I went to Isla for the first time back in July of 2004 with my best friend Michelle. We had been to Puerto Vallarta a few times already, but this was our first trip to Isla. This story is an email that I wrote to our friends after that first trip describing our adventure. It does contain a few adult situations, but nothing too risque. I got a real kick out of reading it now that I know more about the Island and have been there a few times. I hope yall enjoy it as well.
Subject: I am addicted to Mexico!
Date: July 15, 2004
SERIOUSLY! I think I will have to find a support group for people with my affliction. I loved Isla Mujeres just as much as Puerto Vallarta. It is a very different kind of place from PV, but the smiling people, delicious food and general atmosphere of laid back living are all the same.
I flew all night on Sunday and met up with Mich in the Atlanta airport on Monday morning. We boarded our flight to Cancun and in a very short time we started seeing the brilliant blue Caribbean waters out of the windows of the plane. We landed in Cancun and took a shuttle bus to the ferry terminal for our final journey to Isla. The shuttle bus rode us all over Cancun dropping people off before taking us to the ferry. Cancun may as well be Panama City or Daytona Beach as far as Im concerned. It is nothing but mega resorts and strip malls with all of the exact same stores and businesses in the US. It didnt seem very Mexican at all. The most Mexican thing I saw in Cancun was Taco Bell.
We arrived at the ferry terminal after our hour long shuttle tour of Cancuns Hotel Zone and sat and had a beer while we waited for the boat. It was pretty warm out, but in the shade it felt fine. Most of the ferry passengers were Mexican except for us and a few European tourists. It took us about half an hour to make it to Isla, enjoying the views of the coastline out the windows and the Mexican soap operas on the overhead TV screens along the way.
Stepping off of the ferry onto Isla was a little confusing at first. The area in the immediate vicinity of the dock had lots of taxi drivers and vendors around trying to get us to rent mopeds or wanting to carry our bags. We waved them off with a smile and started hoofing it toward our hotel to get our bearings. We knew it was only about 3 blocks to the hotel from all that wed read on the web and we had a general idea of how to get there. Three blocks seems a lot longer than it really is when youre wearing jeans and pulling a suitcase in the broiling midday Caribbean sun.
We found our hotel fairly easily after a couple of locals along the way pointed us in the right direction. We made it to the front desk by about 1:00p. We could see immediately that wed picked the right place for us. Na Balam Suites is located on the beach at the Northernmost tip of the Island. It is a series of two story bungalow style buildings with grass roofs situated among lots of shady coconut palms and tropical plants. The walkways and walls were carved from white coral stone so with the grass roofs and rough hewn timbers lashed with ropes making up much of the architecture of the place it had a very natural unspoiled atmosphere...kind of like Swiss Family Robinson. Our room wasnt ready yet when we arrived, so we made a quick change of clothes and went to the beach front bar to officially start our vacation.
The little bar and restaurant was excellent! Everything was open air on all sides with thatched roofs, and the bar had an upstairs deck built over it with tables and sun beds. Mich and I took a seat at the bar and had a plate of delicious shrimp ceviche while we stared out at the biggest, whitest beach you can imagine until our room was ready.
Our room was lovely. It was all white with minimalist furnishings, lots of candles and a great little jacuzzi pool right on the beach just for us. I walked to the store to get us some beers and we sat in our pool taking in the view until the sun started to get low on the horizon. We had dinner sitting at a table on the beach with our toes buried in the sand while the sun went down. We made an early night of it our first night and slept like babies.
Tuesday morning we walked down the beach for breakfast . The downtown area is small so you can walk everywhere. You can look down most of the cross streets and see both costs of the island from East to West. We had a good breakfast and wandered around looking at some of the shops along the waterfront and trying to get our bearings on where we might want to come back for dinner or just to explore more of later. We kept seeing glimpses of a photo on a local newspaper of a building with a giant fireball coming out of it with the headline, "Devastacion!". We wondered if there had been a terrorist attack or some other explosive tragedy somewhere in the world but we didnt make big efforts to find out for fear it might ruin our vacation.
It was getting pretty hot around mid day so we walked back to the hotel to spend some time on the beach. It was a beautiful, sunny day and the beach was perfection. It is a big beach with fine, powdery white sand and coconut palms shading the periphery. Our hotel is on the best beach of the island as it extends out to a point where an inlet flows around the Northern tip of Isla. The water is very shallow for about 50 yards out so you can walk forever and still only be in up to your waist. There were no crashing waves, just calm, blue, shallow water as clear as glass and perfect for swimming. Yachts anchored along the edge of the shallows and their passengers would swim ashore to go to the bar or have lunch. Lots of glamorous Europeans with the nicest swimsuits and perfect tans were usually on the yachts. On the beach, there were individual queen sized platform beds with tables and an umbrella for sun bathing. We loved the beds! You could sprawl completely out and sleep all day like you were floating in white space. Mich and I did just that all day long with occasional dips in the water to cool off. After another afternoon of hanging out in our pool and relaxing, we walked back downtown for dinner at a place called Faynes.
Faynes is downtown in an area with lots of restaurants and bars. The day we arrived in Isla, the entire Eastern side of the street burned down! A whole block of businesses caught fire and burned completely up. They were all two story masonry buildings with palapa/thatch roofs so when the fire started in one of them, it just blew down the block taking all of them with it. That was the fireball picture we kept seeing on the newspapers all day. It wasnt an international terrorist event but a local disaster. Anyway, one side of the street was spared so we had dinner there. The waiters were so cute and friendly! More on them later.... I got pestered by some skanky cats who kept staring at me and putting dirty paws on my leg while I was eating. One of them had a perfectly round black patch on top of his white head so I named him Toupee. Poor little things. I fed them as much of my shrimp as I ate. We saw that Faynes had live music later in the evening, but we were already pooped so we went back to our hotel after dinner for drinks at the bar. Wed come back to Faynes for the music another night.
Wednesday was our day to explore the island by Golf cart. We could have rented scooters or mopeds but Mich was worried about being safe on the two wheelers since she hadnt ridden one in so long. We hired a golf cart at a place by the ferry pier and almost immediately had second thoughts. First, our golf cart didnt look very shiny and new. It was fairly crappy looking actually. Second, when I pressed the gas on the golf cart, nothing happened. It just sat there silently for about 20 seconds and would just randomly start to go when I least expected it. When the golf cart suddenly and unexpectedly lunged out into traffic long after my window of opportunity had passed, I ended up running out in front of a police car and blocking the whole intersection!
It was instantly very hot and stressful and I felt real scared and embarrassed. Mich was panic laughing at me. By now I had mashed the brake to try to stop so when I pressed the gas again, the thing just sat there and didnt move. I was pumping on the gas and Mich was making a sort of creaking noise in her throat and screeching, "WHY CANT YOU GO! MAKE IT GO!" while everyone in traffic was waving at me and blowing horns to go ahead. When I was about to give up and jump out and start pushing, the thing just lurched to life again and lunged out across the intersection into the next lane even more. I turned the wheel and kept my foot on the gas this time, hoping that I would not get splattered as I did my best to merge into traffic.
Not only was our golf cart beat up looking and temperamental with the throttle, it was LOUD and slow and kept backfiring loud enough to make my ears ring. It sounded like we were cutting through hand grenades with a chain saw. Other golf carts would quietly whiz by us at speeds high enough to make its passengers hair blow back while our cart strained along, deafening pedestrians and weaving wildly back and forth across the lanes. Did I mention that our cart had no known steering mechanism? It had a steering wheel, but it didnt seem to have any influence on our direction of travel at all. I could only suggest which direction we should go by wildly rotating the steering wheel four or five complete rotations in the direction I wanted to go while leaning and hoping. As soon as I would start to notice a drift in the right direction, I would start counter steering to be prepared for when we would randomly spin quickly in the opposite direction. It was like trying to drive a bumper car. I was so busy concentrating on steering and hoping not to have to stop again that I didnt notice the first speed bump until both of our kidneys had been ruptured from the jolt and we cracked our skulls aginst the roof of the cart. I fully expected to pee blood later after that first speed bump sent us airborne. I dont think a suspension system had been invented at the time our cart was crafted. We were not pleased with our transportation at all, especially when all of the young and pretty European tourists were zipping by us on shiny scooters with their bathing suits on and hair blowing while we weaved and bounced all over the place, nearly running into everyone that passed like we were out of control, screaming at each other over the buzz saw drone of our exploding engine. Several times as we were bouncing and weaving our way along the key would fall out of the ignition and go skittering across the pavement but the cart would keep on going. Several times we had to circle back and scour through the shrubbery alongside the road looking for our lost key. It got to the point that there were so many things wrong with our cart that we couldnt even complain anymore so we just smiled and waved at people who stared at us in horror as we slowly made our way past them at crawling speed. Even the iguanas raced into the bushes as we passed in our wobbly wreck of a cart.
We wore our crappy cart like a badge of honor though and drove it from one end of the island to the other. We weaved down the peninsula and had lunch on Playa Tiburon where a shark is penned up for tourists to swim with. We ate tik-in-xik which is a spicy grilled fish, a local dish. It was excellent! We continued on our golf cart tour to the Southern tip of Isla. We stopped along the way to see the sea turtle hatchery. There werent any hatchlings this time of year, but the adults were HUGE! After touring the sculpture garden and the small Mayan ruins high on a cliff at the southern tip of the island, we backtracked a little bit to go snorkeling at Garaffon Park where there is a small reef. It was lovely there and I spent a long time swimming down and catching critters. Mich didnt swim down deep so I would retrieve things that I knew I wouldnt harm by touching and bring them up to show her. Soon I had a crowd of Mexican children and families gathered around waiting on me to bring up the next critter. It was so funny watching their reactions to the animals. Eventually they were all in the water around me watching me catch things and trying to learn how to dive with the snorkel. There was so much to see, I swam until my legs hurt! Mich brushed her inner thigh up against a fire coral or maybe a jellyfish and got a pretty nasty burn. As we bounced and weaved our way back to town in the islands crappiest golf cart, a big, red welt raised up in a very bad spot high on her inner thigh. She walked funny after that!
We survived our cart ride and went back to the hotel for cocktails at the beach bar where we we met a man and woman from Ireland named Hugh and Anne. They were also a gay man a single woman near our age traveling together and we got along with each other right away. There was another older couple at the bar too named Brian and Ailee from England who were really sweet and funny and above all else, pale. There were also more English, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and Brazilians around the bar. No Americans but us. We all sat around telling stories, talking about international politics and mostly laughing really hard at curse words in other languages. We had dinner upstairs above the beach, under the open sky.
Thursday morning, breakfast downtown again with more Europeans. We saw a Brazilian hippy couple get attacked by a parrot that they were trying to pet in the restaurant but they finally backed off when it drew first blood. We sunned and swam all day long. I chased a couple of stingrays and got pinched on the foot by a crab hard enough to make me holler and my foot bleed. After the beach, we lounged in our pool again before heading back to the bar for a drink before dinner. Our Euro friends told us about another place called La Pena that is a club on the beach that we should meet them at later. We went back to Faynes for dinner because they were having live music and they also had a great little bar we wanted to drink at later. As soon as Mich saw that they had her favorite Mexican wine, Gato Blanco, we knew we were in for a fun night. We sat at the bar drinking for a while and people watching. There was a cowboy/witch Mexican lady with long blonde hair and equally long, thick, black eyebrows like a muppet standing at one end of the bar sucking down one tequila shot after another and an older blonde beer swilling party lady with enormous breasts slamming back bottle after bottle of beer while surrounding herself with young Mexican men all evening. Mich and I were already pretty tipsy when the band started up, and the mood of the whole place was so festive and happy, even the tequila witch didnt look so deadly anymore. The host/waiter was DOLL BABY cute and he kept flirting with Mich all evening. When she went to bathroom, he came up to me and put his hands on my shoulders, staring into my eyes and said in the sweetest accent, "Meester, I haff to tell ju somteen....Ju wife ees de mos Be-u-ti-ful woman that I haff ever seen. Ju are lucky man". When I told him that we werent a couple, just friends traveling together, his whole face turned into a smile and he gave me a little squeeze around the shoulders before running off to the restrooms where Mich was. He peeked out of the door to the restrooms and gave me a thumbs up sign before going inside.
A few minutes passed before Mich emerged, grinning ear to ear and looking flushed and sparkly eyed. Apparently the guy was waiting for her when she came out of the restroom. He picked her up in his arms, spun her around and around and planted a passionate kiss on her...just flat out did it like in the movies! I was so impressed with both of them for being so spontaneous. I was also instantly jealous as I tried to remember the last time if EVER anyone had literally swept me off my feet, especially a doll baby cute latin man with sparkling white teeth and such sweet smiling eyes while I was on a tropical vacation in paradise! We got free drinks after that and he brought Mich a rose. We finally left to go to La Pena to meet up with the Europeans after a few more cocktails. We told the waiter to catch up with us there when he got off work which he did. We stayed at La Pena for a while before Mich and her new friend left. I left much later but I still caught up with them just a block away from the entrance to our hotel. They had taken a few detours along the way home I found out later. I sneaked up behind them and eavesdropped a little pretending I had a boyfriend too who would say sweet things to me and hold my hand in the moonlight. Ill let Mich give you more details about their evening if she wants to....so sweet and cute.
Friday morning was not the best. Hangovers! Our Irish friends had stayed out all night until 9:30 the next morning so they were in even worse shape. We were home by about 4:00am at least. It was pouring rain so we didnt feel bad about sitting around in our room all day reading and napping. I had the squirts and our toilet would not flush AT ALL so there was a slight problem in our room. I never got sick otherwise and I wasnt nauseous at all, just some random squirts. I think it was 100% pure Sol beer coming out of me. I switched to Dos Equis after that day and didnt have any more trouble. We ended up back at the hotel bar with our Irish friends for dinner that night. I loved our hotel at night. Tiki torches, candles and luminaria were lit all over the beach and property at night....just magical looking. We invited Hugh and Anne back to our room and we sat in and around our little pool the rest of the evening telling stories and having a genuinely good time. They were really nice people. They left around midnight when a wonderful lightning storm filled the sky with blue white veins. I slept like the dead as the brunt of the storm swept over the island. Mich was pretty scared at one point because the palm trees were laying down sideways in the wind and water was blowing in under our door, but I was so relaxed I think the whole building could have blown down around me before I would have gotten out of bed. I LOVE to lay in half sleep during a storm. It just feels so safe and good to be inside when mother nature starts kicking up her heels outside.
Saturday morning we had breakfast downtown again and walked around exploring some more. We checked out some of the other hotels and decided that we really did pick the best place on the island for us to stay. We spent the entire afternoon on the beach. I lay there for so long that when I finally had to sit upright, the world was spinning to try to catch up with me. I think my brain had stopped comprehending the world from an upright position after so much time spent lying down. We had a late lunch/early dinner on the beach before going out for sunset drinks just up the beach at the swing bar for our last night on Isla. We planned a low key, early evening so wed be refreshed for our early flight on Sunday. We would have had one too if the Irish people hadnt found us. Soon we were back at the bar at our hotel with Hugh, Anne, Brian and Ailee, and the first Americans wed seen on the property since we arrived.
The American couple was a drunken blonde woman of 50 and her drunken husband who never spoke, but sat and stared at people like he had a secret. Blondie was ALL OVER Anne, pawing at her and rubbing all over her body while asking suggestive questions about Hugh. Mich and I knew immediately that the American couple were swingers. Even when Hugh told her he was gay she wouldnt give up. She did "this little piggy" with his toes and then went "all the way home" with her hand up his leg to flick at his privates with her nails before grabbing Anne by the crotch! The American lady hated me. She called me a prettyboy and told me I needed to lose my accent! Her, a Minnesotan by way of Wisconsin with a thick accent of her own was ragging me on mine! Mich and I had to start laughing to avoid getting into a southern redneck fury over the accent comment. We also had to drink lots of beer to maintain our composure while watching the swingers work their trade on our poor unsuspecting Irish and English friends. The final insult to the blonde swinger lady was when she started showing off by doing backbends over the bar seats and raising her leg up to touch her toes. She was really just trying to show off her body parts to Anne and Hugh. Of course I cannot let anyone try to be more limber than after all my years of gymnastic training so I started showing off too. It only took a couple of layouts and a back flip to sit Ms. Minnesota down. She didnt even comment on my skills and ignored me for the rest of the night but the rest of the bar cheered me on. I think Mich took pictures.
We finally escaped the swingers with a dinner invitation from Hugh and Anne. They wanted to take us and Brian and Ailee out to dinner for our last night on Isla. It was already after 9:00p and we knew we should go to bed early, but we were having such a good time we had to go along. The band was in full swing at Faynes and the beers were just flying at us. The waiter was happy to see Mich back again after their first date a couple of nights before. I kept seeing them disappear into the back of the place together and coming back out all smiling and sparkly. We had dinner and then went back to La Pena for one more beer before we REALLY had to go home and go to bed. It was already midnight. A couple of beers/hours later, it really was time to say goodbye to everyone. We hugged everyone and said our farewells, then started walking back to our room much more tipsy than we should have been considering how early we had to get up the next morning. We were almost home when our new waiter friend came running up behind us, out of breath and smiling from ear to ear because he was so happy he caught up to Mich. I walked ahead and went to bed and left the two of them to say their goodbyes.
About an hour later, Mich came home. Shed given him her cap and hed given her a bracelet. I heard a few more details about their date that made me even more jealous!. We both laughed ourselves to sleep. The waiter thing is Michs story so ask her for the delicious details if youre interested. I wonder if her hickey is gone yet? Hah!
The next morning was awful. Hangovers dont go well with ferry boat rides and all day coast to coast airline travel but we both made it home in one piece. Im so glad we went there. I will definitely return to Isla Mujeres very soon.