My last day January 8th, 2013 in US began very early (4:15 am Eastern). I just woke up for some reason. I knew I needed to be up at 5:00 am but for some reason just woke up early. I did try to get back to sleep, but I knew that was pointless. So I got up and began getting ready for a long day of travel. My daughter was kind enough to offer a ride to Orlando’s International airport. 5:30 am came when we were to leave and she popped out saying she needed 10 minutes to get ready. She had overslept and didn’t hear her alarm. Fortunately, we left with plenty of time to make my 8:15 am flight to Cancun, MX. Luckily, the traffic was relatively light so she was able to pull up in front of my ticketing counter for JetBlue. We said our goodbyes and good lucks and now I was on my own.
Lesson learned: Always allow extra time getting to the airport in the event of some sort of minor delay. It will help with your stress level. It did mine.
I had all my worldly possessions in two bags packed to the gills! One check in bag weighing I hoped was a little less than 50 lbs. (the limit for no charges) and a carry-on back pack weighing in at 40 lbs. When I entered the terminal I was confronted immediately with a long ticketing line made up of a lot of Spanish decent people. At the end of the line was a very large family consisting of grandma and grandpa to small children and everyone speaking Spanish. By luck, there was a separate line for those who already had boarding passes and just needed to check bags that only had one or two people in it. But the entry to the line was blocked by an older Spanish gentleman that I just couldn’t get him to understand I needed to get by to enter the line. He was waiting in the over flowing ticketing line. Finally, made it through and got called up to check my bag. I just hoped I wasn’t over the weight limit of 50 lbs. Made it though. It also was the first time I needed to pull out my passport for inspection. Once my bag was checked, it was a whole lot easier to manage just the one bag. Next was getting through TSA.
Lesson learned: Review the airline baggage policies and attempt to pack under their weight limits. Weigh your bags before heading to the airport if their is a question about weight. Also consider what you are taking and try to take only the essentials. Much of what you need may be purchased locally when you arrive.
Orlando International has their TSA checkpoint in the main entry terminal and everyone is shuttled to the departure terminals and gates. You are confronted with a massive amount of people at this point with zigzagging roped off lines. Surprisingly, I only was in line for a total of 15 minutes. Shoes off, laptop in it’s own tray, and 40 lb. bag on the conveyor belt. Body scanned. I did leave my new money belt on and had no problem. About every other guy was taking his off. Anyway, once I passed security I proceeded to the Gate 9 shuttle and only waited seconds for it to appear. Off I went to the gate terminal in plenty of time so I stopped for a juice and muffin. $7 – airport prices are awful.
Lesson learned: Don’t panic when seeing long security lines, TSA does try and make things move quickly, but I’d recommend allowing a minimum of a half hour to pass security. Also, pack some granola bars or something similar to avoid high airport food prices.
Once at my departure gate, the attendant announced that all passengers must check in for a review of their documents. When I got to the counter they ask for my passport and boarding pass. They then asked where my return ticket was? I said I believed I didn’t need one if I didn’t intend to stay longer than 180 days. The attendant insisted I did and offered me a chance to purchase one on the spot. I insisted I did not. She turned to another attendance and asked and she said she wasn’t sure. Next that attendant got on the phone while I stepped aside because I was blocking a long line of people checking in. After two phone calls, the second attendant said it was OK for me to go without a return ticket.
Lesson learned: Be insistent if you believe you are right when dealing with customer service personnel. Many times they are ill or misinformed about visa requirements. Always do your research on your entry country visa requirements.
After dealing with the stress of being informed I needed a return ticket by the airline attendant, I was able to sit comfortably waiting for my boarding time. I was glad to hear my flight was on time and I began to take advantage of the free airport wifi to text people of my status since I didn’t know when I would be able to recontact them. Boarding was on time and I was seated next to a non-English speaking Hispanic girl. The trip was pretty silent. I noticed I was one of the few Americans on the flight. I also noticed a number of families traveling back from Disney World. Apparently, a number of Mexican families have attain some level of affluence.
Shortly after takeoff, we were given our immigration and custom forms. I did take some time completing these and asked for a full 180 day stay just to be safe. Our landing was fairly smooth and being at the back of the plane it did take a while to disembark. I was a little worried about time, as Tim Anderson and his girlfriend Cristina Barrios from Marginal Boundaries were meeting me to help get me to my final destination.
Once we disembarked we had to proceed directly to the immigration stations, where an officer reviewed our passport and the immigration form. Apparently I failed to see a portion of the form that required completion and was sent to a counter to complete the form correctly (basically you expected to complete a portion of the visa side of the form with your name, birthday, and passport number). After immigration you proceed to the baggage claim to pick up your bags then go to customs where your bags are run through some type of scanning machine. Mine went through OK, then your customs form is collected by another agent when requests you push an electronic button. If a green light appears you are free to proceed with your bags in tow. If a red light appears you are ushered over to a search area where you’ve got to open up your bags. I’m so glad I got the green light as my bags were busting at the seams as is. I seriously doubt I could re-pack them with all I had brought.
My next task was to get some pesos at an ATM and find Tim and Cristina. I spotted an ATM against a wall as I was exiting and two other guys were trying to use it. Apparently, the ATM stopped issuing pesos and they said there was another ATM in terminal 2, so off I went down the exit ramp from terminal 1. As luck would have it Tim and Cristina were waiting at the bottom of the exit ramp. So glad I found them easily and it turns out they were waiting only 5 minutes. I explained I needed pesos and Tim offered to front me a bus ticket to Playa del Carmen where I could use a bank ATM there. Off we went to the bus terminal loading area which Tim was kind enough to pull my 50 lb. rolling duffel bag. He explained that the best exchange rates and safe ATM’s are at the banks and Playa del Carmen had several near the bus terminal. The bus was a large greyhound sized bus with very comfortable seats. I was a little more relaxed once we got on and started to my final destination. It also gave me a chance to get acquainted with Tim and Cristina.
Once we arrived at Playa del Carmen I was able to find a bank ATM (Scotia Bank). Now the instructions for use are in Spanish and subtitled in English, reverse of US. I needed to withdraw some expense money so I decided $200 should be good. I punched in 200 and out pops 200 pesos (less than $20 US). Tim suggested $2500 pesos which would be close to $200 pesos, so back to the ATM a second time and this time I’m ready to go.
Lesson learned: When you’re in Mexico now every money transaction including ATM amounts will be in pesos. Know generally what the exchange rates are so you can convert to equivalent dollar value so you can relate to the values of things. Also, remember that ATM’s are subtitled in English and dollar amounts are in pesos.
We proceeded to the Collectivo pick up point about three or four blocks away. These passenger vans are used extensively by the locals to get around. They pack them full of up to 15 people including any luggage and hand carried items. The cost from Playa del Carmen to Akumal (my destination was 4 miles North) was $35 pesos equivalent to less than three dollars. At this point I’m really glad Tim and Cristina are along because the drivers typically don’t speak English and Tim was able to give specific stop directions. I also need to comment that these drivers are in a hurry, the more passengers the more their salary is I believe. So they tend to race from point to point.
After several stops to let people off and pick some up, we finally arrive at our destination, a limestone road between two stone column with a small sign declaring it to be Rancho Santa Terresita. About 800 yards up the road going into the “jungle” is a gate manned by a guard. We stop and explain I am a new arrival for Lot #37. He knows nothing about it and speaks very little English. Thanks to Tim and Cristina’s help in Spanish, they were quickly able to sort things out and a van happens to pull up who knew I was coming. At that point, Tim and Cristina has to say farewell as Cristina had to get back to Cancun for work. Fortunately, the lady in the van spoke English and we drove for almost a half mile to her husbands office to pick up the key to #37. Also a maid came along to open the place and clean it up. Guess this isn’t unusual according to Tim.
Once the gate was opened to Rancho Amor, the photos I received early came to life. It is a rustic jungle compound that is isolated from the outside. The main highway sounds could still be heard (traffic and truck noise) so you knew you weren’t too far into the jungle.
The maid promptly went to work cleaning up the place while I walked around the grounds to get familiar with it. It is really set up for outdoor living with a pool area, an outdoor wood burning oven and grill, a table and chairs under the main palapa (residence), a Mexican braided hammock, and a poolside “banos” (bathroom).
Once the maid was completed, I was left to fair for myself and realized I needed groceries. So off I hiked with my back pack and computer hoping to get internet connection to the main road to catch a Collectivo to the nearest grocery (the Super Chedraui) in Puerto Aventuras.
Getting to and from the grocery was a challenge with no Spanish but somehow I managed. I’m in an area where very little English is spoken by locals, so I’m always on the lookout for other “gringos”. The shopping wasn’t easy as everything as expected is in Spanish, but you tend to recognize some American products. Absolutely very little frozen food. For dinner here my first night I had a Lean Cuisine garlic linguine. I’ll need to adapt to the local food here and learn to cook like they do or else starve.
After dinner and dark it grew much quieter but a lot of animal noises could be heard. Since I have no TV and even if I did I’d have to watch it subtitled, I decided to watch one of the saved movies on my laptop. After that I was pretty weary and decided to take a shower and get to bed with the intention of obtaining internet service tomorrow since I hadn’t communicated my successful landing to friends and family back home.
Reflections: Successful trip, glad to have someone meet me, the language barrier is going to be a problem, the lodging is remote, rustic but semi comfortable.