(be forewarned, I think the song titles are only going to degenerate from herein)
I left Mexico City to do a reccy around the Caribbean coastline at Claire’s suggestion… To find a place I could call home for a month while I take Spanish lessons. My wish list consisted of 3 S’: small, simple and seaside.
Cancun. Otherwise known as Miami in Mexico.
I had booked my one night there too hastily, as I was determined just to transit through. After all I had heard about the place – I knew it wasn’t going to be for me. Note to self: Must read reviews BEFORE booking rooms. (Also must contribute to traveler review sites more often.)
It was, in a word, a shithole. No toilet seat. Holes in the wall – probably where perverts were looking at me get undressed. Musty mattress, barely clean linen. Ants. Flying things. And other unidentified bugs in the bed. Not bed bugs, thank goodness. (I am absolutely paranoid about these since Angie told me horror stories about people having to trash all their stuff, and move out of their house when they were plagued by them.)
Hard to believe only 10 days prior I was in a 4 star hotel. One of the few downsides to traveling solo is that often hostels will charge you for 2 people if you want a private room. A hotel can end up costing roughly the same, but be a bit a lot nicer. Downsides to a hotel is you don’t get the social aspect of meeting people in a hotel. Maybe I need to rethink my attitude to dorms. Ergh.
I dumped my bag in the shithole and went downtown. But not before asking if they could kindly arrange a toilet seat for me, por favor.
Finding a decent looking place to eat proved tricky, so I opted for what was easy. A restaurant / bar with a thatched roof sounds nice, but this was, I realized too late, anything but a nice place. I had already ordered, when a fat old drunk started trying to pick me up from his neighboring table. When that didn’t work, he started whistling at me like I was a dog. It reminded me of the boys in Campbelltown who’s charms extended to hanging their heads out of the windows of their Toranas, and asking,
‘Ya wannna rooyt?’
Geez, how did you know. Okay. Let’s go, then.
I mean, really. Really?
I scoffed down the awful meal, the quickest Corona, and scurried back home. To the shithole.
I stopped to talk to a few people who were hanging around in hammocks by a mosquito pool back at the hostel, but wasn’t really feeling the vibe, so i just made a beeline for my shithole.
The young bloke from reception knocked on my door, and promptly installed a toilet seat for me. Gracias.
I showered. With thongs on. And got into the nasty bed. The only saving graces were that I had A/C, the Family Guy was on, dubbed in Spanish. I retired early, so I could get out of there as quickly as possible the next morning.
Arriving in Isla Mujeres (the “island of women”) was like arriving in paradise. Sure there was a lot of road works and still the ubiquitous tourist shops, but the Caribbean was a sparkling aqua blue that was almost luminescent. White linen covered cabañas and white sunlounges dotted a white, white beach. It was like a perfect postcard, but real life.
I hadn’t organized a room as yet, so I needed somewhere to stow my pack. There was no left luggage at the ferry terminal, but I was lucky to meet Fausto, a happy fisherman, who was half Mayan and had lived his whole life on the island. I could tell by his eyes he was a good man. He locked up my pack in a tiny storeroom filled with fishing lines, while I scoped downtown for a room. I decided on an immaculate hotel with a pool. To make up for the shithole. I am past the days of suffering unnecessarily for an extra day of travel. Ironically it cost me only a few more dollars than the shithole. I went back to pick up my bag and promised to buy Fausto a beer for his trouble.
I immediately went for a swim in that perfect sea. My first in the Caribbean. I could hardly stop myself from jumping up and down, splashing around like a kid, and smiling like a idiot savant. Such a lucky girl.
So many times in the last 6 weeks have I pinched myself and wondered out aloud,
Why me. In the best of ways.
While I have by no means have had the hardest of lives, it hasn’t always been an easy road. There were some truly trying times, growing up. I’ve also learnt a lot of lessons the hard or the long way. I gave up a true love, in the belief that something that was a better fit, would come along. It hasn’t. There was a decent career which proved less than satisfactory. No children. Yet. Less importantly, no white picket fence. One day, I might bore those of you who don’t know my stories, with the details. But for the moment, let’s just say I have spent a lot of time lately, wondering out aloud,
Why me. But in the best of ways.
I don’t know if this trip will be some life altering experience; or if it will simply be a six month holiday. Whereupon I return to my old life. And whether that will be happily or otherwise. I secretly hope that love might be a by-product of this trip. I want to learn to speak some Spanish. I want to write. Above all else, i want to truly live in the moment. At least, this much I can control.
So there I was swimming in the bluest of sea on my own, squealing with joy from the inside, out. Lunatic.
I spent the next two days cruising about the island, getting to know some of the locals, enquiring about casitas to rent, and looking for Laura – a lady who I hoped might become my teacher.
Isla Mujeres is a very small island – only 8km long by less than 1km wide. You could, in theory, walk it but it’s so damned hot and humid in the day- you’re better off getting a cheap as chips taxi or hiring a moped or golf cart. I kept to the norte part of the island for the time I was there, but on my last day, a real estate agent, Edwin took me to the other end, the Punta Sur to see a house that was on the precipice overlooking wilder seas. The place would have provided solace i was looking for, but it was a bit far removed for my liking. I wanted something that would give me easy access to the beach, shops, the locals, and bars- should I want to socialize.
On my last day, I also met with Gladys to see a place which she had personally rented for 3 years. It was light and airy and clean. She had painted the walls with a simple mural. There was a basic kitchenette. And AC. There was a shared terrace upstairs that had water glimpses. It was just moments away from downtown. And the beach. And it was $250 cheaper a month than the other two places I was considering. And about 1/3 of what i was paying for my Bondi apartment. I fell in love with it immediately.
I received reply back from Laura indicating she could do the job, but she was in Merida and had to take an exam for a job and couldn’t start til the following week. No problem, I decided i should take a quick look at Tulum, Playa de Carmen and Cozumel before laying down my swag.
Tulum is divided into two parts: the pueblo (town) and the beach. Naturally I gravitated towards the 7km long beach with the jungle right at it’s back… The power grid stops just off the main highway and so you only have generator electricity for a limited number of hours during the day.
There were just three huts in the ‘resort’ i had made a reservation for, and no Reception that I could see. A young man appeared from nowhere to greet me, show me my gorgeous thatched roof house nestled between the jungle and the beach and wave me in the direction of the ocean, which was just steps away. My big beautiful 4 poster bed swathed in a mosquito net was the centerpiece of the cosy room. The bathroom was all water smoothed stones and mosaic mirrors, and organic soaps and fluffy white towels. I noticed not one, but 3 fans (the reason became quite evident as I tried to sleep later that night).
It was nice to duck dive and do some body surfing, as it was the first time I’d seen any waves since leaving home. I had the ocean all to myself bar a few lovers strolling along the shoreline. I showered outdoors, and walked a few meters down the road before happening upon a buzzing little outdoor restaurant, Hartwood.
I sat at the bar, and ordered cerveza. I then introduced myself to the friendly looking local bartender and the handsome young man sitting next to me. Eric and his pretty pregnant wife, Maya were the owners, having moved from New York just 6 months earlier. The menu was really exciting. I started with a crab dip and a Caesar salad done with the fish of the day. I had a few drinks including an amazing Habanero Grapefruit Margarita (!!!) and got to know the lovely young couple bit more, as well as their staff. Valentine looked a bit like a Mexican Merve Hughes and was just larger than life. He had me in stitches. An extraordinarily charismatic man. Maya said they kept him around for “buena energía” – I could completely see why.
Next day I headed to Playa Del Carmen, essentially just to catch the ferry across to the island of Cozumel. I ended up spending 3 nights there. I stayed in the literally named Hotel Dulce. This is where I saw my first swan towel. The housemaids on the coast have a thing for creative towel folding. Think origami in terry toweling. I’ve seen a lot of swans since, and I have to say they’re right up there with tyre swans for me. Love!
So, Cozumel is a large island that’s on the cruise ship route. When you arrive you are confronted by a melee of tourist shops selling t-shirts, jewelry, shot glasses, Mexican souvenirs, blah blah blah. Shop after shop after shop of the shit. and not much else.
Turns out, everything that’s good about the island is on the other side. You can’t get to the other side by collectivo. You need a bike or a car. I enquired about a cab and was told it would cost $50USD to get there, and back. WTF. He also wanted to take me to a very American-looking full service day resort. All I saw was overpriced pre-made drinks, and organized activities. All he saw was a commission.
I decided I’d hire my own vehicle. I initially wanted to get a moped, but after all the haggling and paperwork were done, I had a change of heart. Whilst on the island of Paros in Greece in 1998, i had an accident on a moped, where I broke my right foot. My friend Janine had to help the doctor cast my foot on a bloodied bed (there’d been a shooting just moments before). I’m fine to ride pillion with an experienced driver, but I just didn’t have the nerve to do it on my own. So I ended up going with a jeep instead.
It was pretty on the other side. Lots of lovely little beaches to stop at for swims and drinks. I had the best fish tacos yet at a place called the Orange Iguana, overlooking the sea. I didn’t get around to going in the National Park because it was near closing time and you really need a whole day there. The diving is supposed to be something else. Jaques Cousteau was responsible for bringing this place to the world’s attention many years ago.
It started raining heavily, and the jeep was leaking through the roof, so I decided to call it a day, and take a siesta before dinner.
The next morning, I drove to San Gervasio, which is one of the oldest Mayan archeological sites. It is dedicated to the goddess Ixchel (“She of the Rainbows”) – deity of midwifery, fertility, medicine and weaving. Many women from the Mayan settlements all around Mexico and beyond, made a pilgrimage here to her shrine at some point in their lifetime.
You can read more about Ixchel’s fascinating story here.
I was told that this, was by no means the most oppressive of Mayan ruins I would see, but it was certainly a significant one.
It started bucketing down that afternoon, and basically didn’t stop for the rest of the week. I decided I would see out the rain in
Playa Del Carmen
Playa, is also quite touristy (meh, we’re on what’s called the Mexican Riveria. It’s all touristy) but it has a very international, more grown up feel about it. A lot of Italian restaurants, expensive jewelry shops, designer bikinis and a lot more choice for decent espresso. Fuck, I miss well-made coffee.
There’s a reputable Spanish school, and the beaches are, well, just typically gorgeous… I knew I could be happy enough there but it just didn’t feel like Mexico. There’s very likely a whole other side to it that I didn’t see because of the torrential downpours… I spent most of my time in my hotel, reading, writing, catching up with friends, and sleeping; or in restaurants and bars, eating and drinking. It wasn’t all bad.
This is where I met the surfer boy from El Salvador (see previous post) and also a handsome Italian local man by the name of Luca… He and I shared a bottle of red and some good conversation, under the balcony of the cafe he owned, while it rained and rained, and rained. Swoon…I got the distinct feeling I would rarely be lonely in a place like this, but it wasn’t what I came to Mexico for…
Laura, in the meantime, had fallen through… I had told 2 out of the 3 landlords I was dealing with, I wouldn’t be needing their rooms…I still had one sort of on hold. I commenced a new mission to find another teacher on Isla Mujeres.
I also started considering other options for places to study such as Guatemala. I decided to go to Merida, as i could either head around to Guatemala via Palenque and San Cristobal, or come back down to Isla should I be able to pull it off. It was all starting to feel a bit hard.
Monday 27 July