A Hasty Escape From a Hotel in Cancún

Cancún, Mexico
June 1994

The hotel was a red block building on the edge of the downtown core, in the Ciudad Cancún — not the tourist Zona Hotéles. It had big rooms with reddish wooden furniture and white tile floors polished smooth as glass, and a car park with a chain gate at night to discourage car thieves. My plan was simple for my first night in Mexico: take in the town, have some dinner, go to sleep, make an early start in the morning to Chichen Itzá.

Central Cancún is closer to the real Mexico than the quasi-Mexico the government built for foreigners along the beachfront. The only tourists you see in town are bargain travelers stopping over before heading inland to the temples and college kids from the beach resorts looking for drugs or loose women.

I wandered the dirty side streets past taco carts, while buses passed by breathing full-on leaded gasoline exhaust as their passengers smoked cigarettes through open windows. The centro was by turns authentic and seedy, green Volkswagen taxis, loud music from cantinas, men gathered on street corners giving strangers like me suspicious looks. If you want trouble, you’ll find it. But that’s always the case. I wasn’t looking for trouble. I played it safe, had dinner in a nice little restaurant looking out on the Avenida Tulum that served tender morsels of pork wrapped in banana leaves. I retired before it got too late, not that I got much sleep between the loud music, the traffic going by, people hanging out in the streets, and my own anticipation.

Driving out of Cancún on the main highway, I rationalized it like I always do.In the morning, I had a drowsy shower in a wide, red-tiled stall. The water refreshed for a while, but then turned suddenly ice cold. I could just bear it long enough to rinse the soap and shampoo lather off my body and out of my hair, and then shut off the water and walk out into the flooded room.

Yes, flooded.

There was no barrier to hold in the water. The drain had not worked. Now the water was everywhere, all over the floor. Even worse, it was flowing under the door. Looking out, I could see water and soap bubbles running down the white tiles all the way to the end of the hallway and the stairwell.

What did I do? What would you do? I threw on clothes, stuffed everything in my backpack, and got out of there. Thankfully, I had paid cash in advance. In the lobby there was no water yet. I returned the key, said “hasta luego,” and left as fast as I could.

Driving out of Cancún on the main highway, I rationalized it like I always do. It’s their shower. It’s their job to fix it if it doesn’t work. It probably happened all the time. But I knew back at the hotel, some poor maid was already mopping down the hallway and sponging up the floor of my room. I felt bad for her.

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