Tales from the Riviera Maya:  A truckload of stupid… a cautionary tale from New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day 2024

Editor’s note: Bruce Bouchard, former executive director of The Paramount Theatre, and his partner Maureen McKenna Padula have traveled from Rutland to the Riviera Maya for the past three years.  This series covers adventures, food, and testimonials from Vermont to the tropics. 

While researching and preparing for our fourth consecutive winter journey to our beloved Playa del Carmen, in the Riviera Maya — the east coast of the most northeastern peninsula of Mexico — we came across a Mexican ritual that seemed a terrific opportunity to welcome the new year and mingle with the local population. The Mexican people are serious about the arrival of the first sun of the new year: street festivities, drone displays, fireworks, and a giant urban dance party on the beach, culminating in a large portion of the local population pulling all-nighters to embrace the first sunrise of the first day of the new year. How great!! Let’s do it!! New Year’s Eve in Playa!! We booked our tickets to fly on Dec. 31. What could go wrong?

Here is where the “Truckload of Stupid” arrives… After staying up all night, we depart from Rutland at 12:30 a.m. (plenty of time for a 5:15 a.m. Albany flight). We drove our car to Maureen’s son Gerard’s business in Latham very near the airport where he’ll take care of it during our time away. We called an Uber, which arrived within minutes. It was very cold and we were tired and worn. Maureen and the driver loaded up the trunk of the Uber while I, in a fog of stupid, was making a change in clothing for the flight. It all happened quickly — Maureen deposited our single set of keys into a dropbox on the outside of Gerard’s place of business and we departed — only to discover, to our horror, when we arrived at the airport that I had managed to leave my backpack in the back seat of our car back at Gerard’s place of business (computer, books, key paperwork, and meds for both of us). Next is key, or more accurately, keys! As stated, the keys were at the bottom of the dropbox! We were locked out of the car! Total panic!

The Uber driver was terrific and vowed to stay with us until we had a resolution for this very challenging problem. We drove back to Gerard’s business and called Buick roadside assistance, the police, and emergency locksmiths, all to no avail, earliest rescue would be in the neighborhood of 5:30 a.m. Seemed we were going to miss our flight. We then woke up Gerard (who was in Vermont for the New Year) to see if he could help. At his direction we scoured the building for open doors (some of the businesses hold odd hours), but to no avail. 

The clock was ticking…the flight was looming.

Finally, in desperation, I wondered if Maureen’s thin arm could reach inside the small aperture of the Dropbox, but she was just shy of the mark. While trying this however, the dropbox slowly started to move and then the entire lockbox came off the wall! We turned it upside down and plop, out fell the keys! The relief was simply overwhelming… a dopamine rush of epic proportions. We rescued the backpack and sped off to the airport and made it in time to make our flight.

"The relief was simply
overwhelming... a dopamine
rush of epic proportions."

Two flights later and no sleep, we were now exhausted beyond belief as we touched down in Cancun (we made a note to ourselves to never travel this early again)! When we got to the line for customs, Maureen said “Give me your passport” I felt in the pockets of my seersucker sportscoat…and no passport. I went into another panic and nearly burst into tears. The exhaustion robbed my memory of having used the passport as we boarded the plane and I thought I must have lost it in the connecting airport. Maureen became very calm (as is her way) and started searching through the pockets of my backpack. There was the passport. Death to panic No. 2.

When we got through customs, we stepped out of the Cancun Airport and into the barometric pressure of the Riviera Maya. A sweet moment upon every arrival. Our driver, graciously provided by our landlord, arrived, and whisked us to our magnificent apartment in Hacienda del Carmen by 2:30 p.m. A good long nap, a shower, and then we dressed for the famous New Year’s Eve celebration with a crowd estimated to be at 150,000 on 5th Avenue and the beach. 

After a fine and inexpensive meal at a French Canadian bar/bistro called Three Amigos — where the entire crowd of Quebecoise, pretty well wasted, ALL sang loudly to every single word of Canadian Karaoke. The DJ, a very large man, was dressed in a costume that was  half  leprechaun and half Santa Claus. The French Canadians are boisterous, and the place was rockin’. We were certainly back in Playa once again!!

After dinner we walked the 5th Avenue promenade (a 4 mile stretch of food, retail, clubs, live music and performance art – it IS the primary nighttime activity in Playa) and down to the central square abutting the Caribbean Sea. The party was now in full swing, the plaza packed with thousands of people from all over the world. 

We marveled at this huge flock of humanity, 12-midnight struck, tears and laughter, kisses, joy and revelry, drone light shows and massive fireworks, all celebratory hopes for a better new year in this time of worldwide crisis.

By Bruce Bouchard
The “boombox/pissoire” wall where they welcomed the sun.

Later we took our blanket to the beach, wrapped up in it, and to the sounds of Mother Ocean gently whispering to the sand, snoozed for about two hours. When we woke up, there was so much moisture in the air (the temp was about 65 F.) that our blanket was damp. We were cold. Our full instinct was to pick up and leave, but noooooo!! Truckload of stupid lingering, instead, we made our way to a wall about 200 feet up from the water and attempted to continue to sleep. We’re going to see that sun come up, dammit! The problem at the wall was that we were between an annoying boom box on our left and what seemed to be the public urination wall down the way to our right (charming). 

Well, finally, perfumed air aside, the sky began to brighten, and we awoke stiff and cold, but we had managed to gut it out and see the first glorious sunrise of the year in the culture, which we have adopted — moving through its four-color display reel: red, orange, yellow and then white…blazing like a hot copper penny.  

A large crowd of locals, largely Mexicans, cheered the arrival of the sun, some laughing, some dancing and some crying; family units, hugging, kissing and loving life as the sun announced a new day in a new year. 

We dragged ourselves back to the Hacienda and collapsed for a long, long sleep. Later, two worn travelers, a bit worse for wear, groggily awakened to embrace the remainder of the first day of the new year. We paid homage to the visit of the Truckload of Stupid, so very thankful for positive outcomes.

Feliz Año Nuevo desde Playa del Carmen en el Estado de Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula! Mexico llama!!

Courtesy Bruce Bouchard
Maureen McKenna Padula (left) and Bruce Bouchard (right) stand by the gate to their apartment in Hacienda del Carmen. Weary from many extra stresses during travel, they had arrived.





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