My Mayan Adventure

Or – $6.00 AIRPORT TAX

By now you are probably expecting another Alaskan adventure story, which means it’s time to shake things up and leave the frozen north for a spell. How about we head for warmer climes? Namely, the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. I’d wanted to visit there for years. You see, back in my teens I had this burning desire to be an archeologist and specialize in Mayan civilizations. To travel widely, be in touch with history on a literal scale, it was a heavenly career choice for someone like me.

Alas, the road not taken. I didn’t become a female Indiana Jones, but I never lost my fascination with Mayan ruins. I read all the articles, stare at pictures and Google Earth, and ponder the possibilities of yet undiscovered ruins. But I’m straying…

Okay, here’s the romance part of my tale. Marriage bells were ringing. So naturally, me and my adventure loving fiancé decide on a destination wedding and believed Cozumel the perfect place to tie the knot. It turned out lovely too, sunset vows under a gazebo on the beach, a mariachi band playing softly in the background, colorful Spanish decorations flowing in a fresh ocean breeze. It was magical and so very romantic.

But it almost never happened. And I’ll tell you why – because of a measly $6.00 airport tax.

You see, by necessity we had our honeymoon first. Because Cozumel law states you must be in the country four days before you can legally marry. Not a problem. We were staying at a beautiful resort and they had a helpful coordinator to schedule off-island jaunts. Which  is why we chose this destination – it’s proximity to the Yucatan interior and the amazing Mayan ruin complex of Chichén Itzá. 

 Maya 1

Excited beyond reason, we booked the luxury excursion and paid our day long tour price including – you guessed it – a $6 airport tax. That’s per person, mind you. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was completely fine with paying the tax. At least, I was the first time.

The next morning about seven of us resort tourists boarded a little puddle-jumper and flew over to Cancun where we switched to a slightly larger, though drastically older, prop plane. We had our boarding passes, but still had to wait in line to get them stamped. At the counter we handed over our passes and the clerk at the counter said… “$6 airport tax please.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “We already paid that tax back on Cozumel. See…here’s our receipt.”

She smiled and nodded and still said, “$6 dollar airport tax please.”

Well, we hadn’t brought much cash on this flight, mostly due to the warnings of the tour coordinator. She said lunch was provided, free drinks on the plane, and we’d be safer carrying very little cash. Plus, the flight was much less risky than the alternative…a three hour bus ride through local villages with gun-toting escorts and stacks of chickens in a cage. So really, what do you do? We dipped into our small cache and doled out another $12 bucks to pay the tax. Again.

We climbed aboard our 20 seater 1960’s vintage plane and were lucky enough to snag a seat toward the front where we could see out the window without a wing blocking the view. They billed this flight as luxury. To me, that stretched the term to its breaking point. The free drinks were canned sodas in a cooler at the back of the plane, there was no bathroom (though only a 40 minute flight), and the narrated portion consisted of the co-pilot yelling over the engine noise to point out the relentless forest below.

All things are relative I suppose and if you compared the trip to the guns and chickens option, it qualified as luxury.

Green was pretty much all you saw out the window. That is, until the stark white pyramid, ball court, ancient observatory, and other ruins popped into view. To say it’s incredible doesn’t do it justice. It totally makes landing that plane on a dirt-packed runway cut out of a tangle of impenetrable trees well worth the risk. It’s all part of the adventure, right?

This is the spot where I could spend all day talking about how absolutely incredible Chichén Itzá is. Every step you take on that complex connects you with history in a way that is nearly unexplainable. I mean just look at this picture of the Ball Court below and you will get an idea of the impact this ancient site conveys. Its awe inspiring, deeply mysterious, and a touch of serious spooky.


Photo credit:

Now they restrict access, but we were lucky enough to climb the steps to the top of El Castillo, the Pyramid of Kukulkan (first picture). Let me tell you the ascent is steep on an alarming scale, but the view is spectacular. And at the risk of sounding like a New Ager, the energy inside that top chamber makes your spine tingle. Or maybe it was a lack of oxygen from the dizzying height, either way it’s a strange sensation. I warn you…Chichén Itzá is an experience that changes you on a cosmic level.

But again, I’m straying. My story isn’t meant to be a Travel Channel promotion on the wonders of an ancient Mayan city, though it probably could be. No, my story is about a $6 airport tax, so I’m powering on.

We explored every inch of the Mayan ruins (except the underground chambers beneath the observatory and that’s only because they wouldn’t let us down there. Dang it.). Then right on schedule, we arrived back at a 3-sided lean-to shack that doubled as the airport terminal and got in line. With tickets in hand we expected an easy boarding. We were wrong. At the counter a dusty looking hombre in denim and boots repeated the same litany we’d heard from the get go. You got it – “$6 airport tax due.”

Well, as I mentioned, our cash supply was small to begin with and after the other taxes we paid, the entrance fee, and a few souvenirs from a surprisingly nice gift shop nearby, we had about eight dollars left. We needed twelve. So we argued.

“We already paid this tax,” I said. “Twice!”

“Not here. $6 airport tax due,” he said.

We argued this way for a few more minutes until I realized this wasn’t a battle we were going to win. There was nothing left to do but raid the emergency reserve. My soon-to-be husband reached into a hidden pocket and pulled out our secret stash.

“Can you take a hundred dollar bill?” he asked.

“Si,” the clerk nodded with a big smile. “No change.”

That’s when the mild-mannered man I’d known for four years, a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, morphed into I’ve-had-enough-of-this-crap kind of guy. And believe me when I say the battle that ensued gave me visions of a Mexican jail cell with bread and water rations. Others began grumbling, some joined my fiancé’s tax revolt, and just when I thought mutiny was unavoidable, two honeymooners in line behind us came to the rescue.

They were staying at our resort and did an amazing thing. They paid the $12 tax for us. With the money paid things settled back down, people got back in line, doled out their tax, and boarded the plane. Later that night at dinner we saw our rescuers, paid them back the money, and sent a couple glasses of wine to their table.

In the end we had our wedding ceremony as planned and our new friends stood up with us as witnesses. We all celebrated the event in the lounge afterward by slamming flaming shots of liquor called Mexican Flags and toasting the fact we were at a posh resort and not languishing inside some rotten jail cell.

So the moral of this story is…1) when you leave the country don’t take hundred dollar bills        2) don’t listen to tour coordinators who say you don’t need any cash, and     3) just pay the dang tax.

And go to Chichén Itzá. It’s worth every penny of those $6 airport taxes. Just trust me.

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