Isla Mujeres MX, 2022, Part II
‘Hard to believe I’ve been here two weeks already. I think it took me ten days to fully relax into life away from home. I’m getting into my own groove, it feels good, some days on the beach all day, others a good walk in the morning and/or the evening, spending a while in a cafe or other, or home reading. Pushing myself out of my comfort zone and going many new places I hadn’t checked out in prior visits to Isla.
I joined several Isla Mujeres f’book groups just to see if anything interesting pops up for me. So far, yes, a couple of things. I went to a ‘meet-up’ of folks at the Tiny Gecko bar and grill (great place to hang out – lots of live music and drinks almost too pretty to drink) where I met a bunch of fun folks, including David, a local artist. Several of his canvases will be packed home with me. The local corner shop has a handy duffel I’m going to pick up to accomodate the bits and bobs my pesos are getting for me.
I was out the other night for dinner on a roof top cafe that looked over a small patch of jungle. Surprised to see this burly looking guy shucking coconuts out of a tall palm. Oh, and I finally went to the Burger joint next door (another night). Oh my gosh. yummm.
Back when I arrived in Cancun, after a nice non-stop flight from SFO, I had prebooked my shuttle and ferry ride to the island, which is the only way to go unless one of your friends, like Carmen, is picking you up. Carmen, my couchsurfing friend, who is partly responsible for me falling in love with this part of the world. And Jorge, over near Chichen Itza, in Valladolid, at the Mayan EcoLodge, as well.
Many interesting changes here since I was last here in Isla Mujeres with Kelley (2019), including an abundance of pharmacias and walk-in covid testing sites. Carmen, who lives and manages condos in Cancun, reports the covid testing sites have been a boon to the local economy since so many travelers still need a negative test to return home. Including me soon enough.
I’ve long known you could get drugs over the counter here (my dad used to travel to get his RX meds as a snowbird), cheaper than at home, but I really don’t take any meds. So when I went in for bandaids (elastics), or a bottle of Pepto Bismol or Pedialyte, I was surprised to get the hard sell, “Ativan, anything you want, we have it here. We deliver free.” A few days later, I couldn’t help but overhear a group of young gringos pooling their pesos to get just that thing, complaining of trouble sleeping in the humid heat. Wusses.
I picked up a small coffee cup this morning from the corner market, took it with me to Cafe Isla, had it filled with Cafe Americano and took a nice long walk along the malicon, a concrete walkway along the east side of the island, the breezy, rocky side.
Cafe Isla is a favorite of mine for ‘to-go’ coffee, a shop owned by a young island woman with a dream to bake and sell goods and coffees. Literally a hole in the wall – that I now take myself to on a stroll for coffee or a green smoothie often enough.
I was happy to see the church open when I walked by and took a little sit there. It reminded me a bit of a church I was in with my friend Adrienne, when I visited her in Marseilles, another fishing town. And it seems like I always discover a new mural somewhere.
Coming to a place like Isla is a wakeup call for not having exactly the same thing we have at home. And going to the market, well, the labels are not in English, so I’m really looking at the product or the pictures. With the little kitchen I have, I can still cook up a bowl of oatmeal or chicken noodle soup, etc. My stomach won’t take too much fatty, greasy food, so I am careful. I also brought some of my sourdough starter from home, restarted it and am eating sourdough pancakes a few days a week, piled with local fruits. Green tea in the morning keeps me happy.
It’s all so easy to get lost here, all these narrow streets and avenues, most of which you can’t find a street name to save your soul. And kids and dogs, the same as everywhere.
Street names are sometimes printed on the top of some building on a random street corner. WIFI is a bit sketchy – apple and google maps come and go. I’m lucky to be the kind of wanderer who appreciates getting lost as a new adventure. After two weeks now, I’m actually pretty darn good at remembering my way around town. Mapchicks is a great app to have; lots of good recommendations of restaurants, sights to see, beach clubs.
‘Beach Clubs’ are the thing here. Walk along any beach, find a table/chair, or a beach chair or lounge with umbrella, sit down and soon enough, one of the friendly workers will come along and fill you in on the food/drink menu, the cost of chair/umbrella, etc. You pay and sit the day away. Sneak into the surf a few times and feel like a queen.
One evening I thoroughly enjoyed a swinging hammock at the bar, at sunrise with an ice cold Dos XX and fine live music.
I’ve also had some killer gelato, a speedy gelato, eagerly slurping it up before it melted onto the street. Enjoying all my time out of doors with sunscreen, and I’m still getting some color on my Irish skin. I’ve decided to start swimming laps each morning, I’m up early, why not? I won’t put on sunscreen to do that. The salt water is an easy swim and an easier float.
I switch up my morning, or evening walks, one side of the island or the other and often just walk in the surf from one end of the beach zone to the other. A few folks are out walking and then there are the workers setting up the chairs, lounges, umbrellas, the guys using stake hole diggers to stuff the umbreallas into, and others raking the sand. Yes, raking the bits of flotsam away, carrying it off in a wheelbarrow so the touristas won’t be bothered. And on another day while on a walk along the main west shore road, I was able to check out a squad of diver recruits getting lessons from the boss across the road from the Naval Station.
Just about anywhere, I’ll find cervezas (or rather, they find me), pina coladas, margaritas to soothe my thirst and most of the time I remember to take a bottle of water with me on these excursions.
I finished off a crack-up of a book, Christopher Moore’s “Island of the Sequined Love Nun,” and went successfully hunting down the local bookstore where the owner, Raul, found me another Christopher Moore (A Dirty Job) that I also thoroughly enjoyed. His writing reminds me a bit of Richard Kadrey’s musings. Now I’m on Hemingway’s ‘The Sun Also Rises’, one of his books I hadn’t read yet. Yes, loving it. Enjoy reading through his eyes about places I’ve also been fortunate enough to see.
Above, a meal at Olivia’s one night, the tastiest Spanakopita I’ve ever had. An authentic Greek bake – layers of phylo pastry and a mixture of spinach and feta cheese served with fresh tomato sauce, hard boiled egg & house marinated olives and a big glass of ice cold mint lemonade. Mmmm. Pesos 280; $12.50. And my own humble sourdough pancake breakfast piled with local fruits one morning.
I almost stepped on the friendly neighborhood Gecko that Kelley and I always greet – still hanging out on the same street we found them before. Next to the garbage on the other side of the fence. I think his name is Bert, or Jorge, I can’t remember. Or maybe Eloise? .
Interesting to see the many private businesses who set their dollar/peso exchange rates as they wish. Banks and public agencies have to stick to the going rate, whatever it is. In some places, the dollar to Peso exchange is 26 pesos to 1, another place it’s 18 to 1, or 20 to 1. Alll new to me.
I use pesos. No need to make the locals have to exchange dollars for pesos, even though most places do take American dollars. Most of the little places don’t take cards. It’s a cost the vendors don’t want, or need, to make a living. As one vendor put it, “when everyone in Mexico has free wifi, we’ll start using cards. Right now, often the cards don’t go through.” Better for me to pay the bank fee to take out a boatload of pesos from the ATM than the locals paying for part of my vacation. Prices above, at Cafe Isla, are in pesos. That $45 Americano (really good and hot) is in pesos. Dollars, #2.00. Can’t go wrong anywhere here.
A realization swept in on me yesterday just after taking photos with a couple of guys here from Chicago. I’ve met a bunch of people from Chicago. I’m accustomed to traveling solo, always eager to meet new couchsurfers or friends along the way. I think this may be the first time I’m really solo, with no one to catch up with. I miss the comaraderie of good people I know. I’m also chit-chatting with folks here, locals and tourists like me. Good people. Like you. Like me. In Isla, it’s all very safe, the people always friendly and I really do feel like I’m home.