Mexico Trip 2019
Sept – Oct 2019
I never imagine myself go to anywhere on South America due the time and cost needed to go there (It requires approximately 24 hours to go from Jakarta to Cancun, including layovers). Thus I was so pumped for the trip: go somewhere you never picture yourself going.
About Elegant Themes
The company I work for, Elegant Themes, makes incredible digital product such as Divi Theme. Read more about it out here, and try its visual builder here.
Elegant Themes is a distributed company. Its head quarter is at San Francisco United States but most of the company’s employees are working from various countries. We met once in a year for a week to hangout together.
Important notes about Mexico Visa
There was an important lesson I learned regarding visa for visiting Mexico that I got at Mexico’s Embassy at Jakarta: Apparently you can use your valid United States visa for visiting Mexico (this was Mexico’s policy to boost their number of visiting tourist). Thus if you have valid United States visa (per 2019 September – please recheck it again), you don’t need to apply for Mexico Visa for visiting Mexico.
Three Important Notes
I’m not sure whether this is still applied or not, so check Mexico embassy’s website to be sure.
This also applies to another developed country’s visa, so check the Mexico embassy’s website to be sure.
Some airlines’ ground officer don’t quite know about this rule so they might give you more screening if you’re using US visa for visiting Mexico since it’s their duty to make sure that they only board valid passenger. This happened to me on when I boarded on Paris to Mexico City.
Check, double check, and triple check; Don’t make the same mistake that I did. I didn’t know about this so i booked an appointment to the Mexico Embassy to apply for Mexican Visa. When I arrived, the officer looked at my passport and told me:
You don’t need Mexican Visa. You already have US Visa which can be used for visiting Mexico.
Travel In Size
Similar to last year’s trip, this year I’ll go to retreat with Ayub and Sofyan. Learning from our thrilling experience last year (Ayub’s flight was cancelled multiple times and Sofyan was stuck at Jakarta’s infamous traffic jam) we agreed to arrive at Soekarno Hatta’s terminal 3 hours before the trip.
Sounds like a plan (or so we thought).
Our plan went smoothly so far. Three of us arrived at the airport hours before check-in time. We had a coffee and hang out first.
Trouble is a friend
We were in a very deep and unexpected trouble when we checked in. Here was what happened: three of us brought our luggages to Garuda Indonesia counters; There were various counters available for check in and every of us were checking in on different counters. The counters that checked Ayub and Sofyan in found that they couldn’t check them directly but eventually they could check them in. The officer who checked me in noticed something was off more than simple administrative issue. So he asked his superior.
What he found out shook our feet to the ground. So these are our flight itineraries for Jakarta to Cancun:
Apparently, there was this rule that we missed from our watch due to our limited experience on cross-continent travel:
If you have more than one layover in Schengen countries, you’ll need Schengen visa.
Also important: If you have only one layover in Schengen country (coming from non Schengen country to another non Schengen country), you don’t need Schengen visa.
So that was the deep trouble we had: Our Amsterdam to Paris flight is considered domestic flight across schengen countries ergo we need schengen visa to do so (which none of us had). We were 4 hours to flight time and it was super early in San Francisco time so it was quite hard to coordinate with our colleague who booked us our flight.
I analyzed the problems and their possible solutions. There was only one course of action: politely asking the Garuda Indonesia’s ground officer what we can do considering that:
- We still have 4 hours until our flight time
- It was 7pm so it was past office hours
- It was friday evening
The suggested course of action: We booked our flight via Air France’s site, so it was recommended for us to go to KLM’s ground officer which apparently Air France and KLM in Indonesia are managed by the same representative. It was past office hours so we need to go to KLM’s representative office at Soekarno Hatta’s Terminal 3 office building.
The thrill at KLM’s representative office
We were lucky even though it was past office hours in Friday evening, there were still officer at the office. One of the senior lady officer listened to our problem and actively helping us looking for solution. Another officer told us that we were actually lucky: had we checked in and boarded into our flight with insufficient document, what will follow were:
What might happen if we get into our initial flight
- Schipol’s immigration officer will find out that we don’t have Schengen Visa to go to Paris
- They will send us back to Indonesia
- They will highly likely put us on some sort of watch list of people who’s screwing up
- On top of that, they’ll fine the airways that send us without sufficient document at the very least around USD 6 grand-ish.
It turned out:
Being found out early is probably the best possible scenario for everyone involved.
Ugh.. there was a time where i wish the officer should just checked me in but now I realize that this is probably the best possible scenario for everyone involved.
After back and forth discussions with the ground officer and multiple whatsapp calls with my colleague Mitch at SF, we finally sorted out our situation:
- Our return trips actually okay because they only have one Schengen layover (Cancun – Mexico City – Amsterdam – Jakarta)
- There were available trip from Jakarta – Singapore – Paris – Mexico City but the lady officer couldn’t book our flight for whatever reason because it was already past working hour. We might reschedule our outgoing trip to this route but it will be quite costly because it was so close to the flight date / time (later we found out it was crazy expensive).
- If we didn’t show up at our outgoing trip but show up at our return trip, we’ll be fined for EU 500-ish for no-show.
With these problems in mind, the best possible course of action:
- We couldn’t reschedule our outgoing trip at that time; but to prevent no-show penalty, the officer lady cancelled our outgoing flight (it was two hours-ish before flight so there was still time) BUT she also sent an email explaining our situation to the customer service and told them that we will call tomorrow asking for reschedule.
- We will phone the customer service tomorrow around 9am when the customer service was opened. We will ask for reschedule and the price estimation for that. If we agree, we’ll book it.
So that were what we could do. There are various ways that this can go wrong like in span of hours the available flights got fully booked or the price for reschedule was out of our budget. Nevertheless, it was still the best course of action. We did our part, now we rest and wait.
A Night at POP! Hotel
After all the thing that happened on KLM representative office, we had dinner at A&W then looked for place to rest tonight. It doesn’t have to be fancy: we just need a place for rest, shower, and be ready to call for KLM’s office tomorrow.
We weighed our options and finally decided to rest at POP! Hotel, an affordable hotel near Soekarno Hatta airport. There were no single bed room available so we agreed just to wing it: get a double bed room (which also has sofa bed) and have three of us sleep there that night.
Phone Calls to KLM customer service center
We woke up, had breakfast, showered, and be ready at 9am to call the KLM’s customer service center. After numerous phone calls which involves:
- The officer(s) told us several times to call back in 15 minutes because they need to manually calculate the reschedule cost
- Figured out that if the line with Bahasa Indonesia is full, the line with English might be available
- Figured out that the cost for reschedule was jaw dropping
- Figured out that there was another flights two days from now which is much more affordable but schedule wise we will have very little time at our destination
- Uncounted number phone call with our colleage
- Failing to charge the credit card because we need to call the bank for authorization first
- And uncounted stories, thrills, high hopes, down lows, and roller coaster of emotions
We finally successfully rescheduled our ticket. Now we had a flight to catch at 18:15 at Soekarno Hatta’s Terminal 3. We were soo relieved.
Jakarta ✈️ Singapore
Our first flight was in 18:15. It was just a simple 2 hours-ish flight using Garuda Indonesia to Changi Airport but we were so excited and grateful because we eventually made our flight after all the thrills we had the day before.
We had sufficient 2 hours layovers in Changi. Walking here and there, transferring using Sky Train, and arrived at our appointed gate we were.
Changi Airport of Singapore
After the flight itinerary incident, we got our next challenge here. When we were about to board, the officer’s first question was:
Where is your work permit?
Which we followed up by
What follows after was 10 – 20 minutes of me trying to explain what kind of vacation we were about to do and how that we already did this kind of trip on three different corners of world before. The officer was hindi guy with a very straight face without any slight of emotion. He just stared at our document, stared at us, photograph our documents, and asking the same questions in repeat.
Fortunately, he seemed to be satisfied with our answer so he let us in.
Singapore ✈️ Paris
After we boarded, we got in into our aircraft then fly. It was my first time using Air France; my impression:
- Air France as extension of France try its best to be hip, chic, and trendy. The safety procedure video was choreographed really well it was pretty lit.
- The aircraft was pretty good
- The staffs were great
- The food was okay. There was side dish which I assumed is french’s food which isn’t quite compatible with my Indonesian belly tho. I try to avoid way too acid food whenever i flight to avoid excessive number of trips to restroom.
Since this is a flight to the west, as usual, what follows after is crazy long night due to the direction we fly.
Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) of Paris
We arrived at Paris around six in the morning. The sky was still dark and it was relatively cold. We have 6 hours layover time which we used for having a breakfast, shop some missing stuff, have a reasonable amount of time at the restroom, etc. Because our rescheduled flight was Jakarta to Mexico City, now that we made it to Paris, we booked our flight from Mexico City to Cancun while we’re doing our layover here.
My impression of Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) of Paris is similar to Air France: as extension of France, it tries its best to be chic, hip, and trendy. The choice of tenant and interior clearly reflects that: There were arcade games in various spot, the choice of chairs were trendy, the interior was hip, etc. On top of that, the length of walking required from incoming gate to outcoming gate was really reasonable. It seems like unlike one huge terminal like Soekarno Hatta’s Terminal 3 does, Charles De Gaulle Airport breaks its gates into terminals which makes transferring isn’t really pain in the foot.
Paris ✈️ Mexico City
dAnyway, the next challenge awaited me when boarding my flight to Mexico City. Two of my colleagues successfully boarding without any issue since they have Mexico Visa. The officer lady further screened me because I use US Visa and she wasn’t really sure whether I was eligible for the flight or not. What followed after was she holds me for 10 – 15 minutes as she verified whether i’m eligible for the trip or not. She was cool and not making me nervous more than I already did tho. Sometimes later, she gave me a pass and I walked into another AirFrance aircraft.
My opinion on the aircraft was relatively the same as the one I mentioned on Singapore – Paris trip. It was a quite decent and chic AirFrance’s aircraft.
Juarez International Airport of Mexico City
First time in South America. We had more than 11 hours flight time but due to the direction we flew which is to the west, we started our flight at 12:00 paris time and arrived at 16:55 Mexico City time. The sun still shines for the past 11 hours.
We arrived at 16:55 but we intentionally booked flight to Cancun on 21:00 so we had enough time for doing the immigration (the queue took us more than 40 minutes alone) check, got our luggages, and transferring from international terminal then checked in into domestic gates which luckily happen to be on the same terminal. That was pretty much what we did here. My overall impression about the airport: the airport looks aged; it gave the same vibe as Soekarno Hatta’s airport terminal 2.
Mexico City ✈️ Cancun
Things went pretty normal except for the rainy runways on our flight from Mexico City to Cancun. We flew using InterJet because that’s the only flight that is suitable with our schedule and assumed required time to transfer from international to domestic flight.
Cancun International Airport
If Juarez International Airport of Mexico City gave me an aged airport vibe, Cancun International Airport looked like a freshly built well lit modern airport. It looks brand new and fresh I even noticed that some of the tenant booth looks empty.
We arrived around 23:00-ish. Mitch sent us a van who’ll picked us up and brought us to the villa. He’ll have a board with your name on it. In Reality:
😂 We laughed so hard when realize this was the driver who’ll take us to the villa: this was Starbucks’ barista level of typo multiplied by 10.
Around 40 minutes later, we arrived at the villa. Some folks hadn’t sleep yet so I hung out for some minutes before i went to the bed. It was a very very long flights and layovers after all.
The first morning at Playa del Carmen, I woke up early, showered, and looked around the villas and the area. Participant for this year’s retreat was pretty big so Elegant Themes rented couple of villas for everyone. All of the villas are located in Playa del Carmen’s resort area. So we’re all on the same housing slash resort area but on different villas.
Around 9:30 I went to the main villa. There was no activity in the early morning so if there are work related things that anyone need to check on before we started our leisure activity, it was perfect time to do so. Some folks checking email, github, and stuffs while some other folks cooked their breakfast on this beautiful open kitchen on the villa.
Tulum Ruins Adventure
Due to the size of retreat participant, this year’s activity are broken down into several options and groups that everyone can choose from. For the first day, there were Cenotes and Tulum Ruins trip. After carefully considering them, I decided to go to the Tulum Ruins. It was a guided tour to Tulum area where ruins of ancient Mayan culture were located. The area was pretty big and the tour guide we hired, Claudia, was incredibly informative; she explained the culture of Mayan and its significance comprehensively during the allocated time to our Tulum area.
After couple of hours exploring Tulum Ruins, we went back to the villa before dark.
Mexican Dining Experience
Sometimes around 19:00, we walked to this restaurant which offer Mexican Dining Experience. It was 4 (or 5? I lost count) courses dining experience which offers authentic Mexican Dining Experience accompanied with stories on how and why things are the way it is. It was kinda the paella cooking class we did on Barcelona back then without the cooking part.
Cozumel Island’s Mexico Food Tour
The theme of second day of the retreat is various activities on Cozumel Island. Cozumel is an island located 19 km from the mainland which can be reached using ferry from a port at Playa del Carmen. Again, due to the size of the retreat participant, the group were divided into several activities:
- Mexican Food Tour: 3 – 4 hours of guided tour exploring authentic Mexican food on Cozumel island.
- Snorkel at Stingray Beach: Exploring the beauty of Cozumel seas on various snorkeling spots.
- Parasailing: Experience the thrill of flying and seeing Cozumel Island from the above
I’m not quite into the idea of getting wet and having myself strapped on gigantic kite plus being dragged by speed boat meters above sea level so I chose Mexican Food Tour; it’s not everyday I can experience authentic Mexican food.
We left the villa around 9am then walk to the ferry station located near the resort area where we stayed. There were things that shocked me:
- The ferry we used turned out to be quite big and fast. The are scheduled boat on every hours from morning till late evening.
- The wind and wave were crazy strong. I think more than half of us got sea sick on the way to the island. I think the trip from/to Cozumel island were the hardest boat trip I’ve ever into. In fact I thrown up thrice on our ride back home. Full stomach + strong wave on fast boat ride weren’t a particularly good combination.
We had a good time food touring on Cozumel Island and back at the villa around 3pm-ish. I got serious seasick on the way back and thrown up multiple times and decided to lay down and rest for the rest of the afternoon. Once i felt better, I hung out at the villa with everyone else.
Dinner at Forgon
On the evening, we walked for 20 – 30mins to this Mexican restaurant near the resort area called Forgon. I ordered Chicken (Pollo) Tacos while others ate tons of meats.
Xenses Park Adventure
There were various “theme park” that are available on Cancun area. We were split into two groups and visited two of them:
- Xenses, which is day time “sensory-based” activity where you can visit various attraction that twist your perception of “reality”.
- Xplor Fuego, which is night-time-full-of-adrenaline adventure. It was said that this involves zip-lining into ring of fire or something (or so I thought)
Both were really intriguing, involving water based activity, and decent amount of “adventure”. Nevertheless.. getting wet and muddy in night time doesn’t really clicked well with me so I decided to do Xenses adventure.
When we arrived at the Xenses area, we were instructed to safely store all of our bags, wallet, camera, etc on the locker room. Cameras were fixed-ly located on various area on the theme park and we were given this bracelet for triggering those camera. Later we can checked out the photographed camera and off-course not a surprise, pay for them.
These sounds familiar and made the theme park feels to be “built for the gram” where its main attraction is actually “photo op”. I had to be honest that these initially didn’t really impress me but as we go through the attraction to the next attraction, Xenses’ attraction are very very well executed. These are some of the attraction that I can remember:
- There are lots of one stop photo op where with the help of proper camera placement, do some visual trick like how things got bigger than it should be, etc. Casual for the gram park.
- A very long man made cave where it gets super dark with no light. The trick is it creates various sensory and auditory trick so it feels like you walked in amazon jungle somewhere in the middle of a night. It was pretty long and it ended on natural underground cenotes with exotic flamingo bird on it. The entire experience was quite surreal i was like “is this how dying and then being revived looks like?”. It was so dark and the end of the tunnel was little bit surreal, then beautifully exotic.
- A “town” where visual trick are placed so everything are in reversed: Climbing up was actually strolling down and strolling down was actually climbing up. You’re climbing up but the gravity was pulling you down. Water “climbs up” instead of “falling down”.
- A pretty long water slide. I wish it was longer; need to be able to swim to do it.
- A zip line. It feels like a monorail where you were hung in a flying pose instead of zip line tho.
- Underground cenote like salt water track where you can float and relaxed.
- Similar to no. 6, but soft mud water instead of salt water track. It was way more easier to float on this one.
- An underground passage with “sauna” on it.
- An underground passage with “rain” on it. Basically… think of a carwash and you are the car.
- A very decent souvenir store with good quality of souvenirs.
That were pretty much about it. It sounds simple when being written down but I remember we had a very great time there. It took us 6 hours-ish to do everything on the list, including shower and light snack. The following are the picture taken using Xenses’ fixed camera system. We need to pay some bucks to retrieve it. I personally recommend to trigger as much photo as possible while you’re there. The photo retrieval service was per person basis, not per photos taken.
Strolling around Playa del Carmen
We went back to the villa around 6pm-ish. We hung out for a bit, then decided to go to this shopping mall outside the resort area then look for something to eat. There was this plaza thing and road fill with souvenirs shop and restaurant. The funny part is we keep walking further and once we’re too tired to walk further, the closest restaurant around is Hard Rock cafe which we ended up eating on.
Chichen Itza Trip
The next day is actually a free day where retreat participant can decide what they want to do for the whole day. Similar to last year’s retreat, Joy quickly noticed one place worth visiting while we’re here: The one of world’s seven wonders, Citchen Itza. Thus, she made a thread on Slack asking who’s up for an adventure to Citchen Itza for the day and I obviously joined the gang.
The distance between Citchen Itza to Playa del Carmen where we stay were about 180km which theoretically took around 2 hours drive. After much consideration, we ended up contacting Claudio who guided us to Tulum Ruins on the first day so she can guide us to Citchen Itza + providing transportation. On top of that, we decided that:
- We’d like to go there as early as possible to avoid heat and crowded visitor
- We only want to go to Chitcen Itza, look around there, then go back; no need to visit any other places.
With these consideration in mind, we ended up start the day quite early: we gathered on the main villa on 05:50 so we can arrive at Chichen Itza around 08:00 where the site is still empty and relatively chill.
We arrived at Chicen Itza around 08:00 as expected and the site didn’t disappoint. The ruins were as majestic as we expected, the sites were well maintained, and there was no crowded visitor yet. In fact, years of showing off Chicen Itza to her visitors, It was the first time Claudia found the arena were completely empty.
We looked around until 11:00 then decided to go back to the villa. The sun started to feel significantly hot and the place were packed around this time. It was a very good decision to come early and enjoyed Chicen Itza and all of its glory.
One of seven world wonders, checked!
Hanging out at the main villa
We arrived back at the main villa around 14:00. Many folks were out on their own adventure around Playa del Carmen. We were too tired to go somewhere else so after quick rest, we just hung out at the villa.
Me and my workmate Fabio has a plan tho: to shoot and record our next Slack emoji.
Both of us has our custom emoji on Slack which was used pretty frequently. It was used pretty frequently the company even joked around by made me a t-shirt of my :fikrisuccess: emoji last year and Fabio got his tweaked :fabiowtf: emoji t-shirt this year. Thus, we thought of combining it, fusion style:
After doing some photoshoot, we just hanging around, playing card and eating around the villa until it was too late. I was planning on hanging out on another villa’s jacuzzi but once i went back to my hotel room, i passed out.
The returning day
It’s time to go home. The size of participants were so big but Mitch managed to precisely book the return flight so we were leaving in three batches; The 09:00 group, the 11:00 group, and the next day’s group (due to the flight availability). The villa ‘s checkout time was around 10:00 anyway so I decided to have myself prepared before 09:00 so I can go to the main villa and farewell-ing with everyone.
Return journey begins: Cancun ✈️ Mexico City
11:00 came so me and the other folks who’s scheduled to go to the airport hopped in to the booked shuttle and went to Cancun International Airport. There are two things worth mentioning:
- It took the officer quite some time to properly check us in. I guess it was around 10 – 20 minutes in total. It seems like again, they’re not sure about the rule of having layover in schengen airport without schengen visa. I had to do a little convincing explaining that one layover from/to non schengen country is okay without visa while more than one layovers require visa. They finally checked us in tho.
- There were this good souvenirs shop after immigration and security check. The quality of its souvenirs were good; the only cons is they were quite pricey.
We boarded around 15:10 and our flight to Mexico City was really smooth.
Mexico City ✈️ Amsterdam
Here’s one thing that i didn’t see coming: the experience of transferring from domestic flight into international flight in Mexico City’s airport was quite a task.
First, we arrived at Mexico City airport around 18:00. We noticed that our international flight to Amsterdam is on different terminal so we quickly get out and look for our way to go to the next terminal. There was sky train which connect terminal 2 to terminal 2 but there was one thing that shock us all: the queue to get into the sky train was incredibly long. I look around and going to terminal 1 using taxi didn’t seem to be possible due to the severe traffic. So we queue and it took us 45 minutes to get into the sky train.
Once we hopped in, i noticed one thing: the sky train isn’t quite fast. It really takes it time to reach terminal 1.
Once we hopped off the sky train, we went into immigration and security check then looked for our gates. This is the next thing worth noting: KLM’s gate happen to be the furthest gate on that terminal and I think I never walked into a boarding gate further than i walked to KLM’s gate that day. Not sure if it was just my feeling but It was intensely far.
We boarded on KLM’s aircraft around 22:45. The aircraft was decent but I could see that it was quite aged judging from the entertainment system it used, which is wired remote + not quite high resolution monitor. The overall experience was okay tho; the flight was smooth, sufficient legroom, nice food with vegetarian option, a kind flight attendant, etc.
Amsterdam ✈️ Kuala Lumpur
We arrived around 14:40 at Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport and we got 6 hours of layover, plenty time for doing layover stuff. Schipol is a great place for do this relatively long layover due to the facilities it has:
- Lots of restroom. I’m not a big fan of its sensor based toilet flush tho :sigh:
- Multi-faith praying room; really helpful for muslim who need a space for praying
- There are shower room; helpful for ablution (Note: located at toilet area right after security check on second floor)
- Plenty of tenants for shopping
- There is museum. Pro tip: if you’re looking for Amsterdam specific souvenir, buy it here.
- Plenty of food tenants.
- Lots of chairs for resting
Overall, having a long layover at Schipol isn’t that bad. We left Schipol for Jakarta with a stop at Kuala Lumpur around 20:50. Worth noting: KLM’s aircraft from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur seemed to be better and newer.
Quick Stop at Kuala Lumpur
Our long flight from Amsterdam was nice, and apparently we had a quick stop at 15:00-ish. It was my first time a had a flight with a quick stop with the same aircraft. It basically means:
- We flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur
- At Kuala Lumpur, some passengers will departed. However, passengers that will depart at Jakarta needed to depart from the aircraft as well. This was mandatory because the aircraft will be cleaned up.
- We departed from the aircraft, then re-entered the gate… with security check as well. :facepalm:
- We sit on the exact same seat we flew from Amsterdam
- New passengers with Kuala Lumpur – Jakarta route will also board the aircraft
The stop was indeed quick, around 30 minutes-ish. While waiting on the gate, KLM apparently celebrated their 100th birthday so they handed everyone a cupcake.
Finally arrived at Jakarta 🇮🇩🇮🇩🇮🇩
After our longest flight of our life so far, we finally arrive at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport around 17:25. Flying is so much fun but apparently 27 hours of flying was a bit too much, i can feel my body tired from sitting all day long.
After we got all of our luggages, me, Ayub, and Sofyan snapped our final group selfie marking the end of our retreat trip before we went our separate way since all of us live in different cities:
It was a super fun and story-pack retreat. I’m really grateful for it.