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Just so you understand, this lovely little village is the ENTIRE Costa Maya. Let me fill in the missing parts for you. To the left of the village is forest.  Behind the village is forest and to the right as well.  As far as the eye can see, one big forest.

Where is the city?  There is no city.  Where are the other buildings?   There are no other buildings.  Where are the people?  A few people live in this village. The rest live in small huts hidden in the forest.  Putting things into perspective, this attractive shopping center is all there is as far as the eye can see. 

What's going on here? 

One day back in the Nineties, peace-loving Indian descendants living in a tiny nearby village known as Majahual were Mayan their own business when a stranger came to town.  The stranger was scouting for a new location to build a Tourist Trap.  He discovered the waters just beyond the village were so deep that huge ocean liners the size of mountains could dock within a hundred yards of the shore.  That made this place special in a very unique way. 

The stranger quietly shared this knowledge with his investment group.

Even though this village was in the absolute middle of nowhere and the area possessed little natural beauty, the clever investment group purchased the land at ocean bottom prices and began to build a world-class pier.  Then to complete the make-over, they built this bizarre Pink Village next to the pier. 

Suddenly out of nowhere came

Costa Maya, Resurrection of the Mighty Pink Mayan Empire! 

Yes, it was true.  Here in the absolute middle of nowhere, a brand new tourist trap had magically been carved out of the Mexican forest. 

Snap crackle and pop, soon rich American tourists were being trapped and harvested on a regular basis.  It was a miracle indeed.

The SSQQ Cruise group has visited Costa Maya twice.  By coincidence, both times (2004, 2006) we came here when a hurricane made visiting the Cayman Islands, our scheduled port, impossible. 

Located on the Yucatan Peninsula about halfway between Belize and Cozumel, Costa Maya became a convenient stop for any cruise ship looking for an excuse to dock someplace with next to no port fees.  The cruise ship, of course, could care less that no one had ever heard of this place.  It was their legal responsibility to dock at three places.  If the Caymans weren't available, then Costa Maya would do just fine as a simple alternative.

A jaundiced eye might conclude that Costa Maya was created one reason and one reason only - the cruise industry needed a new place to dump tourists whenever a hurricane diverted their ships from the promised itinerary.  I don't know what these developers were smoking or drinking when they thought of putting this place together, but they had to be proud of themselves.  The place was busy.  Their concept seemed to be working.

Talk about a deserted location!  So you ask again, 'Why did they pick this place?'  Two reasons actually.  First there was the unique opportunity to plunk bring the massive cruise ships right up to edge of the shoreline.  Anyone who has ever been forced to "Tender" knows this kind of walk-in accessibility is a huge advantage for any port.  For example, the mysterious Cayman Islands (we haven't actually seen them since 2002) require small boats known as 'tenders' to ferry passengers back and forth from the ship to shore.  If you have 2,000 passengers and the boats carry 100 at a time, this process is time-consuming.

The other reason for this choice is invisible to the mainland tourists.  Unless you are a scuba enthusiast, you probably had no idea that one of the greatest scuba sites of the entire world is nearby.  20 miles out to sea lies Banco Chinchorro, the second largest reef in the world.  Previously you could only reach this spot from Xcalak which lies further south on the coast.  The six hour round trip boat ride was a real deterrent.   The emergence of Costa Maya has reduced the trip to under two hours.

The Chinchorro Reef is a veritable Davy Jones locker.  During the Colonial period, sailors dreaded passing near it . The route from Colombia to Spain by way of Havana, Cuba, required ships to pass dangerously close to the bank.  The treacherous winds and unpredictable currents doomed many a ship.

So far, the remains of 18 ships that sank between 1600 and 1800 have been discovered.  Sunken ships and the incredible sea life that populate the reef indicate why the Chinchorro Reef is such a hugely popular dive location. 

The Mexican government is deeply committed to protecting this reef. Currently only 150 divers per day are allowed to visit. The Costa Maya developers want permission to develop a water taxi system to drop thousands of tourists daily onto the Reef.  Not surprisingly, a real fight over the environment is brewing. Stay tuned.

For the present, however, Costa Maya is still in its infancy.  If the Pink Village had more than 200 residents, I would be very surprised.  That is how small it is.  I honestly believe the two times I have visited, the tourists out-numbered the people who live around here by 10 to 1.  If there had been even one hint of gold, I imagine we could have done a Conquistador impersonation and seized the place.  Touristas - let us Unite and Conquer!

Costa Maya made me laugh.  I became fascinated with this odd 'Made For Tourists' theme village.  What was it doing here?  It was like finding an amusement park in the North Pole or the Sahara Desert.   This was the silliest thing I had ever seen.

Little did I know that one day this beguiling outpost on the edge of civilization would one day lead me to the greatest Crisis of my fledgling writing career....


I first visited this mysterious place on my Honeymoon cruise in 2004.  No one had ever heard of the place and we soon found out why. Marla and I went ashore with her brother Larry and his wife Roz. We crossed a long yellow walkway to enter a colorful tourist village. This village had huge walls all around it. I was surprised not to find a moat.

Inside the protected tourist village were tee-shirt shops and Margarita/Cerveza cantinas everywhere you looked.  Plus there were a couple "Costa Maya Realty" offices if you were in the mood to purchase a few acres of farm land next to a deserted beach.

I was curious about this charming tourist trap built absolutely in the middle of nowhere.  I could not figure out why someone would spend all this money on a spot with so little natural beauty.  I wanted to get the scoop.  So during my 2004 visit, I actually visited a realty company.  They told me this was going to be the next Cancun.  This area was a beautiful diamond in the rough just waiting to be polished.

Costa Maya was on a path to explode in the real estate market.  Wealthy gringos just like me were flocking to this spot to buy their valuable piece of Mexican Paradisio!  I was skeptical, so they said to be sure to come back in a few years.  That would be the exact moment I would REGRET not buying land TODAY

This was a very good sales pitch except I have long known that 'realty' and 'reality' are not always the same thing.  When I looked at this map, I frowned when I could not find 'Costa Maya' even listed (I had to guess where it was).  Not on the map?  That was strange. 

Plus it seemed to me the landscape around Pink Port Costa Maya was really boring!!  Take a look for yourself.

I took this picture from my cruise ship.  As you can see, we are in the middle of NOWHERE with the bizarre PINK CITY carved out of the countryside on the right.  Have you ever seen a less inviting stretch of beach?

After the rocky beach, the next thing you notice is a vast expanse of the shortest trees on earth.  Some of those trees near the shore are barely larger than bushes.  This area must be the flattest piece of earth on the planet.  There are no mountains.  There are no hills.  The horizon suggests that maybe the earth is flat after all, so most tourists stay in the Pink City or risk falling off the edge of the earth.

There is a forest, but it is not exactly a 'Rain Forest'.  There are no caves.  There are no rivers with exciting waterfalls and rapids perfect for kayaking.   There is no nearby snorkeling that I know of.  There is no beach of any particular significance.  In fact, there is practically nothing to do at this place except buy tee-shirts, drink beer or get on the bus for a grueling four hour round trip to see some mosquito-infested ruins 60 miles away.

I just couldn't figure it out.  Why did they build here?


What possible reason could there be for this simple fishing village to suddenly become a destination for a cruise ship carrying several thousand wealthy American tourists?? 

As I mentioned earlier, the whole thing started when some speculators pooled their money and decided to build an expensive state-of-the-art dock.  Suddenly a little Mexican fishing village completely cut off from the world had a world-class pier worth millions of dollars. 

If they build it, cruise ships will come...

Well, sure enough, in 2000 the first cruise ship did come... and immediately wrecked their brand new dock.  I kid you not.

Don't ever let someone tell you that building Tourist Traps is risk-free.  I am sure someone had a heart attack when this happened.  This set-back delayed Costa Maya's debut on the Caribbean Cruise Circuit for another year.  

After this dubious start, they went back and rebuilt the pier.  If at first you don't succeed... 

As I said, I first set eyes on Costa Maya in 2004.  Judging from what I saw then, Costa Maya had a lot of work ahead of it before it took its rightful place as the next Cancun.  

What was this weird place anyway?  Was "Pink" the official color of the Mayan Empire or what?  I have heard of state flowers and state birds, but never of a state color.  Pink here, Pink there, Pink everywhere.

I am not joking when I say this place looked like a set from an Indiana Jones Pink City of Doom adventure movie.  

Or was this the place where Mel Gibson filmed Apocalypto?  Maybe one night Mel was drinking again.

"Uh, Mel, what color do you think should we paint the fake Mayan Village for the Spaniard fight scene?"

"Who the hell cares!  Hey, can you pass the Tequila?  Color?  I don't give a damn.  Paint it pink."


In defense of Costa Maya, I am sure that Las Vegas was no great shakes when it started out.  And look at Dubai over in the Persian Gulf.  Both places started as deserted sand dunes no one wanted.  And maybe they are right about Cancun and Cozumel starting out the same way.  You start with some beaches and crystal blue water and build the place up from scratch.

So as our ship approached Costa Maya in 2006, I was very interested to to see how well the resort gamble had paid off since my first visit in 2004.

A part of me was secretly worried that those realty sharks were right.  Had Costa Maya become a lush Mexican Riviera since the last time I was here?  Was I a fool not to buy my own stretch of beach at sea bottom prices?

As we approached, I looked out on the landscape from the cruise ship with intense curiosity.   Yup, same old short trees.   I was deeply relieved to see the place looked just as boring as it did two years ago.

Oh, maybe there were a few changes.  For example, the place looked a little more pink.  I guess they believe bright pastels on every building will improve tourism. 

As all of you know, I am something of an expert on "Color Coordination".  I have to say I have never seen a more color-coordinated town in all my life.  Despite a veritable panoply of pinks, purples, oranges, and reds, not one structure clashed!  What an amazing accomplishment.  Obviously someone with exquisite taste had designed this pretty tourist village.

But despite brilliant colors more vivid than any rainbow, there was practically no new development in the town since my last visit two years ago. 

I let out a sigh of relief.  Ha, good thing I didn't let those swindlers get my money!  The next Cancun?  Oh please, don't insult me.

I also couldn't wait to take another look at the trees.  The first time I saw Costa Maya, I couldn't figure out why all the trees were so short!  I mean, these trees would make Hobbits look tall.  Look at the picture - the trees are so short, you can see thatched huts towering above the tree line!

Curious to know why the trees were so short, in 2004 I asked my friend Iqbal, aka Mr. Know-It-All, to explain this phenomenon.  Sure enough, Mr. Know-It-All had an instant answer that was completely brilliant.

Iqbal said that hurricanes roll through this area on a steady basis.  At least once every two or three years, some big storm hits this area and flattens the trees. 

For example, Iqbal pointed out that Cozumel, which was just up the coast, had been hit about five years in a row (holy hurricanes!)

Iqbal said the really tall trees would be the first to get knocked down in a hurricane.  Stand up and be the first tree to get blown away!  Natural selection demanded that the shortest trees had the best chance to survive in this coastal town.

So the runt trees will inherit the Yucatan coastline.  ***

Tell me the truth, would you have thought of that explanation off the top of your head?

I know I tease, but what I am about to say is on the level.  It is no accident the first two letters in his name are IQ... the man is so intelligent!  At the same time Iqbal is so humble and down to earth that I cannot help but tell the world how much I admire this guy.

As we neared the shore, I looked to see if there were any tall trees.  Darn it.  Not even one semi-big tree. Give me just one lousy big tree and I was going to taunt Iqbal. You see, even though I admire him, there's some dark side that makes me want to be smarter just once!

One of these days I am going to get the courage to ask Iqbal if the Cayman Islands really still exist.   They keep scheduling the Cayman Islands but we always end up at Costa Maya instead.  I think the Caymans have gone 'Atlantis' on us.  Why don't they tell us the truth?

***2007 APOLOGY FROM RICK - The 2006 passage about the runt trees was a little too prophetic for my comfort. 

"Although Dean swept over Yucatan as a rare Category 5 hurricane, which is capable of causing catastrophic damage, the storm’s top winds were relatively narrow and appeared to hit just one town: the cruise ship port of Majahual.

The few people who had not evacuated Majahual fled ahead of the storm. Dean demolished hundreds of houses, crumpled steel girders, splintered wooden structures and washed away parts of concrete dock that transformed what once was a sleepy fishing village into a top cruise ship destination."

As you can see from the USA Today report, in August 2007, just one year after I originally wrote this story, Hurricane Dean with its powerful Category 5 winds came through and flattened every tree in the area.  Costa Maya took a direct hit.  Although fortunately no one was hurt, the devastation in this area was serious.  I originally thought only the tall trees got knocked down, but this time ALL the trees got knocked down.  In other words, the trees in this area are short because every few years the entire forest has to start over!  Plus now that pier has to be rebuilt again. 

I freely admit I feel a lot of sympathy for the people of this area.  I know the hurricane damage isn't my fault, but I still have a twinge of guilt for teasing. 

I ask my readers to please forgive if what I write seems insensitive.  It stops being funny when people suffer.)


On my first trip to Costa Maya, I was told never to go outside the Mighty Walls of the Tourist Village.  I could see fear in the eyes of the local people.  They were hiding something.   There was something OUT THERE they didn't want to tell us about.  This was definitely a mucho grande secreta. 

I could not for the life of me figure out what they were so paranoid about.  Finally I remembered the automatic weapons of the military in Cozumel I had seen on my previous trip.  Maybe there were rebels out there!   Or maybe they didn't want to us to know there were serious Mexican Banditos outside the wall dying for the chance to relieve us of our Tourista dinero and our valuable Rolex watches.  Whatever the story, they couldn't actually talk about the Banditos and take the chance word would get out about the danger.  This place needed all the tourists they could get. They did not want to risk discouraging people from coming here.

All I heard was, "Don't go out there!"  As a result, in 2004 none of us dared to take a peek.  They scared us into huddling together for safety inside the Pink Fort. 

However this year was different.  I was curious this time to learn the truth.  This place was more imposing than a castle!  I stared in confusion at the massive 20-foot pink wall that surrounded the place.  Was this wall a DEFENSE of some sort sort?   Where's the moat?

Maybe they didn't need a moat.  What army could ever attack the place? A surprise attack was out of the question. The trees were so short a bad guy would have to crawl on his belly not to be seen!   Furthermore the onrushing soldiers would be blinded by the pink wall.  Mayans protected by sunglasses would run out from their gift shops and effortlessly chop their enemies to pieces.

After careful investigation, I eventually learned the truth.  The massive wall was NOT a defense.  This poor village needed no defense - this place was so boring that Conquistadors and Tourists alike couldn't wait to leave.  The secret was that the countryside was so sadly unattractive they had to build a wall so NO ONE COULD SEE OUT. 

Oops.  I accidentally let the secret out, didn't I?  Sorry.  It is so hard to keep a good secret these days! 

The Real Reason for the Wall was that no one wanted us to notice there was absolutely nothing to see except a bunch of short trees and abject poverty.  They were so concerned about selling real estate that they did not want anyone to discover that the countryside was absolutely devoid of anything to see but stubby trees and poor fishermen.  Hmm.  Realty versus Reality.

I am reminded of Jamaica.  Everyone is poor there too, but at least this mountainous island is so unbelievably beautiful that people keep coming there anyway.  For example, take a look at the lush rolling beauty of Jamaica.

I quickly concluded poor little Costa Maya definitely wasn't going to win any resort beauty contests, that was for sure.

We had not ventured past the walls in 2004, but in 2006 we took some pictures of the Costa Maya surroundings.  Here is a look at what you have been missing.

The Countryside of Costa Maya

Welcome to the extraordinary beauty of Costa Maya!  I have to be honest - I think I would rather visit Jamaica.  Give me some hills, for crying out loud.  This flat land with its stubby trees just isn't my cup of tea.  I mean, it's okay for farming, but why would I want to travel a thousand miles on an expensive cruise trip to see a place so utterly devoid of scenery? 

I mean, aren't vacations supposed to be about seeing a vision of Paradise?  Without our dreams, how can we tolerate 51 weeks a year of living in Houston, a former swamp transformed into the concrete and billboard capital of the world?  

Heck, I can drive from Houston to San Antonio and see equivalent flat farming landscapes for a lot less money.

By the way, just in case you think I am deliberately withholding the truly spectacular pictures
of Costa Maya countryside, guess again.   What you see is what you get.
The area is an unending panorama of peaceful farmland and simple buildings.

Below we have a picture of a woman so overcome by the beauty of the scenery that she passed out.


Surprise!  I know what you're thinking!  You are thinking what kind of moron I am to be knocking the places we visit.  Right?

You know, the more I think about it, you may be correct.  I have become increasingly worried that I am not a very good travel writer.  My travel marketing skills do seem kind of weak.

"Well, heck, after all the terrible things he writes, I'm not going on any more of Rick's stupid cruises.  Why pay all that money?  He just makes fun of every place we go!"


Are you surprised that I would say something bad about a place I visited?   Well, I feel terrible, but I just can't help it.  I have so little imagination sometimes I can't think of anything nice to say. 

They say if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all.  But then we wouldn't have a travel write-up.  I always end up telling things exactly the way I see them.  But if I am negative, how smart is that?

After ten cruises, I have had plenty of experience at writing travel stories. They say practice makes perfect, but I don't seem to be getting any better at this Travel Writer stuff.  You would think with all the practice I get, I would improve a little.  I guess not. 

Now as I wrote this article about Costa Maya, I could not help but notice this story seemed to be further evidence I haven't learned much about properly promoting our travel business.   I worry that maybe I am just not cut out to be a travel writer.

You see, I have been receiving quite a bit proof that I have been a terrible travel writer from the get-go. 


For example, back in 2001, I wrote some less than flattering things about our visit to VERA CRUZ

Thanks to Google, 4 years later, my mean words about Vera Cruz came back to haunt me. 

Subject: SSQQ Cruise to Veracruz

-----Original Message-----
From: John Todd
Sent: Saturday, July 02, 2005 5:59 PM

Dear Rick,

I have lived in Veracruz the last 20 years and I came across your web site via google.  I took the chance to read the trip reports on your visit here in 2001.

For the last 3 years I have been doing tour guide work in Veracruz and find it to be one of the most interesting places in the world(THIS GUY MUST BE ON PEYOTE)

I think you guys really missed the boat when you came here (ACTUALLY I WAS TERRIFIED I WOULD MISS THE BOAT AND BE STUCK HERE), because for the last couple of months my website has gotten over 12,000 visits from 81 countries. There is really a lot to see and do here that doesn't cost that much extra.

For many people, Vera Cruz is not the "legendary armpit" of Mexico. (OKAY, SO MAYBE THAT STATEMENT WAS A LITTLE HARSH. NOW THAT I HAVE SEEN COSTA MAYA....)

If you like dancing, they dance the sultry tropical "Danzón" each night on the plaza in Veracruz. (MAYBE I SHOULD OPEN UP A STUDIO BRANCH)

As for snorkeling there are something like 6 dive shops here and a national marine park within a 10 minute boat ride from the malecón.  (MY FRIENDS WHO ATTEMPTED TO SNORKEL IN 2001 REPORTED THE FILTHIEST BEACH THEY HAD EVER SEEN).

Veracruz is known as having some of the best seafood in the world (OH PLEASE) as well as the widest variety. Much better than what you can find on any cruise ship.

The music and typical costumes of the dancers of Veracruz is well known throughout the world. The dance troupes are plentiful and even invite the audience to join in and learn how to dance "La Bamba."  You didn't mention trying the seafood or sampling the local music.

My own experience with cruise ships (Holland America had cruise ships docking since December 2002) is that their own people are probably outsourced and don't know what's here. Plus they won't spend the time to research the area and don't know what they are selling. (OR MAYBE THEY KNOW MORE THAN THIS GUY REALIZES)

At the same time, among the people who have been here to Veracruz, your own article leaves the impression that your own organization and trip coordination efforts were poor. You could have done a lot better and don't have to blame Veracruz for your own lack of preparation and communication among your own customers  (LACK OF PREPARATION?  I GUESS THE HURRICANE THAT DIVERTED US HERE IN THE FIRST PLACE WAS ALL MY FAULT.  I SHOULD HAVE PREDICTED A VERA CRUZ LANDING WITH ESP).

Among those of us who know Mexico and Veracruz, the articles on your web site about your experience here don't give your own company a good image. (HE'S RIGHT!  I AM HURTING MYSELF BY TELLING THE TRUTH!  WHY DO I HAVE THE CURSED HONESTY GENE?  WHY CAN'T I LEARN TO FIB LIKE OTHER TRAVEL AGENTS?)

You may think your article is "cute" but your "editorial comments" are unnecessary and make you and your customers look a little silly in their ignorance of this area. (UH OH, I HOPE MY CUSTOMERS DON'T FIND OUT I MADE THEM LOOK STUPID TOO!)

You guys are poor mouthing your own lack of imagination, and not the lack of interesting things to do here. (I GUESS HE HAS FIGURED OUT I AM THE WORLD'S WORST TRAVEL WRITER.  A GOOD B-S GUY WOULD HAVE FOUND SOMETHING TO PRAISE, BUT NOT ME. HOW EMBARRASSING.)

I am originally from Houston and I like Veracruz. It looks like most of your passengers also enjoyed their time here, too. (WE CAME HERE BECAUSE WE HAD NO CHOICE.  ASK LEROY - HE HATED THIS PLACE SO MUCH HE NEARLY STARTED A PROTEST RIOT ON BOARD THE SHIP.)

If I can help you with anything in Veracruz, let me know.

Best Regards,
John Todd, Jr.

After reading John Todd's letter, I had two impressions. 

First, John is probably stretching the truth a little.  Nah, make that 'a lot'.  I don't believe a word he says.  But at least John has the sense to say the right things.  I mean, everything John says is exactly what you would expect a good Travel Writer to say. 

John is willing to say whatever it takes to lure naive, unsuspecting tourists to his location!

So why can't I write like that?  What is wrong with me?  These doubts are killing me.

Second, all I can say is thank goodness for Marla.  How she overcomes my lousy travel write-ups to make each SSQQ Cruise a big success is a real testament to her ability.  With a handicap like my stories, how does she do it time and time again?

Behind every man who praises his smart wife might be some moron who would be lost without her.  I worry constantly she will accidentally notice what a lousy travel writer I am and dump me overboard. 

I have a favor - don't tell her how bad I am.  It is NOT EASY feeling insecure.


As if I didn't have enough to worry about, early in 2007 I got another email criticizing my crummy travel writing style.  This writer came all the way from KatchaMan, Alaska!  First Vera Cruz, now Alaska.  I seem to be offending people across the earth.  You don't suppose I say anything that invites these kind of letters, do you? 

Oh well, here is the letter.  (If you wish to read the original story this woman refers to, see Katchaman, Alaska 2005)

Date: 1/18/2007 10:05:04 PM
From: Catherine
Subject: Ketchikan Alaska

Hi, my name is Catherine. I was looking for information on the Internet, and I came across your website with a story about Ketchikan.

I live in Ketchikan. I've lived here for 40 years. My parents came up as tourists, fell in love with the place, and moved our family up from California.

What your husband wrote about my town was pure nonsense. 

We certainly don't think of this place as "Katchaman".  Our men are hard-working, strong, independent guys who certainly aren't going by "caught" by anyone unless they do the catching first.

Furthermore we haven't lived off of salmon fishing and logging for years.  Where did your husband get that from?  Or did he just make it up like all the other nonsense he wrote about Alaska?

I can tell you the true story about the place if you'd like to hear it.

For instance, the brothels closed down 50 years ago, but that small fact didn't stop your dirty-minded husband from being preoccupied with the subject.

Speaking of brothels, now that I am on the topic, one of the locals bought an old brothel a few years ago and fixed it up as a tourist trap.

Since then, every horny male tourist that visits Ketchikan manages to drop by to check it out. I am surprised your husband didn't visit it.  
(OUCH!)  Most of them show up expecting to get some.  Imagine how disappointed they are to find a museum with nothing more than a bunch of faded sepia-colored pictures of some really fat ugly women. 

It is people like your husband who hurt my town with their uninformed, negative stories.  I am sure he thinks he is cute, but I don't think what he said was amusing at all.

The Alaskan woman definitely did not appreciate my lousy writing ability.  This woman was so irritated she emailed MY WIFE!   Yeah, that's right, she sent the complaint to my wife Marla! 

What lousy luck.  I had just finished swearing all my readers to secrecy only to have this rotten person take it straight to Number One!   How did this woman guess that the single worst person on earth to send her email to would be my wife?  How did she know?

As I said, I was already feeling insecure.  Remember how I asked you all to promise not to tell Marla what a lousy writer I am?    I would be in big trouble if Marla ever found out. 

Now thanks to this evil woman from Alaska, Marla must have had second thoughts.   What if Marla were to start looking for a guy who could actually write and discover her cruise business began to double? 

For the record, Marla simply forwarded the email to me with this single comment. 

-----Original Message-----
From: Marla Archer
Sent: Friday, January 19, 2007 11:28 AM
Subject: Fw: Ketchikan

I think you pissed someone off in Ketchikan.

No kidding.


Truth be told, Marla never said another word to me about the Alaska email.  She didn't have to.  I was already TERRIFIED!  What did Marla really think of my writing ability?  I was too intimidated to ask. 

With the Alaska criticism haunting me, I continued to worry about my 2006 Costa Maya article.  Paranoia eroded my confidence.  Maybe that Vera Cruz guy and Katchaman lady were right.  I was too negative.  I had absolutely no natural ability at marketing.  Is it something you are born with or do you learn it in travel writing school?  How do people learn to write 'positive' when they don't feel 'positive'? 

The more I thought about it, the clock might be ticking with Marla's patience.  I decided I had better find something NICE to say about Costa Maya or I might end up missing the next trip. 

I had a mission.  I began to scour the Internet in search of NICE THINGS TO SAY ABOUT COSTA MAYA.

It wasn't easy.


As I prepared to write some nice things about Costa Maya for this 2006 trip, I went to find Costa Maya on a map.  Every map I found on the Internet pointed only to the coastline. Several maps indicated "Costa Maya" was the red line in the picture on the left. 

Nowhere could I find any indication of a town called "Costa Maya".   Finally I figured out that "Costa Maya" refers to the Mayan Coast.  In other words, the entire red coastline is Costa Maya, i.e. the Mayan Coast. 

Okay, then what is the name of this weird little village that we visit?   It took about 20 minutes of digging around the Internet, but I got my answer - We dock at a town known as Majahual.

I found an interesting article about Majahual.  Anxious to please Marla with evidence of serious effort on my part, I decided to add it to the story.

MAJAHUAL (this story reprinted from the internet)

Just south of the small village of Limones on highway 307 is the exit for Majahual, which is located about an hour's drive east on the coast. Some people call it Ma-ha-hual with an "h" as in "Ma Ha Hal".

The town of Majahual is a small fishing village that is gearing up to be the next Playa del Carmen.  

Much of the town has been purchased by speculators in that hope the boom will eventually get down this way like it did in Playa. In fact many of the new residents are from Cancun or elsewhere.

Real estate is moving in this neck of the woods and small cabanas are popping up in ever-increasing numbers.
However this does not however transcribe into more people, as many of the landowners do not live on the property.

In 2000 they finally completed their dock, which was certified to accept cruise ships. Unfortunately the first ship that docked crashed into the new dock and wrecked it. Work to rebuild the dock was completed and cruise ships are presently docking there.

We were curious why the area's name 'Costa Maya' seemed to supersede Majahual on all the brochures when actually the ships landed in the Majahual.  One Mexican tour guide suggested perhaps it was correct marketing to ignore a name no one could even pronounce.

There is a new airport close to the coast. However when we last visited, the power lines had not been strung all the way. Thus there was no power and the airport was dormant. We have not heard of any flights going to this airport yet, so we assume it is still not completed.

There is a road that runs along the coast. However it is no longer under federal control and
has become a pot-holed half road - half sand path trail. It is a slow bumpy ride best suited for an ATV vehicle.  However if you avoid Majahual town and stay at Maya Ha, then there is a brand new paved road that takes you almost all the way there. The remaining dirt road is a minor inconvenience and well worth the drive.

Majahual is best known for its diving with the world famous Chinchorro Reefs off the coast. The beaches are totally secluded and mostly natural.
However the town itself does not have an area particularly good for snorkeling.

Since the water quickly gets so deep, instead of snorkeling, this area attracts a lot of divers

backwoods location also seems to attract bohemians who find the rustic lifestyle appealing.
There are numerous American expatriates living in the area which makes for lively conversation and socializing.

After reading this story, I felt a little better.  Apparently this writer didn't have any trouble telling it like it is. 

If you have followed this story closely, Majahual is virtually inaccessible by plane or car.  There is an airport that isn't used and a road full of potholes.  Only cruise ships can get it to it!  

The town has no snorkeling. 

The beaches are secluded for a reason - they aren't very pretty and no one visits them.

Undiscouraged, investors continue to flock by to cash in on the next Playa del Carmen although they wouldn't dream of actually living here because it is a 'backwoods location'.  Empty cabanas are strewn everywhere.

I guess if they can sell swampland in Florida, someone can sell a few acres of runt trees in good old Costa Maya.  You might even get hooked up to electricity if you are lucky.

And better yet, there are American expatriates living here!  Wasn't that a cheerful way to end the story? 

My mind raced to Key West, yet another place I have made fun of.  Key West is famous as the place where Ernest Hemingway wrote some of his greatest novels.  I thought carefully for something nice to say.  Hmm.

Hemingway was a genius expatriate.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if maybe the next Ernest Hemingway came from Majahual?!?

And now that we are on the subject of 'Genius'...



Encouraged by what I discovered on the Internet, I probed to see what else I could find.

Lo and behold, I found some copy that reflected the work of a truly gifted travel writer.  As I read about a much different side of Majahual, I felt sick with envy.  This writer was everything I could never be - cheerful, upbeat, brilliant. 

Whereas my writing painted the picture of a muddy little village with stumpy trees stuck in the middle of nowhere, I discovered a writer whose flowery description of Costa Maya opened my eyes to a beauty I never knew existed.  How I had ever missed all that stuff?

In the hands of a gifted Travel Writer, Majahual and its neighboring area began to sound like the most important vacation discovery since James Cook stumbled upon the Hawaiian Islands in 1778. 

"Mozart was brilliant.  Salieri was mediocre.

What's more, Salieri knew Mozart was brilliant and that he himself was mediocre.  The pain of this realization was more than Salieri could bear..."

At first I thought, 'Rick, just print this article as if you wrote it.  No one will ever know!  Save your writing career.  Make Marla happy.  Let her think you can write stuff like this.' 

That was a tempting thought to be sure, but I couldn't do it.  I was a victim of my own integrity. 

Like Salieri confronted by his Mozart, I had enough intelligence to recognize real talent when it appeared.  Although I was in deep pain, I decided to do the right thing.  I would share the work of the Genius Travel Writer with my readers.   If only this could only be me...

Puerto Costa Maya  (Written by a Genius Travel Writer)

When you see the majestic expanse of Puerto Costa Maya from your lofty perch aboard your ship, you know that you have arrived in a land of mystery and intrigue. Costa Maya offers an excellent opportunity to delve into the Mayan culture and to enjoy the rich natural resources of the Mexican Caribbean.

Planned with great attention to detail, Puerto Costa Maya resembles an ancient Mayan city.

There are three grand pavilions to host cultural and gourmet events. Here, local artisans create unique works of art and culture, and guests can learn to make their own souvenirs. Beyond the pavilions and their many offerings, Costa Maya provides access to the natural resources
that make this region of the Caribbean so completely unique, offering a window into new and undeveloped areas of the coast.

Puerto Costa Maya is bold and beautiful. It is the newest port of call in the Mexican Caribbean.  Built around the enigmatic culture of the ancient Maya, and the rich expanse of the Yucatan Peninsula, travelers enjoy sapphire blue seas, emerald green jungles, and a wealth of powerful experiences ranging from diving shipwrecks in Chinchorro Banks, to shopping and floating down calm rivers at the helm of a kayak.

Land expeditions include explorations of newly unearthed ruins, the ancient masks of Kohunlich, Fort San Felipe, multi-colored lagoons, and a treasure of wildlife and culture.

Puerto Costa Maya is the entrance to a marvelous and exciting world… It's all waiting for you at Puerto Costa Maya!

I have to tell you, after I finished reading this, I was baffled.  Were we looking at the same place? 

Sad to say, I think we were definitely writing about the same place.  The Chinchorro Banks mentioned in the writeup were definitely off the coast of Majahual.  That led me to the next question - Why the heck couldn't I write that?

I carefully reviewed some of the pearls from the Genius Travel Writer.

  •  Puerto Costa Maya is bold and beautiful.
  •  the majestic expense of Puerto Costa Maya
  •  a land of mystery and intrigue.
  •  a region of the Caribbean so completely unique, offering a window into new and undeveloped areas of the coast.
  •  Built around the enigmatic culture of the ancient Maya
  •  the rich expanse of the Yucatan Peninsula
  •  travelers enjoy sapphire blue seas
  •  emerald green jungles
  •  Puerto Costa Maya is the entrance to a marvelous and exciting world

Then I reviewed some of my best passages.

  •  this village was in the absolute middle of nowhere and the area possessed little natural beauty
  •  I don't know what these developers were smoking or drinking
  •  The trees were so short a bad guy would have to crawl on his belly not to be seen! 
  •  The secret was that the countryside was so sadly unattractive they had to build a wall so NO ONE COULD SEE OUT. 
  •  get on the bus for a grueling four hour round trip to see some mosquito-infested ruins 60 miles away.
  •  Why would anyone want to travel a thousand miles on an expensive cruise trip to see a place that is devoid of scenery?

I think this guy had made me look bad.  I was feeling a little down in the dumps.  You know, writing is not my profession.  I am a dance teacher and kind of new to the exciting world of Travel Writing.  But it was still really embarrassing seeing my stuff next to a Genius. 

I was also deeply confused about my true identity as a Travel Writer.  Maybe you the reader can give me some direction here. 

Do you think Travel Writers are expected to embellish things a little?  Do you have a problem with that?  Or would you rather have your imagination stroked with hoopla and hyperbole?

For example, my vote for the worst-named country in the world has to be Greenland.  Let's face it - there isn't anything 'Green' about Greenland.  But I am worried that Greenland would end up sounding like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon if you let the Genius Travel Writer describe it for you. 

The Genius would write something like this:

"Greenland is a true Nordic Oasis complete with shimmering aquamarine ice cliffs and deep crystalline crevasses.  This majestic arctic wonderland is epitomized by Mighty Beowulf, the legendary Viking warrior whose spirit eternally watches over this vast expanse of pristine ivory valleys.  This magnificent frontier is a perfectly preserved Paradise completely unspoiled by any modern day development..."

I would take one look and probably describe "Greenland" as an ugly barren chunk of rock and ice so bitterly cold no one would ever dream of visiting.  

Whose copy would you rather read?

You don't have to tell me.  I already know I am the loser in this comparison.  I might actually be the WORST TRAVEL WRITER ever.  Why do I always tell the truth?

I was confronted by a crisis of confidence.  I had carefully combed the Internet for information that would make this the best Travel story I had ever written only to come face to face with my worst fear - someone who actually knew what they were doing.

I was so depressed.  I could not write worth a lick when it came to Travel stories.  Maybe I should pack my bags.


It really hurt to have the evidence thrown in my face that I was a crummy Travel Writer. Up till now I had only 'suspected'.  Now I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that my inability to paint a pretty picture had led to my failure.

What was I supposed to do?  I couldn't just quit.  I was the only Travel Writer SSQQ had.  I still had to try.  We could not afford a really good writer unless we started to charge more for the trip.  Not only would the trips cost more, but a new writer would mean I would become expendable.  Marla might start leaving me at home to save money and tell me to stick to dancing. 

I really wanted to keep going on the trips.  

That meant I had to get better!!  The Costa Maya write-up was still not complete.  So in this next passage, I tried as hard as I could to write something nice about Costa Maya.  Wish me luck.

There are many exciting trips to take when you visit Costa Maya, the modern day symbol of a civilization whose mathematical genius and advances in astronomy rivaled that of the fabled Egyptian Empire.

Like the Egyptians, the entire Yucatan Peninsula plus neighboring Guatemala contains amazing pyramids. If you enjoy exploring ancient cultures, you have definitely come to the right place in charming ENIGMATIC Costa Maya.

The amazing
Chacchoben Mayan Ruins are located about 56 miles from Majahual Village, just a short scenic jaunt from your cruise ship.

There is actually quite a bit of mystery surrounding the Mayans.  Despite several theories, no one is quite sure why a civilization as advanced as the Mayans went into decline.   Yes, the Spanish hastened their downfall, but it appears their culture was already in recession at that point.

Plus there is the creepy Mayan Calendar which predicts the end of a long cycle on December 21, 2012.

The Mayan Calendar was complex and incredibly accurate.  Mayan astronomy was so good that their measurements of time and the movement of the planets were the equal to our modern observations.   Part of the 2012 mystique stems from the stars. On the winter solstice in 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in about 26,000 years. This means that whatever energy typically streams to Earth from the center of the Milky Way will indeed be disrupted on 12/21/12. 

This point marks the end of their Calendar.  And just what is supposed to happen?  Some people say the Earth will flip on its axis to another rotation.  Others say all the volcanoes will roar into action, melting the ice caps and triggering massive floods.  Still others such as our scientific community say it will be no big deal.  All I can say is that I have circled that day on my own calendar.  We will probably cancel dance classes that day.  

Hmm, some of those trees look kind of tall next to the pyramids.  I asked Iqbal and he pointed out that the trees do grow taller the further inland you go.  In addition, these particular trees have the pyramids for protection against the wind. 

Well, duh.  Why didn't I think of that?

As I stared at the pictures of those pyramids above, one thing that came to mind was that these are considered 'minor' Mayan pyramids.  Minor?  Even these minor pyramids are impressive.  

The most famous Mayan pyramid is located at Chichen Itza which is close to Cozumel.  Those Mayans could really build!

Again, I wondered why the Mayan Empire disappeared.  From what I gather, they had no natural enemies to speak of.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what their cities looked like.  Then in a flash I got my answer.   Didn't the Genius himself point out the village was a replica?   I double-checked.  Sure enough, that's exactly what he said! 

To quote the Genius Travel Writer:

"Planned with great attention to detail, Puerto Costa Maya resembles an ancient Mayan city". 

Holy Cow!  That is one thing I would have never guessed.  We can finally see what an ancient Mayan city really looked like!  I bet all the ancient Mayan cities must have been Pink!

As you can see from the picture, the Costa Maya tourist village is really very cute and colorful. 

Look at the size of those giant cruise ships and see how close they are to the shore!  That's amazing. 

They can't get a train, car, or airplane to this place, but a cruise ship higher than a ten-story building can practically float onto the beach.

Oh heck, there I go again mentioning the negative stuff.

Why not admit it.  I am still feeling a little bitter. Too bad I am not a gifted travel writer who can ferret out the hidden gems in this village.  First I tell you how boring the place is only to hear the other guy describe it as a true Mexican Shangri-la.

We are simply not seeing the same place.  Someone is wrong here and I am pretty sure it must be me who is missing the big picture.  I just can't see the forest from the stumpy trees.  

I write that 'The tourist village is cute and colorful'.  That's the best I can do.  Now how trite is that?

What would the other guy say?  'sapphire blue seas and emerald green jungles...'  My stuff is sounds so mediocre next to words of that caliber.

I just had a dark thought.  What if the writer is a woman!?  Oh heck, now that I think of it, only a woman would write something like "sapphire blue seas and emerald green jungles.

No guy I know thinks like that.   Can't be a guy.  A real man could tell you the color of every football uniform in the NFL, but what guy knows the color of gems?  Or what guy sees jungles and water and thinks of gems?  Gotta be a woman.  So I checked back on the Internet.  Sure enough, it was a woman all along.  I also found some more stuff she wrote about Costa Maya.

"As your ship approaches Costa Maya, you are treated to a vivid tableau of radiant color.  Accompanied by a dazzling rugged shoreline, you cannot help but stare in wonder at the intricate web of lush surrounding forest.  Puerto Costa Maya is an exquisite replica of a venerable Mayan settlement.   This recreation of a Mayan village has finely sculpted buildings that are modern archeological treasures in their own right."

There she goes again.  I would have never guessed all those cantinas and tee-shirt gift shops were 'modern archeological treasures in their own right'.

I missed another one.  Burned again.  Right there is the difference between an amateur writer and a pro.  So naturally I decided to take a closer look to see what I was missing.  I immediately spotted something important.

If you look carefully, you will see a GIANT LONG NECK BEER BOTTLE on top of the finely sculpted Pink structure.  That gives us an insight into the Mayan Culture!  Maybe the Mayans were beer worshippers!!!   Tecate, Sol, Dos Equis, Carta Blanca, Corona...  Do the archeologists know about this?  I think we may have a major new clue to explain the decline of the ENIGMATIC Mayan Empire!

By the way, here are some more looks at the finely sculpted buildings that are modern archeological treasures in their own right.   Oh, there I go again.  Why I can't I just say some nice things and leave it at that?  I can't seem to learn. 



I have a confession to make.  After witnessing the true power of words in the hands of a master, I realize I desire to become a Writer too. I want to win your respect and Marla's.  Do you really think I am going to let a little negativity from some guy in Vera Cruz and some woman from Alaska discourage me?  No way.  And so what if the Genius Travel Writer has an edge?  I am sure I can think of something to write.

For example, in the picture below, seeing my complacent friends seated at the edge of the Costa Maya shoreline, I had an idea for my first novel.   How about a story where bored Cruise people are too drunk to get out of the way of a huge monster Tsunami wave? Tragically, they all get swept away and drowned.

People love Vacation disaster movies!  Peter Benchley made millions writing Jaws and Spielberg turned it into a classic.  And what about the Poseidon Adventure?

But Iqbal ruined my enthusiasm.  He said no one will believe my story of a Tsunami hitting a Caribbean resort because there aren't any tsunamis in the Caribbean (he really gets under my skin).  I need to think of something better to write.

Here is an idea.  What if I were to wrote a frightening novel about rich, bored tourists from a cruise ship who are happy one moment, but suddenly encounter gut-wrenching terror at a Tourist Trap?  Do you think it would sell?


Okay, that is really a good idea!  Forget my Tsunami story but listen to this.  Last summer there was a REALLY bad book called The Ruins about a talking vine that ate Mexican tourists.  I am not making this up (Read My Review)

If a book this bad can be a hit, it means there is hope for bad writers everywhere (Like me!)   Here is the outline.  How about a story with rotten Cruise people getting tortured?  We are talking filthy-rich, loud-mouth condescending tourists, right?  I mean, everyone hates rude tourists and none of you care if some of them get whacked if that's what they deserve! 

First a bunch of half-naked Mayan Amazon Women use their voluptuous bodies to lure a cruise ship to their shores.  Then some tourists who don't really understand the culture stumble into a sleepy backwoods Mexican village and behave badly.  Some of the tourists are very rude.  The citizens fight back.  The rudest tourist of all is captured and tortured.  But we don't mind because he deserves it!

The tourist has offended the Gods and the Mayans are forced to take revenge.  Now that is one good plot line for a Travel Horror classic!  If you think this could be a hit, read on!





Beware the dangers of Tourist Traps!  The Mayans seek revenge! 

The villagers are poor.  They are starving.  They desperately need Cruise Ships to come and spend thousands of touro-dollars on useless tee shirts and trinkets they don't need.  They built this big pier, but it didn't work. The cruise ships float by, but they don't stop. Despite glowing tributes on the Internet, once passengers get here, this place is so ugly they tell the Captain to keep the ship going. The Cruise people only want to go to really beautiful places like Cayman Islands.

The Mayan people go nuts watching one ship after another pass them by.  They are a proud people, but they are desperate.  So the Beautiful Mayan Princess takes her clothes off and sings songs like Living la Vida Loca and Inna Godda da Vida to lure unsuspecting tourists with the beauty of her music. 

Here she celebrates in triumph. Her siren song has worked! A ship approaches!


Next we see a picture of authentic Costa Mayan warriors wearing their war masks!  These warriors are up to something sinister.  What could it be?

This is a Mayan Sacrifice Dance.  This dance invokes an ancient Mayan prayer. 
The warriors are about to plead to the Gods to grant them a huge wish!

But first they have to find someone to sacrifice to the Gods.  The Gods want to see some blood. 

Not a problem.  The Mayan Villagers have found the perfect person to sacrifice.


And yes, we see the warriors have caught a terrible tourist.   They are torturing him by sticking his head inside the jaws of a deadly jaguar.  This is just moments before they will use this dangerous intruder as a human sacrifice.

And what is this intruder guilty of? 

The worst crime of all - wearing ugly tourist attire that offends the Gods!

Everyone who knows ANYTHING about color coordination knows that a blue shirt and dark red shorts do not go with an orange back pack.  Even worse, this hideous costume has clashed horribly with the soothing pink decor of the village, scaring away all the other tourists.  This guy has to go.

The Gods are Angry!  He doesn't deserve to live.  Die Tourist Die!


Now I think we need to take a closer look at the mighty Costa Mayan warriors.   Oops, one of them has dropped his noise maker.


There is SO MUCH MORE to the picture above than you realize!  These warriors are performing the FORBIDDEN HURRICANE DANCE RITUAL!! (ps - this dance is not currently taught at ssqq)

In case you not know the significance of this ritual, let me help you -  by sacrificing a tourist, they invoke an ancient Mayan curse to ask the Gods to send another hurricane to divert more cruise ships from the Cayman Islands over to Costa Maya. 

Now we know the truth behind the mystery.  This ritual is why we never see the missing Cayman Islands anymore. 

In fact, thanks to the Mayan Dance Ritual,  the Cayman Islands have been blown off the map!   They don't even exist any more!

Will the Cruise Ship be able to save the missing tourist?   Will a volcano suddenly explode?   Will the world come to an end?  Will Rick ever be able to sell this book?   Does anybody care?



You know, I think this Travel Horror story has a lot of promise.  Marla does too.  After reading my outline, she suggested maybe I go to Majahual and do further research.  Maybe stay a while, get to know the expatriates, keep her posted, she would come visit me on the next cruise. 

Hmm.  I believe the Travel Genius lives in Majahual.  I won't tell you where I found her on the Internet, but I can at least reveal her name is Nell.  Maybe I should do society a favor and go seek help from Nell.  You won't miss my bad writing, I promise, and besides you can come to see me on your yearly cruises.  Look for me among the expatriates, you know, all the guys who don't play football for New England any more. 

I can try to write the next Great American Novel.  Just 'cause I can't write a lick doesn't mean I don't enjoy trying.  It's like sex... I'm not any good at that either, but I like to try anyway.  Maybe my novel will be about a Travel Writer who lost his confidence and went as far away from civilization as possible in a desperate attempt to learn to write well.  What a clever idea!  Wouldn't that be practically an automatic best seller right there? 

While I am there, I will seek Nell, my Travel Writing Muse.  Does Swell Nell give writing lessons?  I sure hope so.  Like a neophyte seeking his master, I will hang out with Nell and the other great Travel Writers of Majahual and get tips on how to write a really good Travel story.  I will learn to be positive.

I have a vision. 

Under the tutelage of Nell, I will grow as a writer. I will find a cabana situated at the edge of the sapphire blue seas and drink tequila which will help me write beautiful Travel stories (it worked for Hemingway, why not me?) 

Even though it would be would be easier to find a lost plane in the Bermuda Triangle than this deserted cubby hole, I, Rick Archer, will try to put tiny little Majahual on the world map!   Maybe my Travel writings will help Enigmatic Costa Maya make people forget Paris and the Eyeful Tower.  Instead of the Left Banc, I would have the emerald green waters of the Mayan Coast for my writing inspiration.  Then maybe I can persuade Mel Gibson to come back for a sequel! 

Together he and I will help the Mayan ancestors of the area build a huge Pink Pyramid sponsored by Mary Kay Cosmetics here in Majahual.  I predict The Pink Pyramid will become the newest global phenomenon! 

Then in 2012 when the Mayan Calendar predicts the world will end, all the beautiful people can visit the pyramid and help Me and Mel and a girl named Nell save the world from going to Hell!

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