Going on vacation always wakes up the adventurer in me; I want to try new things and seize life one tourist trap at a time. On a recent trip to Cozumel, Mexico, it was with this mind-set that my good friend and I set out to find this experience.
As a seasoned vacationer, I knew what sort of day to expect. There would be shopping for souvenirs that were cheap and made of somewhat questionable materials. There would be snorkeling. But more important, there would be free margaritas at the local bar for any patron over the tender age of 13.
After having one (free!) margarita and a delicious but oddly assembled cheeseburger each, my friend and I lounged at a table, each wearing a large hat that proclaimed Viva Mexico. We were smiling, sunburned, and as drunk as two tourists could possibly be at 3 in the afternoon.
I thought our day was pretty much at an end. We had seen weird sea creatures on a snorkeling excursion. We had sampled the Americanized version of the local cuisine. We had bought and promptly broken two quasi-golden charm bracelets from a back-alley jewelry store.
But then came the mariachi band. They arrived in a somewhat subtle manner despite their shiny red-and-black outfits and huge sombreros.
Seeing the band, the deep-rooted spirit of vacation leaped to life and we cheered for the musicians, who rushed toward us. They strummed their guitars and smiled with the kind of excitement usually reserved for bingo games and surprise parties. Or, I guess, for when two ladies dressed in hats that screamed "tourist" yelled for attention.
"We will play songs, pretty ladies?" the trumpet player asked. My friend and I were excited, to say the least. We were in a foreign country, we had free drinks, and we were damn well going to have a private mariachi performance.
The band then proceeded to play what seemed the longest and most incomprehensible song ever. Unsure what to do in the event of an impromptu mariachi show, we simply swayed to the music.
When the singing was over, we clapped and thanked them. This was met with a prompt declaration from the annoyed guitarist that, "We play for tips."
As my friend and I grudgingly forked over our last few dollars, I realized we had made a classic tourist mistake. It was just as wrong as eating the spiciest thing on the menu or allowing a local with a storefront made of cardboard to braid your hair. We were entertained, sure, but we had faced the consequences of trying weird things.
Despite its surprises, Cozumel turned out to be a great place to live adventurously. So the next time trying everything seems like a good idea, go for it. Swim with the scary things, buy the crappy souvenirs, and enjoy the day with wild abandon.
Just remember to bring enough money to tip the mariachi band.