Monday, June 11, 2001
We took the 6:00 a.m. hotel shuttle to the new HHH terminal in Minneapolis. They are in the process of tearing down the old terminal. The rubble reminded me of Jamaica. At 6:35 we were at Gate 14 waiting to board our 8:00 flight to Cancun. The flight was fine. Our seat mate was an MLT rep. She was going down to check out several properties.
We cleared immigration pretty quickly, but had to wait for our checked bag. Seemed like it was the last one to come off the belt. Customs was a green light. At the ground transportation booth (to the right - in the charter terminal anyway), the shuttle through the hotel zone was $11 p/p. A private taxi direct to P.J. was $41. Mike was very anxious to get to Isla, so we took the taxi. There was a brief wait for the ferry. We had saved some pesos from our last trip, so paying the 35 pesos p/p was easy.
The bank is 1/2 block from the ferry dock on Isla, so we stopped there to exchange some money before engaging a taxi to Media Luna. Soon we were in room 18 enjoying the view from the balcony. It’s not as expansive as the view from room 16, but it’s a lot cheaper. Room 16 is on the outer corner and has a king bed, so it is $15 more por dia. The waves and pink sunrises were still a delight from 18.
We unpacked quickly. The extra hangers I brought went fast. Those hangers along with some clothespins and laundry soap made keeping our swimsuits fresh really easy. The sink stopper didn’t plug too well, so the wastebasket served as a handy washtub. The room is nice: two double beds, lamp for reading, balcony with hammock and chair, and a window with a screen to enjoy the breezes sans bugs. Actually we saw very few bugs. The A/C worked well, and the fridge kept things cool once I figured out the controls. The bathroom had a large sink with tile surround and a great walk-in shower with a spigot below for washing feet or filling the “washtub.” Built in shelves were handy for stashing shampoo and other sundries.
We strolled down to Playa Norte. Our old shortcut behind Casa Maya has been fenced off, so we took the path to the lagoon. The sand in front of Tarzan’s and ChiChi Chitas has shifted a lot from our visit last June. The old pier posts which I snorkeled around are now fully exposed. After the long stroll down and back around, Mike took refreshment at NaBalam, so I joined him. Dos Dos XX for 25 p since it was happy hour. Those sweetly sour limes hit the spot. Finally we paddled around in the gentle waves.
Hunger beckoned, so we strolled down Hidalgo looking at menus. We even stopped at the new supermarket on the zocalo. I have a quirky interest in foreign grocery stores. I could spend hours browsing and examining the merchandise in minute detail - much to Mike’s annoyance. The avocados and mangoes were huge and just ready for eating.
We ate at Poc Chuc on Juarez. This was in the same location as the old Poc Chuc, but it’s the El Nuevo Poc Chuc. The previous Poc Chuc with the wooden chef-shaped sign has moved to the corner of Abasolo and Juarez. The food at the new Poc Chuc was okay, but Mike was hoping for larger servings. He had three small Swiss enchiladas with a little slice of cheese for 32 p. I lucked out with the comida del dia: delicious black beans, rice, pollo frajitas, tortillas, and a cooling horchata for 30 p. I shared my side dishes with Mike. I’ve learned the hard way that a hungry Mike is a dangerous Mike.
Sunset was approaching, so we walked to Playa Sol and just made the 4-7 feliz hora. Dos Dos XX for 20 p. The sunset was pretty but not spectacular. We headed home for our third shower of the day and a good night’s sleep.
Tuesday, June 12, 2001
A beautiful sunrise started the day...just enough clouds to spread the yellow and pink tones. We ate breakfast at M & J. The Mexican cazuela was very good. Today was a major beach day. We were parked in our rented loungers from 9:30-1:30. Then siesta/shower and back to the beach from 2:30-4:30. Mike got a little toasted even with the SPF 30. I got a few burn patches where the lotion rubbed off - wrists, knees, and under the straps of my swimsuit and sandals.
Our next dilemma was whether to go to Garrafon on Wednesday. Aren’t vacations tough? Did we have enough pesos, etc.? Our bank card didn’t work in the ATM, so we went to the grocery store and bought a few picnic items in case we did get the money for Garrafon. Then we trudged back to the hotel to get the MasterCard. Mike was getting hot and hungry. Danger, danger! Luckily the MC worked. We wanted to eat at El Balcon de Arribes but managed to walk past it twice. How did we miss those blue stairs? Too busy gawking, I guess.
Fortunately we found those blue steps leading up from Hidalgo and had an excellent meal: red snapper in snappy red sauce and chicken flautas with avocado sauce. Both came with huge sides of cole slaw and chunks of potatoes. Mucho gusto! Mike especially liked the chips and salsa washed down with cold Negra Modelos. Whole meal for 100 p.
The view from above was unique. We saw a guy hanging up his laundry and got a kick out of the big cigar over the tobacco shop. Plus we were serenaded by a musician with a classical guitar. He really got into the songs. So nice to see someone get such pleasure from their work. We debated whether a tip would be insulting. I thought the big glass next to him was for propinas and it was. Hopefully others also tipped after we left. No one was clapping till I did so spontaneously after a really good song. I felt a little silly but got a big smile from the musician.
We walked down to the plaza and sat outside the church. The bells rang at 8:00 and several people hurried inside, so we joined them. Mike did pretty well with the Spanish. I just followed the rhythm and made my responses in English. A nice service.
We strolled some more and watched a man make super flat “pancakes” inside a big iron griddle. He sprinkled it with sugar, I think, and rolled it into a tube. I was too full to try them. Does anyone know what they are called? A churro stand was also open, so I asked the price - 10 p - think I’ll have to pass. On a later evening I found out that price was for six churros.
We watched the stars from the balcony while sipping some rum and coke. Buenes noches.
Wednesday, June 13, 2001
A very breezy day, but we were still going snorkeling. We had a quick breakfast at Amigos: rancheros eggs and French toast. The strawberry preserves were very good. We packed a picnic lunch and headed out. 34 p to Garrafon. The Hotel Garrafon Castillion Beach Club is one of the few places not to have raised its prices. Still a great bargain at 20 p.
Mike was the first in for snorkeling. I was going to walk around and take pictures. As I strolled past Mike, he said there was a sting ray, so I waded in - shorts and all. Very cool, bulging eyes that winked and blinked. The sting ray, not Mike. He had good camouflage and was kind enough to stay there while I fetched the underwater camera. He must have like his spot because he was still there an hour later.
It was a fun day. The snorkeling was a bit rough due to high waves. I was really surprised to see snorkeling boats going out next door. Many of the fish were hiding under the shadowy dock, so Mike lured them out with some cracker crumbs while I took pictures. An 18 inch parrot fish played bashful whenever I tried to take his picture. There was also an angel fish the size of a dinner plate.
We enjoyed our picnic lunch and a few Coronas. I headed out to take pictures of the grounds. They have the most gorgeous gardens. An older gentleman proudly showed me the masses of bougainvillea. I asked about rooms, and he let me tour #25, third floor, south corner. For 500 p it had two double beds, large walk-in shower, A/C, refrigerator, ceiling fan, big picture window with slatted screens, and a balcony that wrapped around the corner. La vista es muy bonito.
After more snorkeling, showers, and lounging, we flagged down a taxi. He wanted 45 p. He said the 34 p was to the taxi stand. Mike agreed to 40 p, so we went. Lots of taxis wait up the hill at Garrafon Park, so they may bargain more. We weren’t in the mood to walk around with snorkel gear, so not a big deal for us. The drive along the coast was beautiful as always. There were some new, big homes. After a long clean up, we went to Playa Sol for a few drinks.
Mike says, “We had a great time having cervezas, margaritas, and chips with salsa. Although the chips were a bit overfried. Diane met and talked with the woman who owns Cielito Lindo. She had her dogs with her, Negra and Pete the Pup. Pete got into everything while Negra relaxed. Joyce talked about the unfairness of small town politics.
Back to Diane: We went back to the hotel and then headed out for some supper and strolling. We settled on the pork tacos at Taqueria Medina on Hidalgo. They weren’t as juicy as last year, and the price has gone up from 7 to 10 pesos. Still pretty tasty though. I noticed there was not pineapple between the layers of meat on the rotating grill. Perhaps that was the difference.
We walked around some more. The NBA Finals were on - game 4 - 76rs vs Lakers. I asked Mike if he wanted to watch, but surprisingly he said, “Nah.” We never did find out who won. Oh well, maybe next game, if there is a next game. We did a little star gazing and then fell fast asleep.
Thursday, June 14, 2001
Breakfast at M & J. Mike had the rancheros cazuela and enjoyed it a lot. I wasn’t that hungry, so some of that good juice for me. We decided it would be a beach day, so we slathered on the lotion and meandered down the little path. It must have been low tide. The lagoon was quite shallow and was stagnant with no water moving. Some clear, jellyish, snakelike creatures writhed near the shore. What are those things?
We parked ourselves at Zazil-Ha and soon had a yellow and white sombrilla fluttering overhead. We read our books and toasted in the sun. I paddled around on an old air mattress. Kind of fun, but the water smelled a bit up that close.
Lunch was at La Lomita. Delicious chicken mole’ and poc chuc y bean sopa. Great meals for 65 p. The chicken was so tender and juicy. We went back to the beach for more roasting. I actually got a slight burn on my legs. They almost never tan or burn. Just palin old blanco. We took our time cleaning up. Then we enjoyed some edam cheese on Cubanas crackers. Wish cheese in the US was this tasty and economical. We also sipped a few Negra Modelos. Only 5.56 p at the market. Good stuff.
We strolled down Hidalgo to see what was happening. It was pretty quiet till we reached the supermarket. There was a “mob” gathered awaiting the hourly baking of the bollilos. When the baker dumped the freshly baked loaves into the bin, the crowd surged gently forward. I decided I must have some too. Why not? Only .87 p to try something that smelled heavenly. The baker brought out several more boxes, and then it was my turn to pile a few onto the silver tray. Mike and I split one as soon as we left the store. The bollilos tasted a lot like good French bread. Flaky crust and tender inside. They would make good subs. Steam was still coming out from the middle. Can you tell I love freshly baked bread?
Supper was at Chen Huave in their new location on Guerro. Pescados and enfrioladas were pretty tasty but not quite as good as last year when they were on Bravo with the wagon wheels out front. The ambiance is much nicer though. Later we sat out by the pool at Media Luna to watch the stars for awhile. Tomorrow is the golf cart day, so we turned in early.
Friday, June 15, 2001
Mike says, “This was our day to explore the island. We needed pesos and a golf cart. Around 7:00 we headed for Cafe Cito on the corner of Matamoros and Juarez. When we arrived, it was still closed, so we checked out the menu. We started for the bank. On the way we stopped to visit with Capt. Tony. His dad invited us in to sit and wait for Tony. Reuben called out Tony, and we discussed a snorkeling trip for Saturday. We would need to be at his house at 9:50 if we wanted to go.
We continued on to the bank, but it was still closed. ¿Que’ hora es? Maybe I should wear my watch. Cafe Cito was also still closed. Why does Diane get up so early? The French Bistro was open, so we ate there. Pretty good ham and cheese omelet. Diane had a waffle which tasted kinda whole grain. Next we walked over to Ppe’s to make arrangements for a cart. Then it was back to the bank to exchange some money. Next Diane wanted to go to the market again. Finally we picked up the cart and made our way successfully through the one-way streets back to the Media Luna. I remember last year going the wrong way down a one-way. Didn’t even know the streets were one way! Now I know to check the road signs mounted on the corner buildings.
Our first destination was the turtle farm. A guide gave a tour with a lot of interesting information. The aquarium had many pretty fish. It was hard to get Diane out of there. After that we decided to stop at Rolandi’s for a swim in their beautiful pool and a quick look at a room. The room was quite nice with lots of drawers, a jacuzzi, free sandals, and robes to use. It was $190 usd per night which includes breakfast and another meal. The room had two single beds. The first time I’ve seen that set-up.
Mundaca’s was our next stop. It looked closed. A man came to the gate and said it was closed because there were too many mosquitoes. That was fine with me because our next stop was Playa Lancheros for sun and pescado tikin xic. We ordered a beer and a coco loco and got to sit in the lounge chairs with umbrella for that price. We went under the big palapa after awhile and had lunch. There was a lot of fish, rice, spaghetti, cabbage, and tortillas. One serving was enough for both of us.
Our next stop was Punta Sur on the southern tip of the island. The different colors of ocean and rock and all the varied textures in land and sea make this one of the most beautiful places on Isla. After a little walk and a few pictures, we walked back towards our cart. There was a woman selling things that Diane wanted to check out. I went to sit under the big palapa and enjoy the view. I saw Diane peel off her t-shirt and shake it out. Then she folded it up and handed it to the lady. Weird! In a little while Diane came back with a beautiful Mayan mask made of pieces of malachite and abalone shell. It cost her 132 pesos and her t-shirt. We don’t know whether she “lost her shirt” in the deal or not. It was a cheap t-shirt she said she got for around $2.00 on clearance at Target four or five years ago. She felt bad since it was sweated through and probably a little ripe from our day in the sun.
We drove back to Media Luna to unpack our gear. Then we returned the cart to Ppe’s. We walked back to the hotel and walked the beach in search of shells and a quick swim in the pool. After showers and cleanup, we went to Chimbo’s to watch a pretty red sunset.
We walked to the plaza and watched a wedding begin. It was fun to see the bride and wedding party. Diane liked that the bridesmaids wore their own different dresses instead of ugly matching bridesmaid’s dresses. Rolandi’s was our next stop for a pizza. It was very good. Before we went home, we stopped at the Bar With No Name for drinks and live music. The owner, Genevieve, and her friend Logan had asked us to come back after we ate supper. Actually they wanted us to eat there too, but I was in the mood for pizza. The band played Caribbean music and was pretty good. We found out Genevieve is from Ohio. She said she’d probably call her place Isla Tequila. We headed home to read and sleep and get ready for a day of snorkeling with Capt. Tony on Saturday.”
Saturday, June 16, 2001
We slept in a little. Around 8:00 I walked to the beach in hopes of getting some good shots. A large gray cloud promptly blocked the sun, so I just strolled. Finally that one dark cloud for the day rolled off.
We enjoyed fruit and rolls at the hotel. Then we leisurely packed up the snorkel gear sans the bulky flippers. We’ll use Capt. Tony’s. We arrived a little early, so we “visited” with Reuben. Pretty tough with our limited Spanish. Tony did some interpreting for us and also shared his photo albums of the island. He has some great shots.
As we were walking out the door, Reuben decided to go along. He had been very talkative at his house but on the boat, he was very quiet. Mike thought perhaps Tony is the captain on his boat. Soon we were anchored near the old car ferry. Tony helped Mike on some snorkeling tips while I snorkeled to the left of the rocks and saw many beautiful fish. A spotted eel slithered from his cave, and a langosta rested in his own cave. The coral was so much more colorful than at Garrafon.
I was frustrated about not being able to dive down for a closer look, but many fish were near the surface. One has to wear a life vest at this national park. I mentioned liking to dive, so Tony took us to the place where the water pipes (old and new) cross the Isla bay. Many fish congregate there including some large barracuda. They looked like they had indigestion...grouchy. My ears were starting to hurt from diving down too fast. I tend to want to get down there to spend my air exploring the bottom. Tony suggested submerging more slowly to relieve the pressure in my ears. Good hint.
Tony moved his boat close to a colorful sailboat, so I could get a good shot. He had some good ideas on lighting and filling the frame. Sometimes I take pictures from too far trying to include all the beautiful sights and end up with teeny images. Next he took us along Playa Norte. A “natural” sunbather was standing directo, so he asked her to move...”We want a picture of the beach, not you.” She replied by barking. Perhaps she thought he was implying that she was a dog.
After getting dropped off at the beach, we swam a little before long showers, and then another delicious lunch at La Lomita. While we were perusing the menu of daily specials, a lady named Mary Louise came from the kitchen. She is a physical therapist on the island and eats lunch there almost every day. She explained the menu before leaving. I had pollo y mole’ again while Mike enjoyed Yucatan style chicken. It has the same coating as tikin xic fish. It came with a yummy noodle soup. Mary Louise said there might be chicken livers in it, but they must have strained them out for Mike. Estrella, our young waitress, was all smiles this time. I think repeat business is much appreciated, or perhaps Mary Louise put the stamp of approval on us.
We went to the market for fresh bollilos, a few beers, and a “guest towel” for Mike’s mom. She collects unusual towels for her guest bathroom, so we were trying to bring back something different. This towel was actually in with the scrub brushes and was intended for cleaning. It had a cool texture and nice pattern and was thick like a place mat.
Mike went home for a siesta while I shopped. Rosie had her famous t-shirt sale, and Tony’s mom had the 100 peso shell package I saw at two stores for 35 p. She also had some other very pretty shells which I bought for the neighbor girls who helped their mom cat sit for us. As I left, Tony’s mom pressed another shell into my hand. She looks good for marrying in 1946. There is a wedding picture of her and Reuben hanging in their living room.
I was pitted out from the shopping - such difficult work, so yet another shower was needed. We enjoyed some Negra Modelo and munched some bollilos, cheese, and guacamole which I made using some canned salsa and one of those big guacs. We were so full, Mike decided we should “drink” our supper.
We strolled to the plaza and sat for awhile. At Don Chepos they lured us in with feliz hora 2 x 1. Two yummy pina coladas for 35 p. An odd bebida to wash down nachos, but it worked for us. While we sipped, a wedding party went by on golf carts. They blocked traffic for awhile as they sang and danced while the taxis beeped. Mike thought the song was Hebrew. Earlier in the day I had met Eta from Israel. She had just arrived and asked me for help on hotels and restaurants. I happened to have a map, so I was able to mark some locations for her. Mike and I met Eta later in the evening when she stopped me to say thanks. Mike laughed that I finally got the chance to play tour guide. I do tend to get into that role.
The guys at Adelita had been giving us 2 x 1 tickets almost every night. On this evening they rushed out with samples. Pretty good, but we wanted to listen to the band at Genevieve’s Bar With No Name (Isla Tequila). They did some nice renditions of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. The harmonica player and lead guitarist were particularly good. We walked home to Media Luna and watched the stars twinkling over the sea before turning in for a peaceful sleep.
Sunday, June 17, 2001
Rise and shine. Today’s sunrise was particularly beautiful. I like when a path of light streams across the water to the shore from the horizon. 100% Natural was open when we went by, so we enjoyed their 3-egg omelet with juice, coffee, and toast for 25 p each.
Today was our last full day for the beach. We rented chairs in our usual spot. In no time Victor came by to offer his snorkeling tour. He looked really disappointed we didn’t want to go, but Mike’s foot was still bruised and the scrape open. He had cut it on a rock when jumping out of Capt. Tony’s boat. Mike said maybe I should go since I like snorkeling so much. I asked if there was a shorter tour. Victor talked to the boat captain, and they said one hour would be okay. If he could get a group, he’d pick me up later.
The early morning light was good, so I strolled the beach and took pictures.
Basking in the chairs got toasty, so we waded out and saw what looked like a turtle head. It moved to keep us in view. We stayed back, so it wouldn’t be scared away. Never did figure out what it was. Perhaps it was the head of a big sea snake. We also waded the lagoon and saw starfish, a crab, and several needle fish. Perhaps I’ll snorkel there later.
We relaxed in our chairs and read. Victor showed up and said, “Let’s go!” We walked 20 yards to a sandy spit. He said to wait there for the boat to come in “five minutes.” Some time later...I boarded the boat and soon discovered everyone on board spoke Spanish except Victor whose English is pretty limited. Still a LOT better than my Spanish though. We all smiled a lot, and I tried the few Spanish phrases I knew. The captain’s son gave me some Spanish lessons by having me repeat after him the reading of labels on food packages. Then he had me try it on my own. He would be a good teacher. Next he gave me a cracker for my efforts which I enjoyed for lunch. He gave me a second cracker and indicated it was for the fish. He was a cute little guy with his sparkling brown eyes.
The snorkeling by the lighthouse was good again, although Victor kept the group far from the rocks with the fish. I think they were looking for pulpo - octopus. I asked if I could snorkel by the rocks. No problem. They loaded up the boat, and everyone passed around their snacks. One lady had chocolate covered almonds which really cleared that salty taste.
The boat started heading south. Wait a sec. My hour is surely up. No, no! We’ll go to one more good snorkel place...just “five minutes.” There was a little joking about poor Miguel back on the playa looking for his muy perdido esposa. I enjoyed the view of the coast as we putt-putted along. I saw Rolandi’s and the hidden beach. We pulled into Gomar’s to pet the sharks. I never thought I’d feel sorry for a shark. I realized the turtle farm was a few doors down. I was a long way from home. I started to feel like Dorothy in the Land of Oz. Maybe if I slapped my fins together three times...but wait a boat would come in “five minutes” to take me back to Playa Norte and Mike.
Eventually Victor’s younger brother Julio showed up with his boat carrying a couple from Mexico City. I felt rude intruding on their excursion, but they were very friendly and spoke pretty good English. So did Julio. Soon we were off...off to Dolphin Discovery that is. We parked outside the fence and watched the dolphins for “five minutes.” Those poor dolphins. Julio said one has a 70% chance of swimming with wild dolphins on the Caribbean side of Isla during the summer.
Julio’s boat was faster, and we were approaching the north end. Almost there! But wait. It’s time to do a little snorkeling around the lighthouse. Just 5-10 minutes! What the heck, I do love to snorkel, and I was certainly getting my pesos’ worth on this tour. Grumping wouldn’t get me home any sooner. After some fine snorkeling, I was dropped off at Playa Norte. My only hope was that Mike had taken a siesta and eaten some lunch. Remember a hungry Mike is...
I had no idea how long I had been gone. I had not worn a watch since the airport, but I knew Mike had his watch in the beach bag. He told me the boat left at 12:47, and it was now 3:47. Hmmm, a three hour tour just like Gilligan. We headed to NaBalam for happy hour and some spicy marisco sopa. Then back to Media Luna and a major clean up. I was encrusted with salt and sand.
Sadly we started packing. Later we strolled through the pleasant happenings of Sunday on the zocalo. I enjoyed some flan sold by the ladies outside the church. I think Mike was having a little culture shock as he was craving pizza or a cheeseburger. We went to Rolandi’s. Mike chowed down on some pizza. I think the sun had baked the appetite out of me, or perhaps it was the flan. I forced myself to have one of their ice cream desserts with chocolate sauce. Yumm, and so nutritious too. Thus ended our last full day on Isla.
Monday, June 18, 2001
Mike says, “Today is our departure day. I’m anxious about our flight and a little excited, but I’ll be sad to go. The week went by fast this year. Diane woke up early and watched the most beautiful sunrise of the week.
We finished packing and decided to eat a final breakfast on Isla. Our first choice was 100% Natural which had been open at 7 am. It was closed this morning until 8 am so off we walked to M & J’s. Unfortunately it was closed on Mondays. We knew Amigos was open at 7 so we headed there. I’m glad we ended up there. The food was very good and cheap. I had a Popeye omelet with spinach and mushrooms, hash browns, and toast. Diane had eggs motulenos. Also very good.
After breakfast it was back to Media Luna to zip up our suitcases and say good-bye to the staff. About 9:40 we took a taxi to the pier and were on the express ferry in ten minutes. It took awhile to load but the crossing was only 15 minutes. Diane negotiated 140 pesos for our taxi to the airport. The guy wanted $20 usd, but she just smiled and pointed at a sign listing all kinds of fares. The driver was friendly so we had another chance to practice our Spanish and learn the difference between calor and color. The beach vendors often said mucho color and we thought they were saying mucho calor, so we’d agree it was caliente. Duh!
The flight was delayed an hour but was pleasant once we were in the air. We landed in Minneapolis at 5:45 and caught a shuttle to our car. In a couple hours we were home. Kitty greeted us with some demanding yowls.
P.S. Does this qualify as Isla withdrawal syndrome? Around 4:30 in the morning the next day, the cat woke us up by jumping on the bed and meowing a lot. Diane said, ‘Mike, wake up. You must have left the door open. That cat’s in here.’ She thought we were still in the hotel room on Isla and the resident kitty had broken in. She kinda groaned when she realized we were home and rolled over to snooze again. She didn’t even get up for the sunrise.”