When the Spanish first arrived on Isla Mujeres they were mysteriously greeted by a mass of female shaped objects. These statues were dedicated to the Mayan goddess of fertility Ixchel, and a new name was born – The Island of Women. A good story but I prefer the other more piratey one. Historically, the island was a place where pirates would leave their women for safekeeping while they went off pillaging elsewhere. To this very day it is still a popular place for men to keep their girlfriends from causing trouble in Cancun.
The south side of the island is not only quieter than North Beach, it is in my opinion far more beautiful. Punta Sur is the most Southern tip of the island and is worth a visit to see the statue dedicated to Ixchel. What better place to take your lovely girlfriend on a sunny day than to the goddess of fertility? I happily wandered about gabbing to other tourists, taking pictures and enjoying the stunning views. I posed with Ixchel but was very careful to make sure that I did not touch her, for obvious reasons. Then I thought, I know what would make a great photo, I’ll pretend to kiss her fish! Won’t that be hilariously comical. I leaned down, puckered up and accidentally licked the inside of the fish’s mouth. Yup…. that happened. I was horrified. Not only was I now more than likely with child, I had probably consumed centuries worth of seagull poop.
Ho hum. Bird shit happens. Still a lovely day evidenced in the photographs in which I am practically bursting with happiness.
This continues to be a big year for conquering my fears.
I have had many opportunities to go scuba diving. When I lived in Sharm el Sheik, the third best place to go diving in the whole world, I could have dived (for free) whenever I wanted to but I always turned it down. I love being in the water and I love snorkeling. In Sharm the coral reefs are exquisite and fascinating. They practically beg you to explore them further. I always said that for me, diving seemed like a lot of faffing about, it didn’t really appeal, it was an expensive hobby to start, and there was always something else I would rather be doing, but these were all just excuses. I didn’t want to admit it but the truth is I was frightened. Simple as that.
Logically, I don’t believe that humans are supposed to be submerged under water for long periods of time. We don’t have fins. We should only stay under water for as long as we can hold our breath. Which is not very long. The whole thing does not seem very natural, but then I guess the same thing could be said for flying in a plane. In the past I have suffered from panic attacks. Feeling like you are going to die because you can not breathe is terrifying. My panic attacks come from being an overthinking worry wart. It took time but I managed to control my panic attacks, not let them control me. If ever I started to feel breathless I would tell myself that I could not die, the worst that would happen would be a rather dramatic fainting episode. It has been years since I last had a panic attack but the memories stay with me. Perhaps this is the reason why I am not in a hurry to put myself in a position where breathing is a challenge. The fear of diving for me is all about control and trust. I would have to put my faith into equipment and those around me to keep me alive. The thought alone panics me. As much as I wanted to add scuba diving to my list of things I am freakishly good at, I was too scared to try.
When I went snorkeling with Mexico Divers I had an amazing time. That day I promised Misael that I would let him take me scuba diving sometime. I might have been frightened but a promise is a promise and I am a woman of my word. I trusted that he would not let me die. One day this summer we went to the beach, he put all the gear on me and gently pushed me into the pool. I received a quick lesson on how to use the equipment. A moment later a boat came and next thing I knew we were sailing off into the Carribean. It all happened so fast, I didn’t have a chance to think. When I jumped into the water I panicked for a second. I made a decision, I could freak out and not do it or I could put all my trust into someone else. Misael promised that he would not let anything happen to me. He held my hand as we got into the water and he never let go. For the first 3 minutes I was convinced I was going to die. All I could think about was BREATHING. Slowly, I started to calm down. I looked around me. I could see everything. It was a whole new World. You can see a lot snorkeling, but it was NOTHING compared to this. Diving I could see every detail of the beautiful coral reefs. I could see the facial expression of the towns of fish we mingled with. We swam along together exploring for far too short a time. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with diving. When you snorkel you only skim the surface of the sea, diving you get the colours to paint the whole picture. It is peaceful, under the water you don’t have to think about anything. No worries.
I loved diving and I wanted to share the experience with one of my best friends Tara. I knew she would be up for the adventure of diving for the first time. Not everyone is lucky enough to scuba dive for the first time alone with a dive expert. I was nervous that without Misael holding my hand I would panic and not be able to do it again. I didn’t need to be nervous. The Mexico Divers team took such good care of Tara and I. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I think maybe I am a natural at diving. I had a great time on my second try and I surprised myself by how confident I felt. I didn’t think about breathing, all I wanted to do was explore. I brought my camera to capture my second try. Turns out I am as graceful as a mermaid under the water, although my weird under water jazz hands and smize could do with some work. I can’t wait to get back into the water and do my diving qualifications, a thought that would have been unimaginable a few months ago.
Diving taught me not to let being frightened stop me from doing anything. If I feel scared, it is OK to admit it. Just because something seems frightening does not mean that I am not brave. It also taught me that sometimes letting go of control and trusting another person can have massive rewards. Finally, if they ever make The Little Mermaid 2: Small Island, Big Adventure, I am clearly the most obvious casting choice to play Ariel.
Mexico is ridiculously good at breakfast. Like best I ever had good.
I’ve always been a big fan of breakfast. It is obviously the best meal of the day. I have neglected breakfast this past year, you may remember about my epic struggle with The Breakfast Cockroach. At the moment however I am taking a very well deserved vacation and I have definitely been making up for lost breakfast time. I love eating almost as much as I love sleeping. I am like a new born kitten, napping all day long. It is almost embarrassing how much I like to sleep. I just really like to be cosy. Also embarrassing is how incapable I am of making my own food. Going to the supermarket, selecting from thousands of cereals, choosing milk, keeping the milk fresh, wrestling bugs out of the cereal box, finding a bowl, washing a spoon … eurgh … I need a nap just thinking about it. I just really hate to cook anything really, including cereal. Amazingly on my door step there are these places where they already have food and if you pay them and tell them what you want to eat, they will cook you a meal, bring it to you and do all the washing up afterwards. It is a genius idea. I think it could catch on.
Breakfast here can be a three course affair. Juice, coffee, chocolate milk, fruit, toast, jam and then the main meal. It took a while to get used to evening foods first thing in the morning. Should tacos and refried beans really be touching my eggs? It just works here. Breakfast fiesta magic. Unlike other countries I have visited (cough Japan cough fish soup for every meal cough cough) breakfast here is always delicious. My favourite thing is huevos rancheros. Fried eggs over tortillas covered in salsa with chips and refried beans on the side. So good. If I hadn’t just finished a giant plate of huevos mexicanos I could go for some of them right now. Mexican breakfast eliminates the need for lunch. It is simply genius.
I shared my first proper Mexican breakfast experience with a restaurant frequented mostly by iguanas. These are no ordinary iguanas. They are so big you could ride them like ponies. Clearly they have never missed a meal. I love eating in that restaurant but I do get awkwardly intimidated when the iguanas stare at me as I sip my latte and pretend not to notice. Almost as awkward as when you are walking behind an iguana and it thinks you are chasing it so it speeds up to get away and then keeps staring back at you with terrified beady little eyes so you have to slow down to give it a head start even though you are in a bit of a hurry to get somewhere … or is that just me that happens to? I swear that happens to me most days. Usually with my friendly neighborhood iguana Puppy. One of my other favorite spots has a giant puppy teddy who is so cute yet oh so sad looking. I have been known to snuggle him for hours. There are not many things immune to my snuggling including the adorable wet puppy I shared breakfast with last week.
It is only noon and I am already fantasising about tomorrows breakfast. Yummmmmmmmm……..
I have a confession to make. It’s not a secret. To anyone who knows me it’s not news. You may have already guessed. I met someone this summer. I am madly in love with him. His name is Freddy. And he is a turtle.
Our love story started like most do, with a bowl in a garden. Freddy started life as my room mate’s shy, bowl dwelling pet. After she moved out I became his dedicated carer. At first he freaked me out a little. He was so timid he literally never came out of his shell. His neck skin looked like a polo neck and he smelled bad. No matter how much I cleaned his tank it always stank. At least once a day I was convinced he was dead. He was rubbish at playing games with and even worse at cuddling. The only thing Freddy seemed to be good at was pooping. My little turtle has had a lot of tragedy in his life. He used to have a best friend, a life partner, who one night mysteriously disappeared. He might have been taken by a bird or the more popular theory is he is actually a ninja who star jumped out of his bowl and into a life as a stunt extra in Kung Fu movies. This broke Freddy. I would look at him crammed in his tiny bowl, not moving, not eating. It broke my heart. Little guys like Freddy should not be living as forgotten pets in tiny little bowls slowly waiting to die. He should be out in the wild loving his life. Freddy was so little and shy though, I had the feeling he wouldn’t last long if I set him loose somewhere in the Cancun wilderness. He was domesticated.
In my garden I had a small paddling pool. Unused because the water resembled Shrek’s swamp and I didn’t have the time or skills to clean it out. I consulted with a pirate and we decided that it was in Freddy’s best interests to move him to the paddling pool. I was concerned that the water was too dirty but the pirate said the algae was the best thing for him. In fact his face was getting sore from being kept in tap water and this swamp water would heal him. I wanted Freddy’s new condo to be as comfortable as possible for him before he moved in. I made him his own island in the pool with a slide for easy access. I strategically placed some of the palm trees from his old crib in the pool, to help him feel more at home. I sprinkled in a little turtle food. The place was palatial, if Freddy didn’t like it I would move in. On moving day I knew how a parent feels moving their only child from a cot into a bed for the first time. MOVE THAT BUS. I plopped Freddy in his new pad and sat next to him, ready to rescue him in an instant if he needed me. He was in his usual head in shell pose until he realised he was not in his bowl jail. Slowly he peeked his head out. Freddy’s face is permanently set to Hate My Life but I could tell that he was moved by the trouble I had gone to making his plush new surroundings. He forgot all about his tragic beginnings and started swimming around exploring every inch of it. It was beautiful to watch. Mummy’s very own Esther Williams.
Every day Freddy got bigger and bigger. His little feet in particular were growing at an alarming rate. His sore red skin cleared up and he was now a glorious glowing shade of green. He loved his new house. He would swim all day long and then chill on his own paradise island. I got in the habit of taking him for a walk every day. We would stroll around the garden and chat about our days. With each walk he would grow in confidence. When I picked him up now long gone were the days of him hiding in his shell. He would stick his grumpy little face out and look at me right in the eye. He liked getting high fives. He started recognizing my voice. The days of crying because I thought he was dead were over. He was happy. I loved this little guy and the special time we got to spend together. I got the suspicion that I maybe needed Freddy as much as he needed me.
Freddy and I’s paddling pool dream came to an abrupt end. I had to move from my house to an apartment and Freddy could not come with me. Now that Freddy was a bit bigger and more confident I thought he would be ready for a new life at Crococun Zoo. He would be in a big pool there, with lots of other turtles. I’m sure he would be happy there. He would have a great time. But I couldn’t do it. When I picked him up and he wriggled away happily in my fingers I knew I was not ready to say goodbye. I loved this little guy. Pirate saved the day. In his garden on Isla Mujeres he had a water feature with several very happy little turtles. He assured me Freddy would like it there. I was nervous. What if the other turtles didn’t like him? What if they thought he was some playboy just because he was from Cancun? Freddy is far from a pimp. He has a sensitive soul. He had grown up loads but he was still shy around strangers. What if he didn’t like the water feature? He was living the good life in his private bachelor pad in Cancun. Frankly, to him this new home was a bit of a downgrade. But I knew Freddy needed friends. On the island he would be safe and I could go see him anytime he wanted. It was decided. Freddy was moving to Isla Mujeres.
Unlike me, Freddy doesn’t have any stuff so moving him to the Island was not a problem. Freddy didn’t have the most luxurious journey to the island. He went in a solo red cup on the ferry in Pirate’s pocket. Apparently not only did he keep trying to jump out the cup but Pirate found himself sitting next to a gentleman from The Turtle Protection Society. Luckily they both made it to the Island in one piece.
I could not wait to go to Freddy’s Casa and catch up on all his gossip. I was a little nervous. If he wasn’t happy he would be coming back to Cancun with me. When I seen Freddy in his beautiful little fairytale water feature I nearly cried. There he was, swimming away with his new friends. My special little guy was all grown up. The other turtles had welcomed him with open shells. He had a girlfriend called Daisy (he was a fast mover maybe he was a bit of a pimp). Looking at Freddy that day I seen a new side of him. He was independent, confident and a little adventurer. Every time I went to see him he had grown a little bigger. When I took him for a walk he would run off and find new places to discover. He even went on a Baby Whale Shark Excursion in Pirate’s fish tank. I never took my eye off him for a second while he chased the other fishes and climbed Chichen Itza. All by himself.
Freddy is living the dream. This tiny, sad little turtle is flourishing in his new life. He will outlive us all. Or maybe, SHE will outlive us all. Turns out Freddy is probably a Frieda. To me though, he will always be Mummy’s special little adventurer.
The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau
After my lovely mini vacation I spent every day I could on Isla Mujeres. I get one day off work a week. The night before I would practically run to the ferry port to get there as soon as I possibly could. The Ultramar is every 30 minutes and it became a game to see just how quickly I could get from my apartment in downtown Cancun to the island. Basically I have superhuman powers and can get to the island in eye wateringly speedy times. Most of my days were spent chilling on the beautiful beaches. Thus began my Day Off Curse. It rained every single time I had a free day. Even if the whole 6 days previous were perfect dry sunshine it would rain like it was the end of the World as soon as my bum hit the beach. People would actually plan activities around my work schedule, ‘We wanted to go diving on Wednesday, but it is Siobhan’s day off so we had to reschedule’. I didn’t complain (much). The island is still beautiful and I always found plenty to keep myself amused. If anything thanks to those rainy days I got to do more than sit on the beach and got to know the island a little better. However, I was not happy with my lack of tannage. After a year in Mexico I was still so pale people presumed I had just arrived from Scotland 10 minutes previously.
If anything the black rain clouds gave the island a mysterious depth, a tropical gothic feel. I have one hidden place where I like to sit for hours, mesmerised by the sea. My Thinking Rocks. Hidden from the whole World I stare into the sea with its endless possibilities and plan World domination. In rare moments I have also been known to act out scenes from The Little Mermaid on these rocks. I have been told I make a very convincing Sebastian.
There is something about the island that keeps drawing me back. I never want to go to the same place twice, I want to see everywhere, but something … The island bewitched me. It wrapped me up and refused to let me go.
I’m fairly sure that Isla Mujeres is one of the most perfect places in the World to sit on the beach and not do much except get to know the local margaritas. To most people that might be paradise but I knew this little island had much more to offer me.
One of the big draws of Isla Mujeres is its unique underwater museum. In between Cancun and Isla, The Cancun Underwater Museum (MUSA) contains more than 460 statues by an English artist Jason DeCaires Taylor, as well as someworks by respected local artists. The sculptures are all made with Ph neutral clay. The museum is intended to become its own reef. A place where fish, plants and other sea life can flourish. It takes just an instant for a careless diver to destroy million of years of coral life. For every diver who visits the underwater museum that is one less diver potentially threatening established reefs. It is a fascinating concept that could resonate around the World, changing the face of underwater exploration forever.
I love snorkeling and I am a museum fanatic, a trip to the underwater museum was on top of my adventure list. The weather on my first morning was perfection. There was not a ripple on the Caribbean Sea or a cloud in Mexico. I asked the hotel manager for help in booking a snorkeling excursion. He recommended Mexico Divers I gave them a call and was impressed at how well they answered my 500 questions. I am a professional at going on excursions, I know what to ask and I like to be prepared!
I was picked up on time (shocking in Mexico) and taken to a beach club called Captain Dulche. Based around 1920 adventurers I naturally loved the place. The beautiful beach and dock area is littered with artwork everywhere you look. They have a museum dedicated to Captain Ernesto Dulche with treasures and memories from his adventures. If you are into boats, and I am, it has the largest collection of model ships in the Mexican Caribbean. I didn’t realise how influential Isla Mujeres was to the world of diving. Ramon Bravo lived here and Jacques Cousteau, the daddy of scuba diving, visited often. I enjoyed a hearty breakfast of beer and nachos and pondered how a boat came to be stranded above the bar.
I wriggled into a very sexy size large wet suit and set sail with 7 other tourists and the attentive crew. We were all welcomed warmly and made to feel instantly at home. I was the only boring one who was snorkeling rather than diving so Misael who answered my call and picked me up, had the pleasure of being my private guide. He was lovely and very patient with me. I accused him of trying to lose me several times but I am sure that he never let me out of his sight for one second. The underwater museum is incredible. I have seen some amazing fish snorkeling before but never man-made statues. There is a hidden town down there with hundreds of villagers. We seen the Dream Collector who spends his days categorizing people’s hopes and fears. We spotted the life-size Volkswagen which weighs 8 tons and has become a place for lobsters to hide out and seek shelter during tropical storms. There were a few fish to see too and I underwater squealed when I (Misael) found a starfish. We had the whole silent gallery to ourselves that day. It was beautiful and peaceful and perfect. I could have stayed under there all day. Actually, I would have been happy staying under there forever – A pirate, a mermaid and their own little secret under water world.
I have not ran a marathon, or invented a new app, or cured a disease. I have done something far more impressive. Thirteen months and 423,575 words later, I have finished Gone with the Wind. The World’s Longest Book. I’m pretty sure I am the first person to have ever done so. The fact I am so ridiculously pleased with myself suggests inside I am still the little girl proudly showing off her medal from the library for reading so many books. I feel a sense of accomplishment for persevering through it especially when it got exceptionally depressing (“Eurgh… why are they still poor?”) and one by one everyone died, but I do regret ever starting it. Never again will I feel it necessarily to read the book before watching the movie. Now, where is my medal?