I have now become quite good at picking up and dropping of folks at the airport in Cancun, which receives hordes of visitors from the Eastern U.S. The website notes 4 terminals, Google maps only three and signs on the access road show no airlines arriving at terminal 1.
More important is deciphering the paperwork needed to board a plane, which involves a mysterious combination of online and printed forms, an app you need to download and complete which is then ignored. When Jennifer (my first pickup) came out of the airport she ended up in a taxi shuttle area from which there was no exit. Ditto with Liam – he ended up wandering down the access road in the pitch black – we were only able to find him through a tracking app that Apple provides its users (Lexie, Jennifer and Liam are all Apple users. I am not).
On Lexie’s return to Seattle, finding the Alaska Airlines counter was one of those developing country mysteries that we uncovered only after multiple inquiries that generated ambiguous and contradictory responses. The required paperwork was impressive (a boarding pass on your phone wouldn’t do, you needed paper). Lex duplicated most of what she had input online and we are sure that the stack of papers she and her fellow passengers generated were filed appropriately and helpful for all concerned.
The folks in the first class line became enraged when they found out that an equipment change meant two thirds of them wouldn’t get their plush seats. The wrath of an American consumer who has been denied what she is due is something to behold, particularly when that thing (or service) involves issues of status. The small Mexican fellow behind the counter, in a rumpled dress shirt and tired looking tie, absorbed this dutifully, perhaps dreaming of the day when he could turn the tables and do the same to an American customer service person somewhere stateside.
There were hordes of tourists, mostly making their way back to the U.S. for Thanksgiving, the most traveled holiday of the year, and one in which air travel this year will be especially fraught. I am rather glad I will be driving home.
Lexie’s boarding process got me to thinking about patience, how we learn it, what are its uses. I used to think patience was like a muscle, the more you exercised it the better you got at it. This was the only thing that kept me sitting in a church pew with our mother as a child, and what got me through excruciatingly boring classes in Architecture school. This kind of patience aligns nicely with the hint of fatalism found in reformational theology, my Scottish forbears’ worldview. “You are suffering, there is a reason for this, just put up with it.”
Then I spent a year in India and traveled there for another 3 months – by rights this should have given me a patience muscle the size of one of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s quadriceps.
But no. It turns out that patience isn’t a muscle, it is a reservoir – each of us has so much and when it is depleted you’re done. I have returned to India several times over the years and have found my patience as thin and as tight as a jazz musician’s snare drum. Jennifer and I were in the airport in Mumbai a number of years ago trying to get a connecting flight to Kerala, during an all-India airline strike. It was pandemonium – I’m lucky that I am not now sitting in a jail there having murdered one or more gate agents.
I have no patience for anything now, this undoubtedly indulged by the pace of life in America and the extraordinary levels of customer service folks provide to win and retain your business there.
Cancun is a peculiar bird and probably the least Mexican place that I’ve spent time in in the country. The hotel area – a strip of hotels along a sandy spit – where development first started, feels like a slightly aged version of Las Vegas. High rises, condos, steak houses, a lot of American brands (travel to another country to eat what you can get at home.). Liam spent a couple of nights in a hotel there when his flight was cancelled twice(!) and was charged 5X the going rate by a cabbie to get there and ate at a Hooters where he scored a “Hooters Cancun” t shirt.
The metro area, which didn’t exist 50 years ago, now is a city of 900,000 and an economic driver for the region. (It took Calgary 120 years to grow to the same size). The Mexican government then wanted to capture some of the growing American tourist trade in the Caribbean and through a careful selection process that evaluated 100s of places, settled on a small fishing village with almost no infrastructure in an area with immense poverty. (There had been a large sisal growing and processing industry here staffed – weirdly – by South Koreans that had fallen on hard times.) The government built infrastructure (the airport, roads, utilities) and financed the construction of the first ½ a dozen hotels (investors thought them far too risky) and began promoting the area as a tourist destination within 4 hours of New York. Spring break for ¼ the price of Florida.
And the rest as they say is history. There were plans to build several cities up and down the coast, but these got shelved after the 2008 financial crisis but there is still word of putting an international airport in at Tulum, now a small town that retains a loose, semi touristy, scruffy feel.
The name the “Mayan Riviera” came later – I can imagine a high end ad agency pitching the idea (“like Monaco with tacos!”). And the beaches from Cancun to Tulum, about 1 hour south, are a tourist machine, with someone on every corner with a Shop Vac ready suck your wallet clean.
(My laptop packed it in a couple of weeks ago and so I am writing this on a tablet using a Spanish-formatted keyboard that I picked up at a RadioShack. Please forgive the increase in typos.)