Cozumel - Sun City... or is it

The hard life

Having been to Mexico City (for the story click here), the next visit south of the border had to be the quintessential American vacation… resort time!

Cozumel is an island off the east coast dedicated to relaxing holiday makers. It was a mission to get there, flight from SF to LA, another flight from LA to Cancun, then a looong tax ride to Playa del Carmen, finally a ferry ride to the island.

I noted it before and I’m going to say it again because it’s odd, before you enter the country Mexican airport authorities make you press a button. I have no idea if button pressing is something they think will feature heavily in a tourists visit to their country, perhaps it is some sort of audition to become a judge on Mexico’s version of  The Voice, maybe they are simply counting people. Whatever the purpose, it’s peculiar, let’s leave it there!

Why Cozumel, well, it was not totally arbitrary, Dom had a 70.3 (half iron man) to do. Dom likes to add purpose to vacations, the purpose of my vacations is to vacate all purpose. The last time we travelled for a half iron man we stayed in the hotel that was hosting the race, for convenience sake. Trump hotel in Panama City, very plush, it worked out well (for tales from Panama click here). Why not do the same thing this time… oh dear, the hotel was Mexico’s version of  Fawlty Towers, cheerful confusion perfumed the air. The door to the hotel room was wedged so tight that to open it Dom had to shoulder charge it like someone out of an 80s cop movie. 

Regular Joe Soap
I like to go into supermarkets/food markets in places/countries I’ve never been to before, to get a feel for what the native average Joe Soap is sitting down to eat tonight. On my way to the supermarket my senses were carpet bombed by advertising billboards, interestingly all of the ads featured people with the palest skin, not necessarily representative of the Mexican race.

Once inside the supermarket the first thing I noticed was that Joe Soap had a variety of bread to choose from including one called ‘pan de muerto’, known for fun as ‘bread of the dead’. The bread is eaten on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the dead) at the graveside or altar of the deceased. It’s round in shape to represent the circle of life. The Day of the dead falls the day after Halloween. However, I get the impression the Mexicans fascination with dead souls is a year round thing. I wanted to try some of the bread but I wasn’t sure if producing it poolside with some cheese and wine was really in keeping with the “spirit” of things.

Cozumel is nice enough, very similar to any resort area you might go to in Spain; hotels, pools, beaches, bars, the usual trappings. If you go to a touristy spot you have to expect local peddlers to hassle you as you stroll along. It can be annoying, but these folks are trying to make a living so you gotta roll with it.

Our first night in Tumbledown Villas, barricaded into our room by the door from Fort Knox, we soon discovered the air conditioning wasn’t working. Phone the front desk? Forget it, firstly there was no phone, secondly there was no one at the desk. When Dom burst us out of the room the next morning, drenched in sweat and 50 lbs lighter, we slithered down the stairs to breakfast. 

Hose pipe or Hotel shower
I accompanied Dom to his ‘race briefing’, partly cos I am an awesome supportive wife and partly cos the room was air conditioned. I’m not going to lie it was pretty dull, I spent most of the time people watching/trying to guess genders. I’m not kidding, sometimes when the ladies pack on enough muscle, lines get blurred. As usual I hijacked the goodies bag, power bars and gu gels cast aside, I went straight for the merch, a jacket! Normally it’s a t-shirt or a hat, but a jacket in 90 degrees, how bizarre. It was nice jacket, but it might have made more sense if the tri was in the Arctic Circle.

However, that night, the jacket became my best friend. A pleasant word to the front desk during the day about the benefits of air conditioning in our room seemed to do the trick, or so we thought. The room became an ice box. Despite growing up in less than tropical Ireland, my body seems completely incapable of handling cold temperatures. I had no choice but to take to the bed draped in everything I brought and embalmed in the race jacket. Ohhh, the jacket made all the difference, it will always have a special place in my warmed heart.

Perhaps September wasn’t the perfect time of year to hit Cozumel, for two days it laaaaashed rain. I like rain but maybe not on a ‘sun holiday’. Thankfully my holidays are not based around securing the perfect triangulation between pool, lounger, bar (let’s not knock that though!). Hail, rain or shine, I wanted to explore… Chichen Itza called.
Parasols and Pyramids
Fancy a shot of tequila
Chichen Itza, famously confused with ‘Chicken Pizza’ (yum) is in fact home to the famous Mayan pyramids. If you think anthropologically for a minute, civilizations evolve from cultures. The Aztecs in the west of the country were a culture but the Mayans, in the east, were already a civilization. They were a peaceful people all about nature and numbers, let’s call a spade a spade, they were nerds. Then came the Toltecs, they were bad ass. The Mayans merged with the Toltecs, out with the peace in with the sacrifices.

On the way to this Mayan marvel, we stopped at a sink hole. For about 102 reasons I wasn’t going to go near it. With post race muscle ache, Dom splish splashed around this gaping water filled crevasse that sank deep into the earths pulsating core. More interestingly it was situated right beside a Tequila museum, which offered tasting. Do you learn much about the history of Tequila in the museum? Hiccup, no one can quite recall.
well, well, well
What did the Mayans drink? Well, they drank their water from sink holes (nice). Sink holes are high in calcium (due to the rocks?) and too much calcium can impact the growth of your bones and make you short. Mayans were shorties.

The pyramids are impressive, but unlike the Aztec pyramids you are not allowed scramble all over them. The archeologists banned that about 7 years ago to avoid human erosion of the great edifices. Back in ancient times, they would have been covered in plaster and painted red, yellow and green.

The guide talking about the pyramids was very proud of his Mayan ancestry and kept emphasizing how the clever architecture of the pyramids was linked, through a series of complex mathematics, to astronomy, time setting, calendar reading, etc. I am aware that the Mayans were advanced and don’t doubt the truth in what he was saying but I did have to giggle at how he conveyed it. “Count the steps to the top of the pyramid” he would say “Take away the top and bottom one, and the middle one, and the second last one. Subtract everything until you have zero. Pick up some pebbles from the ground, choose 7. Count them, add them to zero. What do you get?...huh?... 7…. 7 days in a week, multiply 7 by 3 add 3…24…24 hours in day… the Mayans were very advanced.”

If you plan to check out Cichen Izta try and co-incide your visit with an equinox. The sun will bounce off each row of bricks on the pyramid resembling a giant snake sneaking down the side of the building.

At some point I made eye contact with the guide and became point person. Everyone else could wander off taking photos, checking their facebook, scratching their bellies, but I had to be super interested in everything that he said and fill the awkward silences with “Woooow”. That’s how I learnt that Mayans discovered penicillin before the Europeans from examining the mould they would find on corn… “Wooooow”.

I replaced “Wow” with “Oh my God” a few times as apparently the upper class Mayans would attempt to differentiate their children from the lower class kids by putting a brick to the front and back of the child’s head and squeeze until the head was firm and flat. The upper class adults differentiated themselves by piercing their lips, nose, tongue and ears. I’m thinking the lower class got the easier deal.

In amongst the pyramids are the remains of a pitch where the Mayans played ball. A bit like the peacocks that parade around modern day soccer fields, these guys would don feather headdresses when they took to the arena. Using a makeshift racquet and a rubber ball, they would bounce the ball between players and off the surrounding walls with their hips, feet, racquet, etc. I’m not sure how much effort people put into scoring points, as the winner would be sacrificed, for it twas an honour to meet your death that way. A new twist for the 2014 World Cup perhaps!

Seeing the pyramids was definitely the highlight of the trip. For me Mexico is all about the people and the history… and the tequila.
Say what now?

Oh, as a post script, a Russian lady on the plane ride home who seemed to have no English or Spanish was keen to express herself. At one point she took to walking the plane looking for fellow Russians. You can imagine my surprise when she leaned over 2 people to tap me on the shoulder and blabber away a la Boris Yeltsin!


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  1. Lovely piece on a visit to Cozumel! I could taste the tequila, soak up the atmosphere, feel the cold in the room and feel like I was on a Mayan tour too. Thanks for yet another wonder piece of writing. When's the book coming out?

  2. Great post, laughing out loud :) Intrigued to know what happens when you press the button, bizarre!


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