By Alissa Lawton Special to Published Apr 06, 2011 at 10:47 AM

I don't mean to brag, but I spent last week in Mexico. The Riviera Maya area to be more specific, and it was awesome. We flew out of chilly Chicago in the wee hours of the morning, had a quick layover in Atlanta (where we saw Fantasia from "American Idol" in the airport) and arrived at the Cancun airport by lunch.

It had just rained, which made me nervous. No one likes to come back from a foreign country known for its sun-drenched beaches with nothing to show for it. Luckily, the rain passed and by the time we were outside at the resort shuttle, it was hot and steamy.

The drive from the Cancun airport to the resorts is strewn with people living in complete squalor and the sad irony of that fact wasn't lost on me. As you pass into the security of your resort, it's odd to think just on the other side of the brick wall and well-manicured palms are people that have next to nothing.

Mile after mile, mangy dogs lie under laundry drying on a line running between the trunk of a tree and a pathetic excuse for shelter. It made me feel incredibly sad and incredibly lucky at the same time.

I made myself (and my mother) a promise not to get sunburned while I was there. I failed. The first day was great; we had all afternoon to lie in the sun and I was diligent about slathering myself in sunscreen.

The next day everyone else decided to get up and go to the gym. I wanted to see the rest of the resort and try to get some nice photos so I put on my walking shoes and my iPod and ventured out, camera in hand. There are iguanas everywhere down there so they figured highly in my photo shoot.

When I got back to the pool, which we had decided was our central location, I was ready to lie out and soak up some sun (after a healthy dose of SPF, of course). Before I had a chance to sit down, one of the resort workers forced me into doing some water aerobics; I figured this couldn't take more than 15 minutes and grudgingly obliged. Forty-five minutes of making an ass of myself in front of strangers and I was past my embarrassment and burnt to a nice magenta.

Day three was our day of adventure. We went to swim with dolphins at an enclosed salt water pool. I wasn't going to let this sunburn get any worse so I wore a t-shirt and visor hoping it might be a cloudy day. I figured this dolphin excursion was a tourist trap and we'd get to pet the dolphins from the side of the tank and maybe throw them some fish. On the contrary: they strapped some life vests on us and we jumped in to kiss, 'dance with' and ride the dolphins.

I was the most excited out of everyone in our group. I didn't, however, realize what a mistake it was to wear a bikini for this venture. When it came time for me to grab onto the dolphin's fins and take a ride on his belly, the force of the water rushing by yanked my swimsuit bottom past my knees. I was in deep water about 20 feet from the rest of the group, but still, this was a family joint.

The dolphin trainer got quite a kick out of this and told me to swim back out to 'give it another try,' this time with my legs very tightly crossed. Keep in mind, I'm holding onto a huge dolphin while he flicks his tail to drag us both through the water. He's really powerful and while I feel like we're going about 60 miles an hour, he's not even trying. Nonetheless, once again my suit bottom goes shooting down my legs which everyone standing on the side of the pool finds hilarious. Time to go.

We did decide to taxi over to Playa del Carmen one night to scope out the shopping scene. I was a little hesitant due to the recent increase in drug cartel-related violence. Granted those incidents weren't in this area, but leaving the secure area of the Aventura Spa Resort still made me nervous. Of course, there was nothing to worry about.

Most of the people in the area were tourists just like us, or they were shop owners and employees practically begging us to buy whatever crap they were selling. There were a few higher-end stores, but more than anything it was the same stuff you see in any spring break novelty shop.

The next few days went too fast, as I knew they would. We did almost nothing but eat, drink and laze around in the sun. I did everything I could to cover all sunburned parts of me in an attempt to ward off the inevitable peel. I definitely gained back any weight I'd done my best to lose prior to the debut of my bikini body. Go figure -- spending your days on beach chairs doesn't burn many calories. Ah, well, it was worth it.

I blinked and it was time to head back to the airport, back through the poverty strewn streets of a neighboring country. Spending a week having all the food and drink anyone could want, then staring out the window at those living with nothing made me feel really guilty.

I tried to comfort myself with the age-old explanation that at least I was spending money there that might be helpful to the economy. Still not satisfied with the answer, I boarded the plane back to the cold and reality of the Midwest. It left me wondering, is it any wonder they want to come to America for a better life?

Alissa Lawton Special to

Alissa grew up on the near west side of Madison and had childhood dreams of being a veterinarian. Instead she moved to Milwaukee to attend college and attained a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from UW-Milwaukee. Previously an advertising copywriter and a marketing specialist, Alissa always preferred the writing aspect of her career.

An animal lover, a shoe lover and a white wine lover, she now resides on the much beloved East Side of Milwaukee in what she describes as an ancient apartment building full of character, but lacking sufficient electrical outlets and the convenience of an elevator.

To some she comes across as a shy wall flower, to those that know her much better she is a social butterfly, usually overdressed and wearing inappropriately uncomfortable shoes for nearly every occasion. Either way you choose to see her, Alissa has a strong desire to bring awareness to the social issues in our city while maintaining a sense of humor about herself and surroundings.