Feliz Año Nuevo everyone! All the best for 2017 from sunny Mexico where we have had a great Christmas with friends in El Milagro marina and celebrated New Year with our friend Steve who flew in from the UK.
Lovely Social Area At El Milagro
It has been all too easy to relax at the marina hotel, thanks to the great staff and numerous hotel guests and cruisers. Many evenings have been spent just chilling out over a few beers whilst Felix lights the BBQs either for us to use or for him to cook us local fish and lobster. The patio area is really pretty, with tiled tables, candles and lights under the palapa. We have wifi, open air hot showers which cascade like waterfalls, a movie theatre we can run films in, an area to play table tennis, stand up paddle boards and kayaks on the beach and a small swimming pool.
It is a great place for cruisers as we can use the huge, well-equipped kitchen to prepare our meals and keep food in the big fridges and freezers. Over Christmas this was a godsend and the staff often do our washing up, clearing our plates without being asked. Hammocks are hung between the palms but a coconut did fall down near me once, so I’m cautious when the wind gets up, especially when I’m in the shower under a swaying palm tree.
There are bikes you can borrow to cycle to the huge supermarket just south of the marina or explore the mainly flat island, only half a mile wide and 5 miles long. Many places in town rent out golf carts and scooters but the red taxis only cost a few pesos anyway. For our first week we didn’t do too much, preferring to get Beyzano cleaned up and ready for Christmas. Our usual decorations were supplemented by glittery stars I bought in Guatemala and a beautiful glass heart Jeff and Di gave me. Rob used his bleached driftwood draped in blue lights as a centrepiece for the cockpit but some of our older decorations have started to deteriorate in the humidity. The boat always looks lovely and cosy at this time of year but sadly it is already time to pack them away under our berth and I hope we are able to put them up before the 20th of December this year.
Driftwood For A Caribbean Christmas
It was fitting that we had to use our passarelle again, after 5 years of being stowed on deck, as Steve obtained it for us before we set sail from the UK. It was a bit wobbly so Rob fixed a couple of lines to our dinghy davits to lift it off the dock and I added 2 handrails to make it feel safer. The water is clear and clean here but even so I prefer not to fall in. Being such a tiny marina makes it friendly and sociable, one of the reasons we chose to be dock bound for the holiday season.
A Snowman Of Course!
On Christmas Eve we went into town, as I was keen to go to the service at 2130 at the church in the main square. The church is Catholic and we arrived in time to see several baby Jesus dolls being blessed before they were placed in the empty mangers around town. We had seen several when wandering around and the town had a lot of decorations and 2 huge trees. The naval building had green lighting up the decorative mast outside, making a tree shape. Naturally the modern ferry terminal had a number of big decorations to welcome all the tourists, including the typical Mexican snowman! The music and atmosphere in the church was really upbeat and helped get us into the Christmas spirit, sadly hard to invoke in the warm climate and so far from our family but our friends are very dear to us and we support one another.
Town Sqaure & Church
We started the day with champagne and found 7 bottles of wine and 1 extra champagne whilst getting the glasses out. Merry Christmas indeed! El Milagro bought 7 turkeys and provided potato cakes and cranberry salad for Christmas dinner and we all brought side dishes and desserts. The 15 US$ charge went to the staff, a kind gesture from Eric, the owner. Around 100 people attended, including the staff and their families, so it was a good evening. We find the Americans like to eat early, starting at 1700 and then getting home before 2000, whereas the rest of us like to start at 2000! So the British contingent carried on a bit later …
I have been baking and enjoying letting Rob BBQ most nights and grateful for the huge selection of food available in the Chedraui supermarket which seems to be open round the clock, even on Christmas and New Year’s Day. The restaurants in town cater for the large number of tourists, with many different nationalities represented so we have been spoilt for choice. El Patio has been a favourite and we decided to go there on New Year’s Eve, quite late as we had heard the fireworks and party didn’t start in the town square until midnight and went on until dawn. The set menu was a bit pricey in US dollars but if you pay in pesos it is much cheaper. They have live music and a pretty upstairs area with lighting in the trees.
Old Year’s Eve
Cocktails are based on the Mexican drink, tequila but the strengths vary considerably. In the Soggy Peso, almost next door to the marina, you should only have a single margarita or suffer the consequences! Their nachos are great though and each evening they offer a different meal, lobster tacos is one we intend trying. There are Cuban bars with salsa dancing classes during the day, several Italian restaurants and a few Mexican establishments but mainly they sell burritos, tacos and quesadillas, food most of us know already. We haven’t yet found anything local that is unusual but we’ll go south, away from the tourist area and hope to eat something more typical.
Just 3 days after Christmas, Steve arrived but had a trying few hours in the busy airport before he arrived in Isla Mujeres. A pre-booked taxi helped but the traffic in Cancun was manic too and he was glad to arrive on the boat and get a drink in hand. We had delayed exploring too much until he arrived so after a couple of days to recover we planned his stay. New Year’s Eve was a big event and sure enough the town was packed with people wanting to welcome 2017 in style. The fireworks were spectacular and the band got everyone in the party mood. I believe it is televised.
War Games For Real – Playing Court With Hoop On The Wall Below Viewing Area
Steve was keen to see Chichen Itza, the Mayan site about 2 hours away and also do some fishing with a professional crew, i.e. not us. We have caught tuna and Dorado before but only by pure luck, so a lesson and a few tips was also on our agenda and we booked a boat for 6 of us for 5 hours and asked Felix to ready the BBQ.
We visited Chichen Itza with a tour operator booked on Isla but it was a long day, starting on the 0630 ferry to Cancun to be met by minibus for a transfer to the bigger bus. Both were air-conditioned and we happily waited at a Starbucks for the entire group to assemble. There is good coffee in Mexico and good chocolate to go with it. The day’s tour was great value, for less than 40 pounds each we had a buffet lunch, visited a craft market, swam in a sinkhole (Sevla Maya), had 2.5 hours at Chichen Itza and a quick stop at the colonial city of Valladolid, complete with chocolate shop. All we needed to buy was drinks and pay the tips.
Stone Statue Waiting For Human Sacrifices
Having visited Tikal in Guatemala, we have to compare the 2 Mayan sites and Tikal is really on a different level. If you can get to Tikal, please do, it would be the experience of a lifetime. There you can feel the history as you climb amongst the buildings, marvel at the temple tops peeping through the forest canopy as you literally sit on top of the Mayan world on Temple IV and you can climb them at sunrise or sunset. We walked along the roads they did and apart from a vendor or two at the entrance, it was peaceful inside the huge park, full of birds and animals we had never seen. With fewer visitors it was a personal and magical experience, one I will never forget. Chichen Itza on the other hand was mobbed with tourists; chock full of vendors and everything is roped off. Our guide was brilliant though, very enthusiastic and knowledgeable. I did ask him why Chicken Itza is one of the modern 7 wonders of the world rather than Tikal and his answer was sad in a way. Money and power: Mexico is big and was able to push harder.
Pillars All Beautifully Lined Up
We did learn a few more facts about the ancient civilization though, some contradictory to Tikal. At Chichen Itza there is a huge playing court where ball games such as lacrosse (which I incidentally played at school) were played in front of the nobility who were seated above the court. Often these games replaced ‘war’, with opposing teams taking on the responsibility of their nation. One was played with an 11 lb ball, not touched by the feet nor hands but which needed to be thrown through a high hoop, seen in my photo. The losers would beg for their lives to be taken, as they could not go home in disgrace but apparently warriors were treated well, not sacrificed wantonly in Mexico. They did sometimes sacrifice an individual, cutting his heart out in 5-8 seconds whilst he was laid facing up across the statue shown in another of my photos. The best warriors were the superstars of their day, given expensive headdresses and jewels to wear, even the King’s own belongings.
Somewhere Cool To Swim But With Mandatory Lifejackets!
Due to having many serpent statues decorating the Mayan buildings, the catholic Spanish invaders thought this signified devil worship and conflict ensued. The Mayan calendar is very accurate and they were great intellectuals. Chichen Itza consists of one temple inside another; the smaller has 65 steps on 4 sides denoting the ‘woman’ calendar whilst the other has 91 steps plus one on the top denoting the ‘man’ calendar of 365 days. The pillars we saw held up a 2-storey building and they had beautiful plazas, markets and administrative buildings, all brightly painted. The first ruler of Chichen Itza was a woman but only men were warriors.
The craft market was naturally full of local items such as statues the priest would bless, silver jewellery spelling your name in Mayan letters, textiles and carvings. It wasn’t over pushy but try to pay half the initial asking price if you are OK with bartering, as this seems the norm here. If you start to walk away, the price drops again to a reasonable rate. Usually reserved about this kind of thing, we have become adept lately, getting prices down from a ridiculous 800 pesos to 200 for some items. Lunch was good, a buffet of salads, tender pork tortillas, chicken, pasta and potato. Dancers put on a display of balancing trays of drink on their heads for tips. Everyone wanted a tip wherever we went but as our immigration officer also asked us for one when we arrived, guess it’s the usual practice.
Jeff and Di swam in the cold waters of the cenote or sinkhole but it was getting late by then and we didn’t bother. 2 of our group didn’t get back to our bus at the temple so we lost half an hour waiting for them before we left them behind to get another bus run by the same company who delivered them to the sinkhole. This meant we only had 15 minutes in the city, Valladolid, a great shame as we didn’t get time to see inside the beautiful church.
Dancers In Traditional Mayan Dress
The minibus picked the Isla Mujeres passengers up from the big bus and we caught the 2130 ferry back. Hungry, we stopped at Sardinian Smile in town, for a meal, one of the best we’ve had here with great service and delicious food. Steve’s shrimp ravioli in asparagus sauce looked amazing, pity I didn’t order it. We finally got to the boat around midnight, a very long day but an interesting one, especially for Steve.
Some Of Our Catch!
Despite being tired, we were off again the following morning for our fishing trip, along with Jeff and Di from Horizons and Mike from Tomorrow’s Dawn. The boat had a cabin, shower and 2 decks but it wasn’t the most modern boat in the harbour. It cost us 640 US$ to hire and could take 8 in theory, although that would have been a squeeze. Julio worked hard all day, rigging the lines and helping us catch 2 big red snapper, a huge barracuda, 3 trigger fish, bonito and mackerel. It was fascinating to see how they spread out the 5 lines and used a 10 lb weight to do the deep fishing at around 200 feet. We used some of our catch as live bait and the 5 hours went by very quickly. They dropped us back to the marina dock, along with our catch that Felix left in marinade and cooked for us in the evening. Delicious. The rest of the fish is now in the big freezer for our next BBQ night.
Di & I Battling For Our Catch
Tomorrow we are hiring a golf cart to see the rest of this little island and plan Steve’s final week. Our friends Jo and Liz arrive the following week, bringing in a new engine water pump and Steve brought a domestic water system pump last week. Plenty for Rob to do once our friends return home, including replacing our masthead anchoring light. In the meantime we’ll make the best of relaxing on this lovely holiday island.
Julio Setting Up The Rods