Saturday, July 7, 2012

La Isla Bonita

In the last couple of years, something in me has dramatically shifted that my taste in traveling has deviated from the commercial, run-of-the-mill variety. This has sprung not so much from a desire to wield those purse strings, but more of a longing to experience something authentic. Something wild. Something bewildering. Something completely removed from my daily grind in suburban America. When I travel thousands of miles away, I want to feel like I traveled thousands of miles away.

Isla Mujeres, a quaint and quiet island east of Cancun, Mexico was such a find.

Thanks to a Groupon, I found this quiet island that is relatively easy to get to from the US West Coast. An early morning flight on US Airways through Phoenix will get you to Cancun at around 3PM. From Cancun, jump on ground transportation (pre-arranged is highly recommended) for the 20 minute short ride to Puerto Juarez where you board the speedy and comfortable ferry to Isla Mujeres. Once on the island, you can rent a golf cart or a bicycle. The Dutch and I got by with $3 cab rides and the use of our hitchhiking skills. It's an uber safe destination and people are friendly, so why the heck not?!

I love places like Isla because its astounding simplicity. It's astonishing how deeply you can enjoy a place without all the unnecessary frills and distractions. Case in point: After a snorkeling trip with local boatmen ($25 for a good three hours with lunch), we headed to a tiny beach strip. Our boatman grilled and served fish, spaghetti noodles sauteed with vegetables, and remarkable Yucatan salsa that will make you swelter. The tourists huddled around food as temporary friends (the two boatmen included!) and shared a delicious seaside lunch peppered with conversation in Spanglish.

In contrast, in America, there a gazillion ways to dress up a fish dinner. Celebrity chefs tack on their name to it resulting in $50 designer plates. At Isla, there is none of that frou-frou. Fish is grilled, buttered, and smothered with white wine. That's it. The best part is not that an ENTIRE fish only cost $15 which is good enough for two, but the fact that something so simple can be so amazingly unforgettable.

When it started pouring post-dinner, there was no rush to get anywhere, no desire for stimulation. There was nowhere to go. There was not a single complaint. We sat there and watched it rain down like this is what we came to Mexico for.

This memory of celebrating a place, along with a hundred others, (including one of scouring the local neighborhood for a Magnum and saving it until we reached the beach so we can savor it facing the ocean under the Yucatan sun) is the enchantment of travel. Hasta pronto, Isla Mujeres!

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