Monday, March 12, 2012

Well south of Maine

CANCUN, Quintana Roo — President Bush the first was mocked for referring to “the vision thing,” but he was onto something.
In the 1960s, the Yucatan barrier island that would become Cancun was a coconut plantation looked after by three caretakers, a series of sand dunes in the shape of a seven that ran for miles in each direction. Quintana Roo was a territory, not yet a state.
There was no airport, no city, no road. One day some bureaucrats woke up and said, “We think this Caribbean tourism thing is going to take off.”
Construction began in the early 1970s. My mother-in-law discovered the place in 1984. By then it was very much a resort, albeit one in which businesses observed the siesta.
Now there is too much money at stake and there are too many gringos underfoot to take time for afternoon naps.
Where my wife and I now stay was dune grass in 1988 when we first came down together. Today it’s in the middle of Zona Hotelera.
The plumbing has caught up with the vision and Cancun is a very sanitized place. Reverse-osmosis plants provide water in the resort, and the bowel-searing episodes of Montezuma’s revenge that once folded gringos half in two are a fading memory.
In those days milk was poured warm from a box and the butter tasted funny. Once each trip we would go to the Blue Bayou, at the Hyatt, for an expensive but reliable — the butter notwithstanding — American meal.
My wife returned from her first trip in love with the place but craving hamburgers and mashed potatoes.
Booze, on the other hand, was an abundant resource, and downtown drinking was a raucous, spontaneous and mostly outdoor affair. There was no such thing as last call, as far as anyone can remember, and at places like Mi Ranchito free tequila slammers came around every few minutes to anyone loose enough to join the conga line wiggling beneath waiters standing on chairs. Which was everyone.
The best part was the peso. At 2,250 to a U.S. dollar, our pockets were stuffed full of money and no one had any idea what they were paying for anything.
Cancun still sparkles by day, but its nightlife has been watered down by all-inclusive resorts and glitzy shopping malls. Yes, the spring breakers are crazy, but what else is new? In our time, people who never went crazy anywhere else went out of their minds here.
Now we sit sober on the beach with our e-readers. Whether or not the tourism bureau saw quite that far ahead I’m not prepared to say.

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