The One Where I Took My Mom to Mexico
Jen, Julia and I are gathered in my room trying to find somewhere to go on my four days off.
Julia (the “desperate-to-travel college kid”): “LITERALLY, let’s just go ANYWHERE!”
Jen (the “I’d like to go somewhere but I have to obsess about it for 2 weeks before I ultimately decided to not go” parent): “OMG, I don’t know about Mexico, quick, let’s call Fabs and see what she thinks.”
Me (the “just make a decision already and tell me when I need to be at the airport” flight attendant): “Alright, I’m like, not even feeling like going anywhere anymore…”
So you’re probably wondering why I call my mom “Jen.” First off, Jen is a complex character, unworthy of just the standard label “Mom.” Secondly, when you come from a large extended family and there are 9 other women who also go by “…MOM?!,” the need to be more specific arises. Have ya met Jen?
This is Jen. Doesn't she slay?
It should be noted that the person in charge of making these arrangements- these international travel arrangements- is the person who just got her first passport and had yet to locate it. But, we are a people of hope, so we continued with our travel arrangement assuming we’d find that document after the other details had been squared away. Remember this.
After a phone call to one of Jen’s Mexican friends (#SubjectMatterExpert), Julia’s trigger-happy “CONFIRM RESERVATION” click, and my overall unhelpfulness (“omg just pick already,”) we had reservations for 3 at the Occidental Xcaret Resort in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Remember Julia’s passport she had never seen? Yeah. Three hours later, it was still MIA. To her and the rest of the house. All hide and no seek. We tore up the house looking for that thing to no avail. So guess who wasn’t going to Mexico after all? (At least we laughed about it.)
Cut to 4:30 the next morning. Jen comes in my room.
“Wanna just forfeit the money and not go?”
“What…sure…I mean...no…I don’t know.”
“Ok if we’re gonna go, we have to leave now.”
“Alright let’s go.”
It should also be noted that as a flight attendant, my parents and I get massive flight benefits, so we were paying next to nothing for the flight, making our plans very, very flexible. Except for the very, very inflexible “no refunds or cancellations” company we booked our hotel through. Which meant we were still paying for Julia, our third passport-less guest. Can’t have it all.
Jen and I loaded the car and set off to the airport, arriving just in time despite a patch of traffic (“who knew there would be so many people out on the road on 0630 on a Tuesday?”) en route. We breezed through security #PrecheckStatus, got to the gate, and awaited the announcing of our names for coveted seats on that direct flight with service from Dulles to Cancun.
The flight was quick and easy, just over 3 hours to hop down to the eastern coast of Mexico. The immigration forms were only in Spanish that day, so naturally, Jen was calm, cool and collected as she read her form- “NOMBRE? FECHA? WHAT IS THIS” -pero tranquila mama- you didn’t see me graduate with a BA in Spanish for nada. ;)
After clearing customs, we totally bypassed the additional scanners at security that the rest of the white people were putting their suitcases through and walked straight out to where the shuttles are. No idea if this was ok/normal/legal…no one stopped us and we made it back to our country so…
Since we booked our trip to Mexico about 17 hours before we arrived, our shuttle reservation wasn’t showing up in the system, but again, no pasa nada, ‘twas all figured out. We stayed not in Cancun proper, but in Playa del Carmen, which was about a 45-minute drive from CUN airport. Our resort, Occidental Xcaret, is a sprawling jungle-themed campus. It really is beautiful. I had never stayed at a resort hotel before, but Jen had stayed at one in the Bahamas, so naturally, that was the comparison all trip. ("Well, when I stayed at this resort in the Bahamas...." "The resort in the Bahamas...." "It's like the resort in the Bahamas, but..." Apples to oranges game: strong.)
I will say that it took for-ev-er to finally get into our room at the place. We landed early, around 11:30 am, finally got to the hotel around 1:00, 1:30, and weren’t able to check in until 3:00. By the time we finally keyed into our room, it was nearly 4:00. The check-in process was anything but speedy, but all of the staff were nice at least. Like I mentioned above, this place was huge, and we had to take a golf cart shuttle everywhere.
Jen and I went and had lunch at one of the buffets in the interim we spent waiting to check-in, and then enjoyed a couple of (much-needed) mojitos down at the lobby bar after. #AllInclusive.
This particular resort is not one of the stock image ones with a long strip of white-sand beaches at the end of the pathway. It is very much a jungle resort, with iguanas crawling on the sidewalks (you bet I screamed), spider monkeys in the trees (ok that was kind of cool) and stinkbugs imported from Virginia from Jen’s suitcase!
We spend the rest of our Tuesday exploring the resort, discovering a couple of pools, the saltwater pool and the “adult only” area (read: no kids) and a small beach that I’m still not entirely sure if we, as non Royal-members, were even allowed on. Whateva.
If you’re still reading this, lol, thanks! All that rambling and I barely covered over 30 hours in time. I guess we do, in fact, lead exciting lives. Ah, the adventures of Jen and Kristin.
DAY TWO, in Mexico
Jen and I hit the breakfast buffet after making van arrangements to return to the airport the day after next. I grabbed a bunch of flyers and info for a tour to visit Chichen Itza and began my campaign to convince Jen to leave the resort life for a day and venture out into Mexico and see this place. Cuz, hello, you can’t be within 3 hours of one of the 7 Wonders of the World and not go. That’s as bad as booking a trip and losing your passport. (Too soon? @julia)
Jen had to think about this (see above, re: Jen’s trip decision-making process) so we went straight to the pool afterword and spent the majority of the morning and early afternoon basking like those creepy iguanas in the sun. Man, was that the life. Getting a Mexican sunburn on a Wednesday in January, just because. #blessed
A river runs through this particular resort, making it looks suspiciously like the San Antonio River Walk (one of my fave layovers!) The hotel has 22 buildings with rooms, 5 restaurants, a gym, pools, bars, and a bunch of little shops. They said it was “high season” for tourism, but there weren’t as many people as I would’ve expected there. But, that was great, because it wasn’t like we were fighting for space or feeling claustrophobic at the pool or any common areas. The river walk area, however, was so sparsely populated that it was a little creepy to me. I just don’t like large, open areas with no one in them. Like empty airport terminals…no gracias.
Each night, we would eat at one of the restaurants and then go to the 9:30 pm show. I can’t remember what the first night’s show was, but there was a kids’ act before it, and that night, all these little kids had a hula-hooping competition on stage. This sounds highly uninteresting in writing, but it was surprisingly entertaining. So much so, that I can’t even remember what the main act that night was. The other shows we saw were mainly dance-focused. One was a chronology of popular Disney movies and dances inspired by them. Another was a show of cultural music from around the world. The music chosen to represent the United States, I was pleased to see, was Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” and not a country-western cowboy number. The last night was a magic show, and I don’t know about you, but I am always super impressed by magic shows of any kind because however simple the trick may actually be, I don’t possess that talent, so I was in total awe.
Alright, back to me really wanting to visit Chichen Itza. Got Jen to cave and come. Yeah, it would’ve been nice to have been able to spend another day getting really sunburnt at the beach and drinking “margaritas” (read: juice mix with “alcohol”), but I just had to go. So, we bought the tickets for our day trip, which included a visit to Chichen Itza, a “cenote” (a sinkhole of historical Mayan significance), and a quick end-of-the-day pit stop at the town of Valladolid. What. A. Day. I have to say that the tour company we went through, GoTours, was excellent. Our bus guide was so knowledgeable, excited, and captivating that he made the 3-hour bus ride there and back really informative and interesting. Something I learned: all of the beautifully embroidered Mexican tunic tops that you see down there, mostly in gift shops, are boxy and the awkward too-long-to-be-a-shirt but too-short-to-be-a-dress length because when the Spaniards came in, they decided the women needed to be more clothed than they were. So, they made them wear feed sacks, which were rectangular and of that length. The women would embroider them with flowers and other designs, and you could tell where they were from based on their embroidery.
Ok, flash forward to CHICHEN ITZA! ONE OF THE NEW SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD! CAN YOU TELL I’M EXCITED? Again, we had an AWESOME tour guide, and I really wish I could remember his name because if you go there, you’ve got to get him to give you the tour. I want to say his name was Jose B. He had been working at Chichen Itza since he was 17, and this guy’s gotta be in his 50’s or 60’s now. He’s just obviously so in love with the place, its history, and loves sharing it with everyone. He also takes bomb pics. (Gracias for these, Jose!) I can’t imagine leading tour groups to the same place for that long. But he loves it! He had all these great stories about different visitors over the years, celebrities (another fun fact: Chichen Itza has only denied entry to one person in its history- Justin Bieber.)
That day was exhausting. 7:30am-7:00pm. Pretty sure Jen and I experienced every emotion from annoyance, confusion, excitement, brief joy provided by Jose the tour guide as he made us laugh, to near resentment as we spent the entire hot, sweaty day wishing Julia was with us for comedic relief. You know how when you love your mom/daughter, but you just can’t spend that much time together in such close quarters with all this new stuff happening? #Relatable
Finally, time to leave! Except we were both a little bummed because we both wanted another day at the beach to chill and not do anything after having spent the previous day mood swinging all over Mexico. The adventure was far from over, though. Jen’s watch was having problems of its own, and that morning, she thought we had 35 extra minutes than we actually did in order to meet our transportation to the airport. We got up, quickly ate breakfast at the buffet, staring longingly at the beautiful hammocks and clear blue water, wishing we had more time. But alas, organs have to be played and flights need to be attended, so we had to go. Once we figured that for once I was right and Jen was wrong (@Timex, Jen needs a new watch), we scrambled to shove our stuff in our suitcases, managed to hitch a ride on the Royal Club golf cart, and made it to the bus just in time.
Here’s the part that made this trip possible: flight benefits. Because we flew standby, we have to wait at the gate and see if there are any unfilled seats in order for us to get on. Our flight from Cancun to Houston had availability, and we were to have a few hours of sit time in Houston before getting on our final flight back to Dulles. Well, the plane that was to take us to Houston was doing a turn, and had been delayed in Houston due to “refueling difficulties.” Definitely something I wanted them to resolve before coming to get us. Anyway, they got the plane refueled, because it eventually got to us and we were able to board and head to Houston. The only problem was that this all happened 3 hours later, and we were set to land in Houston with under one hour to make our connection to Dulles.
Shout-out to Mobile Passport! If you travel internationally and don’t have this, you seriously need to. It’s just an app you download on your phone, it’s free, and it helps you get through customs usually so much quicker than having to stand in the regular line. Seriously. Though not always the case, I have been able to get back in with Mobile Passport faster than those in the Global Entry line. Kid you not. Also, totally not sponsored. Just a fan. Anyway, I quickly downloaded Mobile Passport for Jen while we were deplaning, and then we ran (literally) through customs and got through much quicker than all the other plebeians in line. But, as you world travelers know, there’s always more security after customs, so we had to wait in line there. Our connecting flight was to depart at 1640 that afternoon. At this point, it was 1620. Not promising. But, we cleared security and ran again to the next stop: the train. Sigh. 16:30. The one time the flight is actually on time…
Jen and I stepped off the train and Jen must’ve been channeling her high school track days, because I have never seen that woman RUN as she did through Houston’s C terminal. Of course, our gate was C6, which is at the very far, far end of the terminal’s new cul-de-sac. So we’re both looking crazy, me in heeled booties dragging my suitcase I’m too tall to carry, and Jen carrying her big winter coat with her giant red carry-on, who had actually at that point apparently decided to give up because she saw the cul-de-sac and wasn’t running anymore. Come on, Jen! We got a flight to catch!
We got to the gate and it was Stress City. Those poor gate agents. I could never do their job. Be nice to your gate agents! They work so hard and get so much grief from passengers! It was 16:38 when Jen and I rolled up to the gate and I felt so bad showing my badge and asking if we could still get on, because the door was still open, but there was a group of people who had been rebooked trying to get to Amsterdam who I guess were deciding if they even wanted to get on the plane or not. Talk about insanity. Jen and I stood there and (im)patiently waited while these poor gate agents were under some serious visible pressure to get this flight on its way. It was the last flight to Dulles that day, so I was stressing that we were going to get stuck there, which is a very real possibility when traveling on standby. The agent at the computer was sweating and swearing at something, not paying attention to us; the agent at the door with the group of people was yelling at the the guy at the computer that she needed to shut the door; the computer agent started printing us boarding passes and the third agent at the ticket scanning kiosk was dealing with the Amsterdam passengers who were all very confused. 16:40. With the door closing, people yelling, and Jen and I running again, we somehow made it on. Oh, my gosh. That was stressful and that was weird. But we made it! And then we sat on the runway for 45 minutes waiting for maintenance paperwork before we actually took off. Oh, aviation!
That night, Jen and I landed around 20:30 and took the train to the bus to get to the car to drive home. We were back in bed by midnight, exhausted and impressed that we just somehow managed a shotgun trip to Mexico (that we almost didn’t even take) in 4 days. PHEW.
Was that crazy, or what? And don't worry, we took Julia out for Mexican the next night. No passport needed.