On December the Ninth my wife and I decamped to Mexico for a two-week holiday in the Mayan Riviera. This is the first in a new mini-series of blogs capturing some of the highlights. Lowlights too.
No one would argue that a long-haul flight leaves the average passenger with a spring in his step. About the only thing that makes such travel bearable is a shed load of distracting activities and anticipation of the holiday to come. Either that or a state of advanced inebriation.
The latter was the method chosen by one group of early-twenty-something men on our flight to Cancun. Between the three of them they quaffed four bottles of champagne and, unbeknownst to the stewardess, a whole bottle of Absolut during the eleven hour journey.
The problem with advanced inebriation is that it becomes increasingly difficult to conceal the fact that your mind and body are no longer on speaking terms. Their behaviour became steadily more noisy and vaccuous, although never, I should note, overtly violent or dangerous. Then one of the group made the rookie error of giving the emptied vodka bottle to the stewardess as she collected the rubbish towards the end of the flight. Thus, as we disembarked the plane, they had been hauled to the front and were being given a stiff lecture on the perils of drinking to excess at 35,000 feet. There was much finger-wagging and a promise of a completely dry trip home for them in due course. They got away lightly: in the past I have seen similar cases end with an arrest, followed by an immediate return home, the holiday forfeit.
On one of our previous trips to Mexico, a man and his wife had started a violent drunken altercation midway across the Atlantic. Upon our arrival for a short stop-over at Sanford, Florida, they were escorted off the plane by Federal officials and the wife was arrested and sent back on the next available plane. The man, somewhat mysteriously, was allowed to continue to Mexico. As is so often the case with travelling nutters, weirdos and idiots, it turned out that he was staying at our hotel; we are just lucky that way I guess. Anyway, the guy was a royal pain in the arse for several days, alternately sorry for himself and bleating about how unfair life was, then drunk as a skunk, spoiling for a fight with anyone who would accommodate him. Eventually, inevitably, he was arrested by the Mexican police after one fight too many and we never saw him again. I like to think he’s still rotting in a Mexican jail: the guy was to tosserdom what a polymath is to learning.
Naturally enough, the three topers from our more recent flight turned out to be staying in our hotel, but either they kept a very low profile, or they were given the boot shortly after checking in, because we saw neither hide nor hair of them for the entire two weeks we were there.
That, then, was the sum total of our excitement on the flight to Mexico. Now my wife and I eyed the prospect of a further two hours on the coach to Riviera Maya with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. This outlook, it seems, was shared by the rep, a diminutive middle-aged Mexican lady whose lugubrious demeanour was in sharp contrast to the more excitable members of her profession.
As the coach threaded its way out of the airport, she greeted us with the doleful news that she was nursing a bad throat cold, a fate that awaited all of us on holiday, she explained, “because you will go from humid air to cold air many times a day.” Bummer.
Next she warned us that we were unlikely to survive the holiday alive unless we carried with us, at all times, a bottle of water. “Never go anywhere without water. It is literally a life-saver! It will save your life. Make sure you have it with you everywhere. Do not travel without it, even just to the beach. Do not think a short stroll down a corridor in your hotel will be safe for you unless you are carrying water. Water is your life saver!”
She repeated this mantra for at least ten minutes, to ensure we British dullards caught the essential message. “Water is good. Without it in Mexico you die. Get it?” Got it! “Good!”
But she was just warming up. Now she drew our attention to the verdant countryside. “See how green it is outside the coach!” she entreated. “It is green because of the rainfall. This area has lots of rainfall and the plants grow and flourish. But rainfall also means that thousands and thousands of mosquitoes are born every day. During the day they rest, but in the afternoon they rise in great clouds and come seeking your blood!”
I looked around the coach. Everyone seemed understandably disturbed by the degree of peril to which they had unwittingly exposed themselves in deciding to book a holiday in Mexico. But worse news was to come: “You holidaymakers think you are safe,” spake the Oracle, “but you are not. Your doctors tell you that your mosquito repellants will work, but THEY WILL NOT! Our mosquitoes are resistant. RESISTANT! They will bite you. They will give you diseases! Dangerous diseases!” Several passengers paled visibly. How could they have been so stupid to come to this pestilence-ridden hellhole? When was the next plane home? Oh my God….there’s a mosquito on the bus! THEY’RE ON THE BUS WITH US!
I smelled a rat. Not a real rat — although those were doubtless gnawing their way through the coach’s brake cables even as we spoke — but the kind of rat that is very familiar to one who has worked extensively in the world of sales. This lady was going to try and sell us something. Of that there was absolutely no doubt.
And so it proved. Having softened up her audience, the rep now turned saviour. “Fear not!” said she. “Help is at hand. I have bracelets. Special bracelets. Wear one of these bracelets and the mosquitoes will be repelled.” The bracelets cost £6. “Buy two!” exhorted the rep. “They only last a week!”
They had been selling these very same bracelets on the plane. The blurb in the brochure had said they were effective for six weeks. The scent of Eaux de Rodent grew ever stronger. I should confess at this stage that I am a natural cynic when it comes to alternative cures. I have seen countless alternative mosquito repellants come and go over the years, from acrid citronella candles, via oil of lavender, all the way through to my personal favourite, the electronic ultrasound generator. All of them have had one thing in common: mosquitoes are by and large impervious to them. For all I know they eat citronella for breakfast, bathe in oil of lavender and attend ultrasound mosquito discos in their droves. Meanwhile the purveyors of these useless repellants laugh all the way to the bank. For this reason I did not even think about buying the special bracelet on the plane. I would rather be bitten by an occasional mozzie than by some Marketing department’s bastard brainchild.
We politely declined the rep’s offer of £24 for four life-saving bracelets, to her visible disappointment. We might come to regret it, but I figured on the whole we’d regret buying them even more. As it turned out, mosquitoes were pretty much conspicuous by their absence for most of the holiday.
We pitched up at the hotel some two hours later and left the rep to count her ill-gotten gains. Now the holiday could begin in earnest…