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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Ready, Set...Byline!

I hadn’t done the solo travel thing since last year’s trip to Mexico when I left my very worried mother (“Honey, they have DRUG WARS here.”) in a cab to the airport as I hopped a bus from Puerto Vallarta to Guadalajara in search of more adventure.  While I did manage to log a few worthy stories – becoming a stand-in madam to the gay proprietors of my Guadalajara B&B, crashing two Mexico City weddings in one day only to enrage both suitors by night’s end, and sampling recipes during the Annual Mole Poblano Festival in Puebla to the point of street vomiting – I fell in love with Mexico.  This time, however, the Mexico love wasn’t in an Acapulco/Cancun tripping the light fantastic on ecstasy kind of way, more a cultural appreciation of the vast beauty of a country kind of way.  At the end of that journey, I couldn’t wait for my next jaunt.  My mom was just happy I “made it out alive.”

Enter 2010.

The beginning of this year has been marked with some incredible opportunities that sidelined me from going south of the border.  But when a free timeshare unit on the Riviera Maya came my way, I couldn’t say no.  The Easter Week dates weren’t ideal; I feared wet t-shirt contests and screaming schoolchildren on holiday.  The flights were outrageous; I had to use over 70,000 miles to get there.  But I had to go.  The doldrums of winter were killing me.

Taking a shot, I pitched the travel editor at Newsday on a piece about Mexico’s Riviera Maya.  Newsday is the newspaper of my childhood, having an article published within its pages rang nostalgic.  I’m a loser like that; I still cry from 80’s love songs pegged to my first real boyfriend (Debbie Gibson’s ‘In Your Eyes,’ 9th Grade).  A couple of days later, I got a return message from Newsday.  Yes, let’s do it!  Holy shit, I had a GIG!  A real, live, comes-with-a-contract GIG!

Packing my bags felt the same as the solo trips of my past, only this time I had an agenda.  I had to cover the Riviera Maya on three budgets for Newsday readers.  I don’t know why they entrusted me with this task; I can’t even balance my checkbook, let alone stay on holiday budget.  It would be a learning experience, I told myself.  Maybe something fiscally positive would result. 

On the plane, I sat next to Chatty Cathy, a pocket-rocket of a blonde who worked in the private school world of Manhattan.  Did I already have a Riviera Maya friend?  Yes…until she started to gab to the girl in the seat between us, then the middle-aged couple from Arizona in the hotel transport vehicle, and finally, the single father we met in the lobby of the hotel: a jilted lover was the reason she fled to Mexico.  When she got to the part about hiring a P.I. to tail him, my red-flag alarm went five-bells.  When she told us she had only been dating him for three months, I ran in the other direction.  Chatty Cathy was also Crazy. 

Check-in went smoothly, my room was ready, Chatty Crazy Cathy wasn’t on my side of the property.  Check.  Check.  Double-check.  But that’s when my luck seemed to run out. 

Traveling around the world and traveling the world on assignment are two very different things.  While I love being able to say, “I’m on assignment,” the reality of being on assignment is not nearly as cool.  Once upon a time, I was an organized, planned, scheduled person.  There wasn’t a facet of my life that wasn’t filed into my Filofax (I know there are heads nodding in amused at-home agreement on this).  I don’t know when that gene mutated, but I can no longer tap it, and it’s killing my journalistic mojo. 

In Mexico, I never had a pen when I needed one.  I forgot to bring a notebook so Purchase #1 became an $11 ruled notebook bound in suede with a cover sketch of Tulum -- I might as well have been wearing a fanny pack.  I forgot to upgrade my iPhone to World Access and alert American Express that I was even going to Mexico creating a bit of stolen identity brouhaha.  I neglected to make all of my appointments in advance, fitting in hotel visits, multiple price-point restaurant samplings, scuba trips, and encounters at the ruins.  I scrambled on arrival, but I got a lot of responses along the lines of “I’m sorry, it’s Easter.”  Even the best-laid plans fell through: my cave diving was rescheduled, my rental car never showed, and there I was hustling to get it all covered for pressI went to sleep those first few nights wishing for a day of wrinkly overexposure to the sun, two-for-one piña coladas, and my book on a lounge chair.  I'd even relish the time to partake in group water aerobics.  I felt desperate and the piece seemed a pipedream.

Believe it or not, after a bit of a plan-ahead learning curve, I got to everything. Riviera Maya morphed from a daunting vacation disaster into an accessible Mexican oasis with something for everyone: boutique hotels and sprawling resorts, high-end Mayan cuisine and delicious street-cart tacos, scuba and sailing adventures set against the backdrop of the ruins of Tulum and Coba.  I even got to relax a little bit by week's end.  But more importantly, I can officially call myself a writer.  I logged my piece with my editor last week.  While I have other unscheduled pieces waiting for run dates, it’s fitting that my first will run in Newsday.

At present, it’s slated for publication on May 16th.  Cover Story! 
By Marie Elena Martinez.  (Cue the tears.)

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