5218, A Little Trip to Paradise
Monday Evening, March 27, 2017
I started a different entry, but this is the one worth posting.
All the credit for this trip belongs to Francine because a), she has a passion for Blue Water, and b), she likes to plan vacations, and c), she is really good at the planning and the researching and the choosing.
I worked at the office all day on Saturday and part of Sunday the weekend before we left. Monday was absolutely crazy and I started early and finished late. Francine was out with friends that evening, and it gave me the quiet and stillness to pack without forgetting anything, along with the opportunity to decompress thoroughly enough to actually wake up on Tuesday morning at least partially rested and not too tormented by what did or didn’t get done before we headed to the airport.
We took off from Denver about 10am and landed in Cancun, Mexico about 3pm counting the time change. We cleared customs and entered the gauntlet of what serves as the exit tunnel from the airport. Everyone was working an angle. Trying to negotiate a cab was really about gently saying no to every discount offer for a snorkel tour, a free stay at the Super-Mayan Discount-High-Rise-Everyone-Wins-Casino-and-All-Inclusive-Resort, an all day free tour to the Mayan ruins and a swim in the Cenote, all for the all-inclusive price of a [mumbled] pesos, not including the tour guide or car fees and ferry pick-up…
We found our cab and got ourselves delivered to the ferry terminal. As soon as we were on it and seated up top, we exhaled. The float across to Isla Mujeres was only about 25 minutes, but the Blue Water was under us, the wind blew, the sun shown down, and our travel clothes flapped in the breeze as the tension went out from under us like brightly colored fish excitedly scattering.
Outside the terminal on the main street in Isla Mujeres, we decided to walk to the hotel, pulling our luggage as we went. We had only tourist maps with no scale and no labels, so it was less than 5 minutes before we hailed a bright red cab. Ten minutes later and 50 pesos lighter, we were dropped off at Na Balam Hotel on North Playa.
By the time we turned the key in the door, it was almost 6:30pm. We could see the beach through the palm trees, and the golden glow of sunset was gathering strength. Francine wanted to take a shower, but I said I was going out to watch the sunset and she agreed to come. Mostly she was hungry and tired, but we watched the sun sink with our toes scrunching sand and found our table as dusk gathered. We were right at the outer edge of the hotel restaurant, so nothing blocked our view of the palms, beach, water beyond, bobbing boats, sunset clouds, and the first few stars glinting through the palm fronds. It was amazing.
We showered on Wednesday morning, not sure if what we were experiencing was real or not. The hot water, when fully on, puffed out of the showerhead sporadically. At its hottest, it was chilly, and it would be an understatement to say that no cold water was required. At some point, only the bottom 6 or 7 holes in the showerhead had water coming from them.
We agreed to spend the day on the beach, just relaxing. We walked in the sand, which was soft and fine and white, we dipped in the lush blue-green water, we marveled at the boats that gradually filled the view from the beach, each playing music and letting off a few swimmers who would wade and swim toward us like they knew us, and nod as they headed past us for the hotel beach bar. In between, we lay on a type of beach bed where there was a little slatted platform with a pulled-on mattress underneath a rental umbrella.
We swam around, relaxed, swam around, relaxed, and finally ate dinner at the same spot. We looked at the same menu three times that day.
We rented a golf cart. Our cash was running low so we stopped at the local bank kiosk and entered the pin numbers on my card. The bank machine rejected it. It rejected the second try, too. It rejected the third try as well, and when I tried a fourth time, (one of the first three series of number over again), it told me the machine was out of order. I was stunned. We decided that it couldn’t happen to us, got back in the golf cart, and drove to Punta Sur and the far southern end of the island. There, we walked around the Mayan ruin, took selfies along the trail and sculpture garden, and hitched up our bladders rather than pay the pesos for the Mayan pay toilets. We were on a budget.
The next day at the bank, the same thing happened. We even went to a real bank and waited our turn in the lobby, only to find out that the lobby didn’t dispense cash, even with valid passports and other ID. The bank machine dispensed cash and it wasn’t playing nice with us. As some point, we realize that neither one of us could remember the PIN numbers to our credit cards. We were stuck with the remaining cash we had and whatever we could charge.
Back on the hotel bedspread, we laughed as we dumped all our cash and coins into a pile, dollars and pesos, and counted them up. Then we worked backwards like a couple of Spring Break-ers – a tip for the drive to the remote parking lot in Denver, an umbrella rental, tips for breakfast service, tips for housekeeping, tips for something random… when we finished working it out and keeping the promise we made to pay cash for the golf cart rental, we had nine dollars for the next two and a half days.
It could have been miserable, but it was rejuvenatingly fun. We simply told restaurateurs and snorkel companies and everyone else that we weren’t carrying any cash. If they took Visa or MasterCard, they were in luck. If not, we moved on. Extravagantly, we asked each other “do we feel like Italian, French, Mexican, Mayan, or MasterCard?”
We snorkeled over a million fish. We drank bottles of Corona and ate bowls of fresh guacamole. We laughed and people watched. The boats came in closer to Playa Norte and the music pounded from each, blending into a cacophony of rhythm and humanity.
One night, a nearby bar pumped music so loud we could feel as we lay in bed.
DM, DM, DM, DM-a-DM-a DM, DM, DM… Even with my deaf ear up, there was no escape. The paddle fan squeaked overhead, and the room was warm and humid. This was not Colorado, where we would have had 14 blankets pressing down. Francine was awake, too. We lay there talking until we touched, petted, explored, and merged…
“Thank you, obnoxious disco bass line dance beat :)!!!! DANG!!! Without you, we might have spent the night sleeping!”
We ate somewhere along Avenue Hildago most of the remaining nights. It was a narrow street by our standards, but big and wide and welcoming. Menu boards vied for our attention and colors and sound and soft evening breezes filled us with the magic of the moment. It made me proud and humble to be human.
By the time it was time to leave, it was time to leave. Work beckoned, and most of us can only relax so much for so long. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I couldn’t stay, so I might as well get the luggage filled. On our final morning, Francine was organizing and packing while my stuff was ready as far as I was concerned. Down on the beach, I lay on a mattress looking at the palm trees lit by the rising sun, framed against a cloudless blue sky. When I got up to meet Francine at the restaurant, the sand was cool and soft under my feet. I can see why people forget to leave.
There’s more to that morning, but some things beg to be left unwritten.
So here’s some advice: Don’t go to Hotel Na Balam or Isla Mujeres for the lightning-fast network access. Don’t go for the steaming hot water pulsing out of the shower head with enough dedication to pin you (or both of you, as is our wont) against the opposite shower wall. In case you’re wondering, at least where we were, it won’t gush out and relax your tense back muscles and make you horny with the shear aqua-ness of it.
Go to Hotel Na Balam and Isla Mujeres because both are unique and beautiful. Your back muscles won’t need the hot jet of high-pressure shower water because they’ll already be relaxed. And you’ll already be horny because you’ll remember who you are and who your loved one is and why you both filled up with desire for each other in the first place.
Go because the people are friendly and the evening streets glow with the pulse of humanity and music; for the fragrances of beautiful women mingled with the possibilities of local seafood and cocktails; for stray cats who preen calmly below all the confusion; for the wandering minstrels offering spontaneous music to his and hers; for the palm trees laden with ripening coconuts shading the stack of Panama Hats from the quickening starlight; for the loved children careening back and forth across the narrow avenue, calling and snorting and collapsing on each other in silliness and laughter.
Go to Hotel Na Balam and Isla Mujeres because the people are lovely. Go because the food is light and delicious. Go because there’s nothing quite like a sunset framed by palm trees, beach, and gently rolling surf with a star or two peeking down. Admire the Na Balam hotel building, and soul-flash a dose of gratitude that you were one of the chosen few who slept here, made love here, tipped here. The hotel is an anachronism, holding on as the real estate value eventually exceeds the sentimental value, bringing with it the bulldozers and poured reinforced concrete and sealed glazing and make-believe atmosphere that infuses every nameless multi-story pink-trimmed beach-front high-rise everywhere.
And while you’re on Isla Mujeres, you may blush, flushed with gratitude and forgiveness, when thinking that anyone would want to put a wall between themselves and this place and these people, unless the sole purpose of that wall was to hurl themselves over it on their south-ward, soul-ward journey to paradise.