Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cozumel Quick and Dirty

Oh Cozumel, my first home in Mexico. Small town life on Mexico's biggest island, after the cruise ships leave, the flashy diamond stores close down and the island breathes. The economy thrives on the cruise industry and the flocks of scuba divers who arrive to explore the magnificent Mesoamerican Reef. Most people who live on the island have always lived there, families of fishermen going back generations. The island is still a vast stretch of natural eco-systems, most visitors only see a small portion of Cozumel, and definitely not my favourite parts. 

Last weekend a group of friends who work in social media marketing got together under the leadership of Miguel, "La Vida es Viaje", who arranged a whirlwind visit to the island with the local tourism board, the #aventuraencozumel (we are Twiteros!). It was going to be quick and dirty, in and out, we only had two days to pack as much in as possible. This was no luxury tour, but so much BETTER. I packed up my car, my tent, my kid and my buddies and we hit the road at 5:30 am to get to the car ferry on time. First time driving across the sea, way cool. Of course taking the car ferry instead of the passenger ferry adds a few hours to the journey, but it was worth it to have a vehicle to get us around.

Ok, so maybe we had a little bit of luxury, the fine folks at Casa Mission invited us to breakfast in their beautiful Colonial Hacienda.

After a stop at the supermarket for goods for the night, we were off to "The Other Side", the east side of the island which is rough and tough and gorgeous. We stopped a few times for photo ops (car full of bloggers and social media freaks? Uh yeah, we're going to stop) but we had a destination in mind and a schedule to keep so we kept on moving.

We were greeted at Rastas by these regal beasts, the reggae lions of peace.This little beach bar at the edge of the world is legendary. We chilled out with a couple of cold beverages and watched the waves and began our withdrawal and recovery from being WITHOUT SIGNAL. No 4G, no wifi and we survived with only a few minor incidents. And we began to enjoy it. Really really enjoy it.

Sweaty and covered in sea spray and sand, we kept to our quick and dirty plan and entered Punta Sur, a protected park area at the southernmost tip of the island. First stop was the lagoon for a chat with a biologist and local school children about the ecology of the area, SMART kids, they totally inspired my nine year old. Punta Sur is home to a diverse variety of flora and fauna, a jackpot for bird watchers and snorkelers and lovers of lizards big and small. We climbed the Faro Celerain, the lighthouse at the tip and were treated to a view of the lagoon, the island and the great big sea before setting up our tents on the shore before it got too dark.

Our Cozumel host Pablo invited us to travel down a way to a hidden beach to see the sunset. When we arrived, the biologist and the kids had a surprise for us, they pulled out a cooler full of baby turtles that had just hatched and were waiting to be released to the ocean. We all took turns letting our babies go and (best part!) got in the water to swim with them as they started their journey. Damn good moment. Sunset wasn't bad either.

The fun didn't end when the sun went down! It's turtle nesting season of course, we were not going to miss the "desove", the nesting of a big mama on the beach. Around 1 am, we got our chance, a big turtle joined us on the beach under the milky way (it was ridiculously clear, I could have taken a bite) and laid her eggs. Life changing moment and another great lesson for Max and for all of us. By this time I was zonked and ready to crash, but oh no, the night tour of the lagoon to look for crocs and bioluminescence was ready to go! I threw in the towel, but Max ran off on the expedition. (Didn't see any crocs but was excited to stay up until 3:30 am and camp on the beach). 

We woke the next morning, opened the tent and saw the sunrise. There are no words.

After a breakfast of cochinita tortas in a local greasy spoon, we were off to visit the other end of Cozumel, the north point where the Cozumel Pearl Farm resides. There are no roads to this point, the only way to get there is by lancha, boat. Our lovely hostess Isabel met us at the marina and we were off in "La Ostra" to seek treasure. Arriving at the private beach (I couldn't help myself, I sang both the "Gilligan's Island" and "Fantasy Island" theme songs), we were met by the resident Labrador Gaia, swimming out to greet the boat. Now that is service. We got the tour of the facilities and laboratory on land before exploring the underwater pearl farm. There were some coral formations and fish and a statue of the Virgin that Isabel's father had sunk for protection (according to Isabel, it works!) 

After an arduous (snicker) snorkel, we were definitely ready for the cold beers served up at The Wet Bar, a sand bar with an umbrella and chelas frias. Nobody, I mean nobody wanted to leave.

Unfortunately, this was the quick and dirty tour and we could not choose to live at the Pearl Farm, so we sadly said goodbye and sailed back to the mainland. The closer we got, the hungrier we were so we were happy to know that La Mission was waiting for us for dinner. Good food, great company and total exhaustion and it was the first time in a very long time that my kid with an endless battery fell asleep at the table. Well done Cozumel, well done.

The drive home was spent raving about what a great weekend we had, the new experiences, the encounters with nature (and with ourselves, no Internet? Introspection time!) I'd like to offer my enormous thanks to Miguel for organizing, to Pablo for being a fabulous host, to Professor Benavides for being so knowledgeable and to the folks at the Mission Restaurants in Cozumel.

And special thanks to my kid, Max, the fearless and tireless nine year old who can hang with a group of 30 adults like he is one of the gang. Adventures are so much better when he is leading the way!

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