I'm in a good mood. It feels wonderful to be out of the islands, and into Mexico.
I was a bit concerned about finding an affordable place to stay in town, as I would be arriving during Easter weekend, so I decided to give Hostelz.com a shot and booked a night at one of the places mentioned in my guidebook before I left Puerto Rico.
My flight passed quickly enough (even though I was seated next to a man who clearly had too much cocaine for breakfast), and arrived in Cancún without issue—although I wasn't particularly pleased when the immigration officer said he couldn't grant me more than a 30-day visa. If I end up hanging out in Mexico for more than a few weeks I'll have to lobby for an extension.
Since my arrival I've been making a genuine attempt to learn Spanish. At the moment, I'm trying to bulk up on nouns and memorize simple, useful phrases, all the while hoping to become moderately conversational one of these days.
Cancún is divided into two main areas: Downtown—your standard Mexican city/town—and a massive 14+ mile stretch of beach referred to (in English) as the Hotel Zone. Separated from the mainland by a large lagoon, the elongated cluster of resorts looks like a longer version of the Las Vegas strip, but with an ocean view.
The resort hotels are massive, and just like the effect the casinos in Vegas can have, it can make judging distance difficult. A long walk on the beach might only take you past a half dozen resorts.
All the beaches are public in Mexico, although you might have to be crafty enough to break through the intensely aggressive security detail each hotel sports to reach a popular spot behind your favorite resort (without having to walk for a few miles).
I wonder if extensive erosion that I'm seeing along the coastline of the Hotel Zone is a result of the massive hurricane that devastated this region of the world last October. The beach behind many of the hotels seems to come to an abrupt edge towards the waterline, often dropping sharply by several feet.
Apparently 95% of the tourism infrastructure was seriously damaged by the Category 4 hurricane. Aside from the damaged beach—which is actually not that bad, and contains an unusually high amount of crushed mussel shells and sand dollars—the area seems to have made a full recovery.
I'm currently staying downtown at great hostel called The Nest, and finally, I'm surrounded by other backpackers for the first time since I started all of this a few months ago.
I'm quite comfortable here, and the design of the single-story building reminds me of a friendly home. There's pleasant staff and guests; cheap Internet access in the common area (US$0.75/hour); a complete kitchen with a fantastic supermarket a block away; a free breakfast of fruit, bread, and donuts; all the coffee, tea, and bottled water you can drink; simple wooden lockers to lock my backpack inside of; a washing machine; and a bunch of other enjoyable amenities.
There are a couple of different types of rooms here (named after Harry Potter clans), and almost all of them are filled with your typical hostel dorm beds (bunk beds). For this I'm paying 130 pesos/night (about US$12)—springing the extra US$2/night for the additional privacy of a 4-person room (with A/C from 23:00-07:00). The primary room looks like it holds nearly 20 people and doesn't have air conditioning.
I'm currently talking with the owner about doing some Web site work for the hostel in exchange for room and board. They've got an old Flash site from a prior location that could possibly be retooled, but I'd need some of the original files used to create the site (hopefully still in possession by the ex-pats that were hired to do the build some time ago).
This is not my first visit to Cancún, I was here over seven years ago, during the Christmas of my freshman year of college.
What a difference it is being here now compared to the young and foolish 18 year-old that visited then. It doesn't necessarily take a place like this to remind me how much I've grown since then, but it certainly triggers a certain level of introspective reflection—and it gives me a good feeling to recognize how much more rewarding Cancún is now as the person I've become.