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.


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.

19 thoughts on “A Tourist Arrives in Cancun – Welcome To Mexico!

  1. The one time we flew into Cancun, I studied and studied all the available online information — blogs, ADO schedules, message boards — and still the experience was not what I thought I was prepared for. What a circus. The one nice thing was arriving during the day and seeing the Caribbean coast from the air. That was splendid. And the last uplifting moment until our arrival in Merida.

  2. a must read for anyone thinking about entering through Cancun, needs to be a SERIOUS cash savings over coming directly in to MID!

    Very funny, well done!

  3. Were you taking the van to Merida, or Cancun? Just wondering if two people can get a van from the airport to Merida for $65. Might be worth mentioning the routine of catching the ADO airport terminal bus to the Cancun main terminal, than the bus from there to Merida (and isn’t there an ADO direct at times?). One note on MID arrivals and taxis – last time I was there, the taxi stand cashier sign said 180 pesos for a taxi to centro, and 200 for a camioneta. Cashier asks for my destination (centro, c62 y c71), and she requires 200. “Pero dice el letrero…” Shrug – “200”. Taxi TO the airport on departure was 100 pesos…

  4. No Stan, we were getting a ride back to downtown Cancun where we had parked our car for the duration. And yes, the airport is another country, as Jerry Seinfeld once put it. They have no idea of what things cost everywhere else!

  5. Hilarious. And true. I understand the Aduana screening, because so many people are trying to smuggle stuff into Mexico and not pay duty. Every trip I bring a bunch of stuff for friends, and one time it was a pool filter (80 centimeters by 20 centimeters). I totally forgot about it by the time I hit the xray machine. The woman running it asked what I was bringing, and I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about, because my Spanish was not all that good and she couldn’t describe it in English. Finally she opened my bag and showed me the offending article. “Oh, that’s a pool filter.” “Pool feelter?” she says. I couldn’t think of the word for pool or for swimming, so I mimed doing the crawl stroke. She shook her head, but had had enough and told me to push the button. It flashed red. She sighed and directed me to a table and told the fellow next to it that I had a “feelter.” He opened my bag, dug around it, including looking around the filter. “Where … is … the feelter?” he asked. I pointed to the giant object in his hand that he had been looking behind. “How much?” he asked. I shrugged. “Three hundred pesos.” I said. He rolled his eyes, closed up my bag. “Gracias,” he said and walked over to a colleague to whom he sniffed, pointed his thumb at me, and said, “Que era un feelter.” BTW, I later learned the word was “filtro.”

  6. William,

    We have arrived at Cancun a couple of times and always have taken the ATO downtown. Very easy and cheap.

    Great article!

  7. Thanks Herb! Once you know these things, it becomes easier, I suspect. But the whole experience can certainly be overwhelming when one comes here for the first time!

  8. I had a friend who brought down some autoparts for my beast and he ran into a similar situation. Apparently you “can´t” do that. Whatever. If you pay enough, you “can”. Thanks for stopping by EJ!

  9. I loved Cancun Airport except for the long wait to get through Customs and then the baggage re-check. Everyone was polite, some were pleasant. The ladies room was very clean, the lady who pawed through my luggage was apologetic, and the young men in the exit area while interested in getting you to take their transportation method to where ever you were going next were very nicely dressed and didn’t approach me although they looked hopeful. I sooooo preferred it to Orlando International Airport or Miami Airport, Puerto Plata Airport in the DR, or actually any airport I can think of.

    I’ve never flown into the Merida airport so given Wiliam’s review I’m guessing it’s a much more pleasant process. As to Debi’s comment about price difference, for me Cancun is a 90 minute non-stop flight from where I live and just under half the cost to fly to the Merida airport. The shortest travel time to Merida is also about 10 hours, with a big lay-over. So, Cancun it is. And the ADO to either Merida if the timing works or to downtown for the first-class bus. I can’t wait to get back!!

  10. I just discovered this blog, read the restaurant review and thought for a moment, oh, this might be interesting to follow. Thank God I went on to read this post. Glad that I discovered the not too hidden racism and anti-Mexican scorn that you really have for your “adopted” country. Most of those who applaud your posts probably don’t know more than 10 words in Spanish, “cerveza” being one I am sure. And they expect all the Mexicans they deal with to speak English. Really. Like everyone all over the world should to serve Canadians or Americans. As for your customs experience, as you breeze through American or Canadian immigration, why not pause for a moment to see what is happening to the “others.” You know. The browner or less white visitors or immigrants who are getting grilled, poked at or having all their stuff sorted through. Never notice that? I am not surprised. Like I said, I am so glad to have read this post, now I will simply delete anything else from you and advise my friends who live in Merida or who travel to the Yucatan to do the same. Leave your racism and superiority at home, or just go back there.

  11. Oh Reg, you must have had a bug crawl under your shorts to get you all grumpy like this, making superficial assumptions and insulting your Facebook friends like that. I hope you can dig a little deeper and find that I do indeed love the country but find the officialdom ridiculous and absolutely worthy of scorn, as do most Mexicans. Chill, have a cool drink and get a good nights sleep; you’ll feel better. Peace.

  12. Poor Reg, he obviously needs a good night’s sleep or some attitude changer like a shot of tequila. WL, as always you are so descriptive and more often than not, extremely funny. When I returned through Cancun a couple of weeks ago, I even had the customs lady laughing as I tried to explain that at my age, I needed 2 computers, (which they discovered I had) one is a PC, the other newer one a MAC. The reason, I told her, was at my age, learning a new skill (using a MAC) was far more difficult and I had to read some files on my PC which could not be read on my MAC. She shook her head, probably hoping she doesn’t get so old she can’t figure out how to read computer files!

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