My legs are the gears on my fifty dollar bicycle, the pedals squeak plaintively with every revolution. On my right there must be the iridescent blue and white of the Caribbean, but it’s completely hidden by hectic jungle, wild with blown about trash and interspersed with odd, broken down shacks. All I can hear is the silence of the tropical winter heat, no rhythmic sigh of the sea.
The insistence of this ribbon extension of 5th avenue pushes out of the satin luxury of downtown Playa del Carmen into another undiscovered world, broken and pieced together irregularly with whatever has been thrown away; random plastic sheeting, cardboard boxes, an industry of wooden pallets and the occasional, unapologetic pragmatism of concrete block.
This potential avenue looks like that distant relative at the wedding, inappropriately dressed and conspicuously alone. It’s meticulously paved as it moves between the jungle and the inauspicious dwellings, with whimsical lamplights, landscaped palm trees and elegant wood slatted benches at regular intervals. It’s an obvious irony reflected in the splash of irreverent street art, protesting on haphazard walls topped by sharp wire or glass to keep poor people out.
We are eager to see if the Caribbean has the audacity to persist behind this complicity of poverty strewn wilderness, so we take the next road to the right. It appears to be a road at the outset, but rapidly loses it’s identity to the sand and occasional swamp. We have to drop our chins to the handlebars to avoid unruly bits of jungle.
At first it it is dank and broken, even lonely, and I have to force my wheels reluctantly forward, this way and that, to avoid the potholes that sand and swamp make when they conspire. I’m half convinced the sea must be lost behind this, taking the opportunity to slink away from this unsavory association. I really want to turn back, this looks like the kind of road people get murdered on. The poverty is snatching at me and I feel pompous and unsustainable on the Cuban blue and yellow of my pretty bike with my blue leather purse slung elegantly across my front.
But there it is, the beach, completely undeniable, porcelain and pristine like something delicate and breakable. We wrap our bikes around a lone pole, take off our shoes and walk onto a lonely stretch of PLAYA INCLUSIVO.
Everything is perfect, and worth it, until I feel that familiar nag in the bladder. Thankfully an enormous stucco resort city looms up on our left. We’re not naïve enough to simply ask, ‘where’s the loo?’. A drink must be had, maybe even a snack, to allow formal access to the ablutions.
We look pretty relaxed as we step off the sand and approach the pool and bar area. A pleasant, uniformed gentleman materializes.
Do you have passes?
No, we say calmly.
We are residents from Playacar Fase Uno, we indicate back in the direction of town. We’d like to perhaps have a drink at your beach bar.
He whips his radio off his hip, there is a back and forth. No, no entry from the beach side. You may make your case at the front desk, from the street side. This resort is about five Manhattan blocks deep and the long walk to the street side would be through the dense bush that stretches interminably alongside the property. It’s not at all recommended.
The bladder is the most insistent member of our party at this stage but we daren’t be that straight forward.
The nice gentleman really wants to let us in. He continues attempting to communicate our inherent eligibility to his absent boss but eventually shakes his head, then nods it.
I have a plan, he says, and looks down at our naked sandy feet.
Do you have shoes?
Of course. You should let us in. We have shoes. We are thirsty, we’d like a snack…
We follow him around the many curves of the endless swimming pool as he explains that the guests with blue plastic armbands have the fullboard plan. We travel down long passages of innumerable doors, we are heading through the vast building towards the fabled front desk. The deeper in we go the more suffocating and claustrophobic the structure becomes. By the time we reach the front desk the company is ready to sell us time share and we are completely reluctant to even buy a drink.
We must pursue the charade on account of the bladder. Unfortunately today is not a good day to buy into this exclusive club. Could we come by tomorrow?
Good afternoon Mr and Mrs Grey. Lovely day, yes, isn’t it.
There’s not a window in sight. The day has recoiled and the beach is a long ride in a golf cart away.
Mr and Mrs Grey smile a carefree, Mexican vacation smile.
No, I’m afraid you can’t have a drink at our bar on the beach. You may have a drink here. He is pointing at what appears to be a bar shaped like a giant slot machine. Then you must leave from here, the street side.
No, we would like to return to the beach. It is hard not to sound desperate.
Then you will need an escort. Call us when you are ready.
We buy a bottle of water at the slot machine bar, aware that the staff are keeping us in their line of vision. We use real money, not resort currency, and three employees struggle to figure out how to complete that kind of transaction. Next to us a lonely middle aged couple sit stiffly at the counter. He has a celebratory Pina Colada. They are quite still, facing the machine with the blaring television above. His right leg jiggles nervously.
We grab our little plastic bottle of water, sweating in the controlled climate, and duck into the loos. Seconds later we present ourselves to the array of smiling hosts and hostesses in front of the big gold letters: GUARANTEED PRIVATE AND EXCLUSIVE.
We are ready to be escorted off the premises, thank you.
We are carefully led back through the small, polite groups of people wearing different colored armbands.
At the exit where the building dissolves into sand and water we say our mutually gleeful goodbyes. We take off our shoes and try not to run.