One thing I have realized is that writing this blog is more for me than for anyone else. Would I write it if nobody was at the other end? Maybe not, but that would be my loss. That the writing keeps me connected to many who matter to me is but the icing on the cake. This is the opportunity to process my experiences and discover what they mean to me. When I neglect the blog, I neglect myself.
So why have I been avoiding writing this month? This has been a good month, but very recently I have been facing another bout of homesickness (for want of a better word). For I do not pine for a particular home, but more the substance of being in a place where I have roots and connections. As much as I love Isla Mujeres and the people we meet, we are transient. It’s a peculiar situation, because while we are not tourists, we are also not permanent residents, or even regular winter residents. I have realized that I could not be an ongoing long-term traveler. The sense of belonging to a place is too important to me.
It is challenging to elucidate my malaise. I have the feeling of being an observer rather than a participant, but that is only the beginning. It is also the feeling of just passing through, not being a member of the community. I hope this doesn’t sound like whining. Here we are in a tropical paradise, and I am complaining? I get that. Still, with almost two months behind us and two stretching ahead, I face a feeling of……I hesitate to admit…….boredom.
I, who am rarely bored. Someone I once knew used to quote Fritz Perls when anyone would complain of boredom. Apparently, old Fritz would say, “How are you boring yourself?” I don’t know if the quote was accurately attributed to the father of Gestalt Therapy, but I do think this is a fair question. So I ask myself (in a hoarse German accent), ‘How are you boring yourself, Arla’?
This question requires introspection. What comes to mind as I write is that I am, after all, a person that craves stimulation. I am learning that living on an island is not the life for me, albeit the fantasy of many. Living on an island means that you are sequestered within a small and predictable environment. In this case, it is an environment which, while beautiful, is limited in the ways I can be stimulated. No movie theatre, no major museums – I’ve been to Capitan Dulche’s pirate museum, thank you very much – no shopping beyond the ubuquitous souvenir hawkers.
My entertainment, as I have mentioned before, is as follows: writing, my Spanish practice, which is coming along slowly, reading, walking and bike riding, and painting. All of these pursuits are either solitary or done with my partner. These are all activities that keep me in my head. So, how am I boring myself? I’m spending too much time with me!!!!
Last week I talked Charlie into taking a trip off the island. Island life agrees with him much more, but he was accommodating. We had a fantastic five days (which probably contributed to my boredom upon returning). I want to share the highlights, to prove that I do know how to enjoy myself.
Our first stop was Valladolid, a small colonial city in the Yucatan which we actually passed through in March when we traveled to Merida. Ironically, on this short stay in Valladolid we fell in love with this little oasis in a way that Merida never captured our hearts. Valladolid was charming. We had an appointment for a tour of the Casa de los Venados, an amazing rebuilt colonial home which houses a more amazing private collection of Mexican folk art. We arrived about two hours early for our appointment, because we were unaware that there was a one hour time difference between Cancun and Valladolid.
We walked around the square and decided to find our B&B even though it was way too early to check in. We discovered that Casa Marlene was within a few short blocks of the museum across a beautiful square, Parque Fransisco Canton, around which most of our visit centered. We received a warm reception from Rosanelly, the proprietor of Casa Marlene. Even though we were hours early for check-in and our room was not ready, she poured us some juice and spent a half hour showing us a map of the city and giving us her recommendations for meals and exploration.
We then kept our appointment at Casa de los Venados, a private tour of a marvelously restored home filled to bursting with unbelievable artwork. Our tour guide was wonderful, and we met the American owners as well as their current guests, who had also traveled there from Isla Mujeres. I highly recommend this museum, and suggest that you look at my link to their website because I cannot possibly post all my photos here.
We left the Casa saturated with beauty. I find that viewing art collections is nourishing to my spirit. Following that, it was time to feed our stomachs. We took our tour guide’s advice and visited a lovely garden restaurant serving traditional Mayan fare. Upon returning to our hotel, we decided to walk from there to the Cenote Zaci, a cenote located in the center of town, which is unusual. We swam in the deep fresh water after descending the steps to the cave which surrounds it. Upon returning to our room, we took another swim in the pool there, just for the contrast.
Later we explored our part of the city a little more, enjoying some upscale shops with bona fide Mexican-made products (unlike the aforementioned souvenir shops that sell imported chatchkas). A favorite stop was a leather shop where the crafsmen were working in the back room. Charlie bought a pair of sandals, and I ended up hurrying back for a pair just before we departed the city the next morning.
The rest of the day was a treat. Driving north towards, Rio Largartos, a coastal destination known for magnificent birding, we made a short detour to the Mayan ruin Ek Balam, which we found as impressive as Chitzen Itza, though less well known. In this case a photo will transcend my words.
Driving further north, we had a hairy moment when we had to go through a very serious roadblock, with uniformed and armed federales stopping each car. Our interrogator carried an automatic weapon and wore a mask that made him even scarier. We couldn’t even see his eyes and he spoke no English, and we could not understand his rapid-fired questions. We were especially nervous because we had not carried our passports, which was a stupid oversight. I imagined what it would be like to be detained by armed soldiers with whom you cannot communicate, and it was not the stimulation I was seeking. Fortunately he waved us on, but I will never travel within a country without my passport again. We never found out what they were looking for, but it was far more intimidating than the usual Mexican roadblocks we have breezed though frequently.
Rio Largatos is not actually a river, but an estuary misnamed when first discovered. One reason I wanted to be there was, in a word, flamingos, but the tour we had pre-arranged with Chuchu, a friend of a friend, included much more.
Just fifteen minutes after we checked into our hotel and were regrouping in our room, we heard a call from the street up to our second floor balcony. Chuchu had arrived, and was ready to take us in his boat. At first we though he was yet another hawker, as several had approached our car as we drove into town. It took a confused minute to comprehend that our guide had arrived. He told us to just wear swimsuits. Soon we were on his boat speeding toward an area where flamingos were wading. Chuchu took his time and allowed us to savor the experience of being surrounded by flamingos and take photos. He steered the boat into a very shallow area, instructing us to wade closer to the birds. Once we were sated, we made our way back to the boat and Chuchu headed for the mangroves. During this part of our tour we were treated to birdlife including cormorants, different types of herons, and yes, a crocodile.
The fun had just begun, as our next stop was near Las Coloradas, where salt is mined. There we floated in a salty pond similar in salinity to the Dead Sea. Chuchu explained that the soak would open our pores and prepare us for our grand finale, our Mayan mud bath. He told us to take our time soaking, and the feeling was divine, although I wondered if my body would absorb a dangerous amount of salt in the bargain. Chuchu continued on to the mud flats which are actually clay, and soon we were rubbing clay mud all over our bodies while our sweet guide gave me a massage, then fashioned “crowns” for us. (Our friend Lolo later told us that she did this part naked, but again that was more stimulation than I had bargained for.)
We were taken back to town with the mud drying on our bodies, for a spectacular sunset swim to wash it off once we were beyond the crocodile habitat, as I was quick to ascertain. We thanked Chuchu profusely, but it was a little sad to take our leave never to see him again, after such an intimate few hours together.
We enjoyed the native seafood available in Rio Largartos and slept like babies. The next day we would travel on to Isla Holbox for a couple of beach days.
Our journey to the ferry dock for Isla Holbox in the town of Chiquila was another adventure. We stopped in the town of Tizimin, which was where we had encountered the roadblock the day before, though it seemed after all we had experienced to have been several days ago. I was quite nervous that the masked soldiers would be there still, but they were not. Phew.After all our other magnificent stops, Tizimin was a rather dirty and unappealing town, but we did decide to pause there. We found their public market, so colorful and busy that it redeemed the town.
We should have looked for lunch, because after getting back on the road there was no place to stop along the hour-plus ride to the ferry, and we arrived quite hungry in Isla Holbox at around 4 pm. But more about Isla Holbox later. I’m going swimming!©