MAXWELL: Five drowsy days in Mexico is just the ticket

5/4/2008 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

For five days last week, I had a brand-new experience: I took a real vacation for the first time in my life.
Before leaving for the coastal city of Playa del Carmen, Mexico, on April 25, I swore that I wouldn’t bring my laptop or heavy reading or any deep ideas. I was going to do the tabula rasa routine in reverse.
I was going to vegetate, not cogitate.
When my Spirit Airlines flight touched down in Cancun in the late afternoon, I wondered if I would be able to leave work behind. But when I walked into my suite at the elegant Blue Parrot Hotel in Playa del Carmen and felt cool breezes flowing through the windows and the patio door and heard the roar of the Caribbean Sea, the weight of having to write a column disappeared.
I unpacked and crawled into bed. I woke up at 11:30. What on earth have I done? I thought. I’ve slept away an entire afternoon and evening. Forcing myself to remember that I’d come here for a real vacation, I drank a bottle of water and went back to bed, falling asleep to the sounds of wind and water.
The cool breeze and sunrays woke me around 7 the next morning. I walked onto my patio and looked across the water. I could see distant buildings shimmering on the island of Cozumel. The sky was a pale orange behind huge snowy clouds, and coconut palms swayed along the shoreline. Mockingbirds sang all around.
Although I was hungry, I crawled back into bed and slept until 10:15. I got up a few minutes later, showered and went to the hotel’s seaside restaurant for breakfast. I took my time eating so that I could people-watch.
Dozens of other tourists sunbathed on towels on the white sand and on chaise longues. I knew I was a tourist in a foreign country – one devoid of serious inhibitions – when, as I sipped orange juice, a woman on the nearest longue shed her swimsuit top, oiled her breasts and lay back to soak up the rays. The man with her oiled her calves and thighs. Then, to my left, two other women shed their tops.
The remnant of my American Puritanism tried to pull my eyes away from this paradisiacal scene. Apparently, nudity was not a big deal to my fellow vacationers. They stared briefly at these topless women – including the one who wiggled down to the water and back several times – and resumed what they were doing. After about 30 minutes, I, too, had lost interest in the nudity.
I went back to my suite, changed into shorts and a T-shirt and returned to the beach. I got a towel from an attendant and found a longue with an umbrella. In the cool shade, I watched frigate birds dive and snatch fish from the water and fly skyward to consume their catch. The fun started when gulls tried to rob the frigates of their food.
I feel asleep and didn’t awake until after 4. I returned to my room, showered and went to dinner on Fifth Avenue, the colorful, pedestrian-only main drag. The night air was cool, and people from all points on the globe milled around, strolled, shopped, drank, ate fine food, ogled the young and beautiful and danced to the music of mariachi bands.
Back in my suite around 11, I went to bed and slept until morning. Completely rested, I caught a taxi to the grocery store and bought enough food and supplies to last until I left Mexico. I returned to my suite, put away my supplies and went back to bed.
I slept until 8, then out to dinner at the La Palette Restaurant, where I had succulent braised lamb shank on mashed potatoes, whiskey chocolate volcano cake, two glasses of wine and a double espresso. This was the best meal I had in Playa.
The next morning, I rode the ferry to Cozumel. The highlight of the ride was the flying fish that seemed to be racing the ferry or trying to get out of its way. I returned to Playa in the afternoon, went to the beach, drank a bottle of beer and fell asleep. The next afternoon, I went parasailing, my first time ever.
For the rest of my time in Playa, I found my rhythm: sleep, eat breakfast, stroll Fifth Avenue, eat a light lunch, drink wine, return to my suite, take a nap and go to dinner.
When I said goodbye to Mexico, I said farewell to my first real vacation. Not thinking about work for five days had been a pleasure. Now that I’m back, I feel refreshed.