Adios Cancun, Hola Vancouver!

For my final post of the incredible Round the World trip, here are a few photos of Isla Mujeres and the beaches of Cancun. Tropical storms have been blowing through this region in the last several days but we did manage to have some sun on our last couple of days in the Cancun area.

As we were walking to the beach on Isla Mujeres, we happened to pass the Municipal Cemetery; I took a few pictures of the colourful tombs.

Storm clouds chased us off the island; we saw these old fishing boats near the Gran Puerto dock.

On the way back from our usual beach, Playa Gaviota Azul, we stopped in to take a look at Playa Tortuga. It was Sunday and lots of local families were enjoying themselves beside the water.

It also has the only Bungee Jump that I’ve seen on the trip (not as high as the one in Nanaimo, however).

Today was our last day at Playa Gaviota Azul – here’s a picture of our usual waiter, Santos from Chiapas. Adios and Sayonara Cancun, Hola Vancouver – Canada here we come (hopefully bringing the sun with us)!

 

 

Cancun: The Ruins of El Rey and Playa Delfines

Can’t get enough o’ those great iguanas, those rocky piles, those sands o’ white and waves o’ blue. We discovered that there are two – count ‘em, two – ruin sites in Cancun, one north of the city near Puerto Juarez, and the other in the southern hotel zone, across the road from Playa Delfines, Dolphin Beach. Since today was a beautiful sunny day, we opted to visit El Rey and then head to the beach.

When we arrived at the ruins, no-one was visible at the front desk, but lo and beyond the caretaker emerged from his poker game and newspaper reading as soon as he saw us heading into the site.

The structures here are quite small, built between 1300 and 1550 AD, and the main activities of the inhabitants were fishing and Mayan trading with salt. This city was abandoned after the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century, and being located so close to the Caribbean sea, the area became a haven for pirates for a long time.

But what El Rey lacked in size it made up for in numbers of iguanas, many of whom emerged from their burrows and followed us around the site when they saw that we had apples for them.

At one point the lizard master was interacting with about nine lizards and a bird, and several other iguanas were streaming towards him from other parts of the ruins, all with one thing on their minds – food.

The birds and the iguanas duked it out for the bits of apple thrown by Ty and I. We saw the remains of a dead iguana, its carcass stripped almost to the bone, presumably by the other beasts.

It was interesting to see the juxtaposition of these thousand year old ruins against the backdrop of the more recent ruins of an abandoned hotel in one direction and the gigantic pyramid-shaped Iberostar hotel in the other. Ozymandias, anyone?

After our fun with iguanas, and a climb up the small pyramid,

we walked back across the road to Playa Delphines, a beautiful wide local beach with a few palapas and loungers and no hotels in the immediate vicinity (very unusual for Cancun). There are no restaurants or bars here, so I hopped aboard the bus, went to the nearest Oxxo, and returned with snacks to stave off starvation and dehydration.

There are some food vendors on the beach, including a few guys selling something called “jeebie-jeebie” or “heebie-jeebie”, small edible pouches of fish or meat carried in what look like small aquariums.

Once again the surf was up. The ocean along this coast is rough; every single day we’ve been to the beach the red flags have dominated, with the occasional yellow flag indicating caution.

Many of the people ignore the red flags and frolic in the waves anyway, even if they can’t swim. At Playa Delfines were mostly local families enjoying Fathers’ Day and big numbers of people were in the waves, keeping the lifeguards busy. Right in front of us a middle aged lifeguard with a strong freestyle stroke and a red lifesaving buoy made two saves in the space of an hour, hauling in two men who’d gotten into trouble too far out.

The currents here are very strong and it’s easy to get pulled out if you’re not careful. Many people drown along this coast every year.

Ty and I enjoyed playing in the waves but made sure that we were in the yellow flag section where the current wasn’t as strong – the waves were just as high, though – whooshhhh! Ty took a pounding surfing in on one gigantic wave, while I managed to duck down underneath it.

Our apartment in downtown Cancun is really sweet. It’s the upper floor of a two story row house in what used to be a townhouse community. The young couple who own it, originally from Argentina and resident in Cancun for the last ten years, built the structure and made all the furniture inside from hard wood, mostly with what looks like old ship’s fittings. Many beautiful shells are displayed on the shelves – Aldo is a diver and gathered these from local dive spots.

Aside from the usual insanely barking dogs, and the renovations sometimes going on next door, the place is pretty quiet.

See more pics here.

From Playa to Cancun: Last Stop on the World Tour

One block away from us in Playa Ejido was a very nice small park – La Ceiba – which has colourful sculpture, a cafe with brightly painted furniture, several art studios, some for kids, and a cinema.

We had originally planned to stay in Playa for four weeks; however, by the third week, we’d had enough of the hard sell everywhere and wanted a change of scenery. I was, though, happy to meet world traveller Nikoya, a woman originally from Vancouver now staying in Playa via twenty years in Chang Mai, Thailand.

We spent a nice evening wandering the Fifth Avenue strip the night before Ty and I hit the road. And I was also happy to share my space with the two small frilled lizards that kept us company – here is the tiniest, and most skittish, one.

Our last few days were spent on the beach and the weather was grand, much better than it had been, pretty well clear and getting hotter. Just as in many of the places we’ve visited over this past year, here, too, the beach is eroding. Although people on forums that I’ve read say that beach erosion is a natural phenomenon (and, yes, it is), the kind of erosion we see here and elsewhere has two primary causes – rampant development and global climate change. The building of gigantic hotel and condo developments, and long piers jutting out into the ocean, disturbs and changes the ocean currents, taking sand from one area and depositing it somewhere else. Also, with global climate change, and the melting of glaciers, the sea level is rising. Just as we saw in Thailand, especially on Koh Samui, here, too, the rising water level means that some businesses along the beach are having to pile up sand bags (or sand whales as they’re called here) or put their sun loungers on an artificially raised platform of sand so that the sea doesn’t inundate them.

I think that the entire Mayan Riviera beach is human-made, with millions of cubic meters of sand trucked in from somewhere else (where, I wonder?) to the tune of millions of dollars. The new sand is just dumped on top of the remaining old sand, or onto rocky shores, and, in not very much time, much of it is eroded away again by the ocean. In the meantime, this sand has blanketed the reefs and killed the coral; as well, the water at the moment is a murky, turbid, milky-white (not sure whether this is temporary or the result of the sand trucked in). So, no sea life can be seen near the shore in developed areas except tiny fish.

In the middle of Playa’s main beach, in front of Fusion Restaurant, the beach has almost disappeared, revealing the original rocky shoreline.

One of the last days we were there, after a rain storm, we could smell the sewage that had obviously overflowed the storm sewers and was just gushing out from pipes into the ocean, turning the turquoise water a dull dark brown in places. Since swimming in that water wasn’t very appealing, we walked north, past the new Ultramar pier (one of the culprits for the beach degradation?), to the north beaches. Last time we were here there wasn’t much in this area but has it ever been developed since then. Many large all-inclusives and beach clubs line the wide beach along here, attracting young people and many locals. Right now this is the best beach area in town, from what I can see.

After checking out of the Casa Ejido we took the ADO bus up the highway to Cancun, our final destination on the around the World jaunt, before heading back to Vancouver the end of June, selected for ease of departure and, hopefully, sun and beach.

We’re staying for 2 days at the La Quinta Inn and Suites downtown before moving to an apartment in a local neighbourhood. La Quinta is almost brand new, has a small pool out back, and is nice enough for a brief stay. One really nice feature is a free shuttle bus which has transported us the last couple of days to one of the beaches in the Hotel Zone.

The Hotel Zone here is enormous, about 26 kilometers of peninsula jutting out into the ocean east of the city. And the hotels are also enormous; gigantic monoliths, huge mostly white condo developments, some older run-down and/or abandoned properties, line the beach and the lagoon the entire way.

These, and the biggest and “best” of American or Americanised culture, such as Hooters, Coco Bongo, Senor Frog’s and the like, and crappy little souvenirs shops with the usual junk, comprise the Cancun peninsula.

Unlike Puerto Vallarta, there is no malecon or beach walk here. The hotels have been built right on the beach, preventing access almost everywhere to what is public beach. To allow others who are not staying at these properties to access the beach, there are ten public entrances dotted the length of the zone but, unless you know where these are, they’re not easy to find. Yesterday, after spending a few hours at the Cabana Beach Club (not an optimum experience), we walked down the beach for about 45 minutes and could not find a public access point off the beach.

So, since we were tired and hungry, we decided to walk through a hotel property. Of course, since Ty doesn’t exactly blend into the background, we were accosted and about to be escorted off the premises until we told the security personnel that we wanted to see a man about a room. After being directed to the lobby we exited at full speed stage right and flagged down a bus outside.

Today the weather was wonderful and we rented two sun loungers on the beach at Gaviota Azul, having a lazy day playing in the big surf.

The large, wide beach was full of local families, with kids large and small enjoying the day. Because this area of the beach has a sand bar not too far offshore, a shallow pool of ocean water untouched by the big surf is created so it’s perfect for small children.

At the moment red and yellow flags are up so the water isn’t good for swimming; however, the high waves are a blast. Ty, floating offshore, was just about pounded by a gigantic one but managed to duck under it in time. Several people enjoyed burying one another in the sand, including this little boy who placed small handfull after handfull of sand on his reclining mother.

Below is a picture of what the beach would look like if no sand was brought in to Cancun.

Although Cancun is not at all our scene, if the weather holds, it will be a very pleasant spot to spend some time frolicing in the water before heading back to what sounds like a cold and wet spring at the moment on the west coast.

See more pics here.

 

Coba: “Waters stirred by Wind”

Just can’t get enough o’ those Mayan ruins … poor Ty. Yet another visit to yet another big pile of rocks, this time Coba, in central Yucatan south west of Playa del Carmen. The weather is still not that good here – a gigantic cloud seems to be hanging around over top of us here, generating cloudy skies and thunderstorms. We do get some sunny times, mostly in the morning, and then it clouds over mid-afternoon and, often, rains in the early evening. And, while usually the water current in the ocean here flows south along the coast, the past couple of days it seems to have reversed and is now running quickly and strongly north, creating quite big waves. Although it’s not really rainy season here yet, the weather has been strangely wetter than usual – maybe hurricane season is coming early this year. On the satellite map the Gulf of Mexico looks like a gigantic pot of boiling water. Yesterday again the waves were very high, almost like the ones in Puerto Vallarta, and we had a bit of difficulty getting out of the water without being dashed against the shoreline rocks in the middle of Playa’s beach.

Anyway, on Wednesday the day dawned dry with a glimmer of sun shining through the cloud cover so we decided to visit Coba, a large Mayan ruin site located in the jungle. From the Playa bus station two ADO buses a day run to Coba; we took the 9 am, which stopped at Tulum ruins and Tulum pueblo, before heading inland to Coba and arriving after a pleasant two hour airconditioned ride at the archeological site. From the research I’d done I expected a fairly undeveloped situation at Coba but there were still the usual souvenir stalls and small Yucatecan restaurants outside the grounds, none of which was doing much business as far as I could tell.

Entering the site we walked along a tree-lined path leading to the first set of buildings, next to which are bike and bike taxi rentals. Since Coba is big, and would have taken all day to walk around, we decided to go for the bike taxi, basically a trike with a small padded seat for passengers (I stress the “small”; it barely had room for both of us. We saw two big guys being driven on one, each of whom had one cheek hanging off either side of the seat). Our driver headed off down the shady path, passing walkers and other trikes heading back to the ranch.

There are several different groups of structures open for visiting and with the trike, we were able to see all of them in two hours without having to rush. All of the buildings are situated in a treed jungle area (although “jungle” suggests deep, dark, dense bush, the jungle here consists of small birch-like trees and large banyan-like ones, all of which are small enough to allow lots of light to enter. The paths between the building groups likely follow the old Maya sacbe (white roads). At Coba there are about 40 sacbes, some local, some heading deep into the jungle. The longest sacbe is 100 km, connecting Coba with Yaxuna, close to Chichen Itza. “Coba” means “waters stirred by wind”, an homage to the four lakes along which it’s situated. Unlike Tulum, it is not manicured and reconstructed; a number of large stone jungle-covered mounds can been seen, along with those that can be visited.

Coba dates from the Classic Period, 600 to 900 AD, after which it was abandoned for unknown reasons. At its height Coba supported up to 45,000 inhabitants. The city is thought to have been an important trading post and a commercial link between the cities on the coast and those inland. Coba was never found by the Spanish, thus being left covered by jungle until the 1890s, when it was rediscovered. Excavations started in the 1970s and many of the buildings are left pretty much as they were found. This site of 80 square km/50 square miles is in almost pristine condition. Coba is believed to contain up to 6,500 structures, of which only a small fraction have been restored. (http://www.playa.info/playa-del-carmen-info-mayan-ruins-of-coba.html).

We saw the observatory, a four or five level beehive-like structure, many stele with almost impossible-to-decipher carvings and palapa-roofed coverings, quite a few domestic houses, the “paintings complex” (below),

two stone ball courts, and a grand pyramid, the Nohoch Mul, meaning “big mound”. And big it is, the tallest Mayan ruin structure in the Yucatan at 138 feet.

Nohoch Mul is one of the few Mayan pyramids still climbable. When we arrived there a few people were climbing it, some of whom were red-faced from the effort.

It is quite steep, with a “staircase” of large and uneven steps and a thick rope to help with the descent. From the top, we had a view out over seemingly the entire Yucatan forest of trees to the horizon, only interrupted by a few unexcavated structures whose tops could be seen above the trees.

While going up was relatively easy (and not by an order of magnitude anywhere near as difficult as the climb to the mountaintop of Krabi’s Tiger Cave Temple), coming down was more difficult and tiring. The next day my thigh muscles were still tingling from the workout. [See my post on our Tiger Cave Temple expedition here]

On the function of the Mayan ball courts, here is one account: Coba has at least two very pretty ball courts, one of which has been partially excavated only recently. The ball game played an important role in Mayan society and most cities had a ball court, which is basically a corridor of two stoned walls. The game was played between two teams, using only their hips and elbows to get a rubber ball through a hoop. At some sites, like Coba, the sides of the ball court are slanted, which makes it possible to get close to the hoop.

In other places, like Chichen Itza, the hoops are situated high up on almost vertical walls, seemingly making it impossible to score (unless you don’t subscribe to the law of gravity, which would give us the explanation to many other Mayan mysteries…) Inscriptions and other pieces of art show that human sacrifice was a part of the game. There are different theories as to who actually got sacrificed – the captain or the whole team? Did the losing have to pay with their lives or did the winning team willingly and proudly go to live with their gods? You will hear different stories on this one. (http://www.playa.info/playa-del-carmen-info-mayan-ruins-of-coba.html)

After an almost two hour long tricycle ride, we headed back out to the bus which showed up right on time and whisked us back again to Playa. For those of you interested in Mayan ruins, I’d recommend doing this site by bus; there are two ADO departures from Playa every morning at 8 and 9 am and two returns from Coba at 1 and 3 pm. The bus costs 86 pesos per person each way and the entrance fee into Coba is 57 pesos each. We paid 200 pesos for the tricycle tour (170 for the bike and a 30 peso tip) for a total cost of 486 pesos ($35.55), much cheaper than any of the tours we looked at. And Coba, with its jungle canopy covering, is a beautiful and restful experience.

See more pics here.

Tulum: Leaping Lizards and Hot Rocks

The weather hasn’t been great here the last few days and so when today dawned with a bit of sun we decided to head on down the highway to visit the Tulum ruins and beach. I had thought that the collective taxis stopped on the main boulevard beneath the highway next to the Chedraui grocery store and so we stood there on the side of the road. But, no, several of them blew right past us as we were frantically waving them down. Shit! I asked a woman sitting at the bus stop where to catch them and, after asking another couple of people as we walked, we eventually found the collectivo station downtown near the bus station. We got the last two seats in our van and were off down the highway for an hour long ride to the Tulum archeological site.

Although we had expected to pay more, the entrance fee was only 57 pesos each and the day, overcast but clearing, was perfect for touring the ruins. Tulum is situated right on oceanfront cliffs, obviously the prime real estate of the post classical Mayan world. It is very much a manicured area and none of the buildings are climbable – too bad because the view from El Castillo out over the sea would be wonderful.

The city of Tulum was at its height during the 13th-15th centuries, and is thus one of the later Mayan outposts. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century it was still inhabited. Tulum was an important trading post for the Post classic Mayans, having a beach where merchants could come ashore with their canoes. The highest building, El Castillo, was also a lighthouse to make navigation easier: when two torches aligned, these showed voyagers the way through the reef.

During the Post classic period, the Maya started to use large seagoing canoes and made trading voyages ranging from trips to the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of the Yucatán peninsula, and all the way to what is today Honduras. There is even evidence that they went as far as Costa Rica and Panama. Standing on the cliff here, gazing out to sea, I could imagine a fleet of fifty foot hardwood canoes cruising into the bay below.

In 1518, an expedition lead by the Spaniard Juan de Grijalva sailed past Tulum. The captain and crew were amazed by the sight of this walled city, with its buildings painted red, blue and white and a fire atop the main temple. Some 75 years after the conquest, Tulum was abandoned, but was still visited over the years by Mayan pilgrims. During the War of the Castes, Indian refugees took shelter here from time to time. (See more at http://www.playa.info/playa-del-carmen-info-mayan-ruins-of-tulum.html)

When we had been in Tulum last about 5 years ago, it was very crowded; today, luckily, while there were a number of people, it was not completely packed out.

One of the most delightful features of the ruin site is that it is home to many, many iguanas, all of whom are very tame. Ty discovered an apple in his backpack and proceeded to feed three of the beasts who came racing over when he took the fruit out of his bag.

Another fellow was taking a sandwich out of his pack when a huge lizard jumped onto it, climbed over the pack, and started up his body before receiving the piece of sandwich he desired!

After our visit, we grabbed a collectivo and taxi to Tulum Playa, the two kilometer long beach just north of the town. Here the sand is blindingly white and the water an incredible shade of light cerulean blue.

We had lunch at Playa Paraiso and spent a few hours on the beach before heading back on the collectivo to Playa del Carmen. Tulum Playa has a very different vibe than Playa del Carmen; it’s north of the town proper and accessed by a road that runs along a coastline of low sand dunes.

Tulum beach is more like a warm weather version of Vancouver Island’s west coast beaches (although with more in the way of services like restaurants, bars, sun beds, boat trips, etc). And the beach hotels seem to be much more modest in scale (although probably not in price) here than the vast gated communities along the coast between Playa and Tulum pueblo.

See more pics here.

Playa: Beaches, Ruins, and Beasts

Playa del Carmen is a town divided: one small part, that along the seashore, is a playground for middle-class and wealthy gringos, mostly from the US and Canada but also Europeans; the rest, extending north, south, and west past the Carreterra Federal highway, is Mexican. Never the thwain shall meet.

Coming back from the beach the other day we got on the wrong bus; instead of taking us up Benito Juarez Avenue to 70th, it rolled along parallel to 5th Avenue and then cruised slowly back up past the highway, past the Hospital, and through the newish development of Los Flores, a vast subdivision of small row houses painted in tropical colours, catering to the locals who work in the tourist industry. Some rich dude must have sold his hacienda property to developers who are now erecting thousands of these small structures.

A couple of days ago we jumped aboard another bus, hopped out at the ADO station, walked the length of Fifth Avenue north and from there took a taxi to the Playa Cemetery. Cemetery visits are one of my little idiosyncracies; I enjoy walking through the grave sites and looking at the inscriptions and mementoes.

This cemetery has a lot of young men’s graves – a lot! – and also a section entirely for infants and babies. As I was photographing some of the memorials in the latter, Ty called out to me, saying “It’s time to go”.

Since we’d not been there very long, I was surprised but acquiesced. As we were walking back out, Ty told me that he’d seen a group of about ten young guys drinking around one grave, likely that of a fallen friend, one of whom pulled a pistol out of the back of his shorts. Definitely time to hit the road!

South of the Cozumel ferry terminal are many huge all-inclusive hotels and expensive condo developments. I find this area, known as Playacar, obnoxious. We had gone there to check out the Xaman Ha Mayan ruins and aviary. What remains of the ruins is very small, a few tiny stone house structures and an encircling wall accessed from the beach through the Xaman Ha condominium site that has been erected around them.

Walking past Playacar’s enormous mansions and condo developments to find the aviary was depressing. And when we did come to the small aviary to find that the entrance fee was 300 pesos ($22 American) each, we could not bring ourself to pay it. A total ripoff. In fact, almost any of the “tourist attractions” in this part of the world are ridiculously expensive and completely inauthentic. While all, except the Mummy Museum, of the many really cool museums and haciendas that we saw in Guanajuato were at the most 20 pesos, here it seems that you can’t get in the door anywhere without dropping mega bucks. [Grumble, grumble, grumble .... we interrupt this broadcast for a grumpy old lady grumble].

On the way back to Playa, walking along the Mayan ruin wall, we did see a wild capybara, a gigantic rodent not unlike a huge gerbil. This one was unafraid, munching serenely on grass, and about the size of a small dog.

After our aborted trip to the aviary, we stopped at the upscale shopping centre near the ferry for a coffee at Starbucks (there are no other coffee shops in this area) and had a bit of sushi for lunch, enjoying a break from the humid heat under a large leafy tree. [These two days were cloudy and rainy so the photos are not very good. And, although I've been wearing 50 spf sunscreen the whole time I've been away, I see that I have a tan ...]

At the Casa Ejido there are many small lizards: some are very tiny and black; others are larger, greyish, and have a head frill, looking like miniature dinosaurs. One of the latter (in the picture below) rears up and races on two legs along the edge of the pool almost daily in the morning. I love these guys!

See a few more pics here.

Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Caribbean Coast, Mexico

After a hot and humid time in Merida, we were delighted to get back to the beach, this time in Playa del Carmen, half way down the Mayan Riviera between Cancun and Tulum. We are staying at the B&B Casa Ejido, one of a three residence complex in the Ejido Colonia of Playa. In Mexican system of government, an ejido is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually possess and farm a specific parcel. In some cases these ejido lots have been used for houses and hotels and are sometimes sold to foreigners, not always with happy results. Colonia Ejido is a local neighbourhood about fifteen minutes by bus and foot from the main drag and beach of Playa so it’s far away from the constant hassle of Mexican mass tourism, about which I am very glad. Most of the people staying here, and in the apart hotel across the way, are young students of local language schools, mostly glued to their smart phones and laptops who utter the occasional grunt in response to our “Buenos Dias”.

The B&B consists of one very large palapa-roofed house with six separate bedrooms rooms inside and a large communal living room, dining room, and kitchen which everyone can use, and two cabanas, separate small cabins. We were fortunate enough to get the cabana right next to the pool – huzzah!

Unfortunately, while the pool looks pretty, it is pretty dirty and not swimmable at the moment (and maybe never will be). Many of the many birds living here use it as a gigantic bird bath, swooping down from the bushes and trees above to immerse themselves. (And the number and variety of bird song here is incredible, all sorts of tweets, twits, screeches, trills, and shrieks, beginning about 5:30 in the morning).

Although it would be really nice if we could swim in the pool, even if it never comes to pass, we still are really enjoying the dim, cool interior space of our cabana – since the sun never shines directly into our room, it’s always pleasant even on the hottest day. We have access to the communal kitchen and also have a very tiny kitchenette with a one burner hotplate, a small fridge and a toaster.

We borrowed some of the B&B’s rickety bikes the first night here and rode around the area; although we headed off in completely the wrong direction, we eventually found our way down to the beach and back again as the sun was setting. We have spent our first few days here on the beach, first at a hotel with beachfront loungers, then, when that proved to be pricey,

at the Wah Wah Beach Bar. Wah Wah, the closest spot to Juarez Avenue, has free loungers and cheap beer so naturally it is our preferred watering hole. [Now, a week or so later, I can confirm that we really like Wah Wah - the service is good and friendly and they have one of the best locations on the beach].

Playa’s beach is bright white and the water is a gorgeous light green-blue, just as I remember from our last visit here in 2007. Fifth Avenue, the main tourist strip parallel to the beach, is pretty much the same, although some of the stores and restaurants have changed.

Even though it’s low season there are still quite a few tourists here, although not enough to keep all the tour touts and tequila sellers happy. Playa is high pressure sales all the time. “Mister Whiskers, Santa, Pancho Villa, Jesus Christ, John Lennon, Mr Harley” – Ty gets them all, every day – “wanna buy cigars, tequila, tours, rent a car, rent a bike … (more quietly) some smoke …?” I am more or less ignored, except when I’ve got my sarong over my head in which case I’m assailed with “Take off your cape; enjoy the sun, you’re going to die anyway” … nice.

One block off the strip, the place is dead – no tourist enters any of those stores or restaurants. And Benito Juarez, the main street leading back to our place, is where the locals shop; nary a tourist to be seen other than us – weird. 99 percent of the visitors here must never travel further into Playa than Fifth Avenue, a Disneyland of shopping, eating, and drinking that has no Mexican authenticity whatsoever – on Fifth Avenue one could be anywhere.

Yesterday we decided to visit the island of Cozumel, about an hour’s ferry ride offshore. Sunny when we left the cabana, a torrential thunderstorm hit when we were about ten minutes offshore, absolutely drenching Ty and I who were sitting on the back deck of the catamaran ferry.

We arrived at Cozumel’s enormous cement dock and had a walk about downtown, constantly importuned by touts for rental cars and timeshare presentations. Was it ever dead – Sunday on Cozumel is the only day that massive American cruise ships don’t visit (which is the reason we decided to go that day) but I didn’t think that the entire place would have rolled down the metal doors and shut down. Granted, a few restaurants and bars were open around the main square but the place was so void of people that it looked as if a bomb had gone off and vapourised the entire population.

We walked from the Plaza Mayor down along the main street, trying to find someplace – any place – to have a beer, finally stopping at the seaside bar of the Hotel Barracuda, where a big group of Mexico City federales were frolicking in the water and trying to learn how to swim.

It was a bit of a strange sight to see grown men wearing bright orange water wings.

A further bit of walking revealed not much other than a gigantic grocery store and some huge all-inclusive hotel complexes so we flagged down a cab to take us to Paradise Beach, a place we remembered fondly from 2003. Wow, has it ever changed. The last time we visited, there was no cost to enter and no cost to play on their floating plastic iceberg and trampoline.

Now, the place has a gigantic pool and poolside bar and a vast number of loungers and umbrellas set up for the hundreds of cruise ships day-trippers that descend on the place every day but Sundays. We were charged a relatively small fee to use the chairs and pool but were not told that this fee did not allow us to use the giant rubber floating “toys”, now expanded to six in number.

After swimming out to one slide and clambering on, we were informed by a staff person on a kayak that using these would cost an additional $12 US each … we declined the opportunity.

It seems that Paradise Beach is no longer a paradise; it’s been remodelled as an all-inclusive beach club aimed at American cruise ship people and was about as appealing as a trip to Disneyland (with apologies to those of you who like Disneyland, it’s absolutely not my thing). In fact, the entire island seems to have been pimped out for the cruise ships and there was none of what we remembered as a nice Mexican island vibe left – nothing, nada, nichts. Too bad.

See a few more pics here.