Thursday, January 12, 2017

Mexico 2017 – Day 5 – Isla Mujeres

The Island of Women. Now with a name like that who could resist? Our oldest family friends the Fords have been visiting Isla Mujeres faithfully for the past 12 years for periods ranging from a week or two to several months, not surprisingly during the Canadian winter months. Legend has it that they even claim the exact same spot on the north beach every day – a pristine triangle of palm trees, perfect for hammock slinging and building a defensive perimeter of coolers, grocery bags, backpacks, beach chairs, blow up toys and snorkeling gear, all designed to send a clear “This Space Is Taken” signal. I couldn’t wait to see it.

We followed the highway all the way to Cancun and took a drive through the city and found absolutely nothing of interest. So we continued on to the hotel zone which is peninsula just off Cancun city that runs for over 20 kilometers and is littered with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, tourist attractions, and gorgeous beaches and serves as the tourist epicenter of the entire region. We drove down to the 14 kilometer mark and found it to be most reminiscent of south Florida – extremely clean, orderly and oozing money. We parked the van near one of the public beaches and took a short walk, finding the famous CANCUN sign with a queue of about 50 people waiting to take photos so we diligently got into line and started practicing poses while we waited our turn. I was thinking of rolling up my shirt sleeves, combing my hair and doing the Fonzerelli “Eyyyy” thumbs up move. Then I thought I’d do the Chinese teenager Hello Kitty move with outstretched fingers pointed to my eyes and a mischievous grin. I also considered the muscle head double biceps display with wide smile and whitened teeth, but since my biceps are thin and my teeth off-white I decided against that one. In the end I just sat there like a dork with a lippy smirk – the one move I can pull off effortlessly. As usual, Ana looked like a movie star, despite her cold getting even worse overnight, but she was doing her best to ignore it.

I must mention, while waiting in line I saw the likely winner of the “worst tattoo in the world” contest. Some dude had a huge tattoo of a rabbit on his forearm. I looked at it, and then noticed some letters below the rabbit, that would perhaps make sense of such a ridiculous tattoo. So I kept looking and eventually the guy moved so that I could see it, and what I saw were the words “Fuxx like”. Wow. That is one high class individual.

We drove north to Puerto Juarez, parked and then got in line for ferry tickets to Isla Mujeres. Although there were oodles of people there waiting, the line went quick and the ticket purchase was fast and effortless. One thing I will certainly say for the Mexicans is that their stuff works. And if you’ve travelled to many Latin American countries, you have probably noticed that very often stuff simply does not work. Kudianos to the Mexicanos.

The ferry to Isla Mujeres took 20 minutes, and every one of the 450 seats was filled. We arrived to a terminal jam packed with people, but of course as we were exiting there was Brian Ford waiting there to meet us. I could go on and on about Brian and Marge Ford, and sometimes I do, but suffice to say that I have known them since I can remember and my brothers and I grew up with the Ford kids, like brothers and sisters. So now, as adults, being able to hang out with them is extra cool, especially since Brian will just give me a beer and I don’t have to steal one from his fridge. We never pass up an opportunity to see the Fords. Brian welcomed us to the island and took us on a quick walking tour that ended at Reuben’s cafe – his best recommendation for lunch. We sat down, ordered up some food, and ate a delicious and authentic Mexican meal of tacos and burritos, all slathered up with delicious and spicy green and black sauces. This was by far the best Mexican food we had eaten thus far on the trip.

Brian returned as we were finishing and walked us over to the beach. Isla Mujeres is very small – only about 500 metres wide and less than 8 kilometres long so everything is easily walkable and close. As expected, Ford Camp was fully configured and Marge was on guard in a comfy beach chair. The hammocks were strung up in the triangle of palm trees, and there were even double “bunk bed” style hammocks in one section that the kids immediately piled into as Brian was handing out cold beers to everybody. The beach was beautiful and full of people and there were dozens of boats anchored just offshore, reminding me of Port Dover on a hot summer day.

We spent a long time chatting with the Fords, catching up on news from Saskatchewan and hearing of the goings-on in Isla. Marge’s brother Guy, as well as her oldest daughter Allison and their families had just left the previous day after a two week visit. Brian told us that over the years Isla had become more and more busy and had gotten to the point where they are researching other potential winter destinations in less busy parts of Mexico. Despite the busyness, we loved the island and could easily imagine ourselves spending some time here.

After a big swim Brian walked with us around to the other side of the island near the Mia resort to do some snorkeling near a reef that always has many fish. The kids had a great time snorkeling around and John, Ana and I just waded around in the water enjoying the sunshine. Brian seems to know every square inch of this island and with that dark brown tan he would only need a fancy Mexican moustache to be mistaken for a local.

We returned to Ford Camp for another round of drinks and Brian and Marge introduced us to a series of beach characters that wandered by. These included Emilio the vendor boy who sells beach trinkets, an older Quebeccer dude who parties hard, has a young Mexican girlfriend and blows giant bubbles on the beach, and also a group of young, cool Mexican studs who work on cruise ships, travel the world, speak multiple languages, and were currently hosting an impromptu beach party for all their lady friends, complete with tequila, music and fresh ceviche made with fish that one of them had just speared out in the ocean.

As the end of the beach day arrived we packed up our gear and walked over to the Ford’s apartment – a super cool bachelor suite with a giant rooftop patio overlooking the entire island. A few of us took advantage of their shower and had a nice fresh water rinse while the others had a round of drinks, munched on some snackS, visited and enjoyed the view. Brian pulled out a big bowl of sea glass he had collected during his daily morning walks along the coast line. He then had the kids each choose a piece they liked, and then he used a Dremmel tool to drill holes through them and made necklaces – the kids were impressed! I am sure these will become their favourite souvenirs from Mexico.

We decided it was time to head home so Brian walked us back to the ferry terminal and we claimed a space at the back of a gigantic queue, but it went very fast and soon we were on ferry and headed back to Cancun. Upon arrival we retrieved our car and I took us on the highway, quite sure that I knew how to get back without the GPS. After driving for 40 minutes I wondered aloud why all the road signs were showing Vallodolid and Merida instead of Puerta del Carmen. We realized we were headed in the wrong direction. So I cut a path back to where we were supposed to be and once on the proper highway we made up a bit of the lost time. It was nice to rediscover the joy of getting lost in a foreign country, something that is increasingly difficult to do these days when we all have a GPS in our pockets.

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