Miser in Mexico, Pt. 2


“Jesus loves you!” Ramon calls after me. Of course Jesus loves me. Jesus would nod in admiration at how I’d bitched at Orbitz long enough to get them to throw in an “all-inclusive package” that makes kobi tuna salad, mahi mahi, filet mignon and agua purificada a series of delicacies for which I pay nada.

-From “Miser in Mexico, Pt. 1

I was in Cozumel, one of the top five diving destinations in the world. I’d decided I wanted to learn to scuba dive. And the only instructors for whom I found good references were in town, a good eight kilometers from my resort. Getting to my lessons was gonna cost me six dollars each way in cab fare. Scooters were $15 a day, and cars were $25. And this cheap bastard wasn’t willing to pay for any of it.

So I hitchhiked, which is kind of a bitch, really. Seventy percent of the cars that pass you are white taxicabs. The taxi union in town is so powerful, I was told, that they’ve kept any kind of reliable bus system from getting off the ground in Cozumel. And when you stick out their thumb, they honk and yell at you, which would make me feel bad if I gave a fuck.

I hitchhiked, if a little surreptitiously at first. Not only did this mean I didn’t spend squat on taxi fare, it also abated my devastating loneliness. Ivan and his family from Ohio told me all about the midwest restaurant industry. Jesus (different Jesus) told me about how the taxis will call the cops on people who pick up hitchhikers and how I was the first one for whom he’d ever stopped. Martin told me very little, because he only drove me about a quarter of a mile. Dick. Jose didn’t speak English. We saw a horse by the side of the road at some point. I said, “Caballo.” He said, “Si.”

Mostly, I walked my ass off and jogged, though. For the most, people didn’t pick up hitchhikers. But in the first four days, I only spent 12 bucks on cab fare, which is pretty damn good, if you ask me. One afternoon, I walked halfway to the Fiesta Americana and hailed a cab, as I was tired and had sprained a weird part of my foot from all the walking on days prior. I asked how much it was to the hotel, and he said “Five dollars, amigo,” which would have meant that I’d saved a dollar by hobbling four kilometers on a sprained link. “Treinta pesos,” was my firm counteroffer. He shook his head. They don’t like to haggle much here, I’d learned. “Treinta,” the cabbie sighed. I got in.

Food and transportation covered, I moved onto my booze budget. I’d already brought two flasks to Mexico, one with scotch and the other with tequila, importing my method for saving cash at bars in the states, which is to refill my shot glasses from the flasks instead of buying new drinks. But that’s a tough scheme to pull off if you’re solo, because the way to “make friends and meet people” is to sit at the bar, where even the busiest of ‘keeps is sure to notice a shot glass that never gets empty.

So I schmoozed instead. I asked Patricia at Senor Frogs all about her art and her home in Argentina and complimented the identical tattoos on each side of her neck. I paid for the first shot of Herradura. The next four were on the house.
Of course, there’s free alcohol back at the hotel, but even I’m not cheap enough to sit at the Fiesta every night and get smashed. I was in Mexico for adventure. Adventures don’t happen in hotels. At least not at the Fiesta Americana. That place is a fucking retirement home.

Nevertheless, it was no less tranquilo than downtown Cozumel, which was completely dead after the cruise ships and their trinket-hungry passengers sailed off into the Carribbean. So I did put in some quality time at the hotel bar, which is where I met Seth. He was cradling a bottle of wormwood-less absinth and lamenting the lack of “titties” at the Fiesta Americana. He compensated for the latter, he explained, by instructing some random girl to lean over the top of the swim-up bar if she wanted to get a drink. Fortunately for Seth, it took awhile for the bartender to show up. I had made my first friend.

Seth taught me some new ways to be a cheapskate. He never tipped, for one, even though he’d noticed a steep downgrade in the service as his trip had gone on. And when he went to bars in town, he bartered for drinks. We stayed out until 4 a.m. the night after I met him, spiking weak margaritas with bottles of tequila we’d bought at a drugstore and trying to get waiters to honor the coupons for free drinks he’d secured the night before in exchange for a promise to come back and spend more money. When Seth ran out of cash at 3 am, he managed to “borrow” 30 dollars from a girl in the last bar we went to. At first, she offered him 20. He said, “I need ten more.” Seth was my hero.

The next day, I went to the mainland Yucatan Peninsula to visit the kickass ruins of Tulum, the natural lagoon of Xel-Ha, and to see if I couldn’t get some drunk college girl action in Cancun. I rented a beat-up convertible Volkswagen Bug for 40 bucks, snuck Mezcal into the bars, stayed in one place after paying an all-you can drink cover and then slept in the car in front of the club for four hours before I headed back south, where the rental car “agent” tried to tell me I had to pay for a second day. I told him to go fuck himself, but secretly I admired the attempt. He was a man after my own stingy heart.

To be concluded in Pt. 3

Martin was an executive chef from Denmark, by way of Los Angeles, in Cozumel by himself because his wife doesn’t dig diving. Martin was in search of a “dive buddy,” which we’re all supposed to have underwater in case we run out of air and need to shank someone with our dive knife and take over their regulator.
-From “Miser in Mexico,” Pt. 3

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