Through a Visitor’s Eyes
Published in the July 2003 issue of Sac-Be, this contribution is written by Ed Knod, Dani’s Dad.
Vacation… time away from one's work; time to set day-to-day worries aside for a brief while; time to pursue a hobby; time to renew old friendships and make new ones; time to learn about new places and cultures, and perhaps to visit the remnants of ancient ones; and time to simply relax and rest. Basically, I guess, vacation is all about time management. It's about how we choose to spend that precious time that is truly ours to spend as we please, time that is not already allocated or promised. Some call it quality time.
For many, travel is a major component of vacation. That's certainly true in my case. But—and this is a very big "but" for me—if vacation travel doesn't provide the benefits noted above, I won't repeat it. The vacationing traveler has literally thousands of destinations from which to choose, so just what is it that marks any one country, region, city, resort, celebration, restaurant, bar, and so forth as deserving of that first visit? And, of perhaps more importance to those in the tourism industry, what sets a once-visited destination apart and marks it as deserving of a repeat visit? That is, what makes vacationing travelers shun opportunities to explore new destinations and experiences in favor of going back to re-live previous ones? What makes them see fit to invest even more of their quality time in retracing any road once traveled?
Clearly, there is no single set of answers to these questions, and I'll certainly not try to speak for all vacationing travelers. What I will do in these few paragraphs, however, is give you my take. Moreover, I'll hone my focus to your part of the world—Mexico's beautiful Yucatan Peninsula. I'll share the reasons for my first visit to Cancun and the Riviera Maya and I'll tell you why I've made many additional visits during the last dozen years. I've made one or two additional visits during each of the last dozen or so years. And I'll bet a margarita at sunset that there's a bunch of other folks who feel pretty much the same way I do.
The first visit was risky. I'd had short and infrequent visits to northern and western Mexico, but never to the Yucatan. I didn't know what to expect. My wife and two children and I had recently decided that we wanted to commit to spending our Christmas vacations together as a family and to do that in a warm climate. We spent one Christmas in Hawaii and enjoyed it. But some neighbors had just purchased timeshare condos in Cancun and suggested that we take a look. So, in the pre-Internet mode available at the time, we did some checking… largely relying on the personal experiences of people whose opinions we trusted. Let me emphasize something here: Advertisements and brochures—marketing ploys—only go so far in convincing people to make that first visit.
The travel agent's office glitter may whet the appetite, but for us the deal-clincher was the word-of-mouth insight that we received from friends who had been to Cancun and other places in the Yucatan. These people had come and liked what they experienced…proof once again that the best marketing tool available to any business is a satisfied customer.
We made our first visit, and we spent most of that two-week period in Cancun. We explored many of the city's adventures—restaurants, malls and other shops, Ruinas El Rey, restaurants, downtown Cancun, various water activities on that gorgeous 11-mile beach and on Nichupte Lagoon and did I mention restaurants? We did venture out from Cancun on tours to Chichen Itza and Xcaret, but in general, we behaved like many first-time visitors… we sort of hung close to the resort and tried to get a feel for the area and its people. Though perhaps somewhat low on a scale of "tourist boldness," that first visit to your place was enough to capture our long-term interest.
Our time in Cancun along with our admittedly limited forays out into the broader expanse of the Yucatan brought us into contact with the second best marketing tool—fantastically friendly people who went out of their way to make our visit an enjoyable one!
We made a family commitment to Cancun, frankly without knowing much about the Riviera Maya and the inland treasures of the Yucatan. We bought timeshares, and plotted annual returns to Cancun. With each visit, our comfort increased and we began to venture forth into previously unseen parts of your land. Trips to Isla Mujeres and Cozumel served both to satisfy general curiosity and feed a growing scuba diving habit. Increasing comfort with driving and a (much too slowly, I'm afraid) growing Spanish vocabulary prompted automobile trips to Playa del Carmen and points further south on 307. As our visits increased in duration and frequency, and as our range of Yucatan experiences grew, there was one clear constant… those friendly and helpful people! Time to emphasize something again: I am sincerely grateful to all of you who have helped me in the past…
when you take a moment to help a tourist find his or her way, understand a sign or menu, or negotiate a fill-up at the Pemex station, you increase that tourist's comfort and make him or her a more enthusiastic spokesman for others contemplating a visit to your place. That is, you've just created another great marketing tool… at very low cost!
A few years after our first visit to the Yucatan, our daughter Dani took a rather bold step (at least as far as her mother and I were concerned) and moved to Akumal as a CEA volunteer. Well, even though we were planning to continue our visits to Cancun (and we have), we now had greater incentive to travel south along 307. We've made many trips to Akumal—and I'm including a range of places here, from the beautiful and peaceful Yal-Ku Lagoon (It's got to be one of the world's best snorkeling spots!) south to Aventuras Akumal.
We have had the pleasure of shopping in your shops, dining in your restaurants, having a drink in your bars, diving in your bays, and simply hanging out in your town. And, we've spread the word; to other tourists from abroad as well as to residents of Cancun who are looking for a lovely place to go for a Sunday vacation out of the city.
Our exposure to the Yucatan has certainly increased. We've visited the majestic and serene ruins at Tulum and Coba and marveled at the secrets of the ancient Maya who constructed these cities. We've visited developed sites at Puerto Aventuras and Xpu-Ha, and we've explored quaint off-the-beaten-path places such as Casa Cenote and really off-the-beaten-path jungle secrets like the cenote, Temple of Doom. Yes, we did take the plunge! Oh so refreshing after a little hike through the jungle! In recent years, largely through the efforts of Dani and Scott, we've been able to appreciate places in your part of the world that very few tourists get a chance to experience. Seemingly, very few people in Cancun have ventured south of Tulum, but we have! We've visited Felipe Carrillo Puerto—even had a few excellent meals there—on the way to Chetumal and Xcalak.
We've gotten to dive at Banco Chinchorro and enjoy ceviche, fajitas, and beer at the beautiful Cenote Azul in Bacalar, near Chetumal. By the way, let me note here that although they are a bit out of the Riviera Maya territory, the people in extreme southern Quintana Roo are quite friendly, too!
A wise traveler once said that only a fool would visit a place and then pretend to write about it as if he really understood it. I aim to heed that advice. I cannot say that I understand your culture and your land, but I am working on gaining a deeper appreciation of both. Fortune has allowed me many opportunities to visit your country, and God willing, I shall have many more such chances. My Spanish will get a little better with each trip, and I'll be able to put small check marks by more of the places shown on the map that comes in each issue of Sac-Be. I will continue to renew old friendships and establish new ones. Though I've had no success in the past, I may even get a conversation going with those two quiet guys sitting at the end of the bar at La Buena Vida!
Thank you, people of Riviera Maya, for letting me spend quality time with you!