Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Una Aventura

My trip to Playa del Carmen got off to a rough start.  I had packed my telephone, but I received a text message just before I left and somehow managed to leave my phone at home.  Unfortunately, my phone is also my GPS.  I drove to Los Angeles and planned to have dinner with a friend and stay overnight so that I could make an early morning flight.  However, I did not have a map of the area where she lives and couldn’t call without a phone.  I drove around La Mirada for half an hour before I found a payphone and was able to get directions.

My flight was at 7:15am.  I got up at 3:45 and managed to leave the house by 4:30, but it took me an hour to find the freeway (How is that possible in LA?) and so I missed my flight.  The next flight didn’t leave until 10:00 and would have arrived at 6:00pm instead of 3:00.  I had to pay an extra $200 to change flights.  (So much for saving $300 by flying from LA.) Unfortunately, that flight was late and I missed my connection in Mexico City.  I met another woman in the line at the ticket counter who had the same problem.  She was beside herself because no one seemed to speak English and she didn’t speak Spanish, although her last name was Los Reyes and everyone seemed to think she should.  She latched onto me when she noticed me having an animated conversation in Spanish with the ticket agent.

We finally got rebooked on the 10:15 pm flight to Cancun.  Despite the best efforts of my new friend at the ticket counter, I had to pay yet another $85.  Neither of us was very impressed with Aero México.  I have always enjoyed flying on Mexicana Airlines, but Aero México was very disorganized and half the passengers seemed to be having some form of difficulty.  We spent five hours in the Mexico City airport using the internet at Starbucks.  I had time to get some pesos from the ATM and obtain a phone card so that I could (I thought) call my landlady and tell her what had happened.  Although I tried several times, I was never able to reach her.  I had two phone numbers, but one was disconnected and the other went straight to voicemail. 

We arrived in Cancun just after midnight.  After seeing that my traveling companion had a way to get to her hotel, I grabbed a collectivo heading to Playa del Carmen.  A collectivo is a minibus that operates without a set schedule.  They leave whenever they are full.  With an entire plane full of folks having just arrived, I did not have to wait long.  The fare to Playa del Carmen was 300 pesos (about $27.)  It took about 45 minutes to drive there from Cancun.  The highway is very good and there are resorts and tourist attractions everywhere along the way.  I suspect that one could spend a lot of money here very easily, although my food, lodging and Spanish lessons are costing me less than $400 for the week.

I had a very strange address for the house where I was supposed to stay.  The email said that it was the green gate across from the Oasis apartments on 40th Avenue between 2nd Street and Benito Juarez Ave.  Of course it was pitch dark at 2:00 in the morning, but the driver was very accommodating and, with the help of a policeman, we found the place.  There was no bell.  I banged and banged on the gate, but succeeded in waking only the dog.  Once again, I sought out a payphone and tried, without success, to call.  So, I found myself standing in the street at 2:00 am with my suitcase and no clear idea what I was going to do.  I started dragging my bag towards the beach, figuring I would eventually find a motel.  Fortunately, I only had to walk about two blocks before I found a motel.  By the grace of God, they had a vacancy.  The gentleman behind the counter was very welcoming and I was extremely grateful to finally fall into bed.

The motel wasn’t fancy, but I rented a room for 550 pesos (about $44.)  The room was quite large and had its own kitchen, but everything was rather shabby, there was very little water pressure and the mattress was hard as a rock.  Even though I had hardly slept the night before, it took me about an hour to get to sleep.  This might have been because of all the coffee and Diet Coke I had consumed on the plane and in the airport, trying to stay awake enough to drive to Playa del Carmen if it had been necessary.

Playa del Carmen is a noisy place.  Local construction methods do not contain much, if any, soundproofing and barking dogs, squawking birds, shrieking children and noisy trucks abound.  I had no trouble waking early enough to get to school on time.  I tried, once again without success, to raise someone at the house so that I could drop off my suitcase.  I ended up dragging it a mile or so to the school.  I found the address (if you can call it that) easily enough.  Playa del Carmen does not have street numbers.  Addresses consist of a description or name of the building and an approximate location, such as the Hacienda del Carmen Condos on 14th Street between 15th and 20th Avenues.  Unfortunately, all the gates were locked up tight and there was no indication of a language school being located there. 

They had told me to arrive at 8:45 the first day, but by 9:00 I still had been unable to locate anyone.  I started to despair.  I was beginning to believe that I had been ripped off.  No one answered at the house, the phone numbers didn’t work and now the school didn’t seem to exist.  Finally, a teenaged boy approached the gate and I asked him if he knew anything about the school.  He let me in, showed me to the entrance where there was a tiny (3” square) sign and told me that they didn’t open until 10:00 am.  I was extremely relieved.  I settled down on the steps and prepared to read for an hour.  After only a few minutes, a young woman arrived and let me in.  We conversed for half an hour or so before my teacher arrived.  Her name is Monse and she is from Barcelona.  Surprisingly, I have no trouble understanding her.  She told me many things about the area and I was pleased to learn that it is quite safe here.  Even I had noticed that there is a large police presence.  She told me that there are even more police than usual, right now, because of spring break.

My teacher is named Maria Elisa.  She is from Argentina.  Of course, the Argentinian accent is the hardest to understand, but I am managing, although it sometimes takes me awhile to unravel what she is saying.  At least she doesn’t speak as rapidly as other Argentines I have known.  I am the only student at my level so, instead of having four hours of class in a group and two hours of private lessons, I will have four hours of private lessons per day.  This is actually great because I can steer my studies in the directions that interest me and still have more time to explore Playa del Carmen.  Unfortunately, they are building a new apartment complex next door to the school and the jackhammers were so loud that we could not hear each other.  Finally, we gave up and went to the park.  If this keeps up, I will get tan without ever going to the beach.  We studied for a couple of hours, went out for lunch, and then studied for another couple of hours in the shade at the restaurant.

When we got back to the school, my landlady arrived with her car to collect me.  This was a pleasant surprise and a good thing because it turned out that she does not live at the address I was given.  Her name is Rosa and she has a teenaged son named Allen.  They are very friendly.  The house is new and attractive.  I have a large room and a spacious bathroom of my own.  All I wanted, however, was a nap.  I slept for the rest of the afternoon.  Rosa and Allen arrived just in time for dinner and we had tasty chicken tamales.  There is internet here in the house, although it is not working at the moment.  Hopefully, I will be able to get that straightened out tomorrow.  Rosa has provided me with a bicycle and there is a bike path down the center of Avenida Juarez that I can take most of the way to the school, so I will only have to risk my life for half a mile or so in each direction.  I plan to run down to the beach in the morning, before breakfast.

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