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Taking a Ride on the Wild Side

The east coast of Cozumel is called "The Wild Side" for a number of reasons. It is largely uninhabited and undeveloped. The Caribbean Sea pounds in with such ferocity that most days it makes swimming a seriously hazardous venture.



Those same waves and that treacherous undertow are just what the surfers are looking for.


The last time we were in Cozumel we rented a car and drove south to Punta Sur then north up the east coast and back again across the transversal highway into town. We saw a lot, but figured we would see that much more on bicycle.

Let me give you a little background about our bike riding history. We used to own bicycles, but five and a half years ago when we sold our house and contents, our bike riding more or less ended. Bear in mind that we were never road warriors and in the intervening years, we may have rented bikes a handful of times for leisurely sightseeing. So, with this level of bike fitness and an overly optimistic evaluation of our stamina, we decided to ride around the island for a total of 64 km.

This is us after 15 km. - still happy and feeling good about the whole idea.


When I say "ride around the island" - that is not actually possible, as there is one main road that runs north and south around the main developed area (town, beach clubs, resorts, etc.), and then cuts across the island. There is another main road that runs north from town on the west side up into the hotel area. Most of the north end of the island is undeveloped, with no road access but for a bumpy dirt road on the east side that is accessible only with jeeps or ATVs. So the 64 km. loop is done along the bottom half of the island, and a huge bonus here - much of it is on designated bike lanes. In fact, there is a bike lane that runs along the east coast, entirely separate from vehicles and runs right along the water.

This leg of the journey was heavenly -without having to watch for traffic or even pedestrians, we were free to sail along and get lost in our surroundings.

Turkey vultures quite unfazed by our presence.


One of many little sheltered coves. This one has a substantial rock barrier in front, which provides a safe current-free spot to swim.


Being a meteorologist in the Caribbean would be an exercise in frustration and humility, as the forecast is almost never right. Clouds are a constant - they roll in and clear away, and sudden downpours don't always come with a warning. We got a bit of a soak on our first hour of riding, stayed dry for the rest of the ride, but the clouds never left us. Very atmospheric though and a bit of a break from relentless sun.

There are not a lot of places to stop for lunch on the wild side, with food quality being hit and miss, but Coconuts Bar and Grill had been suggested for the "experience." It didn't disappoint, as it was the ultimate tourist trap with overpriced mediocre food attached to a stunning view. We've often mused on that - why so many beachfront restaurants turn out such rotten fare. Having a professional chef in the kitchen is not always possible, but I know from my own experience in a home kitchen that it is as easy to make good food as it is to make bad food, so why not raise that bar a little higher?

Coconuts gave us a good laugh. Our server was smarmy and insincere, but the place was filled with enough curiosities to keep us amused.

This photo doesn't tell the whole story, but it does look as though you are being warned that the gaunt and frightening mannequin named Chimichanga" loves to bite. (Chimichanga is in fact a cockatoo tethered to a nearby cage.)


On the opposite side of the room, there is another biting bird - this rather shy parrot.


Having birds in cages is not uncommon in Mexico and it always makes me feel a little queasy to see these poor things tied and unable to fly. There are two dolphin centres in Cozumel where you can swim with and pet the dolphins, but there are plans to outlaw that practice as it is deemed to be so stressful to the mammals. To Mexico's credit, they banned using animals in circuses a number of years ago. We were in Sayulita many years ago when a circus came to town, and along with the acrobats and magic acts, there were a number of big cats held in small cages. Their "performance" in the ring was heartbreaking - drugged and listless as they clambered over a few blocks.

We rode past this site that no-one seemed able to explain, but we're wondering if perhaps it was the home of the circus. We peeked down the road through the locked gate and could see a few trucks. Certainly these two are a little worse for the wear, so it has been quite a while since anything went on behind those gates.


Mysteries! So many unanswered questions. Like what on earth was this back in the day when it was in good shape? Along with the deteriorating dinosaurs, the lot was filled with a half-dozen vehicles who have also died a slow death.


This is part of what I love about Mexico - so many stories, so much that is unknowable, and let's face it, so much you don't want to know. Now one thing I have wondered about on this trip is why there are so many pharmacies in places like Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres and Cozumel. Many of them are no bigger than kiosks, but there is one on every corner; some of them offering discounts and most of them offering drugs like Tramadol, which is a serious opioid - available without prescription. In some cases, they have people standing outside, hissing, "Farmacia" in the same tone you might hear "weed." So what is going on?

I have it on good authority (from a couple we met on the beach in Isla Mujeres) that some of the many pharmacies as well as some of the many high-end jewelry stores are in fact being used to launder cartel cash. Now that seems like a sound business practice to me, but I don't want to go spreading false rumours, so take this with a grain of salt. I like this photo - Aqui y Ahora (Here and Now), plus a great mural, speaks to living for the moment. To aid in that approach to life, we have the Be Well Farmacia and a diamond shop.


Back to our bike ride. Once we had ridden across the island, then headed south on the east side, and then stopped for lunch, we still had more than halfway to go and we were beginning to lag. At one point, I passed a gentleman walking his three Irish setters and he seemed quite astonished that my goal was to get back downtown. "You can always flag down a taxi", was his encouraging suggestion.

The only thing that was keeping us (me?) from considering that option was my pride. My rear end was numb, my shoulders and upper arms locked in a painful half-circle, my calves were seizing and I was playing mind games to continue. "Km. 28!" "Just 28 km. left!"

The scenery was a helpful distraction. We were riding through the southern part of the island past the beach clubs and the exclusive resorts.


Soon, the southern part of town came into view and we were like horses to the barn - just 6 km. to go.


We returned beaten but unbowed, and our new bike rental friend Philip ( from the Okanagan who has lived full-time in Cozumel for four years) was suitably impressed with us. We took his advice to keep moving and eat sugar, so with a half-hour walk ahead of us, we stopped for ice-cream as we hobbled home. Next day we were as good as new.

I want to tell you about the SeaWalls Project - seawalls.org This is a global organization of artists who paint murals whose theme is the environment and the protection of our natural world. There are a number of these murals in Cozumel, as well as other parts of Mexico and all over the world.

I don't think this one is part of the SeaWalls project, but I liked it. If you'll notice on the left, there are two guard dogs, who took great umbrage at us stopping to admire the artwork.


Barking dogs in Mexico - it could be a documentary. it is a given that you will have barking dogs as part of your audio background. Our street has a number of dogs and once one dog starts, the chorus begins and can last for five minutes. It's a choir - a couple of baritones, a few tenors and a whole front line of sopranos. Always one or two off-key. Then it will start up again, the next time a leaf drops, or a bike goes by or really...anything. Strangely and fortuitously, they all seem to go to bed at a decent hour and stay quiet, so nothing to complain about.

We went for a neighbourhood walk a few nights ago and met some of the miscreants. These scruffy little characters just about lost it when we quietly walked by, but then I looked at their situation. The three of them are probably in there morning, noon and night - I'd be barking as well if that was my lot in life.


While these three have perhaps a finer pedigree and a more orderly environment, they were no less vocal.


We are leaving Cozumel with wonderful memories and ended our trip on a high note - we met my cousins for our final dinner. I have a lot in common with my cousins Diana and Maureen. They spent their early childhood in Gaspe; I visited every summer. We all grew up in Montreal; Diana's husband Bruce and I were in the same class one year. Our family ties run deep and although we don't often see one another (we're spread out in Milton,Ontario, Edmonton and Nanaimo), we can easily pick up where we left off.

They are in Cozumel this year for nine weeks, and we visited with them twice. Lucky them - still six weeks to go.
Stephen, Ginny, Diana, Maureen and John. Bruce is missing from the photo - a bout of turista caught up with him unfortunately.


We fly out tomorrow to Mexico City - exchanging sea level heat and humidity for high altitudes and cooler temps. We're sad to leave this beautiful spot, but also ready for a change of pace. See you in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 01:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches punta su snorkeling cozumel

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Wonderful post, Ginny and Stephen. That sky!!! The writing, the photos (like paintings) are just great to see and read. Gracias!

by Shelagh

Ginny and Stephen….thank you for spending such valuable time with us…we have been separated by distance but never really apart!
Enjoy the next leg of your journey… till the next time. (Hopefully this summer) Love Di..

by Diana Coryn

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your stories and amazing pictures. Thank you

by Annie

Congratulations on completing the ambitious bike ride! It sounds like a very interesting trip and great photos. Enjoyed the pictures of the always present dogs of Mexico. We opted for a scooter for circling around the Bahamas & the primary challenge was remembering to stay on the left side of the road.

by Bob Pfister

Wow you guys are ambitious with the bicycles .!how far did you get ?more great photos!

by Vikki

I could feel your aching body as you biked along ! How ambitious you are. Thanks for sharing your time in Mexico with me. Safe travels to Mexico City and home. It's rather chilly here. Love lyn

by Lyn Morris

Great post! We've booked a 7-day bike boat tour in the Netherlands in May. This reminds me that we need to work hard on getting in shape for 60km/day. Good thing NL is flat!

by Peter Hohenadel

What a great way to see the wild side of the island, in spite of it being quite the undertaking! Hats off to both of you for doing it! Thanks for taking us along and sparing us the sore muscles.

by Heather Scott

Wish I had been in Cozumel with the family - it would have been so nice to see you……it’s been so many years!

by Jennifer Annett-Tracey

Loved this post! The chorus of barking dogs had me laughing. And bravo on the epic bike ride! Can't wait to hear what you get up to in Mexico City! xoxo

by Junita

Wow! Kudos to your for your bike ride! And, what a great way to get in touch with the place you are in.
Thank you for the stories! Scratching the surface of life in Mexico brings up the real stuff.
See you soon then. Apres Mexico City stories :)

by Robin Louise

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