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travel stuff

Congratulations! “Lived-In-Xi’an” Graduating Class of 2012

Leo, Guy, and Lee are holding the mics, belting out their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, while the rest of the room joins in.  Empty beer bottles and snack plates litter the table in our dark-light enhanced KTV room.  About twenty or so energetic singing lunatics are crammed together, declaring that they got a moose and asking each other to do the Fandango.  It is our Going-Away-KTV-Party-Palooza, in honor of those leaving, and those being left behind.  One last KTV session in Xi’an, demanded the swaying mass.

The past few weeks have been a flurry of farewell parties, and the next few a flurry of goodbyes.  The “I Survived Living in Xi’an” class of 2012 are graduating and heading home to their various corners of the world.  It is really a diverse group, representative of the awesomely dynamic community we have here in the walled city.  Over the past months we drank together, studied together, worked together, hiked up mountains together, struggled to communicate with the locals together, and experienced the excitement and hardship of living in a foreign country together.  But alas, all good things come to an end.  Our time together will be just another blurb on our Facebook timeline.

Our classrooms were held in bars where cultural perspectives mingle, on the streets with the organized chaos dance that is the Xi’an traffic, and on midnight street food stands where glimpses into souls were revealed. Through hazy and already fading memories of hash-runs and pub crawls, mountain excursions and raucous house parties, we learned that we can make a foreign city our own.

I sent out a mass text to those who are leaving asking “What is something you’ve learned while living in China?”  Their responses, funny and insightful, are these nuggets of wisdom they have acquired from their lessons living here.  I hope they can be useful to the next generation of newcomers passing by or coming to live in this dusty ancient city these forlorn graduates once called home.

What I’ve learned while living in China

– by the “I-Survived-Living-In-Xi’an” class of 2012

  1. “I’ve learned to carry tissue with me everywhere I go.” – Jen Lundstrem.
  2. “Street food is best when drunk and in the company of other drunkards.” – Bogdan Ditoiu.
  3. “People love saying ‘hello’.  And when you say ‘hello’ back they giggle like little schoolgirls.” –  Fleur De Bondt.
  4. “I’ve learnt how convenient it is to roll my shirt up over my belly when it’s hot.” – Wayne Bates.
  5. “Companies who hire white people don’t actually listen to what we have to say.”  – Tom Enns.
  6. “After the May Hash Run which I conducted in a pink bathrobe, I can conclude that Xi’an is not quite ready for a western style gay parade.” – Matthjis A. Bos.
  7. “My ‘taxi Chinese’ is probably the most fluent of all.  Drivers ALWAYS ask the same questions (Where are you from?  How long have you been here…?)”. – Fleur De Bondt
  8. “I’ve learned that there is no limit to the number of people who can ride on one bike.” – Jen Lundstrem.
  9. “I learned that living as a waiguoren, you always get the ‘special’ treatment…as a foreigner you really should make an effort of making local Chinese friends.  Stay in a foreigners’ circle and you might miss the real China.” – Omar Diallo.
  10. “I’ve learnt how easy it is to communicate here, not language wise, but the fact I can go sit in a park, sit in the metro, walk in a shop, or even climb a mountain and naturally just strike up a conversation with a stranger.” – Wayne Bates.
  11. “I’ve learned, after living in China and the Middle East, the vast and unjust differences between the people of the world, where I’ve been positively amazed by the poor and frequently disappointed by the rich.”  – Matthjis A. Bos.
  12. “In China, time never stops so don’t let it go.  Classes in the morning, noodles with friends at lunch, discovering a disheveled pagoda on a basketball court, then drinks and maybe climb the city wall, or waiting for the sunset on a roof.  Do it all.”  – Bogdan  Ditoiu.

As for me, I’ve learned that you can make friends from all over the world by living in a city with people from all over the world. The shared experience of living in a foreign city serves as a strong bond among those willing to travel abroad. Perhaps one day I will see them again on their own turfs. Until then, go forth and spread the Xi’an love, my Facebook Best of Friends. Our times together, however brief, will be cherished, freakin’ forever.

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travel stuff

Xi’an City Wall Marathon

November 5th, 2011.  people from all over the world came to the city of Xi’an to participate in the Xi’an International Marathon held on top of the city wall.  Thousands of people participated, from hard core athletes who are actually there to compete, to running enthusiasts there for the experience, to out-of-shape guys like me who are just there so we can get on the Party Bus hosted by Xianease after the event.  It was a great experience 🙂

For those of you viewing from China, here is the YouKu link to the same video:
http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMzIzNTU5NDYw.html 

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travel stuff

My First Hash Run

You would think that running and drinking wouldn’t go well together.  But there is this weird club for runners and drinkers call The Hash House Harriers that does exactly that.  The Hash House was started by a bunch of Brits living in Malaysia in the late 1930s and had spread throughout the Far East, Europe, Australia, and North America over the years.  Funny that I’ve never heard of it before until I moved to Xi’an.  When asked what exactly does the club do, the general consensus was that they are a bunch of drinkers with a running problem.  According to the wiki article, the club’s constitution consists of the following goals:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hash_House_Harriers

I attended my first Hash Run last month, by the urging of various “characters” that I met at the Belgian Bar in Xi’an.  It sounded like a good time.  We met that briskly morning in front of the Northwest University, a diverse group of expats and locals of different ethnicity in our best running attire, looking like we were having a demonstration against the non-existent chic fashion of Xi’an.


The two “hares” for this run were “Hot Karol” and “Rock Fondler” (members are given unflattering names after their fifth run).  Hot Karol explained that they have designed a trail for us “hounds” to follow, and had left clues on the streets of Xi’an by way of arrows drawn in chalk.

Follow the trail to the beer, they said, straightforward and simple.  What they failed to mention was that the trail would split, lead to dead-ends, circle back, and would eventually cause a bunch of exhausted joggers to loudly curse their names in frustration and scaring the locals.

We ran through crowded intersections, dirty alleyways, and residential parks.  We ran up flights of stairs, across bridges, through the inside of a museum, dodging cars and pedestrians all the while yelling “On!  On!” every time someone saw a new arrow.  The bewildered locals must have thought “What the heck is wrong with these crazy foreigners?” as our group huff-and-puffed our way through the heavy Xi’an traffic.  Because of the numerous dead-ends the sadistic hares left us, it took us almost two hours to complete the run.

After the run we had what they called a “down down”, where we took over the sidewalk in front of a restaurant and proceeded to drink ourselves silly.  The “Mismanagement” team lead us through various club traditions such as welcoming the “virgins” (new members), giving out hash names, and reviewing “infractions” (penalties) for the run.  We must have looked like we were gathering for some important event, a few bystanders wandered by and looked on curiously.  It was quite amusing.

And then they made those of us unfortunate enough to wear new’ish looking shoes to our first run to drink beer out of them.  It was disgusting, tasting the beer mixed with the sweat of a foot that had just ran a few kilometers.  Don’t worry man, someone reassured me, alcohol kills germs!

Afterward, we gathered our empty beer cans and headed into the restaurant for dinner and some more drinking.  Everyone seemed energized from the run, or maybe it was the buzz from the alchohol.  The food was delicious, the company delightful, and the beer satisfying.  It was a great day.  I look forward to the next run, where I’ll remember to leave my new shoes at home.

=======================================

Here is a video of the run. It is quite amusing to watch 🙂

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travel stuff

The Great Xi’an Scavenger Hunt

This past Saturday, Los Tres Stooges that are Patrick Antony, Shane, and Daemon organized our very first Great Xi’an Scavenger Hunt to great success. There were 11 teams of three’s and four’s comprising of over 30 participants! Everyone chipped in 20 yuan toward the pot, grabbed the hunt list from Patrick, and proceeded to “discover Xi’an” by means of this epically bizarre method.

From 2pm to 7pm on that sunny Saturday, the city saw funny sights of groups of Laowais and Xi’anese alike doing ridiculous things such as chugging shots of baijiu at KFCs and doing shirtless crap flexes in the middle of bewildered crowds. The scavenger list composed of many items, from easy tasks such as finding a Mao hat to absurd items such as getting a permanent tatoo or getting a local to kiss a team member on the cheek. And even though the participants were reluctant at first, by the end of the day we were doing tai-chis with the locals and performing on the street to elicit a measley 2 kuai from a passerby. All in all it was great fun.

Here’s a video of what I could capture that day. Unfortunately I couldn’t be everywhere all at once so I couldn’t get some of the funnier stuff that the other teams did. But you should be able to get the gist of the general absurdity that occurred by looking at the photographs from the various teams.  They will probably put them up in the next month’s edition of Xianease.

Thank you Patrick, Sean, and Daemon for a great Saturday discovering Xi’an. And thank you everyone for a ridiculously fun day. Hopefully the next one will be even crazier. Until then, enjoy the video 🙂

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travel stuff

Journal Entry: Bell Tower Starbucks

July 31, 2011
Xi’an, China

Sipping a latte at the Bell Tower Starbucks.  There are four smokin’ hot Russian models sitting across from me, all tall and skinny and European looking.  How do I know they are models?  I talked to one of them while we were both mixing sugar into our coffee.  I asked where she was from and if she was visiting Xi’an for fun.  “No, we are models here to work for a few days.”  And being the biggest dork that I am, I stammered “…Yea, I thought you were a model.”  She nervously said thanks and we exchanged a few more words before she escaped and rejoined her group.  Eeek!

You can meet a lot of different kinds of people here at this Starbucks.  Just being here for an hour, I’ve talked to a Chinese tour guide with an English name “Laura” who majored in English but has forgotten a lot of it because she hasn’t used it in a few years.  I’ve talked to two guys from England who now live in Beijing and Zhengzhou, respectively.  One is a manager at a Softel, and the other works for the British embassy in Beijing.  I think one of them was gay but I didn’t ask.

Then there was this whole group of young Americans who are here for the summer working at a camp for orphans for an organization call Bring Me Hope (http://www.bringmehope.org).  I might have to go check them out.  Talked to them for a while about China and Xi’an and about the volunteer program they work for.  We exchanged email addresses.

Funny story, one of the girls, Natalie, first came up to my table and said “You ren ma?”  (Anyone sitting here?).   But I couldn’t understand her and she had to repeat it several times.  I mean, her pronunciation wasn’t that bad!  But I wasn’t expecting Mandarin coming out of her mouth and for a second there I forgot I looked Asian!  So my brain was trying to figure out what English words she was saying.  I actually thought she was European with a very thick European accent.  She turned out to be Irish with an excellent American accent.

But yes, I love this Starbucks.  Seems like one of those places where a lot of people from all over the world may pass through once or twice in their lives.  The latte and the scenery aren’t bad either 🙂

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travel stuff

Video: Xi’an Surroundings

Made this video for family and friends to get a glimpse of my surroundings in Xi’an.  It wasn’t too hard to make, I just whipped out my camera whenever there’s something interesting to shoot or talk about.  Footage from 3 different days.

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travel stuff

Journal Entry: Moving to Xi’an

July 10, 2011
Xi’an, China

Lots have happened since I wrote the last entry.  I left Virginia on May 26, taking a twenty hour flight on Air Nippon to Hong Kong, with a layover in Tokyo.  Spent the weekend in Hong Kong, stayed at a hostel called “YesInSpace” in Mongkok for around $40 a night.  Paid for two but ended up staying there only Friday night.

 

On Saturday, met up with Ben Chang from Austin and we decided to go to Zhuhai on a whim.  We were going to hop the border over to Macao but didn’t realize the gates closed at midnight.  We ended up staying in Zhuhai and singing karaoke then hitting a few bars on their famous Bar Street.

Left Hong Kong that Sunday and took the final flight to Xi’an, where Jing was waiting at the airport and we rode the bus to the city for about 30 RMB each.

Jing’s two-bedroom apartment is a ten minute walk from the Bell Tower, on the East side of the city.  It’s actually more spacious than I anticipated!

Xi’an took a bit of getting used to.  The city is noisy and crowded, and the air is muggy and dusty and squalid.  You rarely see blue skies, unless it had rained the day before.  My sinuses were all congested and I got sick the whole first week here.  And some douchebag neighbor kept starting renovation work on his apartment way early in the morning.  The sound of power drills would wake up the whole neighborhood.    And the traffic sucks and the taxi drivers are rude and almost nobody speaks English even though they all had supposedly studied it in school.

Sometimes, during those first few weeks, I wondered what I’ve gotten myself into.

But now, a little over a month later, things are clicking and falling into place.  My body got used to Xi’an and it isn’t miserable anymore.  I’ve even joined a gym and started working out again!

Xi’an itself is quite unique, and beautiful in its own way.  I love the mixture of old towers and fortresses with modern skyscrapers and high-rises.   I love being able to eat traditional Xi’an food on the street one night and gulping down a latte at a Starbucks the next.

I love seeing the daily lives of Xi’an away from the touristy areas.  Old ladies playing mahjong in their tiny courtyards. Little children chasing each other in alleyways.  Shirtless men chatting away on the street smoking their cigarettes or downing their beers.  There’s even this awesome area where people would gather to play Chinese chess, just for fun, no gambling involved.  I attempted to play last week and got my ass handed to me!

 

The people, for the most part, seems nice enough.  My Mandarin is improving so that helps communicating with the locals.  Jing and Lily introduced me to a bunch of people and we’ve made tons of new friends.  Although I’ve seen more drama here in one month than the past few years living in Texas and Virginia.  From Jing punching Lily’s boss to a married couple of friends having a “third-party” problem, I’ve begin to wonder if the level of drama is proportional to the amount of people living in a confined space.  Or maybe Chinese people are more prone to drama than their Western counterpart.

But all in all, things are settling in and life in Xi’an is getting quite enjoyable.  The work with Jing is going slowly but surely.  I’ve gotten my bearings and can get around the city by myself if necessary.  I have a cell phone that works and even a Bank of China bank account.  Even made a scouting trip to Macau for when Pat and Vinny come to visit.

Goes to show, things are not always the same as they first appear.  Just give it some time and the natural process that is adaptability will kick in.  I don’t regret my choice of moving here, anymore.

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travel stuff

Playa del Carmen, part 2

< read part 1

We fought our hangovers and got out of bed relatively early the next day (around 9 o’clock).  After a hearty Mexican breakfast at the resort’s buffet, we prepared to go on our jungle excursions by grabbing as many beach towels as we can find.  Berger and Angela hugged them like they were going out of style.

Pat and Leticia had planned the day for us to be at the Selvatica, to do the “Zip-line and ATV” expedition.  The tour package was $129 per person, and included a full day of activities involving zip lines, ATVs, and a cool natural spring.  They even provided a “home cook” meal for everyone at the end of the tour.  The photos and videos were extra though.

The first activity had us putting on hooks and harnesses and hardhats and leather gloves.  We were going to climb up the rickety ladders into the treetops and zip-line our way into the Mexican jungle.

When I heard “zip lining”, I thought it would be a one time ordeal lasting less than a minute, and was shocked to find out that it’d take about an hour to complete the trip.  They had rigged line after line 2 kilometers deep into the jungle and back.  We had to zip across somewhere between 10 to 15 lines (I lost count), our legs tucked in and our leather-gloved hands hanging for dear life, straining with all our might from crashing into the trees ahead.  Fortunately, the well trained staff were there to catch those that couldn’t stop themselves.

The people working at the Selvatica were awesome.  They were fun, humorous, super friendly, and were professionals at their jobs while keeping everyone safe.  For the faint of heart, they even “escorted” you across the lines at your request.

Gliding through the trees with the greenness spreading out in all direction and the ground 30 feet below, it felt pretty surreal.  But being an out of shape computer programmer, I was exhausted after a few zip-lines.  Even though the idea may sound scary at first, it was extremely safe and any fears you have will become unfounded after the first zip across the trees.

We completed the first activity in a little over an hour.  After that, we were loaded on to a “mexican limousine”, as they were called by the always joking guides, which was a rickety looking army truck with no seat-belts and spouted gas fumes like an oil refinery.  We bounced our way through the pothole ridden trail to the ATV station.

After some brief safety instructions, everyone donned their safety gears and picked an ATV for the next leg of our journey.  It had been raining the past few days, and the trails were wet and muddy and full of slush.  We formed a single line and played follow the leader into the wet wilderness.

There were huge puddles of dirt and water everywhere, and there was no avoiding them.  If you go across them at full speed, the muddy water would splash as high as your head.  We were completely drenched and dirty a few minutes into it.  But after a short while, you cease to care, and the dirtiness became liberating.  The trip took about half an hour.

Covered from head to toe in mud, we parked our ATVs and were lead to our next destination, a natural cold spring in the middle of the jungle.  This was some well strategic planning on their part, because this last activity also served as a way to clean  ourselves off.  And even though the rain was still coming down in a light drizzle, we took off our shirts, put on some life jackets and headed to the edge of the spring.

They gave us three options for diving into the water.  1) Just jump off from the edges of the cliff “freestyle-like”  2) Use the hanging handholds and zip-line into the middle of the spring and let go, or 3) climb down the wooden ladders cautiously and be made fun of for being a wuss.  Everyone opted for option 2.

The water was refreshingly cool, and the dives were exhilarating.  Even though it wasn’t that warm, our exertions quickly overcame the chilliness.  We took turn launching ourselves off the platform, some even tried doing fancy tricks like going into the water face-first.

We spent maybe another 30 minutes at the spring before we had to leave, but not before the guides pulled a prank on the group.  As we were exiting the trail, it looked like one of the guys was poking frantically at something in the grass with a stick, screaming for help.  When we were close, another guy that was hiding behind the foliage jumped out screaming and wiggling a dark tree branch as though a snake had launched itself into the air.  I think Pat screamed the loudest, we all had a hearty laugh at his expense.

The mexican limousine shuttled us back to the main area, where we dried ourselves off and browsed the giftshop.  Shortly after, they sat us all down and served us our “lunch” (at 4pm in the afternoon), consisting of grilled chicken, rice, and re-fried beans.  It was surprisingly delicious (but it might be because we were starving)!

They also showed the photos and videos of us doing the activities throughout the day, and it would cost another $100 to take them home with us.

We went back to the resort exhausted, but knew the day wasn’t quite over.  It was our last night in Mexico, and by gosh we’ll make the best of it.  Everyone adjourned to their rooms for a quick shower and got dressed for the fancy Italian restaurant they had in the resort.

The food was, once again, delicious.  I don’t think we had one bad meal the whole time we were in Mexico.  They served penne pasta and meat sauce spaghetti as appetizer for gosh sakes!

Leticia joined us and organized the trip downtown.  She wanted to take us bar hopping, but with the state of the group after the long day, I think bar “limping” would be more accurate.  We ended up going to an open air, laser filled club called “Danzantes”. “It’s just like dancers but in spanish!” said Leticia on her Facebook post.   We had table service full of Redbull and Vodkas and flaming shots of liquid death!

So they blasted the music and we broke it down on the dance floor until our legs fell off while attractive women get hit on by Reed and Brian downed the Greygoose.  Vinny made some new friends while I danced with the old and the night wore away like the shifting sand.

We couldn’t do too much after that.  Tired and intoxicated from the day’s adventurers, we went straight to bed.

It was gorgeous and sunny the day we had to leave.  Here is the journal entry I wrote while in flight back to Texas.  I think it’ll wrap up the trip nicely.

==============================================
“Feb 13, 2011
Somewhere between Cancun and Houston.

On the way back from Playa del Carmen.  The blue sky and cool caribbean breeze made it so much harder to leave.   Amidst white sand and emerald water and among the company of good friends, the weekend seemed to have rushed pass in a blur.

My whole body aches from yesterday’s action packed excursions.  We zip-lined and rode ATVs and dove into cool natural springs.  The dancing at the loud and laser filled open air bar didn’t help.  And boy did we danced!  Sometimes you just got to give into the music.

Wish we could’ve stayed longer.  The trip had been almost surreal, like a commercial break between a reality TV show.

The plane is about to land in Houston.  After that, home sweet Austin home.”

==============================================

So the short and sweet weekend trip was over, and we’re back to our daily lives.  Happy 30th birthday Ange!  And thanks everyone for sending my brain to paradise and back.  Let’s do it again some day.

Love,
Huey

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Playa del Carmen, storm’s 30th

For her 30th birthday, Pat Matthews flew his little sis, Angela, and the entire Matthews clan to Mexico to celebrate.  Only a handful of friends managed to book the last minute flights to join them.  The 30th birthday seems to be a big deal for the Matthews, as they’ve thrown crazy parties for both Pat and Brian when they’d turned 30.  It is as though it was some kind of rite of passage, like they’d leave the immaturity of their younger years behind and enter the responsible landscape that is adulthood.  But before doing so, they have to go out with a bang!

We’ve decided to all stay at the Playacar Palace, an all inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen’s hotel zone, but only a few blocks away from downtown.  Vinny and I paid $1,174.00 for the superior deluxe room with 2 full-size beds and an ocean view for 2 nights,  making it roughly $300 per person per night!  The price included all our meals, unlimited drinks, room service, and $100 credit toward the spa.  But, as you will see, we didn’t take full advantage of the “all inclusive” part of the deal.

After checking in, we went to the resort’s main bar (they have 3) and met up with Berger and Reed, two of Pat’s long time friends from his younger days.  With them was Anson, Berger’s fun and loving wife.  Despite being married with kids, Berger can still keep up with us single boys when the occasion arises.  While Reed seems to be in a state of perpetual intoxication.  Pat showed up a few minutes later, sporting his metro-sexual shirt and his bemused signature smirk as he gave us hugs and welcomed us to Mexico.  Vinny and I promptly started downing mojitos and tequila shots.

Julianne, Pat’s girlfriend, arrived not long after, accompanied by Pat’s mom, Sylvia and baby Mason.  That kid has been to more places than some of the people I know.  Pat’s dad, Mickey, followed after, wearing a full suit and shiny polished shoes.  Someone had told him we were going to a fancy restaurant, which is true, but not that kind of fancy.

It took a bit of time rounding everyone up, but eventually the rest of the crew joined us.  Angela and her two friends, Katie and Jeanie, were all staying in the same room on the 4th floor.   Brian and Lauren were on the 5th.  All in all, counting baby Mason, there were fifteen of us that showed up for this south of the border excursion.

We headed out of the resort and boarded a shuttle that Pat had arranged earlier to 5th avenue, a street where a majority of the clubs and restaurants were located.  Pat had made reservations at a place called “The Glass Bar”, which turned out to be more of a fancy restaurant than a bar.

Angela, Katie, and Jeanie had been friends for ages, and this was a great occasion for them to reunite.  Everyone had been here a day ahead of us, and were telling us the state “Storm” was in the night before.  “Storm” is a nickname that everyone lovingly called Angela, from an era long passed.  When I first met her, I’d asked “Why do they call her ‘Storm'”?  The answer, “Well, if you hang out with her when she’s drunk, it’d feel like a storm had came through.”  Fortunately, the Storm doesn’t rage too often anymore.

The food was amazing, we had everything from grilled octopus to raw kobe beef and battered calamari; the best calamari I had ever had.  But those were only the appetizers, we waited for Leticia to show up before ordering the entrées.

Leticia is the girlfriend of a good friend of ours, Ryan Carter, who had recently made Playa del Carmen his home.  Unfortunately, he was out of town this particular weekend.  But Leticia more than made up for it.  She was a talkative, fun, and friendly chica who wanted everyone to have a good time.  Leticia played hostess and helped us out the rest of the time we were there.

Sylvia took baby Mason home a little bit into the night (after buying a bunch of shirts as souvenirs and handing them out like a female Santa Claus).  After the delicious dinner and the yummy birthday cakes, Leticia rallied the troops to a place down the street called “Coco Bongo”.  Take a Las Vegas show like Cirque Du Soleil, mashed it together with a huge bar slash club, then fill it with pop star impersonators and dancers and trapeze artists and you get something resembling the Coco-Bongo.  Leticia lead us through the VIP line to our table near the stage.  Around us the music blared and the crowd roared and the dancers danced and balloons and confetti dropped through the air.

At one point they started letting random girls danced on the bar at the center of the club, and Lauren and Katie wanted to join them.  But as we were heading there, they caught the eyes of a bar staff, and were lead backstage.  The bartenders assured me that it’ll be okay.  Moments later, Lauren and Katie appeared at the top of the main stage as spotlights focused on them and they proceeded to shake their booties like the world was on fire.  It was the craziest experience at a bar ever!

The rest of the night became hazy.  We left Coco Bongo a while later and shuttled it back to the resort, where a few of us donned our bathing suits and went down to the beach for a late night splash.  The water was a bit chilly, and we moved to the pool.   There were a couple of resort staff standing around keeping an eye on us, and when I asked if we can jump in, one of them nodded.  However, only after 15 minutes or so, their manager came out and kindly informed us that the pool was closed and we should go to bed.  I think the drunken laughter and excessive clamor was a bit too much noise for the resort at 3 in the morning.

So we went to bed, dreaming of flying men and burlesque dancers.

read part 2 >

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California Trip, December 2010 – pt 3

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random stuff travel stuff

DC Events on Oct 30th

A few people on the Daily Show forums has expressed interest in finding out which special events are going on that day after the rally.  Being the helpful guy that I am, here’s a compiled list of noteworthy links and events for October 30, 2010.  I tried to list only events that are after 5pm.

This is by no means a comprehensive list.  In fact, I bet it’s less than 10% of all the actual events that are occurring that day.   I made this list just to give you a glimpse of the varieties of things going on.  Please do a search yourself to find an event that interest you.

Some good links:

http://washington.dc.eventguide.com/days/01030.htm



http://dc.about.com/od/specialevents/a/OctoberEvents.htm


http://www.washingtonpost.com/gog/search/q,dates_20101030,sortSpecifier_Date,group_Events.html

http://dc.metromix.com/browse/events?date_type=custom&date_range=2010-10-30,2010-10-30

http://www.kennedy-center.org/

http://eventful.com/washingtondc/events/categories/music/pick-dates?t=2010103000-2010103123

Events of interest:

5 p.m. – 1 a.m. Nightmare on M Street 2010
The season’s most spooktacular bar crawl!

5 pm Fright Fest 2010
Once again Six Flags brings back Fright Fest. Spooky characters, thrilling rides, and trick or treating for the kids.. Six Flags America Largo, Maryland. (Festival – Holiday Event / Party). 301-249-1500

6:30 pm Disney on Ice: Toy Story 3
Presented live. 1st Mariner Arena. (Performance – Ice Skating Show). 410-347-2020

6:30 pm – 7:30 pm Capitol Steps
Former Congressional employees perform satirical skits and songs every Friday and Saturday in the Amphitheater. Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center. (Performance – Show Comedy). 202-312-1300

6:30 pm Fright at the Museum
National Museum of Crime and Punishment
This isn’t just a museum for artifacts, it’s a haunting ground now. From 1916-1960 one hundred and twenty five men were executed in the Tennessee electric chair. This Halloween that same eletric chair makes it’s way into the National Museum of Crime and Punishment and there’s something freaky going on.

7:00pm – 10:30 pm  Spooky Hollow and Haunted Trail
Family Halloween Festival. Valley Mill Camp. (Festival – Holiday Event / Party). 301-948-0220

8 p.m. – 2 a.m. Fright Night Monster Bash
The State Theatre – 220 N. Washington St. – Falls Church
For the first time, two of the area’s biggest Halloween bashes unite.

8:00 pm- 10:00 pm Laugh Riot at the Hyatt
Live standup comedy show with 5 local comics, $25 cash prize joke contest for non-com audience members after the show. Rated R,… Hyatt Regency Bethesda. (Performance – Comedic). 301-657-1234

8:00 pm King Arthur
Synetic’s inaugural season in Crystal City will kick off with a new, wordless epic, drawing from a rich pool of centuries-old my… Crystal City Theater. (Performance – Theater). 800-494-8497

5:00 pm-2:00 am Karaoke @ Peyote Cafe
Happy Hour every night except Saturday. Peyote Cafe. (Dining – Happy Hour). 202-462-8330

11:00 pm Halloween Party at La Tosca
Drink specials, DJ and dancing, and a costume contest with cash prize will be featured on All Hallow’s Eve. La Tasca – Arlington. (Dining – Dining Specials). 703-812-9120

Kennedy Center Events for Oct 30

(http://www.kennedy-center.org)

6:00 PM Hard-Hearted Hannah and Other Stories – Free
Brighton-based Cartoon de Salvo cleverly mixes storytelling, improvisation, and live music, captivating audiences with its highly accessible and irreverently honest brand of theater.

6:00 pm /  9:00pm Shear Madness – $42
Set in present-day Georgetown, Shear Madness engages locals and visitors alike as armchair detectives to help solve the scissor-stabbing murder of a famed concert pianist who lives above the Shear Madness unisex hairstyling salon.  The show combines up-to-the-minute improvisational humor and a mixture of audience sleuthing to deliver a unique performance each night.

7:30 PM HAIR – $25.00 – $115.00
The tribe of the Age of Aquarius is still protesting the war, freeing their love, letting their hair down, and baring it all in HAIR. “The kids are all right,” says the New York Times. “Quite a bit more than all right.”

8:00 PM – Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker – $22.00 – $60.00
Known for visually striking designs, Brazilian dance ensemble Companhia de Dança Deborah Colker presents Mix, a full-length program showcasing daring feats of athleticism and acrobatics deemed “impossible” (The Sunday Times).

8:00 pm – NSO Pops: A Date with Idina Menzel / Marvin Hamlisch, conductor – $20.00 – $85.00
Glee favorite and Tony-winning star of Wicked Idina Menzel opens the NSO Pops season with a diverse program of classic pop, musical theater favorites, and her own original songs.

8:30 PM – A Life in Three Acts – $25
The story of celebrated performer and key figure in Britain’s post-war gay liberation struggle, Bette Bourne, A Life in Three Acts is more than a memoir. This solo performance by Bourne is a moving celebration of liberation.

9:00 PM – KC Jazz Club: Kevin Mahogany in Old, New, Borrowed, and the Blues – $26
With his gift for bebop, ballads, blues, and swinging jazz, Kevin Mahogany has been called “the standout jazz vocalist of his generation” by Newsweek.

Categories
random stuff travel stuff

So you're coming to the 10/30 Rally to Restore Sanity?

We are all intelligent adults who can whip out our iPhones and find a good restaurant on Yelp in a moment’s notice.  That said, there are some of you who are too busy, or lazy, and just need a little help planning your trip.  If that’s the case, you may find this guide helpful.  You can also find plenty of help at other venues, such as the Daily Show Forums or the Facebook Event page.

Edit: The official site now has a useful FAQ page, check it out.

More Edit: Here’s a useful blog  that keeps continual updates with info about the rally: http://stewartrally.blogspot.com

Getting there:

There are plenty of ways of getting to Washington D.C., and if you’re a reasonably intelligent member of society, you shouldn’t have any problems finding one.

I’m coming from Austin, Texas (I recently moved here from Virginia) and did some research on how much the prices are going for around that date (10/29 – 10/31).  Airfare from AUS to IAD (Dulles, where my family lives) is only around $300.  I also looked up the prices for Greyhound and found it to be more expensive at $350.  Amtrak is slightly cheaper, only $197, but the trip would take 50 hours!  Flying is still the best way to go if you’re more than a state away.  Remember, rates fluctuate daily, so check rates from your city and book early.  After two weeks before the event, prices climb.

Links to other travel options:

Buses: http://www.dcrallybus.com/RallyToRestoreSanity

Carpooling: http://www.pooled.in/rally/view?source=tds

From Europe: http://forums.thedailyshow.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=31271

From Charlottesville, VA: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Easy-Going-Riders-Cville-to-DC-10302010/115290108528010?ref=sgm

From Winston Salem, NC: http://www.meetup.com/f-a-c-t/messages/11482393/

From Bloomington-Normal, IL: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=153519798013391

From Chicago: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=109553292439557&ref=ts, http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=163034690380126

From Oklahoma: http://forums.thedailyshow.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=31347

From Louisiana: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=128449923870962&ref=mf

From Cincinnati :  $75 a person.  Leave Friday at Midnight and Return to Cincinnati (Blue Ash Area) on Sunday morning at 8am, We will be in DC from 10am till 9pm Saturday.Our goal is to get 45 people and so far we have around 20.  Please email dave@finddave.com if you are interested!

From Milwaukee: … need to fill a 55 passenger Greyhound bus — bathroom on board, wi-fi.  $125 round trip.  Leaving Milwaukee Friday 10/29 at 6 p.m. arriving in DC Saturday morning.  Leaving Saturday night at 6 pm. home on Sunday morning.  No hotel costs.  Need to know and have moolah by 10/4.  contact brendakoehler1@att.net

From New Jersey:  Donna from Jersey posted: “there’s a super cool bus in central New Jersey, there were about 10 of us to begin with so we chartered a bus but still have a few seats to fill.  a mere $47 round trip, which includes coffee and donuts as we gather in the morning, and water bottles for the ride home  join us!!  (leaves from Jackson, NJ, the departure location is right off Exit 21 of I-195)  http://www.busforprogress.org/dc-rally


Getting around using the Metro Rail

Even without a rally, the Greater Washington area tends to be a bumper to bumper fusterCluck. If you’re not staying in D.C., I don’t recommend driving into the city or even taking a taxi unless you plan to sit in traffic. Fortunately, there is a decent Metro Rail system to help you get around.

Here’s a handy map for the metro stations, when booking your hotel you should ask them for the nearest one.

http://www.wmata.com/rail/maps/map.cfm

There are reduced fares on the weekends, so it’ll cost you about $2 – $6 both ways depending on where you’re coming from.  But if you plan to do other things in D.C. besides going to the rally, you can get a day pass for $9.  You can buy tickets at the stations, and they accept credit cards so you’re fine if you’re like me and don’t like to carry cash around.

The rally is going to be near the Washington Monument (edit: this statement is now false.  See paragraph below).  Someone mentioned that it is going to be on the North side of the monument but I’m still unsure since nothing official has been issued.  Nevertheless, it really doesn’t matter.  You should be able to just start heading into D.C. and ask random people that seem to be going to the rally where they’re headed.  The closest stations to the Washington Monument is the Smithsonian station on the Blue and Orange lines, or the  L’Enfant Plaza station on the Green and Yellow lines.

Edit: The Daily Show has announced the official location of the rally, it is going to be on the east end of the Mall near the Capitol Building.  Check out the map in this new post: http://hueyluvsyou.com/wordpress/2010/10/rally-location/

Hotels and Lodging

Your best bet is to find a hotel outside of D.C. and take the metro in on the day of the rally.  Use a hotel search site (such as tripadvisor.com or hotels.com) and look for a hotel in one of the cities on the metro map listed in the above section.  e.g.:

Virginia: Annandale, Arlington, Ballston, Clarendon, Fairfax, Falls Church, Springfield, Vienna.

Maryland: Bethesda, Glenmont, Rockville, Shady Grove, Silver Spring, White Flint

I did some searches to see what hotel prices are like for that weekend, and I think you’re looking at spending about $150 a night at a decent hotel.  Here are some price ranges of hotels in Virginia I got from tripadvisor.com:

Arlington: $100 (Best Western) – $570 (Ritz-Carlton)
Vienna: $80 (Hilton Garden) – $260 (Residence Inn)
Falls Church: $80 (Budget Inn) – $170 (Westin)
Bethesda: $100 (American Inn) – $240 (Residence Inn)

Edit: Ellen from the comments below posted that hotels further away from D.C. are a lot cheaper, she was able to find a 3.5 star hotel in the Herndon/Dulles area for $45 a night.  If you’re looking to save money that’s another option.  If you don’t have a rental car you’ll just have to take the bus or a cab ride to the closest Metro station to take you into D.C.  I don’t recommend taking a cab all the way in, the cab driver won’t be able to get that close anyways, and it’ll cost at least $60 if you’re coming from somewhere like Herndon.

Here are some area further west in Virginia you should consider if you can’t find ones closer:

Chantilly, Centreville, Manassas, Burke, Herndon, Reston

Other options:
Camping: http://forums.thedailyshow.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=31240
Couch Surfing:  http://forums.thedailyshow.com/?page=ThreadView&thread_id=31139
Reddit Ads: http://www.reddit.com/r/PlacetoStay/

Preparing for the Rally

Before heading to the rally, you should consider bringing the following items.
  • Water or non-alcoholic beverage of choice (no glass)
  • Some snacks to munch on
  • a trash bag
  • Something to sit on, like a beach blanket or portable chair
  • Suntan lotion if you burn easy
  • poncho or umbrella if it looks like it may rain (it usually does on Halloween)

Remember, you can not bring alcohol or weapons of any kind to the Mall.

The temperature will probably be in the 60s, I recommend having a sweater with you just in case.

The Metro usually runs from 7 AM Saturday to 3 AM Sunday,  but this is subject to change for special occasions.  For example, on July 4th they don’t start running until 10 AM.  Check with your hotel or look it up the day before and prepare accordingly.

Restaurants and dining

You can find every style of cuisine in the Greater Washington area.  Doing a search on Yelp or Washington Post’s Going Out Guide will yield more than enough results.  Here are some suggestions just to give you an idea of the variety to choose from:

Vegetarian – Sun Flower ($11 – $30)
Italian – Tosca ($31 – $60)
French – Montmartre ($31 – $60)
Dim Sum – Mark’s Duck House ($11 – $30)
Pho – Pho 75 (Under $10)
Vietnamese – Viet Bistro ($11 – $30)
Korean BBQ – Honey Pig ($11 – $30)
Indian – Tandoori Time (Under $10)
Seafood – Hank’s Oyster Bar ($11 – $30)
Sushi – Kotobuki ($11 – $30)
Thai – Thai Noy ($11 – $30)

Things to do in D.C.

If possible, you should spend a day before or after the rally to tour our nation’s capitol, especially if you have never done so.  There are plenty of museums and memorials that are free.  Even if you’re not into museums, you should still take the opportunity to visit some of these places just to say you did it.  Here are some recommendations:

  • National Gallery of Art (http://www.nga.gov/) – Free
    If you’re into art and have never been here, this is a must see.  It has everything from classical paintings to sculptures to contemporary art.
  • Museum of Natural History (http://www.mnh.si.edu/) – Free
    Dinosaurs, anthropology, and more!
  • Air and Space museum (http://www.nasm.si.edu/) – Free
    Go here if you’re an airplane or astronomy nut.  Check out “Space Station 3D” or “Hubble 3D” at the IMAX ($9 adult $7.50 kids) if you’re into space stuff like me.
  • Nation Museum of American History (http://americanhistory.si.edu/) – Free
    Visit here if you’re a history buff.
  • National Zoo (http://nationalzoo.si.edu/) – Free
    This zoo is huge, and it’s free!  Probably a good idea if you are bringing kids with you.

Those are just some of my recommendations for places to go that are free in D.C.  Just do a search for “museums in washington D.C.” on your preferred search engine and you’ll get several dozen suggestions.

Nightlife

As for bars and nightlife, there are also many areas to choose from.  Sites like bardc.com or washingtonpost.com should give you a rundown of all that’s available.   Here are some good neighborhoods that are popular with locals and visitors alike:

Adam’s Morgan – D.C.
Georgetown – D.C.
Clarendon – VA
Arlington – VA

Edit:  Added a random list of events also occurring that day after the rally:

http://hueyluvsyou.com/wordpress/2010/10/dc-events-on-oct-30th/

Safety and More

D.C. and the Greater Washington area, which includes Northern Virginia and Maryland, is a shining example of the melting pot culture that we should all be proud of.  Contrary to what some believe, the population is not comprise mostly of refugees and embassy staff of third world countries hiding from a revolution in their homeland. There are a lot of different ethnicity and culture that make up our population, and that is a beautiful thing. We’re now living in a society where we’re not judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. Whenever you make a decision based on the race of another individual, you’re stepping on the graves of these civil right heroes who have given their lives to advance our society to where we are today. Freedom rang, from all corners of our country, and is still ringing regardless of the minority few who are still too narrow-minded to see otherwise. Let’s try to keep it that way.

So back to the topic at hand.  D.C. is like any other major city in the world, there is crime and traffic and bad neighborhoods.  Just use common sense and don’t go wandering through shady streets alone at night, or get too drunk you’re stumbling in traffic on I495.

Why you should go to this rally

I’ve asked myself this question.  What exactly are we marching on Washington for?  We didn’t really lose our sanity, that’s just an exaggerated gimmick satirizing the previous rally to Restore Honor.  We are not marching to stop segregation, or an unjust war, or even an exaggerated notion of “losing our freedom.”  What we are doing, however, is making a statement that the majority of Americans are intelligent, reasonable people.  Just because we haven’t been in the spot light hogging the headlines doesn’t mean that we don’t exist.

The message is that we are tired of extremist media skewing the image of who we are.  That we’re not a nation of small-minded religious fanatics filled with fear and hatred.  And we are not going to allow fear mongering radio hosts to represent our ideals and values.   So you should come, if only to swell the ranks and show this nation, and the world, that what’s usually in the news is not the majority of America.

Plus, how often do you get to come party with this many people at our nation’s capitol?  Bring a blanket and a bottle of water, and an umbrella in case it rains, and join your fellow Americans in the biggest picnic of our lifetime.  I have a feeling it’s going to be an easy going day of love, of brotherhood, and of mild justification that there are still many of us who are decent human beings with decent thoughts in our reasonable heads.

Categories
travel stuff

Excellence Playa Mujeres, Cancun

I did not know the resort was meant for couples and honeymooners when I booked it for my brother and I.  It  got 4.5 out of 5 stars on Trip Advisor (out of 1200+ reviews) and the price, $1080 per person for an all inclusive package, including airfare, all your meals and drinks, and three nights lodging, was just too good to pass up.  But that didn’t stop up from enjoying this wonderful resort, everyone was there to have a good time, and as long as you’re enjoying yourself you’d fit right in.

The Excellence Playa Mujeres resort is located in the northern part of the area, secluded away from the chaos that is downtown Cancun and the hotel zone.  It boasts 8 restaurants, 11 bars, and 7 swimming pools, and being an all-inclusive resort, guests can use any and all of these services gratis!  Even the room service was free.

The room was the best hotel room I’ve ever stayed in.  It has a marble floor, a jacuzzi, a large walk in shower, fancy leather couches, and a huge king size bed.  Vinny and I took turn sleeping on the couch and the bed, alternating every other night.  The mini fridge was fully stocked with water and coronas, and right outside our back door was the lazy river, inviting us to dive right in to cool off from the humid Cancun air.


The service at the resort was excellent!  As soon as you arrive, they give you a glass of champaign and a warm clean towel to freshen up.  After checking in, they take your luggage and take you to your room, giving a tour and rundown of the resort on the way.  Everywhere you turn you see nice touches to the resort that hints of the thoughtfulness they put in making your stay wonderful.  Everyone is friendly and eager to help, should you need directions or a drink or have questions regarding tours and such.  We tipped when appropriate, but we saw many people not tipping and I don’t think it was a big deal.  The all-inclusive package did say “tips included”.

The resort had 8 restaurants, offering the following cuisines: Mediterranean, Italian, Asian, French, Mexican, Tapas, Lobsters, and Steaks. We only had the opportunity to try 4 of them.  We had dinner at The Lobster House the first night, breakfast at the Barcelona the next morning, dinner at Chez Isabelle the next night, and finally tapas at the Flavor Market the last night there.  The tapas were my favorite, although if you are into lobsters, the grilled lobster at the Lobster House was excellent as well.  There was a wide selection to choose from, and being an all-inclusive resort, they’re all paid for.   You just roll up to any restaurants and ask for a table.  The one bad thing, however, is the wait time it took to get seated.  All three nights we had to wait 30 to 45 minutes to get through the waiting list.

The 7 swimming pools in the resort included 2 lazy rivers that wrap around the 8 buildings that houses the hotel rooms.  There are bungalows and beach chairs lining them on either side, and hammocks hung at strategic places.  You can spend the whole day relaxing in the resort.  I saw many loungers and couples just chilling reading a book or drinking mai-tais during the couple of times we decided to go for a swim.  Being the hurricane season, there weren’t many people there and the pools weren’t very crowded.  And if you wanted to swim in the ocean, the beach is just a hop and a skip away.

There were so many things to do in Cancun, I immediately regretted only booking the trip for three days.  The resort itself provided free activities such as rifle shooting, poker by the pool, wind-surfing, snorkeling, yoga, archery, just to name a few.  They even have nightly shows for us to watch.  Outside the resort, we can choose to go visit Mayan ruins, swim with dolphins, four-wheeling through the jungle, visit the XCarat water park, among a million other things.  They do cost money however, ranging from fifty to a couple hundred dollars.

Speed boat tour, 2 hours, $60 (dollars) each.

Chichen Itza, the famous Mayan pyramid, $99 (dollars) each.

Included in the Chichen Itza tour, we visited a water hole/springs where part of an underground river is exposed and you can jump in and swim with the blind catfish with vines hanging all around you.

All in all, we had a great first visit to Cancun.  The resort we stayed at was awesome, and Cancun itself was beautiful.  We did risk it by going during the rainy hurricane season, but it only rained at night during our stay.  I was sad we had to leave so soon.

Here’s the link to the photos of this trip on Facebook:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=205812&id=508893098&l=c7e976421e

Also, read my warning about timeshare sellers if you’re planning to go to Cancun:

http://hueyly.com/2010/09/word-of-warning-regarding-timeshare/

Categories
travel stuff

Word of Warning Regarding Timeshare

This was our first time to Cancun, so we didn’t know where to go or what to do, and I’ve forgotten to print out the vouchers and instructions telling us where to meet our ride to the hotel.  So Vinny and I decided to approach one of the official looking men under the “hotels and tours” sections near the airport exit.

The man that helped us, let’s call him Jorge, was very friendly and told us where to go to find our shuttle.  But before letting us go, Jorge asked if it was our first time to Cancun and if we plan to do any tours or excursions outside our resort.  We said we did, and he proceeded to offer us all kinds of discount that were up to 50% off the normal ticket prices.  He even offered us a rental car for free!  We were excited, are all Cancun’ers this friendly?  He claimed to work for the government too, so we thought maybe this is part of a Mexican government program to help tourists enjoy their stay.

In exchange, we were to meet him at the resort he worked for, the Krystal, a newly developed five star hotel near downtown, for a tour of the place.  A red flag went off in my mind right away screaming “timeshare!”, so I said “sorry, we’re not interested anymore.”  Of course Jorge was not appeased, he said it’ll only take 90 minutes and there are no obligations.  I looked at Vinny and he had this “let’s do it” look on his face.  He was thinking “we can walk away anytime, let’s get the discounts!”

Vinny ended up paying around $70 for the discounted tickets we would receive, and were to meet him at the hotel at 9 am the next day.  Then we left the airport and met up with our transportation’s representative.  When he told us we have to get our voucher signed in the morning, we replied that we had an appointment at the Krystal.

He looked at us with this incredulous look on his face and said, “You didn’t signup with one of those men in there did you?” pointing at the airport entrance.

We said we did, and he shook his head, “no no no, you know what that is right?  They are going to sell you timeshare, you don’t want to do that.”  We told him it would only take 90 minutes, and he laughed, “that’s what they tell you.  But it’ll take at least 5 to 6 hours!  It’ll ruin your whole day.  The guy talking will be in a nice suit and he will offer you drinks and he is a very smooth talker, and it’ll be very hard to say no.”

And he said if we just walk away, we will not get any of the stuff he promised us.  “Go get your money back, if he refuse tell him you will get the policia.”  I said it’s only $70, let’s just walk away from the thing and chalk it up as a lesson learned.  “You know $70 will feed a family in Mexico for a week right!?” said our representative, “march back in there and get your money.”

So Vinny marched back in there and got his money back.   He ended up tipping the timeshare dude 5 dollars, and since we were thankful we tipped our representative $10.  Vinny had already spent 15 bucks to get out of a timeshare meeting and we had just arrived in Cancun!  But I’m so glad we did because it would’ve ruined our whole trip.

On our way back to the airport a few days later, we met a couple from Houston who had a similar story to tell.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have a nice representative to rescue them from the timeshare trap.  They were approached by someone in their resort, the Temptation, to buy a 24 year package for timeshare to that hotel.  She said that the meeting took the whole day, time she could’ve spent at the beach.  And she did end up writing a $1900 check as a down payment to the package, (they were drunk by the end of it).  Her husband did went back the next day to cancel the whole thing and to get their money back, but it would take 10 business days for the money to be refunded.  I hope they got their money back.

So, if you ever come to visit Cancun and didn’t know about these traps, remember this.  When you’re exiting the airport you’ll see a bunch of guys dressed all nice in blue shirts and black pants, looking like they can help you with whatever you need, just walk on right pass them and out the door.  They are not there to help you.