My first clue was 9 years ago at university here in Cancun.
In 1st semester, my Mexican classmates would frequently ask me, “Laura, where are your earrings?” “Laura, why didn’t you do your hair today?” “Laura, why do you have huge bags under your eyes?” So for the past 9 years, I have made sure to never leave the house without earrings and concealer. The comments have almost entirely disappeared. (I still don’t “do” my hair, though, because I’m not sure what that means. Now that it’s super-long, nobody says anything, so I think I’m ok.)
On Saturday, Jorge and I went to a wedding. I put on a pretty dress, strapped on some nice sandals and covered my face in exorbitant quantities of makeup. This time, I was determined to get it right.
And yet, once we were at the reception, I looked around me and saw scores of Mexican women with beautifully crafted makeup designs. We were surrounded on all sides by immaculately blended smoky eyes, perfectly glossed lips and expertly placed lashes, all complemented by skin-tight cocktail dresses, push-up bras and sky-high heels. These women are good. My makeup looked bland and colorless by comparison. So what is a girl to do? I rushed to the ladies room, where I had to wait for two tween girls to take some selfies before I achieved mirror access, then I put on as much eyeliner as my eyes could handle. Better. But still not enough. Eyeliner was all I had in my arsenal, so it would have to do for now. I swore that for the next big social event, I would attempt a smoky eye.
Today, it’s happening all over again. The internet at my house is down, so I had to rush to Starbucks this morning to start work at 9am. I barely had time to wash my hair before I left the house, but I did manage to shower and miraculously iron my shirt. So here I am right now, sitting at Starbucks, with a naked face and damp, tangled hair. This Starbucks, however, is a fancy Starbucks. The people who come here are Cancun’s elite… or at least, they pretend to be. The women here have perfectly straightened hair and brightly colored wardrobes that look anything but effortless, or sometimes expensive workout gear paired with a full face of makeup so they can look spectacular during a session at the nearby gym. When the men walk past my table in their tightly-fitting button-up shirts and overly gelled hair, overpowering scents of Lacoste and D&G reach my nostrils for a brief instant. My ears are filled with the sounds of the baristas preparing Pumpkin Spice Lattes, the giggles of 30-something Mexican trophy wives, and the over-enunciations of Mexican businessmen trying to impress their colleagues. It’s a fashion show, and I showed up unprepared.
And surprise, surprise… once again, I’m the only female in the room with no earrings.
Arriving at social gatherings in Mexico is a true art form. For Mexicans, it comes naturally. They know exactly when to show up for parties, coffee dates, dinners, etc without offending anyone or being offended by others.
For expats, we need a few years of careful cultural study before we finally stop checking our watches in annoyance every time we plan a meetup at Sanborns. When an American says a party starts at 7pm, you can be sure that all guests will be there at 7pm (and leaving at 9pm haha). In Mexico, parties start whenever and end some time before everyone has to go to work the next morning.
Hopefully I can help you jump ahead in your quest to being on time in Mexico by laying out what I’ve learned as an American in Mexico over the past 9 years.
So you’re in Mexico, and you’ve agreed to meet someone for coffee, or maybe a late dinner. If you made these plans more than one day in advance, I’m sorry to tell you that your plans do not exist. It’s useful to check ahead to make sure the other person doesn’t already have plans for that time, but your plans aren’t official until you call or text them the day of the meeting to confirm. Here’s how to do it:
Step 1: Tell the person you would like to meet up with them the following day. Mention the general time (morning, lunch, dinner, night, etc), but don’t bother with an actual time just yet.
Step 2: The morning of said meeting, text or call the person with something along the lines of, “Good morning! Can you still meet me today? Does 8pm at Sanborns sound good?”
Step 3: Now we’re getting into expert level. This is my secret to saving yourself a lot of headache… Text the person 30 minutes before the scheduled time with something like, “Getting ready now! See you in half an hour. Can’t wait!” This will help ensure they don’t forget or back out. It also gives them an opening to let you know if they will be late.
Step 4: Arrive 10 minutes later than whatever time they plan to arrive. It’s ok because they will be 15 minutes late.
Step 5: If for some reason you arrive after the other person, even if it’s 30 seconds after, you have to give a lame excuse. You can just quickly say, “Sorry, traffic was bad” or whatever you want, but you have to give some reason. Otherwise it would be awkward. I don’t know why. It’s just what you do.
2. Small groups of friends
The lead-up to plans with groups of 3 – 10 friends is the same as with a one-on-one. (Confirm the day of, etc.) However, things get a little tricky because the time is likely to be pushed back further and further the closer you get. With modern technology, I recommend a text chat group with this group of friends so you can get a play-by-play. Be ready to leave your house at the set time. If you planned to meet somewhere at 8pm, that’s the time you should be putting your shoes on to leave. BUT… don’t actually leave your house until you get a text from someone saying, “Ok I’m here. Where are you guys?” This way, you won’t be the first to arrive, but you won’t be the last, either.
3. House parties
If you show up within 30 minutes of a Mexican party’s scheduled start time, congratulations: you have just earned a spot on the planning committee. If you’re a family member of the host, you’ll be asked to run to Walmart to pick up soda, paper plates and tortilla chips. If you’re not a family member, you will have to help set up chairs and tables, then sit around in awkward silence waiting for everyone else to arrive. I try to arrive 1 hour after the scheduled time. That way you’re not the first person to arrive, but you’ve still made it in time to score the best taco ingredients and see the piñata. If you have close friends or family attending the same party, you can always call or text them to see when they plan on being there.
- While Mexicans are rarely on time for social events, they always try to be on time for business meetings, interviews, class, doctor’s appointments, exams and movies.
- Never, ever make plans with a Mexican on a Sunday. Sunday in Mexico is strictly family day, and unless they’re inviting you to their cousin’s birthday party or their nephew’s baptism party, there’s no way they’re going to make time for you.
- The Mamá Factor: Even if you follow all the proper steps, keep in mind that a Mexican may still cancel on you at any time if their mom calls and asks them for something. (I’ve had friends cancel on me at the last minute to go to the grocery store with their mom… more than once.)
In summer 2005, I left my family and friends behind. At age 19 I had moved to Cancun, a place where I didn’t know anybody. My first memory of the city is riding in a van from the airport to the downtown bus station. The van passed through the entire length of the Cancun Hotel Zone, stopping to let off other passengers along the way. The city had me hooked immediately. From that first van ride from the airport, I was mesmerized by the glittering lights of the huge beach hotels. This was where I belonged.
This week, 9 years of exploring, writing and learning have culminated in something pretty cool: one of the biggest travel publications in the world has named me a Cancun expert.
I’m thrilled to announce that I’m the Travel + Leisure Cancun Local Expert!
It’s every travel writer’s dream to write for a huge publication like Travel + Leisure, and I’m beyond happy to be working with them. I’ll be sharing my Travel + Leisure articles periodically on the Gringation Blog Facebook page so you can see even more of this city that I love so much.
They also have an extensive list of other great travel experts in different cities across the globe, which you can see here. I’m in good company.
From confused teenage American in 2005… to top Cancun travel expert in 2014!
Thanks to my parents for going along with my crazy move to Mexico, to Jorge for always being there to convince me I’m superwoman, to my boss Michele Kinnon at BuyPlaya Real Estate for recommending me to Travel + Leisure, and to all of my Mexican friends who have showed me what this culture is all about over the past decade.
Snorkeling used to terrify me. I would put my face under the water and instantly feel like I was being suffocated. Maybe that’s what claustrophobia feels like?
But living in the Cancun and Riviera Maya area, you have to get over your fear of snorkeling if you want to have any fun!
After 9 year living here, I’m finally comfortable snorkeling. The thought of barracudas still freaks me out more than I like to admit, but I’m trying to move past it. A few weekends ago, I went with a few of my coworkers from BuyPlaya Real Estate on a girls’ day in Tankah Bay! First we snorkeled in the ocean (no pictures, sorry), where we saw lots of huge colorful fish and the entrance to an underwater cave. No barracudas in sight, thank you God.
Next, we walked across the street to the main cenote in Tankah. I’m unsure of the name, but from quick internet searching it seems to be called simply “Tankah Cenote” or “Casa Cenote” (after the nearby restaurant). This cenote is interesting because it connects to the ocean through a large tunnel… the same one we saw when snorkeling in the ocean! It’s a completely open cenote, unlike many of the cave cenotes you’ll find throughout the Yucatan Peninsula.
Our group of four girls spent an hour or two exploring Tankah Cenote, which begins as an open pond-type area then becomes a long river through the mangrove.
The water was simply unbelievable. It reached 4 to 5 meters deep in most areas, but everything was crystal clear. Like swimming in a pool!
What I loved about Tankah Cenote was the mangrove on either side. As you’re swimming along, you see underwater forests of the long, thin roots on either side of you. The entire coast of the Riviera Maya is filled with mangrove, and it’s a huge part of the local eco system. At this cenote, you can see why! Mangrove roots thrive when growing in mud and water, so they serve as the perfect filter to keep the water clean and free of debris. In fact, the mangrove tree system is one of the main reasons that the ocean and cenotes in this area are so clear!
The mangrove is also home to lots of baby wildlife, as well. It must be fish hatching season, because we spotted thousands and thousands of baby fish living in the underwater mangrove roots. Just gorgeous.
During my snorkeling adventure in Tankah Cenote, I saw lots and lots and lots of baby fish, plus some bigger and more colorful fish near the floor. I even spotted a blue crab! (That little guy was hard to see because he was 5 meters below me and blended with the blue water. I had to dive down a few times to get better look.)
Tankah Cenote was also a fun place for me to get more comfortable with my snorkeling skills. Being in such clear, pool-like water made me feel safer than snorkeling in the waves of the ocean… with all the barracudas… ugh. And of course, my friends and I seized the opportunity to take some fun underwater pictures.
We also saw lots of divers. Apparently Tankah Cenote is also a popular spot for beginner divers, and there were several people there getting scuba diving lessons. I’ll stick to snorkeling for now, thanks.
Tankah Bay is located in the Riviera Maya, just north of Tulum. It has plenty of beautiful beach homes to look at, and of course great snorkeling locations. To get to Tankah Cenote, we drove down the main highway and turned left at a sign with a large peacock on it about 10 minutes after Akumal. Sorry I can’t be more specific!
All of these photos were taken by my friend Lisa Love Juliot, who works with me at BuyPlaya Real Estate.
On the same day that we did the Seawalls mural tour of downtown Isla Mujeres, we also spent the afternoon at Fenix Beach Club! It was my first time there, and I was absolutely in love.
Fenix is located on the northern end of North Beach (by the bridge to the Mia hotel), and it has the same crystal clear, shallow waters that the rest of North Beach is known for… but with even less waves! Even though the water in this part was just as clear and beautiful as my previous North Beach pictures, for some reason it didn’t photograph quite as well. Very strange.
Jorge, my friends Tori and Laura and I had an awesome day with limonadas, ceviche and lots of time in the water. To use one of the beds and umbrellas at Fenix, we just had to consume $300 pesos in food and drinks. Not a problem.
Here are some of my favorite pictures! Since it was right in the middle of whale shark season, there were lots of tour boats just offshore enjoying their post-tour lunches. What a beautiful (and ridiculously hot) day.
It’s no secret to my friends that I love bright colors. My wardrobe is mostly teals, greens, oranges and hot pinks. So when we saw pictures from the Sea Walls project on Isla Mujeres, my friends and I just had to go!
Sunday morning, I went with Jorge and my fellow gringa friends Tori and Laura N. to the nearby island of Isla Mujeres to view the Sea Walls: Murals for Oceans event going on in town. Throughout the downtown area, artists had spent the week painting large and colorful murals inspired by local sea life, and we got there just in time to see them put the finishing touches on their works of art.
Small crowds were gathered near each piece with people snapping cell phone pics of these bright and beautiful murals. And of course I was there with my trusty camera.
This was my personal favorite!
I loved this, too. The orange clouds spoke to me.
And for some reason I was obsessed with this jade mask. Quite the fashion statement.
And here are some of my favorite shots from our little downtown Isla Mujeres mural tour:
If you want to see the murals in person, here’s a handy map of the different locations. They’re very easy to find!
And to view the completed murals, check out the Sea Walls Facebook page!
Sometimes a big personality can add great flavor to even the smallest travel destinations.
On my road trip to Mahahual this year (see all the beach pics here!), I fell in love with all the colorful signs I found while walking along the Malecon. Some of them were cute, some informative, and some hilarious. Clearly, this is a beach town that knows how to have some fun. Enjoy!
And of course… the one sign that every travel blogger wants to see… truly this must be paradise.
Over my 9 years in Cancun, I’ve made an effort to explore all the main travel destinations in the state of Quintana Roo. I’ve made it to Holbox, Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos and Akumal. All the big ones. All that was left was Mahahual, Bacalar, and Sian Ka’an. A few months ago, I got to cross two of those off my list!
My friend Julie (another gringa) and I planned a little weekend road trip to Mahahual and Bacalar… not an easy thing to because they’re 4 – 5 hours south of Cancun. We took her car down the main highway, and we gossiped and reminisced about 90s music along the way. There was an overnight stay in Tulum before we made it to the little beach town of Mahahual for the afternoon.
The original plan was to stay a night in Mahahual, but since it was Semana Santa (“Holy Week”, kind of like Mexico’s Spring Break when they all go on vacation), all of the hotels in Mahahual were booked solid. So a few hours would have to be enough!
When we arrived in Mahahual, I wasn’t too excited. All the action is set along the Malecon, a beachfront pedestrian street, and it was packed. I don’t mind a busy beach, but this was ridiculous. And Mexicans don’t do beach days quite like Americans do. Americans will spread out a towel, tan, order a few drinks and play in the water. On the other hand, when Mexicans travel with the family, they will usually grab a table on the sand so they can eat and drink all day. (Let’s be honest, the Mexican way is so much better.) Unfortunately, this meant that the beach I’d dreamed of visiting for years was filled with plastic tables and chairs.
Luckily as Julie and I walked further down the Malecon, the crowds thinned out a little and we were able to find a beach club with some space. We ordered some drinks and a light lunch, and spent all afternoon hanging out in the water!
Just off the beach, there’s a reef where the waves break, so the water right by the beach is shallow and still, like a pool. It was HEAVENLY.
Our stretch of beach was pretty quiet, but I could see the Semana Santa crowds further down. My next Mahahual trip will be during low season!
For now I’ll leave you all with pictures of the beach and the Malecon, which was pretty cool! I’ll definitely be back to Mahahual.
…just remind me of this post.
Last night was the whole “blood moon” thing, which I was too tired to see. However, lots of Cancun locals headed to the beach to see it. I just happened to be in the Hotel Zone with Joge’s family last night, and around 11pm we decided to buy some pizza and head to Playa Delfines, otherwise known as “El Mirador”. (Just picture this beach, but at night.)
We ate pizza and drank Coca Cola using one of those little palapa-table things, while everyone else around us set up their telescopes in preparation for the blood moon. We didn’t stick around nearly long enough to see it, but it was an amazing hour of family, ocean breezes, a full moon and lots of other Cancun locals enjoying it just like we were.
I have to remind myself that those are the moments I’ll always remember. Beach nights, full moons, pizza parties… not sitting around staring at my cell phone.
Jorge and I went to his cousin’s first communion at a small, open-air Catholic church close to our house over the weekend.
While we were there, I picked up this piece of wisdom:
“God is speaking to you today, but not on your cell phone.”