On my first international trip, I had no idea what to expect from a land whose language I could barely utilize to ask for the bathroom or even a “biblioteca”. We invited others, feeling safety in groups was the key to infiltrating a country plagued by drug trafficking and cartels, but ultimately departed alone, figuring the water-locked tourist-trap would be safe enough. So what exactly DID we find when we left the comforts of the United States?
The Planning and Expenditures
Expedia.com sold us an all-inclusive package for under $750 each (5 months in advance for June), including round-trip airfare and a 5-day hotel stay in Cozumel. The hotel, itself, has an 18-hour bar and restaurant, well-stocked hotel fridges (and stationary safes), car rentals, phone service, money-exchange terminals, and paid internet access. All hotel meals, drinks, shows, nightclub, and even some of the water sports were free, though an honest man would feel guilty without tipping on occasion. Fairly priced, the souvenir shop was a near carbon-copy of ones found at even the airport, despite how rustic and hand-crafted the goods appeared. Should you purchase from the travelling artists whom are allowed to erect kiosks on certain nights, you’ll likely be reamed, though I’m not certain how this compares elsewhere since we became hotel recluses (why leave?). Previously mentioned, events beyond free snorkel gear or kayaks will cost you up to $100 per person for guided SCUBA excursions, dolphin-petting and the like, though we didn’t check out the island’s Mayan ruins, the ferry ride to the mainland, bar-hopping, shopping, and “other” opportunities. Trinkets included, I personally spent less than $850 total, $575 of which was airfare.
Shitty motorists are left unmarked to look less like a viral outbreak.
They’re bad. Real bad. Having been welcomed into a fine mist of fluttering wings, we were given a map and overview of the hotel grounds by Eunice, whom claimed that the bloodsuckers were the worst she’d ever seen, having worked in the open-air lobby (containing a string of helpdesks circling a central fountain) for years. The mosquitos, which the hotel fogged nightly, are roaming gangs of blood-thirsty thugs near the road but dissipate towards the beach, downgrading themselves to mere petty thievery. If I never go back to Cozumel it would be due to the rampant mosquito problem, alone. Even after the trip, I still had the remnants of itching red bumps that refused to be prevented despite a frothy cocktail of bugspray and sunscreen. *Sidenote: we were nearly fogged out of our room one night after a blower got too close to our AC. We were assured that the stuff is safe for humans, though my watery eyes saw only the tv’s dim glow for several minutes.
Iguanas and Wildlife
8 foot iguanas live on the grounds, which are a sort of marsh/jungle that connect the one island road to the beach via hotel pathway. The Occidental Grand houses all number of scurrying critters and you can glimpse many of them sunbathing or a Coatis digging through the garbage if you’re lucky (“cat-bear-coon” is a more appropriate name). The big lizards perch quite kingly on a pool-side patch of grass and are only partly aware of the daily drudgery of janitors and groundskeepers, moreso of photographers. We had fist-sized crabs ducking out of giant holes near our balcony, and a trail of inch-long carpenter ants trucking their cargo in a visible bug-highway along the bushline. Surprisingly, I didn’t see a variety of birds, but the selection of fish made up for it. In flipping over an oceanic hunk of dead coral, I was horrified to find myself attached to a pale sucker fish, whom was finally dislodged after panicked thrashings. Not 15 minutes later, I watched a similar male from a similar couple come up gasping for air, spouting a flushed story about a terrifying little fish to his similarly mocking wife.
Coming soon, to soil a poolside walkway near you!
Chalk it up to free booze or a perceived subjugation of the foreign country but some tourists (mostly Texas businessmen, fratboys, and Valley girls) are some of the rowdiest, self-aggrandizing ingrates to berate the service industry this side of the Gulf. Cock-obsessed jocks bouncing a simple volleyball are shouting, “DUDE, THAT WAS SO FUCKIN’ HIGH. That’s FUCKING HIGH DUDE. Oh MY GOD, THAT WAS SOOO HIGH”, for 30 minutes over the sound of waves gently washing over a pink sunset. An asshole dares his girlfriend to knock over my sand castle and then makes the dopiest face I’ve ever seen in pretend-punching at a tower. Red-faced mouth-breathers can’t shut the fuck up on an airplane; snooty toddlers are ordering daiquiriis and “Shirley Temples” for breakfast; soccer moms complain loudly about the beach’s heat while a crass-faced familial unit finds something to bitch about at an all-day buffet of fresh, healthy food served gratis in the Occidental’s personal restaurant.
Although the coupon dictated we listen to an hour of timeshare-esque sales pitch before we received a free pass for guided snorkeling, the intensely-staring rep didn’t scare us away from the $50 value. It was fantastic. The boat dropped us off in 3 different locations, each deeper than the last, starting at approximately 5-10 meters and working it’s way up to 60 meters or so. The reefs were isolated islands bulging out of a relatively flat seabed dotted with giant starfish and tufts of plant-life. These humps of coral looked like huge underwater turtles which housed urchins and a rainbow of fish, a sharp contrast to the deeper areas of foggy blue and ominous black cracks in the crag. The weather turned on a dime and began storming midway through our journey. But nothing kept us from doggie-paddling like a waterlogged rat-raft while fighting the roiling waves, glancing down at our guide whom heroically traversed the sea floor in each scenario, flushing out stingrays and puffer-fish by tickling them, pointing out nurse sharks and barracuda whenever possible. Carlos can blow a mean bubble ring at a depth I can’t hope to reach without my ears splitting open.
Cthulu is decidedly over-rated.
It couldn’t be nicer. The heat was 5 degrees short of sweltering at the peak hours of the day, exactly as you’d expect, but this was extremely conducive for a mid-afternoon swim in the crystalline ocean. Dark was dark (I didn’t see stars), and happened around 8-ish but the grounds were extremely well-lit, the air being a bit more humid in the forested area and picking up more heat from the kitchens amidst cooler service areas. There was a surprising amount of fresh air brought in on mild gusts despite the groves of surrounding trees but, as mentioned, this turned into a decent storm for several hours, leaving us with an overcast departure when the standard had been clear skies and clumps of clouds. In short, the weather plays well with others and resembles Houston mugginess to a large degree, with bursts of fresh sea air of course.
Good Lord, that’s a lot of fire. A trio of sweaty athletes (their eyebrows intact) performed amazing feats of dance in a tag-team display of extraordinary showmanship. Hula hoops, man-sized cubes, nunchakas, batons, tridents and pugel sticks of bristling flame were masterfully tossed, twirled, and thrust in a stunning act that juggled beauty and danger as they alternated routines, lit each other’s “weapons”, and even piggy-backed to form a tower of finessed inferno. In 30 minutes, I took 400 photos, not wanting to miss a beat of the House Techno punctuating jabs and spins as they literally blazed trails of fire on the hotel’s plaza and coordinated maneuvers, narrowly missing each other in the rotation of a wild dance. What a great way to offset the previous night’s karoake! The hotel’s events are hit-or-miss, but this one blew me away.
If you made an entire culture wear an eye patch and chug cough syrup, then handed it the keys to a riding lawnmower with two flat tires and the exhaust pipe pointed at the driver’s face, you might have an idea of how Mexico handles itself on the road. A snapshot from their government-appointed instructional video is pictured here.
Also Mopeds. Swarms of swerving, oblivious mopeds.
This airline is utter crap. Having more flexibility in price and time by driving to Houston from San Antonio, we had originally plotted a course directly to Cozumel from my hometown. American Airlines then schedules a layover in Fort Worth on both trips, costing us alternating amounts of hassle and patience. Two of the four airplanes leaked fluid on us from the air conditioning jets, and no amount of angling, dabbing, and closing of the nozzles prevented my shirt from getting drenched in basically a half cup of water…. on TWO flights mind you. Additionally, Flight#1’s plane felt like it was going to shake itself apart and even the brakes shuddered uncontrollably on a rickety plane flown by an unprofessional-sounding pilot.
In fact, that’s the word I would use to describe the whole airline because aside from 50% of the flight attendants, every person in the chain of service reps was either rude or basically begging us not to get mad at them, personally. No excuses, just “Don’t shoot the messenger”, and “I’m not the one doing this”. Every flight was delayed anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours, and we were forced to dash to our Flight#2 from Fort Worth since it departed not 15 minutes after we landed from the previous. Flight#3 was eneventful (still late and blaming it on catering services in Cozumel), but a hellish 2.5 hour cattle-call through customs and baggage at a mismanaged Fort Worth soured me that day (there was almost a riot). The funny thing is, I would have been completely okay with American Airlines’ shenanigans if they hadn’t jerked us around regarding information and last-minute alterations. The website did not match the desk times which didn’t match the departures list and we were NEVER notified of gate changes. Fuck Fort Worth’s stupid-ass Customs/Baggage processing and fuck American Airlines.
Historically, the pilgrims were also strip-searched at Plymouth Rock.
The Bottom Line
The actual vacation couldn’t have gone better. Thanks to Suelynn, we cobbled together an experience that was so cheap that the “timeshare” guy made several jokes about how little he could offer us, his sales pitch falling notably flat. The hotel was reportedly one of the best on the island and indeed the complimentary services were top-notch. All but two of the staff were super-friendly and little things like maid-made towel “origami”, and even a suprise bottle of champagne with chocolate strawberries were memorable personal touches. No matter the petty grievances I can muster, nothing can be done beyond how this hotel fought a losing war against pests (winged and snobby, alike), so I truly have nothing to complain about. The accomodations and inclusiveness outshined my expectations and I would gladly go again.
Alcoholics, spendthrifts, and thrill-seekers alike will find great pleasure in Cozumel, which is a tiny island with a lot to do. All in all, I may have burnt myself out after only four days, though five seems like the “sweet-spot” to actually begin to miss home. If lounging on the beach watching the para-gliders go by, grabbing a lean burger, then borrowing some kayaks for a quick paddle and a swim before washing off and sipping drinks on a daybed to glimpse the sunset before you scuttle over for a free show and game of pool is your thing, check it out. You don’t have to leave the hotel for any of it, though I get the impression that there is even more to discover for the adventurous.
If you don’t balk at international travel and carry only what you need, you’re all set. Be safe, do your research, and remember to laugh at the shit-heads hell-bent on ruining your flight, your sand castle, and your free breakfast buffet.
Onward, to Picture Editing! (And for a quick sandbox scenario in Tropico 4.)