Teens make a Spring Break for the border

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The Independent US

In Cancun, the locals are girding for the annual onslaught of "los Spring-Breakers", tens of thousands of American teenagers who save up for a spring fling as far away as possible from their parents. The express purpose is to get rowdy, in a place where the legal drinking age is 18 rather than 21, and most bartenders won't bother to check. And, of course, to get laid.

In Cancun, the locals are girding for the annual onslaught of "los Spring-Breakers", tens of thousands of American teenagers who save up for a spring fling as far away as possible from their parents. The express purpose is to get rowdy, in a place where the legal drinking age is 18 rather than 21, and most bartenders won't bother to check. And, of course, to get laid.

A recent Columbia University study concluded that teens drink one quarter of all alcohol consumed in the US. What goes down their throats during a week-long binge of booze cruises, tequila-chugging contests, and bladder-bust parties in southern Mexico would skew these statistics considerably.

Hotels have bolted down their furniture in anticipation of the hordes. Señor Frog's cantina (motto: our chaos is your chaos) has stockpiled its trademark 2m-high plastic flagons. Package tours issue wristbands for all-you-can drink bars, but also for a state-of-the art medical clinic. Alcohol poisoning and sun poisoning are both common by midweek.

In past years, more than a dozen tourists have fallen to their deaths while snogging against low railings on hotel balconies, and even more have drowned during drunken swims. One unfortunate young man, while urinating into a lagoon behind a disco, disturbed a sleeping crocodile which then chomped his leg.

In the past five years, ever since MTV started broadcasting Girls Gone Wild and other revelry from Cancun, the numbers of visitors have tripled and the average age has gone down. Forget Daytona Beach in Florida, South Padre Island in Texas, or Palm Springs in southern California – once the legendary resorts for underage American excess. Budgets stretch further in Mexico, where resort prices are quoted in dollars during Spring Break, and the rules are more relaxed.

And if you manage to get into trouble, your reputation won't be ruined. No wonder border towns and Pacific resorts such as Cabo San Lucas or Puerto Vallarta attract so many students at the end of term.

But tropical Cancun has become the ultimate destination and youngsters from 1,100 different campuses show up for this annual rite of passage, or rather, passing out. The place has crushed coral beaches that gleam in the moonlight and palm-fringed turquoise seas where Tony Blair and family splashed last summer, but it's like-minded party animals that draw these Easter crowds. Wet T-shirt contests, condom-blowing games, and chart-topping rock groups make Cancun the place to be.

Some 65,000 teenagers are expected this month and most travel in packs. "Cancun is hook-up heaven," enthused Jeff, a returning Spring-Breaker who declined to give his surname. His technique is to chat up girls while they queue for free beer refills, since they have nowhere to escape. But he warns that you can't leave it too late. Jeff swears that willing partners tend to pair up by 2am. Other guys allegedly offer Rohypnol-laced cocktails to ease late-night seduction.

Maria de Lourdes Salazar, of the Quintana Roo state hotel association, said Spring-Breakers represented just 4 per cent of the annual 1.6 million visitors to Cancun and are atypical. But this year's turn-out will be a milestone for a tourism industry recovering rapidly from a post-11 September slump.

"Kids from the US who are barely 15 ask me for pot, cocaine and ecstasy," complained Roberto Hernandez, a taxi driver who finds such raucous behaviour embarrassing. "Everyone gets so very drunk. It's not very refined."

Still, once a year, as reliably as the grey whales or monarch butterflies that migrate from north of the border, los Spring-Breakers come back for more.

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