Adventure, history, fun in the sun, and dabbling in the deep all await you at the “Isle of Swallows,” Cozumel. It’s located on the Caribbean side of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. On a clear day, you can look across the sea, and see Cancun, with all of its hotels. At night, they’re all lit up, and it looks like Miami Beach. Cozumel is a bit less populated, and a bit more “natural.”
We arrived midafternoon at the Cozumel airport. After going through the usual “official customs dance,” we were met by an armada of hucksters bent on selling us “unbelievable tour packages.” These folks spoke at such a clip, it would make an auctioneer or carney barker blush. Trying to make sense of their rap was a Sisyphus endeavor at best. After wending our way through the verbal assault course, we made it to our resort contacts waiting for us outside the doors of the official arrival area. Why the hucksters are allowed in that area, but not our contacts eludes me. But that’s the way it is.
After loading our luggage, our resort reps took us to our hotel/resort, which is located on the beach. We were greeted by a bellman, Federico, who was right out of Central Casting. He was letter perfect as a greeter, luggage designator, and guide. Yes. He guided us to the front desk, where we were met by the desk manager, Carlos, whose friends call him Charlie. Go figure. Charlie proved to be quite valuable during our two week stay, as did Federico. After putting our wrist bands on, thus designating us as “all inclusive folks,” Charlie gave us an inside commentary on what’s hot and what’s not in the local area. Meanwhile, Federico rounded up a staunch roadie to take our luggage up to our suite on the seventh floor, where we were greeted by a full ocean view. And a magnificent one it was. By the time we got unpacked and organized, it was the cocktail hour. Never wanting to appear rude, we immediately made it down to the closest bar, and indulged ourselves in one of the local nectars. This was followed by a wonderful buffet that included poached grouper, one of our favorite fishes. After dining on grouper, and tropical fruits, along with local vegies, accompanied by wonderful Spanish wines, as we sat seaside, it was time to call it a night. And so we did.
Upon awakening, we were immediately hit with decisions that had to be addressed, such as “what to have for breakfast?” With such an array of tropical fruits and other goodies, this was a rather daunting task, especially pre-coffee. Ah. What foods these morsels be. After, we saw our way through this task, only to be hit with the next big question facing us, “should we snorkel first, or hit the swimming pool first?” The ocean won that round.
The snorkeling conditions were like something out of a 1950’s travelogue movie. The water was calm, the fish were plentiful, and not at all shy. While feeding these beautiful inhabitants of the not-so-deep, we took a myriad of photos and videos. It seemed that they all wanted to get into the show. Suddenly we spotted, resting on the bottom, what seemed to be a Mayan ruin. Needless to say, we dove down closer to it, and got some wonderful shots of it. Sadly, later on, we found out that it was a fake ruin. Oh well, “Hecho en Mexico.”
After doing our tribute to Lloyd Bridges, we were again faced with having to make a decision, “should we soak up some rays, or have lunch first?” Upon checking out the buffet laid before us, our tummies won out. Thus it was the season of lunch accompanied by a wonderful mixture of tequila and orange juice.
Now it was time for the pool and soaking up some rays. Yes. Good old vitamin D in medium doses. Unlike in Europe, the women here were not topless. This set the scene for our nap time. Being quite adroit at somniferous meanderings, we slept like babies. We set our alarm in the dresser drawer, not wanting to bother it, or vice versa. We awoke just in time to view one of the most spectacular sunsets we’d ever witnessed. The only drag was that our view was destroyed when a cruise ship arrived just in time to eclipse the height of the sunset. “Oh well, we figured, there will be other sunsets.”
What we didn’t realize was that there would also be other cruise ships at just about the same time. RATZAFRATZ! Dinner was more or less like lunch, but with a different theme each night….Italian, Spanish, Mexican, et cetera. This was basically how we spent our time, other than when we went on a tour in search of real-deal history.
Chichen Itza! The name says it. How’s that for some nonessential, noncommittal, quasi-hip, meaningless gibberish? Nonetheless, it is an incredible site of Mayan history. The Mayans were the coastal/island Mexicans a couple of thousand years ago. The Aztecs were the inland Mexicans. Both civilizations were very advanced socially and scientifically. They gave us the concept of zero at about the same time as the Arabs on the other side of our planet. Sadly, the Mayans and Aztecs were decimated almost to extinction by the Spanish Conquistadors who came to the New World for G-d, and gold, and to spread gonorrhea, and small pox. Yes. They were the original distributors of communicable diseases in The Americas.
As it is said, by whoever says things like this, “Getting there is half the fun.” To get to Chichen Itza from Cozumel, we had to take a taxi to a ferry to Playa del Carmen. We then boarded another taxi to take us to a huge bus that ultimately deposited us at the site of the ruins, along with our tour guide. Along with their love of sciences such as botany, astronomy, mathematics and sociology, they were big sports fans. The term “fan” comes from the word “fanatic.” Well, they were just that. Totally fanatical regarding their home teams. Each village would select its best and brightest athletes, assemble them into seven man squads for the various sports, and send them off to compete. There wasn’t much, if any, money involved. There was, however, PRIDE. Pride to the extent that the winners would decapitate the losers and parade around with the severed heads as trophies. Think about that the next time you hear someone say that they lost their head over a sports figure. People didn’t just lose their heads at sports events. They also lost their heart, lungs, and head at various religious ceremonies. Being a virgin in that society could cost you your life during some of the ceremonies. The windowless houses in which they lived are called Chosas. The inhabitants of the chosas slept mainly in suspended hammocks, so that they would not be bitten by local varmints. They also kept “house-snakes” that dealt with the varmints.
Among the buildings that remain at the site with the altars, and sports arenas, is the planetarium which is a dead ringer for the Griffith Park Planetarium. That, the planetarium at Chichen Itza, not Griffith Park, was where they plotted the courses of the planets quite accurately, along with establishing the months and seasons, which was tantamount to the agrarian side of their society. They planted and harvested on specific dates year in and year out, and it worked for them. The buildings, as well as the altars, are marvels of architecture, as well as paeans to their tenacity as builders. The Mayans built things to last. And they have.
After two and a half hours of marveling at these massive ruins, it was time to board our tour bus to go to our next destination, a restaurant. Yes. Man does not live by culture alone. After sating ourselves with their Mexican morsels, we were off to our final sight-seeing adventure, the cenote, pronounced se notay. A cenote is a big sinkhole filled with water. The cenote we visited, is one of many cenotes along, and fed by, underground rivers. The one we visited, and swam in, was gargantuan. The only drag was that the changing facilities are, to put it mildly, primitive. This, coupled by the fact that it was raining like crazy, made for a rather damp bus ride back to the taxi that took us to the ferry that took us to the taxi that took us back to our hotel just in time to dine before the kitchen closed for the night. Needless to say, dinner was a quick affair. We wanted to meet and greet “Our Blessed Lady of Warmth and Dry Clothes.”
On the 11th of November, Veteran’s Day, there appeared shortly before sunset a tri-colored rainbow. Yes. It was red, white and blue. What timing for such a freak of Nature. We viewed it from our terrace. This was not something to be forgotten.
The bucket-style rain kept up for a few days, which made going to and from the restaurant a carefully choreographed wet walk on the slick surface of the tiled walkways. And so, with the sunshine permitting, we were back to the snorkeling, dining, and relaxing mode until it was time to take our leave of The Isle of Swallows. Yes. We shall return.