
Jean, my Korean traveling partner, says that Cubans are poor, because the avaerge monthly salary here is $20. But Cubans do not look poor, by US standards. In Havana, most dress very well, have nice pedicures, and in New York, would look middle class or better. The buildings are often crumbling, especially in Havana, and there is very little construction or repair going on. There are not even stores for repair materials (tile, etc.) as are everywhere in Mexico. But we are told that food, housing, medical attention and education are free for Cubans... so what else is there to spend their $20 per month on, but entertainment or starting a little business, like a private restaurant or a rented room?But Cubans are always hassling tourists, trying to hustle money for a guided tour, overcharging us for ice cream, flat out begging for money. Surely, people who are not desperate for cash would not resort to this behavior.
So I´ve been wondering quite a bit how Cuban poverty relates to poverty as we understand it in the US. One thing that poor people in the US and Cubans seem to have in common is that neither have any way to change their lives. Dire poverty comes with this feeling that there is no way out... you can never work enough hours to afford what you need, you can never save enough money for the education necessary to get a better job. And this is something Cubans seem to have in spades. Cubans like to talk to tourists, and their desire to see other parts of the world is often palpable. Most that I have talked to have said something disparaging about the way their access to information is limited here. A few have complained about the police (who are everywhere in tourist areas) or government spies watching them. Everything here is regulated and recorded -- taxi rides, casa stays (nights tourist spend renting a room in a private house) and, it seems, items you buy in the stores. After almost every transaction, the Cuban makes a little note (on paper, or course, very little is computerized.) Sometimes the police stop buses and taxis and check these lists. Maybe it is this way in the US too -- I know there is a record of every credit card transaction, at least. But the data collection is very visable here. I have read that the regulation of all private business makes it nearly impossible for Cubans to change their income. I assume that people with high profile jobs or government connections get the better houses, more cash per month and perhaps a better ration of food, because their are income disparaties (although nothing like the US, of course.) But other than tapping a political connection, there doesn't seem to be a way to improve your standard of living, unless you can sponge cash from someone on a regular basis. And that's where the tourists come in.
But I guess what puzzles me is why Cubans so desperately want to change their standard of living, because from what I can see, most have the basic necessities covered. Although they cannot afford the bars and clubs tourists go to, in comparison to other Cubans, they are not so bad off. Not starving, not homeless, not without electricity or water or the things that we in the US equate with a poverty level existence. So why are they so desperate? I figure that either I have not seen the way most Cubans live - certaintly possible, although I say William's house, and it wasn't that bad - or there is just some inherent human desire to keep up with or outdo the Jones' which is manifest here, despite all the socialist, anti-bourgeoise government propaganda.
In either case, Cuba is very interesting and I am enjoying my time here. I have left Havana for Santiago (13 hours on the overnight bus!) and am now solo for my last few days here. I am enjoying listening to the radio, walking around and talking to people in Spanish. Timida no more! Cubans are so outgoing, they do not tolerate shyness. This is a gregarious, assertive and proud country. I like it.

6.24.05 A Day At The Beach
I am writing this from Mexico, where I returned today. My week in Cuba ended in a very amazing way, and I still kind of processing what has happened, but I´ll try to fill you in.
After my last entry, I took the overnight bus to Santiago de Cuba, the second largest city in Cuba. 12 hours by bus from Havana, it is on the opposite side of the island, but is known as the birthplace of son and a great music town (is there anywhere in Cuba that isn´t?) and was described to me as a can´t miss destination.
In Santiago, there are more poor people than in Havana. For the first time, I saw many Cubans in worn out clothes. The electricity went out for a few hours at a time twice during my 3 day visit. There seemed to be less jinteros (Cubans who latch on to tourists, looking for some money) or perhaps I had just gotten better at fending them off. I got many questions (Where are you from? How long will you stay in Santiago? Where are you going now? Can I come with you?) and invitations from Cubans to go dancing, go for drinks, etc. Even when just walking to the store to get some shampoo, Cubans would ask if I wanted company. Because of my experience with William, I was hesitant to allow this. Worst case scenario, I worried they would want money or hijack my vacation, dragging me to all the places they wanted to go to and then expect me to foot the bill. Even best case scenario, I found that trying to hold a conversation in Spanish made it hard to take in the scene, and that I got more enjoyment from finding my own way around and figuring things out alone. Clearly Cubans had heard this before, because when I deflected a couple of solicitations for company, I got an understanding nod and the comment, (in English) "Oh, just looking."
I imagine many tourists are as amazed as I am at Cuba, at the ornate crumbling buildings, the vintage cars, the billboards praising revolutionary spirit and promoting socialism. It is amazing to see. My second day in Santiago, I decided to rent a motorina (a scooter) and go to the beach a bit west of the city to see a little more of the country.
Cuba is really beautiful, especially on the highways, which have little traffic. As I motored through the low end of the Sierra Maestra mountain range, butterflies criss crossed the road ahead of me and the hills on each side of me were incredibly green. At the beach, the water was clear, and the waves gentle. There were a few other people a ways away from me, but the beach was fairly empty and the rocky cliffs by the water seemed like a good place to leave my backpack. I dunked my head under the water, and when I looked back to shore, my bag was gone. I stumbled around on the rocks, thinking at first that I had forgotten where I put it. I called out to the other bathers for help, and we searched the nearby rocks and water, but the bag was gone.
In that bag, I had all my cash (about $500), my wallet, credit cards, passport, shoes, and everything else I´d brought to the beach. In the Lonely Planet guide, travelers are advised against leaving unsecured valuables in the houses in which they stay. Since I needed to take my backpack to the beach (to hold my water, clothes, etc) and had no other locking bag, I just took everything important with me to the beach, a decision I have regretted many times since then.
I started to panic and ran up the cliffs, thinking I might find the thief. I cut my feet on the rocks and started to cry. Some Spanish tourists arrived, saw my distraught state and helped me look for the bag, and soon some Cubans joined us. There were 9 of us, and we looked around for over an hour but only found one of my barettes that had been in the bag. Since the key to the motorina was in the bag, the Spanish couple offered to drive me back to Santiago to make a report to the police. I had totally broken down at this point, and when we went back to the motorina, two Cuban guys who had been watching it told me that they knew a place where thieves often left unwanted stolen property, and they´d go look if I waited. They went up into the hills and came back 15 min later with my bag, which still contained all my papers, passport, clothes... everything except my money, my camera, my shoes and the medicine kit I had been traveling with.
The Spanish guy gave me a pair of his shoes to wear and one of the Cubans who had found the bag, John, invited me to his house for lunch since I had no money for food. (A note on names -- most Cubans give Americans English versions of their Cuban names. I met many Johns in Cuba, as well as William, Walter, Lexus, Tony and others who introduced themselves with very American sounding names, made almost unrecognizable by the heavy Cuban accent. Anyway.) Before we went to John´s house, the Spanish tourists took a picture of me, wearing these ill fitting, old flip flops, my feet scratched from walking on rocks, but smiling and holding my bag, arm in arm with the guys who had found it. At John´s house, I sat with his parents while they cooked lunch and he gave his siblings rides on the motorina. His house was a shock to me, having only seen Cuban houses in Havana, and thinking that all Cubans lived in houses like that. This house looked to me like a blackened cinderblock bunker, with open squares for windows and a tin roof. The family cooked on an open fire outside one of the windows. They had a refrigerator, so there must have been electricity, but they had very little furniture and no running water. One of my sandals (from the Spanish man) had broken, so I had it tied onto my foot with a bag. John´s brother pulled out some string and told me he could fix the shoe. He showed me pair of black loafers, worn, but polished with care, clearly his good shoes, that he had fixed in the same way, sewing the sole back onto the leather upper after it had fallen off. His father smiled and said, ¨A lo cubano," meaning, "the Cuban way!"
While eating with the family we talked quite a bit about politics. The father was very supportive of socialism in Cuba. He told me that while Cubans were poor, they were free -- to think, to read, to roam the country. Unlike some, he didn´t resent the government control of daily life, and seemed to find it a big improvement over imperialist control or some kind of money controlled society. Like every Cuban I talked politics with, he expressed frustration with the animosity between the US and Cuban governments, and he was admiring but irreverent about Fidel, calling Fidel a capitalist for his policy of charging a 10% tax on all US dollars brought into Cuba. He talked at length about how we are all human, all part of the human family, and should treat each other as such. (This is something most Cubans emphasized when I talked to them about international issues.) Before I left to go back to the beach, the father said that I should consider them my family in Cuba, and he asked me to tell people back in the US how nice Cubans are. So... spread the word.
I headed back to Santiago on my motorina, sunburnt and tired, but relieved, and planned to use my ATM or credit card to get enough money from the bank to make it back to Mexico the next day.

6.25.05 Down and Out in Santiago and Havana
I really want to explain what happened in Cuba before time slips away from me... already the fun of being here in Mexico is making Cuba feel farther and farther away. Can I tell you that Mexico rocks? It´s like a cheaper, more colorful version of the United States. Much better food and ice cream, too. But anyway, back to Cuba...
When I got back to Santiago, I had no money, but I did have a credit card, an ATM card, my passport and the motorina (which I had rented for 24 hours that morning.) Expo Caribe was taking place, which (from what I read in the newspaper) seemed to be a convention of Caribbean businesses, the Cubans referred to it as a big party and I had already met many young Cubans who were going there at night when there were bands outside. And, it was free, which was good for me, since I needed to wait until the morning to get cash with my credit card. I went to Expo Caribe that night with Juan Carlos, the son of Vivian, in whose casa I was staying, his Russian girfriend Alexandra and their friend John. Now, usually, when Cubans and tourists hag out, the tourists pay for drinks, food and entertainment on the town -- all the things Cubans don´t have money for much of. But all I had was the motorina. So that night things were a little different -- Juan Carlos and John supplied the friends, the party connections (we went to two street parties after Expo Caribe) and the local knowledge, Alexandra provided the cash and I provided the motorina, which was a big hit. Juan Carlos gave his friends rides from party to party all night. It was a lot of fun, but I was a bit puzzled by Alexandra´s situation. She was living in the casa with Juan Carlos (for free, I assumed) and they were cleary romantically involved. She paid for everything Juan Carlos wanted, even though she had very little money... she told me that she had had lots of things in Cuba that she wanted to buy, but she couldn´t because she gave her money to Juan Carlos. "Amor," she told me. But the power balance in their relationship was a it disturbing, and although I was very curious about it, I didn´t really know either of them well enough to ask.
That night, while Alexandra and Juan Carlos were out on the motorina, John and I talked at length over Havana Club rum and TuKola (the only cola beverage in Cuba) about Cuba, US and world politics. As John got drunker, the conversation got harder and harder to follow (all but one of my conversations with Cubans were in Spanish) but I did have a chance to ask him about life in Cuba. He told me that Cubans must pay for rent and utilities, these things are not free, as I had assumed. Granted, they are government owned and therefore very cheap (by US standards... John told me his family´s rent was $5 per month) but those expenses, plus clothing (which costs about the same as clothing in the US, $20 for a decent pair of sandals, $25 for a new pair of pants, etc.) and personal necessities (soap, housewares, etc) and food do not leave Cubans with much disposable income. As I mentioned before, many Cubans on the street dress quite well. Tourists generally look schlubby in comparison. Alexandra and I discussed this and neither of us could figure out how so many Cubans managed to be so well dressed, coiffed and manicured.
John also told me that the monthly food ration from the government is pretty meager -- it could provide a person with basic food for 23 days, he said, leaving them to fend for themselves for the remainder of the month. Many Cubans said things to me like, "In Cuba, we work so hard, and for nothing." A professor I met in Havana told me that in his opinion, Fidel treated Cubans like slaves, since everyone is mandated to work (not working can get you in trouble with the gov´t) but the pay is very meager. When I was talking to John, I explained that I had two jobs, and told him I needed to work at the University in addition to my radio job in order to pay the bills. In Cuba, he said, you cannot work two jobs to make extra money. If you end up making "too much" money at one job as defined by the government (which a person might do by say, operating a private restaurant or renting rooms in your house, or one of the other few ways Cubans can have private businesses) the government will tax it heavily or otherwise take the money from you. So the only incentive to work is civic pride or fear of the police.
Civic pride is very strong, though. Billboards everywhere say things like, "Construction is Revolution!" and exhort the idea that all Cubans pitch in to make the country function. In Havana, I stopped in a grand art deco theater to use the phone and the doorman showed me around the place, and said proudly, "This is my theater!" I was suprised and instinctively said, "Your theater?" "Yes," he said, "I work here." So the amount of ownership people fell in their jobs, their public areas and the country at large is much greater than in the US. That mentality was probably the most amazing thing about Cuba. There are many problems there, but people have a strong sense of values and there is a lot of pride in that among Cubans. I wish we had more of that in the US.
The next morning I set out to return the motorina and get cash from my credit card, which I knew could be done at the biggest hotel, because I had seen other tourists do it. But when I got to the hotel bank, reality set in. The teller told me my credit and ATM card, since issued by an American bank, could not be used at the hotel, at the bank, and in fact could not be used anywhere in Cuba. He advised that someone would have to wire me money.
This presented many problems, the first being that I didn´t have any money for the long distance call to the US to request a money wire. (Calling from Cuba to the US costs $2 per minute.) I started really worrying. After much hesitation, Alexandra agreed to lend me $10 for a phone card to call Jamey. Jamey promised to send money via Western Union to Santiago and everything seemed fine. But a few hours later, when I went to pick up the money, it wasn´t there. I called Jamey again (using the last of my $10 phone card) and he told me that he had had to wire the money to Havana, to the American Interests Office there. That night I was scheduled to leave for Havana by bus, so provided I could borrow money for bus fare, I could get the money in Havana and leave the country as scheduled.
But getting the money for bus fare was very difficult. Cubans get paid in Cuban pesos, not the hard currency dollars that tourists use. Cubans can pay for Cuban-only things in Cuban pesos (called CU, or monedas nacional), so they use this for rent, electricity, local buses and street food. They must change this money into hard currency pesos (CUC) to buy clothing, personal items, extra food in stores & restaurants, first class bus tickets, plane tickets, etc. For most families, CUC pesos are hard to come by -- remember that they get paid the equivalent of US $20 per month and $1 US = $.90 CUC. So borrowing the $44 CUC needed for my bus ticket presented a lot of problems. Alexandra had only enough money left for her own ticket home (she was flying back home to Moscow the day after I was flying back to Mexico, and we planned to take the bus to Havana together.) She had no credit cards, she told me. I didn´t know any other tourists in Santiago, and Vivian, in whose house I was staying with, had bought food with the money I´d paid her and did not have enough CUC left to lend me.
We sat in Vivian´s living room and discussed the problem. Vivian called some friends to see if they could lend me money, but no one had enough. I was really panicking at this point. "Tranquilo," Vivian told me. "For every problem there is a solution." She made some phone calls, walked with me to Western Union to see if they could somehow get the Havana money to Santiago, she made some more phone calls. Then, as Vivian predicted, the solution presented itself in the form of another tourist who arrived at Vivian´s house, The other tourist planned to stay two nights, and agreed to pay for both up front. She paid Vivian early, and Vivian handed the money over to me as a loan, which I promised to repay by wire transfer from Mexico. After paying for the bus ticket, I had $1.50 CUC for water. I made it to Havana fine but completely broke again, and started to walk from the bus station to the American interests building to get the money Jamey had sent.
On my map, the distance between the bus station and the American Interests Building looked walkable. I had 5 hours in Havana before my flight back to Cancun, and I figured I could walk for an hour to get to the money. But after walking 30 min in my flip flops (my sneakers had been stolen) with all my bags, I started to wonder. I asked a Cuban woman for directions to make sure I was headed the right way and she told me that the American Interests building was further than an hour walk. I explained my situation and told her that I had no problem walking, but very kindly she gave me one peso and directed me to the Cuban bus, called the guagua (pronounced waw-waw.) Tourists almost never travel on the guaguas, because they are very crowded and very sporadic in coming. There is no guagua map or schedule that a tourist can get, it is really only for Cubans. In Cuba there is quite a bit of this... one economic system for Cubans, and one for tourists. The one for tourists is similar to the goods and services found in the first world -- nice buses, taxis, nice clothes, etc. One difference is in telecommunications, where Cuba lags way behind countries like Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam. Another difference is that the customer-minded business model is absent -- most stores close for lunch, and the hours are very erratic. Many times the hours posted, or even told to you, are incorrect, and it seems that employees work at will and if they have something better to do, may well close shop early. There are often long lines at bus stations, movie theaters and stores. Cubans are used to waiting in line, and approach a line with the question "El ultimo?" ("Who´s last?") and then wait.
I experienced this in extreme when waiting for the guagua. When I approached the crowd waiting, I wasn´t sure which line was for which bus or even which bus I needed to take. I asked around, but by the time I had figured out more or less where I had to be, many new people had joined the line. A woman asked, "El ultimo?" and I said yes, figuring I´d get at the end of the line, instead of trying to find the place I had in the beginning, when I first showed up but wasn´t sure if I was in the right place. As more and more people qued up, the man in front of me became confused, because he knew I had been there longer than him and wasn´t sure how I ended up behind him in line. He told me to go ahead of him, which then caused a chain reaction of the people behind me demanding to go ahead of him as well. Although I didn´t realize it, the "el ultimo" system is based on identifying the last person and then remembering that no mattter what, you are behind that person. After indentifying the person to follow, people spread out and the line becomes a loose crowd. When the guagua comes, you just stand behind whoever was "ultimo" when you showed up. By changing my place in line, I had screwed everything up, much to the frustration of the man who had tried to let me ahead of him (back to the place I had when I first arrived.) I didn´t know enough Spanish to fully explain, although I could tell him I hadn´t understood the line and apologized for making a problem. When the guagua arrived, our crowd surged forward and there was much confusion. "El orden!" (the order!) called out the man ahead of me. No one really listened and people shoved their way on to the guagua. It pulled away with people hanging off the open doors and I was left behind on the sidewalk.
This happened two more times, because many people would push past their designated place in line in the confusion of trying to get onto the guagua. Although sometimes people were blatantly disrespectful of el orden (and mostly it was younger people, my age or younger, who were this way) most people kept to the order until they arrived at the doors of the guagua, at which point it was a free for all, and whoever could fit into the smallest space or squeeze the most sucessfully got on the bus. I had my backpack plus by bike basket, so my squeezing ability was limited. After missing 2 guaguas, the woman behind me said, "Next time, you´re first." At the next guagua there was still a lot of confusion but I made it on, after a blind man who was pushed (gently) to the front of the line by other waiting passengers.
The guagua line ended fairly close to the American Interests building, and after going through two armed security checkpoints, a metal detector and a series of locking steel doors, I was inside the American consulate in Havana. It was very odd because outside the building there were many Cuban billboards deriding US foreign policy -- one said, "Imperialists, we will never be afraid of you!" and showed a drawing of a tough Cuban standing up to an evil Uncle Sam. Inside, CNN en espanol was on the TV and there were cartoons of US propaganda, one showing a poor Cuban begging for money and the caption: "Cuban human rights." The people working inside spoke English and Spanish, and I guess they were Americans. I imagine that would be an interesting job!
They gave me the $$ with no problem and I headed out to the airport, where I cracked open a lukewarm TuKola (given out on the bus ride from Santiago) and waited for the plane to Mexico.

6.26.05 Summer Break Cancun!
Back in Mexico, I wired money to Cuba to repay Vivian and set out for Isla Mujeres, which is off the coast of Cancun. The island is very touristy, but in a more laid back way than Cancun. There are more families and backpackers and less high school and college kids roaming the streets sunburnt as hell and drinking massive margaritas. I stayed on the Isla two nights while trying to get a bike for the next leg of my trip, a bicycle vogage down the Mayan Riviera, and am writing this as I wait for the next ferry which will take me back to Cuidad Cancun (which is seperate from the Zona Hotelera, where the beach and all the big hotels are.) From Cuidad Cancun I head south.
Yesterday, I went into the city to buy a bike. I had hoped to rent, but found that the rental industry is geared toward tourists who rent by the hour. Even with a discount for using the bike for 10 days, I could still buy a new bike for the same price as a rental. So for $80 US, I picked up a nice blue mountain bike, without gears, which I like a lot and plan to ship home with me on the plane back to the US.
Cuidad Cancun is a lot of fun, once you get outside of the tourist areas. There is a lot of shopping there (normal clothes, not beach wear like in the tourist areas) and for an American, it is quite cheap. I took the bus away from the tourist center to the regular shopping district and picked up a decent watch for $6 US. I found a cheap hotel near there and plan to stay there and do some CD and clothes shopping when I come back, before I head to the airport. In Cuidad Cancun, there is a very comforting balance between familiarity and exotic Mexican-ness and I had a good time shopping for bikes and peeking into other stores while sipping horchata and eating ice cream.
Last night, I went to another hostel on the isla, which has a beach bar and is a hangout place for backpackers. It was fun to talk to other tourists, but the conversation often turned to gripes about how touristy Cancun was and the onerous search for the "real" Mexico. Please. Any of these people could have been staying in a Mexican hotel in Cuidad Cancun, taking the bus all over the city as I did, speaking only Spanish and not see another European or American tourist all day. There are Mexican bars everywhere, but the backpackers don´t go to them... instead, they hangout in the hostel and complain about seeing so many tourists! There is no pleasing some of these people. Last night I biked around the isla and stopped to lay in the aqua water and watch the sunset on the southern tip of the island. It was deserted and so beautiful. This place really is like paradise. Yet last night, a backpacker from the Netherlands actually told me that she went to the coral reef but thought it was "ugly" because it was not the "real Mexico." Guatemala, she said, was far more enjoyable because it was "authentic." For some backpackers, poverty is a nice vacation.

6.27.05 A Rainy Day at the Beach
What do people do when it rains at the beach? Today I have been emailing, walking around in my poncho, running errands, and am considering watching Mr. & Mrs. Smith later tonight. In Cuba, the cinemas regularly show movies I´d want to see -- artsy movies from all over the world. In Playa del Carmen, where I am now, Mr & Mrs Smith is the best it gets.
Yesterday I took the bus (with my bike) from Cancun to Playa Del Carmen. It started raining while I was en route and has been raining intermittently since. On the bus, a strange older man carrying a lot of plastic bags sat next to me and immediately began talking about animal rights and environmental issues. Not being familiar with the culture, it´s hard to know when someone is passionate and friendly and when they are crazy. In retrospect, I think Jose Rafael might have been a bit of both. The majority of the 1 hour ride went by with Jose Rafael talking very quickly about his love of animals, while periodically pointing out new construction along the highway (he called it a crime,) showing me pictures of Brigitte Bardot (she´s an ardent animal rights activist) and quoting lyrics from his songs, which exemplified his environmentalist philosophy. He asked for my address (I obliged) and he said he would be sending me some of his music and more information about animal rights. I wait with baited breath.
Upon arrival in Playa del Carmen, I discovered that the two cheap hostels listed in my 2002 edition of The Lonely Planet´s guide to Mexico were closed. The other two hostels, much like ones in Merida, Cancun and Isla Mujeres, charge $10 per night for a dorm bed and a shared bathroom. Although listening to Jose Rafael had been a bit exhausting, I summonded enough energy to load all my luggage on the bike and hunt for a better deal for the night´s lodgings.
After looking for about 30 min, I found a great little place close to the city market and ferry dock. For $13 a night, I have my own room and bathroom. After finishing this email, I´m going to go back there, take a shower, paint my toenails and read until it´s movie time. Tomorrow the weather is supposed to clear up, so I am hoping that I can snorkel tomorrow on Cozumel, which is a short ferry ride from Playa Del Carmen.
After that, I head out by bike for Tulum, which is supposed to be completely lovely.

6.29.05 Mucho
Yesterday I took the ferry to Cozumel, hoping to snorkel at recife Palancar, reputed to be the best reef to see marine life near Cozumel, and consequently, in the world. I got a bit of a late start to the ferry, and then set off on my bike for the beach closest to Palancar. En route, I stopped to ask directions and was offered a free day at an all inclusive Cozumel resort, in exchange for taking a tour of the facilities and listening to a sales presentation for condos there. Free drinks, free meals, access to their private beach and three swimming pools. I went for it, and spent a few hours at this place with 4 restaurants, group activities (they were playing bingo when I arrived) and other amenities not included in the "inclusive" package, like massage and wave runners.
No suprise, there were many Americans there, drinking beer like there was no tomorrow and tanning on the beach. Oh, the Americans, who like to visit a Mexico where they don´t have to speak Spanish, eat Mexican food or listen to unfamiliar music. One word Americans do seem to know in Spanish is "mucho." "A Pina Colada, with mucho rum, please!" We are a "mucho" country. But we have a sense of humor about it -- I saw a pale, hefty man lounging at the bar wearing a T shirt that said, "I overcame anorexia." After a bit of swimming, snorkeling and buffet eating, I biked on to Palancar beach.
Unbeknownst to me, most snorkeling is done early in the day. A note to the Lonely Planet writers: this is the kind of information tourists might find useful! Between my late start and my lunch at the resort, I had missed my chance to see Palancar reef. So I contented myself with biking around the island a bit, checking out the seascapes and talking to a man who led horse rides. He was very funny and suggested the name "Lucero" for my caballito (little horse) tattoo. Before catching the ferry back to Playa Del Carmen, I returned to the resort for a last swim, cocktail and buffet dinner. I hope to see Palancar on my way back to Cancun at the end of this trip.
Today I left Playa around 10am on bike for Tulum. It´s been hard for me to know how many hours any bike trip will take me, but in Cancun I was guessing I´d average about 7 km per hour. At that rate, I thought it would take too long to bike from Playa to Tulum in one day (58km, I think), so I was planning to get as far as I could today, stop at a town in between and cruise in to Tulum tomorrow.
Thankfully, I bike much faster the 7 km/hour... I made it all the way to Tulum before 5pm and that included two hour long stops, one to snorkel in a cenote (water filled cave) and another for lunch. The cenote was great; it was like being inside an aquarium. The water was perfectly clear and I saw lots of fish, including some that glowed in the dark and another with a big fin-mohawk running all along the top of his body. They seemed fairly unpeturbed by the human presence and I felt like I was a fish myself.
When I got into Tulum I set my stuff up in a cabana along the beach. And it is right on the beach... really beautiful if a bit rustic, what with sand floors and shared bathrooms a little ways away. Tomorrow I plan to visit the ruins here at Tulum, and then stay the night at a hotel in town with a private bath. You know how I love a private bath. But the cabana will be nice for one night -- the showers have no roof so you can see the clouds and sky and trees while showering, the sand on the beach is fine and the water in the sea is aquamarine. It is just what I had pictured Tulum would be like.

7.1.05 La Naturaleza
There are many hippies in Tulum. I see them at the grocery, so tanned that I can´t tell if they are white or meztizo, shirtless and dreadlocked, roaming the beach or biking around town. The town is great for biking. The beach and commercial strip are seperate, so you really need a bike or a car to get back and forth easily and in the town the main drag has seperate bike-moto lanes along the sidewalk. I go back and forth a few times each day, since in I´m staying in a cabin on the beach but eat most meals in town. Almost everyone I pass says hello in English or Spanish, and people in general are smiling and nice. Tranquilo!
Yesterday instead of going to the ruins here in Tulum I decided to head south into the Sian Kaán Biosphere. I had hoped to spend a few days in the Biosphere, making it to Punta Allen (at the southern tip) for night one and then biking back over the next two days, staying at eco lodges or camping. When I was biking through, the biosphere looked like jungle brush, the same flora and fauna as Tulum only in greater quantity. But I stopped a couple of times to investigate paths off the "road" (a wide, pothole filled, dirt path) and found it completely wild... lots of iguanas and crabs skittering around, birds of all types and undeveloped seascapes on the side facing the ocean, lagoon on the other side. (The Biosphere road is on a sandy spit that breaks away from the Yucatan Peninsula.) I checked out a couple of eco lodges to make plans for my trip back and refuel on water, and was about 1/2 way to Punta Allen when I had an accident on the bike while avoiding a pothole, and ended up in the underbrush with some bad scratches. One on my foot was rather deep and was bleeding quite a bit. After I picked myself up and washed out the worst cut with bottled water, a truck came along down the road and they offered to give me a ride back to one of the eco lodges.
The guys in the truck were very nice and back at the eco lodge I was able to clean up the cuts and bandage the deep one. Although it didn´t hurt much then, I was shaken and decided to treat myself to a night at the ecolodge, nursing my injuries and recouperating. In hindsight, don´t think I could have found a nicer place to accomplish this task. The eco lodge had composting toilets, a rainwater collection system, and beautiful architecture that really integrated it into the surroundings. From my tent-cabana I could lay in bed and see the beach on one side and the lagoon on the other. I napped and rested in bed most of the afternoon, since my foot was swelling up. By dinner time it was hurting quite a bit and I was getting worried that the deeper cut was infected. While eating alone, I had the feeling that I should ask the people next to me, two couples with kids, for help. I brushed this idea aside at first but after dinner I went up and asked said, "Excuse me, I know this is a strange question, but is anyone in your group a doctor or a nurse?" One of the women replied that she was in nursing school, and she offered to look at my cut. She said it didn´t look infected and that some swelling and pain was normal, and advised me to keep it clean, keep using Neosporin, and that if it started to pus or swell more, to go to the doctor in Tulum. This relieved me greatly and I went to bed early (there was no electricity in the tent-cabanas anyway) listening to the ocean.
The next day (today) my foot felt a lot better. I woke up at 6am, watched the sunrise while floating in the Caribbean, and spent some time reading Spanish newspapers and looking up new words in my dictionary while eating breakfast. For most of this trip I have been on the go, never staying too long in one place and often too tired to really concentrate on reading all the Spanish language newspapers I´ve been carrying around. Last night was the first night I got more than 8 hours sleep and I felt much better for it. After leaving the ecolodge I biked back to Tulum and then kicked back for the afternoon, even starting on the book I bought in Cuba, which is slow going since there are many new words and confusing metaphors, but so far, very well written (I´m on page 5.)
Tonight I will stay again in Tulum (back at the same place I was staying before going to the Biosphere) and tomorrow I will see the Tulum ruins and then bike on to Coba, which I estimate to be about 4 hours from here. If I don´t feel up to the ride I can take the bus, and if my foot feels worse there are many doctors here who have open consultation hours even on weekends. This is something I find a bit odd about Tulum... it is a fairly small town (the main drag is probably about 10 blocks long) yet there seems to be a doctor, dentist or pharmacy every block. I wonder if this is a medical destination town for US folks seeking low cost medical care. In any case, I think my foot is getting better but I am trying to be extra careful don´t want to push it.
Speaking of pushing it, I had really imagined this trip as a hard core cycling adventure, but it hasn´t quite turned out that way. Even my long bike ride from Playa del Carmen was taken at such a leisurely pace that I didn´t feel sore or anything afterwards. I have been using the bike more for getting around the towns I´m in than traveling from town to town, and my last chance for a substantial ride is the trip to Coba... after that, due to time pressures, I need to bus back to Cozumel (I´m going to spend another day there and snorkel Palancar Reef) and then to Cancun for my flight home. When I left Cancun I had bought some food for my cycling -- cans of tuna, trail mix, etc. I snacked on the trail mix here and there, but there are roadside restaurants everywhere and the tuna has just been taking up space in my backpack. This morning when I packed it up I promised myself that I would eat it before I head back to Playa del Carmen, and I did make a tuna sandwich for lunch today to move some of it. Waste not, want not... I finished the tuna sandwich meal off with a strawberry paleta dipped in chocolate and coated with chocolate rice krispies. Mexican desserts are the best!

7.2.05 Reposado
Well, it seems that my trip has been governed by Murphy´s Law. This morning my foot felt worse, so I went to a doctor recommended by the manager of the cabanas where I was staying. Diagnosis: a small infection of the deepest cut, which the doctor said was probably caused by sand from the beach, which he said was unclean. He prescribed some antibiotics and a system for washing the cut with iodine and hydrogen peroxide, and also told me to stay off my foot, and keep it elevated as much as possible over the next 5 days, the rest of my vacation.
So I left the beach cabanas (which were lovely, but not very clean) and moved into a hotel in town with a private bath. All day today I´ve been laying up at the hotel, reading the newspapers I´ve had lying around. The part I kept was the magazine section: celebrity gossip, human interest stories and a crossword puzzle. Did you know that Kylie Minogue has breast cancer? That Tom Cruise wants to have children with Katie Holmes? The ¨La Mala Education¨by Pedro Almodovar is incredibly popular among Japanese 20 somethings? For the next two days I plan to stay here in Tulum, reading and writing and reclining as much as possible.
On Monday, I will probably head back to Cancun (by bus) and do more of the same there, plus take in some movies. There is no movie theater in Tulum, but a central sports area where I´ve been watching some soccer games. Tomorrow night I will upgrade to a room with TV and hope for some good Mexican programming. *Sigh* I am a little bummed out by this turn of events, since I had wanted to climb the ruins in Tulum and Coba and snorkel before coming home, but these activities are not recommended by the doctor. And since my flight was a Priceline special, I cannot make changes (like, coming home early.) But today I did find a new neveria and paleteria (ice cream parlor) close to the new hotel and it is lots nicer than the one I had been going to. I had a very rich cup of corn ice cream while I watching a little league soccer game after dinner. I am trying to look for the silver lining here... I´ll update again in a day or so.

7.4.05 Life´s Big Questions
As my vacation draws to a close, I find I´ve figured out some things. How to use the past and imperfect tenses, when to tip at different kinds of restaurants, where to find cheap hotels. But I still have some questions. One thing I´ve been wondering about is small change. In most stores, prices are in whole pesos or .50 increments, with no tax added at the register, so you don´t end up with too many centavos (coins worth less than 1 peso) in your pocket. Only at the supermarket do you see prices as in the US: cereal priced at $24.99 instead of $25, big water jugs for $1.67. So when your purchases are tallied at the supermarket, the total is often an odd number instead of the ususal .25, .50 or .00 decimals. Which leads to this question: is there such a thing as $0.01 in MX? I´ve never seen a denomination smaller than $0.10, and when my total at the supermarket is an odd number (which I can see at the register) the cashier usually rounds up when they say the amount to me. Or, alternately, even if they quote me the correct total, they round the change to the nearest .25 or .50. Maybe tonight I´ll ask around and see if I can even get a single centavo coin.
Last night my $3 US upgrade to a room with TV was definitely worth it, as ¨Y Tu Mama Tambien¨was the featured Sunday night movie! I was afraid to turn the TV up too loud (it was after 10pm and there were signs in the hallways saying, ¨Silence, please!¨) and between the noise of my fan, the slang, and the terrible TV sound quality I couldn't understand much of the dialogue. But I got the gist of it, and the storyline about a Mexican trip to the beach was very apropo.
Every time any someone´s clothes came off in the movie, the network abruptly cut to commercial, which leads me to second question. During commercials for Fritos, Coca Cola, basically all kinds of junk food, a script appears at the bottom of the screen and reads, ¨Come bien¨(eat well.) Similarly, during ads for fruit ice cream, ¨Come frutas¨(eat fruit) shows up. I´m not sure whether this is an attempt on the part of the advertisers to portray their products as healthy, or a conflicting message mandated by the government to undermine the success of the commercials. I think it is the latter, but who knows.
After laying up in Tulum for two days, keeping my foot elevated and only taking short trips on foot to restaurants, ice cream parlors, or the park (basically, different places where I can sit down) I have returned to Playa Del Carmen. My foot, knock on wood, seems to be healing well. Tomorrow is my last full day of antibiotics and I am hoping that in the morning I´ll feel well enough to snorkel on Cozmel before hopping on the bus back to Ciudad Cancun. We´ll see. I´ve mailed off some postcards and am finally doing some shopping -- for so long I held back, anticipating this intense bike trip and wanting to travel light. Now the floodgates are open!

7.5.05 I Am Jacques Cousteau
Today I did it, snorkeled off Cozumel. At first, I poked my head under water only to find a bunch of greenish coral, but after letting my eyes adjust, I could see all these different fish and underwater fauna moving around the reef. I saw fish that blended into the reef, and ones that were so brightly colored they jumped out. One fish made a beeline for me and I thought he was going to swim straight into my mask before I made an underwater shriek. I also saw a huge lobster, and a couple very large groupers. It was really cool.
Afterwards, I motored around the island (I rented a motorina to save my foot) and then rushed back to Playa Del Carmen, the bus station, and Cancun. This afternoon and night in Cancun I got my bike packed up and did some shopping, and I just finished a pistachio ice cream cone and am headed back to my hotel. The internet shop is closing now and my time has run out. Oh, the end of a vacation is always bittersweet. See you all tomorrow!

7.7.05 Back In The USA
DFW airport is one of the places where US servicemen ship to and from foreign posts. During my two hour layover yesterday I saw a few of them in desert camoflauge heading overseas. I had looked forward to catching up on US news, and plopped down in front of CNN while waiting for my Austin flight. It was the regular news that I had become inured to before going away: insurgents in Afghanistan, bombings in Iraq, threats to chemical factories in the US -- their war here, our war there, war everywhere. But it hit me, like when you nap in a lightly air conditioned room and upon waking, step outside into the blazing sun -- this heat that we live with in the US: the constant warnings, the military reminders, the climate of fear. Its not like that in Mexico. My dad says that this is the cost of being a world superpower. I was sitting there in the DFW airport, surrounded by my fellow Americans: an old man reading the paper, a teenager on a cell phone, two kids chasing each other around a chair, and thinking: it's just not worth it.
Americans are cynical about peace. Almost every Cuban I spoke to about international issues mentioned the humanity of all people, regardless of nationality, and/or something about how people can get along but governments cannot. After telling one man that I was from the US and had come to Cuba to see the country, he flashed me the peace sign, smiled, and said, "Paz mundial." World peace. In English, the words sound silly. Talking to John my last night in Santiago about international relations, terrorism, and my hopes for America's future, he quoted: "Puedes decir que soy un sonador, pero no soy el unico..." -- Imagine, by John Lennon, in Spanish. In every photo we took, Jean would make the peace sign. In Mexico, I watched a documentary about Pope John Paul which showed him saying an open air mass in Rome for peace to an audience of mostly 20 and 30 somethings. Peace is fashionable in other countries in a way it is had not been in the US since the 1960s.
In the documentary about Pope John Paul, there was also a segment on his 1987 visit to Chile, during the final years of Pinochet's regime. When John Paul was saying an outdoor mass in Santiago de Chile, there were simultaneous protests against the government. During the mass the police came down on the protesters and chaos erupted, but John Paul continued the sermon, yelling into the microphone, "Love is the most important thing!" while Chilean riot police charged the crowd with tear gas and batons. It was not ironic, it was not crazy, he was not living a utopian fantasy. World peace -- based on love, on human rights and economic justice -- is not only possible, it is imperative.
In Vedado, Jean and I passed a monument to student leader Julio Antonio Mella, which read, “Luchar por la revolución social en la América, no es una utopía de locos o fanáticos, es luchar por el próximo paso de avance en la historia.” Here in the US, we are caught up in the cycle of violence: 9/11, hunting down Bin Laden, preemptive strikes, code red. We are told that violence is the price of freedom; it is portrayed as rational, pragmatic, realistic. We overlook or write off the growing numbers of people who disagree. Pope John Paul called the war in Iraq a crime against humanity, but the press in the US didn't cover it much. People all over the world imagine a different way of life, away from fear and war. Someday I hope we'll join them, and the world WILL live as one.