Isla Mujeres 2006

 

The flight out of Minneapolis was brutal, I had a 6:00am international flight that means that I had to be at the airport by 4:30am, so I had to get up at 3:15am. It is off season so it was not busy and I could have showed up an hour later with no problem. Karen is such a good wife, she actually got up and brought me to the airport, without too much complaining.

 

As I was checking in the gate agent asked me if I had changed my name. I was tired and grumpy so I thought “What the hell are you talking about!”. Then he informed me that my name was spelled wrong on my passport, sure enough it was, it is spelled Piglow. I was going to call Karen and have her get my birth certificate, but the gate agent had a better plan, he changed my ticket to match my passport. So for five days I was Mr. Piglow. The strange thing is I had used this passport to go to Turks and Caicos with out a problem.

 

I flew from Minneapolis to Dallas, then from Dallas to Cancun. The last two year Karen and I have gone to the Turks and Caicos Islands, and the flight is not nearly as easy as the Minneapolis to Cancun flight. We have had mechanical trouble and nearly missed our connecting flight in Miami, they lost our luggage for a day and a half, and clearing customs and rechecking our luggage on the return flight in Miami is always a hassle. The plane that I boarded in Minneapolis was the same plane that I would take from Dallas to Cancun but I had to deplane in Dallas, get a new boarding pass and then reboard. The Dallas layover was only 45 minutes and we were off to Mexico on time. Sun Country is a nicer airlines then Northwest- leather seats, and they they actually give you a hot sandwich (breakfast sandwich for the morning flight). It has been years since Northwest has done that.

 

Clearing customs and immigration in Cancun was painless, it is off season so the lines were not unbearably long. I zoomed through immigration, I was a little unsettled that they somehow might find out I was not actually Mr. Piglow, but they didn't. It was kind of like being James Bond using a false name on my passport to enter the country... Ok, I have a vivid imagination. I got my suitcase from the baggage carousel and headed for customs. They x-rayed my bags and I pressed the button on the traffic light and got a green.

 

Unfortunately, I had to pee since before the plane landed and I realized that traveling by myself I could not take a leak and keep an eye on my luggage, so I would have to wait until I got to Isla Mujeres. I had read in the travel forums that I could grab a shuttle at the airport that would take me to Puerto Jaurez, so I asked at one of the booths in the airport and found the shuttle. It cost $12.50 to get to the ferry. Since the ferry dock is on the far side of the city I was the last to be dropped off and it probably took about an hour to get the the dock.

 


Isla Mujeres Ferry

I arrived at Puerto Jaurez just in time and  I was the last person to board the ferry. Shortly after we left the dock the sky opened and there was a deluge, I honestly could not see 100 yards in front of the boat. Little did I know rain would be the theme of the vacation. The ferry is smaller than the Playa to Cozumel ferry and is deceptively fast, I watched the ferry crossing later in the week and it really moved, but it does not feel like you are going  fast at all. The rain abated to a drizzle when we landed.

 

Isla Ferry Terminal

The ferry station is small but it was crazy when everyone was departing the boat. I just grabbed my luggage and started walking to the hotel, it was only several blocks away. I got to the hotel, it is on the main drag of the island, as I approached I got the “that can't be my hotel” sinking feeling. It was described in the forum as the Motel 6 of Mexico, and it should have been ok, but as I was about to find out the first floor is crawling with cockroackes, I had a faulty air conditioner and no remote for the TV. I also had a sign above the toilet telling me not to put my toilet paper in the toilet, something I just could not do. Later in the week I changed rooms and it was like changing hotels, all of my hotel problems disappeared.

 

Posada del Mar


I only got 5 fours of sleep the night before so I was tired. I dumped my bags in the room and took a quick walk around the block to check things out, then came back to the room and took a two hour nap. I woke up in time to grab dinner. I walked around the block  twice and ended up at the restaurant (Penguinos) at my hotel (Posada Del Mar). The food was actually good, because I ate there several other times that week, but my meal that night wasn't the best. I had Aztec Chicken (?), it was ok but it had some weird spice that I do not like.

 

I got up on day two and meandered around town looking for a place to find breakfast, I was thinking coffee and pastry. I found a little restaurant two blocks away on the main drag, omelets were only $3.50 so I had an omelet. I walked over to Coral Divers after breakfast to book an afternoon dive. I wanted to wait 24 hours from the time I landed before diving. When I got to the shop the morning trip had not left so I hurried back to my hotel and grabbed my dive stuff, it was close enough to twenty four hours.

 

The drive shop has a lot of character, it is actually looks more rundown than the other dive shop store fronts, but their BCDs and regulators are in good condition, and the dive boat is slightly bigger than the other dive boats. One of the employees is either deaf or mute, be he does not let that stop him from communicating with people. He is very good at acting out and gesturing what he means. There was only three divers and the dive master that went out, not including the boat captain. There was a guy from Germany and a woman from France and they both spoke impeccable english. The dive master was Mexican and his english was pretty darn good also.

 

Both dives were on the north end of the island, this part of the reef is not protected and fishing is allowed, as we would find out. As far as variety, and quantity of fish seen, this is probably the two best days of diving I have ever had.

 

Brown Spotted Eel


The first dive (some spanish named dive site) was 60-70 feet for 40 minutes. Many fish, rays and eels. On the way out the dive instructor explained that it was lobster season and wanted to know if we cared if he took some lobsters, we all kind of shrugged and said sure. We did not see any lobster until the end of the dive and he put a glove on and grabbed three of them, it was surprising violent for such a small creature, they fought hard and I think we all felt a little guilty.

 

At the very end of the dive we went to the cave of the sleeping sharks. I am not sure if it was “the” cave or if they have a lot of caves named “the cave of the sleeping sharks”, but I missed it because I was at 500 psi so I headed to the safety stop. Luckily there were not any sharks in the cave so I did not miss anything. During the safety stop I snapped a picture of the german guy, I have his email address so I will have to email the picture to him.

 

Fishermans's Cross
Fisherman's Cross again
 
 
The topside interval was a little weird, the dive master asked us where we wanted to dive next. He told us to think it over and then walked to the back of the boat and started to pee, with his back to us of course.  When he came back we all told him we had no idea where we wanted to go next. He then described our options- it's alway's nice to know the options. We could go to a shallower site with smaller fish or we could go to a site that is as deep as the one we just dove with bigger fish. You should always do a shallower dive for your second dive, so we opted for the deeper depth.
 

The second dive was really good. We immediately saw two large turtles, also sawa huge green eel. I didn't see his head, he had tucked it in the the reef but as the rest of the divers swam off I noticed his huge tail sticking our between two rocks, so I touched it so see if his head would come  out  but petting his tail did not seem to bother him and his head stayed buried in the coral. A little further on was saw another eel, not as big as the first one but still nice sized. I got down to take a picture, and it would have been great, because I was able to get close and the eel was not backing into it's hole, but my battery died.  After I left the eel I came across a large stone fish, another lost photo op. We also saw rays and a huge barracuda.

 

Nurse Shark

 

On the boat ride back the dive master showed us one of the lobsters he caught. I was not quite dead , it barely moved when I handled it, but when I gave it to the German man it jumped, he yelled, the lobster fell at the feet of the french woman and she started screaming, literally uncontrollably. The only thing that made this situation more hilarious was the dive master(Enrique) who grabbed the lobster and held it in the face of the french woman who started screaming even louder, I swear they could hear her on Cozumel, then she ran to the back of the boat. Once everyone calmed down we all had a good laugh.

 

After I dropped my dive stuff at my room I took a walk, I planned on walking to the turtle farm, but the sky was darkening and it appeared I was going to get soaked if I did not turn around. Once back in town, I grabbed a beer and nachos at Jax.

 

When I got back to my room I discovered just how crappy the hotel was, there was a dead cockroach in front of my door and several more dead ones in the hall. As I kicked the dead bug out of the way I lost sight of it and two maids standing in the hallway were nice enough to point out that the big dead bug was behind me- sweep up the dead bugs, just don't point at them! When I entered the room I found another dead cockroach in my bathroom. I had also found some sort of a millipede in my room the previous night. Needless to say I was creeped out by all of the bugs. The room was on the main floor and there was a ¼ inch gap between the bottom of the door and the floor, so I crammed a towel in the gap in hope of blocking entrance to any uninvited insect guests. It did work, sort of, when I pulled out the towels the following morning a live cockroach fell on the floor, but it wasn't live for long! The scary part about the whole cockroach thing is why were all of the cockroaches dead? They weren't squished, just belly-up dead and what scares me is what did they spray that is killing most of the bugs when they are still in the hallway? DDT? I am glad I was only there for three days.

 

The air conditioning had quit working the following day, it was too late for me to get someone to fix it so I waited until the next day. I didn't think it would do any good to ask for a new room, I thought I would just gut it out until Saturday.

 

That evening I grabbed dinner at a little restaurant behind the hotel, it was called Ronaldi's. It is located in the main floor of a small hotel in downtown Isla. The hotel looked well kept up. Ronaldi's is a Italian restaurant, there is a plethera of them on the island. I was going to order pizza, but at the last minute I decided to go for the pasts putenesca, it was ok but it had no spice. I find it very odd that a Italian restaurant in Mexico makes putenesca with no spice what so ever!

 

I found a cool internet store, it is 300 pesos per hour ($3.00) and they let me hook up my laptop and they even let me use there headset for my Skype call to Karen.

 

Raining at the Beach in front of Posada del Mar

 

I switched rooms on Friday, because the air conditioning did not work (and I was sick of dead cockroaches). When I changed rooms it seemed like I switched to a new hotel. The new room was in much better condition than the old one, it even had a TV remote and a phone!

 

My last morning on the island I got up, pack and took the ferry to Cancun. I just wanted to get off of the island and into a decent hotel in Cancun. On the way to the ferry, it's only two blocks so I walked, I stopped by the dive shop and left my business card for the french girl in case she wanted the pictures of her diving. The dive shop owner said he would give her the card when she got back in.

 

As I came so did I leave, it poured as the ferry neared the dock in Isla Mujeres, you could barely see the 200 yards out. The people getting off of the boat got drenched. Luckily for us the rain slowed to a drizzle by the time we were allowed to board.

 

It was a $20 cab ride to the hotel. I had booked the hotel through Orbitz.  I was hopping to get closer to downtown, but it was a beautiful hotel, especially after staying at the Posada del Mar. The hotel has a huge front desk area that is all marble, it is probably the nicest hotel I have stayed at. I was literally in shock when I walked in, to go from the cockroach motel on Isla to this was almost too much to take.

It was a very laid back day, I just hung out on the beach and read, until it started to downpour. I was going to go into Cancun for dinner but it was a $16 cab ride so I opted for dinner at the hotel and I am glad I did, I had chicken and it was grilled perfectly. Compared to Isla I was suffering from sticker shock- 38 pesos for a Coke, 45 for a beer. I just hung out at the hotel, read and watched TV. I did wander down to the hotel store to get some munchies and was struck with sticker shock again. I think I paid over 100 pesos for chips, peanuts and soda.

The following morning I got up, packed and checked out. I did not have breakfast at the hotel, I am too cheap and I am not a breakfast person. Check out was interesting, they had to send a maid to check the mini bar before they would let me leave. Did I look guilty or was this normal practice? It is pretty bad customer service.

It down poured just as I was leaving. The drive was reminiscent of the ride to the airport the first year we were in Turks and Caicos, it rained so hard that the road flooded. The ride to the Cancun airport was crazy! There were times the road was flooded curb to curb and in Mexico the curbs are over one foot tall. I know the water at times was over the bottom of the door. I really expected water to start leaking into the car through the floor boards. I was also worrying about the car stalling in the middle of the deep puddle, and then  I would have to retrieve my luggage from the trunk and find another cab.
We did finally make it to the airport, but it took over twice as long as usual.

At the airport I made a startling discovery, my watch had been an hour ahead the entire time I was in Mexico! I am not sure how that happened, they announced the local time when we landed. Anyway, I checked in way early and had time to kill in the airport. I had breakfast at FGI Fridays (cheaper than Fiesta Americana). I was worried that my flight was going to be delayed because of the rain, but the rain abated and we left on time.

We arrived in Houston on time. The flight back was almost full compared to the flight down which. We had to clear customs and immigration in Houston and Sun Country was exceptional at giving written directions on how to do that. Because of my passport snafu I was traveling incognito as Mr. Piglow, or I wished I was incognito. As we exited the plane there was a table where we had to get our boarding passes for the next leg of our flight. I stood in line at the table and when it was my turn they asked me my name and I had to say Piglow!

Clearing customs and immigration was a breeze, I rechecked my bags and reboarded the plane. Unfortunately two people seemed to have gotten lost, we waited almost half an hour for them after everyone else had boarded. I don't know if they got lost (I don't know how they would), or if they stopped for a drink. They finally did board, to jeers as they walked down the aisle.

I sat next to an older woman and her daughter on the flight back. Her mother was a lot like my mother,  she liked to talk and she told me about her trip and just about anything else that came into her mind. I think her daughter was happy that she was talking to someone other than her. I finally did close my eyes and try to sleep and she did leave me alone.

This was a great little vacation! I did miss Karen, but on the other hand the diving was probably some of the best I had ever experienced. Isla Mujeres was a nice little town and I think Karen and I will go back next year. We won't stay at the Posada del Mar.

 

2016 Update

Back in 2006 I decided to take a chance on a little island that I had heard good things about called Isla Mujeres. My vacation had a rocky start with a crappy room and cockroaches. I was also a solo traveler and I wasn't sure how I'd like that. Soon after I arrived, the charm of Isla won me over. The diving was good, the people were friendly and the food was tasty. I liked it so much that I brought my wife there the next year. That started an almost six year love affair that we both had with Isla. 

2012 was our last trip to Isla. After years of vacationing there Isla had began to feel small. I had gone to Playa del Carmen and parts south for my November solo dive trip. Mostly because I wanted a plan B when it rained and there are a lot of bars, restaurants and coffee shops to hang out at in Play when it rains.

Our last trip to Isla was in 2012. It started out bumpy. We had a canceled flight so we were late getting in. Our private shuttle wasn't there to meet us since out flight had changed. The taxi driver took us to the wrong ferry terminal. We had thunderstorms every day. The dive shop that we had been diving with for six years and really liked had changed. Our dive master was short on patience and the owner of the shop complained about the divers. We also didn't see much sealife. To add insult to injury a tropical storm dumped huge amounts of rain on us when were boarding the ferry to leave.

It was a good six year run. We met a lot of nice people and had a lot of fun but our last trip reinforced that it was time to move on.  I am considering going back again but it will probably be a couple of years before I do.

 

 

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