Our adventure on Isla Mujeres
The island was used by the Mayan people as a sanctuary dedicated to Ixchel, the goddess of love and fertility. According to the legend, when the Spanish arrived they found a large number of women statues carved in stone in honor of the goddess, and it is from here that the island gets it’s name “Isla Mujeres” (The Island of Women). Another legend also has it that the island was used as a refuge by the pirate and slave trader, Fermin Mundaca, who built a beautiful hacienda here to try to make a local island girl fall in love with him. The ruins of the construction are a reminder of those times gone by.
Excerpted from here.
Miro and I took the ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres early Sunday morning and arrived on this little island, clearly situated for tourism. It was a little Cancun, a little Cozumel and a little Catalina. We ate breakfast at one of the local restaurants and struck up a conversation with our waiter. We told him we were looking for a room, on the “cheap” for a night and weren’t interested in staying in one of the modern upscale hotels, scattered throughout the island. He introduced us to a man who worked in a jewelery shop across the street and he said he had a single apartment available, for around $12 a night. We took it. It was a cute studio apartment, with a big shower, two double beds and an old TV mounted above the door, causing neck strain if we wanted to watch it from anywhere besides sitting on the top of a ladder.
We dropped our bags off, and changed for the beach. Miro and I decided we’d try to find a place to rent snorkels since we had such an amazing time in Belize and the cool oceans were calling our names. Within minutes, we found a small dive shop that offered tours after lunch and that was perfect for us, gave us time to explore the island a little bit. Just after 12:00 we arrived at the dive shop, got fitted for our masks, fins and snorkels and headed off for the boat. This tour was only four people, an Italian couple, Miro and I and the guide. OK, that’s five people, but who’s counting?
The tour lasted around two hours, and the boat first dropped us off near the reefs half way around the island. It was hot outside, but the sky was a little cloudy which effected the ocean, which effected the waves which effected the clarity of the waters. The ocean didn’t seem to be as clear as the waters in Belize and we noticed the assortment of fish were not as abundant, either. Maybe because of the weather, or maybe it was because the current was a little strong, or maybe because this island is a fishing destination, nevertheless, we didn’t encounter as many fish as we did on our outing with Carlos.
After the tour, we headed back to the beach and Miro found much pleasure in climbing up and jumping off the docks we had just tied the boats. I was in such awe just watching my little boy in his element, so free in the waters, so natural like a fish. I must have taken well over a hundred photos of him, trying to catch him mid jump, teasing him when I didn’t and telling him to run back up on the dock and jump again. And each time he did, he glanced at me with the knowing look that he was playing with me too.
Later that evening we went out out dinner at a restaurant of Miro’s choice. He picked a semi-fancy little Italian restaurant with outdoor tables right on the street giving us the perfect vantage point to people-watch the busy streets . I loved being there with my son, felt more special than a date as we both felt the end of our mini-trip quickly approaching. This was such a special night for us and we were both grooving in the enjoyment of what we had experienced in the preceding five weeks, but also very conscious of being in the moment.
Miro selected our pizza, capers, anchovies and olive pizza, and I’m thinking to myself, if I survive this sodium attack, I’ll have to order margaritas without salt for the next year to balance this meal out. I ordered a couple of ceasers salads to start us off, and what the hell, a pitcher of sangria for myself. Yum! We ate and drank in delight, laughed a lot and Miro loved his pizza! At some point, we were serenaded by a street performer playing Clash on his guitar and singing. What an experience! What a wonderful night! .
Just around dark, we headed back to our room to grab some sweaters. Located just beyond or room was the main square. It was buzzing with people everywhere as a full blown fiesta was in full swing. Apparently, it was 159 birthday celebration of island this very weekend and we had no idea! There were crowds of people, carnival games, bands playing, food vendors and fireworks . We wandered around for a bit, taking in all of the festivities and enjoying the spirit of the island. Wow, what a special night it continued to be!
We slept well in our little studio apartment, and the sound of rain during the night had a soothing effect. The next morning, the streets were wet, and we wondered out for breakfast and to buy tickets for the ferry back. We were going to catch the 2:00 ferry back to Cancun in order to get back to our host’s place to have time to pack and spend a little time with them. But for now, were were here and we were going to enjoy the rest of the island. After breakfast, I thought we should rent a golf cart and explore the rest of the island. Miro excitedly agreed. And another exploring adventure had just begun.
We traveled in our little golf cart, further and the main town center was falling further and further behind us. The scenery started to change as we explored the island’s residential areas. The facades on the buildings were effected by the sun. Some had faded by constant saltwater exposure and others were clearly damaged, repair neglected and showed varying stages of decay. Different than the pristine facades of the main tourist drag, indeed. It could be said, this was the real Isla Meujeres. Our first interaction with a local outside of the tourist center, was offering a ride to an old man, well into his 80’s. He was walking down the road, weighted by the heavy bags on his shoulders, presumably filled with goodies from the market. We gave him a ride about four blocks into a neighborhood and even though the language barrier was high, I understood his appreciation of our gesture . We smiled and waved him goodbye and Miro and I looked each other with gratitude.
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The roads on the island were in good shape, but every quarter of a kilometer or so, were these annoying speed bumps. Annoying that is, until we made them into a game. I started speeding up just before we approached the speed bump, then flew over the bump in our little golf cart, trying to get as airborne as possible! We were cracking up each time and each time I tried a new technique, turning the wheel a little bit here, little there and trying to get as much speed as possible Yep, we were driving down the road, laughing our heads off, anticipating the next bump in the road.
The first attraction we came across on our drive was a place celled Hacienda Mundaca and I wanted to check it out.
Here’s a little on the history from this site:
Hacienda Mundaca originally covered almost forty percent of the island. Built by Fermin Mundaca after he “retired” from pirating and slave trading around 1858, the hacienda was surrounded by magnificent gardens including the solar clock garden called “The Rose of the Winds”. Mundaca dedicated his hacienda to a local beauty, 37 years younger then himself, known as “La Triguena” (the brunette). The arches above the gates were known as “The Entrance of the Triguena” and “The Pass of the Triguena”. His dedication was in vain, she married a man closer to her own age and as legend tells it, Fermin Mundaca slowly went insane and died, alone in Merida. His empty tomb still awaits him in the Isla Mujeres cemetery. Carved by his own hands are the skull and cross bones, in memory of his pirating days and the words meant for his love, “As you are, I was. As I am, you will be”.
Today, the Hacienda’s remaining structures, gardens and pathways are being restored. It is located mid-island near the entrance to Sac Bajo. The entrance fee is $20 pesos and worth a visit.
Luckily the story was available in English and that provided some meaning to us as we toured the gardens in varying states of repair. It was interesting and we did enjoy seeing several animals on the grounds like iguanas, wild boars, spider monkeys and alligators.
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And then we were off again. A few kms down the road, we came across the signs for the Turtle Farm. This was a no-brainier for us because Miro and I love turtles! For the last fifteen years I had as pets, two (militant lesbian) red-eared sliders. We parked our golf cart, paid the entrance fee and entered the grounds, excited to see the turtles. Even though there were no red-eared sliders, we saw at least ten varieties of sea turtles. This was a reserve really, as we could observe the turtles in every stage of life from hatchlings to adolescents to the few full size adults that lived at the reserve that were apparently healing from injuries sustained by fishing nets around the island. We were both so glad we were able to see this place and experience the remarkable work they do helping keep the turtle population healthy.
Here’s more on the Turtle Farm, information taken from this site:
The Turtle Farm
Isla Mujeres is the ancestral hatching ground for the giant sea turtles who lay their eggs in the soft sand every May through September. For many years the sea turtles were killed for their meat and shell and their eggs dug up for food. They are now federally protected. The eggs are placed in pens to keep them safe from predators and the newly hatched turtles are placed in tanks until the are released into the wild by the local school children. Seeing hundreds of sea turtles that survive thanks to the care and love of the islanders is a unique experience and an example for the rest of the world.
Isla Mujeres´ turtle farm is located on the southern part of the island, and supported by Mexican government and private funds.
Open daily from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Tel: 877-0595
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And back on the road we went, off to find more speed bumps, but the real highlight was yet to happen. On the backside of the island where traffic was light, I decided it was time Miro learned how to drive and a golf cart seemed like the perfect vehicle to learn in. After all, he is a total rock star when it comes to racing cars in video games, this shouldn’t be much different, right? We traded places and Miro took the wheel. We discovered driving a real vehicle was slightly different then driving in video games, but it was fun, nonetheless. We giggled, and swerved, and drove really slow and fast until he got the hang of it. At one point, we say another couple, a mom and a son around Miro’s age, doing the same thing. Guess it was a popular spot for teaching your ten year old to drive. I think this was one the highlights of our trip, and if I ever write a tour book for mom’s traveling with their kids, this will be one of my suggested experiences!
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