Dec 2008 flight to Cancun

Blog 1                                                December, 2008


Marcelle took us to the airport on Tuesday morning. The mercury hovered at 13 degrees (Fahrenheit, alas), the driveway was clear, after two days of shoveling the 16” of snow that was determined to give us a white Hannukah. She told us to call her NLT at 5:30, to make sure she didn’t oversleep, but when we rang her at 5:20 she was already out warming up her car. Somehow we managed to cram four months, three climates, two research projects, hiking and party clothes, computers and files, gifts and sudoku books into four suitcases plus my CPAP breathing machine and a backpack. One whole suitcase was the 4-month supply of meds for each of us.


 We’ve done this so many times, packed up for prolonged research or teaching gigs in Europe or the Americas: sabbaticals, leaves without pay, 5 summers on the Camino de Santiago. But somehow this one feels different.


Sitting in two white rocking chairs in the sun-drenched atrium of the Charlotte airport between flights it hit us. This trip is the beginning of our new life! We’re NOT going back to the University: we’ve retired. We’ve bought one way-tickets, postponing until some unspecified later when (if?) we will go back to the United States. We’ve NOT rented out our house this time. We’re no longer constrained by our obligations to parcel our calendar into semester-long rentable bits. We canceled our landline and given up our number: say a requiem or kaddish for 401-782-1245.  We are henceforth only celled. There’s been a metamorphosis: we’ve become snowbirds: fully fledged and out of the nest.


And it’s about time!


But then it’s always been about time, really. The day not enjoyed, a page torn out of the diary, wadded up and thrown away. I’ve always admired people who get a kick out of their work, their friends, their hobbies, their loved ones, the times when they are doing absolutely nothing and consciously enjoying it to the fullest. This includes a lot of the people who will be reading these words, people who are a constant source of inspiration to me. People who don’t need a wake up call because they can hear the clock ticking in the alligator’s belly.

But of course even when a person is wide awake, a failing vital organ and a transplant are a pretty effective alarm clock, even if redundant.  Nothing, I think it was Samuel Johnson who said this, nothing concentrates the attention like knowing they are going to hang you in the morning.


So lift your (alcohol free) cups with me and let’s toast the day after that morning.


Sorry, didn’t mean to get maudlin. I did want to say that as the clouds below us offered tantalizing glimpses of first the Gulf and then the slate-green Yucatan jungle and Linda snoozed and purred on my shoulder, and the purser or whatever you call him gave mumbled urgent vague instructions about how to fill out our Mexican customs declarations, I found myself grinning like an idiot.


Linda and I visited Cancún once. I think it was shortly after the Mayans chucked their high civilization for a marginal existence in the jungle. I recall that we had to circle the Cancún airport a couple of times while the ground crew chased some cows off the runway. There were four or five big hotels out on the strip, but we decided they were too fancy for the likes of us. We found a room in the workers’ district of San Fernando, north of Cancún City, right on the beach. A clean room with screens on the windows and clean sheets and running cold water for —as I recall— six bucks a night. And fresh grilled fish in the thatched palapa just across the street.


Well, things have really changed. Vegas has nothing on the hotels on Cancún’s strip, now formally designated the Zona hotelera. Five-hundred-room behemoths, glass and concrete towers sticking up along the narrow barrier beach like the dorsal fin of a swordfish. Acres of glass. Swimming pools with waterfalls, tiers, lagoons. Restaurants where you can get overpriced American cuisine and platters of just the sort of Mexican food that Americans know and love. Pig-out buffets. Not for us; no way. We’d never stay at a place like that.


Except that it is Christmas week. Which is when Mexicans take vacations with their families. And where, I found after a couple of dozen fruitless hours on the web, every one of the gazillion hotel rooms in Cancún —except for the $350/night top of the line— were booked solid. In desperation, I tried PriceLine, asking what was available in Cancún or environs for the 23rd and 24th. It turned out there were only a dozen rooms still unbooked, All but two of them over $200 (dollars, not pesos) a night. One was $82 and one $84. I decided to splurge, and booked the $84 room identity unseen. And once I had committed my virtual dollars, they gave me the news: it was the Cancún Hilton Golf and Spa Resort. List price, $365/night and up. Hooboy.


We checked in late because the plane was late and the rental car agency employs three-fingered sloths. The room we booked was no longer available, so they had to upgrade us. No extra charge, of course. The upgrade meant we got a balcony overlooking the beach (Caribbean side) and the golf course (lagoon side). When we cracked the sliding glass door to the balcony we could hear the surf pounding on the beach below us. The pig-out buffet dinner was delightful.


Not a bad way to start our new life.


Now we’re off to Cancún City to shop and to find an internet café to post this. Damned if we’ll pay the Hilton $18 a night extra for an internet connection. The frigate bird floating motionless in the air outside our balcony –the sleekest pterodactyl in the sky – agrees with me.


More to come . . . .


David & Linda