Miser in Mexico, Pt. 3


I met Seth while he was cradling a bottle of wormwood-less absinth and lamenting the lack of ‘titties’ at the Fiesta Americana. He compensated for the tittie shortage by instructing a random girl to lean over the top of the swim-up bar if she wanted a drink. Fortunately for Seth, it took awhile for the bartender to show up. I had made my first friend.
-From “Miser in Mexico,” Part 2

Running low on cash, I resolved to ride my all-inclusive status to the vacation’s terminus, though I did drop a couple hundred bucks on a three-day scuba package that included a free underwater DVD. That’s when I learned my next lesson about doing Mexico cheap and alone: the art of the mooch.

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. In the hotel lobby, we met, and Martin asked if I’d like to be buddies.

Sure, I told him. Our friendship cemented. We talked. I learned he’d rented a Jeep for the duration of his trip, which just so happened to correspond with the duration of my trip. Later that day, Martin drove me into town to hit Starbucks and an ATM machine. My undeclared battle with the taxicab union was over.

After the diving, which was superb, I started talking to Martin about cenote diving, done in underwater rivers that flow through gorgeous — if spooky — caverns. Cenote diving is only available on the mainland Yucatan Peninsula, at least for rookies like me. I’d ruled out cenotes as my bank account drained, but with my new dive buddy at my side, life was teeming with possibilities. It wasn’t long before Martin was offering to take the car ferry to the mainland, then drive to Hidden Worlds Cenotes and go spelunking. That sounded like a great idea, I said.

The car ferry was canceled as a tropical depression approached. But the passenger ferry — for reasons I tried not to think about — was still running. Martin was hooked on the idea of cenote diving at this point, so he offered to spring for a second rental car on the mainland. I knew if I refused he’d be disappointed, so I said I was in.

After a short ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, Martin assured me he’d show me something about how to get a good deal on a rental car, regaling me with tales from vacations past about how he’d snared great deals, basically by being a huge pain in the ass. I told him I was going to go shopping while he bartered, and I’d meet him at Starbucks.

An hour later, Martin showed up with glad tidings (it was Christmas). They wanted $110 for a jeep, but he’d talked them down to $65. We went to pick it up, and after waiting about 15 minutes, a dude from the rental car place showed up and started loading some other tourists into the jeep. Either five people and four sets of luggage were about to be crammed into one jeep, or we were going to have to take the next shuttle. Martin threw a fit.

Five minutes later, the other tourists were climbing back out of the jeep, and Martin and I were on our way to the rental car headquarters. Once we got there, I found out just how skilled a negotiator Martin was.

“I’m not happy,” he told the manager, after demanding his presence, then launched into a diatribe about how we’d waited too long, about how they’d tried to load other people into our shuttle, about how the jeep was dirty. “What are you going to do to make me happy?” he said.

They took us to look at more cars. A significant upgrade was to the manual transmission jeep, a brand new rig with an iPod input. Martin didn’t drive a stick, but I did, and I’m a control freak, so I prefer to be at the helm. I volunteered, and we switched cars. But not before Martin seized another opportunity to haggle.

“I wanted an automatic transmission,” he complained, even though he’d just traded in a perfectly good automatic.

“You’re giving me a manual, and I want a discount.”

The manager protested.

“I’ll pay forty dollars for this car,” Martin said.

“The price is sixty-five,” the manager countered weakly.

“I could get this car for 15 dollars in Los Angeles. In Cozumel, I’m paying 25.” Which was bullshit.

“You’re a long way from Los Angeles,” said the manager, trying desperately to hold his ground.

“Forty dollars is what I’m paying. I’m not negotiating,” Martin shot back. “What’s your name?”

“Gustavo,” said the manager.

“Gustavo!” Martin barked at him, then pointed at the car. “Forty dollars!”

And away we went.

The cenotes were fantastic. We came back to Playa del Carmen, where Martin bought a four-course Mayan meal and a bottle of wine, got plastered at a couple of bars, negotiated briefly with a Mexican transvestite hooker (until I informed Martin that he did not want to see what was underneath that skimpy dress), then checked into a hotel for the night.

The next day, we drove to Chichen Itza to see an astounding set of Mayan ruins, then made our way back to Cozumel. I hitched a ride with Martin to the airport, and the trip was over. I’d spent more than $2,500 on the trip, but I’d stayed at an all-inclusive resort for 14 nights, earned my SCUBA certification, went on 13 dives, saw three sets of ruins, danced all night in Cancun’s “hottest” nightclub, rented two jeeps, visited the Yucatan’s Disneyland and drank a bunch of free booze.

J.C. would be proud.

2 Responses to “Miser in Mexico, Pt. 3”

  1. I have to say, and this type of complement doesn’t come lightly, that you are one of the funniest and most interesting writers I’ve read in a humorous context. This story reminds me very much of my favorite author Christopher Moore. I look very forward to reading more from you! I AM RIVETED (and you should take my dad Bob on vacation some time! you could just watch the hilarity unfold!)


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