the smell of my desperation has become a stench

Mexico, part one

(I am writing this in bed, my back wrapped in an ice pack, my legs elevated so that I might stop screaming. Reality really missed us while we were gone.)

Several months ago our friends Kate and Dave asked if we’d like to join them on a trip to Mexico in January, that time of year in Utah when three-foot snowdrifts are covered in the black, grimy soot of traffic and polluted air. I immediately called my mother, asked if she’d be available to watch the kids while we were gone, and then double checked to make sure there wasn’t some arctic Mexico we didn’t know about. Like some little known Mexico, Alberta, which I’m sure would be totally charming, and the inhabitants exceedingly polite while asking if we’d like another round of caribou tacos, eh?

I’ve been to Mexico once while I lived in Los Angeles, but it was only for a day. And I don’t remember much because of all the homemade tequila. And because of all the work both Jon and I have been doing in the last month, the two weekends in a row we had to work to make sure all loose ends were tied up before we left, we failed to do any research that would have made the transition a bit easier. However, Tyrant did prepare a giant list of common questions we might have so that we could ask them in Spanish, including, “Where are all the good looking young men whom I might bring home to my assistant?”

We used that one all the time.

Tuesday evening we got off the plane in Cancun, and the humidity swarmed every inch of our bodies, including Jon’s hair which immediately stood on end, straight out from his head and remained there for the rest of the week.

He would have looked horribly frightened, except he was warm and smiling, so he just looked crazy.

I was indescribably giddy. Wide-eyed. Drunk on the thought of roads with no snow. And so after we breezed through customs and were about to make our way out to the van we had requisitioned, I must have looked like the gullible freak that I am. Because two men dressed in uniform stopped us, asked us who would be transporting us to our destination, and then one of them pulled us aside to give us the good news and the bad news.

You guys, I have watched way too much National Geographic and those shows where people try to smuggle drugs out of foreign countries and end up in prison where gangs man the hallways with Uzis.

Not that I was transporting any drugs, unless you count Prozac and that suitcase filled with Advil.

Turns out he was trying to sell us a timeshare (phew!), except Jon was becoming increasingly impatient (not phew!), and the mounting tension between the two of them had me imagining a future where both of us were trying to recover from gun shots to the chest.

I’m horrible with conflict, especially when the other person is becoming so agitated that he’s starting to speak in sentences that contain both Spanish and English.

Jon says that I’m exaggerating the situation, but he wasn’t INSIDE MY MIND. I really thought someone was going to get hurt, and it’s just as likely that it could have been the Mexican trying to sell us shit, because my husband was so frustrated that he started to talk to himself underneath his breath. That’s THREE DIFFERENT LANGUAGES BEING SPOKEN.

And the only thing I understood was, “Calm down!” AND THAT WASN’T COMING FROM ME.

Luckily we made it out to our van in the almost oppressive heat of the evening, except oppressive isn’t the right word. It’s like saying, “Clive Owen oppressively seduced me.”

From there we drove to Puerto Juarez where we caught a ferry to Isla Mujeres, a small island about eight miles off the coast of Cancun, away from the Outback Steakhouses and Burger Kings that have infested most of the tourist areas. In fact, that night we had fresh shrimp ceviche for dinner while sitting on the beach, a light breeze blowing in off of the ocean to remind us that we had made it to the first non-working vacation of our marriage.

I’m off to the chiropractor, so I have to stop here. But there are a few more stories to tell from this trip. Also, Leta turns seven years old tomorrow, and the preparations around that may be one of the reasons my back won’t let me stand up.

In the meantime, here is the first small sampling of the photos I took:

  • Daddy Scratches

    2011/02/02 at 9:31 am

    Funny; I’m in the middle of finally writing about a trip my wife and I took to Riviera Maya (about a half-hour south of Cancun) … last April. I’d have written about it sooner, but 2010 wouldn’t stop sucking long enough for me to focus on writing about the year’s lone good time.

    Everything in Philly is coated in ice today. Kids are home for, like, the bazillionth snow day. Remind me again why humans would voluntarily settle here instead of someplace tropical?

    Glad you guys had fun … and didn’t end up in a Mexican prison, or get pressured into buying a timeshare. Here’s hoping the re-entry isn’t too awful.

  • Hagan Squared

    2011/02/02 at 9:34 am

    Love Isla Mujeres! I have a couple of those bobbing head turtles on a table at home. Oh god I need a beach vacation pronto.

  • thecattylife

    2011/02/02 at 9:39 am

    oh I LOVE the last pic of the little turtles bobbing their heads 🙂 I hope you bought one. And that Marlo hasn’t eaten it. Looking forward to part 2!

  • mommica

    2011/02/02 at 9:45 am

    Lovely. But WHERE is the gift I’m sure you brought home for Tyrant?

  • kristanhoffman

    2011/02/02 at 9:53 am

    Smuggling dugs, huh? That’s an industry I’d really rather not think about… 😛

    Great photos! (Although I kind of want to kill you for taunting me with the flip flops…)

    I hope your back feels better soon. :\

    Happy early birthday to Leta!

  • ttwiix

    2011/02/02 at 9:55 am

    My boss went to cancun last year and brought me back one of those turtles! It’s sitting on my desk as I type =)

  • MelissaJ

    2011/02/02 at 9:57 am

    Happy Birthday to Leta!

    amazing pictures. i feel quite certain you bought one of those turtles for all your readers; i seriously need one.

  • MelissaJ

    2011/02/02 at 9:58 am

    sorry for posting twice.

  • Spookagain

    2011/02/02 at 10:02 am

    We have those bobble-head turtles here at the office from when someone went to Mexico, too!

  • luv and kiwi

    2011/02/02 at 10:04 am

    I have one of those little turtles!

  • luv and kiwi

    2011/02/02 at 10:05 am

    ok and I’m seeing everyone else had a coworker bring them back a turtle too. I no longer feel special.

  • slappyintheface

    2011/02/02 at 10:07 am

    Did you bring back any Mexican Prozac … that stuff is da shiz!!! Just kidding .. glad that you had a great time and soooooooooooo jealous that you got to take an adult vacation without anybody constantly bitching.

  • BrassyDel

    2011/02/02 at 10:36 am

    Ooo, I love the pink building photo! Not super, super crazy about the black vignetting around the borders, but everything else about it I LOVE.

  • BrassyDel

    2011/02/02 at 10:39 am

    Oh, and from the other comments I see that I need to mention that I, too, received a bobble head turtle from a friend’s trip to Mexico. Do they have some kind of deal on those things? Like, are they perchance marketed specifically as the perfect cheapskate souvenir to bring home to all of your loser friends that can’t go to Mexico – cheap enough to buy for everyone, but neat enough that THEY’LL NEVER KNOW THEY AREN’T SPECIAL?

    Well, I still like my bobble head turtle, so that’s okay if everyone else whose never been to Mexico also has one.

  • canadianCait

    2011/02/02 at 10:48 am

    The orange house with the tree and clothesline – AMAAAAAAZZZINNNNGGGG!!!! Ha. And I am from Alberta and I do NOT say “eh”! Seriously. Lol.

  • erinloechner

    2011/02/02 at 10:57 am

    YAY! I am soooooo thrilled you enjoyed yourself so immensely. Also, give my fave kid a happy birthday dance for me, yes?


  • spedrson

    2011/02/02 at 11:20 am

    We are going to Cancun in May for our 15th anniversary and plan to do a day trip to Isla Mujeres! This is our first vacation without kids since our son was born 7 years ago! I can’t wait! I really look forward to seeing your pictures!

  • dianemaggipintovoiceover

    2011/02/02 at 11:21 am

    looks like you found the cemetery–so muy bien!–and hope you rode the crapass rental bikes around the island–all 9 miles of it! fabby island, and LOTS of strays, as you’ve said.
    but pray tell where are all these snowy roads in utah of which you speak? gah the lack of snow is killing me!

  • sgigs

    2011/02/02 at 2:26 pm

    We were *this close* to being on a vacation in Isla Mujeres too. Almost at the exact same time. Crazy.

  • Adrasteia

    2011/02/02 at 2:56 pm

    I’ve been to Isla Mujeres twice, and it looks EXACTLY the same as it did then, judging by these photos. That place doesn’t change. I hope you helped yourself to goblets of papaya juice. I know I certainly did every morning I was there. Were you able to go see Chichen Itza or Tulum? Standing at the top of the Kukulkan Temple and staring out across the Yucatan is just like being inside a Discovery Channel documentary when it pans over the rainforest. Although there is more bat shit up at the top of the temple than I expect the camera people are accustomed to. Last time I was there we had an epileptic roach in our ‘hotel’ room. Ahhhh, Mexico.

  • LuckIsMyMiddleName

    2011/02/02 at 11:26 am

    Until they got too old and worn out, my husband’s grandparents spent about a month every winter on Isla Mujeres. Totally our next Mexican vacation spot. In fact, your pictures have me itching to go right now, without even finishing this cup of tea.

  • sub_english

    2011/02/02 at 11:35 am

    When you posted your earlier photos, I thought, “Huh. That looks like Isla Mujeres, with Cancun there in the background.”

    My husband and I honeymooned on Isla and had the most fantastic time. So beautiful. Such good, cheap food. The turtle sanctuary, where for $2 you can see all the baby turtles you’ve ever wanted.

  • TropicalPopsicle

    2011/02/02 at 11:42 am

    Oh I love the picture with the clothes line!

  • Rosemarie

    2011/02/02 at 12:00 pm

    From the photos so far it looks like your Mexico trip was much more amazing than my recent Cancun Trip! So I’m very very jealous!!

    Love that first photo! And the clothesline! Beautiful!

    (And happy birthday Leta!)

  • southerngirl

    2011/02/02 at 12:13 pm

    Isla Mujeres!!! That’s were my husband and I had our honeymoon 28 years ago. From your pictures, I can tell it has really grown since then (no French bistros when we were there). There was only one restaurant on the town square where they served fresh seafood right from the ocean every night. And there were only two hotels on the island. When we checked onto our hotel, someone had left two sealed bottles of tequila in the room (the room service personnel kindly left them there), so we had free booze. And one night when we left our room, someone had left some torn up pesos on the walkway in front of our hotel door, so we found a small grocery store and pantomimed that we wanted some scotch tape, taped them back together and paid for our dinner that night. Now that’s hospitality! We were thinking about going back to Isla Mujeres in March, so let us know where you stayed and what you thought of the accommodations.

  • tallnoe

    2011/02/02 at 12:28 pm

    Thank you for the lovely Isla de Mujeres pictures! I haven’t been there since 1981. So, it seems a little different. It probably isn’t, but it seems so to me.

    I love those turtles. I want to go to an island now. Instead, I’ll go do some expenses.

  • Federov

    2011/02/02 at 12:30 pm

    These are some of my fav photos I’ve seen on Dooce (and I’m not just saying that because Philadelphia is coated in a sheet of ice right now, though that might have something to do with it).

    Really awesome color!

  • Noahs Mom

    2011/02/02 at 12:46 pm

    I’m not sure about Albera, but there is a village of Mexico in upstate New York that’s under about three feet of snow at the moment.

  • Lauren3

    2011/02/02 at 12:50 pm

    Yo, you’ve gotten badass with the camera. Is your Etsy store still functional? If not, should be, fool.

  • Libby

    2011/02/02 at 1:38 pm

    I love it there. Spent 4-5 days there about 6 years ago and it was probably the most relaxing vacation I’ve had. For me it was a steady diet of coconut shrimp and watermelon liquados. That water is just amazing.

  • Janbo

    2011/02/02 at 1:48 pm

    The crazy giant shell house…still there?

    I love ya girl, but do you have to tell the WHOLE INTERNET about the quietly cool island just off the coast from commercial beachwart that is Cancun?

    That said, more pics please!

  • Manyletters

    2011/02/02 at 1:57 pm

    Inspired in Alberta and oddly, craving caribou tacos, eh. Thanks for posting your pictures.

  • karacter

    2011/02/02 at 2:12 pm

    How delicious that vacation looks. I need to set my sights higher. Cabin fever has truly gotten the best of me – the National Bed Bug Summit actually started to sound appealing. How’s that for desperation?

  • Bratfink

    2011/02/02 at 2:15 pm

    Those were totally awesome pictures. Absolutely beautiful.

    I hope I wasn’t jaded by being up to my ass in snow.

    No, I’m sure I wasn’t. But by Gosh and Darn, don’t you just LOVE the colors of Mexico?

  • spodie

    2011/02/02 at 2:16 pm

    LOVE Cancun. The first time we went with my parents, and my mom sent me an e-mail that said, “When you get through customs, walk as quickly as possible to your shuttle service. Do not talk to anyone. Do not make eye contact. Just walk as fast as you can. It’s very intimidating, but you’ll be okay,” etc., etc. My husband and I are both seasoned travelers and laughed at her extremist language. And then we got through customs. She couldn’t have given us better advice.

    So glad you had fun. We’re headed for Cabo in March, and I can’t wait.

  • zero-to-two

    2011/02/02 at 3:11 pm

    I was married on Playa Norte at sunset. Despite the fact that I had bronchitis, it was the best day ever. Isla is the best place ever. Sigh.

    P.S. I especially like photo #2, looking towards the beach at Cabanas Maria del Mar. Maria was our wedding planner.:)

  • paginatrix

    2011/02/02 at 3:14 pm

    I’m in El Paso, TX, and right now it’s 11 degrees outside and snowing here and just across the river in Juárez. Brrrrr. You picked the right part of Mexico.

  • hooha

    2011/02/02 at 3:16 pm

    that new masthead is great!

  • greeblemonkey

    2011/02/02 at 4:15 pm

    I was scrolling through the photos sighing, because it’s -7 in Denver, thinking about how we needed to get back to Mexico, how we really have been considering going in late Spring, and then BAM – last photo! Declan has that exact boppy-head turtle from the last time we went to Mexico.

    Sign from god.

  • Rigolets

    2011/02/02 at 4:18 pm

    Isla Mujeres is so nice and unspoiled. I loved it there and the people are so nice! Very jealous of your vacation in paradise.

  • Moomser

    2011/02/02 at 4:28 pm

    The breadth and depth of my envy simply cannot be measured…. Of course I’m off to Brazil on Friday, so that should cheer me right up! For my grandma’s one hundred and first birthday… which we won’t be celebrating anywhere near a beach, but still, it’s summer there. BTW awesome pics, gorgeous colors! Did you bring Tyrant one of those turtles??!

  • oldsandnews

    2011/02/02 at 5:07 pm

    Why oh why do friends who’ve been to Mexico not warn us about the men in uniform on the “way out” of the airport. I was so annoyed by that little detour and now I tell people. Because it’s nice.

  • Anthropologal

    2011/02/02 at 5:15 pm

    @Janbo – I was going to ask about the conch shell house too! I love that house. I also love IM! I am currently living in Mexico although in a VERY non-touristy part. I may try to make it back up to the Yucatan while I am down here although there are so many other great places to see.
    Did you guys rent a golf cart and drive around? So fun!
    If anyone wants info on more non-touristy places in MX, let me know!
    Feliz Año de Conejo y Dia de Candelaria y Feliz cumpleaños Leta!

  • Limeliteshines

    2011/02/02 at 5:33 pm

    Bienvenidos a Mexico! Well . . I would have said that earlier but . . well . . . you’re back now.

    I live not too far from where you vacationed . . I moved to Mexico to be a part of the Symphony Orchestra here in a city about 4 hours west of Cancun.

    I hope you bought a bobblehead or two to take home with you. They make lovely pets!

    We’re just now waiting for the heat to hit .. it’s only made it up to 96 this week . . but give us a few more weeks and we’ll be in the 100’s straight through till September. Phew.

    Perfect timing for your visit really!

    PS . . Janbo . . Isla Mujeres turns into one major college kid cluster f(#&$ around spring break. They know about it already. 🙂

  • genoendicott

    2011/02/02 at 5:38 pm

    I want to go to there.

  • mamatabea

    2011/02/02 at 6:32 pm

    awesome pictures…glad you had a chance to get away 😉

  • Jillsy

    2011/02/02 at 7:09 pm

    OH MY GOD! I love the pictures you took – the colors are so vibrant. It’s almost like being there except I’m freezing my ass off in Minnesota. I MUST GO THERE NNNOOOOWWWW!

  • maggie17

    2011/02/02 at 7:20 pm

    I lived there for two and a half years. Of course, once I move away, you visit. Your photos captured the spirit of Isla really well. I hope you had a peaceful time.

  • rissakae

    2011/02/02 at 7:24 pm

    We spent Christmas on Isla just over a year ago. Loved it. Seeing your photos has me itching to go back! Can’t wait to see more!

  • RudeAwakening

    2011/02/02 at 8:16 pm

    I’m afraid to go back to Mexico right now but your pictures are really making me want to. So jealous.

Heather B. Armstrong

Hi. I’m Heather B. Armstrong, and this used to be called mommy blogging. But then they started calling it Influencer Marketing: hashtag ad, hashtag sponsored, hashtag you know you want me to slap your product on my kid and exploit her for millions and millions of dollars. That’s how this shit works. Now? Well… sit back, buckle up, and enjoy the ride.

read more