A December 2000 trip
to Isla Mujeres by El Gallo
Quote: Isla Mujeres is a fine destination or residence--a cute little island off the coast of the Yucatan--but it can also serve as a day trip from Cancun.
As a place to hang out, Isla Mujeres could be perfect for you. It's small, it's laid-back, it's an island in the Caribbean, for crissakes. The "downtown" might be nothing but tourist traps, but it's also a village and one man's trap is another man's briarpatch. It's full of good places to eat, surrounded by breathtaking turquoise sea, and even has a token Mayan ruin. It's a sort of mini-Yucatan. Or you could see it as a mini-Jamaica, I guess. There are bare titties on the beach, reggae music in the night, and a very don't give a damn attitude abroad.
If you just want to do a day trip (or check it out before committing) it's a piece of cake getting to Isla Mujeres from Cancun. Buses run north on Ave Tulum, Cancun's main drag, with signs saying "Puerto Juarez". Take them to the end of the line for like three pesos and get off at the ferry terminal. You can choose between two runs, which will tell a lot about you as a person.
The fast boats take about 15 minutes to cross the bay and charge pesos. You sit in seats like a jetliner and can't even see where you are going. But they're New and Sleek and FASTER. The slow boat is old and wooden, and looks like a passenger model of the African Queen. It has kids on board, and maybe strange cargo. It's open so you can hang your head out and watch the water and sunsets. It can hang around awhile before leaving and takes a half hour to get there. Costs pesos. Either way you get to the dock on Isla Mujeres and bop off onto Avenida Medina.
Open Forum--locals and potential visitors ask and answer questions on this community forum. Sign up and you can participate. myisla.com also has information about rentals, hotels, etc.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 15, 2000
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
What La Lomita does have is this: very good food and good prices. The first time I went there I saw the cook was a homosexual, also gordito: what you call "chubby", I believe. I thought, "Here will be good food," and it is. Be sure to check the specials of the day, which are on a large chalkboard in the back. They might sound common, like pollo en escabeche, or puerco con frijol, and they say, "Oh, it's fried chicken in chile sauce" or "You know, pork with beans". Twenty five pesos, about two and a half North American dollars. What you get is always very well done: for example, chicken fried chrisp and smothered with a special Yucatan blend of chiles. Or tender pork in a soup of black beans.
But what I order is now the same every time: Caracol ala Mantequila. Thin slices of the giant conches that surround this island. Everywhere you go here the sea and beach are covered with conch shells, there are houses built of them. I was slow to attempt the conch: in Spanish caracol is the word for and sea animal in a spiral shell and also for snails. There is a popular dance song, Sopa de Caracol, but I did not find it inviting. I was mistaken. Conch is tough, maybe something like rubber, but not in a bad way. Like scallops or octopus. Very good sauteed in butter with garlic. (What in other places in the country we would call mojo al ajo but these Caribe people have different ways of talking. Forty pesos with rice and salad. Not many places have conch, none of the economical places in the centro. In restaurants of more position you could pay three times as much.
It is hard to predict what you will find at La Lomita. It is not a secret, sometimes it is full of North Americans (or even worse, Germans and Italians) and there are people waiting outside on the sidewalk. Other times nobody is there but a few local chamacos drinking Fantas and staring at "Baywatch" (which is not subtitled but dubbed so you can hear what stupid things those spectacular girls are saying without being distracted by reading the titles).
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 30, 2001
2 blocks S. of Plaza
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Which, by the way, is hard to express in a normal address, but not hard to find if your heading to the South Point of the Island, Garrafon Park, or the smart snorkeler's way to do the Garrafon Reef--Garrafon Castillo Beach Club. If you're heading that way in your damn little moto, idiot carro de golf, the more sensible $35 peso taxi, or even (gasp) walking or biking, delay your breakfast or lunch to take advantage of the hillside picnic atmosphere of El Pueblito.
It's located across the street from Garrafon (the side away from the water), and about 100 yards north. If you are under your own power, look for it just past the sign to "Garrafon Castillo Beach Club". If your taxi driver doesn't respond to "El Pueblito" (which is a dum name for a place, since it means "The Village") just say "Garrafon", then be prepared to tell him to stop when you see the scatter of tables under the trees above the road. If you are at Punta Sur, it's only about a quarter mile walk North (the only direction you can walk, South Points being what they are) on the Leeward side past Garrafon.
Once there, I'm afraid it's sort of anticlimactic. All you do is walk up to a table, sit down in the shade of the trees (take a spin in one of those hanging hammock/chairs if you wish), and order a cold pop or beer and something to eat. It's not five Michelin stars, but it's not bad, either. Better than more expensive meals at the Beach Club, and as good as the atrociously more expensive chow at Garrafon (and that's on top of the $10 you pay just to get in the place). Enjoy the view. You sit in the breeze, staring out at the skyhighline of the Cancun hotel zone across the impossibly turquoise water over Manchones Reef. It has a calming effect. Ask about the daily specials.
Stroll upwards past the cage of parrots and tropical birds and you will suddenly realize that you are on the highest point on the island (the main evidence being you don't see anything any higher than you in any direction).
Like I say, it's nothing fancy, but if you're heading to South Point, plan on getting a meal or cool drink at El Pueblito. Oh, and slip the dog a morsel: he's a damn good pooch and deserves a spare ort or two.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 27, 2001
High Point of Island
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
ANYWAY, over on Women Island, you aren't going to find a place under $150 a night, period. And there are very few under $200. And don't expect anything fancy at any of them. On the other hand, these hotels are located right in the heart of town, but you can walk from them to a very nice beach in five minutes, tops. Here are the creme de la dregs of Isla Mujeres lodgings. All phones are in area code 987.
First of all, every Hip Guide mentions the Poc Na Hostel, and most tell you they have private rooms for $60-80 pesos. Wrong. Those rooms cost $200 and are way overpriced at that. Forget them: the dorms are only $39 and for $25 you can sleep outside in a hammock, which most people prefer to the thin mattresses and crowded bunks. On the other hand, Poc Na is pretty much right on the beach and very laid back. It's worth going over to their restaurant, where everything normal seems to run about $25 a plate--cheap by local standards--and a huge, very good cable TV brings in luxuries like NFL games.
Next step up would be the Maria Jose, at Madero 25, just around the corner off Medina, the street that runs by the ferry landing. Turn left off the boat, up a couple of blocks, right onto Madero and you're there. (Telephone, 7-02-45) not a bad deal at $140 with fan, $180 with air conditioning. (Tip: in winter you don't need AC, in summer you'd be crazy to be here). Rooms tend to have balconies, most with tables and chairs for al fresco guzzling.
Right up the street, at the corner of Juarez, are several places called Hotel Osorio but only one is usually open for business. (Telephone: 7-02-94) Rooms here can run $170 up until around December 20, when they bump up to $200. Nothing special, but how much time will you spend in your room when you live in tropical paradise amid a hundred bars?
The Xul-Ha is another place often mentioned as cheap, but it is also around $200 now, although you might squeeze in for $180 pre-season. Matamoros 15.
In the same $200 unless less category is the Caribe Maya, also on Madero at #9 (7-06-84). Fans, hot water, stairs. Another budget book favorite, Marcianito next door, was being remodeled in December 2000, so will probably reopen with a heavier price tag.
If you jump up over $20 US, you have a wider range, but not all that greater quality, surprisingly. I'll only mention the Belmar here, at Hidalgo 110 (7-04-29). Singles are $25 US low season, $56 high and there are nice suites which run $95 year around and sport Jacuzzis. Which you'd be paying $400 a night for over in the Cancun Zona Hotelera, so okay, from some perspectives maybe the Isla IS cheaper.
As soon as you set foot ashore on Av. Medina, you will see mucho places to rent motos and carts. If not, aggressive assholes will swarm up and help you to see them, preferably in an acquisitive light. Don't worry if you manage to momentarily resist these advances, the rental places are literally ALL OVER. The town is overrun with golf carts in various stages of operational readiness, as if an invading army of Shriners had been repulsed, leaving the field littered with weird little carts. Prices for golf carts tend to run around $100 pesos an hour, $350 for "all day", $500 for 24 hours. To put that in perspective, you can rent a Volkswagen in Cancun for $320 a 24 hour day.
The dinky, annoying, and occasionally fatal little motor scooters or motos are also ubiquitous, and run around $70 to $80 an hour depending on where they are and how likely they are to self-destruct on you. Or $200 a day. Have a ball, kiddo.
It seems to be a big secret, but you don't HAVE to motorize your chubby ass on the island: you can rent a bicycle! Of course, nobody DOES...there is only one bike rental place amid the swarm of motos/carts at the landing. It's a half block to your left on Medina as you disembark, across from the Brisa del Mar restaurant, and advertised simply (if imprecisely) as "Bicicle for Rent". They have plain, ugly black "mountain bikes", anywhere from 21 alleged speeds down to 1 speed. But, hey--this is an island. a glorified sand bar, in fact--so you don't NEED a bunch of speeds. $15 pesos an hour, $50 a day. And good for you, too.
To put ALL of this in another of those perspectives that everyone just hates, it's a tiny little place--you can WALK around the town and out to North Beach in a few minutes. Think of that. If you want to go to the south end of the Island you can get a guy to take you in a cute little Jap taxi full of your buddies for $35 pesos, one third of what you pay for an hour looking like a total fat-assed dork in a golf cart. Don't take this personally: it's just a concept.
Which reminds me. If you don't have to be Scubapro Jones, (and I'd say these waters are more conducive to snorkeling than SCUBA, anyway) you can have a lot of fun just taking a launch around the island to a few snorkeling locations like El Faro, Garrafon, La Cueva, etc. A few people in a panga with your intrepid captain choosing a good place, and a few leisurely dives. Usually the price of a half day tour (don't worry NOT a "three hour tour") is around $120 pesos, for $150 you also get a great fish lunch at a beach restaurant--a very good deal.
The BEST DEAL for boat tours on the island, whether to Contoy, fishing or underwater excursions, is Capitan Tony Garcia, of the Guadalupana. For one thing Tony is absolutely a wonderful guy, great company. If you're such a tourist you need practical reasons, he speaks perfect English. And if you're such a traveler that that's not enough, dig this: he's also cheaper than the others. He's got a big sign out in front on the North side of the Calle Matamoros (same street that goes in front of the bookstore, Cafe Cueva, and the Poc Na hostel, just a block or two further East, towards the ferry dock side). Tel: (987)7-02-29. Email: email@example.com. You'll love it. This is the MAIN thing to do from Isla Mujeres, actually, and Tony does it as well or better than anybody.
The thing is, you can just step off the ferry and do these things rapidly with no middleman, no need to rent a damn golf cart. You can do both in an afternoon, in fact. Then stroll further up to North Beach for a swim, some rays, a beer and a peek at the European titties on open display. Maybe get in a little shopping if you're not good at fending off advances in the street. Then pop back on the boat to Cancun. Or, if you're finding you like the Isla better, check my "Cheap Hotels" entry, and stay awhile.
By: Cream From: Disraeli Gears
Evidence that Eric, Jack and Ginger visited Isla Mujeres--or some place similar enough to suffice. But once in paradise, once surrounded by turquoise ripples, Homeric sun, and brown-breasted sirens, the question comes up: where can we get ice cream? (igougo, iscreamuscream)
And the epic answer is: Odyssey. Or La Odisea if you prefer, the sign is bilingual. The sign on Morelos, straight ahead from the ferry terminal, two doors on the left. Or two blocks leeward from the main plaza, if that's your orientation.
It doesn't look like much...a normal, clean ice-cream place with creamy cylinders and waffele cones. But it's actually pretty unique. All the ice cream is handmade for the owner (a big bearded Floridan) in Cancun by Italians. If you lika gelati, you'll lova this place. Some of the flavors are absolutely gelato in form and substance. (They even call the chocolate chip straccatella. The kiwi flavor for some reasons seems like just what you'd find in Palermo or wherever, though the pistaccio might seem more traditional. But they also have the creamy style flavors you love. The only drawback to the Italian preparation is that you don't get nummy, uniquely Mexican flavors like chongos or tres leches. But they're working on it. They have mango and rompope (kind of like eggnog) and cajeta (try it and decide if you want to call it "burned milk", "caramel", or "butterscotch").
The plus side of the Italian Connection is they have flavors like tiramisu. Which I would normally have thought was Japanese, but turned out to be Italian. Axis cuisine, anyway. It's just lucious, is what it is. There might be somewhere else in Latin American where you can get tiramisu icecream, but I sure haven't found it.
One aspect of the Classic bent of the Greek name and Roman ingredients I especially liked--the ongoing project of decorating the walls with scenes from Ulysses' journey. These were my stories when I was a kid: I was sucking up Greek myths and Homer while everybody else was reading the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. They jabbered about Mickey Mantle and Roy Rogers: my hero was Achilles. I couldn't believe that sissy Paris killed him just because he didn't get his damn ankle undercoated. Why, oh why, didn't he go back for a double dip? the question haunted me for years. Not to mention Odysseus his own bad self: he "of the mighty thighs", the scamster, the off-the-charts wanderer. My identification was immediate. Maybe that's why my life seems to have become an endless journey from one disaster to another. Anyway, they are gradually limning the walls of the ice creamery with Od's greatest hits: cross-eyed Nicean barks of yore cruise Circe, Scylla and Charybdis, the Cyclops. Even ice cream can be educational if you do it right. How many deadly adventures did Baskin Robbins ever have? That Robbins guy wouldn't have been able to outwit a cyclops. You think a flack that that is going to say his name is "No Man"? Hell know, he'd say "My name is Baskin," and start yammering about how many flavors he had (and no tiramisu, at that) and his ass would have been out. And as far as bending the big bow and slaughtering the greedy feasting suitors, forget it...Baskin would have tried to charge them three bucks a scoop and they'd have spitted him up like a fatted pig. They should do a chain of the places: Hector's Illiad Cones, Aenid's 34 Flavors, Beowolf's Spumoni Plus, Gilgamesh's Parlor. I'll bet I'm not the only English major with a sweet tooth.
The clientele is a good mix of locals, including musicians, artists, massagists and nogoodnicks, and hostel types and just plain people who want a good cup of coffee and are tired of the Mexican approach (a cup of tepid water and a jar of "No es cafe"). It´s also a good place to get a cut-throat game of cribbage or "armagammon". One wall is covered with "cave paintings", but the other is all maps, which ends up making those tables hotspots of trip planning, argument settling, or travel lying.
And did we mention Scott makes great muffins? Well, he does. Tasty muffins that can be had hot in the morning, or cool and comprehensive while they last.
Check the CAFE CUEVA WEBSITE for details--and check out the "Patimes" page for some great links about Mexico, Travel, and Wierdness.
It was wild and tossed-up outside. In by the rocks where all the big black angels and midnight parrotfish were sliding around you would suddenly see the bottom slew away ten meters and you'd be right up in the bubbly. Clouds of blue angels tucked into the broken canyons, sheltered from the surge. Beautiful. Thrilling. Sharp edged.
As we played it by ear, we ended up following the Scot in so close to the shelf that we had no choice: two meter waves blasted us through the hand's breadth of water over the jagged rocks spotted with coral and the occasional venomous stonefish spine.
All three of us came in whooping in exhilaration and yelping as we banged into rocks and fire coral. We were lucky. We'd known from the first we'd go straight in towards the red flag; we just wouldn't admit we'd do something risky just so we could feel cool about the risk.
As soon as I surrendered to the surge and rocketed forwards, the water went white and effervescent around me. Accelerating blind, I stretched out my hands and struck rough rocks. For a second there was a swirl of clear water showing the reef right under my face--studded with the spines of sea urchins. I caught a glimpse of the bright red fire coral that burns the skin if touched. Worse, touching coral is a moral no-no: it's a beautiful thing that you literally kill by touching it. The painful burn of fire coral only serves you right.
I bent down my flippers to protect my toes and legs, sucked in my gut, and blasted through it out of control. The mad Scot scraped, and tried to stand up. The waves tumbled him over and over as he yelped. We laughed so hard we damn near drowned. Then we were in the calm "kiddy pool" in front of Casa Maya and the girls were waving at us from the beach.
We splashed around laughing and pointing, hyped on having done something crazy and dangerous and gotten away with it. We hooted and rehashed and pointed out blood and lacerations on our chests and legs.
Nicoise opened her eyes and took it in as, smiling a Gallic smile and shaking her head as we walked up holding our masks and fins, "Stupid boys". The boys heartily agreed with this, and so did the girls--namely Isa and Katie in neighboring hammocks.
Where all three were lying, it suddenly ocurred to me, naked except for tiny thongs under the harsh tropic radiation. Three beautiful European women (well, if you want to call Ireland part of Europe) with their tits exposed to the gaze of Mexican waiters. Courting cancer and early aging so they would look more exotic and beautiful than they already did. Stupid girls.
And I looked down at the lush, gold bodies and liked the results. Let them be stupid: I enjoyed the results. Then it hit me that they enjoyed what out stupidities did for us; as attracted as we were to the fruits of the other sex's stupidities.
I walked over to Nicoise and shook myself dry like a dog, imagining that the drops of water sizzled off her warm, golden, shape. I bought us two beers for the price of one and we curled in the hammock watching the sunset.
Do you know what comes after happy hour? Stupid hour.
I can't be too precise about the next crucial couple of minutes, but among other things: a big, crunchy rock fist slammed into my gut so hard my breakfast ended up in my snorkel--a nasty bit that took several punishing minutes to sort out (and tends to justify the widely-ignored caution against swimming after eating)--and I lost a lot of hide and started losing blood, I got my bell rung a little--probably the same time I got the patch peeled off my left parietal--and something really awful happened to my left shoulder and down my left side. That numb, voodoo kind of pain that starts a guy worrying about vertebrae and nerve injury instead of more sensible worries like getting the hell off this limestone cheese grater in one piece.
But so far it's not a story about stupidity. Well, the normal, showing-off-for-my-dumbass-self, I'm-not-too-old-for-this-shit kind. Not the ought-to-know-better-you-moron-bastard type. The stupidity showed up later, as I headed back around the southernmost point--virtually obscured by the high-splattering, egg-beatering surf--only to find out, as soon as I came around it and could see my way clear to start the long swim back to the Beach Club, that there was a powerful current sweeping past...heading south and into open sea, of course. I hadn't noticed it coming out or it had come up while I was entertaining myself getting my body thrashed. Either way, we're talking stupidlogue at this point. And increasing distress on my left side due to having to swim full force just to stay motionless. I've been there before, but never when "going with the flow" meant getting swept past the last thing to grab onto for like hundreds of miles. I poured it on, watching the bottom stay right there under me, and noticed that since the sea was running against the current, each wave was moving me about four feet forwards. Yahoo. All I had to do was keep kicking and stroking for about twenty minutes, every other stroke doing totally weird shit to my left arm and shoulder--little electrical sparks starting to zap down the arm with each stroke now, just to make it interesting--until I got inshore enough to duck the current.
So this isn't a "well boys, there I was story": it's a story about what do you when you're on a tiny little island in Mexico, mucho miles and dollars away from a VA hospital (not that MD's know diddly about spinal stuff anyway) with some sort of slipped neck vertebrae, pinched nerve, sort of thing that's got you living in pain and very limited in the ability to navigate, much less enjoy, the island.
Fortunately, this is a very nice, blessed, little island. One of the other hangers-out at Cafe Cueva turns out to be a massage/healer. MariaLuisa, working out of Na Balam. She did me up at bargain homeboy/pro bono rates, including audibly popping a cervical disk back in place. Check her out--she's strong, intuitive, and been at it for years. But I needed more treatment.
Then Melissa, who's living with Miguel, who used to live with Lenny, who used to be married to Stevie Ray Vaughn, but now lives right across the street from me, mentioned a good sobador who might fix me up for around $20 US a treatment. So I looked him up, Don Renan. One thing going for him, "Don" is an honorific title. You can't call yourself that, you can't get appointed to it: people call you "Don So and So" out of respect. The first thing he told me was that he was a witch.
Brjuo he said, Soy el Brujo dela Isla." Well, hell. The thing is, sobadores are almost never just "body work" people. They almost always mention some sort of spiritual aspect of what they are doing to you. They are expressing the healing of God, or the Virgin, or ancient Indian mojos or something. You don't hear Satan mentioned much, but some of these cats, like a very heavy and famous curandero up by Veracruz, come off with some pretty dark imagery and aura. So: witchcraft, wicked witchcraft? Not that I was all that particular at the moment: pain sucks, chronic pain sucks absolutely. Opiates aren't all that wholesome, but you eat them or snort them or shoot them if you're hurtin' for certain. Well, I saw a logo on his T-shirt that said, Amo a dios. Loves God, does he? Sounds like the good hands people to me. I made an appointment. He stretched me out on a cot, that it turns out is his little daughter's bed at night and started rubbing. And talking.
An interesting guy, Sr. Renan. Very short, neckless, almost a dwarf; he is a very relaxed, humorous, powerful guy. An island native of fifty years, he remembers back before there was a ferry, before there were tourists, damn near before there were houses. And he was a diver. Told me a lot of good info about the underwater world of the Mexican Caribe. (Like watch out for the deep ocean currents, for one thing, but I'd already figured that one out). Talked about an island paradise where the sea teemed with turtles, the bottom bristled with lobsters, and you could live off conches picked up on the beach. And his career as a healer.
For one thing, he'd been joking about the brujo bit. For another, the T-shirt came off a boat he crewed on in Louisiana, a boat called "Adios". So his T didn't say "I Love God", but "I Love Adios". You can grasp immediately the importance of subtle clues to picking the difficult, correct path that leads between the day and dark of night. He spoke of curing people, not only of deranged muscles, but of cancer, infertility, poverty, alcoholism and bad business sense. All in an off-hand, egoless manner. It had started by accidentally curing his wife of deep-seated internal problems. He had felt moved to place his hands on her belly and suddenly felt a welling of energy, what he describes as a "blue flame", that entered her and straightened her right out. Other similar cases caused him to get some feeling for this clean blue power, and to express it when it appears, otherwise to just rub. He has a LOT of people who come to see him, including a great many foreigners (read: gringos) and quite a few Mexican working people. I seem to be okay now. Not good as new (how ever good that was), not good as before spronging my spine in the Army, not even as good as before playing "Miss the Point" with myself. But definitely able to move freely, to start to carefully work the muscles that had been out of use for a couple of weeks. Able to sleep without pills, no sudden stabs of that creepy pain/weakness/electrospasm.
So, what should I conclude from all this? You tell me. What I will tell you is how to find the guy if you are in need. Get in a taxi and say, "Quartos de Cesar" and they will know where to go. Get off anywhere in that block (which is out in Colonia Metrologico on the windward side) and walk on down to the end of the block where there's a little grocery store called "El Baratillo". Walk in and ask for Don Renan. See what you conclude.
Monkey Junction, Afghanistan