Just a 20-minute boat ride away from the busy Cancun will get you to a funky little island with white sand beaches and turquoise water, called la Isla Mujeres. The Mayans were first to discover it, turning it into a sanctuary to the goddess of the moon, fertility, healing, and the feminine forces of nature, hence it’s name – Woman’s Island. Although Playa del Norte beach is not the one it once was, after Hurricane Gilbert made a visit some decades ago, it still ranks in the top ten in the world.

On the way to the island, I am sitting on the rooftop of a high-speed catamaran, soaking up in the warm sunshine, and feeling the wind’s breeze on my face. A guitar player joined the scene, I ordered a cerveza (beer), and let myself be moved by the dance of the waves. “Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera” and the muchacho turned the scene into a Mexican fiesta.

El muchaho himself. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
El muchaho himself. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

He sang with passion, his pitch was low, almost heavy, so much that I couldn’t really get his second song’s story. At the end, he made it clear that he works for tips, rather than a salary. Satisfied with his performance, I’ve put some 20 pesos inside his hat.

The island is dotted with great views, architectural gems and traditional village scenes. Many  gringos come here for scuba diving, swimming with dolphins, sailing, hiking the cliff, or for taking some selfies with turtles at their farm. Also, there are plenty of remote beach areas on the island. Walk south from Playa Pescador and you’ll leave humanity behind.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

As I set foot on the island, the rush began. I was trying to escape the tour operators, as they were trying to sell me everything from Whale Shark tours, snorkeling, golf cart rentals, jewelry, to bar specials. “No gracias, amigos!” Further down the street, The Federal Mexican Police came zooming by in a jeep with a policeman holding a machine gun in the back. It was just the local regular patrol, that was supposed to keep things under control, whenever there were too many tequila shots involved.

If is Mexico, there's Corona everywhere. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
If is Mexico, there's Corona everywhere. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

At the beach, the walking vendors appeared again, pushing me into buying cotton candies, massages, you name it. I believe I was a little frustrated with them not knowing that I’m not their typical gringo. Amigos, no gracias!
Finally, I found myself a comfortable plot of sand in the shadow of a coconut tree. And soon enough I noticed I was not the only one resting.

Tranquilo, this is Mexico! Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Tranquilo, this is Mexico! Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

A hungry little guy is coming down the branch of the coconut tree for an inspection. The iguanas are such an iconic presence everywhere in Mexico that I wouldn’t have been surprised to run into one in a toilet.

The iguana returning home after lunch. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
The iguana returning home after lunch. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

The silky soft sand didn’t keep me away from the inviting turquoise of the water for much longer.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

I swam for a while, and the water level was still only chested high. I looked, I smelled, I felt; I was absorbed into the moment. As I reached the shore again, two grannies were just changing their bathing suits. The charm of Isla Mujeres took another shape…

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