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Journal - 26-Mar-2001, Monday, Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico
(Trip: Ruta Maya, Southeast Mexico)

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The hotel serves a 'continental' breakfast of orange juice and two slices of toast. Not much but enough to start the day on.

We hit the streets in search of a laundry and a vaccine. A taxi driver takes us to a nearby laundry then on to the local health center.

The staff at the health center seem to do their utmost to be unhelpful. Eventually they suggest we go to a social security center, or a private pediatrician (vaccines are generally given to children). We walk to a social security center.

The social security center has an immunization office but unfortunately doesn't offer the exact vaccine we need, nor is able to help us in obtaining it. We start to feel that maybe we were hopelessly optimistic thinking we'd be able to just show up, order the vaccine, and have it applied.

Outside, sun shining down, we're not sure where to turn. Maybe the yellow pages to find a private pediatrician. I don't like this idea much as it's bound to mean a lot of waiting and a charge for two consultations - one to order the vaccine, and another to have it applied. Monica has the idea of checking if we can order the vaccine from a pharmacy - or if they can at least help us obtain it.

The first couple of pharmacies aren't able to provide any help. As we leave the second pharmacy, however, the manager very helpfully chases after us and advices us to go to a nearby private hospital.

We find the hospital and ask the man on reception. He says the hospital doesn't provide a vaccination service, and recommends that we try a private pediatrician. Back to square one. Monica happens to asks if there is a pediatrician in the hospital. Yes, actually, there is. We're invited to see if she can help.

The doctor is very helpful, and thinks she can get the vaccine for us. She knows somebody that's an expert at getting vaccines and leaves a message for him. We'll return in an hour to see if she can get it.

In the meantime, we meander around Cancun town, buying some supplies, checking out the prices of things to do. The town is certainly geared towards tourism but doesn't have the 'artificial' feel of some places. This is because the town itself is not an attraction, nor has many hotels. Rather, the town is like a support center for the 'hotel zone' which lines a 30 km stretch of pristine beach.

We see some car rentals for only $15 a day but it turns out that to get this rate you have to go and listen to some hard-sell time-share thing at a hotel. We don't like the sound of that. A VW beetle costs $40 a day, with insurance.

There's good news at the hospital. They can have the vaccine tomorrow at around 1 pm. We make an appointment for 16:30.

A public bus service runs between the town and the hotel zone. We take it to check out the beach. The bus runs down a peninsular, offering views of huge, expensive, hotels, occasional shopping centers, and odd glimpses of the sea. We take the bus to the end of the peninsular, where it turns around and starts to head back to town. We have to pay again ($0.50 each) to stay on the bus.

The driver drops us off at what seems to be the last remaining strip of public beach in Cancun. As we catch a view of the sea, the sight is almost beyond words. I feel like I'm in a psychedelic dream as I stare at the bright, clear, turquoise and blue colors of the sea. I've never seen such colors before - not even in a photograph. It's surreal. Unfortunately I don't have my camera with me, so I can't even try to capture the scene.

The beach isn't at all crowded, and we strip off on the pearly white sand.

The sea is shallow and we can wade about 10 meters out to sea. The waves roll with gentle undulations - enough to feel the bob of the sea, not too much that you're fighting against the waves. The water is relatively warm, and once in the sea, it's like an amazingly beautiful bath you don't want to get out of!

I feel like I'm swimming in an enormous turquoise jelly, such is the glazed appearance of the sea's surface; or maybe a creme-de-mente cocktail. Something sweet in any case. I have to resist the urge to sample this gigantic desert.

The water is completely transparent; wading chest high, I can see my toenails. Cupping the water in my hands, its crystal clearness looks good enough to drink. I've never seen sea water so clear. No wonder people pay so much to come here!

We feel a bit like stowaways, enjoying the beautiful beach and sea of Cancun while paying a fraction of what a Cancun vacation typically costs. We didn't even arrive in an aircraft for crying out loud!

On the beach we build pre-hispanic sand temples - an idea I borrowed from some other tourists at Tulum. Unfortunately the sea proves to be a powerful destructive force against our new civilization.

After repeating the swim/sun cycle a few times, we dry off, re-robe, and take the bus to one of the shopping centers. We want to get something to eat and also look into flights to Cuba.

The shopping center is quite nice and we eat in the food court. The travel agency only sells local tours, etc., so we continue into the town center to try our luck there. It's getting late (about 5 pm) and it would be nice to organize something before the end of the day.

The first travel agency we come across has terrible service but we do manage to find out that we can get a special promotional fare with Cubana airlines (Cuba's national airline) for $150 round trip. The cheapest fare with Mexicana (a more reliable airline) is $300. We decide to take the risk and go with the cheap Cubana flight. Besides, I'm curious to see just how bad it is!

To get the promotion fare, we have to go to the official Cubana agency, a few blocks away. It's open till 8 pm, so no rush.

A Cuban woman is on the agency desk. The special deal is for 15 days only. We had thought about spending more time but 15 days is probably enough to begin with. The promotion is also for payment by cash only - credit cards not accepted. This is a bit unsettling but we trudge off to an ATM to withdraw $300 for two tickets.

Leaving the agency, tickets in hand, we feel a little giddy at the thought that we're actually going to Cuba at last! We're also a little nervous about flying Cubana...

We head back to the hotel, with a pit stop at the supermarket to buy supper.

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Cuba - Rotorua, New Zealand - Christ Church, Dublin - Monument Valley, Arizona - Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico - Staffa, Scotland - Huamantla, Tlaxcala, Mexico - Costa Rica - Tule Tree, Oaxaca, Mexico - Fiesta, Mexico City - Making Lacquer, Olinalá, Mexico - Talavera Ceramics, Puebla, Mexico - Mata Ortiz Pottery, Mexico - Lebanon
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