Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Tourist Arrives in Cancun – Welcome To Mexico!

Better Half and I, fresh off the plane in Cancun from a relaxing work-related week in eastern Canada, encountered what most tourists probably encounter upon leaving the confines of their Air Canada jet and stepping into the thankfully air conditioned Cancun airport terminal.

As an ardent fan of the great amounts of money being spent on promotion at foreign tourism fairs where our elected representatives spend our tax pesos on gourmet meals, fine wines and luxurious accommodation to “promote” tourism to our area, it was a great pleasure to experience Cancun from the tourists standpoint.

Not.

There was one flight and yet, several lineups for the always entertaining immigration procedure. In front of us, an elderly and apparently non-Semitic man was asked – no told – “JEW GLASSES” by a squat immigration agent who was obviously enamoured of her importance in the world. The tourist eventually got the idea – after a second and sterner “JEW GLASSES!!!” that he had to remove his dark prescription glasses (they were thick) so that SquatLady could carefully check his eye color against that in the passport photo.

When it was our turn we tried to make friendly small talk to no avail. Eyebrows raised and tongue pointing firmly inside one cheek to the point that it was pushed out (try it now you will get the idea), she was not to be deterred from her enormous responsibility and simply uttered one word: “passport” in spite of the fact that it was already laid out before her. She took it and carefully examined Better Halfs eye color before proceeding to stamp away. When examining my FM format and passport, she again did the eye check and asked if I spoke Spanish. “Yes” I answered. She proceeded to ask what I did, where I lived etc. etc. and finally sent us on our way. It’s not that she was rude, but if this is your first contact with a Mexican, it is less than welcoming. She also warned me that my passport was just one bended corner away from being unacceptable to the fastidious Mexican authorities who have no qualms about being anally-retentive about such things – when they feel like it.

Then to the luggage carousel where we waited for our bags. You would think Cancun would have a lot of these carousels but no, there are only a few. I popped into the bathroom while Better Half waited.

In the bathroom the tourist is greeted with a cleaning person who has obviously moved in, claimed the area as his own and is now in complete command of this portion of the airport. With a one-handed flourish reminiscent of El Zorro, he motions you to the urinal. When you are done, another extravagant flourish directs your gaze to the sink area where you are shown how to turn on the water, in case you haven’t been in an airport bathroom in the last 20 years. Before you know it, paper towels are thrust towards you to save you the extra three steps to the dispenser. You dry your hands and throw the towels in the garbage whereupon the little man turns into one of those monkeys that dances to an accordion-wielding bearded eastern European on a street in Hungary somewhere and bows his head, turning both hands palms up towards you. In one hand there is a coin. In other words, he awaits a tip for his tremendous and indispensable “service”. The coin, by the way, is Canadian. The man has done his homework and knows that this flight came from Toronto.

Welcome to Mexico.

All the Mexican clichés are coming true for the tourist as he exits the bathroom and proceeds to the streamlined and Swiss-modern customs area, where you must take all your luggage AND HOIST IT YOURSELF ONTO A CONVEYOR BELT SO IT CAN BE SCANNED. Yes, you read that right. And there is only one belt/scanner working. An employee sits, slouchily watching a screen and moving the luggage along on the belt with her on/off switch. If someone is slow in retrieving their luggage, he or she will get yelled at. Something like “PEEK APP JEWER LAGGAGE” (go ahead, say it out loud) emerges from her mouth as she angrily turns from the screen to the collisions ocurring on the other side of the scanner. Other employees, some customs, others from the SAGARPA which is a government agency in charge of controlling plant and animal entry to the country, stand around – dead eyed – like sopilotes waiting for roadkill.

The lady is struggling with her suitcase to get it on the belt? Whatever.

We’ll just stand here and watch.

Welcome to Mexico.

Why are they even scanning the luggage? What is it that is so delicate and special that the TSA people in the US and Canada are not picking up? Your bags have just come off a plane from an international destination and they have been scanned and checked by people far more professional and efficient than any of these poorly trained individuals. What exactly are they looking for? Aha! We found an AK-47 that somehow was missed by security in Canada! We are chingones!!

Once through the scanners, the luggage must be replaced on the cart you hopefully secured beforehand and now comes the Las Vegas part. A random push-the-button system is presented to you. You give the uniformed individual your customs form and they indicate that you must push a button to see if you will get checked to see if you are lying or not. A green light means you are free to go, unless of course the SAGARPA man decides you can’t and he wants to check your luggage for trees or live chickens. A red light means HA! Go over to the tables and a rubber-gloved individual will go through all your luggage to see if you are bringing in any contraband Barbie dolls or porno mags or anything else that might be deemed detrimental to the fragile moral health of the nation. The nation that features beheadings on a regular basis, where porn is available steps from the cathedral in the former white city of Merida and where … ah yes, so many contradictions.

Welcome to Mexico.

Once out of the small ring immigration and customs circus, you enter the big tent aka the gauntlet, where yelling uniformed “tourism” representatives are vying for your transportation dollar. Taxi? Taxi? TAXI?

There is no place that is obvious to the tourist arriving in Cancun for taking a taxi. Most airports have signs and such that lead one to a place where there is a lineup of taxis. Not in Cancun, where unions rule, taxis have apparently been banned and each and every visitor is a potential victim to be exploited. You will be led by a person claiming to be able to procure for you a cab and will find yourself waiting for a van in the van and private transportation area, filled with all manner of dubious subjects all out to get as much money as quickly as possible from their marks. The fact that the person was writing out a transportation order was an indication that we were not getting a cab, but a van which in fact arrived a moment or two later in the form of a 12-passenger Chevrolet Express van for the two of us which indicates to me anyway that the environment is also high on their priority list here in sunny Cancun. The price? $65 according to a laminated color chart presented to us. No problem, I give him a $200 peso bill.

No señor” says Mr. ChartHolder “Ees sisty fie dolla

“Are you f’ing kidding me” I think to myself but hey we are already in the van and what are you going to do. Our Cancun economics teacher informs us that cabs from downtown to the airport are cheaper, but from the airport to downtown, it is more expensive. No kidding – it’s double what paid to get here last week. We pay.

Jew can tip dee driver” says ChartHolder/Economics Teacher and we are off to our downtown destination. Maybe Jew can, but I am not going to.

Welcome to Mexico.

Walter Visits Migracion

Waking up early just to stand in line with 30 other morning-challenged individuals was not Walter’s idea of a good time, but it was one of those necessary evils required for any foreigner that wanted to live in Merida or Mexico in general. It was just before opening hours at the Immigration office in Merida and Walter was renewing his visa.

Ahead of him, Walter tried, in an effort to make the wait a little more interesting, to guess at the different types of nationalities and occupations of the various people ahead of him in the lineup. There were several what appeared to be Cubans judging from their complexion and who spoke in the rapid fire Spanish unique to them, almost unintelligible to Walter seeing as his Spanish was at the primary-school level and the fact that these people had an aversion to clear pronunciation and zero tolerance for the letter “s”. It’s as if they have marbles in their mouth when they talk, thought Walter bemusedly.

Several older couples, probably Americans or Canadians like him, waiting patiently and with a slightly amused expression on their faces, exchanged glances and soft greetings, unlike their more rambunctious Latino counterparts who either spoke loudly or not at all, the latter not making even the slightest eye contact with those around them. A young Chinese – or perhaps Korean, Walter couldn’t tell – woman stood out among the other nationalities, poking at her smart phone.

It was 8 AM and the office was about to open.

A scruffy young security guard with a LavaGuard uniform finally came out to where the lineup began and opened the gate of what was once a stately colonial home on the Avenida Colon, now a government office. Most of the houses in the area were now offices or banks; none or at least very few, had regular citizens living in them anymore, what with property taxes being what they were and the fact that corporations and wealthy folks from other parts of the country and world were snapping up anything that looked remotely colonial. Sensually round arches, colorful plaster tile floors, hammock hooks in the walls, stately columns; these were all selling points for smooth-talking real estate agents who breathlessly described even the lowliest of the old homes as dream homes for their hopelessly romantic and innocent newly arrived victims.

The line moved abruptly into the driveway and up the stairs to the entrance of the immigration office where each person proceeded to sign in and was then given a number, written in felt pen on a little square of what had once been a more dignified manila folder; the number indicated that persons’ position in the process to follow. A single digit number meant you were first up and was your reward for skipping that second cup of coffee at home. Everyone shuffled off to a place in the driveway area: the bird excrement-splashed broken plastic chairs under a giant ramon tree were the first choice for those who wanted to sit, followed by standing room only in any place that offered shade from the morning sun. Those people with small children succumbed to the persistent urgings of their offspring who insisted that they were hungry and the only thing that would make them happy was a processed food snack from the vending machine conveniently placed at the foot of the stairs of the former residence.

While waiting, one could admire the large fenced in area near the back of the property, complete with a security guard and barbed wire, where it was rumored that an illegal Cuban was being held in true Guantanamo style. However, unlike his Arab Guantanamo counterparts, this Cuban was waiting for deportation, and not being held indefinitely in a hellish limbo that held no predictable future, indicating that Mexico was, at least in this particular case, more concerned with a semblance of lawful procedure than its neighbor to the north.

When Walters’ number was called, he again climbed the stairs and gave the receptionist a quick overview of what he was doing, which was then confirmed on the computer and a second, colored bit of paper was handed to him and he was waved inside. There, another waiting room, already packed with the people that had been ahead of him in the morning lineup, awaited him complete with the relief of cool air conditioning and a television showing the most inane of Televisas’ programming. Walter gritted his teeth and found an empty spot next to the Asian woman, who didn’t look up as he sat next to her, completely absorbed as she was in her phone, paper-filled folder and backpack at her feet.

Every few minutes, an official in khaki pants and navy blue polo shirt with the white embroidered logo of the INM (Instituto Nacional de Migracion) would come in through a second door and everyone would look up hopefully like a group of puppies in a pet store kennel. A number was called and another foreigner disappeared with the official into an interior office.

Walter watched the television, frustrated that he didn’t have his iPhone or at least something to read with him. Televisa’s morning show was on and several European looking Barbie & Ken-like television hosts played off each other and did silly dance moves to some norteño music, while a secondary character, dark-skinned, dressed in mismatched clothing, sporting several blacked out teeth and unkempt hair provided the humor quotient – he represented the indigenous Mexican man on the street. His ridiculous slang and apparent ignorance made him the butt of any and all jokes from the rest of the cast.

In any case, even with the inane television, it was a good thing to be in this air conditioned waiting room and not out in the heat of a Merida summer looking for yet another comprobante of some sort. On a previous attempt the week before, Walter had shown up at the office with all the papers requested on the photocopied list given to him by the receptionist, only to be told that there was a document missing.

“But it’s not even on the list” said Walter in his best Tarzan Spanish, trying somewhat successfully to control his frustration and knowing he was utterly powerless before the whims of Mexican officialdom.

Si, pero es necesario que lo tenga” replied the receptionist curtly and, with a shrug and a dismissive wave, motioned for the next person in line to come forward, an indication to Walter that the discussion had come to an end.

So he endured the pseudo-comedy on the television and was grateful for the air conditioning. It could be worse. The oficina de migracion had been in a building downtown before, which was a pain as far as parking went and there certainly was no air-conditioned room with a TV to distract him as he waited.

Again the door to the interior office opened and an older, resigned-looking female immigration official stood there, looking at a number in her hand.

Treinta y cuatro” she called out, and looked up to see who would be next.

Walter looked at his number – 41. “Just a little bit longer” he thought. The Asian woman next to him gathered her things from the floor and stood up, giving Walter a quick smile before heading into the office behind the blue-clad woman.

******************************************

Will Walter get his paperwork sorted out? Will the Asian woman show up in a future installment?  Will that colonial ever get sold and the immigration office moved somewhere with actual parking and a real filing system? Stay tuned!

The Pineapples are Here!

 

IMG_8192 IMG_8196Not from Veracruz but from the nearby state of Tabasco, the sweet pineapples have arrived and are for sale at a truck near you here in sunny Merida!

This truck is downtown, in the vicinity of 64 and 75 streets, near La Hermita and one of these giant suckers will cost you a whopping 20 pesos (about 1.50 USD if you are comparing)

If you love pineapple, as I do, these will make your day.

Casual Restaurant Critic visits SOMA in Chelem for Brunch

After the last gushing review, the Critic and his Better Half had the persistent urge to revisit SOMA – for brunch. With the Mini-Critic along for extra chowing down power, the trio sat down for breakfast/lunch aka brunch.

The Critic was a little surprised to see that it was a buffet, all you can eat, kind of brunch which was unexpected but of course, the ingredients were all fresh as fresh can be and delicious. Fluffy scrambled eggs (real eggs, not instant) zesty chichen wings, puntas de filete beef, fish in a mustard sauce (extra good), plenty of crispy bacon, tasty ham and fresh fruit and even salad ingredients – all one could eat for a reasonable price.

But the Critic wanted something from the talented chef, so he ordered an omelette from the chalkboard menu. There were plenty of optional fillings to go with the cheddar cheese omelette.

“Would you like something else in that omelette” Linde asked.

The Critic replied “Yes, everything on that list”

And so, moments later the Critic got a gourmet cheddar cheese omelette with bacon, spinach, goat cheese, mushrooms and a few other goodies in there and it was fantastic. Served with some pastry bread and tiny fried potato cubes, the dish was both pretty to look at and tasty. Not to mention filling, but then the Critic had already had seconds on the buffet before the omelette arrived. (It’s a tough life, but someone has to try all this food for the 13 readers of this blog, right?)

To be completely objective, the Critic would have liked to see some interesting creations from the kitchen for the brunch menu a la Remixto, which wouldn’t be a stretch for the talented Chef and perhaps a little later cutoff time for the brunch but perhaps these items are on the regular breakfast menu, which the Critic hopes to try on another occasion.

Real coffee and delicious fresh squeezed orange juice rounded out the breakfast and the Critic, Better Half and MiniCritic rolled themselves out to their car and headed back home to Merida in groaningly satisfied silence.