Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Life in Isla Mujeres

Eloy at the beach on Isla Mujeres, with Scout in the background chewing on a coconut
As a contrast to my post from a couple of weeks ago, Life in Grand Junction, here are my observations on life in Isla Mujeres, based on the month we lived there with our dog, Scout, in September and October of 2009:

The flash of red behind my eyelids wakes me up an instant before the thunder crashes and brings me fully awake. It is early dawn and another thunderstorm is moving through. I hear the heavy raindrops drumming on the awning that covers our rooftop patio. I hear the hum of the air conditioner above the bed and the soft clank-clank of the ceiling fan in the next room. Scout shifts and resettles on his mat next to the bed. I reach out to put my arm around Nan but she is already up.

I smell coffee brewing and think about getting up to get a cup. I hear the startup tone of the laptop and lift my head to see Nan's face illuminated by its glow. Her email account is her connection to home. Careful not to step on Scout, I get up, put on a bathrobe and go out to the kitchen. Nan greets me from her perch on a bar stool in front of the laptop and we comment on the weather. It looks as though the storm will pass soon. The windows are fogged with condensation on the inside and streaked with rain on the outside.

I get a cup of coffee and sit in a wicker chair in the living area with my book, Ken Follett's World Without End. After a few paragraphs, I am engrossed in the story. I reach for my cup several minutes later but the coffee is cold. I look up to see that Nan is dressed for a walk. I look outside and see that it has stopped raining. Steam is rising from the asphalt and from the beach across the street. I put the book down and go into the bedroom to get dressed. I put on lightweight nylon shorts, a beach shirt, a baseball cap and boat shoes. Sensing an imminent walk, Scout rouses, stretches and goes to the kitchen for a drink from his water bowl. I clip him to his leash and we leave our cool, dry penthouse apartment at Color de Verano.

The heat and humidity in the hallway are intense, like entering a steam room. I start to sweat. We hurry down the stairs and out into the street. A light breeze rustles the palm trees along Avenida Rueda Medina. We jump puddles crossing the street and kick off our shoes on the beach. The sand is pockmarked like the moon from the rain. Its thin crust is wet and cool, but the sand beneath is dry and warm. We walk to the water and cool our feet. Four miles across the water, I can barely see the buildings of Cancun through the haze and humidity. Scout wades out far enough to get his tummy wet in the small lapping waves, then leaps back out and shakes water all over us.

We turn north and walk along the water's edge. It is only 7:00 but young men are already out cleaning the beach and positioning beach chairs and umbrellas for the tourists. We wish them buenos dias and they smile. Some gesture to their chairs, though the sun is still low and barely poking through the clouds. Luego, we say. We reach the furthest northwest corner of the island. The water is choppy from the meeting of the currents. Giant black cloth tubes full of sand have been placed here as breakwaters to prevent all the sand from washing over to Cancun. We climb over them and turn east. The water is calmer on this side and Scout wades out far enough to swim a bit and cool down.

Up the beach, in the distance, we see a pack of feral dogs. We do not want Scout to interact with them for fear of a fight or what he might catch. The dogs spot us and start to approach. Nan walks ahead to shoo them away. Off to the right, where a street deadends at the beach, we hear a voice call to the dogs. We see a one-armed man standing next to an old bicycle, smoking a cigarette. The dogs run to him and he rides away with them in pursuit, the cigarette dangling from his mouth.

We reach the island's northeast corner, where the Hotel Na Balam is located. We used to stay there but we don't anymore. The first time we came to the island, in 1998, the beach there extended out more than a hundred yards from the hotel's beach bar. Now the water is lapping at the roots of the palm trees right outside the bar's stone walls. Hurricanes have scoured away the entire beach. We step lightly along the wall, looking into the open-air restaurant to see if any of our old friends is still working there. We see familiar faces but can't place the names.

We turn south and step carefully over strings of sulfur-smelling seaweed. A man that Nan nicknamed "Mucho Trabajo" during our first visit to the island is raking the seaweed into piles. We wave and say hola. He looks up, smiles and nods, then goes back to his raking. We step over the wooden bridge that leads out to the Avalon Reef Hotel and continue south. The beach ends at an outcropping of volcanic rock. We put our shoes back on and step carefully over the sharp rock. The sun has moved higher in the sky and there is no shade. I feel the back of my shirt stick to my skin. The rock ends and we cross a stretch of pebbly beach and shells, then climb up concrete steps to the embarcadero that runs along the island's west coast. We pass a series of abandoned buildings, cinder block shells of hurricane-ravaged luxury hotels.

We turn west on to the promenade that leads to the island's central plaza. Nan goes in to the mercado across from the plaza for some groceries. Scout and I wait outside in the shade of an ancient willow tree. I am sweating profusely. Scout is panting. Nan walks out with two plastic bags and hands me the heavier one. We continue west toward the ferry dock and then turn north to walk in the shade of the palm trees that line Avenida Rueda Medina and complete our loop of the island's north end.

No comments: