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After Emily: Cancún beaches open for business

Flights resume, major hotels have electricity.

With electricity back, and music wafting from loudspeakers onto the main tourists streets here, this Mexican resort town is slowly getting back to normal after being pounded by Hurricane Emily.

Down 5th Street, the main promenade one block up from the ocean, store owners were busy sweeping up broken glass, pulling tape and wood boards off windows, and sawing off broken branches of trees.

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At Terracotta Beach Wear, owner Patricia De La Puente was running an "Emily sale," with all the clothes which had gotten soaked by the rains 80 percent off: sombreros with their colors running for $5, teeny weeny soaked bikinis for $10.

In nearby Cancún, practically all the large hotels were functioning normally, but further south along the coast, many smaller hotels remained closed Tuesday, with computer systems down or no running water. Deseo, the legendary "hip" hotel in Playa del Carmen, was particularly hard hit by the category-four hurricane: The turquoise lounge chairs on the sun deck ripped to shreds, the patio flooded with water, the rooms turned upside down by the winds.

"We are more concerned with 'cool' architecture than with hurricane proof walls," admitted Andres Vazquez, a tattooed and shirtless front desk clerk, trying to fix the sound system. Nonetheless, they expect, he said, to reopen next week.

Laura Triay, the manager for Best Day Travel in the Riviera Maya, said the company had about 10 percent of its reservations for the rest of the month canceled due to the hurricane. Best Day, one of the region's largest tour companies, owns three hotels in Playa del Carmen and two in Cancún, and runs over 30 excursions throughout the Yucatan for some 15,000 tourists a month.

Ms. Triay says that those tourists arriving Tuesday and Wednesday would have changes made to their itineraries - the main archeological sites at Tulum and Xcaret remained closed for the time being, for example, so tourists were being taken on shopping outing to Cancún instead. She says but that everything would be "back to normal" by the weekend.

Jose Angel Ramirez, a representative of the town's tourist police, fielding questions at an information booth near the bus stop, says that all the ruins in the region are closed for cleaning and repairs but that no damage was reported to the pyramids. A special team of archeologist, he says, is inspecting the sites and they were all expected to reopen "within a few days."

Diving tours here were also on hold. Juan Bernel, a diving instructor at "Mike's Dive Shop" says that the enormous waves of the past few days - up to 30 feet tall - had brought sand and particles into suspension and visibility underwater was bad. Furthermore, most companies had taken their boats out of the water. He expected, however, that diving would be possible - especially right around Cancún itself.

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Those tourists who wanted to cancel or change their travel plans, said Best Day's Triay, should check with the specific agency through which they booked their tours. In most cases, she said, those wanting to postpone or change plans to travel to alternative destination because of the hurricane could do so.

Other tour operators and hotels were less flexible. At Mosquito Blue, a top-end hotel two blocks from the beach in Playa del Carmen, there is still no running water or air-conditioning. But, say Maria Noel Maldonado, the front desk manager, those with reservations who don't show up starting Tuesday, will be charged for rooms booked.

"That's our policy, same as always, we charge for 2 to 3 nights if you cancel," she says. Those who were stuck here during the hurricane, she added, were given option to move out - with no cancelation charge - into nearby shelters set up by the municipality. Those who stayed however, were charged full rates.

"People had fun here, even during the worst of the hurricane," she says. "And now, everything is fine. The danger is over, so there is no reason to cancel anything."

With the Cancún airport re-opened, flights are running as scheduled, as are most buses. Even the ferries to Cozumel, a small island off the coast of the Mayan Riviera, which was hit hardest by the hurricane, were launching off on an hourly basis. The island still lacks electricity, but the beaches, says Isaac Hernández Dominguez, selling the $10 ferry passes, "were just as lovely as ever."

Mexican President Vicente Fox, together with several members of his cabinet, was one of the first to make the trip to the island, saying Monday that the hurricane had "allowed us to put to the test the capacities of the country in terms of risk prevention." Apparently, according to Mr. Dominguez, he also enjoyed the sunshine. "Everyone enjoys it here - even the president," he says.

Ms. Harman is Latin America bureau chief for the Monitor and USA Today.


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