Tales from the Man who would be King

Rex Jaeschke's Personal Blog

Travel: Memories of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

© 2007, 2021 Rex Jaeschke. All rights reserved.

After working full time the previous year, I was delighted to be back on a much-reduced schedule, allowing me to take advantage of cheap airfares that came available at short notice. So, when flights to Cancun, Mexico, went on sale, I snapped up a ticket muy pronto (quickly) for a 10-day trip in January, during the northern winter.

[Diary] Flying time was 3:11 hours, mostly over water, the Gulf of Mexico. As Mexican time is GMT-6, I turned my clock back an hour. Although I was tired, and I had a good pillow, my attempt to sleep was unsuccessful. I had a snack and drink, and then looked over my small, but adequate, guidebook, making a plan for where to go from the airport, how to get there, and where to stay. I had no accommodation booked, and it was high season, but I planned to make it up as I went. And, of course, to follow my golden rule, "Always have a Plan B, even for Plan B!"

The plane arrived at Cancun International on schedule. I had filled out the customs and immigration forms that were handed out during the flight, but was given a replacement form as I deplaned. I filled that out while waiting in line. The young passport officer asked if I lived in the land of the "kangaroos." I said that I was from there but now lived in "los Estados Unidos." He stamped my passport, and I was on my way to the baggage claim. My backpack had a priority label and actually came out with the first pieces!

I stopped at a cash machine, but after several failed attempts to navigate it, I gave up and went to the American Express counter. I changed $120 cash into pesos at a rate of 10:1. So, a peso was worth about 10 cents. To make it a bit interesting, the symbol for the pesos is $, the same as for the dollar. On the way to the bus stop, I found another cash machine, and this time I figured out what I was doing wrong. I soon had 2,000 pesos in my hand in a combination of 500s, 200s, and 100s.

Minutes later, an ADO company bus to Playa del Carmen was getting ready to go, so I threw my backpack into the hold and got a seat. It was very comfortable and cheap. However, unfortunately, to compensate for the high humidity, the driver had the air conditioning turned down to freezing level. The movie "The Wedding Planner" played on a number of large screens in English. The 4-lane divided highway was in good shape, so the ride was smooth. The countryside was quite flat and filled with dense scrub. The whole coast relies on the tourism sector, which has only been thriving there for 35 years.

An hour later, we pulled into the Playa del Carmen bus terminal, I bought a ticket to Tulum, boarded another bus (getting the last seat) and we were off, all in a few minutes. The second bus was a notch below the first with respect to quality, but it was nowhere near as cold. I sat next to a very dark-skinned, young mother who had a young baby girl on her lap. The girl's hair and eyes were jet black, and she had a great smile.

Another hour later, when it was well and truly dark, we pulled into the bus station at Tulum. I bought some apple-flavored bottled water and fruit bars. I chatted with a young couple from Berlin, and we agreed to share a taxi to the hotel area on the beach some distance from downtown. The driver was very friendly and spoke basic English, which he had learned in Texas. The place where the Germans were staying had no single rooms available, so I had the driver take me to some other places nearby. I soon found a room at "Cabanas Condesa," and checked-in for two nights. I thanked the driver and gave him a tip for his troubles.

Check-in consisted of my writing my name and nationality in a ruled schoolbook, I paid for two nights, and that was that. Then I got a tour of the shared toilets and shower rooms out under the trees. I was also given a strong padlock and key to lock-up my room, the first time I ever had that happen. On seeing my room, my first reaction was that it was the house of sticks, straight from "The Three Little Pigs." The walls of the room were literally large round sticks, going from floor to ceiling. The breeze came right in between them, as did the humidity. (Hopefully, the Big Bad Wolf wouldn't come huffing and puffing!)

A double bed was fixed to one wall and was suspended from the roof on new strong ropes. It had a big mosquito net, a pillow, and a bottom sheet only. Also provided was an electric fan on a stand. The room cost 300 pesos ($30) per night. Not cheap considering what I got, but it wasn't very far from the pre-Columbian Mayan walled-city Tulum ruins I'd come to see, and it was right on the beach. It was also really quite quaint. The waves crashed all day and night outside my window and off the small restaurant patio.

In the restaurant, I met a French couple who had also just arrived. We got talking and agreed to share a table where we negotiated the menu between us. Between our English, Spanish, and French, plus the occasional bit of sign language, we managed to communicate well enough with the waitress. The food took a good while to come, so much so, that I thought they must have been making it! Anyway, it was plentiful and cheap, and I kept some leftover soft tortillas for emergency rations.

By 9 pm, we said our "bon nuits" (Goodnight in French) and parted company. I took a short stroll on the beach, but found it was strewn with large boulders, and without any light, I couldn't go far. So, I settled into a chocolate bar for dessert. I read the first chapter of a novel by Len Deighton. Lights out at 9:45 pm.

[Diary] I woke off and on throughout the night, which was quite normal for me. However, a pair of dueling tomcats certainly helped disturb me. By 8:45 am, I was wide-awake and feeling refreshed. It was then I discovered that the electricity was off. On inquiry, I was told it was on from 6 pm to 6 am. I also found that the hot water came from solar panels, so the shower might be lukewarm at best. But that's okay as I was on vacation, and it was warm out.

I had my first daytime look around the place and was not disappointed. Apart from some staff, the only other people around were four women guests reading and sunbathing. I shot some photos and video then found the cook and ordered some breakfast. Although I ordered something different to what I'd had for supper the night before, the two meals looked remarkably similar: scrambled eggs, green peppers, rice, and soft tortillas. However, on closer inspection, I found ham.

Mid-morning, I packed my daypack with the essentials: water, leftover breakfast, first-aid kit, toilet paper, novel, and Spanish vocabulary book, among other things. Then I applied a liberal dose of suntan cream, and put on a light long-sleeved shirt and floppy Aussie hat.

The Tulum ruins comprised a wall on the north, west, and south sides, with the sea being the natural barrier to the east. The interior part was at least twice as long as it was wide, and was very nicely preserved with lots of cordoned-off areas to protect the ruins themselves. In fact, tourists can't walk on or in any ruins. There were quite a few iguanas sunning themselves on rocks, in the grass, and on the ruins. I spent several hours walking around and reading all the signage.

The coastline there is very rugged with well-worn cliffs. There was one small horseshoe-shaped beach, although that was closed. A steep set of wooden stairs allowed visitors to get down to another small strip of beach, so I went down to have a look. Well, what can I say? There were all shapes and sizes of human-like creatures sunbathing and swimming, quite a few of whom should never have been allowed out in public dressed as they were. There was plenty of shade and seats or rocks on which to sit, so after I walked all around, I sat and people-watched for quite some time. Since I had nowhere to go, I went nowhere. Mission Accomplished!

Back at my budget haven, I bought a nice cold can of Coke, and read my novel on a deckchair in the shade looking over the blue/green sea whose waves crashed 10 yards from me. It was my idea of winter! I sat there and read until 4 pm, by which time I was tired. After all, it had been a busy day! So, I lay on my bed and had a solid 90-minute nap.

At 5:30 pm, I ventured into one of the shower cubicles. As the power didn't come on until 6, I was a little bit "in the dark" back under the trees. Anyway, the solar heater had done its job and the hot water tap gave off water that was quite warm. The problem I often have with showers when I travel, especially in Latin America, is that they come out the wall at chest height. But this was an exception. Imagine if you will a circular thatched roof hut about 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter, divided into two cubicles. At its peak, the roof reached 18 feet (5 meters). About 9 feet (3 meters) up, a shower protruded, clearing the top of my head by more than 30 inches. I thought perhaps that the water might get cold on the long drop down.

I pulled up a front-row seat next to the rocks and watched the last of the daylight fade. My hair dried quickly and took on a certain rugged, wind-swept look of a beach bum. The dim, red light bulbs under the thatched roof beach shelters came on at 6, and the stars soon came out. Right then, it was just a little bit of Heaven. A party of Canadians from British Columbia came and sat with me, and we exchanged news of travel in the area.

[Diary] The night got a little cool, and without a top sheet or blanket, I improvised with some clothing, which, for the most part, was successful. I awoke for good soon after 8 am. First stop was the shower to wash the fine sand off my feet before putting on clean socks and my hiking boots. Good walking gear is my absolute Number 1 requirement in my travels. I decided to stay a 3rd night, so parted with another 300 pesos, and signed in to the ruled-book register.

After several meals at my place, the very limited menu became quite uninteresting, so I went to the place next door. Their restaurant and menu were many times more interesting, and their prices only about twice as much. I settled into a table in the large circular thatched roof building. Quite a few people sat out in the sun drinking coffee. I ordered a cafe con leche, but this time, enquired as to how it came. My French waiter explained in Spanish that it was Mexican style, not European style. In any event, when it came, it was very strong percolated coffee with a jug of milk on the side, so I've figured out that cafe con leche here is nothing more than black coffee with milk added.

I ordered a ham and cheese omelet, and read my novel. The meal arrived, and the omelet was "to die for." On the side were the obligatory black beans, and two slices of lightly toasted bread. Oh, and a large slice of cucumber; perhaps that's the "parsley garnish" of that restaurant.

I hailed a taxi out front after only a few minutes wait, and driver Jose took me to the Tulum bus station for 45 pesos ($4.50). I asked about his taking me to the ruins at Coba, and he quoted me US$25 each way while waiting there two hours. I declined, and, eventually, he dropped the price to $20, but I still declined.

At the bus station, I negotiated the purchase of a round-trip ticket to Coba with three hours stopover there. Cost was 58 pesos ($5.80), a lot cheaper than 400 by taxi. The first passenger I saw sitting there was a young woman who had sat near me at breakfast. We chatted until her bus to Playa arrived. She'd just finished grad school, and after this holiday, was going back to Chicago to start a job.

My 11 am-bus arrived at 11:15 am, which is "ahead of schedule" for this part of the world. The bus was very comfortable and only lightly air-conditioned. I sat in the front seat, so I could shoot video along the way. The view was pretty much the same all the way: thick scrub/jungle, and wildflowers galore along the roadside. The new two-lane highway eventually gave way to serious road works, and, finally, a rather narrow, but good, road.

It took 45 minutes to get to Coba, and then it took 10 minutes to figure out which way to its ruins. Most people seemed to be headed off in the wrong direction. Although the walk was two kms in and two more back, it was all in the shade. However, I perspired a lot. At its peak, the Mayan city held 50,000 people, and was spread out around several lakes. There were quite a few near-complete buildings and then there was the main pyramid. Its steps went all the way to the temple on top, at an angle of 45 degrees. I climbed it in three stages, with breaks along the way during which I put my heart back in my chest. At the top, there was a small room, which was very cool and dark. The view went for miles with only the top of a much smaller temple to be seen in the near vicinity.

On the walk back to town, I saw a freshwater alligator in a pond off the lake, with some tourists trying to photograph it; however, it went under water. An enterprising young local girl then threw in a fish head on some string to get the gator's attention. It did, and they took their pictures, and then paid her a coin or two.

My 3:30 pm bus was waiting when I arrived in town and left 15 minutes later, right on time. It was First-Class service with light air conditioning. We took about 50 minutes to get back to Tulum, and it rained steadily for the last 15. In town, I strolled along the main street in light rain, and shot some video of life in a provincial town that lives pretty much directly and indirectly from tourism. From across the street, I spied a panaderia (bakery), and was surprised to see so many good things still on the shelves given it was late afternoon. I was looking for something not entirely sweet, and, eventually, found it: empanadas con queso. Although they were a smaller and sweet pastry version of what I knew as an empanada from Central America, they were filled with cheese, so I procured three along with a small carton of strawberry milk. I then ate one and had the milk at a table outside while the world passed me by.

Back home, for some variety, I walked to a different neighboring compound to checkout its Thai restaurant. At a glance, the menu and ambiance looked interesting, so I sat at a table outdoors on a balcony overlooking a pool. The breeze off the sea was wonderful! I order a Tropical Moon smoothie, which consisted of pineapple, mango, and coconut juice blended together with ice, and a large wedge of pineapple. It was just right. Then came four chicken satays grilled on skewers, along with a vinegary cucumber salsa and spicy peanut sauce. It was to die for! Finally, I had a latte to wash it all down. Cost, 154 pesos ($15.40), including tip.

Back home, I stopped by the restaurant to sit and read in the brighter light, but, instead, got talking to two young Brits and a Frenchman. The discussion centered mostly around European politics. We all agreed on the benefit of foreign travel with respect to peoples of different countries getting together and enjoying each other's company even when they agree to disagree on some issues.

[Diary] In a taxi, it was Toad's wild ride from "Wind in the Willows." Soon we were doing 110 km in a 60-km zone, one car length behind another car. If I had to lie in a ditch waiting for an ambulance, it certainly was the right weather for it! At the station, I bought a ticket to Valladolid, a large provincial town in the center of the peninsula. Cost, 50 pesos ($5), with the bus to leave in 30 minutes. The station was quite new and well appointed, with a nice breeze blowing through the waiting area.

After a couple of hours, we pulled into the new bus station in the middle of Valladolid, and I struck up a conversation with a woman from Quebec City, Canada. She had her passport stolen, so had to head back to Cancun ahead of schedule to get temporary documents to go home. In any event, I asked where she'd stayed in town. She told me, and I went for a look. The hotel "El Mason del Marques" was only a few blocks away, facing the large park in the center of town. It had a very nice-looking restaurant and swimming pool, air-conditioned rooms, and even TV. A bank and post office were nearby. Oh, did I mention the free book exchange?

I asked if I could see a room, and a bellman took me on a tour. "Bellman?" you say. What kind of budget hotel has a bellman? While it was much more upscale from my previous very humble abode, it cost only 550 pesos ($55) per night, and I didn't have to haul my valuables with me when I went to the toilet or shower as the rooms had en-suites. I even got a good exchange rate on US$ cash, so I paid for two nights that way.

Check-out time was 1 pm, and my room was not yet ready, so I stowed my luggage there and went out in the street. I found a supermarket in which the piles of boxes were literally spilling out onto the floor. I bought a bottle of grapefruit soda, and found a seat in the shade in the park, where I pulled out my leftover omelet and started to eat. This attracted a very thin, stray dog, which came over to me and sat and begged respectfully. So, I shared my rations after which the grateful thing stood guard in front of me and barked at anyone who came near.

Here's what my guidebook had to say about the town. "Valladolid combines distinguished colonial architecture with the easygoing atmosphere of a Yucatan market town. Whitewashed arcades and 17th-century houses surround the main plaza, and among the town's many fine churches is a fine Franciscan monastery. Right in the middle of the town is a huge cenote (sink hole), which once provided all Valladolid's water, and nearby at Dzitnip are some of the Yucatan's most spectacular cenotes for swimming." While the essence of this likely is true, it conjured up a far more romantic picture than what I'd seen so far.

When it was well and truly dark outside, I ventured out. It was a pleasant evening, so I walked around the main plaza and went into the Catholic cathedral where a service was in progress. From there, I walked the back streets stopping off occasionally to look in some shops. There was a lot of traffic, and whistle-blowing wardens controlled several intersections.

[Diary] It was 10 am when I made my entrance to the hotel restaurant, and a young waiter immediately reported to my table for orders. I started with a nice hot cup of coffee while I studied the menu. I chose one of the combination breakfasts: orange juice, coffee, toast with butter and honey, and cereal, but only if the waiter could heat the milk a little, don't you know! The alternatives to the cereal were boiled, fried, or scrambled eggs. However, since I was in the city and could find snacks at any time, I decided to order so there would be no leftovers.

The juice was fresh-squeezed and wonderful, as were the surroundings. The restaurant was under a verandah, in a square wrapped around an open courtyard garden. A large cascading fountain splashed in the center, and some flowering plants, trees, and vines added contrasting colors to the cream and white plastered walls that lined the courtyard. The walls were lined with large paintings, large ornately carved furniture, clay pots, big brass light fixtures, including a big chandelier. From my table, I could see out the huge wooden double front doors to the plaza across the street. There, the craft markets had been in full swing for several hours. And if all that wasn't enough, the sound of Spanish guitars was piped in to soothe me as I ate my toast and honey. All that and more for a $5 breakfast! I could get used to this.

I walked around the plaza shooting video, and then headed for Cenote Zaci a few blocks away. I paused to look at the birds and animals in a small zoo in the grounds, and then paid my 150 pesos ($1.50) to go down steps, through a tunnel, and into the caves that surrounded the sinkhole. It was very humid down there. I circled the water on a stone path going up and down many steps. It was definitely worth the effort.

I went back to my room to dress for dinner, which involved taking off my socks—leaving hiking boots on bare feet—my wrinkled shorts and T-shirt. Very chic! I stopped off at the front desk, got the key to the book exchange cabinet, and perused the titles. While there were several possibilities, only one jumped out at me, "Mrs. Poliak on Safari," by Dorothy Gilman. I'd read at least one title in this series, and was ready for something a bit light-hearted. And with only 200 pages, I'll be able to swap that over before I left.

In the restaurant, I took the same table that I had for breakfast, and I got the same waitress, Rosa. I asked if she lived here in the restaurant as she was there every shift, but she said that she really did have a home. There were quite a few possibilities, but I finally settled on the fish with rice and carrots. It was served with half a lime, which I squeezed over everything. I also added some of a hot sauce over the rice. "How hot?" you say, "Bloody hot!" Fortunately, I'd also ordered a tall glass of watermelon juice, so that helped quell the flames.

The fish was delicious and filling. So, I paced myself by reading and doing several Sudoku puzzles. By that time, there was almost some room for dessert. Rosa recommended the flan, so flan it was; a small light dish of custard with a burned sugar/caramel topping; a very popular Mexican dish. Of course, I just had to have coffee. Combined, they "took me over the top," and I waddled back to my room after a very civilized 2-hour supper. Back in my room, I started on my new book. Lights out around 11:15 pm.

[Diary] By 10 am, I was ready to eat, so I put on my "Going to Breakfast shorts and shirt," and went down. At the front desk, I extended my stay for a third day, changing $100 into pesos. Although I got the same room rate for the extra day, I noticed the posted rate had gone up 25 pesos/night since I arrived.

Being adventurous, I chose a different table, on the other side of the courtyard. However, waitress Rosa still found me and gave me her big "Buena dias" smile. (I think I was taller than her when I was sitting down.) Not wanting to eat too much, I ordered what I thought was a-la-cart. I started with coffee, and then my two fried eggs "over medium" arrived, along with some local sausage, refried black beans, and some fried vegetables. It all looked just right, but then Rosa reappeared with orange juice, toast, butter, and jam. So, there were leftovers after all.

Out by the pool, I ran into Howard and Val, a couple I'd met the previous day. They were planning their next move, and, like me, were at the hotel for one more night. They had a rental car, and were headed out to Cenote Dzitnup, several kms out of town. They offered me a ride, and I accepted. As soon as we arrived there, some enterprising young boys, of no more that 6 or 7, offered to watch over our car, for the small fee of five pesos. We gave one two pesos in advance with the remainder due when we left. We went down some steps quite steeply, and come out in a large cave. There was a small hole in the roof, but, otherwise, it was rather dark. Howard and Val took a short swim while I shot video and photos. Then we walked through another large cave outside the cenote entrance, and toured the small zoo, which included some forest deer and a family of wild pigs.

I read some more before taking to the streets around 8:15 pm. I had seen an American-chain pizza parlor, but thought that a bit non-native-like, so settled into a local joint at one corner of the main plaza. I ordered a bottle of Coke then pored over the menu, finally selecting spaghetti alfredo with bacon and olive oil. Tortilla chips and a reasonably fiery salsa came as an appetizer. The food was quite good. Midway through, there was a firework show in front of the cathedral just outside the restaurant's front door. The restaurant had a small stage, and a young man arrived with his guitar, hooking it up to a PA system, along with an electronic drum machine. Then he proceeded to give us an instrumental concert. In-between sets, I finished my novel, which was, as expected, rather lightweight, and not at all taxing.

[Diary] In the 400 yards from my hotel to the bus station, I went from being cool and dry to hot and sweaty, because of the hot sun and my packs. I had two choices to get to Chichen Itza: First-Class bus for 36 pesos ($3.60), or Second-Class for 20 ($2). Having been spoiled in recent days, I took the First-Class bus, and while I had plenty of room, the air conditioning was sadly lacking. The 40-minute ride was uneventful, and we stopped in only one town. I got off at the ruin/pyramid site, and soon found a taxi. The driver was very polite and informative, and drove me the three kms to the Hotel Dolores Alba. Yes, they had a room for me for two nights for 450 pesos ($45) per night. The hotel was highly recommended in my guidebook as well as by travelers I'd met.

The main building was concrete with a high roof. Down one side ran a very long and tall thatched roof with the long side open to a swimming pool. This housed the restaurant. Two rows of dark, pink-painted rooms went left and right across the back. The gardens were well-kept and contained lots of bottle palm trees, numerous tropical shrubs, flowers, and some fruit trees. Birds chirped, and butterflies fluttered by, and all was right in the Garden of Eden. There were no serpents in sight. A second pool was built over a large rock formation with all the edges smoothed over the years. This was more of a wading pool. Deck chairs and thatched shades abounded.

I unpacked a few things, and turned on the air conditioning. My room had two double beds, basic but serviceable furniture, TV with 11 channels (three in English; two movie and one news), ceiling fan, and brightly tiled en-suite bathroom.

I sat by the pool savoring a bowl of chocolate ice cream while perusing the menu. As I was a ways out of town and not near the main tourist sites, the hotel restaurant was it as far as meals went. I shot photos and video then settled by the main pool. After a 15-minute workout in the water, I relaxed on a padded deckchair, and "took in some rays" as it were.

Two young women sat sunbathing, and from the sound of their conversation, I guessed they were Dutch. They were indeed, and from the province of Zeeland. [That's the only one of the 12 I've not visited.] The sun was very pleasant; not too hot, not too cold, just right, ala Goldilocks. A few people lazed around the pool reading and sunbathing. A family of black birds came down to visit and sit on the edge of the pool.

For supper, I had fish with vegetables and salad. Surprisingly, I was served both mashed potato and rice. The freshly baked rolls were warm, and the butter melted over them. On the side, I had a tall glass of pineapple juice. The pool pump gurgled in the background while Spanish music was piped softly around the tables and pool.

[Diary] At 8:30 am, the hotel van took five of us to the eastern entrance of the park, where I paid my 125 pesos ($12.50) for admission and for being allowed to use my video camera. A red ID tag was tied around my wrist to allow me to go out of the park and re-enter on the same day.

It is impossible to capture here what I saw. Chichen Itza is by far the best known of the Mayan cities, and its main pyramid is recognized around the world. I started with some of the lesser buildings and temples. The observatory was impressive, and the Maya had an excellent understanding of the seasons. Their calendar was very accurate. They studied Venus and the sun, and like numerous other peoples around the world, constructed buildings aligned with the sun on equinoxes.

The main pyramid had been closed to tourists for some years since one fell from the top. It was in a very good state of repair, and some people were working on it during my visit. There were several cenotes, the main one of which was open to the sky. The Maya played a ball game, and here was the largest arena in the Americas. On occasion, the losing team, or at least its captain, was executed. There was a large temple with two long sets of columns going off in different directions. Many of the columns were covered in elaborate carvings. A prominent figure carved all over the site was a serpent's head.

I took a lot of photos and video, and it took about four hours to cover the whole compound. I had several breaks, during which I recharged my batteries with frozen mango juice and grapefruit soda. I ran into people from all over the world, and spent time talking with Americans, Canadians (both French and English-speaking), and Germans. A particularly interesting couple were from the Seattle area, and had recently spent time in Kenya with the Masai people.

After a rest back at my hotel, at 6:30 pm, the hotel van took five of us to the ruins to see the light show. It was a pleasant evening with a light breeze. Several hundred people attended, and the price was included in the day's admission.

[Diary] It was my lucky day. I waited less than 10 minutes when a Second-Class bus came along. And, don't you know, it was headed all the way to Cancun. The somewhat surly driver sold me a ticket for 91 pesos ($9.10), then took off at speed while I tried to navigate the swaying aisle with two pieces of luggage and a camera bag. Fortunately, my backpack fit in the overhead rack. I got a window seat. The air conditioning was c-c-cold, so I got out my zip-off trouser legs, and zipped them back on, "muy pronto." Then I put on my light-weight parka as well. Between them, they stopped me from freezing over.

Fifty minutes later, we pulled into the bus station at Valladolid. Then three minutes after that, we pulled out again. Such efficiency seemed quite out of place! We took the secondary highway and stopped at quite a few places. Although the second leg took 3½ hours, I was comfortable, and I daydreamed pretty much all the way. We certainly passed some ram-shackled houses and dirty towns, with trash everywhere. Once we reached the outskirts of Cancun City, the commercial activity increased, as did the traffic. Eventually, we pulled into the main bus station, which had more than 20 bays.

I got another 1,000 pesos from a cash machine, and crossed the main highway where I waited in front of the huge McDonalds Golden Arches. Within minutes, a collectivo local bus headed for Puerto Juarez came along, and I waved it down. Cost to the port was five pesos ($0.50). It was a tight fit getting in the little van with my backpack on, but I managed. We bumped along, alternately racing and braking. Within five minutes, we were at the passenger ferry terminal. I paid my 35 pesos ($3.50) for a ticket, and boarded the high-speed catamaran. Seconds later, the crew pulled in the gangplank, and we were off to La Isla Mujeres, "The Women's Island," not far off the coast. My incredible luck with respect to transportation scheduling continued.

I picked up a local map at the tourist office, and enquired about cheap hotels. The streets near the dock were full of restaurants and souvenir shops, and a variety of hotels. At the first hotel I tried, the receptionist had the audacity to tell me he didn't have a room for me. So, I moved to Plan B, which involved walking to the next block. There I spied "Los Arcos," The Arches. And, don't you know, the young woman was happy to have my business, and as I was so cute, she offered me a room with a King-size bed for the price of a Queen.

The room was large with a basic kitchen containing crockery and cutlery for two, a small fridge, a microwave, and table and chairs. The cable TV had some 70 channels, mostly in Spanish, and my favorite, DW-TV from Berlin. There was a wall safe big enough for my camera equipment, and plenty of storage space. The bathroom was excellent and even came with monogrammed towels. All of the counters and cabinet tops were at just the right level for a tall person like me. Of course, there were the usual air conditioning and ceiling fan. Internet access was free. Total cost $65/night, tax included, so I signed up for two nights to end the trip in style.

[Diary] Late morning, I ventured out from my air-conditioned cocoon. It was hot and more than a little humid, so I kept to the shade as much as possible. I went north along the waterfront. Some fishermen were stacking nets into a small boat, the dive and boat tours people were busy, and people were lazing in the sun on the beach. Once I got to the north coast, the hotels went a bit up-scale, with nicer beaches and deckchair and umbrella rentals. I came across a topless bathing area with more than a few women airing their differences.

Over on the east coast, which is open to the Caribbean Sea, the waves were much stronger, and large parts of the beaches had been washed away. Some reclamation was underway. On the way back to my room, I paused for a treat, frozen mango juice covering vanilla ice cream. By the time I was back in my room, I was dripping wet. I switched on the ceiling fan and air conditioning, and, during the next hour, drank several liters of juice and cold milk. I spent the afternoon indoors, watching some news and current affairs programs. I also finished my novel, which turned out to be way more interesting than I'd expected. And I used the free internet access to check-out some newspapers.

The sun was down by 5 pm, so I went for a walk around the north end of the island. Without the sun beating down, and with the cool breeze, it was most pleasant to be out. However, with each outdoor restaurant menu that I looked at, I got less and less interested in eating much of anything. Eventually, I bought milk, juice, and some noodles, and ate a light meal back in my kitchen.

[Diary] Back home in the US, it was bloody cold! With the wind chill, it was predicted to get down to zero degrees F, that's 32 degrees below freezing! Right about then, I was longing for Mexico again.