I’m sitting in my hotel room in Cancún, México, belly full of tacos, skin sun burnt, and listening to the terribly off-key wailing of Karaoke night from the pub down the road as I write this. It seemed like an odd choice for a lot of my fellow Canadians, to start my world travels this time in Mexico, as Mexico is most often only seen as a tourist destination for all inclusive vacations to escape the winter blues and icy torment of the cold. And oddly enough, the reason Mexico even made the list was that I needed to go to the dentist; I didn’t have any coverage for the last three years, which meant I would be looking at a monster bill if I went to the dentist back home. So I said why not hop down to Mexico, get my check up, cleanings, fillings, and then we can be on our way to travel? And then I realized how ridiculous that is. Why would we not stay and travel in Mexico? I adored Guatemala and all of Central America, and I knew Mexico would offer much of the same – while simultaneously wildly different – culture, food and experience as those Latin American countries. Why would I come all the way down here just to go to the dentist and then be on my way? I mean, tacos are literally my favourite food group. Ever! So it was decided – we would spend four months in this vast and magical country! And Cancún would be the first stop to get that pesky dentist appointment out of the way!
We arrived safe and sound after an agonizingly anxious flight on my part. Two days before take off, I realized I didn’t have my Yellow fever card – and that Mexico is one of the countries that requires a yellow card upon entry if you’ve been in countries where Yellow Fever is a risk, which I had. I debated rescheduling the whole trip, going all the way back home to Yellowknife to get the card reissued, or even paying to have the vaccine administered again in Regina. But in the end I decided to risk it – after all, I was entering Mexico from Canada, and hadn’t been in risk countries for over two years. However, that meant the six hour flight left my stomach in knots as my usual anxiety was sky rocketing, wondering if, when I got to customs and they leafed through my passport, they would send me back home when I was unable to provide my yellow card. I did my best to keep calm and lo and behold, customs was an absolute breeze – all that anxiety for nothing – woo, we made it through! I was instantly a different person than I had been the past two days; Travis could see it on my face as the anxiety and fear all melted away and turned instead into a huge, relieved smile.
We left the airport and stepped outside to be greeted by our driver from the Dental clinic who had a sign with my name on it, (almost) spelled correctly! We were dropped off at our hotel in the heart of Cancún about 45 minutes later, our driver skipping a bit of the rush hour traffic by simply hopping off the paved road onto a dirt path and cutting past endless lines of traffic. I approved! We were dropped at the Ramada – our free hotel thanks to Travis’s rewards card! It was a cute, bright room with a king size bed and air conditioning – spoiled! I told Travis not to get too used to this kind of luxury. But as Cancún was hot and humid, and it didn’t let up when night fell, we were oh so grateful to have that air conditioning.
We asked Joaquin at the front desk if he could recommend somewhere to eat around the hotel. “What kind of food are you looking for?”, he asked.
“Something local – what’s your favourite place around here?”, we asked.
“Me? Well I like tacos…”
Enough said, amigo! That was all we needed to hear. Tacos are the one true love of my life. (Okay, you too, Trav!). He directed us to a little stand a couple blocks away. We found it, and it happened to be in a little market square, with all kinds of little festivities going on: live music, little cars children could rent and ride on, and a wide variety of food stands. We were a little overwhelmed by the options, and by being thrust back into another culture and language. I would have to do the ordering and menu translating which meant brushing off my rusty beginner Spanish. But it was a success! We ordered a mouth watering quesadilla and some chorizo tacos, and of course, a fresh pińa juice! It was perfect. We were addicted already. I was so pleasantly surprised to find myself in Cancún, a tourist hub full of seemingly only resorts, and yet to feel totally immersed in México on our first night. The Mexican music played from the small group in the park, dogs ran all around picking up food scraps, and the intermittent smells of elota, tacos, and churros wafted through the air, with Spanish chatter to fill in all the gaps. Oh how good it felt to be back in Latin America!
The next day I had my dental appointment which I was pretty nervous about. Not nervous about the clinic, as I researched it well, but just about the dentist in general – going always gives me horrible anxiety. We were picked up at 830am from the hotel by the clinic, and driven out to the strip – where all the resorts were. I was taken in immediately, given several x-rays, then my check up complete with photos of my mouth and teeth. Then after a five minute wait, I was taken in again and given my cleaning and three fillings. Using the mirror and photos, he showed me the heavy staining on my teeth where my bottom retainer sits (hello three years of heavy tea drinking, yuck!). He showed me my teeth after the cleaning and honestly it was like looking at new teeth, every stain was gone, horrah! He showed me again with the mirror and photos the cavities he was going to work on. The dentist told me that the fillings were surface so he didn’t want to use any anesthesia, but if I felt anything at all to let him know. I was beyond relieved; I HATE needles! That’s where all my anxiety comes from at the dentist. Of course, I still had anxiety, worried I would feel the drilling and what not, so I applied a technique friends had told me about: tell yourself five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. I repeated this activity over and over and over again, working hard to come up with new things each time, and it kept my mind so occupied that I wasn’t able to dwell on the anxiety of being in the dentist chair. Hurrah for coping mechanisms that work!
The check up, x-rays, cleaning and three fillings cost me $300 CAD. I wouldn’t have been able to get that kind of work done for under a thousand back home without insurance, so I was beyond grateful! Not to mention they picked us up at the airport and again at our hotel for the appointment. They’ve also been in touch several times as follow up – the whole experience was really positive and I can’t recommend getting work done abroad enough (Cancuún Dentist Specialists was where I went)! People put such stigma on getting any medical or dental work abroad, but the facilities are just as clean (the technology here was actually even better than I was used to in Canada!) and the staff just as well trained and qualified- just do you research!
Instead of getting dropped back off at the hotel right away, we slipped across the street to see if we could find a way to get over to the picturesque beaches of the Cancun strip since the dental office was right on the strip. The front desk receptionist had reluctantly suggested we could try slipping through the condos, as we wouldn’t be able to get through any resort. The gates of the condo right across the street just so happened to be open, so we slipped in, marched confidently across the pool deck, and out the back gate and stepped in to paradise! The beach was nearly deserted, as few people were at the condos this time of year, so we lounged freely, basking in the sizzling sun, heading out into the waves, tossing around the football, and slathering on the sunscreen. I was elated to have left a dentist office and not have half of my face frozen (and to walk out onto a pristine beach!). After an hour we packed up and walked down the beach to explore and then decided we would try get back to the other side through a resort, but we didn’t make it far before we were stopped due to our lack of wrist bands. We went back to the condo we came through but alas! The gate was now shut and locked- uh oh! There is a public access area we could have left through but it was really far from where we were and we were already feeling like we had too much sun. Travis fiddled around with the gate and luckily was able to maneuver it open. We got a couple of odd looks from some of the condo owners, but we just marched confidently back out the way we came, unmolested. Phewf!
We had the dental clinic drive us back to the hotel and hit up our taco joint for dinner after our showers. It was just as good, if not even better the second time around! Luck so had it that the bus station we needed to get to Tulum was just around the corner from us, so we could walk even with our heavy bags! We went early the next morning to grab tickets, stopped at the food cart outside the station where all the locals were loading up on breakfast and ordered us a couple of breakfast tacos. Oh how I love Mexican street food!!! We went back to the hotel, lounged by the pool, met a couple who had lived in Yellowknife for 20 years (small world indeed!), packed our bags, and then caught the bus around 2pm. Online sources kept saying there was no direct bus from Cancún to Tulum, that we would need to change buses in Playa Del Carmen, but we had no problem buying a direct ticket from Cancún to Tulum! It was a brief two days in Cancun, as the only reason for the stop over the the resort hub was for the dentist, but it was a great two days of tacos and a perfect beach! But of course, we were most excited to get to Tulum where our adorable little Air BnB Casa Toloc and more beach awaited us!
Stay tuned for my Tulum post, coming right up!