No stone unturned, no corner untouched. You can do that on an island where in the morning you’re able to hike to the southern tip and back, and in the afternoon, turn around and head to the northern tip, then home again come nighttime.
What’s fascinating is how different these two tips are from each other and how even more different is the middle (where we are staying).
The south has the craggy coast and a handful of tourist draws: a pully that'll swing you over the water, a small lighthouse, and a few hotels and bars looking out over the bay toward a distant skyline of Cancun beach hotels (less than ten miles away, as the gull flies).
The north has the ferry port. It goes without saying that the north has 95% of the tourist shops, the souvenir stands, the beach bars, the time-shares.
The island is said to do everything on a small scale and so nothing overwhelms you – not even the north end. And in any event, the ferries take the bulk of visitors back to the mainland come nighttime. The pace is slow, the island is quiet. Cats and children. Lots of both. So perfect for Ed (who loves being in the presence of cats) and me (who loves being in the presence of kids).
Tuesday afternoon. Our protracted café moment ends when I feel the first gust of late afternoon wind on my shoulders. If we’re going to make it to the North Beach, we should go now.
Of course, the closer we get to the water’s edge, the gustier it becomes.
The North Beach, reputed to be the loveliest city beach on earth (and it is quite lovely), is deserted.
But we like it that way. I button my cardigan and we forge ahead – from one end to the next and back again, until the sun begins to play with low lying clouds, losing any real warmth value for the remainder of the day.
The water here is clear and the waves less threatening, but neither of us has a great urge to swim (actually, I don’t even take off my shoes – the sand is too cool). We watch one or two hearty types splash around and then we head back to the hub of the town, where the boats come in and the vendors congregate.
As the afternoon sun nears the Cancun horizon, we settle in at our café (twice in one day!), this time with a plate of guacamole and a wonderfully zesty mojito for me.
With the sun completely gone now, we considered our options. Eat in town? We look in on one spot, then another. We’d be eating with the likes of us, gringos.
We decide to hike back to the belly of the island.
It’s a long walk in the dark. At one point we stop and peer out at the water that suddenly comes close to our path...
... but mostly we pay attention to the road. The sidewalk is an adventure trip – it’s there, it’s not there. Sometimes well tended, sometimes crumbling. The variety that is the island can be found right there at your feet.
The brisk pace keeps me warm, even as the locals complain bitterly about the “cold spell” (it dips down to near sixty at night). As we approach our mid-island village (Colonia La Gloria), we hear a honk of a golf cart. Miguel is there, driving by. He offers us a ride for the few blocks back to the apartment, but we're not ready to retire there yet. We ask, instead, for the name of his favorite Tacqueria.
Tacqueria Medina – up on the other main road.
Sure, we passed it many times on our walks to town. We turn around and retrace our steps just a little.
The Tacqueria is small and the choices appear to be two: beef taco or pork taco. I order two spicy and delicious pork tacos (the pork meat roasted right behind the counter), Ed stays with the vegetarian option (a basic quesadilla). We watch a large family pack in platefuls of tacos and I think I maybe could add a few more myself. But, the bill is paid and we're ready to go. Next time.
The night is star studded and beautiful. I’m thinking of the places we didn’t try yet – the grilled fish on the beach, the other bakery...
Next time, next time. In the morning, I look out and watch the children march into school (our apartment looks out on an elementary school). They're bundled. It's a chilling 74 F outside.
We need to get going as well.
We hike in glorious sunshine, past the colors of the island: past the carts that sell breads and tortillas, past mothers buying, children eating, purple houses, blue houses, past beaches with boats – all the way into town...
...for one last visit to our favorite café, for that great coffee, and eggs with beans and salsa, wrapped into a warm tortilla.
We catch the ferry back, over the Caribeean blues...
...to the mainland, where we pick up a car (is this really the smallest one you have? Yes...) and head out. Not far: to Puerto Morelos – a fishing village just south of Cancun. "Low key" -- as the books say, and as Ed remembers it.
This time we are staying right on the beach and I know that Ed is groaning inside because the place (home for the next two nights), though subdued, still has too many comforts: a pool, chairs in the sand, tended grounds – too much, too much, especially after the belly of Isla Mujeres.
Me, I find it calming. A change of pace before we take the road away from the sea. A chance to take some work to the beach and look up only occasionally, to watch how the pelicans are doing out there on the aqua waters of the sea.