July 21, 2020
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) is one of the best kept secrets on the Mexican Riviera. It is a wonderful little island just a few miles off the coast of Cancun. If you are looking to relax in a hammock on the beach or by a pool, it has a vast selection of picturesque hotels and resorts to make it happen. If you are looking for adventure, the diving and snorkeling is superb. If entertainment is your pleasure, the Isla night life is electrifying…you won’t be bored.
Isla Mujeres delivered and was everything we could hope for in a day trip from Cancun…once we got there. It was the “getting there” that caused us a lot of pain and grief…well, not “us” as much as me. Actually, I guess it pained John to look at me the whole time we were on the island. I was a fright, a real Steven King monster kind of freak tourist for the whole trip.
Here’s what happened.
In January, the owner of the home at our Cancun house sit was back in town for a few days and encouraged us to take some time off to see more of the area. We had heard a lot about Isla Mujeres and were excited to spend a night there. I guess I was a bit too excited because, as we left and were walking from our neighborhood to eat breakfast. I wasn’t paying attention and fell. Now, it wasn’t a stub-your-toe stumble. It was a full-fledged “down to the pavement, eat the sidewalk” kind of fall. I bit through my lip as my face bore the brunt of my weight…and folks, I’m a big girl.
John, after making a few “been walking long?” joking comments, wanted to go back to the house to clean me up and forget the trip, but I insisted that we persevere. Onward for the sake of adventure! By golly, I was determined to make the trip a success, even though it began with a nasty “trip.”
I cleaned my face the best I could in the restaurant’s bathroom, a wonderful waiter made me an ice pack to take with us, and on we went. In my mind, I though it wasn’t too bad, even though John did get a few leering glances from folks who thought he’d given me a “to the moon Alice” punch.
Here are the highlights of our visit.
The only way to get to the Isla is by water ferry from Cancun. The beautiful turquoise Caribbean and gentle sea breeze made me almost forget my aching face…almost.
It was an eye candy feast, and to top it off we were serenaded by a guitarist/singer to get us in the island, tropical mood.
There’s more. As we were leaving the boat, John didn’t stoop low enough through the exit and he banged his head on the steel door frame. I think he saw stars, but he didn’t fall. Now it was my turn to dish out the jabs, “Aw honey, you are the best. You didn’t want me to feel bad about being the only one with a banged-up head. Now we are a matching pair!” Smirk, Smirk. He wasn’t smiling any more.
Isla Mujeres is old. About 1500 years ago is was part of a Mayan province which served as a sanctuary for Ixchel, goddess of the moon, fertility, medicine and happiness. Actually, the ancient temple to the goddess has been excavated on the Isla revealing pieces of obsidian, jade, human skeletons and skulls.
Around 1517, Francisco Fernandez de Cordoba sailed from Cuba looking for slaves and new lands to plunder. The Isla was inhabited only by women (Ixchel’s priestesses) and many gold and silver statues and idols honoring the goddess. The Mayans weren’t about to let Cordoba take over and mess with their gods and women, and as a result many bloody battles ensued for several years. Eventually, after being wounded, Cordoba and his men high tailed it back to Cuba, where he died from his wounds. It’s not nice to challenge strong women, sez moi.
Later on, because of the prime location of the Isla, pirates and buccaneers took shelter on the island. Legend has it that famous pirates like Henry Morgan and Jean Lafitte lived there and made it a hideout for their treasure, as well as their women. In fact, some historians think that Lafitte died on Isla Mujeres of dengue fever.
After Mexico gained independence in 1821, many indigenous Mayans took refuge on the island and the population grew. In 1850 it was called Pueblo de Delores.
Isla Mujeres is the easternmost point of Mexico, and during World War II, the Mexican Navy established a base there. In the 1950s, even before Cancun was a glimmer in developers’ eyes, the island was a thriving tourist destination. There were no ferries back then, so island guests would flash their car lights and local fishermen would taxi them from the mainland to the island.
And, as Cancun grew, so did the Isla. Tourism really began to flourish when Ramón Bravo, a colleague of Jacques Cousteau, studied marine life (mainly sharks) around the island. In fact, an 18-year-old local fisherman was diving for lobsters one day and discovered an underwater cave of sleeping sharks! Up until this time it was believed that sharks never slept. The consensus of most marine experts was that if they stopped swimming they would die. Wow! Frankly I’ve never given much thought to the nocturnal habits of sharks, but it was certainly good to know that, around Isla Mujeres, they snooze!
Back to our Isla adventure…
We found our hotel, iced John’s noggin’ and my mouth, and took off to write a new chapter for our exploration saga. And of course, every good story begins at…the beach! A few bruises and a little blood can’t slow down the Barefoot Diary dynamic duo.
The Isla beaches are postcard worthy. Pristine white sand meets the clear aqua water. We didn’t see any sleeping sharks, but spied a few fish swimming close to the shore. They were smiling. This is one happy island.
So, after walking the malecón and a few of the beaches, we were pretty hungry. Travel calamities can work up a fierce appetite, you know.
We found a great mom-and-pop local restaurant where I ordered my usual (chili relleno) and John ordered something in Spanish that I didn’t understand, but looked scrumptious on the menu. We both starting chowing down on chips and guacamole. All was well with the world until I felt that something wasn’t exactly “right” in my mouth. I spit out my mouthful, which included the guac, as well as one of my front tooth’s veneers!
My dreams of being a cute, bikini-clad beach babe were dashed. Think Kraken, or better yet, Creature of the Black Lagoon. Now, with my bruised, swollen, bloody face, I was snaggle-toothed! I probably could have made small children cry.
John tried to cheer me up with quips like:
“You’re still beautiful, honey. Just keep smiling…NOT!” and,
“Maybe if you put your veneer under your pillow tonight, the tooth fairy will pay for our hotel room.”
Gotta love the man.
So, we basically giggled our way through the streets of Isla, and I covered my mouth with my hand as I spoke. Remember, this was the olden days (January, 2020) before masks.
On we went.
Lined with colorful trinkets, delectable culinary aromas, and hip swaying Caribbean music, walking the streets of this beautiful island was a treat. So much to see and do.
We ventured into a delightful spa/meditation center and found this unique collection of statues. Made us feel better about our travel maladies. It could have been worse, huh?
We both got hooked on street art when we were in San Miguel de Allende, and we were fortunate enough to find two very talented street artists creating a masterpiece for the island. We stopped to chat and admire the mural. It never ceases to amaze me what can be done with a few cans of spray paint.
On the second day of our trip, we finally got tired of the “hmmmm” glances and my dental shame, so we ventured into a part of the island where we knew nobody would care what I looked like…the cemetery.
Actually, we find graveyards fascinating. They are a kind of open-air museum full of art, history and incredible stories. When you visit a cemetery you find out a lot about a local community and what is important to them.
We wandered up and down the rows of colorful displays honoring the lives of islanders past. The statuary in the Isla cemetery was phenomenal, and it was a great way to leave the island.
John: Did you fall?
Anel: No, I was attacking the sidewalk.
John: With your face???
Anel: Yep, I’m freaking talented at it too!
This story has an over-the-top happy ending.
When we returned to Cancun, our house sit home owner hooked us up with his dentist, Dr. Carlos Zapata. He and his staff saw me immediately and fixed my tooth better than it was before the accident. Both John and I went back for cleaning and to make sure I hadn’t damaged more than just my tooth. This guy is awesome! He is now the very best dentist we’ve ever been to. Thank you Dr. Carlos!
The knot on John’s head and my lip bruises eventually faded away. But Isla Mujeres, the magical island of women, is etched permanently in our collective memories of great places. If you ever visit the Cancun area, check it out. You won’t be sorry.
After all, travel, regardless of the circumstances, makes incredible memories that last a lifetime. And memories are souvenirs of the soul.