Wednesday, May 9, 2012

October 2004 -- Not Really Alone!

Me and Myself -- October 2004

I'm not sure what got into me.  Wanderlust?  A need to prove I could forge a new path by myself?  Or maybe just a wild hair.  My late aunt had already blazed the trail for me.  She used to head to South Padre Island for three months every year all by her lonesome to escape winter on their Kansas horse ranch.  I figured if Aunt Betty could do it, so could I!

I was already used to flying solo during the week when Craig was traveling.  I didn't hesitate to dine out or go to a movie by myself, so why not travel?  Especially to a destination I'd already been to and knew was perfectly safe.

Early in August 2004, I started dreaming about a solo trip to Isla Mujeres.  Our son was in school at ASU at the time, and Craig had started a new job and didn't have a whole lot of vacation time. Isla was calling me.  Looking online one weekend at our mileage plan with Alaska Airlines, I noticed  plenty of free flights available in the late October to mid-November time frame.  The weather in Seattle that time of year is fairly predictable -- cold and rainy.  So after talking to Craig, I booked one roundtrip ticket to Isla on a Sunday night in August.

I woke up the next morning in a sick panic.  What the hell had I done?  I must be insane to want to take a vacation by myself, much less to a foreign country.  What was I THINKING?  At the time, I had no acquaintances on the island.  Zero.  By afternoon, the feeling went away.  The thought of white sand beaches, turquoise water, Day of the Dead, and all the other fun experiences I would have blocked out the fear.  I was going!

I starting looking for lodging.  I finally decided on Apartment #2 at Color de Verano.  It was available for the first nine nights of my trip. The free bikes and all the amenities in the apartment, not to mention the view, cemented the decision.  The trip soon evolved.  Craig decided he'd like to join me at the end of my first week.  He'd been able to wrangle a week of vacation.  Then a friend from the gym decided she really wanted to see Isla Mujeres, and she'd arrive a few days before Craig left.  We decided on Media Luna for the second half of the trip, but it wasn't available the first few nights, so we booked the gap nights in between in the Castle section at Maria del Mar.

In between August and the October departure date, I ended up having knee surgery in early September.  I'd ripped my miniscus in late March re-landscaping the yard, and the knee hadn't recovered.  When I boarded the plane on October 22, the knee was still swollen from the September surgery, but life wouldn't wait for perfection.  I could ice it on the island.

I arrived on Isla Mujeres on a steamy October afternoon.  Notice the Isla skyline back in 2004.  No ugly Senor Frog, and no tall buildings.  I dragged the bags down Medina to Color de Verano, limping along with the bad knee.  After waiting a short while for Vicki from Lost Oasis to arrive (which seemed like an hour sitting on that stoop in the tropical heat by myself), I was soon in the apartment.  I don't have any photos, but Color de Verano looked much the same as it does on their website today -- a bright yellow apartment building with beautiful hand-crafted hardwoods and all the amenities.  The difference would be that back then, Color de Verano had a vacant lot across the street, and the views of the Caribe were uninhibited by a resort across the street.

The first night I walked to Bamboo for dinner.  October was very slow that year (I think it usually is), and I was the only customer in the restaurant.   Alex, my friendly waiter (the same Alex who's worked at Fayne's for years now) made me feel right at home. I ordered a Mayan fish special and it was wonderful!

My solo week before Craig arrived flew by quickly.  Early every morning, I'd take a bike from the lobby and head out Medina before the island awoke.  Some mornings the man with the wolf whistle horn on his moto would be waiting out front to greet me as I started the ride.  I'd laugh and just wave.  I nicknamed him the Horny Bachelor.  I'll admit to a moment when my heart fell into my stomach on a lonesome stretch of road in the curve south of the orange Navy base.  It was 6:30 a.m. when the solo American female in a foreign land met two guys on a moto -- the one on the back carrying a BIG machete!  OMG!  Serial killers?  I can't say I'd seen that back in Seattle!  I realize now it was probably Coco Man hitching a ride to town.

Later in the week after I'd ridden that bike all over the island for 5 or 6 days, a new friend (who's become a friend for life) pointed out that my back tire was flat. No wonder riding that bike was such a workout!  The swollen knee at that point was aching from the resistance of riding a bike with a flat tire and walking in the sand.

Verano provided beach chairs, so every morning after my bike ride, I'd haul my gear to a spot behind the lifeguard stand on Playa Norte.   I didn't discover where Playa del Sol was located until later in the trip.  I mistakenly planted myself on a lounger at Chi Chi's one day and a beach waiter ripped it out from under me to give to a large group of daytrippers, so I knew I wasn't at Playa del Sol where they comped loungers for drinks.

Remember the Stripe dogs?  They hung out in the intersection across from the Convention Center, and roamed the eastern end of Playa Norte.

The lifeguard palapa at Playa del Sol washed away shortly after this visit, either in 2004 or 2005.  I wish I had a photo of the beached boat at Playa del Sol where Jorge tended bar.  He was bartender extraordinaire and made a special drink called an Orgasm that was the best!  Remember, it was a DRINK!

There was an election during that trip.  Cars and go carts with loudspeakers roamed the island making political announcements.  There's always a smart ass who defaces the political signs!

I loved this red truck because it reminded me of the Baby on Board signs that were plastered all over mommy cars in the U.S. at that time.  This guy had his own baby on board!


This was the trip when I started having fun with the camera.  I think this moto is one of my all time fave photos from Isla.

One afternoon as I was wandering, I came upon this little guy at the entrance to Media Luna beach over by Poc Na.  He'd used coconuts to mark out his sandbox, and asked me to take his photo.  Wonder who he was?  Carlos rings a bell.  I guess he'd be in middle school now.

There was still a beautiful clear view from the cemetery.  I think the Ixchel I tower was just in the pre-sale stage then.

Craig posing with trick or treaters that year.   The island kids started trick or treating on Hidalgo the night before Halloween and continued through the Day of the Dead holiday.  Some of them would even stand below our balcony at Color de Verano waiting for me to throw candy over the railing.  Most children carried small containers since the custom was to collect pesos, but they didn't refuse the candy. 

Craig arrived before Halloween and departed in early November.  My friend arrived shortly before Craig left and stayed through the first week of November.  At Media Luna on the last leg of the trip, I met a couple of gal pals who I've remained friends with to this day.  It's a reunion whenever we're on Isla Mujeres at the same time! 

I left the island in mid-November loving it just as much as the day I arrived.  I learned some valuable lessons that trip, including not to be afraid to explore the world on my own.  Traveling solo is just fine.  Just remember to get out and make friends!  

You already know that the saga doesn't end here.  Stayed tuned for the trip that got postponed.


Ann said...

Enjoying reading about your early trips ( again). I'm sure you wrote about them on the old message boards~

Janet said...

I always enjoy reading your blogs Becky, but these have me hooked, can't wait to read more. Really interesting!

Life's a Beach! said...

Ann, I posted a long report on Julie's board once, but don't have it anymore. So many laptops have crashed since then! I'm working off fading memories. Janet, I'm actually out of town right now, so the next one may not show up until next week!

Jan said...

Becky, is that the year we met and Craig and Bruce went fishing?

Life's a Beach! said...

Jan, that's the trip! Also the trip we met Ralph! A fun year!