Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Y.W...A Golf Cart, A Goddess, and a Mexican who soaked me for $25

*ferry to La Isla*

We left our hotel bright and early the following morning and made our way by city bus (which is a tiny van) to the ferry terminal in Cancun City. This was really the first opportunity we'd had to take notice of the city in which we were vacationing. Ryan had the 'oceanview' side of the bus, which afforded lovely vistas of the hotel zone. I had the other side of the bus. It's almost ridiculous to see such wealth and beauty and then literally, ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE STREET, to have also such abject poverty as to be truly horrifying.
The houses of the people of Cancun city are often not even that, but are rather small, sometimes cinderblock, structures, often with tarps for rooftops. One such place was surrounded by razor wire fencing through which had been cut a hole for entry
and exit. Young children of around five or six surrounded a large cookpot in the 'yard' and an older girl hauled two heavy buckets of water? into the house. The children did not have shoes and several dogs laid about the yard area, emaciated and forgotten. I wondered if the children had not been forgotten as well. And where did these children spend last night when the rain and wind and lightening were so severe?
Presumably in the tiny domicile, the interior of which was utterly dark as they certainly had no electricity. The city itself is still rebuilding in many pa
rts after the severe hurricane five years ago. It is not uncommon to see their once beautiful courtyards, littered with debris, piled with garbage, the remains of lovely fountains lying in piles at the center. People walk around them, with no inclination or ability to restore what was destroyed. I photographed them for my own sake, so that I would remember what I'd seen. These were the people of Cancun. Not the polite doorman or the sweet hostess at our hotel- but these tiny children, dancing around an outdoor firepit.
Our bus finally left the congested side streets and came to a stop in front of a large parking garage. We ambled through and bought our tickets at the counter near the marina. But what we'd seen left a pall over the sunny morning, not a distaste as is sometimes typical of tourists, but a weight, a responsibility. We smiled at one anot
her, trying to boost our own spirits. Ryan put his arm around me as we stood in line on the docks.
Within moments we were boarding and finding our seats on the top deck. The wind was howling and made the trip extremely choppy, which was great
as we needed a little levity at the moment. See, the ferry hosts daily entertainers who make their living by collecting tips from those who ride the ferry's back and forth. Apparently tourists will pay a lot to see a guy sing Mexican music on board a ferry. We paid a lot to see said guy flying around the ferry. Every time that mammoth boat hit a wave or dropped down into one, that poor guy would go careening off his rickety stool to take a header into the pile of life boats. We put a couple bucks into his hat as it went around and felt like we'd gotten a deal on entertainment for the day.
The boat docked a few minutes later at a bustling marina packed with sailboats, tourists, vendors and children, a buzzing hub of activity.

Our friend on the Philly to Cancun flight gave us one GREAT tip that I will now share with you- if you visit the Island of Isla Mujeres, where the primary mode of transportation is a golf cart, don't rent one the minute you get off the boat. Travel the tiny, crowded street by foot first. Explore the city and talk to people. It's too easy to miss the real flavor of La Isla if you're speeding by at 20 mph. And then, when you've sauntered the cobblestone streets and bought a few things from the adorable little merchants in their lean-to's, ask around about a golf cart- preferably after you've paid and the merchant thinks he's gotten a deal on the American sucker.
He will then direct you to one of the rental companies in the heart of downtown where you will pay considerably less than you would at the ferry terminal.
Here's a few shots of La Isla:

We eventually found a rental company and got our golf cart- we meandered the streets for awhile and then pulled out the map. Melissa's survival in the wild tip #62- GET A MAP and know how to read it.
We applied what we'd learned in Cabo and decided that we weren't going to see anything if we didn't get off the beaten path and out of town. So we headed South. La Isla is a tiny Island. You can make it from one end to the other in about twenty minutes on a golf cart- so we cruised around, marveling at the beautiful mansions and run down shacks that shared space along the highway. We came eventually to a sign that read, "La Tortugas" with an arrow, and we turned off the main road and wandered through the side streets, avoided the GIANT iguana's that skittered across the road every so often, and eventually turned into a gravel drive.
This out of the way stop turned out to be amazing! A small, government owned turtle rescue and breeding program that hatches and releases a number of different species of sea turtles back into the waters of the Caribbean every year. We all remember the turtle experience from Cabo right? And how the camera malfunctioned and I didn't get the picture with the cool turtle egg???
Well, we made up for it:

I won't bore you by showing you dozens of pictures of Ryan and I with the baby turtles- but they were really amazing, trust me.
We left the turtle farm reluctantly after about an hour and a half and headed south again. We drove in silence, relaxed, enjoying the wind and the view of sea. We were coming to the southern tip of the island by this time and the tiny strip of land was coming together so that we had a view of the sea on three sides. There were very few other vehicles and it was easy to feel like you were in some deserted place...except for the enormous lighthouse, bazaar and busy restaurant that occupied the last 500' of Isla Mujeres. That sort of threw a weird light over the natural scenery. But, being unable to resist a good foreign bazaar- we stopped. Also throwing a weird light over the atmosphere were the two M16 toting guards who were wandering the booths. You just don't see things like that in the states. We were eyeballing them, which of course, made them eyeball us. I pasted on an uncomfortable smile and waggled my fingers at them. They responded like FBI agents and turned their backs on us and walked away. Better than the alternative, which was that they'd man handle us and toss us in some disgusting island jail where no one would hear from us again. Though I loved the island, I wouldn't want to occupy a cell in a prison there. It's this phobia I have of confinement...and bad food...and men who haven't had a conjugal visit in several decades. Weird, I know. But as you get to know me you'll discover I have several strange quirks like that.
We wandered through the booths, kept a wary but interested eye on the iguana's that are the Caribbean's version of parking lot starlings- and eventually came upon a small shack where an old man and his wife sat in the heat. We greeted them in our broken Spanish and the old man stood to show us his wares: hand carved, multi toned, gorgeous Mayan masks created in the images of the old Mayan gods and goddesses. My imagination created a beautiful image of him sitting in a tiny, run down house somewhere here on the island, laboring with his chisel, the sun and years of poverty leaving his face creased and his expression faded...
"How much for this mask?" I asked, pointing to one of the largest on the old rickety table.
"forty dollar." He said, and didn't meet my eyes
Hmmm...suspicion creeps into the picture at this point.
"Forty? really?"
"Yes. Forty. This mask is of Heebeejeebee. (I can't remember the gods real name, obviously) It is very good carving."
"Yes, it's a good carving. But I don't want to pay forty dollars." I smile politely and begin to walk away.
"Wait, wait. See? It's a good carving. And very big!" He then regales me with tales of Heebeejeebee as if somehow this will make the mask a better deal.
"That's wonderful!" I say with enthusiasm. "But I'm still not paying forty dollars. Thank you though." Again I start to walk away, a ploy obviously to inspire him to lower his price, which he did.
"How much you want to pay?" He calls to me.
I turn back and stop, as if surprised by the idea.
"Twenty dollars." I offer with a grin. At this point I think I'm going to get a deal on this one of a kind item from a tiny island in the Caribbean....
He looks appalled. "No!" And takes the mask from the table as if I'm no longer allowed to buy it. Then reconsiders, "Thirty dollars."
"uh -uh." I shake my head. "No. Twenty."
He looks me over with a keen eye, no longer clouded with 'age'.
"Twenty-five. No lower." He says. Well, I did talk him down from forty, I think, and I agree. Ryan forks over the cash and the man wraps the mask and places it carefully in a sack. We thank the couple and move away a bit before we hear him call out, "You got a good price, Lady. Those go for a lot more over at the Cancun Airport!"
The expression on my face probably made the fifteen bucks he lost on that deal totally worthwhile. I have to admit, I got hosed. That old man totally conned me out of twenty five bucks and while I tried to be irritated, I considered the fun we were having, the experience of it all, and decided I'd gotten a good deal. The mask now proudly hangs on my living room wall as a reminder of that day.
This end of the island, as I said, boasted the bazaar, a lighthouse and a restaurant. All of this was built around a gorgeous sculpture garden created in honor of the islands goddess.
Unfortunately, since we'd given the con artist our last twenty, we were SOL for lunch at the restaurant. We tour the lighthouse, the garden and take a few snapshots- then head back to our golf cart for the trip back to the marina.

We head back down the coastal highway, a narrow two lane road at the edge of the sea. I'm enjoying the view of turquoise waters when I catch a glimpse of something laying in the grass beside the road. Weird shape. Weird color. Hmmm.
"Could you turn around?" I ask Hubby.
"Yeah. I saw something in the grass. Could you turn around?"
"Ok..." It's obvious he thinks I'm on opiats. But we turned back. I scanned the roadside, hoping to catch a glimpse of it again, then finally see it. I jump out and dash over.
"What are you doing!?" But his concern for my sanity is quickly silenced when I stood up holding the five pound conch shell. He looks at it and at me and smiles.
"You saw that as we drove by??"
"Yeah! And I think I saw more down on the beach."
Abandoning our golf cart and all sense of reason, we climb down the short embankment and out onto the shell-strewn beach where we do in fact find several of the massive shells. I stuff my tote with three of them, the large one and two smaller ones that I think will make good gifts for our mothers. We wandered there for awhile, the waves crashing against our feet, gathering shells, and finally climbed back up the hill to take our smiling souls back across the bay towards home.
We rode the ferry back at sunset and found a bus to take us back to the hotel where we ate for the first time that day. (we refused to PAY for food when we could eat free at the hotel). The temperature was well into the 90's but the humidity was dropping as Ike moved farther west into the Gulf. This was a red letter day. We've discovered that we don't take vacations to sit by the pool and drink margarita's...though I did have a few of those while we were there. We've got to be moving and exploring and getting our hands into the local culture and wildlife.
There are many many more trips on the horizon for us...but there's still more to tell about Cancun. And about a beautiful lagoon called Xel Ha (shell ha) where we spent a lazy afternoon swimming with a school of yellow-fin tuna that were bigger than we were.
Please stay tuned for more adventures on Yucatan Wednesdays...but sometimes Mondays or Tuesday's!

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