Riviera Maya: An Accidental Honeymoon

I was in Mexico last December, just before the 21st of the month. The date would come and go without catastrophe, of course, but the fringe theories had brought Maya culture to the forefront of the media and I took the opportunity to learn a bit about the ancient and modern Maya myself. My time spent in Merida was grueling, but rewarding. My room at Hotel Dolores Alba, which was located near the noisy downtown center of the city, had a shower that spilled water from the bathroom into the rest of the room when used. When I swapped out that room for another, I was happy to find my luggage still dry after a shower. I propped a chair up against the flimsy door at night because the lock was wobbly. I mysteriously watched a disturbing movie starring Ashley Greene all the way to the end while taking a break from the sun one afternoon. I had black coffee and refried beans for breakfast in the hotel lobby, which was adorned with portraits of Frida Kahlo. There was something unmistakably charming about the place; maybe it was the open-air courtyard bolting the wings of the hotel together. But charm doesn’t cancel out exhaustion and I was beat.

%Gallery-186761%I had been attempting to keep a more or less vegan diet while in Merida and as one might imagine, this isn’t easy to do in any city and just plain difficult to do in most foreign countries. Guacamole, beans and fresh juice had become my sustenance and the sun was my motor, revving me out of bed each day and hovering over me from one place to the next. The streets of Merida were enthusiastically loud that weekend; they were loud late at night and loud early in the morning. I was missing sleep and calories and looking forward to the two “off” days I’d planned for myself and my husband before we flew back to New York. We’d booked just two nights at Grand Velas Riviera Maya. We would be there for a total of 43 hours.

My fingers were crossed as we made the four-hour trip from Merida to Riviera Maya. All-inclusive resorts often get a bad name – they often earn a bad name. But we wanted to detox and just stare at the ocean for a couple of days. We hadn’t ever had the chance to honeymoon and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally stop looking in every nook and cranny for story-worthy happenings or perfect photo ops while traveling and to just relax. I was depleted. I didn’t want to have to leave our room to hopelessly look for vegetarian food in town. I didn’t want to have to drive around during the two days off trying to entertain myself. Grand Velas, so it seemed through my research, had everything I needed on site and for once, I wanted that. They had kayaks and snorkeling gear, bars and restaurants, spas and shopping – I never dreamed I’d be so tired as to want this manifestation of serenity, but it was what I needed and I only hoped the accommodations and amenities would match the glowing reviews online.

We entered through a washed out fortress of a wall that stood erect behind turquoise pools of water in a man-made beach at the resort’s entrance. We were shown to our beachfront room by our personal concierge, a man who somehow anticipated most of our needs before they could be vocalized. When we asked him for suggestions of where in the resort to find vegan or vegetarian food, he made reservations for us at their French restaurant, Piaf. When we sat down to eat, our waiter informed us that the restaurant had put together a special menu just for us – it was almost entirely vegan, a nearly impossible accomplishment for a French restaurant. All of our other meals panned out the same way. Grand Velas’ website had conveyed flexibility for diet restrictions, but after eating mostly guacamole, beans and juice for four days, I was shocked at the spontaneous fluency in plant-based foods the chefs on site proved to have. We had several dishes to choose from no matter how or where we dined, whether we were in one of the resort’s restaurants, having food brought to us as we lounged on the beach or ordering from their 24-hour room service late at night. We scheduled and received some of the best massage treatments we’ve ever had at their spa. We swam in the pools. We admired the lapping waves of the Caribbean.

We saw only a few other guests while there; it felt as though we had the grounds to ourselves. The reviews were right. Grand Velas is the antithesis of the traditional all-inclusive resort where kids run amok, meals are slopped onto plates from buffets, cocktails are made from bottom shelf liquor and the beach is crowded. I wish I had stayed longer in Riviera Maya, where a much-needed break became an accidental honeymoon.

[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]

The Beaches of Riviera Maya, Mexico

Business Fuels Doomsday Prophecies In Mexico

Every other billboard seemed to mention 2012 as I drove along that famously flat stretch of road from Cancun to Playa del Carmen. I was on my way to spend a couple of days relaxing at Grand Velas Riviera Maya, but the easiest way to reach Riviera Maya is via Carretera Federal 307 and 307 is ornamented with billboards, as anyone would expect. Riviera Maya is a popular vacation destination, and popularity and advertising are two peas in the Business Success pod. It wasn’t the billboards themselves that caught my attention, though. What flashed before me memorably every few minutes was a billboard referencing 2012, or the apocalypse, or Doomsday prophecies, or the Maya calendar – and this consistency is what I noticed. I couldn’t help but smile as I watched the ads approach and then disappear; marketers, when they’re good, are usually really good.

%Gallery-173831%The billboards along 307 were just bigger, bolder versions of what I’d already been seeing all over Cancun and Merida in the days prior. In Cancun, an employee at the car rental company tried to convince me to go to a tourist trap complete with Maya this and End Of The World that. He was moonlighting as a promotions guy for the place while I signed the forms for my rental car. In Merida, it seemed as though most businesses and individuals who had thought of a way to capitalize off of the December 21 hype had acted on those thoughts. The enterprising women and men behind these ventures, many of them holding shops at the weekly Merida market, sold Doomsday books and guides, Maya calendars, Maya calendars made out of chocolate, apocalypse T-shirts and key-chains. I ate at a restaurant in Merida called 2012 Mayan Spaces and Something Else. The food was very good, as were the drinks, especially for being one of the few vegetarian options in Merida. Nonetheless, the restaurant carried this name and thus, so did the menu. The back wall of the outdoor patio displayed Maya-based art. The hotel I stayed at in Merida offered an impressive selection of Maya-themed tours to guests and “2012” was scribbled in large numerals on their office chalkboard. The crowds at Chichen Itza were insufferable; the long lines buzzed with End Times speculations.

Of course no one else was talking about the world ending on December 21. The only people who seemed to engage in any of these theories in the Yucatan were the people who were in a position to profit from the surprisingly widespread belief. The first man I spoke to in Merida, a man of Maya descent, was quick to discuss the modern Maya and history of the Maya in Merida with me, but he didn’t comment on the 2012 prophecies until 15 minutes into our conversation and he only spoke of the prophecies as a response to my questioning. When I mentioned the lore, his eyes glazed over as if he were remembering something he’d only taken note of in the most distant, peripheral sense. Like asking a non-Christian for their thoughts on the rapture mentioned in the Book of Revelation, locals were aware that others had attached themselves to this prophecy, but they were not believers.

When Pastor John Hinkle made his D-Day declaration for June 9, 1994, my parents nervously anticipated the date. I cuddled with my elementary school friend that night, waiting for fiery claws to rip the skies wide open, and of course it never happened. But it isn’t the truth behind the prediction that matters. What matters is how much publicity the prediction can collect leading up to the date. Hinkle’s ratings for his TBN show were probably skyrocketing from the hoopla before June 9 that year. All of this is to say, the “end of the world” appears to be relevant to the people of the Yucatan in only one way for certain: business.

It’s a good thing December 21 falls on a Friday. All of the opportunistic entrepreneurs out there can take their hype-checks to the bank and have them deposited before Christmas morning.

Read more from my series, “Life At The End Of The World: Destination Yucatan,” here.

[Photo Credit: Ben Britz]