I tend to avoid historical, bloated vacation sagas – after all, who could possibly be interested in where I have been and what I’ve been up to for the last fortnight or so. There’s a certain rather metallic hubris in asserting my superiority over you – the “I was there and you weren’t” kind of bragging – that makes all normal people reach for the vomitorium, or make not particularly subtle comments about sunburned necks and how very painful they must be.
It began well enough, I suppose – the flight times allowed some leeway on stopover times – and we spent a deadeningly quiet evening in downtown Washington, only marginally more exciting than watching silver tarnish. The Big House – the one about which Bob Hope once said he’d never be President because his wife didn’t want to move to somewhere smaller – was tastefully floodlit and guarded by armed soldiery with ‘Secret Service’ prominently visible on the Kevlar and crowds on Penn Ave were conspicuous by their absence. The T shirts and other politically spiteful memorabilia on sale at Dulles were worth a wait in the departure lounge, however.
Cancún is a feisty, colourful place, divided into the glitzy resort all-in vacation residences and very modest hotels and hostels to cater for the backpackers and fixed budget types, us, in other words. Car rental was a surreal wait for over two hours in conditions more usually seen in the Gobi Desert. After an hour or so, I wanted to kill someone, preferably myself. I thought it ironic that nobody had bothered to put screen wash in the car. After the first few stops – two days in each and a drive down the eastern spine of the Yúcatan peninsula – they did begin to look a bit similar; “boutique” being the prevailing descriptor. Each had a pool with varying degrees of cleanliness and pet iguanas of variable sizes. These are spectacularly ill-tempered and repellently ugly, looking as if they are refugees from ‘Jurassic Park’, which, in a sense, they are.
One rather more upmarket residence had a massive bed, TV and kitchen, Netflix on demand and almost a walk-in fridge. I could happily have stayed for a month. Another, a rather rural establishment, locked the dogs in a compound at night lest they be attacked by jaguars.
The scuba diving off the long north south reef is supposed to be the second best in the world, surpassed only by the Great Barrier Reef in eastern Australia. It was evident that the reef head had been badly damaged, with less species that could be seen off Eilat. Diving pelicans were abundant and turtles could be seen on payment of a fee. A long, sleek barracuda glided morosely past me, with a flicker of interest in its flat, dead eyes.
We post-colonialists tend to forget that only 500 yeas ago Hernán Cortés came, saw, and thirteen years later, conquered, bringing civilisation, Catholicism and syphilis to a proud, well-ordered society, which had developed counting methods, the use of zero and business arithmetic long before the Arabs, and whose ancient beach side temples were a fascinating glimpse into a culture which used human sacrificial appeasement to keep the gods sweet.
Pure blooded Mexicans have almost Peruvian features, dark olive skin and a proud bearing, courteous and measured, evidenced by a quite unexpected lack of mania when behind the wheel of a car.
I was also fortunate in seeing a few places off the tourist track, in particular, the hospital at Valladolid, a well-ordered little place with proper checkerboard blocks and streets. Was it pleurisy? Apparently not. Pneumonia? No. Turned out after ultrasound to be acute pyelonephritis which feels like your kidney is being torn out by the talons of a malevolent dragon. Three days later I was well enough to no longer feel as if I was being electrocuted. Armed with enough antibiotic to slaughter the folic acid metabolism of legions of bacteria festering in the urinary tract and enough opioid analgesic to enable me to float pleasantly above the world, I am now realising that my body thinks that it is 4am. ‘Night, all.