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Vacation Journal
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Tips for newbies from a recent first timer

By: suzcain (View Profile)
Date: 4/8/2006

Any sidewalk more than 2 inches off the street can be used as a bench to sit on and check out your MapChick map.

Just because a taxi looks full doesn’t mean you should assume you can’t get a ride. Most of the taxi drivers ferry their friends and family around the island or just have them along for company. It’s a good way to get to know the locals or at least listen in on their conversations to see how many words you can pick up.

If a taxi has its windows up, you don’t want it. The drivers who prefer the A/C to the sea air always charged me double (20p instead of 10p) and were never friendly the way most of the drivers were.

Before you go, pick up a copy of Lonely Planet’s “Mexican Spanish” – It was very helpful… Most Spanish-English phrasebooks and dictionaries are geared toward “Spain” Spanish. And the more Spanish you try to speak, the better your trip will be. Not because people don’t speak English (some do, some don’t), but they will be happier to talk to you if you make the effort. You’ll find yourself speaking to people in Spanish while they are speaking to you in English. :)

Learn the phrase, “No, gracias.” People will constantly try to sell you things (jewelry, pareos, snacks, etc.) – if you buy from everyone, you’ll be broke by the end of the first day. But they’re very polite and move on if you just smile and say… “No, gracias.” :)

Take a look at what they’re selling before passing. I got some really nifty jewelry from women selling it on the beach for very little money. Right now I’m wearing one of the beaded bracelets I got for a dollar.

If you’re like me and, while you like a good bargain, you don’t like to bargain… don’t stress – even for asking price you’re getting it for a lot less than you would in the States.

Go snorkeling with Aqua Adventures… Especially if you’re female… not only is the snorkeling fantastic – like swimming in a giant aquarium – the snorkel guide is drop dead gorgeous! :D Donna has been holding out on us! ;)

Walk as much as you can… If you can see the water, you’ll feel a breeze, and it’s wonderful to just walk around slowly and take everything in.

If you’re lucky enough to stay in a place on the Caribbean side, don’t bother with A/C – you really don’t need it, and you’ll feel more comfortable everywhere else if your skin isn’t expecting to feel that artificial cold. Trust me on this one – I’m a living furnace, always hot – and I was very comfortable with the stiff breeze going through the windows.

A lot of people travel to Isla Mujeres on their own, so you don’t have to worry about feeling weird sitting at a table by yourself in a restaurant. Chances are good you won’t be the only one.

If you go to Zama Beach Club (and it’s worth the trip… that was the only day I got sunburned because I didn’t want to leave – it’s gorgeous! Like something out of a movie), consider yourself forewarned that the schnauzer-y looking dog is very friendly – but likes to play very rough. If you decide to play with him and he starts getting too rough, pop him on the head with your book and he’ll go away. If I didn’t have my own pack of rough playing dogs at home, I would have thought he was attacking and not playing. He’s that rough.

All the other Isla dogs I met were sweet as pie.

Dressing up small dogs is apparently a universal compulsion. I saw a bunch of local girls and women with small hats and shirts on their dogs. I have a small dog myself, so I understand this compulsion.

Barracudas are not nearly as big or scary as you think they are going to be. We saw lots of them while snorkeling, and they had absolutely no interest in us. In fact, at one point, I got a bit behind my group watching some fish and had to swim through a school of about 8-10 barracudas by myself to catch up. All I could think was, “Please God, don’t let them be able to smell fear like a dog does.” But they didn't seem to even notice me.

If you are fair like me, be sure to wear a high SPF sunscreen and sit in the shade when you can. I wore 30 SPF every day, frequently sat under umbrellas when at the beach, and I still managed to get burned. I now have what was considered a “healthy tan” back in the ‘70’s. ;)

If you like children and puppies, this is the place for you. It seemed like every time I turned a corner, there was another Hallmark moment of a little kid scratching a puppy’s head. And watching the kids running around and playing on the Zocalo on Sunday night while their parents watched or played along with them, everyone smiling… it was truly wonderful.

Expect to be sad when you have to go home. The kindness of the people who live on La Isla and their obvious devotion to family and friends is something you will wish you could bottle up and bring home.

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