Never Leave Your Map at Home!

The first day of our Yucatan adventure, Jackie and I flew into Cancun. At the airport, my Dad dropped me off at the wrong terminal! I wasn’t bothered in the least because I had plenty of time to catch the airport bus and get to the right terminal — the only problem was I had forgotten to write down my airline (I knew it was Virgin, but I didn’t know which branch) or my flight number.

It had been 6 months since I had been a backpacker in Australia and I had surely missed the thrill of travel! I felt a palatable comraderie with the other young people wearing backpacks, and despite the fact that I didn’t know where to go, I was smiling ear-to-ear and I had to stop myself from asking every backpacker I saw, “where are you going?”
Once I got myself to the correct terminal (and yes, next time I will write down all pertinent information), I couldn’t help noticing all the free-spirits in the security line and then again at the gate: there was a young woman with long blonde dreds done up in a top-knot holding two hula-hoops; an old man with long, dirty hair and a receeding hairline sitting on the floor wearing variegated clothes and tuning his guitar; a young couple with long hair and facial piercings; a man wearing a top-hat with feathers in it and a burning man symbol painted on it. As I waited to board, looking quite normal and almost feeling out of place, a man sat next to me and I noticed he had quite a pungent body odor.
I asked him if he knew why all the hippy-folk were heading to Cancun.

“They’re probably going to the Rainbow Gathering in Palenque. At least, that’s where I’m going, and all these people look like they’re part of the Family.”

I had never hear of Rainbow Gatherings or the Family, but the man sitting next to me (I learned his name was Dave) explained that the goal of the group is to create a new way of living — one in which people live in harmony and peace with each other — and that Rainbow Gatherings are completely acoustic and communal. December 21st was a special occasion for the World Gathering at Palenque because the date marked the dawning of a new era according to Mayan Legend.
At that point, I realized that Jackie and I had accidentally joined a migration of people who were visiting the Mayan region to mark December 21st, 2012.
When I finally landed in Cancun, I was more-than-ready to reunite with Jackie. It had been nearly a year since I had seen her!
Jackie landed a few hours before I did, but she waited around the airport for me so we could travel from the airport to our hostel together, and man, was I glad!
Unfortunately, we had no idea how to get to the center of Cancun from the airport, but we finally figured it out after a few conversations with workers, which included my unpracticed, broken Spanish (“…necesitamos…ir al Cancun…pero…no se. ¿Como vamos?”) and taxi drivers trying to scam us until we were finally able to locate a customer service desk. From there, we called the hostel and though they could not tell us which bus to take, they told us there was a bus that would take us to the city center for $5 and it was only a few short blocks from the bus station to the hostel.
Jackie and I found our bus (“¿este bus va al Cancun?” I asked nearly every driver). We arrived at the city center just as the sky was going dark. We had the directions from the hostel, which included a mention of crossing a park, though we discovered there were several parks on the way to the hostel! It must have been painfully obvious to the locals around us that we were lost. We were wearing backpacks, speaking English, and wandering and circling and back-tracking. At this point, both of us were getting nervous. Veterans of traveling abroad, we know that appearing lost is a sure-fire way to attract criminals and we know that being young, female, and foreign attracts unwanted attention on its own. Why hadn’t we prepared more thoroughly!?
As we were crossing back through a park for a third time, a young boy around age ten came up to us and asked where we were going (in Spanish). I was reluctant to say anything given our vulnerable position, but I told him we were trying to find our hostel. We continued walking. The boy followed us, he even walked in front of us nearly blocking our way on the path. He was telling us he would take us there, that he could show us the way. I translated for Jackie and asked if she thought we should accept his help. She shrugged.
I showed him the address and told him the name. The little boy had no idea where it was, but asked a group of teenagers nearby. They also had never heard of it. At this point, I was annoyed with the little boy. Didn’t he know that women traveling alone are not to tell people where they are staying!? That’s just common sense! But of course, it was our fault that we were in that situtation; we hadn’t consulted a map. Jackie and I tried to walk away quickly, but the boy followed us. We tried to ditch him, but he was like a little puppy. This little puppy, however, was making us exceedingly nervous by bringing attention to the fact that we were lost — every person we passed he would ask if they knew the street name or the location of the hostel.
“Holy crap! He’s gonna get us kidnapped!”
“I know! What the hell?”
The boy was eventually successful. One of the men he asked pointed us in the right direction. We were on our way, from what I could tell it was only a few more blocks and I told the boy we could manange, but he continued to walk with us. He started asking us where we were from and if we had ever visited Mexico before. He smiled brightly when I told him I was from California and that it was our first time in Cancun. He was a chubby, short little kid, and as much as he broke every rule and made our hair stand on end, he had such a wide grin and round cheeks that I couldn’t hate him. Plus, it was kind of adorable the way he would not let us get rid of him.
When we saw the murals we had been told to look for, we knew we had arrived at our hostel — the Hostal Quetzal.
I fished around in my pocket and gave the boy $2 as I said “gracias.” He took the money humbly, but followed us into the hostel and told the woman at the front desk that he had brought us there. She gave him a few pesos. Jackie and I smiled at each other — he had made out well. We said goodbye to our hapless guide and checked in.
The back patio of Hostal Quetzal
Our first impression of Hostal Quetzal: it was colorful, comfortable, and homey. We were welcomed with a shot of tequila, dance music, and a family-style dinner.
While we sat outside in the warm air surrounded by young backpackers and multi-colored lights, we designed our plan for the next ten days.
Little did we know what the Hostal Quetzal had in store for us…more to come!
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