Hola Mexico: First Stop – Cozumel
It’s an extremely early start to the day for us; a cold morning dash up the road to Penn Station dragging our luggage behind us.Then a busy commuter train as far as the airport, where we queue and get screened a few more times for good measure. As we wait for the plane, a guy discusses with anyone nearby in the line about how he’s looking for his medication, but it’s in another bag. Judging by his manner this is some kind of psychiatric medication. I’m sure whoever sits next to him is really going to enjoy the flight. I’m not looking forward to it much either. I wasn’t too well the night before. My stomach is still unhappy, and not too impressed at the offer of nothing but intermittent airline snacks for most of the day. The layover in Atlanta is too short to do very much other then get to the next departure gate, so proper food will have to wait until we reach Mexico.
Once we finally arrive at Cancun airport we’re delayed by more endless immigration and customs queues full of very loud people. Each time we get past one check, we find another waiting around the corner – generally with very few staff to cater to the volume of traffic trying to get through. We finally escape the bowels of the airport to be accosted by the usual chaos of taxi drivers and touts outside, desperately trying to funnel people into their taxis. We opt for the simple and effective airport bus which takes you to Playa del Carmen in about an hour for a reasonable fare. We pass numerous exclusive resorts on the way, dripping in wealth and privilege. However our accommodation for this trip is far more budget-friendly. We’re heading for a holiday rental villa on the island of Cozumel.
The closest port to Cozumel is at Playa del Carmen, where ferries regularly run back and forth between the two. Playa del Carmen is a bustling place. Crowds of tourists wandering the streets and sprawled out on the beaches. It also has all the sideshows that go along with the tourism industry – taxis, shops, tour operators and fast food. Definitely not a very authentic Mexican experience. We grab some unappetising congealed pizza slices to keep us going just before boarding the ferry, hoping to reach our ultimate destination before it gets too dark. It takes almost an hour before the coastline disappears behind us and we finish the docking procedure at Cozumel ferry port There they search my bag once more, just for fun. The sun is below the horizon when we finally exit the port, hoping our guide to the accommodation will be there and save us the effort of finding our way through unfamiliar streets in the approaching evening gloom.
He’s there alright, an elderly Mexican waving a mis-spelt sign and brandishing a walking stick. He can barely walk, yet seems happy to drive us in a car that has definitely seen better days. “Just two of you? Just two bags?” Where he would fit more people or bags I don’t actually know. There’s little space left in the beat up car once our cases are jammed in. We spend what seems to be a long time driving up one way streets, and then back along others, before reaching our accommodation for the next few days. Our driver maintains a friendly patter for the duration of the trip. “You want to rent a car?” Not so much if this is what a typical driver on the island is like on the roads! He then proceeds to give us a lengthy description of all his family members through each generation (though just the males of course). We’re starting to run out of appropriate responses by the time the car creaks to a halt. Despite the length of the car journey, we’re located only a 15 minute walk from the town centre where all the action takes place. Our holiday home is one of three colourful villas situated in a less affluent, but fairly quiet neighbourhood. Although the combined stench of freshener, disinfectant and bug spray permeates everything (including our clothes after a couple of days), the rooms are spacious and relatively clean. After freshening up we go in search of our first proper meal of the day.
Cozumel is a reasonably big island just off the east coast of Mexico that is extremely popular with the cruise lines. The main town is a bit smaller and homelier than Playa del Carmen seemed to be. The residential streets are quiet, although the main roads are clogged with traffic at times. At this time of year the town centre is peaceful, unless there’s a cruise ship docked nearby. There are no queues for the plentiful restaurants, although most seem to be doing some trade. We bring our business to Del Sur Argentina Empanadas. It’s currently in second place at the top of the Trip Advisor list of Cozumel restaurants. We later find that Trip Advisor is the primary means of advertising to tourists visiting these parts. Signs adorn most eating establishments and the tour operators ask for any positive comments to be added there to help drive more future business to them. Assuming that a highly recommended establishment won’t disappoint too much, we opt for checking it out.
We find ourselves in a clean and cosy place. Apart from the main courses of grilled meat and fish, the restaurant specialises in empanadas.These are pastries that can contain savoury or sweet fillings. We share a chicken empanada for a starter, and it’s pretty good. We risk the steak for mains. Although the waiter smirks a little when I say I want mine well done, he insists we cut the meat he brings to the table to make sure it’s cooked as each of us wanted. The meat is served in just its own juices. Mine is a little pink in places, but definitely cooked. Both are juicy and cooked beautifully. The side salad has a lovely vinagrette that isn’t too sharp, yet has a tasty kick. Some fresh bread and garlic butter round things off nicely. This is a very impressive dinner so far. We can’t resist trying a dessert. My apple and cinnamon empanada is delicious, and Brodie loves his caramel empanada too. If this is the typical quality of the food we’re going to be having in Mexico, then we’re going to be very happy here.