A friend recently mentioned having a Bucket List. It surprised me that she was thinking about a Bucket List, especially at her young age and good health. But I guess life is short, and maybe it’s good to be mindful of what we want to accomplish in life. Truly, none of us really know how much time we have on this planet. Having a Bucket List is a great way to help you prioritize your choices and gives you focused goals but not everyone has such a list. Perhaps it’s because it forces you to deal with your own mortality. However, almost everyone I know has a Wish List. The lists might seem similar, almost redundant but, I assure you that they are very different. The items on a Wish List are often filled with soft desire and whimsical notions such as “I wish I win the lottery” or “I wish I could afford a fancy sports car”. They are fun to think about and hold onto during rainy days or tough times but often remain just a dream. A Bucket List item is more of a yearning in your soul. That yearning is so deep that it gets elevated in importance to the level of setting a goal as something that needs to be experienced or accomplished before one dies, a.k.a.“kicks the bucket”. The phrase was popularized after a movie named “The Bucket List” which starred Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The thought of compiling such a list is morbid, yes, but as far as planning goes, it does help keep a person focused. Putting something on that list elevates it to a higher priority in your life. It immediately goes from being a “want to do” item or even just being a dream and becomes a “must do before I die” item and that’s a fairly serious list. Everybody’s Bucket List will be unique and personal to them and it isn’t much of a surprise that the majority of my own Bucket List involves exotic locations such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Madagascar. Only time will tell if I will ever be able to achieve the goal of reaching either of these locations but the anticipation does bring me joy. Recently, I was scheduled to travel to Riviera Maya, Mexico, located just outside of Cancun. It’s not a very exotic location but I was happy for the opportunity. Even though the purpose of my trip was to visit local hotels to help me make future recommendations to clients, the offer was made to allow me to bring along an additional guest. I didn’t mind travelling alone and truthfully, sometimes it’s easier to do so, but having company to share the adventure now seemed like fun. I decided to ask a friend who I thought would enjoy the trip and be easy to travel with. The “easy to travel with” part was very important to me because if you’ve ever travelled with someone who constantly complained or wasn’t open to new experiences, you know how unpleasant that can be. Fortunately, she readily accepted and then surprised me when she said Mexico was on her “Bucket List”. Upon clarification, it wasn’t so much Mexico that her heart desired. Seeing a white sand beach with palm trees was what made it such a priority for her. To me, it seemed such an attainable goal that I wasn’t convinced it was worthy to make it onto such an important list. But, who am I to judge what’s important to someone else. Then I realized what an incredible privilege I was being given, to actually be able to help someone put a big check mark next to a Bucket List item. As a list maker, the thrill for me came not only in helping her cross something off this very personal list, but in making space for her to add another item as a future goal. However, with this privilege also came responsibility. Would our plans progress smoothly? Will she enjoy herself? More importantly, will it live up to her expectations or will she be disappointed because sometimes a dream can be more exciting than the reality. After all, this was a person who already had a passport that she kept current, because “hey, you just never know when the opportunity will arise”. The day of departure was soon upon us and the travel portion of our vacation went smoothly. As we proceeded through Customs and Immigration, I watched as she got her first stamp in that passport. She stopped to examine the mark. It was visible proof of an accomplishment that would allow her to cross something off her Bucket List. Later that day I watched as she first stepped onto the sand of the resort beach, realizing how jaded I’d become. While I saw what I perceived as imperfections in the beach, she saw only the white sand that fulfilled a dream. When I saw the sea grass in the water that made this a less desirable swimming area, she saw the blue-green waves. It was definitely a matter of perspective and I could choose to look at it through jaded eyes and count the imperfections or I could share in her joy of a wish granted. I chose joy and considered myself fortunate to have seen it through her eyes.
New York’s Fifth Avenue is known for its upscale stores, some of which are the most expensive in the country. It’s also home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center to name a few. It’s probably true that if you haven’t strolled Fifth Avenue, you haven’t properly visited New York City. “5th” Avenue is synonymous with luxury, in shopping, people and residences that average 20-30 million dollars for a proper apartment. However, it’s not the only well known 5th Avenue in the world. Approximately 1600 miles from NYC you will find Mexico’s version of 5th Avenue, located in Playa del Carmen in an area about an hour outside of Cancun. Running parallel to the ocean, you sometimes catch a glimpse of blue as you pass through one intersection after another while strolling past the hundreds of little shops that line 5th and the adjacent avenues. I arrived by a private cab at Quinto Avenida, as it’s referred to locally, and the friendly greetings urging me to visit this shop or that one started as soon as I exited the cab. I thought I had heard every line in the book but one creative individual hit me with a new version, “ola, hello, hi it’s me, your dining room waiter from the resort.” I tried to determine if he looked familiar. I didn’t want to admit that I was such a snob that I couldn’t remember the enthusiastic young man whose services were so personalized that he recognized me and yet, apparently I had forgotten him. “My uncle’s shop is right over here”, he continued “and I help him out between shifts at the hotel”. I allowed myself to be led into the shop, still berating myself for having forgotten this accommodating sales person. Had I tipped him? Did I now need to purchase something expensive to reward his attentive service? Then I realized that he had never mentioned the name of the restaurant or the resort. Fortunately, I returned to thinking with my brain instead of my emotions and after an attempt of polite browsing, through very expensive merchandise, I left the shop feeling as though I had been under the spell of a masterful storyteller. The neighboring store was priced much more reasonably but had a distinctive Asian vibe which made sense since I had escaped into a shop called Thai Treasures which was pretty low on my idea list for Mexican souvenirs. Looking around Playa del Carmen’s version of 5th Avenue is an enveloping mix of carnival, flea market and shopping mall. You can easily find a jumble of kitschy souvenirs and trinkets with some stores selling more merchandise made in China than Mexico. Duty free cigarettes and liquor are very popular items and are sold across the aisle from, or even right next to, high end stores with truly beautifully crafted pieces. I was amused to come across one vendor who was selling white blouses and only white blouses. All in different styles, lengths and sizes, but all were white. Talk about specialization! A white blouse is a very common top to wear over a brightly multi layered and multi colored traditional Mexican skirt which would allow it to qualify as an authentic purchase. Still, even if you didn’t have the skirt to go with the blouse, the blouses were pretty enough to dress up stylish jeans. While most stores carried the same inauthentic, mass produced schlock as the 5 stores before it, some shops offered unique, one of a kind handmade original pieces of art. The type of article that takes a prime spot in your home and makes the best kind of souvenir; a piece that you will use and adore, will love and reflect upon in your daily routine. As I strolled, I spotted several wonderful little boutique inns, for those who eschewed the mass resorts and wanted casual accommodations and to be in the center of the action. There were plenty of places to eat, drink and be merry. There were also entrepreneurs taking center stage in the middle of the busy thoroughfare, holding some type of adorable little simian or reptile all of which were better suited in a jungle setting than a pedestrian thoroughfare. The vendor was encouraging tourists to meet the captive creature and then pay a fee for a souvenir photo. I felt I did my duty as an American by not starting a civil “event” in an attempt to free Willy, or at least give the tiny frightened monkey a voice. As disappointing to me as that was, the best was yet to come. As the shops gave way to an open courtyard I looked up to see a wonderful little church. This picture postcard perfect white building was standing peacefully, humbly and majestically amongst the chaos. I stopped to photograph it from several angles, oblivious to the fact that a beautiful Bride and her family and a handsome groom and his family were posing for their own photos. It was like icing on the cake, a Wedding cake to be exact. It was one of those unplanned events where you just had to be in the moment to appreciate the moment. Would I revisit 5th Avenue or encourage you to run the gauntlet of vocal vendors? Absolutely! It’s part of the culture and part of the experience. Would I discourage you from buying anything? Absolutely not! However, unless you are truly a savvy a collector don’t purchase anything expecting it to increase in value. Buy it because it fits your décor. Never buy something that is supposedly an historic ruin, because it probably doesn’t belong to the person selling it and more likely, its antiquity can probably be counted in months instead of centuries. As always, “el comprador se precave” which translates to: buyer- beware. Sure, there’s a lot of schlock out there but maybe my idea of schlock, is your idea of fabulous. You should buy something because you’ll use it or wear or enjoy it for years to come. You should buy it because it’s something you love. That’s my definition of the best type of souvenir.