Well, the first two days of our trip were like something out of a Franz Kafka novel, but after that things were a lot better...
It all started out when our flight out of Detroit was delayed for 5 hours. The reason it was delayed was that the day before, the flight crew had ran into some bad weather, which delayed some flights, which put the flight crew over the maximum amount of time that they are allowed to spend in the air within 48 hours, so they had to rest for a few hours before they could go up again. While I understand that this is all due to FAA regulations that exist for a very good reason, I contend that anyone who is operating an airline should know the FAA regulations well enough to realize that the delays on Friday were eventually going to put the flight crew over the limit, and bring in a relief crew.
Of course, this meant that we got to Cancun 5 hours late. The stewardesses on the flight from Detroit said that we would be able to make it on time for the shuttle flight to Cozumel if we hurried. Even without stopping for our luggage (neither the airline nor our travel agent had told us that our luggage would not be checked through) we were not able to get to the other terminal before the last shuttle flight to Cozumel left.
At this point, we were stranded in Cancun, our hotel reservation was in Cozumel, the last flight had gone, the ferries had stopped running for the night, and most of the people who spoke English had gone home for the night.
One person from our travel agency (as far as I've been able to tell, the only competent person working for them -- they'll probably fire him next week for over competence) made a LOT of phone calls (it's peak time in Cancun and all the hotels were booked), and finally found us a room at a hotel in the business district (about 10 or 15 miles from the airport)
We took a taxi to the hotel, where we found out that the hotel did not take any kind of credit card, and we didn't have any cash to speak of. This far away from the "tourist" areas there are no English speaking people to speak of, but using the little bit of Spanish that I know I was able to find out from the hotel clerk where there was a bank with a cash machine.
By now, it was about 11:00 or 11:30, and I left Tanj at the hotel while I wandered out into the streets of an unfamiliar city in a foreign country in search of a cash machine. After walking for about 1/2 mile, I wasn't sure I was going in the right direction, so I stopped to check at a sidewalk cafe that was closing down for the night. Again, no one there spoke English, but I was able to remember enough Spanish to get across what I was looking for. It turned out that the cash machine was just around the corner.
I finally got some cash and headed back towards the hotel. When I got within sight of it, Tanja (who was getting REALLY upset about waiting in the dark hotel lobby [outside of the tourist districts, most places turn off any lights that aren't absolutely necessary to conserve electricity]) was yelling at me to RUN!
We finally got the hotel room. The room cost $30 for the night. The hotel clerk was apologizing to us over and over that the only room that was available was the most expensive room in the hotel. I didn't have the heart to tell him that in the US $30 dollars would hardly get you a room in a dumpy hotel, let alone a huge room with two double beds in a fairly nice hotel! The hotel Tankah was actually a pretty nice hotel, and we wouldn't have minded being there at all if it had been our choice!
The next day we woke up feeling much better, and thinking that our problems were done (add ominous sounding music here).
When we got to the airport, it was crowded with people who had also been stranded in Cancun. We found out later that we were among the lucky ones -- some people had ended up sleeping in the airport Saturday night!
Although the rep from our travel agency was technically correct when he told us that the shuttle planes from Cancun to Cozumel pretty much run hourly, and that our ticket would be valid for any of them, he neglected to change our reservation or advise us to change it. It was about 4 1/2 hours from the time we got to the airport until we finally got on a plane. The only reason we made it then was that Mexicana (who runs the Cancun-Cozumel shuttle flight) added an extra plane to the schedule to help relieve some of the backlog of people trying to get to Cozumel.
Once we finally got to Cozumel, things were a lot better. The weather was in the mid 80's all week, and it was sunny or mostly sunny almost every day (except Thursday -- more on that later). We had dinner at a wonderful restaurant downtown called "La Choza" ("The Hut"). We loved this restaurant so much that we ate there 4 times while we were in Cozumel. Senor Ignacio (the headwaiter) began to recognize us, and several times gave us coupons for "free drink with meal". If you're planning to go to Cozumel, make sure you eat at La Choza at least once!
On Monday, we took a taxi to Chakanaab (a state park on Cozumel Island). Chakanaab is Mayan for "little sea". It is named for the lagoon there. The lagoon has two underground inlets to the sea, and so it always has fresh saltwater, and an abundant supply of brightly colored tropical fish.
We snorkeled in the ocean (the Caribbean) at Chakanaab for a few hours, and then rested on the beach for a while. While we were sitting there, a lady a little ways away from us was frightened by a small iguana that had run by. Tanj turned to me and said, "What's it going to do, run up and say, 'ooga booga' to her?" (the iguanas are not poisonous, and are much more likely to run away from you than bite you).
After we rested a bit, we walked around the lagoon for a while. We saw many beautiful fish in the lagoon, and lost count of all the iguanas we saw. One small iguana ran out of the underbrush right up to the path next to where Tanj was. She (Tanj) let out a squeal and jumped behind me. For the rest of the trip, we referred to this iguana as the one that ran up to Tanj and said "ooga booga!"
On Tuesday, we flew back to Cancun to meet up with a tour group to visit Chichen-Itza (the site of a very large and important Mayan city, now in ruins). The tour guide was very knowledgeable, and had many interesting insights, but the tour itself was very rushed, as it took most of the day to get there and back on the bus.
On the way back, the bus stopped at the Mayaland hotel (about 5 to 10 miles from Chichen-Itza) and we had lunch there. There was an old Mayan woman making WONDERFUL corn tortillas on a small stove. During lunch, some dancers came out to dance for us. Then they put beer bottles on top of their heads and dance some more. Then the put TRAYS of beer bottles on their heads and danced even more!
On Wednesday, we got roped into looking at a time-share condo. Although we really had no interest in buying into it (As vacation property, Tanj and I don't really like the luxury hotels. We would rather stay in one that's cheap and has some local flavor. As an investment, I can think of a lot of places to put $10K where you would get a MUCH better return on it!), we did get a wonderful (and free!) breakfast out of it, along with a cheap car rental and a chance to talk to one of the local women for a few hours. We learned a lot and got some interesting insights from talking to her.
Wednesday was a good day to get a car, since that is the day that the cruise ships dock and dump 1,000 or so of the worst kind of tourists into the city, and none of them ever bother to go as far as the other side of the island.
We rented a VW Safari for 24 hours. If you've never seen a VW Safari, imaging crossing a Suzuki Samurai with a lawn-mower engine powered go-kart, and keeping the worst aspects of both.
At this point, I have to back up a bit, as I notice that I've gotten this far without mentioning what it is like to ride in a taxi in Cozumel. New York taxi drivers have NOTHING on these guys! The car in the next lane is 2 inches back? Plenty of room to change lanes! Speed limit? What speed limit?? Don't EVER get into a taxi in Cozumel and tell the driver you're in a hurry! The way they drive normally, I would HATE to think what would happen!! Once, when we were holding on for dear life in the back seat of a taxi, Tanja directed my attention to the speedometer, which indicated that we were traveling at 0 kph.
Ok, back to our story. In order to get to the road that goes to the other side of the island, you have to drive through downtown traffic. In a car which has all the acceleration and top speed of your average garden tractor. With taxis that think that it only counts if the light has been red for 10 seconds or more.
We finally got onto the road to the other side of the island. The East side of the island is open to the Caribbean. Because of the strange things that "el nino" is doing to the weather, Cozumel is getting a lot more wind than it usually does, and there were huge waves crashing into shore. We walked on the beach for a while, and picked up a few of the large conch shells that were all over the beach.
After the sun set, we took the long way back (there is just one road that circumnavigates the island. Going the short way, we were about 8 to 10 miles from our hotel. Going the long way it was more like 40 or 45.) When we got near the South end of the island, we could see the lighthouse. We stopped for a while and turned off the lights. (The East side of the island has no electricity, and the only buildings are the 3 or 4 restaurants. The Mexican government has declared a halt to any further building on Cozumel island in order to help preserve the current natural state that exists on most of the island). We could see thousands of stars, and in the field beside the road were hundreds of lightning bugs.
We finished driving back to the hotel and fell into bed, exhausted.
On Thursday, we drove to the East side of the island again. Thursday was mostly cloudy (this was the day I was telling you about earlier that wasn't sunny or mostly sunny). I was really unhappy with the weather, as I wanted to photograph the eclipse that was to take place at around 12:35.
We wandered around the beach for a while. Tanja found a beached jellyfish (just a small one) and put it back into the water.
Around 12:30, the clouds had cleared a little, and the ones that were left were moving quickly. I set my camera tripod on the hood of the VW and shot a whole roll of film. At times, when the sun was behind a layer or two of clouds, you could glance at it (don't stare!) and see that there was a piece missing.
On Friday, Tanja went back to Chakanaab to walk around the lagoon some more, and I took the free scuba lesson at the hotel swimming pool. Having tried that, I decided to take the "resort course" (which isn't really a course at all. A scuba instructor takes a small group [4-5 people] for an hour long dive). Scuba diving is very similar to snorkeling, except that you don't have to come up for air. I bought an underwater camera to take on the dive with me. I tied it to my belt to keep from loosing it, but somehow it came loose and I lost it anyway.
Finally on Saturday it was time to come home. We packed our bags, had lunch at a seafood restaurant (not nearly as good as La Choza!), and took a taxi to the airport.
The flight back was only 10 minutes behind schedule (a miracle!). When we were over Memphis (or thereabouts) there was a group of clouds about 10 miles off to the right of the plane. In these clouds, bolts of lightning were constantly arcing from place to place within the clouds, or between clouds.
We got back to Detroit about 9:30, and stayed the night with Tanja's
parents in Plymouth before coming home.
(To see pictures, click here. )
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