Isla Mujeres lies off the coast of Cancun in Mexico. It was dubbed thus by Spanish explorers who found the island covered in images of goddesses. The island was sacred for Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of birth and medicine. I went there not for birthing nor medicine but because I’d heard of warm, clear water, fresh seafood, hot sun, toodling around on golf carts, and giant polka-dotted sharks. On second thought, that sounds like a medicine of sorts: a balm for the work-a-day soul.
Flying standby has its risks (you might not make it on the plane) and its benefits (cheap). This time I lucked out big time. The plane was full but for the exit rows. This meant I got an entire exit row and an entire overhead bin to myself! I briefly wondered about my obligations to assist in the case of a disaster. As the sole occupant, would I be required to man all 4 exits to safety? I decided the odds of disaster were in my favor, thought no more about it and I settled in with my snacks and book. The wheels of the plane squeaked as we bumped down in Cancun. Traveling alone in a new place still makes me a teensy bit nervous, even after all these years. Lady luck was truly with me. I walked out of the airport and hello, there’s the bus I need and it leaves in 5 minutes. I got off the bus and hello, there is one man with a taxi standing there happy to take me to the port. I got out of the taxi and hello, there’s the boat I need and it’s leaving in 5 minutes. I got off the boat on Isla Mujeres, walked 3 minutes and hello, you’re just in time for your B&B happy hour. There’s no way I could have planned all that to come together if I had tried.
I had booked a room at Casa Sirena for its proximity to the beach and plaza and for its small size. I don’t care for the glitz and extraversion of Cancun. This little 7 bedroom B&B on a sleepy island suited me much better. I set my things down in my very appealing room and walked upstairs to the roof for happy hour. One thing about traveling alone as a woman is that people seem much more open to you. I sipped tequila and chatted with Jane the manager from Sweden, Kevin a bartender from New York here with a friend for his birthday, and Ryan from Texas who was here overseeing renovations on a newly purchased vacation home. Everyone was so friendly and we made a group plan to meet up the next morning for breakfast. I decided to stretch my legs and have a walk about the plaza since that is THE thing to do on any given evening on Isla Mujeres. The plaza in the evening is the heart of the island and the one place and time where there is anything resembling hustle bustle. People strolled up and down the avenida, children played basketball (it’s too hot during the day), folks ate at outdoor cafes, music floating out onto the streets, dogs wandered aimlessly weaving their way through a sea of legs, looking for scraps, and old woman offered a toothless grin and her beaded handicrafts for sale.
My evening stroll concluded, I made my way back up the stairs of the Mermaid House (Casa Sirena) where I was lulled to sleep by the billowing white curtains and the sound of the waves and I dreamt of breathing underwater.
The next morning I woke early and made myself a little espresso and crawled back into bed to watch the sun rise. How delicious to sneak back under the covers, coffee in hand and watch the sun pinken the sky and watch the frigate birds hover over the ocean. Later, we met as planned, for breakfast. Ryan generously included all of us in Kevin’s birthday breakfast and treated. Compared to the evening before, the town was positively somnambulant as the sun was already ferocious. I thought Maui was hot. It’s got nothing on the Yucatan peninsula. The humidity smacks you in the face like a hot, wet washcloth when you step outside.
I was anxious to get in the beautiful water and arranged a series of afternoon dives. My big regret is that I don’t have any sort of underwater camera to show you what I was seeing so I shall just have to describe it. A few of us boarded a small lancha and headed out through the mangroves, out to sea. The color looks fake it’s so turquoise. Our first anchor spot was “The Museum” which is an underwater gallery consisting of over 400 life size cement sculptures that have been sunk to provide a base for coral to grow. I was kicking along underwater, nose about 6 inches from the sand, fiddling with my gear when our guide stopped. I pulled up short and started for there was a crowd of people standing on the ocean floor. It was eerie, really, all of these people together, a crowd, frozen in a moment of time. A man scratching his chin, a pregnant woman holding her belly, a woman staring off into space, someone pointing at something, a child. It made me think of the White Witch in the Narnia series who turns people to stone when they displease her. Coral grew in patches on their heads, shoulders, here and there. Fish slid silently in and out from amongst them. It was very strange but also beautiful in a way and I so wished I had a camera to catch the cathedral-like rays of light shining down on a woman who appeared to be gazing wistfully up at the surface. When our tanks were 3/4 empty we slowly rose to the surface, leaving the others to keep their lonely vigil at the bottom of the sea.
The second and final stop was a protected reef area. It had been so long since I had seen live coral reef. Probably 10 years ago in Panama. What a reminder. The coral reefs are like the rain forest. An absolute riot of shapes, colors, and things growing on top of things. What a sad, sad thing that they are all disappearing. I don’t know the proper names of things down there, but there were fan shapes, brain shapes, ledges, things that looked like old-fashioned feather pens, stalactites, spires. Green, yellow, purple, blue. All the colors of the rainbow. A turtle grazed on sea grass and did not so much as look up when our guide patted his shell. A large school of fish floated quietly together until I coughed and then darted in every direction in surprise. One fish, a striped busy looking fellow with a big frown seemed so clearly in a hurry on an errand that I had to smile. A lobster waved his tentacles from under a coral shelf. A sting ray undulated by. A small but mighty fish marched straight up to my mask and all but tapped on the glass to inquire just what, exactly I was doing headed the wrong way and messing up traffic. In truth, it reminded me of the scene from the bar in Star Wars, so many different looking creatures in such a small space. Pardon me, sir!
On landing we encountered a good-sized crowd and blasting merengue music. There was a fishing tournament going on and the fishermen were hauling their catches up to have them weighed and measured. Ryan and I pulled up a chair at the open air, sand floor place next door and ordered drinks and a huge platter of ceviche to sit and watch. When we could eat no more limey, oniony, tomatoey, cilantroey shrimpy deliciousness and crisp homemade tortilla chips we decided to call it a day and head back to the Casa.
What will tomorrow bring?