Isla de Mujeres

Exhausted, I awoke that Tuesday to what seemed like 105 degrees at the ripe hour of 7:30am.  Juan and I spent about an hour chatting further.  I was amazed at his seeming awake state given lack of sleep.  I felt bad about his lack of food and gave him 100 pesos, thanking him for his kindness and hoping that I would see him again.  I carried my way too heavy pack to the bus stop, which he kindly drew me a map of.  There are always more than 1 way to get anywhere, and more than 1 bus, so I took a different bus than he mentioned to the center of town.  The driver gave me about 2 seconds to enter with my 50 pound pack (this was not a normal bus, but a micro, or VW microbus with seats all around the outside facing in).  You have to duck to enter even if you don’t have a 75 liter 50 pound pack on your back.  On the ride to the center,  I was struck by the difference between this place in the Yucatan and where I’d come from in the center of Mexico.  Here banana trees, mangos, and papaya grow in happy equanimity, in a climate very similar to the one I saw in Huachinango near Veracruz.  People are adjusted to the heat, and sit out in the sun all day.  Again, I felt deep admiration for the hardy character of the Mexican people, which I had experienced on many other parts of my journey.  I disembarked in the center, famished, and sought out comida de la calle.  Having secured a tasty egg sandwich, I waited for the bus going to Puerto Juarez, the cheap ferry that heads to Isla de Mujeres.  The ride over in the boat was lovely – I asked to be outside in front, which is not normal, as the only passenger seats are located inside the hull.  But the smell of ship fuel and my love for the ocean propelled me outside with the crew.  I had a nice chat with a kind man who worked on board.  It was interesting to see all the things the ferry hauled to the island.  Essentially it’s Fed Ex, the mail service, and provider of materials for the homes being built and restaurants in need of large quantities of food.  By the way, there’s a Costco (the only I saw in Mexico) as well as a Walmart and some other megolithic stores in Cancun.  Not surprising given the quantity of American tourists.  In fact, the tourist section of Cancun, which is remarkably like any other strip mall in the US, is very unlike the Mexican section.  You could draw a line with a magic marker.

I’ve been to Cancun twice, once to fly home from my trip to South America and on this trip.  The previous time, I’d chosen Cancun as an endpoint as I’d wanted to explore Central America at the end of the trip but ran out of time for all but Caye Caulker off the coast of Belize and Tikal and Flores, Guatemala.  In any case, Cancun has never been a destination I wanted to check out.  I flew here because I wanted to check out the rest of the Yucatan and Chiapas, and didn’t want to sit on a bus for 25 hours.  Once here, I thought I’d go to Isla to relax on the beach and snorkel, which I adore and haven’t done much of.  I wanted to see this northern section of the Great Mayan Reef, having only seen the reef near Caye Caulker.  Getting off the ferry, I dragged my pack through the streets, refusing the bike taxis (and car taxis) eager to take me somewhere.  As I found out in Caye Caulker, the taxis often have agreements with hostels and hotels, and get a percentage of the nightly fee if they succeed in hooking a client.  So I preferred to make my own way and found a nice apartment with a small room near the Poc Na Hostel.  It was rated highly in Lonely Planet, and as I hadn’t been using LP as a guide up till now, I figured I’d give it a try.  What they neglected to mention was that tribal outdoor music starts at the hostel around midnight and goes till 5 or 6 am.  This is a nightly event, not only on the weekends.  I’d been told I could transfer to a larger room the next day, but at 11am was told that the people were not planning on leaving after all.  This coupled with the fact that even with silicone plugs stuffed deep in my ear, I couldn’t block out the thump thump of the bass, I decided to do a man on the street interview.

I saw a couple wheeling their luggage down the street and asked where they’d been and whether they liked it.  They had stayed at Sonados del Sol, a lovely set of apartment rooms with comfy bed, fridge and hot plate and large bathroom rented by a lovely German woman.  I decided to give it a try and got the owner’s number.  I called, left a message, and got a response that yes I could stay, and to meet in an hour.  I had a lovely latte at Rooster Cafe, whose owner Jason is from Oregon. He makes his own granola, banana bread and pastries, including delectable brownies.  As I hadn’t eaten American style sweets for 3 months, I had a field day, trying a different pastry every day.  My favorite was the brownie, which Jason refrigerated for clients who preferred it cold.  He also had internet, so I updated my blog and hung out for a few hours.  I quickly learned that it’s better to do physical activities in the morning, as it gets oppressively hot after 10am or so.  And this is the hottest time of the year, a combination which did not bode well for me.  I never managed to start the day early, and often found myself doing a grueling bike ride at 3 in the afternoon.  I found a nice bike rental outfit, which sadly only had used rusted bikes for let and no helmets.  I hadn’t ridden at all during my 3 months, and decided that I needed some form of transport other than by foot to get around the 7km long, 3 km wide island.  I decided to rent the bike for 3 days, and was helped by Juan Jose, a very kind bike racer who was working for a few weeks at his uncle’s bike rental shop.  He assisted me in changing bikes to one that fit me better, getting me a bike lock, and was just an all around nice guy.

Bike in hand, I rode to the southern tip of the island.  There were interesting sculptures along a path leading to a temple to Ix Chel and mayan observatory.  I sat on the remains of the temple, asking Ix Chel for abundance and creativity, two of her specialties.  I sat for a while, feeling a connection with that being and marvelling at the beauty of the land here.  I noted the iguana statue at the beginning of the sacred area, as iguanas are as common here as Komodo dragons are in the Indonesian island of Komodo.  Walking along the rocky path on the southern tip of the island, the easternmost part of Mexico, I marveled at the contrast between the rough seas and of the open ocean and the lapping gentle tide pool like conditions of the other.  A couple was sitting in a pool taking photos of their loveliness.  Why is it that everyone here looks like a model of 25?  They drink and party all night and wear dark glasses during the day.  I can’t imagine looking so good while beating up one’s body.  It’s good to be under 30.  Sometimes I feel lonely being here, on a romantic island without a significant other.

I rode back to the main town along the western side of the island, the lee side facing Cancun.  Near the southern tip of the island there’s a lovely resort called Garrafon Park, whose reef was pretty badly damaged by a hurricane  in 2003.  I didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to enter the park.  I found out later that they charge 380 pesos to just for snorkeling.  Feeling brave, I jumped in at the pier with snorkel and mask (I bought them at the local discount store – figured I’d be doing a lot of snorkeling further south in the Yucatan, Honduras, El Salvador, etc).  All was lovely, and I was admiring the beautiful reef and lovely fish, when I came face to face (within 4 feet, in any case) with a giant barracuda.  That’s right – it’s called a giant barracuda, and for good reason.  This specimen was at least 4 feet long, and had teeth to prove it.  Never having seen anything like it, I was terrified.  And found out later from an Australian diver that I should be.  She’s more scared of barracuda than shark, due to the unpredictable nature of the beast.  Needless to say, that cured me of further snorkeling adventures, and after backing up in the water for a few feet, I swam like mad to the other shore.  Ten minutes later, I’d arrived on land, barefoot and a quarter mile away from my flip flops.  I braved volcanic rock, thorny plants, and coral reef with bare feet to get back to my things, all the while thinking that this must be what it’s like to be on a Survivor show.  Not that I’ve watched an episode.  I still had adrenaline coursing through my veins as I rode the bike back.

Oscar’s Mexican Grill and Pizza caught my attention on the way.  I made the acquaintance of Mike, a really nice guy from New York who lives on his boat with his cat Captain Q and works hard making the best pizza I’ve had this side of New York.  Really.  It was the smell of garlic bread that lured me in, and I ended up coming back for the next 3 nights to get a slice of vegetarian pizza and a fresh made roll with oregano, garlic, and olive oil.  For a girl who hadn’t had pizza in 3 months, this was great.  Mike and I had a few heart to hearts over the course of those next few days.  It seems his boss is hard on him, trying to always show him up as not working hard enough.  He gets the feeling that it’s an us vs them situation, as he’s the only gringo in the establishment.  He was brought on board after an incident of salmonella poisoning due to unrefrigerated chicken that sent more than 100 people to the mainland hospital.  Needless to say, his partner was persona non grata afterwards, and Mike’s presence regained lost confidence.  I liked his open nature and great hospitality.  Apparently his partner gives him shit for talking with customers, but that’s one of the things that I (and I’m guessing others) find charming about him.

Seemingly unable to escape loud bars, I was shaken from a deep sleep at 1am on Friday.  Karma, a bar around the corner from the place I was staying (Sonados del Sol), opens their doors at 1am and plays loud house music till 6am Friday through Sunday.  Then for an hour, loud drunk youth yell to one another on the narrow streets, blissfully unaware of their effect on sleeping tourists and locals.  Although I got somewhat used to it, I couldn’t adjust to such poundingly loud, chaotic noise.  The next day was to be my last, and I carefully planned my morning accordingly.  Awaking early, I took the bike for a spin along the open ocean side, enjoying a beach where I had experienced a thunderstorm and spontaneous turtle hatchings a few days prior.  Spying a bike path, I set out, enjoying pedaling along its sinuous curves and shiny red pavement.  It was dotted with vegetation, and in many places I couldn’t see around the bend.  Around one such bend, I practically ran into a huge iguana, who, from toe to tail, blocked the entire path.  I felt like a silly mammal.  Fear pulsed through me, and without thinking, I braked as fast as I could and flew over the handlebars.  In a split second decision I decided to land on my shoulder rather than my head – good thinking as I had no helmet.  I lay there in pain, tangled in the bike pedals, wondering how to get it back to the rental place.  Luckily a couple walked by and stopped some minutes later.  In the meantime I’d almost passed out.  They sent for an ambulance, and upon arrival the guys asked me to walk.  I said I couldn’t, and they put me on a stretcher.  Good thing.  I found out when home that I’d broken my shoulder in 4 places, and that the greater tuberosity had separated.  Yikes.

But I wasn’t home yet.  They took me to a clinic.  There, they wanted to give me some sort of shot.  That didn’t seem like a good idea, as I didn’t know what was in the shot.  So I had to sign a release saying that I refused treatment.  As they didn’t have an Xray machine, I couldn’t imagine what type of treatment would be helpful. I went back to the place I was staying, and then had to decide on a course of action.  I was told that I would have to get a doctor’s note to board a plane home.  That didn’t sound like a good thing either.  So I decided that I’d make myself look as presentable as possible when I flew home. In the meantime, I went to the rental place.  Juan Jose was very kind, and surprised to see me.  I told him about the accident, and where the bike was taken.  He offered to help me pack my things when it was time to leave, as I only had use of one arm.  I made the requisite calls home and made a doctor’s appointment and booked a flight for a few days later.  I wanted to enjoy the few days I had left, to the extent I could.  I went to a lovely breakfast place and had a decadent omelette and real whole wheat toast.  Made friends with a coffee roaster and had a nice latte.  Talked to an Australian diver who told me that the Giant barracuda I’d seen could have been very dangerous.  She said that divers are afraid of them because they are so unpredictable.

I went back to the room.  It was 100 degrees outside, and I couldn’t stand being in pain and hot.  I wasn’t able to lift my arm, and I couldn’t get comfortable lying on back.  I asked for ice and kept refilling the bag during the course of the next few days.  On one of my outings, I shared food with a man from south Yucatan, who told me about the children in the mountain and other Mayan beliefs.  I talked with a guy on one particular beach, my favorite place to go at the end of the day thanks to its cool breeze.  I dreaded returning to American life and didn’t feel ready.  I’d planned to travel for several more months, to make my way to Chiapas and Oaxaca, and possibly on to Guatemala.  Returning was a great disappointment.  But I didn’t know whether my arm was sprained or broken.

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