In 1920 the United States introduced prohibition across the nation, it was a major success for the Anti Saloon League and its head Wayne Wheeler who through a series of corruptive and forceful blackmails had secured his place in history as the man who would initiate one of the most spectacular political failings in US history.
America has long had some of the toughest, and most baffling laws on alcohol and current legislation is no different. That in the US you can found a family, get married, own a gun, drive a car, fly a plane, go to war and be put to death for killing someone, all before you are legally allowed to have a beer, has left the rest of the world scratching it’s head in confusion.
In Mexico you can legally drink alcohol from the age of 18, but laws are reportedly liberally enforced and reports commonly state that from the age of 15 you can usually get served alcohol. Compare this to the US stance on drinking and you would imagine that the Americans are all tee-total whilst the Mexicans raging drunks. Not so, a recent WHO report stated quite comprehensively that Americans drink more than their neighbours by about 15%.
So where is this going, well, back in 1967 a few Mexican government officials were sat around a table wondering what direction their country was headed in. Through thick smoke and the stench of tequila they determined that Mexico could do with a place for Americans to holiday. Airline prices were starting to become accessible for the average middle class family and the Mexican government wanted to capitalise on the huge tourism industry that is the US.
In 1968 a search for the perfect place to create this Mexican wonderland was initiated. It is rumoured that in the search for paradise no stone was left unturned, no stretch of beach left virgin.
The front runner was always the Yucatan peninsula, a huge corner of land jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico and surrounded by crystal clear turquoise oceans that are largely tamed by the mesoamerican reef – the second biggest coral reef in the world. The beauty of the peninsula has long been known, inhabited by the Mayans it is rich in history, filled with tropical rainforest, underground caves, cenotes, and lined with gorgeous white sugar soft sand, it was the perfect place.
Whilst surveying the coast of the Yucatan a sliver of sand several miles long sat just offshore from the mainland, inhabited by just 12 families it was known as Cancun island and home to not just fishermen, but iguanas, snakes and birds. It was perfect.
On the 20th April 1970 so began the Cancun Resort Project, an initiative which would first mean connecting the island to the land. Two distinct areas would be created, the hotel zone that is still known as Zona Hotelera and Downtown, where all the locals who worked in the hotels would live.
In 1974 Cancun opened its doors to the first tourists.
Combined with relaxed drinking laws, year round perfect weather, world class beaches and a favourable exchange rate Cancun was an instant success.
Fast forward to 2014 and today the resorts expand some 93 miles down the coast. Last year alone over 4 million tourists came to the once tiny fishing village that is now permanent home to some 50,000 Mexicans. And that isn’t including the millions that head to other parts of the Yucatan in search of their own paradise.
In 2009 things became even better for tourists looking to head to Mexico for some self indulgent hedonistic mayhem as many illicit substances were decriminalised. In Mexico you can have small amounts of cocaine, heroin, crystal meth, MDMA and of course marijuana and not be prosecuted. And it is widely available, locals will let you know they have ‘anything’ you want. It is a huge attraction for a lot of people who simply want to get wasted without the hassle and illegality. Throw into the fray the ‘all inclusive’ resorts and nightclubs which rock all night for $30 with all alcohol included and it’s no surprise that in spring break the only thing on most young Americans minds is getting their end away and off their trolley in Cancun.
But it isn’t all young guys and girls getting wasted and trying to macarena, though Cancun has spilled down the coastline it has somewhat curiously developed into regional neighbourhoods with each offering up a piece of something different. For instance, Isla la Majures (Island of women) is more an island of beach bums, hippies, weed and hammocks. Playa Del Carmen is the cheap sister that attracts Europeans on a charter from Europe who see Cancun as a blur as they make their way down the coast. Cozumel attracts old people who still feel twenty, and act it. Puerto Aventura is the upmarket utopia of the coast and magnet to lovers, those having discreet affairs, honeymooners and rich folk who just want to get away from the noise. Continue on to Tulum and you find the eco warriors who all plant their flag by their hammock and spark up a herbal cigarette as they wait from their pals heading up from Sian Ka’an.
But the happening party central, the spine vibrating bass which shakes the sweat from your face, the drugs which ooze out of pores on playa delfine, the para sailing, the prostitutes, the hedonism, the fire breathing, the waking up and wondering what the fuck happened the night before is all done in Cancun.
In thinking about Cancun, what it offers, what it is, and trying to be at least partially informative I turn to an ice cold bottle of Corona, pour another drink and think for a moment. Looking out over the dark ocean illuminated by speckles of fire, I watch the outlines of my kids dancing in the sand to the dance music blasting out, smell the BBQ cooking nearby and see courting couples stroll by looking for a quiet place to snuggle. It’s almost as though perfection has genuinely been personified and I struggle to think of something I don’t love about the place. In breaking my thinking I see my daughter do an Egyptian dance and two of my sons looking like they are having epileptic fits in their efforts at dancing, I can’t help but smile, pour another drink and wonder if Cancun might just be the best idea a Mexican has ever had.