So, on to the major highlights of different places:
This island is just off the coast of Cancun. It is much more quaint than the planned resort/tourist city of Cancun, although much of that culture is creeping onto the Isla. Two years ago, hurricane Wilma devastated the place. I talked with one restaurant owner who said they did not have any electricity or water for a month. Needless to say, he did not have any business for quite a while. He is still recovering. He said it will be another 2 years before he will be in the black again. Meanwhile, he had to give up his apartment and car and is living in a converted warehouse space in back of the restaurant. His life is his restaurant. He is also supporting 4 kids from 2 previous marriages… Mexico doesn’t have any kind of “safety net”. I heard from another waiter about the economic system of Mexico. He was part of a “make a fast buck off the Cancun casino mafia” when he was still a teen-ager. Luckily, he was able to skate through his connections as “just an honest kid”. He did, however, suffer from the party life. He became an alcoholic and spent the fast money he received. At 38, he has been sober for a year and a half, and managing to save some
money, although he too, is supporting a child from an early brief encounter.
The Isla is being rebuilt at a fairly rapid pace. Spill over development from Cancun and Playa del Carmen has settled in Isla, taking a toll on the people and the infrastructure. It still is a quiet, slow paced place in the off season (now), except when tourists come in by ferry during the day. It was pretty rainy when I was there and many people who would normally venture out of their sheltered hotel enclaves of Cancun stayed
away. There were many days when little activity was going on, much to the shop-owners’ chagrin. It is such a small place, that those of us who stayed there for a week or so, saw each other often and became “regulars” at the restaurants and evening music/bar scene.
I did take a golf cart one sunny day to tour the island. Up until a year ago there were few cars on the island and transportation was by golf cart, motorbike or bicycle. The island is only 7.5 kilometers long and about 5 blocks wide. It doesn’t take long to tour the entire island, even at the lawn mower speed of the cart! There is a turtle raising eco-farm (to return them safely to the ocean), a place to swim with dolphins, a restaurant with a dental-free shark to swim, hold and take pictures of, an amusement park on the reef, and a minor Mayan ruin. On the Caribbean side of the island the beach is a rough limestone slab, on the north and inland sides is has beautiful white sandy beaches. The water really is turquoise blue! I pampered my very pale skin most of the time, but did take one day to swim in the beautiful warm water, and even under an umbrella I got badly burned! Powerful sun, here…. I’m still peeling.
My hotel was right on the water – actually over the water. It is an older, Casablanca-type hotel with few windows and lots of shutters. Literally, my deck was over the seawall. The waves crashed below me constantly, and everything was slightly damp… I did not have to venture out to experience the ocean! It constantly hovered around 90 degrees, with the humidity ranging from 70 to 100%. That was a week of 3 showers a day! Very sticky weather….
From Isla Mujeres, I traveled inland to Valladolid. This town is half-way between Merida and Cancun. It is a small, laid-back colonial town that has a very Mayan population. Everywhere, there are ladies dressed in the traditional garb. An impromptu market occurs daily, where Maya set up their wares along the fence of the central plaza. I stayed one night in a reasonably nice hotel, but woke up in the middle of the night to surprise “muchas cucarachas” of the small and medium sized variety! Needless to say, I checked out and moved to a better hotel down the street. Some native populations I just don’t care to get to know that well…..
In my wanderings about town, I found a fabulous shop with beautiful textiles and other craft. I asked a lot of questions, wanting to know everything about the textiles. There was also a dress there that had my name on it. I did not try it on that first day, but went back the next day to do so. When I walked in, the staff alerted the owner that I was the one asking so many questions. Her name is Maruja Clark. We hit it off immediately. She was born in Merida, but has lived in France and the US. She raised her 3 children in the
US and speaks perfect English. It was a treat to connect with someone with whom I can actually have a meaningful conversation and so many interests in common. She tried to connect me with the craft collectivos in the area, the women who are doing the weaving and embroidery. I stayed another night in Valladolid just to see if that could happen. Maruja is a tremendous resource to all of the textile and craft in Mexico. She seems to know everybody and is very happy to help me in that arena. She is truly a gift and a wonderful new friend. By the way, the dress fit perfectly, as if it were made for me!
I took a day trip to Rio Largatos, a very small village directly north of Valladolid, located in the biosphere
wildlife reserve on the north coast of the Yucatan. It is know for the flocks of flamingos as well as other birds you can see in the reserve. This was an experience right out of the television travel stories. I took a bus ride (an adventure in itself) to the town, and was immediately taken by a very friendly bicycle rickshaw fellow to the boats. I hired a boat captain and went into the lagoon. I was the sole passenger in the boat
with the captain, who did not speak any English. However, his Spanish was so clear and slow that I could understand just about everything he told me during our 2-1/2 hour tour. There is low jungle all around the lagoon that was littered with a large amount of dead trees. Eduardo, my guide, said that during Hurricane Wilma, a storm surge covered the spit of land that separates the lagoon from the ocean (about 2 kilometers) and flooded the town. The result was the tree die-off. Mother Nature certainly affects people more directly out here!
We finally got to the flamingos. The first place we came to there were less than 50. I thought that this
was nice, but not was I was hoping to see. However, Eduardo continued on to another shallows. Here, there were hundreds of them. Beautiful graceful, colorful birds. They talk to each other - there is a constant chatter among themselves. Apparently, they mate for life and always return to the same spot to
nest. Eduardo said in August, there are hundreds of young birds learning how to be proper flamingos. The deep color of this flock, he said, was due to the diet that was rich in shrimp larvae. We got close enough to them to intrude a bit (getting slightly stuck in the process) and the birds flew to another area. They are truly awe-inspiring! On the way back, we looked for crocodiles along the sides of the lagoon and came upon one snoozing in the hot sun.
Next, I was off to Merida. I spent a day and a half there wandering in and out of museums, meeting
people and listening to music. They close off streets on Saturday night and the area around the Zocolo
becomes an outdoor party with bands, and restaurants spilling onto the streets. I wandered around the
scene for a while, watching the dancing of a middle aged couple, when a man came up to me and offered me a rose. I refused at first, but he was a perfect caballero, asking that I accept it. He said he mother taught him to present flowers to ladies he especially thought attractive. He expected nothing more from me. Amazing. Later, as I headed back to my hotel, some Chiapasanas came by trying to sell me something (groups of women and children from Chiapas are everywhere). I gave one of them my flower. She gave me one of her bracelets in return along with a warm, grateful smile. A very nice night!
The next morning I took a plane to Oaxaca. The tales continue in episode 6.
Love to all,