Tuesday, January 12, 2010

en Cozumel

We must return the car today: noon, bus station, Playa del Carmen. Two hours away from where we are. Some say three hours, depending on how you take the bumps on the road.

One last morning walk to the center of Valladolid. One last respectfully admiring glance at the women, who bring such beautiful hues to a town that’s already rich in color.


[Men, with vaquero (cowboy) hats are here as well; but the women catch my eye with their splash of pink, blue, purple.]



Moving solo, sometimes in groups, sometimes with an infant slung over the shoulder. Not so much with the entire family. That was yesterday. Today is a workday, a school day.




Last poke into a store for that last purchase: vanilla beans, cocoa, a belt... Reminders of the Yucatan.

One last look at the courtyard of our b&b...


We are on the road toward the coast. A modern, new road to Tulum. It was built to draw the coastal crowds inland. It’s almost empty today.

There are so many places where it’s tempting to leave the road. Side trips that could be taken. Things missed. Cenotes (underground watering holes), other Mayan ruins, other villages.

Next time.

As we approach Tulum – toward the southern end of the “Mayan Caribbean,” we readjust ourselves to this different world of mega-resorts, eco adventure parks and big signs advertising everything that’s glossy and contrived.

We enter Playa del Carmen. Ed draws a deep breath. He’d been here some decades back, when it was just one quiet main street with a ferry dock at the end. Today, it is an outdoor mall with a traffic jam and a Sam’s Club and a Pizza Hut and a million souvenir stalls. And four persons dressed in some form of nothing, dancing at the ferry landing in the hope of a few pesos.

None of this is photographable to me. I focus instead on the beach separating commercial chaos from the sea.


We hand over the automobile (the odometer indication is that it’s a newer car, but we know better: the seats are threadbare, the clutch malfunctions and it reeks of gas when you roll down the window; on the upside, it was very very cheap!) and set out toward the ferry. The goal is to get to the largest of all Mexican islands – Cozumel.

The ferry schedule on the Internet does not match the ferry schedule that’s here today and so we have a couple of hours in town. We search for that cafĂ© away from noise and we do find it. I get Ed to shed the scowl. At least for the photo. The (wooden) parrot looks on.


And now I have to remind myself why exactly we are going to Cozumel. It is said to be a diver’s paradise, but I don’t dive. So why?

I want a taste of this corner of Mexico (with the exception of Cancun). Cazumel has its fans. And, its possible to get to the airport from here on Wednesday morning without a car. And so now, there we are, on a ferry to the island.

And what a ride it is! The waters are choppy enough to make a sailor belch. (Ed would, of course, call this only moderately rough seas.) The boat is fast, but from my perch, it appears to mainly heave from one side to the next. I count the seconds, reminding myself that at the end of this half hour journey, there will be ground.

On the island, the first impressions continue to make Ed recoil. So many stores, so many vendors beseeching us to buy! I am less bothered. It is how tourism develops. And, of course, there are places where aggressive selling far surpasses what we see here, on the coast of Mexico. You need only travel in China to know this.

As we walk to our b&b and move into the more residential blocks of Cozumel’s port town, Ed relaxes. Once you leave the shore, the neighborhood becomes the familiar mix of small houses and corner mini markets. It’s a place of barking dogs and yes, crowing roosters.

The b&b (Mi Casa en Cozumel) has nine rooms, stacked in a modernistic way, one almost on top of the next, making it, at four levels, by far the tallest building in the neighborhood.


From our top of the heap perch, you have the view of the area.


It is a lovely place! Our room has no window panes, just wooden slat doors leading to patios and wooden slat windows on all sides. By opening them, you get all the island breezes careening through your room.


Again, the price ($72 with breakfast and taxes) is a fraction of what you would expect across the border or at the beachfront properties.

Ed needs to “decompress” on the hammock. I take a brief stroll.



We are hungry early. Somewhere in the day, we lost our breakfast and lunch. Bakery rolls have been keeping us satisfied, but I am ready for a warm meal. (The shifting weather patterns are still messing with the Yucatan peninsula; the skies are blue or gray, depending on where you look, and the winds gust up a coolness that is unnatural to the area.)

We walk back to the square, look at one place, then another. Too big, too impersonal. We stop at a bakery off to the side, buy more sweet rolls...



...and ask the man at the counter where he likes to eat. Denis. Go to Casa Denis.

We do and it’s a lovely recommendation. The tables are outside, but in this quiet alley, the air is calm, warm even.

I order a Margarita and I laugh (not without pleasure) at the size.


The waiter tells me – that’s the small one. You want to see our large version? Here’s the glass for that one!


Next time.

I am still one foot in the Mayan world and without much hesitation, I order the fresh fish of the day (grouper) in a Mayan spinach sauce. It is absolutely delicious.


At Mi Casa, I open the slats and throw a warm blanket over the bed. The wind sweeps through the room, a dog barks.

In the morning, I wake up to the rooster. And a rainbow somewhere over the sea, off the coast of Cozumel.