Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cashless in Cozumel


COZUMEL, Mexico – If we’re fortunate, there comes a time in each life when our mettle is tested, our courage called upon, every instinct required. How we respond to this moment will shape us forever.

My moment came in Cozumel, Mexico. Faced with a desperate situation, a fork in the road, an opportunity for catastrophic failure, I passed the test. I am a better person today having not only survived, but having learned something important about myself – I’m a survivor.

We were on a long cruise and decided we’d take our day in Cozumel to just wander around town – we had Mayan ruins, jungle tours, snorkeling and what turned out to be a long, miserable bus ride in Jamaica on the itinerary. So we researched what a cab ride should cost from the cruise terminal to downtown (about five bucks) and strode to the taxi stand.

Our shopping was actually uneventful. We found a nice shop selling Patagonian leather goods and I bought a wallet (still nearly perfect four years later) and a belt. My next objective was Cuban cigars. I usually smoke one or two on each trip to Mexico or the Caribbean and bring a couple home for aficionado friends. We found a small cigar stall that seemed legit (there are a lot of fakes in every Mexican tourist town). I had $50 cash. The cigars I wanted were priced at $12 each, and there were six left in the box. We haggled. We eventually agreed to $50 for the six macanudos, including the box (I still have it, somewhere). I was quite proud of myself. Time to head back to the boat.

It was at this point that I realized that the credit card I’d used earlier at the leather shop – the only one I had with me – had no ATM number. We used another card for that purpose, and it was safely tucked away in our cabin safe. We had no cash, no way to get it, and we were five miles from our boat in 90-degree, 90-percent-humidity weather. We might as well have parachuted into the Amazon carrying only a Swiss Army knife and a compass.

There was much cussing, by me. Kathleen was outwardly calm but admitted later to being a tad concerned.

It was then that I struck upon an ingenius plan. The owner of the leather shop had seemed to be a nice man and we hadn’t negotiated too hard on his pricing. So, I sheepishly went back to his shop, explained my predicament and asked if he’d run my credit card without my actually purchasing anything and give me the 20 bucks. He kindly agreed and didn’t even giggle at my stupidity. At least not to my face.

Crisis averted, we grabbed a cab and arrived safely back at the cruise terminal well in advance of our departure time. Confident gringos again, we found an over-priced touristy restaurant on the waterfront and drank margaritas to celebrate overcoming our brush with disaster. We embraced, unspeaking, our shared experience deepening our bond. We separated and gazed, only for a moment into each other's eyes. Words were unnecessary. There, in the middle of Carlos O'Brien's, life change forever. to memorialize the moment, I bought a t-shirt, XXL.

This was, of course, a life-changing and life-affirming event. We’d come close to epic calamity but used our native intuition and imagination to discover a solution that few others would have been able to conjure. And, we had a survival tale that we could tell our grandchildren. Sir Edmund Hillary and Neil Armstrong have nothing on us. Someday I’ll write a book. I’ll call it “Cashless in Cozumel.” The critics will call it “a real-life page-turner.”

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