Yes, Punkie actually went to Mexico, and not just to Tijuana or something lame like that.  Not only that, but I went twice and stayed sober throughout the whole thing!  And let me tell you, Cancun is the way to go.  They call it the Mexican Carribean, and they don't lie.  White beaches, friendly natives, and... well, let me tell you how it all began.

In January of 1995, I was working for a company called Cargo Furniture.  We had a sales contest between groups of stores which were picked out of hat.  Then from August to December of '94, we tried to beat each other's attempt of quota.  The contest was close, and the push over for us was the Texas Collin Creek Store that had a HUGE (over $10K) sale on December 31st.  It turns out we would have won anyway, but this made the margin a little bit wider.  We ended up beating our quota by 103%.  We won a Jack Tarr Resort package trip to Cancun, on March 22nd through the 26th.

Once we knew we had won, we had less than 3 months to prepare for this. Apparently, the USA has a deal with Mexico that if you don't have a passport, you can bring your original (certified) birth certificate and a photo ID (Driver's Liscense) and still be let in.  I had my passport from my trip to Sweden back in December, but Christine (my wife) decided to go the cheaper route with getting her birth certificate and ID. Christopher, who was four at this time was not allowed due to age consideration (something about drinking age), but luckily, we had a slew of volunteers to babysit him for five days. We ended up placing him with his best friend's mom, Traci.  That woman has 3 boys under the age of 8; why she wanted another one for 5 days we'll never know.  This trip was an extra-special trill for Christine, since she had never been on a plane, seen an ocean, or left the country.

Days before my trip, our local region of stores had a loss of three managers, and a whole bunch of other things that could have prevented me from going but luckily, the company paid for everything already, and was counting this trip as a "business trip" (for deduction purposes), so I wasn't allowed (nor did I want to) back out for any reason.  It was odd, leaving my store in such a state of turmoil.  Sort of like a commercial pause for a soap opera.  I decided to forget totally about work.  We packed light (two carry ons), because we didn't have a lot of clothes to pack for a tropical paradise, and also, I don't trust airport and airplane luggage handlers (a family curse, since I was born, we have lost at least half our luggage while travelling by luggage mishap).

Wednesday, we left the house at 10am to get to Dulles airport.  I told Christine to call a cab (we didn't want to pay for parking at the airport), and she called the first one in the phone book, some sort of luxury cab company.  I was thinking the old "Yellow cab" route, but we got this brand new 1995 Lincoln Town car drive up and take us to the airport.  Luckily, this was not "extra", and even if it had of been, I was supposed to submit it as a deducted business expense (I get the money back).  Dulles was still under major rennovation, and so construction was everywhere.  The Luxury Taxi said that she would be waiting for us on the way back, which I thought was a nice perk.  She got our flight number so she could plan for any delays, and we checked in.  A "mobile lounge" (a sort of huge bus) took us from the main terminal to the domestic terminal for our flight to Dallas/Fort Worth airport (DFW).

Since we had no luggage to check in, there was not a whole lot to occupy our time.  But we made due with Christine reading Anne Rice's "A Feast of All Saints", and me with another copy of Omni magazine.  Our flight was on time and uneventful.  Even the cabin pressure was not that bad, and my ears are usually very sensitive to that.  My National Sales Manager, Joan Hardy, met us at the terminal at DFW and led us to the east Hyatt at DFW, where we would stay the night.  We met some of the other winners (most I already knew quite well).  There was Dianne and her daughter Kim from Texas, Elanor from Texas (her guest was unable to make it at the last minute), and Steffane and her husband Ty from Florida.  There were also the winners from another Tandycraft company, Sav-On (a discount office supply warehouse).  Our president, Fred Geohring and his wife were delayed becuase the president of Sav-On, George Allen (who use to be Cargo's VP) and his wife had car trouble on
the freeway.

The Hyatt room was very nice.  A king bed, big screen cable TV, complementary rechargeable hair dryer, a recliner, and a splendid view of the airport (DFW is friggin' HUGE, like 5 terminals or something). We had to wake up very early (5am) to get to Cancun, and I set my complementary clock radio for that time.  I don't trust wake-up calls. Good thing, because those that did set wake-up calls did not get them until 5:30, 15 min before we had to leave for the airport.  Chrsitine and I were with it, but tired (the bed was rather tought, and the pillows were like mush), and Fred and his wife had to wake up everyone who was still sleeping. That was tough, because we were scattered all over the hotel, and no one knew who had what room number. But we all managed to get together and set off at 6 for our 8pm flight.

A few of us had left the country before, so we had an idea what to expect, but for others, it was really different.  Elanor and I gave tips on how not to act like an obnoxious American overseas (she's actually a British Citizen on a worker's visa).  Things went smoothly, and we were packed into a 727-200 (a "super" 727, it told us on the side of the aircraft, whatever that means), and we went to Cancun, packed tightly with young and scantilly-clad college kids on spring break.  A bus picked us up for the Jack Tarr resort, and this is where all those comments about beer flowing like water were proved to be true. They offered us beer everywhere!  On the plane, at the airport, on the bus... even our "Intro-guide" on the bus was slightly snockered. He told us about Cancun, the laws, and other tips.  He told us how not to get ripped off by cabbies, merchants, and slews of "time share" salesmen (some who offered free stuff from lobster meals to video cameras) who would plague us.

The first thing that hit me was the sea.  Oh Sweet Lord!  All those postcards, photos, ads, etc that show this huge expanse of turquiose water along white beaches were not true.  Not even close.  The beauty of what I was seeing could never be conveyed accurately by colored inks. All my life, I figured that those pictures were taken with a special filter or during certain days when pollution was not so bad.  I, in my whole life of seeing oceans and seas from Europe, to the Atlantic, and the Pacific, have never seen colors and awe-inspiring beauty that was blowing in from the east. The ocean was a crystal-clear combination of azure, turquiose, sea-green, and white that paled any other thing I have seen in nature up to this point.  It was all I could stare at for hours. Had I not had my wife with me, I would have done nothing but sit at the beach and look at it for the whole trip, I am sure of it.  The beaches were very white. They were mostly made up of coral, and some pieces had a bit of pink in them.  You could say I was impressed.

The Jack Tarr resort was pretty nice.  I must let you know if you have lived in America your whole life, you might be a slight bit "dissappointed" by the upkeep of things overseas.  Try not to be snob about it.  Prissy neatness is not as important, things aren't as clean, and crime is more a fact of life than an outrage of society.  I expected this, and Mexico didn't exceed anything I had prepared myself for.  The water in the hotel was filtered, and I didn't get sick (although one memebr of our group did from some ice in a mixed drink).  The staff was very, very friendly.  I should say the locals were more friendly than the non-local "employees", and some of the tourists should have been smacked.  How Mexicans put up with some of the abuse they get is beyond me.  But they were always "Hola amigo!", and always polite, although I could sense some of them forced more politeness than others.  Our hotel rooms had a safe that you set your own combo so you could keep valuables away from theiving staff, I guess, but I left money out (a few American dollars, worth a HELL of a lot more than their own pesos), and it was never touched.

Trying to use long distance, though, was a pain.  We promised our son to call him every night.  The first night, we were in Dallas, so it was no trouble, but out babysitter got mad we called after 8pm (?!) and woke everyone up.  The second night, it took 5 phone calls and 6 connections to get through, and then the clarity was horrible. Luckily, Sprint was very understanding.  To top that off, when speaking to our son, he decided he wanted to give the phone to a 3-year old he was staying with. When we got this kid to finally give the phone to our son, he started crying and hung up on us.  Sigh... we finally gave up.  Now the babysitter is mad at us.  What a mess!

Food, sports, and other facilities were "free" as part of the package, and you wore a plastic hospital-style bracelet to identify you as part of the package.  The food was... bland.  I heard from our head honchos that it was definately not up to standards for Jack Tarr.  But it was free. In fact, while we were at Jack Tarr, a lot of things went wrong with the hotel.  The beds were very uncomfortable, and quite old.  Our bed was not that great, but some people had collapsed mattresses, huge holes, broken frames, and bathrooms that did not work.  The elevators (both of them) often stuck, and you could not access the stairs without setting off the fire alarm.  Our air conditioning worked (not that we need it!), but some people had no circulation.  On Jack Tarr's defense, they did just buy out the hotel last year from another company, and they were still ironing out the bugs. Add to that the Hurricane that nearly destroyed Cancun three years earlier wiping out a lot of the trees.  But the whole hotel seemed to be poorly managed, and a lot of details were ignored, giving it an ignored feeling.  But I didn't spend much time at the hotel, so that didn't matter that much.

The beach was awsome!  I won't describe it again, but it was worth the whole trip.  I spent most of my time there, playing in the surf and sand.  I had a few mishaps, like sand in every fold of my body (you who frequent beaches a lot know what I am talking about, but this sand calcium carbonate from sea skeletons actually *stuck* to things, and got in your pores), and inhaling salt water when a wave hit me at an angle I didn't expect, but nothing bad. The undertow was tremendous, though, and half the time they wouldn't let us in the water farther than our waist.  I wore strong sunblock (SPF 20) and a tee-shirt most of the time, and that did nothing for me.  I burned through my shirts and sunblock anyway, but since I was raised by a father who said, "Sunburn is good for you, it'll make you a man", the pain was not so bad, even though as I type this, I am as red as a freshly-boiled lobster.  I am not upset, really, since all my life I never tan anyway unless I burn first.  The accumulated burns hurt a lttle yesterday, but today, I barely feel them.  Poor Christine was not tanning at all, and she finally abandoned the sunblock altoghter, and went for the burn.  She now has a nice tan.  Dianne from Texas burned really bad, and got very sick.

There were a lot of scantily clad people, but only one who went topless. I must say, I felt the near-nudity was wasted on me, since I don't go ga-ga over the human body (as Elanor said, "Everybody has one"), but from what I remember my friends going nuts over, there was enough there to make Lenny and Squiggy bite *through* their hand, and make Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue look as appealing as their annual NHL Goalie of the Year spread.  If seeing this sort of thing appeals to you, let me add that college kids (most of them girls) seem to lose most morals in a land of flowing liquor and skimpy swimwear.  That's Cancun, Mexico... C-A-N-C-U-N.... :)

Christine wanted to go shopping, but I felt really tired, and I didn't want to go downtown in the blazing sun.  But Staffane said she'd go with  Christine and so they went shopping downtown, where everything is el cheapo and everybody tries to get you to buy things by calling out to you.  But you MUST HAGGLE if you want any sort of deal.  Chritine got 6 Tee-shirts for about $25, a sarape (you can't go to Mexico and not get one of those!), some solid silver bracelets for $3, and a lot of knick-knacks. If you like bargaining and haggling, this market is right up your alley. They always say things like "Twenty Pesos, almost free!" and "Just like K-Mart!".  I will point out, however, that I insisted that we not buy a sombrero.  It was a fight, though.  Merchants also come to you in the streets and on the beach (like I'm gonna bring money to the beach) illegally, since they are not paying taxes of any kind, but if you are savvy, you can get some great deals.

Even though there were some college kids on spring break, they weren't really noticable.  Not many underage kids, either.  I am used to such places being overcrowded and full of fat people and hundreds of rude children.  Not so.  At least this time of year.  I did see some girls who were obviously only about 15-17, trying to act like adults by putting on too much makeup and copying maturity like they learned it on a daytime soap opera.  They got really drunk, and possibly got alcohol poisoning and propositions from every male over 30 there.  Oh well, to each his/her own.

Jack Tarr had a sort of "funness patrol" of people who took shy and lonely people to join in on water polo in the pool, trivia contests, and other activities that went on during the days and evenings.  When you were eating, the staff would sit down with you, and act real friendly. I am not sure if this was ecouraged, or just a neccessity, but I enjoyed it.  I found out they work 12-14 hour 6 day weeks.  Many of them were from Finland, Canada, USA, and other countries.  The Mexican staff were also really nice, and most of them spoke English a little, and understood you when you spoke Spanish, and seemed pleased you were trying to use their language.  Try doing that in France!

The trip back was pretty uneventful, although the bus back to the Cancun Airport lost some luggage (none from our group), and the trip back from DFW was delayed due to massive thunderstorms.  The flight back to Dulles was really bumpy, and full of Oklahoman 6-7th graders taking Spring Break in Washington.  They were really nice, though, but the turbulence was scaring a lot of them.  One in front of us became very ill.

All in all, we had a good time.  The beach was 90% of it for me, and I was never dissappointed.  The hotel was a bit run-down, but by no means was it a dump or anything that bad.  The people are great, but there are some notes of caution.  Some countries are in the midst of armed rebellion, and some people who went downtown said it looked ugly.  But nothing happened, and hopefully it will stay that way.

The second time I went, it was for the same reasons.  Oddly enough, one of the stores randomly picked with my new store (I was now managing the Tyson II store) was Florida, with Staffane again.  People said it wasn't fair, but Steff and I wanted to go back!  And we won.  This time it was NO contest, we made 128% over quota, and the second place winners were like 113%.  When you are talking sales in furniture, that was over a $135,000 lead.  ha ha, they sucked. :) The second trip was shorter (a little over 2 full days, compared to almost 3 and a half from last year), but my Christine and I were seasoned Cancun tourists by this point, so we had long gone over the gawking "*WOW*-look-a-at-the-sea" phase, although, the sea is still friggin' impressive.  We planned everything down to the last detail before we got there, leaving lots of buffer time for those famous "Mexican minutes".

The trip there was uneventful.  We had another babysitter for CR, who was now five, after the last babysitter yelling at us for calling home at 8pm when her family was asleep.  Oh well, we didn't know her husband had a night job.  This time, we didn't stay in Dallas, we just switched planes.  Last year they gave us some spending money, and said they didn't have any for this year.  They lied.  At the airport, they gave us $200 in (US) cash.  Joan Hardy said last year they had problems with people spending the money BEFORE the trip, and having nothing.  Chritine and I already brought our own money we'd been saving, so now we had even more money.  What a boon!

The room was at The Omni Cancun, VERY nice, with 20' high ceilings, and possibly the most comfortable hotel beds I had ever slept on.  There were some odd things (tiles off center, leaky plumbing, broken TV, etc), but it nowhere near a dive, either. And anyway, who wants to be in a hotel room with that beach outside?

We had planned two big activities for each day:

On the first day, we went back to the Kiwi Market, which I hadn't gone to before, but my wife had last year.  I didn't like it, because the pressure of the merchants was so phenominal, it was very stressful.  One guy got *very* upset I wouldn't buy anything from him, and stalked me around the market for a while, making sarcastic comments about how much better I was than him.  Another tried very heavily to sell us marijuana rather loudly (the deal is that they sell it to you, and the cops bust you minutes later as a money-making scheme). We got some good bargains, including a lot of onyx and another sarape. I got an Mayan-style obsidian dagger, which I totally forgot about through airport security and customs and such, but being made of volcanic glass, it never tripped anything.  But I must confess we overdid it on Tee-shirts.  We ended up getting about six, adding to the four we kept from last year.  Three of them were for other people.

The next day, we went to Xcaret ("eh-SHU-ca-RET"), where there are some less famous, but still impressive, Mayan ruins.  The was a lagoon (famous backdrop for "Blue Lagoon") and snack bar where you could watch people swim with dolphins, and a beach where you could get an inner tube and paddle about.  Very relaxing and fun.  But the highlight of the day was the "Underground River" tour.  You put on a life jacket and paddle about the quarter-mile river, lit here and there by holes in the cave ceiling above.  You can snorkel if you want to, but Christine and I decided that since the cave water was devoid of most flora and fauna, there would be little to see.  The people who did snorkel were very rude, and kept passing us, and complaining in that classic American Tourist way about the water, the rocks, the lack of interesting things, etc... and then also there was a few families who did nothing but scream, shout, and play, smashing into you as they passed by.  But the slow drift through the caverns was mostly quiet and peaceful, and beautiful beyond description.  The water is even clear and turquoise in the river.  After that, we listened to some Mexican new-age and visited a zoo and avain breeding grounds.

That night, we had to go visit "Senor Frog's", a really happening place that must be *the* spot during college spring break.  Black lights illuminate signs in this huge rickety shack that state various "why not party" kind of slogans.  Men with backpacks full of tequila squirt you with hoses, they have human bowling, wet dancing, and usually a live reggae band (that was *very* very good).  The food is the usually common greasy bar fare, but they give you a lot of it for the nominal cover charge. Alcohol?  The main lubricant.  But even though I don't drink, I still had fun.  The place is so famous, it has its own gift shop, of which we got some hats and tee-shirts.  It is very loud, and really active.

On the way back, we took a cab (they are cheap, air conditioned, and the drivers are usually polite and talkative if you strike up a conversation with them), and met a very nice man who told us his philosophy of tourists.  He was open and friendly, but mentioned how most of the natives have to live in far-away barrios (ghettos), and nobody can afford anything in town. Sodas were like 5 cents in touristy places, and 2 cents everywhere else in Mexico.  You may say "big deal", but if you make only a few dollars a week, and have a family of three, it is a big deal.  The guy was very introspective, and we made sure to tip him well.

All in all, re-visiting Cancun was a great experience, and even though our company has unofficially announced that they were not going to do this again (and we could be bought out anyway), Christine and I have started looking into week-long packages.

Travel tips?  I have a few for the newbie traveller.

Sunblock, for one.  The sun is SO strong the closer you get to the Equator, you will burn through flannel.  I ended up wearing a combo of SPF 30, and to get ahead on the burn, Aloe Gel.  I did fairly well, but got a little burned anyway.  Make sure it's waterproof, too.  And if you go to any of the parks, put on a LOT before you go, because they won't let you bring any into the places where the wildlife might at it.  Same with food.

Don't buy silver unless you have a way to tell the real from the fake.  We took the tips in the tourist books, and still ended up with the fake stuff (but we spent only $15 on it, a cheap lesson).  Expect to get bothered on the beach by locals illegally selling the stuff.  Fake that you speak some weird language (not English, German, or Spanish) and start to look upset and they will leave, afraid you will alert someone official.

Don't drink the water.  Even with the hotel filtered water, a girl in our group got sick, because the ice she had in a drink was bad.  Drink only bottled water, or better yet, soda.  Of course, if you like alcoholic stuff, beer is dirt cheap in Mexico.  But you don't want to end up in jail, so don't get too drunk.

Don't feed anything in an outdoor restaurant.  It will piss off the owners, and suddenly whatever you are feeding, whether it be iguanas, birds, or beggars, MANY will show up suddenly, and you will not be able to fight them off.  Escpecially those black birds.  Some German tourists in the restaurant did that, and it took the waiters two minutes to chase them away.

Smile a lot and act humble.  For God's sake, you are in their country, and you are a guest.  There is nothing worse than a rude tourist. Understand they do things differently in other countries, and don't correct the natives. And that goes for talking with other tourists. We made friends with an Argentinan Family with an adorable little boy, and not with another American family who complained four two hours on a tour bus that Mexico was dirty and poor. Yeah, maybe compared to America, it is, but dammit, who is to say our country is not full of anally-retentive clean freaks?

Avoid the market if you don't like haggling, or are easily intimidated. These people are worse than carnival barkers, and they have to be. The word "desparate" comes to mind. They don't take "no" for an answer, and sometimes will get so upset, they will throw you out of the store and send a friend to stalk you. Definately go in groups. It is not a safe place.

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