The Fab Five Family Isla & Ruins Tour
Please allow me to apologize in advance for my poor spelling, grammar and sentence structure. If you are an English teacher STOP reading now. Where is the spell check on this thing?
My wife Tina and I (Mark) were fortunate enough to discover Isla on a day trip from our first trip to Cancun over 15 years ago. We never went back to Cancun and have made several trips to Isla both with and with out the kids. However we were always curious about the Mayan Ruins and what lays South of Cancun but could never not go to Isla. We wanted to take our three younger children Jillian 19, Aaron 13 and Jaclyn 10. That was the inspiration for our trip.
We wanted a trip long enough that we could spend part on Isla and part exploring the mainland. We had found decent direct airfare leaving Sunday June 1st and returning on a Saturday June 14th. After much agony and thought we decided we spend the first four nights in Akumal. From Akumal we could do day trips to Tulum, Sian Kaan, Xcaret or Xel-ha. Our next three night would be out of Vallodolid. From there we planned day trips to Chichen Itza and Rio La Gartos. That would leave us with our 6 final nights on Isla.
Our story includes attempted gas station rip off, a run in with the local Policia in the middle of no where. A mayan mud bath and a lost golf cart. All in all it adds up to a fabulous time.
As previously reported our family of five will spend our first four nights in Akumal, the next three in Vallodolid and finish up on Isla. Our morning started well as we arrived at the airport in plenty of time for our 7:30 AM flight for a 10:30 AM arrival time in Cancun. No line at check in.We enjoyed easy boarding with all of us together and an open seat in the middle. It looked like we were on our way to Cancun in time for a leisurely drive down to Akumal with opportunities to check out playa del Carmen and other beach fronts along the way. As the captain was making his final checks, all the power in the plane went off. The back up electrical system had failed and we were informed it would take about an hour to fix it. An hour turned into two hours and finally the news that we were not flying this plane to Cancun. However a plane was coming in from Denver and we could take that one to Cancun and this one they would fly with passengers back to Denver. (Crazy Yes but better them than us) I hope no one had loved ones flying from KC to Denver that Sunday! As we know the best made Mexico plans are made to be patient. Finally we arrive in Cancun 6 hours late but we did get $500.00 in flight vouchers and a free lunch and free in flight TV. Woo Hoo! Thanks Frontier!
We were not surprised that our Econoccar representative was not to be found. But a quick phone call fixed that. Time was ticking the sky was misting and we wanted to get to Akumal before dark. We got a nice Dodge Avalon to drive. We wanted to pay our $450.00 a week rental fee with CC. This was to include all insurance and unlimited miles. They conveniently asked if I could pay 60 in cash (So they could get their commission) and the balance 390 on the card, of which they exchanged at 11 peso per dollar. I think I just tipped them 60 bucks. I may have caught that but I was so amused as they were looking for a CC slip and rubbed an ink pen sideways over the card under the slip until the numbers came through. I am sure my identity was not jeopardized on this transaction. All in all... Jorge was nice, the car was in great repair, AC worked and we needed to get to Akumal.
We decided not to stop on any side trips on our trip south. We were not sure what, how or where we would find our condo Iguana #5 in Akumal after dark. The ride to Akumal was easy, no traffic, nothing crazy. My teenage daughter was riding shot gun and reading along on our mapchick map but after awhile she got bored with her duty and assured me there would be big signs , marching bands and a parade to welcome us when we got there. You got to love teenagers! Yes? as luck would have it darkness had set in just before we arrived in the Akumal area and not knowing exactly where we were going it was difficult finding the turn off to Akumal and even more challenging finding our Condo. Find it we did but the office was closed. Fortunately a sign in the window read "Welcome Blanck Family, your room is unlocked and the keys are on the table" It had a little map to show us how to walk to the room. The area was quiet but we could hear the Ocean. The area was dimly lit but it was lit as we found our way to the room. We found a door that we thought was our room and entered. Armed with our cell phones as flash lights we looked for light switches. One thing I have noticed is you never know where you will find the light switches in Mexico.
Sure enough there were keys on the table, this must be our room. We could hear the Ocean through the huge picture window and feel the breeze as it flowed through the rooms. Unfortunately, we could see very little as it was a very cloudy night. It had been a long day of traveling and we were ready for our first meal in Mexico. We drove back to a place called "La Cueva del Pescador". We were not disappointed. The service was fast and freindly. The food was fresh and tasty. We feasted on fresh fish and garlic shrimp. Then back down the road to our condo for a good nights sleep.
We arrived under the cloak of darkness and did not know what to expect when the sun rose and unveiled the beautiful Akumal Bay. Our condo Iguana 5 is located on the point of the crescent at Akumal Bay. The front wall facing the bay is all glass, floor to ceiling and wall to wall. The day was overcast but that did not effect our view and it made it a great day to explore Tulum.
We had picked up a few items at the comer store and had breakfast at the Condo. It was our first major Mayan Ruin and I was excited. Everything is a separate ticket. We needed four park entries, shuttle rides $28 not bad but we then hired an English speaking guide $40. and then a permit to take vidio $3.50. And now you know what is coming ....... the Tulum experience PRICELESS. We really enjoyed the site and I know we would not have gotten much out of it with out the guide. He took his time explained the different areas, buildings and he knew about the Mayan people. After Tulum we walked the beach south of Tulum and saw an area referred to as hippie haven. A bunch of quaint little bungalows scattered along the beach. Enjoyed pumpkin empanadas for a late lunch at Zuma Que Fresca. A peaceful end to a great afternoon.
We decided to fill up with gas on the way back to the condo. They pump the gas for you in Mexico and I had heard you have to watch and be sure they clear the pump. I saw it clear and he put in $56 worth. As I gave him an American hundred, the other attendant comes over and is checking the air in my tires saying they’re low. I turn back around and now the guy is holding an American one dollar bill acting as if I gave him that. He wanted more money. I double checked my clip and had no more hundreds and so I knew I was being had. Meanwhile cars are backing up and I do not want to move my car until we figure this out. Finally he pulls out my hundred and asks for a dollar that would give me $45 change. That was not what he was saying at first but a good way for him to come clean. I gave him another dollar and he tried to only give me $35 change. Which I caught immediately and got my remaining $10 and then got the heck out of there. We were still tired from our previous long travel day and headed back to the condo for a relaxing evening of Backgammon and Mexican Bingo ( a little game we bought at a shop)
Day 3 came in a little brighter. We had a leisurely morning at the condo and then headed to Yal-Ku Lagoon for some snorkeling. It was a beautiful park with mostly nude bronze statues littered along the trails and rocks. It is an area where an underground river feeds into the ocean. $40 for all of us. We did find out when we left that there was another entrance to the Lagoon another 50 yards down the road that was about half the price. However you would have missed many of the statues.
We went to Lucy’s for shrimp and fish tacos with some wonderful homemade ice cream for dessert. We spent the afternoon on the beach in front of the Lol-Ha Beach Club. A few fishing boats floating near waiting to take travelers out to whatever. This area was even more peaceful than Isla Mujeras.
Day 4 came in even a little brighter as a tropical storm that had been in Belize was slowly moving out and taking some clouds with it. It was our last day in the area and we had to decide between Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve and Xcaret a Mexican Disneyland. We had a lot of conflicting info on Sian Kaan in regards to what it was, what you do and how much it costs. We chose the safe pick of Xcaret. It costs $100 PP and that included an all you could eat buffet, a few snack vouchers and the evening show. The park was overwhelming and confusing. It really took a long time to get our bearings and figure out how and what we wanted to do. They had an underground river to snorkel & float in but there were no fish to see. There was good snorkeling in an area close to the ocean. They did have little animal exhibits scattered throughout the park but it was hard to find your way around. Some exhibits were worth seeing but a lot were not. We did enjoy their bird sanctuary. You could really get up close to different tropical birds and flamingos. The food was very good at the buffet and the evening show was informative and entertaining. But we felt our $500 could have been spent a little wiser (maybe a Contoy Island trip). Most of what we saw there you will see as you explore Mexico and then you would see the real deal.
Tune in tomorrow as we are off to explore Coba, we have a run in with the Police (not the band) and move to Valladolid
. Day 5 was our final morning in Akumal. It was sad leaving our beautiful spacious condo but more adventure awaits us. We had hoped to get an early start and spend some time at the Coba’ ruins before it gets too hot on our way to Valladolid. We got the car packed and decided to have a good breakfast on the way out of town. We ate at the Akamalito. (which kind of sounds like the way I speak my Spanish). I think it was our favorite place to eat in Akumal. It is a small place only about 12 seats all outside adjacent to the grocery store. I would describe it as an inexpensive grill that serves tacos, eggs, hamburgers. They really served nothing fancy but it was quick and good. A little last minute shopping and the off to Coba’ .It is about 9:30 am not too bad of start.
Things are going well. We are getting further from the coast, the road is in good shape, not too much traffic and we have not gotten lost. We are about 10 kilometers from Coba’ and we are crossing one of those speed bumps that they just like to put on the road any time there is a little store sitting by itself. Sitting just on the other side is a “Policia” car and he waves to us to pull over. We were going so slow that we were able to pull over close enough that he did not have to move his car. He spoke no English and I spoke very little Spanish and my teenage daughter who was riding shotgun again has had several years of Spanish but not fluent by ant means. I gave him my license and the rental card agreement. My 19 year old daughter was doing a wonderful job conversing with him but there was still a language problem.. He was claiming he wanted a circulation card. We did find one more piece of paper in the glove box but he said that was a copy and he wanted the original. He kept repeating that we were guilty of an “infraction” and we needed to pay $50. Jillian kept claiming that was not fair (it was nice to see that one turned on someone else) and that we did nothing wrong. Finally I offered him $20. He quickly came back with $30 and I thought this is not right even in Mexico. I asked him what his and his partners name were and asked them to spell them as I attempted to write it down. Between the Mayan and the Spanish it was not an easy translation. I think we were stopped by Angel Fipuu and Jorge Poot.. Anyway now we are closing in on 30 minutes but it seemed like forever. Angel asks to see the paper one more time and decides all is well. He gave me back my license and down the road we went.
We finally get to Coba’ the clouds are gone and it is hot but there are a lot of trees around the Ruins. At this ruin we get charged to park by the guy in the information booth (a rip off I am sure) but hey I figure I am up $50 from not being taken by the policia. We hire a guide ($30) and pay our admission for 5 and the video camera (this time Jaclyn is not free) and head in. Another wonderful guide that was great at explaining the different buildings, symbols and Mayan beliefs. We were then able to rent bicycles and ride them about a mile down the path and explore ball courts and actually climb to the top of a pyramid. Coba’ was a very interesting place and was well worth the visit.
Back on the road to Valladolid and found our new home for the next three nights the “El Mason de Marques” Hotel.. The building was built in the early 1800 and has been a hotel for almost a hundred years. It was clean, located on the town square and felt very secure.
We enjoyed a swim in the pool and had dinner at the hotel and early to bed. It had been a long day..
Day 6 of our trip began with an early 6:30 AM rise in our Hotel ¡§El Mason del Marques¡¨ located on the square in Valladolid. We enjoyed an included made to order breakfast in the beautiful hotel courtyard. My 13 year old son Aaron decided that since coffee was included now might be the time to check that out. After he discovered how much sugar he could add he enjoyed it very much. I did have flashbacks of our past trip to Disney World in March when he consumed three cokes with dinner (we generally do not have much soda or caffeine around the house for the kids) and even after walking around the parks all day needed to go out to the parking lot and run sprints until he was tired enough to lay in bed and get some sleep. He did seem to handle the coffee OK and it did pep him up for our trip today to Chichen Itza.
We were on the road a little before eight. We were hoping to get to the Ruins before the large tour groups arrived. We were enjoying the drive along the ¡§free way¡¨ when we came across a military road block by the airport. We thought ¡§ay carumba¡¨ not again. As we remembered our shake down by the Policia on yesterday’s drive outside of Coba.. The military men were armed as usual in Mexico and were very polite as they asked us to all step out of the car while they looked it over for drugs etc. They seemed to enjoy speaking Spanish with my beautiful teenage daughter Jillian and after a quick look over (of the car I think) they put us on our way
We arrived at Chichen Itza a little after nine. We hired a guide and spent the next three hours looking over the most impressive ruins we had seen on our trip so far. Our guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out many impressive features about the ruins including different locations and how the sound carries and echos. (In some places a hand clap echo¡¦s back in the sound of the Kukulcan bird.). He also explained how the Mayan calendar worked and that many people believe that the calendar ends in 2012 but actually that is just the end of a cycle. A cycle of turmoil, war etc. will end and a new cycle begins with the world moving towards peace. In the new cycle we will move towards getting along with nature, with each other within ourselves etc. It was very comforting.
We headed back to the Hotel for a little siesta and then got out to explore the town. We checked out the City Market where the dogs lay patiently along the meat cutters. The city Cenotes and that was kind of like the neighborhood pool. We struck up a conversation with a family of cobblers that showed us a calendar with a picture of the Ditzup Cenotes and expressed we needed to go by there. We tried to visit the convent of San Bernadine that was built in 1552 but had no luck getting in. We also visited a little free Museum off the square that was worth our time.
We had tried to have an early dinner but a lot of restaurants were not open yet. We ended up eating again at the hotel and then started our return trip to Chichen Itza for the evening light and sound show. No military road block this evening but we were slowed by a gruesome wreck. I am surprised there are not more collisions in Mexico due to the aggressive driving of most the locals. The wreck did serve as a reminder to me to drive safely and protect my family.
At the ruins they did not charge me for parking or entrance into the park as we showed them our ticket and wristbands from earlier in the day. We rented head phones so we could hear the program in English. At night the buildings take on a different feeling. All the venders are mostly gone. The air is cool and the sounds peaceful. They set had set up about 200 chairs for about fifty of us that had shown up. It was an interesting show with colored lighting to illuminate the pyramid and different buildings. We decided to take the ¡§payway¡¨ home and avoid driving the ¡§freeway¡¨ through the small towns in the dark.
To get to the payway we drove through the interesting small town of Piste which was hosting a festival in their town square. We welcomed an uneventful drive home to our hotel in Valladolid.
Day 7 included our least touristy day trip of our vacation as we headed to the northern shore of the Yucatan Peninsula to a small fishing village Rio Lagartos. This was a true adventure for us as we did not know what to expect. We were hoping to explore the Rio Lagartos National Park by renting a guide and a boat. The park boasts nesting grounds for over 20,000 pink flamingos as well as alligators and other wildlife. It was an easy straight drive on decent highway. We passed through many small towns one bigger than expected, the town of Tizmin. We saw cows secured to a post in front yard right along the roadway and many Brahma Bull ranches.
When we arrived in the quant fishing village of Rio Lagartos the streets were very quiet except for a little roadwork blocking the main drag. A man motioned to us to pull over and after hearing we were looking for a boat and a guide informed us to follow a boy on a bike that lead us through the back streets. We reluctantly obliged and followed him to little ocean front restaurant that had rooms to rent on the second floor. We negotiated a 2 hour boat rental of $60 total for the five of us (originally $80) and we would tip the English speaking captain/ guide named Jesus.
We headed out into the ocean towards two tiny pink dots in the horizon. As we got closer the dots become two different flocks of flamingos, several hundred in numbers but not the thousands that I thought we might see. The water was very shallow only a foot deep in this area. We hopped out, picked up some stone crabs scurrying along the bottom and got within 30 yards of the flamingos but we did not want to disturb them. I had read somewhere that they needed their rest so they can migrate. We hopped back in the boat and Jesus asked if we wanted to see them fly. He then proceeded to drive the boat directly into the flock as they all took flight together. It was a beautiful sight. So much for leaving nature undisturbed but it was cool. Meanwhile the boat is now slowly chugging through the shallow muddy water leaving a path in the bottom where it plows through but eventually we reach the deeper water and head further back into the wildlife reserve.
Jesus spotted a black hawk perched along the tree tops. He slowed the boat and pulled one of two dead fish he brought along for the trip. He whistled to the bird and threw the fish into the water. As if this had been rehearsed many times before the hawk swooped down and picked up the fish only a few feet from the boat and then returned to his tree top to munch on his lunch. We cruised a little further into the reserve in search of an alligator or crocodile (I am not sure which). Jesus spotted one along the bank. He asked us we wanted to see its teeth up close? He took his other dead fish tied it to a rope and threw it close to the alligator trying to lure it towards the boat. He finally got its attention and has it swimming towards us when from the other direction comes another small fishing boat with just one person in it. This boat has made a makeshift sail to save gas and was moving pretty well but was going to cut across directly between us and the alligator. Jesus tried quietly to get the guy to change coarse but there was not really much he could do. This interference scared the reptile away and after several more attempts we could not get the alligators interest again. Jesus was quite disappointed and we assured him it was Ok but I still wonder how cool that would have been to see the alligator snatch the fish.
We wandered a little deeper into the reserve where Jesus made a detour into some brush where we spotted a nest of baby vultures in a tree branch. We had to stand on our tip toes in the boat and hang on some branches to get a glimpse. We were only inches away as I prayed the mother was not going to swoop down and protect its young. But again this was very cool.
We have been out almost a couple hours and we were enjoying our trip very much when we spotted only the second boat we had seen all day. This boat had a couple of people in it covered head to toe in dried white mud. Jesus said they were trying a Mayan mud bath and it would make our skin very soft. How could we miss this opportunity? We could not. We went a little further into the lagoon passed under a small one lane bridge and the shore line that was mostly mango trees and bushes was now a white dry mud flat We beached the boat and headed 50 yards inland and as we walked we noticed several holes in the ground about the size of a softball that at the time we did not know what they were. Away from the shore there were some small manmade salt water ponds of various colors that smelled very much sulfur. It reminded me of swimming in the Great Salt Lake in Utah on a previous vacation. Jesus told us we needed to soak in the pond to open up our pores. We then went back to the softball size holes in the ground we had passed, he stuck his arm in and pulled out handfuls of white clay. We proceeded to rub this over our bodies. Jesus was especially helpful in applying mud to my beautiful wife and older daughter. I guess at this point we were feeling very comfortable with our guide and he was with usƒº. After we got all mudded up, an afternoon rain started and turned what was once dry dirt into a slicker than snot surface which just added to the fun. Now our footing is terrible, we are slipping and falling and we have mud dripping into our eyes. You have to love Mexico. Where else could we experience this? We rinse off in the pool again, the rain stops and so we reapply the mud. This time the sun comes out and it begins to bake on us. Jesus informs us for the full treatment we need to rinse off at a spring down the way. We did meet another American couple there that was now living in Cancun and in Rio Lagartos for the weekend. They too were doing the Mayan mud bath. We headed off in our separate boats to the spring poking fun at how each of our groups looked along the way. We stopped at a little fresh water swimming hole that was just before it fed into the ocean. We rinsed off the mud played around in the water. In the meantime Jesus cleaned up the boat and was in no hurry to return as he was enjoying the day as much as we were. But get back we must. We enjoyed lunch in the place we rented the boat from. (I wish I could remember the name). We tipped Jesus $40.00 and offered to buy his lunch before we headed back towards Vallodolid. We did run into the other couple back in town and they were heading out as well. It did seem we were the only visitors in town that day. They needed a little more cash and the closest ATM was in the town of Tizman some 25 Kilometers back (bummer for them). However it was a very fun day in Rio Lagartos.
On our return to our Hotel there was one more ruin we wanted to check out called Ek Balam. We arrived with only about 45 minutes before they closed. Ek Balam was small in area but very interesting. There were also more ruins available to climb on and the carvings were the better preserved than any of the other areas we had visited. Unfortunately no guides were available but it was still worth the stop.
We got back to Valladolid and they were set up for a festival in the square that night. We had dinner at ¡§La Campanas¡¨ on the corner of the square. The food was very good and was my favorite of our two week trip. They had some soft live music playing and a drunk elderly local cowboy that was having a ball with the two senoritas he was with. It has been a very interesting first week in Mexico with no days better than today. Tomorrow we are all looking forward to getting to Isla Mujeras where we can relax and enjoy our second week of the trip.
Day 8, Sunday morning and we are heading to Isla Mujeras from Valladolid. It feels like we are heading home. We let the kids sleep in until 8:00 AM this morning had breakfast and took the payway to Cancun. We left by 9:30 and supposed to meet the Econocar rep at the Grand Puerto at 11:15. There was one toll booth to pass and the fee was 204 pesos (no wonder no one drives on this road). I was a little nervous because of the army guy sitting in the back of a jeep with a machine gun on a stand with a ribbon of bullets, finger on the trigger pointed right at us. Now he was looking the other way not really paying us any attention but I think that made it worse. I really wanted a picture but just did not want to take any chance of startling anyone. But anyway 204 peso or 240 peso I could not concentrate and just gave the 240 and did not wait for any change, receipt or gracias,… nada. I just wanted out from harms way. I kept wondering if the toll collector ever worries about an accidental or worse real confrontation with drug runners and a shoot out. We continued on our way to Cancun an occasional car or semi but mostly bicycles along the side of the road in the jungle gathering wood to barter or cook with. I think the bicycles use the road more than autos do. We missed our turn off that was the indirect route to the ferry but was considered faster and less confusing because you would be avoiding heavy traffic. But it was Sunday morning so rather than turn around we went straight through and although a little confusing we made it to the ferry at 11:16.
There was a lot of construction going on with the new parking garage for the Puerto and everything was a mess. I was thinking how and where am I going to spot someone from Econoccar? I passed slowly by the make shift drop off turned around and then I hear a car honking behind me and it is the car rental rep Jorge. You just got to love Mexico don’t you. I stop in front of the drop off for the ferry and we hurriedly grab all our bags as we are blocking traffic. He does a quick walk around the car, checks gas gauge, hands me back copy of CC paper from the week before and we are on our way. All went very smooth.. We did just miss the 11:30 ferry but now we had time to use those nice clean restrooms have a celebratory cerveza as we closed out the first leg of our trip and anticipate how soon we will really be back on Isla.
As we approached Isla we got a little nervous as we see a lot of construction, the new naval base building and it appears a fishing festival going on. What has happened to our island? We reminisced about our first overnight trip to Isla back in the early 90’s. On that trip Cat from “Travelfrom” had arranged our travels. We were going down for a week over New Years and staying at Crytstal Mar. Mark Jr (absent from this trip) was 16, Jillian was 7 and it was Aaron’s 3rd birthday and Jaclyn was not around yet and would not be until a Jimmy Buffet Concert a year or so later (but that is another story) Thankfully Tina’s folks were also along with us. Our driver had just dropped us off at the old Puerto (Puerto Juarez) and the ferry’s were done running for the day but Cat had arranged to have a water taxi scheduled to shuttle us across. Our water taxi was a small fishing boat, no life jackets and no lights. We had packed life jackets for the kids and so off we went. The captain looked 13 and his first mate (his girlfriend or sister) was a little younger but he did bring a little pen light that he tied to a cross bar that held the canvas roof. However the way that he tied it had it shining in his eyes and he had to shield his eyes all the way across. After we got started we realized why he needed the extra person and that was to keep bailing out the water from the bottom of the boat. We saw the Cancun lights getting smaller and the lights from Isla getting closer. We feel all is well until I notice the boy shaking the gas can checking how much is left. I am thinking check the gas at the beginning or a 1/4 of the way across but half way…what good is that? We do get to a pier but it is not the pier we remembered from our day trip to Isla several months earlier. This pier is long and dark and there is no town around. But he drops us off, puts our luggage on the deck and off he goes. We spoke little Spanish and they no English so little words were exchanged. We our dragging our luggage and children along the pier towards the shore and we figure he must have dropped us off at our hotel Crystal Mar. It was a beautiful starry warm night and just as we were about to step onto the sandy beach a bell boy pops out of the ocean. I kid you not! I guess he was night swimming I do not know. But he helped us with our luggage and got us to the front desk. It was at that moment that I feel in love with Mexico especially Isla de Mujeras. Anyway back to 2008, the more times change the more it stays the same. A festival is going on, the street and beach is crowded but as the ferry unloads the bellboy is there with the tricycle to help move our luggage to our new home at the Nautibeach Condo’s.
Our room #2 at Nautibeach was not going to be ready until later in the afternoon. The grounds were beautifully manicured, the pool was crystal blue overlooking an even more crystal bluer ocean. The staff was very friendly and allowed us to keep our luggage in the office as we enjoyed the beach and pool. This was our first stay at Nautibeach and we could feel it was a good choice.
Later that afternoon we got our room and enjoyed a late lunch early dinner at Bally Hoo. The kids feasted on shrimp and I enjoyed the fish tacos. We checked out the festival (our third one in three different towns on three consecutive days) where some of the fishermen were cooking their fish right on the beach. We walked into town to hit the grocery store and had some ice cream from “cool”. We noticed the malecon (sea walkway) was finally repaired and looks beautiful. It was great to be back on Isla de Mujeras.
Day 9 and we are finally waking up on Isla. And best of all no schedule. I did love the first 8 days of the trip. The family and I got to see and do a lot of things that if you don’t plan and hustle a little bit you just will not get it done, especially with a group of five. The hundreds were all but gone and it was time to get into the traveler’s checks. I had never had a problem cashing TC’s on the island before but things had changed. The cambio places on Heldago had stopped taking them and the grocery store not only did not want TC’s but they did not want American hundred dollar bills either. My first trip to the bank on isla and I had no problem cashing my last 6 hundred in TC’s. The line moves slow and you notice a lot of quirky little things like why do some people go and talk to the person at the desk and then go through the line. There is a lot of tag teaming waiting in line. One person is waiting and then gets replaced by another etc. There were also a lot female business people hitting the bank alone that feel very secure depositing, withdrawing or exchanging a bunch of cash. Were all the men sleeping off the festival or do they run the shop and the women the books? Or are these women running businesses alone or maybe they are the managers? I do not know but I found it interesting. It is also a compliment to the Island regarding the security these business people feel.
When I returned to the Condo everyone was up and they were enjoying the pastries etc. that Tina and I had brought back from the store the night before. Aaron especially loves those Bimbo pinwheels that are coated with granulated sugar. Those Mexicans sure know how to mix their oil and sugar. Everything just tastes sweeter down here. The skies were a little overcast and to me that is the best way to enjoy the beach. I love being able to be outside for long periods of time and not worry about getting burnt or too hot. We had brought some snorkel gear with us and I wanted Jaclyn to get a little more experience before heading out into the ocean to snorkel with Captain Tony later in the week. The area under the bridge to Avalon and the rocks between the bridge and the Caribbean side provide great shore entry snorkeling. Snorkeling does work up an appetite and fortunately for us. Alexis and Giovanni is right on the way home. We enjoyed the great food, friendly service and it was nice to get back to isla prices after a week on the mainland.
Aaron and I set out to rent a golf cart for a few days and drop off some dirty laundry. This was our first time using a laundry service here and we picked a little place east of the cemetery and were very pleased. We dropped it off and in about three hours we were able to pick up our first weeks of dirty clothes. They were wash, dried, folded and wrapped in plastic, all for about five bucks. I think that the next trip here, I am only packing dirty laundry. Of course that may make it hard to find someone to share a suitcase with me. As far as golf cart rental goes, I have always had good luck renting from Ciros del Caribe on Guerro. We rented for three days at $45.00 per day and both Aaron and I even got a free T-shirt that read “ I rented this golf cart at Ciro’s”. They also include a two page printed on both sides in Spanish contract that I have no idea what it says. Fortunately, no one ask you to sign it. I asked if I need a lock for the cart and they assure me that the key they give me only works with my cart. Well even that key did not work my cart as I could not get it started. So now they come out with a box of keys and we are searching through them to find a key that will work. Finally success, we find one that if I wiggle it a little and hold it half way in pressed towards the top of the cylinder it will work. No problem and off we go. We stop by and pick up the girls and head off to do some shelling and search of sea glass. This is by far my wife Tina’s favorite activity. We like to go an area just south of the airport, by a little sea wall park place on the Caribbean side. I have parked the cart way off the road in a secluded area. As the others descend to the shore to look for treasure, I check to make sure the key still works. Of course it does not; I tried everything and no luck. Now it is starting to sprinkle and as fortune would have it I look up and see a not full of riders golf cart heading towards town. I flag them down and ask for a ride. They were on a day trip from Cancun and had secured their 3 hour rental at the place across from the ferry for a hundred dollars. They were hurrying back as to not have to pay extra. I thanked them for the lift and did not spoil their day by informing them that they may have overpaid. I jogged over towards Ciro’s as I knew closing time was near and I had not informed my family as to my quest. At Ciro’s I explained the key stopped working and Carlos gave me another cart. When I tried to tell them where the broken cart was located. Carlos wanted none of it. “Please do not tell me”, he insisted “that is not necessary”. I asked “what do you have GPS on the carts?” Carlos replied very slowly “Mayyybeee”. I left with a different cart thinking… GPS on isla… I do not think so. Then it dawned on me, this must be a game to them. Find the golf cart. I am not sure but why else? I returned to my family just as they were returning to the cart. They did not notice I was gone but did wonder how we now have two carts. They had told me about a baby’s doll head they had found that was freaky. Also a big sea turtle the size of a wash tub was dead and washed up between some boulders. I was wondering how I can get that through customs back to the States. I thought it would make a good coffee table. On second thought I left it as it sat. We did take back a beautiful batch of sea glass.
We got back and made some virgin pina coladas for the kids and not so virgin for the adults. It was still a beautiful evening, even though there was no sunset as it was hidden by the clouds. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Don Cheapos in town. Ceasar was a good waiter and salesman. We were not even planning on eating and he pulled us in off the street for our meal. We had a little rain but overall a fun island day.
Day 10 and we let the teenagers sleep as Jaclyn, Tina and I took the cart to do some more shelling. I swear that Tina never gets tired of looking at the different sizes, shapes, textures and colors of materials (rock, glass, bones, and wire) that the ocean sweeps in. After returning to the condo and spending a peaceful morning there, we opted to head out on an island tour. We hit the shell house and notice that someone is cleaning up the beach across from it. It used to be covered with broken conch shells and rocks. Now the area is picked up, with the rubble in piles. It is now kind of a sandy beach bordered by big rocks exposed underneath. I am not sure if they are using the piles of rubble for construction (either fill or concrete) somewhere or trying to improve the look of the beach. We went on to Punta Sur where we climbed the light house and shop for souvenirs. We make are contribution to the turtle farm and reminisce at Crystal Mar. We notice the old pier that we were dropped off at, late at night several years ago, is slowly detiriateing away. We enjoy tix n chic at Playa Launcheros. An $8.00 order of fish with guacamole and a quesadilla can still feed us all.
We drove through the neighborhood a little bit trying to find ballpark tacos but still could not see it. It is most likely easier to spot in the evening when they are open. I know we had to drive by it several times. We drove back to the condo and dropped off the kids as Tina had her eye on a ring she wanted back in town. This ring has a big turquoise stone mounted in cut out silver sheet made in Taxco. Tina always appreciates the unique and unusual (lucky for me). We found the ring at “Noe’s” tienda de artesanias and bought that with a couple of silver charms and earrings. We returned to the condo an hour or so before sunset but again it was overcast. That is perfect weather and time to build sand castles on the beach. You could see a definite influence from our Ruin tours in our sand castles. We had many structures including a replica of the famous pyramid “Castillo de Kulkukan” at Chic Chen Itza. We had found a coconut on the beach (which I felt sure was someone’s lunch that they brought to work) and mounted it on our pyramid. We then named our settlement Coco Itza. We watched what we could of an overcast sunset and went to Rolandi”s for some delicious coconut ice cream with Kahlua. This was an excellent way to finish off another fun day on Isla de Mujeras.
Day 11 and it is still a little overcast with a few drizzles but the air is warm but not steamy. I can handle this. We still have the cart and so we start the morning off with some more shelling or “glassing” might better describe it. Did I mention that is Tina’s favorite thing to do and if Mom is not happy then no one is happy. The rest of the day we spent hanging around the pool and beach. We enjoyed some homemade guacamole with chips and more homemade pina coladas. There was even a wedding on the beach at sunset to add to the girls’ entertainment, as Aaron and I enjoyed may games of backgammon. We finally headed into town for a late dinner at Rolandi’s. We eat at Rolandi’s because it is tradition at least once each trip. But honestly I feel there are much better values on the island and the food is rather bland. I will admit it has a nice atmosphere, the warn bread is awesome and the service is normally pretty good.
The following morning came and the weather had stayed about the same, mostly clouds and a little sun. We decided to get our snorkeling in with Capt Tony today. I stopped by his house about 8:30 am and we talked. He did not have anyone else line up but he would take us out to El Farolito for 22 dollars each and we could leave in about an hour. He was a little higher than other boat captains that I had met with earlier in the week but hey this is Capt Tony. He said the cloudy skies should make it not as crowded. We had set up a snorkel trip with Tony a few years earlier but ended up going out with his father and brother in a last minute substitution but we still had a good time. It is a nice family. On that trip they had taken us to several different spots to see fish but today was to be a short trip just to the reef. I went back and rounded up the troops, Aaron, Jaclyn and I were going to snorkel. Tina and Jillian were going to take the cart and explore some more. We got back to Capt. Tony’s house at 9:25 as the sky was starting to mist. We had a bigger problem, Capt Tony was not home. I think it was his son that informed us, “he left to go fishing” and then added “come back tomorrow”. You just have to love Mexico don’t you. Even guys with as good of reputation as Capt. Tony can leave you frustrated. All week long I had been solicited for snorkel tours and I told them all I was already going with Tony. Not only was I going with Tony I was going to pay him $22 and everyone else was offering the tour for $15. Now we are out looking for a new captain and they are no where to be found. It seemed I used to run into Captain Marcos on his Moped every time we left the Condo. We ran into each other so often we were on a first name basis. I finally came across Capt Manuel at the hut in front of Ixchel. He did not speak much English and I had not heard of him but he did agree that he would take us out. I was hoping to go for 500 pesos for our group of three (which was 50 pesos more than it was offered to me earlier in the week) but after much discussion we agreed to 600. He said we would leave in an hour (on no, not an hour again). This time it worked out well. The morning had now slipped away as it was just passed noon. The sun was peaking out again and we were gathering our gear to get ready to leave. Captain Manual, who is a little older than most captains ( I am guessing mid 50’s) went back and shook a stack of chase lounge chairs. Off of the top popped a (maybe 20) young man who had been sleeping. Apparently he was going to be our guide and get in and snorkel with us. Before he could even wipe the sleep from his eyes he let out a “Buenos Dias amigos”. To which I replied “Buenos dias?” “No es Buenos Tardes!”. Manuel laughed and thought that was very funny. Even in Mexico us older folks think the youth sleep in way to much. We continued to have great time with Aaron , Jaclyn and I working on our Spanish, and they their English, trying to tell stories and ask questions as we headed to the reef. The snorkeling was great; the kids did well getting in and out of the boat. The best part there was only one other boat snorkeling and they were way ahead of us. When we returned to shore I tried to pay Manuel the 600 pesos we agreed to but he would only take 500 pesos. He simply replied “Mucho Gusto” many times and I realized he enjoyed the trip as much as we did.
We enjoyed a late lunch at Alexis & Giovanni. Leona served us a wonderful meal and we enjoyed her playful insistence that the children order and speak in Spanish. We enjoyed the rest of the day on the beach and at the pool. We enjoyed the guitar playing at the Sunset Grill. Clouds moved in just as the sun was beginning to set and blocked what was to be a beautiful sunset. We enjoyed tacos for dinner at Medina’s “the super tacoria”. Louis our waiter was excited as he was taking a trip tomorrow to Merida. I think he was saying it was his first time off the island..
Our last full day on the island brought us blue skies and a soft breeze. It was the perfect weather to go out on. The golf cart had been returned as we walked into town to enjoy my favorite breakfast at Cazuela M&J. We were not disappointed. We hung around and walked the sea wall a little. We drank some fruit juice out of the bag from the Popsicle Store and that was fun. (my first time). For lunch we had a “chicken to go” from the shop on Heldago. It was kind of a day of nothing. The kind of day you love on Isla de Mujeras. That evening we enjoyed an outstanding meal on the sand at the “Sunset Grill” as we admired the most beautiful sunset of the trip. We finished the evening off with one last trip to “Cool” the awesome homemade ice cream store. It was hard to believe our trip was coming to a close.
The last morning brought another beautiful day. In fact it was hot. We did the last swim. The last walk on the beach, eat all our leftovers type of morning. Fidel showed up right on time at 11:30 to help us get our luggage to the ferry. The water on the ride back across the ocean was more aqua blue than I had ever seen it. Our transfer was waiting for us at the ferry dock. When we arrived at the airport there were huge lines at other desks but none for our “Frontier”. No one even looked through our bags which is always an embarrassing ritual. You never know what is going to fall out or if you can get it closed again. We emptied our pockets as we went through the metal detectors and hurried through to finish up last minute shopping. We enjoyed a little lunch at “Bubba Shrimp” and as I waited to pay, the rest of the family went out to shop a little more. All was going well until I hear” last call for the Blanco family”.over the airport speaker. I thought “is that us? “. I went by the gate to see if the rest of my family was there and they were not. The agent informed me I had one minute to get my family there or they would leave without us. The rest of the passengers had already boarded. We had not realized when you are leaving Mexico because they use the busses to take you to the plane; they board an hour before take off.. I frantically looked around the area but had no luck. I went back by the boarding gate and asked if they could call out the individual names, maybe a better chance to hear them. She said “no” just tell them they better hurry. Obviously something lost in translation. Off I ran on another loop and this time I spot them just finishing a transaction at the cash register. After a frantic yell “Hey Tina , they are going to leave us” we made a frantic dash to the gate. As we boarded the bus, we did our best to look around and look as if we also were trying to figure out, who was making us wait in that hot bus so long. It worked, no one caught on to us. We enjoyed a pleasant flight home. My oldest son and Jillian’s boyfriend were even at the airport in Kansas City waiting to greet us and hear about The Fab Five Family Ruins & Isla Tour”