In preparation for my upcoming trip to Playa del Carmen, I recently dug out my travel journal and started flipping through the pages. While reminiscing about past trips and some of the incredible experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have, I suddenly realised, I’ve done some pretty stupid things while on the road.
Whether it’s a slip-up with the local language, a cultural faux-pas, or just simply not paying attention to my surroundings, I’ve done plenty of things that must make people roll their eyes and shake their heads at the dumb tourist. So, I figured I’d start an occasional series here, where I share my biggest brain farts and most embarrassing moments.
First up is the time we unwittingly broke into a supermarket in Honduras.
We arrived in the coastal town of La Ceiba early on a Thursday morning. The air was still fresh, the heat of the day not yet bearing down. We were still half asleep, having been up before the crack of dawn to catch the first ferry of the day back to the mainland.
We had just finished a five-day stint on Utila, where we got our PADI Open Water Diver certification, and were making our way to Pico Bonito, an eco lodge on the Cangrejal River. The lodge had arranged for Orlando, their maintenance man and master snake-killer, to pick us up from the ferry dock upon our arrival. As he helped toss our bags into the trunk of the car, Orlando asked in Spanish if we’d like to stop at a supermarket before heading to the lodge. I told him yes and he replied that the store didn’t open until 8:00 so he would tour us around the town until then.
(Or at least that’s what I thought he said. My Spanish was pretty minimal at the time.)
He drove us around for a while, showing us the beach, a park, a cathedral. I tried my best to translate what he was saying but only caught words here and there.
It was nearing 8, so he headed for the supermarket. But the gates to the parking lot were still locked up tight, with no one around who looked like they might make a move to open it any time soon.
Orlando asked a few more questions, most of which I missed but I did catch desayuno and café (the majority of my Spanish centers on food words so breakfast and coffee I can understand). We agreed to go for coffee while waiting for the store to open.
We expected him to take us to one of the numerous coffee shops in the immediate area, but instead he decided to drive us 15 minutes across town to a place where he knew the owner. By the time the late barista arrived, made us a coffee, and we returned to the store (with parking lot gates now open), it was well past 8:30. At this point I was feeling bad that Orlando had wasted his morning with us. Plus, I was tired and wanted to get settled in at the lodge. I was anxious to get our supplies and get on the road.
The Cangrejal River
As we pulled up to the store, Mark and I jumped out of the car and rushed to the door. It was the type that would normally automatically slide open, but as we approached the door didn’t move. It was open a crack though, so I assumed it was broken and had to be opened manually.
We all but ignored the five or six people hanging around outside the front of the store, slid the door open, and walked in. We grabbed a basket and started filling it.
As we walked around the store I started to feel like something wasn’t right. Employees were mopping floors and stocking shelves. The heavy plastic was still pulled down over the coolers. There seemed to be no other customers in sight.
Mark and I stopped and looked at each other, both having the same thought. He said it first – “I don’t think the store is actually open yet.”
My response: “yep. We’re idiots.”
Apparently, the store opened at 9:00, not 8:00.
At that point it was obvious that those people standing around outside were patiently waiting for the store to open and the door wasn’t broken, it just wasn’t activated for the day yet. Which meant we had just barged past a bunch of people and marched into the store like we were some kind of royalty, to whom the rules don’t apply.
We already had a basket half full of groceries and weren’t sure what to do. What were our options? Put everything back and go stand outside for another ten minutes? Drop the basket and run? Melt into the floor from embarrassment?
The employees didn’t seem to be bothered by us. Besides a couple of strange looks, they mostly ignored us. No one came up to us and asked us to leave the store.
So, we decided to just keep shopping. At that point there wasn’t much more for us to do than own our stupidity.
As we placed the last few items into our basket, other customers began to trickle into the store. The checkouts were open and we were, unsurprisingly, the first in line. The cashier was very polite, making conversation and asking where we were from.
I guess it was pretty obvious that we weren’t locals.