20 February 2017

Quintana Roo 1980s

Nostalgic throwback. Going south to break up the winter in the 1980s was to return over and over again to the Mexican province of Quintana Roo on the Caribbean Sea. It was then that the Mexican government was beginning a concerted effort to create a desirable new destination for snowbirds. Today ... it seems to be re-christened the Mayan Riviera. I can tell the new version has the difference of a generation of investment more resorts, more population, more urbane, and more tourists what it's all about, naturally.

Our first visit was to the fledgling resort complex of Cancun, under construction on an extensive sandbar next to the small town. A handful of hotels were open for business ... hotels that made much of their beaches and dispensed slightly chaotic gaiety in their newness. I have no photos of our then low-rise hotel but above shows the topography, probably late 1970s, in comparison with today's dozens of enormous resort hotels.
We could walk or take a quick taxi to the town where a few casual restaurants offered meals and sometimes spontaneous music. Not many hotel guests seemed to venture that way; local diners far outnumbered any gringos who might amble by. 

With a rented car we could explore the coast, visiting the deserted, idyllic bay at Akumal, the (then) neglected majesty of Tulum, the fishing village of Puerto del Carmen. A boat trip to snorkel on Isla Mujeres; ouch, a lesson in great caution when entry to the sea involves crossing a bit of razor-sharp coral. Not to forget Chichen Itza, the magnificent Mayan city re-emerging from centuries of sleep. We even navigated to the old colonial city of Mérida (beyond Quintana Roo), hours of sometimes impossible roads. Where are all those photographs?!

It was all warm and fascinating and exotic but we learned to love snorkelling and had not found the right place.

Then we did. The island of COZUMEL. Across the strait from Cancun. It was already known as a world favourite for diving in its miles of coral reefs. Direct flights were available from Canada. Seeing the brilliant turquoise waters from the airplane window on arrival every time was a trigger for joy and anticipation.
The right place was where you walked out your hotel room immediately into the sand to the water's edge. El Presidente Hotel was it, one of the few then situated right on a beach. Er, remembering to carefully clamber down the coral ledge to the water, that is. The entire island is coral with a sand cover. Being scuba divers' heaven, it's also paradise for snorkellers.

Here there was no sense of inhabiting an artificial construct. No effort at infrastructure "improvement." The little town of San Miguel was still basically a fishing village happy to accommodate divers and the occasional afternoon of cruise ship passengers. Our first stop would be for tacos and queso fundido at the cafe on the plaza, spurning the earnest attempts to reproduce norteamericano hamburgers or pizza. This almost always seemed to ensure our stomachs would process any unfriendly bacteria the sooner the better. Acclimatizing included lazily watching the marine activity, a regular habit between visits to our own waterworld.

San Miguel was relaxing and fun in a low key way after a sunburned day. Gringos were accepted in a friendly, unpretentious ambiance.

Motor scooters were a popular way to get around, probably still are. Tried it for a while, but circumnavigating the island was best by car. Till the road ran out. Gorgeous isolated beaches everywhere. Occasional evidence of scuba activity: a small pile of belongings on a beach. Finding ruins in the jungle. Wildlife.
Well, the pigs weren't exactly wild, but the turkeys were

One thing led to another over time and ... scuba lessons, ultimately.

Yours truly chickened out at that stage, sticking to snorkelling. I learned scuba at an earlier age from a Great Lakes salvage diver but sustaining oneself in a submerged environment was a bit too much for me. On the surface is fine, just fine, thank you.

Warm memories can never be duplicated at a later date; time and circumstance dictate otherwise. They are best hauled out, dusted off, revived for a smile, and gently stored away for another time.

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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