Islands, I’ve seen a few. But then again, not too few to mention. (Sorry Frank) But it is true, I’m a bit of an island addict. One of my most treasured self indulgences is crawling all over some culturally rich and colourful archipelago with a water bottle and camera. I’ve explored some so small they were little more than a spit of land with a tree. Literally while standing in the middle, on a very low lying hill, you can see both coasts. There have been some so large I couldn’t mange to cover them all in a jeep with a full tank of fuel and a guide. But I dig them, each and every one. Islands are like past lovers; each is special, each with their own set of memories, sweet and sour; distinct moments in time that harbor their own individual fragrances, melodies and flavor. One such jewel in my memories box is Cozumel…..
I suppose the biggest reason this island is so special to me, is I discovered it with my son, whom I will affectionately refer to as B-rad (not like Brad, like Be Radical). It was our first trip abroad together. He was only twelve or thirteen, and the wide eyed wonder that shone over the whole experience for him has made it somewhat magical for me. Not to say Cozumel can’t make magic all on its own; it can, in copious amounts.
Cozumel Mexico is an island dripping in history, culture and natural beauty. It has the honored distinction of being the oldest island in the Caribbean and is Mexico’s largest, despite its scant above water land area. Cozumel is a busty 18 km wide and a leggy 55 km long. At its peak, it stands a mere 15 meters above sea level. Hardly overwhelming, but what it lacks in stature, it more than makes up for with its charm and uniqueness.
Somewhere around 1500 B.C, Cozumel was the stomping grounds of Ix- Chel, the Mayan Goddess of fertility. It is said that “Ix-Chel was almost too beautiful, this girl with opalescent skin who sat in the skies brushing her shimmering hair for hours on end.” That ALONE is reason enough to visit no? Her temples are still seen today near the centre of the island in San Gervasio. In 1519, Cortez made his grand entrance under the guise of peace and friendship and immediately began his conquest of Mexico through Cozumel. There is also a very rich pirate history attached to the island. In 1959, Jacques Cousteau discovered the Palancar Reef on the south side of the island and claimed it to be, “one of the most special places to scuba dive in the world.” These facts and more can be found on http://www.cometocozumel.com/.
Now it does have its own airport, but I would strongly recommend coming by ferry from the mainland at Playa Del Carmen. Buy a one way ticket (there are three companies and if you buy a round trip, you may be left waiting longer on the other end to come home) from the ticket counter on the pier ONLY (experience has taught me, there are plenty of phony tickets to be purchased from the crowd at large) . Now, there are four very solid reasons for taking the ferry as opposed to flying in.
- Cerveza. Simple math, everyone knows beer makes life better, and they have an abundance of it on the ferry.
- The journey is a little over 19 km, 30 – 40 minutes, and it is spectacular! The sun blazing, the sea lapping at the hull, all on an open top ferry… with the breeze in your hair…come on!
- Cerveza. Did I mention they have lots of it?.. And it’s cold. You consume it right out of the bottle while listening to a young man sing in Spanish and play guitar on the upper deck. Stupendous no? and most importantly….
- Anticipation. Time spent in contemplation of the upcoming adventure. Watching as the island grows bigger and bigger as you get closer and closer…your excitement can’t help but build! You know as well as I do, the more time you spend on the water, the more apt you are to see amazing and beautiful things!
As you glide into Ultra Mar, the ferry terminal, the sounds and smells of Cozumel start to wash over you immediately as you are literally already downtown. Horse drawn carriages line the main drag, specialty and tourist shops are dotted between the restaurants and bars, there are scads of street vendors doing what vendors do best (it’s a good idea to know where you are going to rent your car or scootie from before you arrive to avoid these guys) and there is colour and sensation surround abound! I recommend going straight to Senior Frogs or The Hard Rock Cafe for a frozen something or a Cerveza to plan your next move! B-Rad and I went for the guide-less “scootie around the island” idea. I have always preferred to strike out on my own, and this was something I really wanted to instill in my son. To enjoy Mexico, you have to see Mexico, experience Mexico, and you can’t do that on a tour bus or in the back of a taxi. Yes yes, there are dangers and pitfalls, so do your research before you arrive, ask for credible information from credible sources. Not “hey man, check out the cool caves way outta town” from the guy with tequila breath at the end of the bar. That’s just traveling 101 bud! But I truly believe the best way to experience ANY country, is to get out there man, waist deep, rub elbows with the locals dude! So, as 12 year olds are not really into shopping and I myself am not the type to sit in a saloon all afternoon while he plays pool, no matter how good the music is, scootie-ing seemed a good option. Snorkeling and beach football ran a close second and third.
It did not take long to secure our valiant steed! God knows there were only 500 options among the street vendors. Then all of a sudden another unforeseen and pleasant moment presented itself….he declined his own scooter and opted to ride with me. Ya, one of those father- son……things. You don’t often get to experience those moments back at home in the real world, hip deep in daily routine, but out here in a tropical wonderland, where none of his peers were watching, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Righteous and noble, a father and son, off to explore and conquer together. Anyway, we were set, I burned the scooter south along Av. Rafael E Melgar (Quintana Roo C1), the wind in our face, sun at our backs, salt in the air, we were off………..
Stay tuned…more to come……..