Since this years trip (2/27 - 3/19/2011) was the latest in a series dating back ten years, I thought I would post some random thoughts about travel to Isla Mujeres. You may take this with as many grains of salt as necessary - these are just my observations and opinions.
MUST DO LISTS
There are none! That is the joy of a real vacation, you may do as much or as little as you wish. This year we were caught up in the bliss of doing "nothing". Most of our days were spent at Punta Piedra 1 (our home away from home). Simple, clean, welcoming and quiet. Hubby spent hours beachcombing the stretch of rocky shore fronting our place. I spent hours reading in the shade alternating with short periods of tanning. There was always the pool to cool off in, neighbors to chat with, frigate birds to gaze at - and our hosts new puppy to help train. We did venture out to Garrafon de Castilla for snorkeling and Hubby went on a boat snorkeling trip with our neighbor at PP1. We spent most evenings in Centro meeting up with friends. The one night we went to Playa Sol for sunset it was very quiet and we saw no "Islaholics" that we recognized. A highlight on our very short "agenda" was a trip to Valladolid to visit the student we sponsor through the Isla Mujeres Scholarship Program (check them out on Facebook). Abdiel (Felipe) has graduated from Bachilleres and is now at university in Valladolid studying Communications. It was a great reunion, but Ill blog about it separately.
POTTY TALK (both kinds)
First, I just have to mention that I heard the "F-bomb" only three times in three weeks while on Isla Mujeres. Where I live it seems to be used as an adjective, adverb, noun and verb in almost every conversation. Im from a generation where it still makes me cringe, so it was a welcome relief.
But to the other kind of "potty talk", I know that many first-time visitors are repulsed by the bathroom tissue issue - you cant (or shouldnt) flush it. There are many good reasons for this which I wont get into; I just want to say that it is an easy habit to break. Those of us who live in semi-rural places when we return home might consider continuing the practice, its a good idea for those like us without a sewer hook-up who rely on routine septic pumpouts.
Lastly, the dreaded Turista or Montezumas Revenge. Ive always bragged about my cast-iron stomach and that Ive never had a problem. Welllll.... this year I did despite taking all the usual precautions. It didnt lay me up really - no pain, nausea, etc. - I just had to stay close to a bano for a day. Although they didnt save me this time, Ill just repeat the usual precautions: wash your hands often (especially before eating), keep your fingers out of your mouth (leave that piece of chaya dangling so charmingly between your front teeth), take probiotics or eat yogurt, use Microdyne to wash any fruits or vegetables that you buy, brush your teeth with bottled water.
Our home away from home is equipped for cooking (two burner stove, fridge, toaster oven, coffee maker, blender, etc.). This saves money, allowing us to splurge on dinners out every night. But there is some housekeeping involved with this convenience. My dishwashing method: wash with hot tap water and the antibacterial dishwashing liquid provided by our hosts, then I rinse with boiled water. This may be overkill, but it works for me.
We try to pack light, bringing about a weeks worth of clothing. Then we bring a bag of laundry to one of the many lavanderias on the island. They wash, dry, fold and package laundry by the pound (or kilogram) for a very reasonable price.
Bugs and geckos - We had a pet iguana who stationed himself on a rock outside our beach gate every day. We also had a pet gecko who would chirp inside the apartment every evening. Hubby found him on his pillow one afternoon and gently carried the pillow out onto the deck so our friend could scuttle away. Geckos eat mosquitoes, so theyre welcome in my home (just not in my bed).
I cant count the number of people who reacted with absolute horror when we said we were going to Mexico again. We take normal precautions, dont flaunt what might seem like wealth, lock the doors, etc. and I feel safer on Isla Mujeres than I do in parts of Boston. The huge military presence may help with my perception of safety, but I think it is more due to the friendliness of the local population. I dont feel the simmering resentment I have heard about in other parts of the Caribbean.
DRUNK OR LOCO?
One night we saw the police trying to subdue a skinny Mexican man on Hidalgo. We didnt see what had prompted their response, but it took six strong policia to muscle him into the patrol car. I have only seen one other person so irrationally strong and that was when I was working on an ambulance and the patient was on "Angel Dust". I dont know if this man was drunk or crazy. On the other hand, I saw plenty of drunk gringos - loud, abusive, stupid - and zero police response. Are we entitled to this tolerance because we contribute to the economy?
I learned my Spanish on "Sesame Street" when my kids were little, but it improves every year when we return to Isla. I try to speak my fractured "Spanglish" whenever I can and most locals are tolerant, helpful, amused or appreciative of the effort... I was very proud of myself near the end of our trip to speak two whole sentences to a girl in a tienda without using a single English word - and she seemed to understand me!
I love grocery shopping on Isla Mujeres. We use the supermarket on the plaza often, but we also shop at Mirtitas. The most fun shopping is in the municipal mercado where we buy fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juice. We also bought some veggies from ladies on the corner in our neighborhood. Some shopping tips: buy only the amount of juice you can consume in a day - it gets an "off" flavor as it gets older; remember that a Kilo is not equivalent to a Pound - if you order one kilo of sliced Gouda cheese, youll get a sh**-load; the boxed milk is fine if you keep it cold - get "entera" if you want whole milk; butter is hard to find - live with margarine in a tub; adequate toiletries (soap, shampoo, lotions) can be found - dont bother packing them. Coffee snobs might consider packing it. We plan to do our souvenir shopping in the markets next year - much more interesting than a Tee shirt.
DRESS (or lack thereof)
I dont care how buff you are, dont walk down Hidalgo in your bikini!
When I see ladies lugging jumbo pieces of luggage off the ferry I wonder how they will possibly wear all those clothes on a one or two week vacation when the standard uniform of the day is a bathing suit. How much luggage do you need for a swimsuit or two, several shorts, tee shirts, cover-ups and a dress for evenings? Most long-time female travelers have abandoned hair driers (you cant fight the humidity) and makeup (it runs!). Heels are ankle killers with the state of Isla sidewalks and streets, but water shoes are a good idea.
One night on Hidalgo, we ate in a restaurant which had been taken over by a huge group of couples with children - all traveling together. The grown-ups (at least 12 or 14) were all at one long table, the kids were at another. Many bottles of wine had been consumed and there was much hilarity. The kids were acting up - one boy was hitting his mom repeatedly with an empty plastic bottle. We still enjoyed our dinner but it got me thinking about group travel versus single or couple travel.
My first trip to Isla (not counting the day trip from Cancun in 1987)was as a solo traveler. It was a wonderful adventure, I was free to do and experience anything I wanted. Several years later, I brought Hubby with me and he was as captivated as I was with this other island (we live on one too). We have spent years exploring Isla together, and accommodating the wishes and interests of one other person is about all I can handle. It is my opinion that when large groups travel together they may miss a lot of their new location. They carry their old habits and old friends like a security blanket that shelters them from being on their own outside their comfort zone. They have brought home with them and, perhaps, in many ways have never left it. Just my own humble opinion...
LESSONS IN TOURISM
Our home is also an island tourist destination. Our season runs from May to October with the really crushing crowds in July and August. Our population jumps from 15,000 in winter to over 100,000 in summer. It is difficult for locals to get their normal everyday errands done because of traffic, parking, lines, etc. By the end of August, we are gritting our teeth and just want them to GO HOME! Yet on Isla Mujeres, I never get the feeling of being just tolerated because of my tourist dollar. I feel a genuine welcome when I step off the boat and thats why well be back next year.