Monday, January 9, 2012

New Year's Eve in Isla Mujeres

Fireworks over the Plaza on New Year's Eve in Isla Mujeres
Nan and I are just back from another trip to Isla Mujeres, our tenth in fourteen years. Usually, we go in the spring, after the ski season is over, or in the fall if we went somewhere else in the spring, but we had never been there around the holidays before.

The first thing we noticed was how busy the island seemed. In the spring and fall, most of the tourists are Americans, Canadians and Europeans, but most of the tourists we saw were Mexicans. They packed the beaches, the streets and the restaurants. It was good to see them vacationing in one of their own resort areas, and the island appeared to be prospering as a result. There were new shops and restaurants, and a new Walmart-type store, Chedraui, that carries just about everything. Our local friend, Juan Gomez, who lives in one of the mid-island colonias near the new store, told us he goes there almost every day. No more shopping trips to Cancun for those difficult-to-find items!

The band playing for New Year's Eve on Isla Mujeres
There were no vacancies at Color de Verano, where we normally stay, so we spent five nights at Elements of the Island and two nights at Ixchel Beach Hotel. Elements is a little three-unit boutique hotel and cafe in the Centro recently purchased by French Canadians, Madjid and Jean. Ixchel is one of the big new luxury hotels on Playa Norte. Both were fine, though very different in their levels of accommodation. Color de Verano will always be our first choice.

Most mornings, we went for long walks either around the north end of the island or south along the street that fronts Playa Sol, as far as the Soggy Peso bar. One morning, we visited Isla Animals, the local dog rescue facility, to play with the puppies. There were probably close to thirty of them, ranging in age from about eight weeks to four months, chasing each other around the yard and falling asleep in spontaneous piles.

The view across the Plaza on New Year's Eve in Isla Mujeres
We rented a golf cart for only one day because of the holiday premium rates, and we used it to check out the marinas a little more closely than during our last visit. If plans work out, we will sail Whispering Jesse, our 1980 Valiant 40, down to Isla Mujeres in the fall of 2013, and we will want to keep it somewhere safe. Puerto Isla Mujeres would still be our first choice. It has reasonable rates, the nicest facilities and a security gate at the entrance. We also checked out Enrique Lima's Marina, which has the advantage of being downtown instead of further south in Laguna Macax. If we spend any time swinging on an anchor in Isla's large bay, a downtown marina would be handy to use for its dinghy dock.

Our favorite street performer playing in front of Rolandi's in Isla Mujeres
On other days, we used the ubiquitous red taxis to get around the island, taking one to Teresa and Louis's house one afternoon to check out the progress Louis is making on his sailboat refit project. In addition to fixing some of the inherited damage, he has designed and built some ingenious interior features, like a beautiful Mexican teak table that folds down and out from a forward bulkhead. We look forward to forming a sailing flotilla with the two of them once we get our own boat down there.

The highlight of our trip was the time we spent with Juan and his family. We met Juan, his wife Paula and his daughter Paulina in the plaza downtown for New Year's Eve, which the island goes all out for. There was a huge stage set up in front of the Palacio Municipal. The plaza in front of the stage was filled with formal tables featuring flowers and white tablecloths, which were all reserved, so we sat on the steps of the Catholic church to watch the festivities, along with hundreds of other people. The entire area was packed.

The Chihuahuas, Dookie and Muñeca, at Juan's house in Isla Mujeres
According to my watch, midnight came and went, but the announcements from the stage went on for another couple of minutes before the countdown to the New Year. Confetti and streamers filled the air and fireworks blazed overhead. People cheered, hugged and kissed. And then the band started up. We made our way closer to the stage, where people were dancing. Nan and Juan's family joined in but I hung back and watched the band. It featured at least nine players, all doing a synchronized dance to their Latin music, which featured a brass section and was oh so loud. They kept up a constant medley of songs, with no breaks in between, and worked up enough of a sweat, despite the chilly night, that they were peeling off layers of their band costumes and flinging them aside. By one o'clock, our ears were buzzing and we were ready to go. Nan and I walked Juan and his family to a taxi stand and then walked back to our hotel. We found out later from Juan that there was a party in his neighborhood when they returned home, and they didn't get to bed until six in the morning. ¡Muchas cervezas!

Juan, Paula, Manolo and Paulina at home in Isla Mujeres
On our last afternoon, we took a taxi to Juan's house for a late lunch of guacamole, ceviche and chicken with mole sauce. Paula and son Manolo were there, along with Dookie and Muñeca, two of their three Chihuahuas, who were wearing tiny t-shirts to stay warm. Over the course of the afternoon, family came and went, including Paulina, other son Juan Jr., Paula's twin sisters, and nephews Daniel and Paul. We struggled to communicate with everybody using our limited Spanish until we were mentally exhausted. Juan gave us Christmas gifts: a bottle of Mexican tequila that I'm sure isn't available in the U.S. and a Sol baseball cap that is probably also unavailable here. It was all over much too quickly, both the afternoon and the vacation in Isla Mujeres. We told Juan we would try to return in September or October. Until then:

¡Feliz y Prospero Año Nuevo!

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