Staying at a mega-resort located in a hot place like Cancun is like being at a mall in America but everyone wears fewer clothes. Like the mall, people trudge slowly and talk loudly. At a resort, our national struggle with obesity is accentuated during bathing suit season, which makes walking behind a trudger more painful. To escape this scene means going “off resort,” which few loud, overweight people do. I have no hard proof of this overstatement of mine, only my own anecdotal evidence; it seemed every time we went off resort–Isla Mujeres, Tulum, and Xel-Ha–we suddenly found ourselves among the more physically active, curious and less loud.
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to stay at Isla Mujeres and hide among the artists and fishermen, but the package prices at Dreams Cancun were too good. For under $3,800, three people could fly there, stay five nights, and eat until they could no longer respectfully wear the bathing suit they brought for the trip. Kids could paint ceramics on the beach while parents sat in swings strung around a bar and sipped margaritas and “Carnivales.” The cherry on this sundae was that this resort had dolphins. We’ve stayed at many hotels around the world; never before have we stepped out of bed, walked out on to a balcony, and looked down to see dolphins jumping and playing directly below. This is indeed a great way to start the day. The resort offers a swim with the dolphins, which is a separate expense handled by another company. If you’re traveling with kids and can afford this luxury, it’s amazing–truly the eye-opening, wonderous, exhiliarting experience you hoped it would be.
A disadvantage to purchasing all-inclusive, packaged deals is that everything is…well…all there…and packaged…ready for immediate consumption. Resorts like Dreams strip decisions down to “chicken or beef?” or “hot tub or pool?” leaving little else to fret about. And that’s their goal–remove the anxiety of making all the other decisions you deal with day to day so that the decision-making is as distilled as fine tequila. There’s tremendous appeal to this–who wouldn’t want to stare into the Caribbean sipping iced liquor only worrying about which of the resort’s many restaurants you’ll try that night? Or whether you want a massage or a facial? People travel far and pay dearly to be pampered in this way.
But I’ll admit after about three hours of being a puddle on the beach, I missed the challenges of making my own decisions. This hadn’t been true the last time we stayed at a resort, which was in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in 2007. Coyaba was smaller, more intimate and I guess at the time I wasn’t seeking challenges of any kind. In Cancun, I didn’t have to decide if I wanted another margarita–I was about four or five sips into my first margarita of the day when Domingo (or was it Javier?) conducted his rounds on the beach and offered me a second. Perhaps he saw that my left hand was empty and needed something to do. I said “No, gracias,” and he eventually found some takers a few lounge chairs down and was able to lighten the load on his tray.
I don’t mean to bite that hand that serves me cool, refreshing cocktails. Sometimes during other trips, when you’re so exhausted you feel your bones crack from fatigue, when you can’t find a bottle of water or a ubiquitous red and white can of Coke to keep you going (overseas, Coke to me is always the sign that America is never far away), you wish for all that resort fluff, for someone to approach without judgment and offer to fulfill a need you didn’t know you had. What I learned from this trip is that escape and discovery are not found in the places I expected; I thought escape was off the beaten path, but it is not. Off the beaten path is about discovery–such as wandering into a sculpture garden at Isla Mujeres and spying an iguana scrambling across an ancient temple in Tulum. I wasn’t looking to leave anything behind, but to find something new. It’s the beaten path that is the escape–an escape from decisions big and small that gnaw at you. The problem is, to discover means to be on your own, which can be fun and tiring. To escape means you’re with everyone else.
Scenes from Dreams: