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Entries about beaches

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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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 Comments (11)

We're not in San Miguel de Allende...

...but we are in San Miguel de Cozumel

semi-overcast 27 °C

We've been to San Miguel de Allende three times in the past several years and we have spent countless hours wandering the hilly streets with one stunning sight-line after another unfolding at every turn. We have always thoroughly enjoyed our visits; San Miguel offers up something different every time. What we have enjoyed far less is the dominating gringo presence that has turned this beautiful colonial city into a well-heeled tourist playground - often at the expense of the locals.

San Miguel has earned a reputation as being "Gringolandia" and it is not undeserved. But the pluses of this city have always outweighed the annoyances for us, and so we had slotted a couple of weeks to check out our favourite sites. We would be there right now, but for an incident that soured us on the place once and for all.

We had booked an Airbnb from a Washington State couple who contacted us several weeks ago to find out our anticipated arrival time. Since we would be arriving on a Sunday around 6:00 pm, the owner told us that we would be expected to tip the property manager $30 to let us in. When we inquired about this practice, we were quite curtly told that a) Mexicans don't normally work on Sundays (?) and b) it is customary to tip in Mexico. Since Mexicans most definitely work on Sundays and we are well versed in tipping customs, we were both annoyed by the misinformation and insulted by the insinuation. We were also puzzled - in all the years and dozens of places we've stayed at in Mexico, we've never been charged to have someone hand us a key. We chose not to get into it with the owner, but merely changed our arrival date so as to avoid any "Sunday" issues.

Then we got to thinking... Would this unfortunate intro to this Airbnb be just the beginning of aggravating dealings with this owner? We had met several people like him in San Miguel before and they get in the way of all the reasons we love Mexico. So we turned to Plan B - head to another tourist destination with lots of gringos, also named San Miguel (de Cozumel)!

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If you remember our last visit in Cozumel, we were here for just four days with one sick day (Stephen being sunned out) and one rainy day cutting into our adventures. We left wishing we could have stayed longer and now we are back - back in our same cute casita and this time hitting the ground running - knowing where to go and what to see. Also my cousins are here - we've already had one visit and have more planned - more on that in the next blog.

Cozumel is a contradictory place. It is the fourth largest cruise ship destination in the world, and yet the presence of thousands of daily visitors is hardly noticed. I don't know where they all go. There is far more wild, jungly land than there is development, and the whole east coast is usually unswimmable due to winds and currents. Senor Frogs and Hooters have staked their ubiquitous claim on the waterfront, but the dining out scene is well balanced with Mexican-owned establishments, both mom and pop, and fine dining. The malecon is simply beautiful, running for many kilometres along the west coast of the island. If you are needing shade and don't mind being hassled, you walk on the street side where you will be coaxed to "take a look" for everything from made-in-China souvenirs to cigars to tequila. More serious purchases include diamonds, gold and no-prescription-necessary opioids and Viagra. If that proves to be too much, you just flip over to the water side and enjoy the view in peace.

We have found the tourists in Cozumel to be a little different than other beach destinations - quieter, less yahoo behaviour - more family, less party. Many folks live here here for the winter months and they are well integrated into the community. It is a much more relaxing place to be.

Getting around is the one sticking point - most of the tourist sites and beach clubs require either a car rental or a taxi - there is no bus service. Typically a round-trip taxi to most beach clubs will be $20, which adds up but is still way cheaper than a daily car rental. Most beach clubs either rent sun beds and umbrella for a fee that is then put toward the food and drink bill, or they simply ask that you purchase your lunch from them.

We headed out to Sky Reef Beach club a couple of days ago - it was blowing up quite a gale, so unfortunately the snorkelling was not as satisfactory as it could have been.

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Neither was the food - I foolishly ordered nachos, which aside from a few crispy tortillas on the edges, was a soggy mess, topped with a scant handful of tomato and onion and held together with a gelatinous mass of congealed cheese. Still, as we always say when the day does not unroll as we had hoped, " Real life happens on the road" - including unmet expectations.

A few real-life scenarios have unfolded for us this time around. The most inconvenient is the loss of our phone, which did not survive a Caribbean swim. Just prior to that, Stephen bought a new cord in Playa del Carmen for his iPad and then left it behind in Merida. We have since bought a second cord but the iPad is still behaving badly, so we may well be on the hunt for a few new devices once we return home.

Our experience at Buccano's Beach Club was incredible - the polar opposite of the Sky Reef. Buccano's is beautifully appointed, immaculately maintained and people actually go there for the food.
This is the entrance:

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We arrived early enough to have our pick of sunbeds, and set ourselves up for a completely enjoyable and memorable day. This flotilla arrived, which felt like a worrisome sign of things to come, but not at all. They dropped in their snorkelers for a while, then left and that was that.

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The snorkeling was fabulous. It is an incredible and highly addictive pastime to wade into the ocean, drop down and begin exploring. At times we were simply floating with fish swimming all around us; at other times we would be drifting along and just above our heads a barracuda would glide by. Fish of every colour of the rainbow, including huge schools of sargeant major fish ( small, black and yellow striped) that according to one of our nearby beach neighbours, actually bite. "They'll give ya a good nip" which was all the intel I needed to try and stay clear of them. I looked up "Cozumel fish" and according to the images I saw online, we saw angelfish in many different colours, a few harlequin bass, a school of blue tang, some honeycombed cowfish, damselfish and grouper. I also saw a magnificent spotted moray eel - slithering along the ocean floor, with its wavy back and sinister-looking mouth opening and reaching. We're hoping to have at least another few snorkelling experiences over the next week. We've run into a number of divers here and I have to say, their enthusiasm is infectious. If we love snorkeling, can you imagine what it would be like to dive - especially in this warm water with so much marine life. Maybe another trip.

We've been amusing ourselves with the fauna visible from our front deck. We wake up each morning to birdsong and in the early evening the action resumes - they swoop and soar and chirp and twitter, but sadly they are all birds of a feather - black and grey and brown. I have read through our Cozumel Bird Book and there is not a drop of colour to be found in our neighbourhood. I did get a snap of this Yucatan Vireo but that might be it for our tropical sightings.

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Most nights we are visited by this froggy fellow - I think this is a common milk frog. He sits on the cement wall and gradually makes his way up to the top, where he eventually climbs over and disappears. I hear myself doing the colour commentary," Oh I think he just moved" and I realize how far away from my youth I have moved.

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Although our weather has been a bit unsettled since we arrived, we have had a few nights where we've been able to watch the sunset. We had a multi-media event at Rinaldi's - a pizza place on the waterfront. There were people gathering on shore, a couple of snorkelers in the water and a cruise ship preparing to cast off.

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We had a ring-side seat.

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The main event.

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And finally, because I love them, some murals - all nature and Cozumel related.

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We still have lots to do and see here, so we'll catch up again in about a week. Our trip is starting to come to an end. We still have three weeks, which for non-retirees, is a very respectable holiday. For us, we are seeing the end on the horizon, which is always greeted with mixed feelings. We will finish our time in Mexico with 12 days in Mexico City - one of our very favourite cities.

As I write this, Stephen is watching the Superbowl in Spanish! See you all again in a week.

Posted by millerburr 00:19 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches cruise_ships murals island snorkeling malecon cozumel #stephenpaulburr Comments (6)

Whistling in Isla Mujeres

semi-overcast 28 °C

This was our favourite restaurant in Isla Mujeres - the Mango Cafe. It serves an exceptional breakfast and lunch, there is always a line-up and we always managed to snag a coveted upstairs table.

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Unfortunately, on two out of our three visits, we were tormented by the worst singer we have ever encountered; his off-key renditions of gringo oldies verging on parodies. He punctuated "Knocking on Heaven's Door" with plunking chords for emphasis, followed by a whistled version. Our erstwhile entertainer summed up a lot of how we felt about Isla Mujeres - confused, surprised, at times annoyed, at times charmed, and still at a bit of a loss as to the attraction.

Isla Mujeres, (Island of Women), is a bony finger of land 13 miles from Cancun that is just seven kilometres long and less than a kilometre wide - we walked the length and breadth of the island a number of times. It is so named because of the goddesses the Mayans used to celebrate fertility and childbirth.

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I don't know if it was the luscious reference to women, but we had imagined powerful swelling waves, fertile valleys and a magnetic appeal. Isla Mujeres has turned out to be kind of like that, but with less polish and a rougher edge. It's taken us the full week to get a feel for it.

The island is divided into three parts - the south end, which is populated by large homes and beach clubs; the north end, where the ferry spills out visitors every half hour onto the hotel zone, beaches and shopping areas; and the centre - where the locals live.

This is where we rented our Airbnb from Maria and Rolando, a warm-hearted, hard-working couple who have three sons, a restaurant, and a family compound at the end of this alley. They live on the first floor, Maria's parents and one sister on the second floor, another sister on the third floor and our place was on the top - the one with the palapa and the blue walls. There are also two dogs, several birds in cages, at least a half-dozen motorcycles, two golf carts and a chicken that appears to be a pet.

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We also met the neighbourhood kids - they play in the alleyway. They are like children from another era - beautiful manners, curious, and self-possessed. These two little girls, Renata (on the left) and Rowena were quite taken with us. Renata wanted an English lesson every time we met, so she dutifully repeated "dog", "cat", hair" ,"t-shirt", "shoes" etc.

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We tried the same thing with the boys, but after repeating "dog", they gave up and got back to the business of throwing stuff against the wall.

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We arrived home yesterday afternoon to a 6-year-old birthday party in full swing, complete with SpongeBob SquarePants, fully mic-ed entertainers, and a very stubborn SpongeBob pinata that despite the best efforts of the party-goers, would not break. One of the organizers, in the interest of keeping the party going, finally had to bring it down and it took two adults to manhandle the thing open. Out flew the goodies and it was every man, woman and child for themselves as they dove in.

The somewhat glum-looking party-goers:

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There is lots of life in this neighbourhood and much of it lived outside. Doors and windows are open, kids run from house to house, neighbours stop to chat - an effective and comforting Neighbourhood Watch. We were locking our door until we realized that you could slide open the window beside the door and undo the latch, so we just closed the door and left knowing all would be as we left it when we returned.

Coconuts are ripe for the picking. We watched this two-man effort at dislodging them onto the pavement.

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Local restaurants like Dona Mari's chicken place are typical. A few tables, a big plate of barbecued chicken and a big bottle of Coke for about $6 and take-your-chances seating. All the seats are doubled up and when I attempted to take them apart, the young man quickly came over and warned me to keep them together. A few minutes later a trio from West Virginia arrived - one of those big boys got those chairs undone and he sat down before we could warn him. Flat on his backside he went, as the four legs splayed out - a batch of defective plastic chairs that in Mexico, cannot go to waste.

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A typical street in mid-island.

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The water surrounding Isla Mujeres is easily described this way: the body of water facing Cancun (calm, good for swimming and snorkeling), the north end (the best beach on the island), the east coast (the Caribbean - wild, dangerous currents, strong surf), and Punta Sur ( the southernmost part of the island where the two bodies of water meet and soften).
We chose to walk south to Punta Sur on our first full day on Isla Mujeres. Our place is a block and a half from the east coast, so we set out along the paved path for a number of kilometres.

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Mainly, the water is somewhat inaccessible, as there are cliffs to navigate and surf that rumbles right up to shore. But in spots, the land dips down and small beaches emerge.

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We spent an afternoon under one of these palapas - going no further than our knees in the surf, but just enjoying the peace and quiet.

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Eventually, the paved path disappears and is replaced by a rugged dirt path that veers away from the road and runs between the sea and some very fine real estate.

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And then, finally we reach Punta Sur. This is the easternmost part of Mexico - the very first spot in the country where the sun rises each morning. It is also the meeting point between the wild waves on the east and the photogenic, emerald crystal waters of the southwest.

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And now, I will take you out of the life and colour of the local Mexican neighbourhoods, the calm well-bred vacation homes of the south into a whole other world that is just not our cup of tea. However - big but here - we have talked to a number of tourists who either live here each winter, or have been coming here on vacation every year and simply adore this place. I've come to realize there are distinct differences between travelling around Mexican towns and cities and traveling around beach towns. What we are looking for during extended travel and what someone on a much-needed break hopes to find are two very different things.

A little tipsy on watered-down margaritas by 11:00 a.m., sun-burned in your beach coverup and hanging onto the back of a golf cart might not be anybody's best look, but you need to get away from winter and your job and your life. But - another big but here - if Holbox was the hang-out of the cool kids, Mujeres is far more middle-of-the-road, and all of this is hugely amplified by a bombardment of day-trippers from Cancun. They come over by ferry, sail over on party boats, even hop on jet skis (illegal on the beaches, but they try until the navy shows up), and then once here, swarm the small island in golf carts.

This is a typical parking scene:

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Playa Norte is considered Isla Mujeres' best beach. It is beautiful - talcum powder sand, crystal water. We sat beside folks from Kelowna who have been coming here for eight years and according to them, the beach experience has been ruined in the last few years by this:

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When we first arrived, about 11:00 a.m., there were just a few boats out there. A couple of hours later, it was like a parking lot - boats backed up to the buoy line and many of them blasting their tunes. Each of these boats are from Cancun - each of them filled with between 10-30 passengers. Most of those boats arrive stocked with food and liquor, so there is very little financial benefit to the beach clubs and restaurants. The passengers hop out, swim around a bit, make a lot of noise and then leave. It is a gong show. As well, the buoy line is really close to shore, so there is a very small area in which to safely swim, and then that small area is filled with drunk people playing drinking games.

We decided another day to try our luck at one of the beach clubs on the south shore. Zama Beach Club had good reviews, so away we went; confident we would be free from the hordes. The beach clubs vary in price and quality and amenities, but generally you either pay a small fee for sunbed and umbrella rental and food is on top of that, or you pay a higher fee and most of the price goes back toward your restaurant bill. In this case, we paid roughly $5 for our rental for the day and we ordered food and drink.

Zama has a gorgeous setting, and at first glance, appeared absolutely perfect. And for the most part, it was - we spent several hours there, chatting with other tourists, eating good food, swimming and reading.

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The pools were cool and clean, and as it turned out, the only place we swam while we were there. The sea water in this area was quite murky and footing was unpleasant - mucky and filled with seagrass.

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And there were a number of boats that came ashore, but we hardly noticed them. No music, the passengers who all filed off to one side were quiet - they were a non-issue.

Who could resist jumping on this swing for a photo? I tried to smile and point my toes like Esther Williams might have done, but was somewhat impeded by the sheer weight of that swing, so this was as high as I could muster.

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And finally, the north end of Isla Mujeres - where there are most of the hotels, restaurants and shops. On first impression, the centro of Isla Mujeres is not immediately attractive. There are not impressive government buildings, nor are there photogenic little parks. This is a typical small street:

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These small streets are lined with stores just like this one, hawking their "handcrafts" - not one authentic Mexican souvenir in sight. It is depressing to see shop after shop after shop filled with tourist tat, and it is also depressing to be aggressively hassled by merchants wanting to sell stuff, tequila, cigars, massages - whatever. The quality Mexican goods are not here - we are walking wallets -period.

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Something that struck us about Isla Mujeres is the infrastructure has not been maintained; much more so than the financial devastation that Covid has wrought over the past two years. Buildings and sidewalks are crumbling, everything needs a coat of paint, a bit of love. We were told that for many years Isla Mujeres languished under a corrupt mayor and council and that in the past while, their dynamic new mayor has begun to make very significant changes. One of the first things she did was to remove the open landfill that was in the south end and that is in the process of being totally cleaned up.

You can see major work going on in the main square:

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I was shocked by the state of the malecon. In most seaside places we have visited, the malecon is a showplace; a natural gathering place to stroll, eat ice cream and stop for photos. With the sea as a natural backdrop, the malecon is usually enhanced by sculptures, monuments, and a line-up of waterfront cafes and restaurants. We passed one small cafe, but otherwise, this could have been a back alley. Many buildings boarded up, piles of rubble - a few stalwart walkers, but this could be so much more. Perhaps that is on the mayor's agenda as well.

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We did pass this delightful place - home to Timothy Fisher art. He has utterly transformed this building with his 3-D ceramic art, and it is a glimpse into what incredible potential exists here.

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Back in town, we came upon this installation - perhaps it is a collection of shoes found on the beach? I often walk by one flip flop or a single slipper and wonder how it is the owner didn't notice them missing.

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We leave Isla Mujeres a little confused. I think our experiences and impressions would have been entirely different if this island was more remote. If those beaches were not invaded and the streets not filled with tourist junk, the charm and beauty of the place would have a chance to shine. It seems the folks who live here for part of the year find their own spots, stay away from the crowds and have figured it out. We're glad we came, it was another adventure.

Next stop - back to Cozumel for two weeks. See you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 00:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches cancun playa malecon isla_mujeres punta_sur _norte Comments (7)

Cozumel: Home to Cruise Ships, Shipwrecks and Crocodiles

sunny 28 °C
View Mexico 2021/2022 on millerburr's travel map.

After a rather harrowing 30-minute high-speed catamaran ferry from Playa del Carmen, in which many of us emerged nauseated, if not actually vomiting, we landed into the welcoming arms of Cozumel's many, many vendors, tour operators and strangely, diamond salespeople. Big tip for travelling by catamaran? Sit in the middle of the boat and keep your eyes on the horizon. Big tip for avoiding vendors as you emerge into a new place in a state of confusion and disorientation? Keep your eyes on the horizon and do not engage.

In spite of my finely-tuned resistance to the sales pitch, on our second day in Cozumel, I found myself whisked off the street and into a salon where a dazzling young woman patted cream onto the bags under my eyes and clucked sympathetically as I held a small dryer to allow the serum to set. For just US$180, (normally $800), I could solve the problem of my baggy eyes; and in a critical error of judgement, she elicited an opinion from Stephen, who had just wandered in with his rumpled hat, eating a bag of chips. Nonplussed, he stared at my eyes, trying to guess which one had been worked on. To give the salespeople their due, they had a good-natured laugh about it. We were so clearly not their target market.

Honestly, although the streets are lined with shops, the vendors are not aggressive. They welcome you in to their shops and when you decline, give a smile as you walk by.

So, on to the cruise ships - part of the reason these shops exist in the first place. I can't tell you the numbers in 2021, but Cozumel is the busiest port of call in the Caribbean, and they average between 25-35 ships every week, spilling out up to 100,000 guests in that space of time.

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We were dreading their impact on our visit: anticipating the "sidewalk shuffle", long lineups for restaurants and beaches packed to capacity. We don't know where they all were, but those thousands of passengers were simply not in evidence. One restaurant owner told us that the larger cruise lines have specific shopping plazas and attractions that their passengers are steered toward, and the overall economic benefit for smaller businesses is not that great. He told us that many business owners and residents would be much happier if the cruise ships were not there.

Cozumel's malecon is scenic - running for a few kilometres along the west side of the island. One side is lined with shops and restaurants, and the other runs right along the water.

Sculptures line the walkway.

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This boat was wrecked in a hurricane and became permanently beached. It has since been painted and is now something of a tourist attraction.

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Cozumel has a large number of resorts that line the northern edge of the island; many of them fully contained with pools, restaurants and amenities.

This leafy boulevard runs through the hotel zone.

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There are a number of small hotels right in town, but we opted for an Airbnb located in a pretty Mexican neighbourhood. This is the gate to our second-floor casita.

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Our studio was well appointed and designed, with a small deck in the front, and windows that let in light and breezes and birdsong. Our host is a cellist with the Quintano Roo symphony, and she and her architect dad designed the space.

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We really enjoyed wandering the streets in Cozumel - an architectural feast for the eyes.

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We discovered a few great little spots to eat. This one was just around the corner from us:

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Our host recommended Novena Ola, so we had our final lunch in Cozumel there today. It was such a delightful surprise, for many reasons. First of all, prices were in pesos, not US dollars. Most shops and restaurants in Cozumel are priced in US dollars. Secondly, we were the only non-Mexican guests there, which is often a good sign - eat where the locals go, or at least where the Mexican tourists go. Everything clicked - the setting, the service, the view...

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...and the food. Chilaquiles - so delicious.

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We really liked Cozumel and it was way more laid-back and less touristy than we had thought it would be. It has a very Caribbean feeling to it - so lush and slightly different even from Puerto Morelos. However, beach access and getting around the island can be a costly endeavour. There are no buses, and unless you are staying at a beachfront resort, there are no beaches within walking distance. You have two choices - taxi or car rental. We had plans to go to a few different beaches, but one day we stayed home because Stephen was not feeling so well. Yesterday we did not go to the beach because we had a full day the day before and were a little sunned out. So, we cannot give a full description of beaches and particularly of snorkeling options, as we really only had the one day.

We chose to go to Punta Sur, which is an ecological reserve right at the south end of the island, featuring swimming, snorkeling, a lagoon that is home to crocodiles, and a lighthouse. After that, our plans were to drive up the east coast of the island, which is far less-visited and far more wild.
For that, we needed to rent a car (US$55). What $55 buys you in Cozumel is a tiny white high-mileage vehicle with mountain-bike sized tires, innumerable scratches and dents and a resident ghost. I was hearing indistinct voices and then our radio kept flashing on and off until I gave it a good bang. Still, it took us where we needed to go and once we were out of town, the road was practically empty.

Once we arrived at the Punta Sur entrance, we still had four miles to go down a dirt road in hilariously poor condition; an obstacle course that meant we drove at 20 kph the whole way. This photo does not begin to show the axle-bending potholes. Still - a change of scene and a reminder that much of Cozumel is uninhabited and rugged.

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Along the way, we saw signs warning that swimming was prohibited due to the rough waves. Then we spotted the lighthouse - the signpost that indicated the road was leading us back into the calm bay.

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We had our almost-new snorkeling gear to try out, and no sooner were we settled into our sunbed and chair than we were heading for the water.

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Pure heaven, this water, but although we have developed a much higher comfort level with snorkeling, we did not see anything more exciting than several schools of fish, some fan coral, and an eel. We needed to swim out a little further to see the big "catches", but the water was a bit bouncy. It is a shame really, as Cozumel has a reputation for some incredible snorkeling and diving.

Still, we had a fantastic day enjoying our beautiful surroundings, and the nearby wildlife reserve. We had an up-close visit with the Great Egret, who watched us closely, but stayed still for a photo.

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We saw this Roseate Spoonbill, who did not cooperate with me by lifting up their beak for a photo op.

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As we were leaving the beach, we noticed a couple taking photos and there they were - the pygmy raccoon that is endemic to Cozumel. So adorable (not a word I normally attribute to a raccoon), but these little guys are a bit shy, with ropy tails and curved snouts. The restaurant owner had tossed down a coconut at the end of the day, which coaxed them out of hiding.

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We had the opportunity to take a boat ride into the lagoon, but decided against it as the boat was just crammed with people. Also, I had forgotten my mask back at our beach site and wouldn't have been allowed on the boat anyway, so it was a moot point.

Luckily for us, on our way out of the park, we stopped at the lagoon lookout point.

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And as is always the case in wildlife sightings, timing is everything. Just as we were walking up the boardwalk, this large fellow slid out of the shallows and went for a languid glide into deeper water. I grabbed a couple of photos and a minute later, he was gone.

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We drove back up on the east side - largely uninhabited and home to rough surf-y water, and large parties of Mexicans, who want to get away from the tourists.

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We wish we were here a bit longer, to more fully explore the other beaches, but time to move on. We will be in Merida for nine days, using this city as a base to explore other sites in the Yucatan interior.

Posted by millerburr 02:50 Archived in Mexico Tagged beaches cruise punta sur ships swimming snorkeling malecon cozumel novena _ola Comments (6)

Learning to Swim in Puerto Morelos

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You learn a lot from a two-year-old. You discover that overcoming the frustration of learning a new language (in my case Spanish) requires total immersion and constant practice. The two-year-old knows this. They speak in incomprehensible syllables for months and then one day...out come complete sentences and amusing observations.

We've been together with Alex, Alanna and Leo in Puerto Morelos now for just under a week, and in that time, we have become schooled in Leo's version of English. Our fiercely independent little grandson has to keep reminding us that "my do myself". He watches us all closely and then mimics what he sees, and does not feel he needs any assistance with his new-found skills.

And so it goes with swimming. Armed with a sunhat, sunscreen and a fancy flotation device, Leo has developed an impressive confidence in his swimming abilities.

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Of course, he is not really swimming, but he is getting the hang of moving his little arms and legs around, and was hugely proud of being able to tell me, "I don't need you Nanny".

Thank goodness, he doesn't always mean that.

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For those of you who are grandparents, you will understand the need to present the following gallery of photos. For everyone else, please bear with me, or just scroll down a bit.

Fun with Grandpa

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Leo was quite fascinated with the coconut palms, and kept picking up dirty old coconuts off the ground. Alanna bought all of us fresh coconut drinks and brought them down to the beach, but not before Leo had the chance to watch the coconuts being hacked off the tree and opened with a machete, and then served with a straw. Voila - the freshest coconut water ever. Obviously a big hit.

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There is no arguing with the pure joy of a chocolate ice cream cone.

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Of course, we are just as delighted to be with Leo's parents. Our days together are pretty simple - beach-focused, Leo-centred and relaxed. Swimming, snorkeling, building sand castles, reading, and snacks.

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We've rented apartments within a block of each other, and one block from the beach, which has worked out really well.

We've spent a few Christmases in Mexico in past years and we were always delighted to note that Santa does not need a chimney to visit little children in other parts of the world. In this case, while Frosty is still looking quite buoyant, Santa appears to have faded a bit - he can't quite haul his bag of toys over the balcony.

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Back home, we hang Christmas decorations on our shrubs and our coniferous trees. Here in Mexico, they do the same - only on their palm trees.

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The main square in Puerto Morelos is all lit up for the holidays, which makes it even more of a draw for locals and visitors at night. This is one of the things we love about visiting a warm climate in the winter. The habit of going out for a stroll after dinner is such a natural one - Mexicans don't have to spend months in the cold and the dark, bundled up inside. Every night that we have been here there has been something featured on the bandstand - music, magic acts - maybe a bit corny, certainly not flashy, but heart-warming and very entertaining.

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This Christmas tree ornament has set the scene for hundreds, if not thousands of photo ops. Naturally, we followed suit.

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We enjoyed a non-traditional Christmas dinner last night - steaks at an Argentinian restaurant. We thought about our friends and family members who were celebrating back in Canada - our son Danny and his girlfriend Hazel, and all our extended family and Alanna's parents and her extended family. Impossible for so many people to be together, but it is the season to want to be in touch.

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So back to Puerto Morelos. We were here two years ago and loved the low-key, not-Cancun feel of it. More Mexican than gringo by a long shot, with nary an all-inclusive in sight. Small, low-rise hotels and apartments, loads of great little restaurants, and far more family-oriented than girls-gone-wild. Here are just a few shots of the town to give you an idea.

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Every once in while, you will see a tiny cottage, with bright colours and tin roof, that could be found anywhere in the Caribbean.

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And of course, there is the main attraction - the beach. There are so many things going on.

There is El Faro Inclinado - the Leaning Lighthouse that tilted after Hurricane Beulah in 1967, and was impossible to move. There is another lighthouse that warns sailors of the MesoAmerican Reef, but this one remains as a tourist attraction.

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The military have always been a presence in Mexico, but after recent shootings in Tulum and Puerto Morelos, they have ramped up their numbers and daily beach patrols are a common sight.

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People-watching is the obvious attraction, and this family caught my eye. Very glamorous mum strolled down to the beach in her 5-inch heels and stopped to remove them before stepping down onto the sand. Her two little boys were adorable - a bit shy and both were wearing matching cowboy hats. I just couldn't resist a sneaky shot.

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Fishing boats are a PM fixture.

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So are snorkeling tours.

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Alex and Alanna have had great luck just snorkeling from shore. They go to a spot mid-beach, called Ojo de Agua (eye of water) that on top of having schools of brightly coloured fish, barracuda, and loads of coral, also has a 6-8 foot wide cenote that gushes fresh water into the sea. Stephen and I haven't tried snorkeling there yet, but we'll be sure to fit that in before we leave.

Finally, a couple of shots taken today at the beach. We had a typical early-winter Caribbean day - dramatic clouds, several short tropical downpours, and at least two extravagant rainbows.

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We still have one week left in Puerto Morelos. Alex, Alanna and Leo will be heading back home next Saturday and we'll be beginning to explore other parts of the Yucatan. We will keep you posted - what we're doing, how our trip is changing shape and any info we have regarding Omicron here in Mexico and how it is impacting on the return of tourism.

Posted by millerburr 01:07 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscapes beaches people children sky night boats rainbows mexico christmas swimming snorkeling storms Comments (10)

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