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.