Saturday Morning in Cancun

Today I wake up at 7:48. I’d wanted to sleep in because our toddler slept over at my suegros’ house last night, but in the back of my mind I know I have too much writing to do today. To get anything done without distractions, a few hours at Starbucks will be necessary. I slip on some ratty jeans, a sheer top and flip flops because Cancun has been incredibly hot this July, but I also stick a shawl into my laptop case (a repurposed beach bag) because people in this city have a love affair with air conditioning.

Mexico house gateI make sure to put some makeup on while parked in my driveway because Mexican women don’t like to go out without their face put on. Many of my expat girlfriends still prefer little to no makeup, but I’ve had one too many Mexican women ask me why I look so tired on days when I’d chosen not to wear concealer. Not today.

The Starbucks is empty when I arrive, but over the next three hours it begins to fill up with mostly 30-somethings holding casual business meetings over their white paper cups. It hits me that coffee shops are a middle-class luxury here in Mexico, drawing in a certain kind of clientele… most people in Cancun can’t afford to pay $20 to $100 pesos for a coffee drink. I always start my coffee shop mornings pouring over the latest updates on TMZ; for some reason, celebrity gossip makes me feel a sort of weird connection back to my homeland of the USA.

At mid-morning, I call our cleaning lady Doña Silvia to see if she’s ready for me to pick her up. She’s been working for my husband’s family for 15 years, and now she works for us, too. She’s part of the family. We usually pick her up and drive her home on cleaning days because she has bad vision and doesn’t get around on the city buses very easily.

Downtown Cancun neighborhoodSick of the Starbucks air conditioning, I decide to drive with the windows down. It’s hot and muggy, but like most young American women I have some obsession with roasting myself in the sun. Mexican women are different – and smarter. At a stoplight, I see an old woman panhandling to the stopped cars; she’s wearing a heavy sweater, long skirt and hat to protect herself from the sun. Two women cross the street and I see one’s carrying an umbrella for shade while the other has a dishrag draped over her head. Further down the avenue, a group of kids huddles under another umbrella as they walk home. I continue roasting with the windows down, reveling in the hot rays hitting my arm.

Downtown Cancun avenueJorge’s favorite band blasts from my stereo because Spanish-language reggae reminds me of the beach, and it’s been so long since I’ve been… even though the best beaches in the world are only 15 minutes away. I swerve around a huge Coca-Cola truck (soda is more abundant than water in this part of Mexico), then make a left turn and admire the summer’s bright orange flamboyant tree blooms creating shade over this side street. My brain starts to wonder if my sisters would like these flowers… Cancun has become my home and I no longer miss the US, but I guess I still miss my family because I frequently find myself having imaginary conversations with them or wondering what they’d think of this crazy city.

Downtown Cancun housesI pull up to Doña Silvia’s house and remember how she once told me that the men who live behind her like to sit atop the back wall and drink – they’ve fallen into her backyard twice. The car’s air conditioning gets turned on because I know Cancun locals love air conditioning and Doña Silvia shouldn’t have to suffer my gringa preference for hot, burning sunshine. On the drive home, we talk about my son and the heat as I swerve from lane to lane avoiding pot holes, another Coca-Cola truck, and some men riding their triciclos (Mexican bike with a platform on the front used for transporting heavy stuff around). I used to be a responsible driver who always stuck to her lane, but here there are no lanes.

Downtown Cancun streetAs we turn into my part of town, we pass a man selling fruit out of the back of his red pickup truck, then a carpenter selling handmade wood furniture by the side of the road, then a pop-up plant nursery. We pass the Oxxo convenience store (the last of four Oxxos during the five-minute drive between Doña Silvia’s house and mine) and I wonder if the marquesita cart will be in the empty lot by the Oxxo tonight; I could use a dessert.