Just after taking off from the Cancun airport I spotted a magical island calmly sunbathing in the Caribbean. The surrounding sea was dark with a hint of green, but as the sugary sands spilled into the shallows the water became turquois, luminous in the spray and foam. The waves on the ocean side were translucent blue-green, capped with white. The beaches on the side of the Yucatan Peninsula were calm, wave-less, and the water clear. After a few taps on her personal monitor, Mary told me the flight path showed it was our island. It was Isla Mujeres.
Our island is narrow at the waist and curved at both ends, looking a bit like a seahorse laying on its side. The interior is leafy and green–dotted with structures; the north end has been outlined with a broad, white felt marker and its gradually slope into the sea shows off a swatch of clean sand through a turquoise lens. Here is where most of the island’s resorts encircle a bustling downtown.
We were recently privileged to stay at Privilege Aluxes, a pristine, lego-like structure hugging blue pools and a short, lazy stroll from the beach. Never having vacationed in Mexico, we thought it best to purchase the all-inclusive package securing some predictability from the unknown. We were told the island boasts of many fine eating places, but were delighted that our resort had excellent dining and even better service. Knowing that not having another margarita or plate of fresh guacamole with lightly seasoned pico would be a bad business decision may have moderated our moderation and expanded our waistlines. It’s okay, we carry tangible reminders of blissfully unplugging.
To aid our laziness, the Privilege staff had been trained to be super-attentive, but their friendliness was genuine. In the land of the siesta everyone who served us hustled. My greatest challenge was doing the math to convert pesos to dollars and back to be sure our gratuities properly reflected our appreciation. (I carry memories of offending the entire nation of Mexico. Just after our nuptials, we took a quick day trip to Nogales from Tucson where we were staying with Mary’s family. Armed with a bit of knowledge and less wisdom, I attempted to engage in a customary negotiation for an onyx chess set with an offer so low that the indignant shopkeeper hustled me from his business. In truth, he threw me out. I now leave the Mexican shopping to Mary. She says no thank you and the price starts to tumble.)
We found the friendliness wasn’t limited to our resort. Here are the ways to tour the island: on foot (why risk blowing out a flip-flop or stepping on a pop-top), by small red taxi, by motor scooter, or—our choice—by gas-powered golf cart. These white carriages are chugging everywhere and litter the roadside at every attraction. It took about 25 minutes to putter from our side of the island to the green and less populous southern tip. In between we passed through small, poor villages and found the expensive, pastel semi-mansions keeping watch over the Eastern sea. Most were multi-level, stair-stepping down the short, black cliffs and had huge windows so the residents could stare at the blue waves pounding the ebony rocks and white sand.
Absolutely beautiful and perfectly peaceful. I want one.
Our first day of touring it rained, a steady tropical rain that left us drenched and chilled. During a break in the weather we ventured into a nearby Mexican restaurant, I mean a Mexican Mexican restaurant. If you are used to Tex-Mex the food there might seem bland. We didn’t find a jalapeño or any spicy sauces. Mary and I, however, found the food delightfully fresh, simple and understatedly tasty. In fact, the fine dining restaurant at our resort, Satay, had the most delicious Thai food we have ever enjoyed. A tip: you need reservations a day in advance. Another tip: wear comfortable, expandable clothes.
Back to the weather. The first two days were perfect. (Cliché alert.) Constant tropical sea breezes caressed us under cloudless skies, made it feel cooler than 82, and tried to trick us in to laying out longer than we should. But we reapplied sunscreen, took advantage of the thatch cabanas and umbrellas, and idly watched other humans sizzle. The last day was partly cloudy with an occasional soft shower and enough clear blue sky to let us know the sun was up a field goal over SPF-50.
The language barrier didn’t. I am impressed that most people we met cared enough to learn more than a smidgen of English. And some were fluently bi-lingual. I know a few Spanish words and enjoyed trying to use them and wanted to understand more. The Mexican people were very gracious with my gracias and smiled when my Buenos dias should have been a Buenos noches—or was it the other way around? Both drivers, who carried us between the airport and ferry, spoke just enough English that we were able to learn about their business, important landmarks, and their familia.
The people endeared us to the island as much as the locale. The beach vendors had to announce and display their wares, but nary a one hassled us after a firm gracias with a slight shake of the head. On the second day, Mary bought some beautiful, variegated wraps after reminding the seller his price had been five dollars less the day before and mere yards from where we reclined. Perhaps it was the giddiness of holiday, perhaps it was only business, an act for wages, but our impression was that the favored Mexican color schemes—always bright and overly conspicuous—reflect heat and a zest for life.
And we believed our steady dinner waiter, Raul, when he hugged us on our last night and said, “Adios, Senor Steve. Goodbye, Miss Mary. We’ll miss you.” We miss you, too, Raul. And our little Island.