Now first a disclaimer. This is not about Mexico as a country. Because about the only place where we have stepped on Mexican soil is the island of Cozumel. Which is what this essay is all about.
First, it’s good to know that we were here on a cruise stop (here for the itinerary). And when we were confronted with making a choice of what excursion to take, it was a hard choice. For we had wanted to get to Tulum after being in Belize (here), to give ourselves more Mayan exposure. However, that was not to be since we are well off the main land (Yucatan). Thus we had to choose.
And we decided upon an eco-tour via jeep. In hindsight, this was funny.
We actually paid to drive ourselves in a 4WD jeep to transport ourselves from the port (San Miguel) to a nature reserve and back. Though we supposedly made it through a ‘rough’ terrain, on hindsight this was probably an overpaid excursion!
Our cruise ship arrived Cozumel at 11am. Fortunately there is a passenger terminal and we were soon disembarking.
The excursion leader grouped us into four persons per jeep. Then it was off on a drive to the southern tip of the island – to Punta Sur, a nature reserve. It was a just a manual drive jeep, but through the dirt track it sure rocked. So there we were, a convoy of 10 or more speeding our way…well we maintained speed limit. Each of us took turns to drive, so this was kind of cumbersome. If only we had rented one of our own…
Reserve or resort?
Anyway, we drove to the Punta Ser where a wildlife reserve awaited us. Cozumel is Mexico’s largest island, located barely 12 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The tapioca shaped island measures 28 miles long and 10 miles wide, so it wasn’t all that large. The climate is subtropical and the native people are of Mayan descent.
You might recall that the Mayans were a great culture of farmers, fisherman and warriors who ruled from Campeche to Guatemala for over 2000 years before the arrival of the Spanish Explorers in the 15th century. But that was not what we came to see.
There was a push to establish an underwater marine park to protect the delicate balance of it’s dazzling coral reefs and abundant variety of tropical fish. And Punta Ser is one of them. But it seems to us as if the place has been developed into some sort of resort as well.
Now, one can still walk out on the wooden walkway out to the lagoon and try to spot crocodiles. Nope, did not see them. Probably camouflaged or out hunting… The resident deer population milled about, probably hoping for a hand out. Not recommended to feed them, since it encourages dependency and causes them to shed their fear of humans.
They say there are some small ruins of Mayan fire towers to warn of the reefs that line the island’s southwest coast. Debunked. Those were local temples and served only that purpose alone, so no sophisticated warning system as some imagined. Celerain lighthouse at the southernmost point on the other hand is the real deal. And it could be climbed too. Though we did not do that. Too lazy, period.
All it, it would be a nice place to spend a half day, if not to enjoy the beach. Could not swim here though due to the rough waters, but imagine it on a calmer day!
Time for our next activity and we were due to get to our snorkeling point here at the reserve. Unfortunately, the currents were considered too strong for us to snorkel amongst the reefs near Punta Ser, hence we headed back into town. Bummer. But then we were reminded that just over the hook of the coast was the lagoon where crocodiles lurked. Perhaps that was a good idea.
This meant that we did not have the chance to see any of those purportedly beautiful reefs! And we two first timers were all excited to get into the water. Never were we to know how many more places we would be snorkelling!
Not far from the town (San Miguel) and port, we stopped to do the introductory snorkeling. We put on the mandatory life vests and took the plunge.
You know, looking back it all seems so easy and we cannot understand why we could not adapt to breathing though the mouth. Well, as they say practice makes perfect. Of course the reefs (if indeed any) here were not expected to be as spectacular as that expected in Punta Ser, but it was ok for us – being novices we did not mind.
And to be honest, we were so busy trying hard at snorkeling that we were pretty much not looking.
We swam as a group, with the guide leading the way. Surprisingly there were a lot of fishes, despite being so near to the port. After about 30-40 minutes, we got out to wash off the seawater and sand before driving back into town.
Verdict: a good experience.
This was a short and sharp day from the cruise ship. It ended with some orientation to the town of San Miguel. We bought some Mexican chili oil which was sooo spicy. But you see we had to challenge our taste buds being all that young back then. Besides, there wasn’t much in the way of spicier condiment onboard the cruise ship.
Mexico is one of the countries in the North American continent that we hadn’t touched. This one does not really count. But we could not place Cozumel under another Caribbean country either! So look out world, we are not done yet. Not quite the terminator but we’ll be back!
This journey was made in March 2005