During the first week of January, I escaped my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, and went to Playa del Carmen, Mexico, with my boyfriend. Turns out our timing was perfect: While we were gone, temperatures dipped below zero at home, and the ground remained covered with a miserable layer of ice. If I’d been at home, I would’ve only crawled out from beneath my new electric blanket to get coffee or go to the bathroom. Instead, we lounged on the beach, went swimming with sea turtles, and drank cocktails in the afternoon. It was a perfect escape.
No matter how perfect, my least favorite part of any vacation is leaving my cats behind. It’s overwhelming to go a week — or longer! — without squishing my cats’ tiny, perfect faces between my hands and soaking up their calming feline energy. My cats’ purrs are like a drug — and the minute I step on the plane, I go into withdrawal.
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that in addition to iguanas, exotic birds, and playful spider monkeys that swing from the trees, Sandos Caracol, our all-inclusive resort, was home to a colony of friendly, feisty cats. The kitties lounged on the sidewalks, climbed in the trees, and lurked around the 24-hour snack bar — even though signs around the resort specifically instructed guests not to feed them. They were in no way intrusive or demanding.
Naturally, I couldn’t motorboat the bellies of the kitties at the resort, but many of them would gratefully plop down on the sidewalk to enjoy a few chin scritchies as I passed. It was lovely to see feline faces when my own cats were 1,300 miles away.
Even better was the resort’s Cat Cafe, where the cats are fed each morning at 9 a.m. — hence the instructions not to share food from your plate at the snack bar. (It can be challenging not to share with all the critters, though, especially the raccoons, which are much more able thieves. When one family neglected to throw away their trash, a rogue raccoon gang immediately descended upon the leftovers, and one lucky fella crawled away with a hot dog between his paws.)
At the cats’ daily feeding time, hotel staff also monitors their health — a good thing, considering I saw one kitty suffering from what looked like skin cancer, with a gray, crusty wound on his ear. I imagine this is a more common ailment in the equatorial sun, and I was relieved to know someone was keeping an eye on the situation and would care for him humanely when the time came.
Additionally, all of the cats on the property are spayed or neutered. It’s a great program that can also be found at other tourist destinations, including Magens Point Resort in St. Thomas and RIU Hotel and Resort in Cancun, to name a couple.
Like many other places in the world, Mexico has an extreme overpopulation of cats. We saw several street cats when we took a catamaran to Isla Mujeres (the Island of Women), which was terrifying because we were on a boat in the middle of the ocean with no lifejackets, and fun because we were on a boat in the middle of the ocean with no lifejackets. Overpopulation of dogs is even more rampant; according to this 2009 documentary, street dogs outnumber people in some cities.
Cat cafes originated in response to hungry stray cats begging for food from tourists — a problem that often resulted in the cats being euthanized (or killed in less-humane ways). According to Cats and Dogs International, a nonprofit organization responsible for instituting many cat cafes in the Cancun area, the program allows tourists to “enjoy the company of the cats without having to worry about their long-term safety.”
It’s comforting and encouraging to see people working together to make a difference in the lives of homeless animals, no matter how large the problem may seem. And a colony of kitties is certainly a welcome sight for a traveler far from home who’s missing her own feline friends. Quite simply, “adorable” is a universal language.
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.