Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday, Monday...

....In which we shop until we almost drop, come face to face with the Mexican "justice" system, eat the world's most expensive ice cream, and learn some lessons.
Yesterday turned out to be sort of a strange day. Because Claud (Erik's Dad) was arriving in the afternoon we rented a car for the day and decided to drive south to Playa del Carmen in the morning. Where we're staying is very small and I wanted to do a little shopping, maybe some Christmas gifts and a few souvenir items. We knew Playa was a very touristy town but I guess I just wasn't prepared for what that looks like! There were lots of nice shops and restaurants; there were timeshare touts and cruise ship daytrippers; there was HagenDaaz and Starbucks and Burger King (which is, after all, the flavor of the Carribean!) That was all fine if that's what you want, but what I wanted were dusty little shops filled with "treasures", and curio carts lining narrow streets. We wandered around for a while; it was very hot and Poppy was not having fun. (Well, none of us were, but she, being two, was able to express this with things like tears and plopping down in the middle of the street.) Erik bought us all some cold juice and he sat with the kids while I ducked into a few places that retained some feel of the Mexico I was looking for. The prices, though, were astronomical; I looked at some little embroidered dresses and nearly fell over when I saw they were asking about $50 for one! I'd just bought a similar dress for Poppy in Valladolid (I completed the transaction with a Mayan lady under a piece of plastic during the downpour) for less than $10. Clearly, this was not my kind of place.
We bought some fresh orange juice and slices of pizza, then headed back to the car with just about nothing to show for our big shopping day in Playa del Carmen. (Peregrine had bought some hot pepper sauce as a gift for his Papa. It even came wearing a little Mexican straw hat.) We stopped at one of the big grocery stores, appropriately called Mega, for a few groceries, and then headed back up the highway toward Puerto Morelos.
This is a nice divided highway, with two lanes going each direction. There are countless air-conditioned tour buses and advertisements for time-shares and big all-inclusive resorts. The speed limit is posted at 100 kilometers, and Erik has been careful to stay within that. So, we were driving up the road, feeling a bit disappointed that our big shopping trip had failed so miserably, when we saw two police officers standing by the road beckoning us to pull over. One of them walked up to our car, greeted us with a friendly "Buenos Dias!" and shook both of our hands. He then waved a radar gun at us and informed us in broken English that we were in an 80 kilometer per hour zone and had been going 95! Oops! He was holding Erik's driver's license and explained to us that we would need to go to the big police station in Cancun tomorrow and, upon paying a fine of 1,500 pesos (almost $150) Erik could retrieve his license.
Now, we're "not from around here" and didn't really know if this was the norm or not; it seems a bit uncouth to confiscate a person's license! I mean, doesn't that make it illegal for them to be driving? We tried to explain to him that that we wouldn't have a car tomorrow and that getting to Cancun wouldn't be a simple thing. Knowing how things work in places like this I asked if we couldn't just pay the fine now? He grabbed the bait and said that if we could pay him 500 pesos ($50) now then it would be "okay" and we could go. Well, this sounded a lot better than $150 and half a day in Cancun, so Erik pulled out his wallet and removed the 500 pesos; he didn't have much more than that. He was ready to hand it to the officer, but the man seemed hesitant to take it. Erik said that was "mucho dinero" and the officer seemed surprised. He than said "Okay, you pay 200 pesos and it will be okay." So, Erik traded about $20 for his license and we were free to go!
Lesson learned: Watch the speed signs carefully! Of course we were glad to only pay $20, but I always have mixed feelings about these sorts of transactions. On the one hand, it truly is the way things "work", but I don't like corruption, and I don't like buying into it. We learned later that they really do confiscate people's licenses and sometimes even remove their license plates! We were also told that our "fine" should have only been about $10, but how are we gringos to know what the going rate is!
We returned home for a rest in the afternoon and then all headed to the airport to pick up Claud. We were very happy to have him here safely and after getting him settled into the apartment beneath ours we all headed into town for some dinner. We enjoyed the cooler evening and a wonderful Mexican meal together. Someone had recommended to us the coconut ice cream at Pelicanos, a beachside restaurant, so for a treat we decided to go there. We looked at the menu out front and decided that 30 pesos (about $3) for a serving of ice cream was a bit high, but we'd do it this once. We sat looking out over the beach and listening to the gentle waves hitting the sand. Our coconut ice cream arrived and truly, it was impressive! Each one was served in a half coconut shell and was delicious and we all enjoyed our little splurge. Claud took the kids to walk in the sand and Erik called the waiter over to ask for our bill.
Walter, our friendly waiter, had no check to produce, but told us that our total was 290 pesos, almost $30. I think I nearly fell off my chair, and Erik's face probably registered utter shock! I knew we were splurging, but it should have been less than 150 pesos, and this was double that! Walter quickly explained "Three coconut ice creams, 70 pesos each, one chocolate ice cream, 650 pesos, one flan, 15 pesos; to which we quickly replied "The menu says ice cream is 30 pesos." "Ah" said Walter, that is for the regular ice cream; you ordered the special ice cream off our Maya Coffee Menu. It's a different price." Somehow we'd never seen that particular menu; we'd looked at the one posted out front, and when we told him we wanted ice cream he listed the flavors and we told him what kinds we wanted! We just skipped that whole "special menu" thing. Walter offered to talk to the manager about it, and we thought this was a good idea. When we asked him to though, he said the manager wasn't actually there and we could come the next day to see her! Walter was very, very kind about the whole thing, and very apologetic, but please, who spends nearly $7 on a dish of ice cream? Not I! Erik payed the 290 pesos, and Walter, with many apologies, accepted the money. I like to think the best of people, and I do think it was just a misunderstanding and not a scam, but it was frustrating. I believe Walter really felt bad too, because he returned 100 pesos to Erik, and really wanted us to leave happy. Lesson learned: make sure that if you ever eat ice cream at Pelicanos in Puerto Morelos you ask to see the "special menu."
From there we walked over the grocery store where I needed to buy some eggs. That went smoothly, thankfully. Outside, Claud attempted to make a withdrawal from the ATM machine so he could get some pesos. Erik has used this particular machine during our stay here and had no problems. Claud was going to take out only 200 pesos, and when the machine spit out the first 100 peso bill it began to suck it back in. Claud grabbed in quickly and waited for the second bill to come, but it never did. There's unfortunately not much that can be done about it, and thankfully it was only ten dollars, but still, it was frustrating, especially on top of all the other little "weirdnesses" of the day!
After that we drove back to our casa and called it a night. Today has been relaxing so far, with not much to tell. And what can be told will have to wait until later! Until then! Rebeca


  1. similar thing happened to my husband in mexico... although they were going to take his car to the police station in downtown Tijuana. they were "plain" clothesed police in in unmarked car. they pullled him over. in all his time living in mexico, he had never been so scared. he gave them $20 and they left him alone (whew). this was when we were working for project mexico.

  2. Yikes! I'm glad he didn't take Erik's license! That's not the first time I've heard about that happening. But I think usually they just want some easy cash.

    Sorry the comment you left got lost. And that it's happened before! That's terrible. I wish I knew why or how that happens!

    I know-- I just love having a girl to do girly things with. It's so fun! :)

    When we order from Timberdoodle it only takes a day or two. I love that. They are speedy and so close it's great! If your kids like puzzles at all they'd love those!
    Yes... same feelings about the video store. I hated going. I don't even like to send Mark and wait outside in the car or anything. Even the posters in the windows freak my kids out (not to mention me). So far Netflix has been great. (I personally like it that you don't have a time limit with which to return it by, either.... No late fees. Or in our case, no late-night runs to drop off the movie.)
    It will be fun for you to get home. Just in time for some snow, maybe? And then you can get things all Christmas-y.
    What a fun adventure you've had, though! :)


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