This year (2015), my mom wanted to go somewhere sunny and warm for a family Christmas vacation. Back in July, when it looked like I was going to be mired in genteel unemployment for a while (how it ended up that I wasn't was a genuine surprise twist ending), Melissa and I took a quick somewhat impromptu vacation to Isla Mujeres, in Mexico (an island right off the coast of the Yucatan). Melissa - she's good at this sort of thing - thought up the idea, since it might give us a chance to see the whale sharks that we managed to miss when we were in Belize back in 2010. It worked!
It was a good decision, all told!
We had some bumps leading up to the trip. Less than a week before, the place we were planning to stay told us, "oh, oops, we're having renovations, you can't stay here." This was actually a really stressful and frustrating situation, but I'm mostly going to pass over it here. We ended up in a new house that wasn't ideal, but was fine.
The first day was mostly travel, including a trip across the sound on a high-speed ferry. M, Ruth, and I flew down with my parents, while David and Meli came separately from NYC. We were a bit worried about the ferry - neither of my folks like boats, but everyone made it across fine.
We met at one of M's and my favorite restaurants from our previous stay for Thanksgiving Dinner with David and Meli that first night, Reuben's. I wish I'd thought to get a picture of the whole family!
The next morning, we took advantage of the fact that our new place's less-central location had one virtue, which was that it was walking distance to another good eating spot, Mango Cafe. So we walked over for breakfast. Ruth had the long-promised coconut French toast, and my Dad, of course, had a photo in front of license plates.
We spent the rest of the day hanging out up near North Beach (and David and Meli's hotel), just kind of hanging out on the beach (I am the only person in the family for whom beaches are not an extremely exciting attraction in and of themselves). Ruth was also happy to find people selling green coconuts to drink out of, "like in Ghana."
Ruth also decided that what she wanted more than anything else was an icon of the Virgin Mary to hang on her wall. So she and I went around browsing the many options in that regard, and found a nice one (not pictured) at a family-owned ceramics shop that M and I had bought some gifts at last time around.
Day three we went down to Garrafon de Castilla, which is a great little beach where there are more fish to be seen than in the North. On the way, we stopped at the small, but very nice Tortugranja sea turtle sanctuary. Ruth especially liked the pool full of newborns.
Garrafon was Ruth's first time using her snorkel outside of a pool, and we wanted to see how she liked it. She liked it! She and I spent more or less the entire day (only taking time off for me to rest) swimming out to different points and looking at fish. The water was pretty murky, and most of what we saw were Sergeant Major fish (the "pigeons of the sea"). But Ruth was absolutely entralled. And energetic! I had to "tow" her a few times, but she mostly swam herself, even through waves and into some pretty deep water (and, at Garrafon, without a life vest or other flotation device). I got some photos, but between the murk and the glare from the sun, if we ever go back I'm going to save up for a camera with an optical viewfinder, and not just the digital screen, as a lot of this was just waving the camera in the general direction of something interesting and hoping for the best (the same for the photos from the next day).
Ruth enjoyed swimming around off the beach at Garrafon enough that we arranged the next day to take a trip out to one of the reefs for a "real" snorkeling trip.
Our first stop was the Lighthouse Reef. Out in the deeper water, the waves were more intense, but Ruth proved herself a very strong swimmer. We had a blast swimming around and pointing out cool fish to each other.
The original plan was that we would sign up for the short, two-hour trip just out to the reef, then back in for lunch. David and Meli had planned to go on the longer trip, including a second swim at the underwater museum, Musa. We would have gone together, but for that divergence in plans. However, wires seemed to have gotten crossed at some point, as we found ourselves, before we realized the mistake, jetting off toward Musa.
Ruth made a new friend, a nine-year-old named Ella, on the boat over. She was from Las Vegas, but apparently she and her mother had spent a few months in the area, with her dad visiting when he could, and had just bought a place nearby on the mainland.
The waves at Musa were pretty intense, since it's in even deeper water. We did get to see a sea turtle, though!
The swimming at Musa was tough. I'd already been and, honestly, I probably wouldn't have gone again for myself as a snorkeler, since the statues are pretty deep (the really impressive views on the website and video linked above require scuba gear). But Ruth thought it was pretty cool, and she and Ella were troopers. We made a sort of makeshift flotilla, with Ella and Ruth holding hands in the middle, and Ella's dad and I on each end, holding our daughter's hand and helping to pull the whole arrangement through what were, I think, about 4-8' swells.
At the beach, Ruth and Ella hung out while I drank a ridiculously large Sol and chatted with her parents, and some folks who turned out to be from Baltimore.
Then we had lunch. Playa Tiburon (Shark Beach) has a sort of communal grilling/cooking area that all the boat trips (there's a union) seem to use, and the guys let Ruth and Ella watch them cook some fish they caught while we were snorkeling (I didn't think to get a photo - I was honestly pretty exhausted). Ruth managed to convince Ella to try some of the fish, and demanded that we make it when we get home (we did - fortunately, achiote paste and banana leaves are pretty easy to get around here - but it wasn't as good baked as cooked on an open grill, and when it wasn't caught three minutes before we ate it).
Ruth and I returned home, bone-tired but having had a fantastic day, and met up with the family for (more) fish at Abuela's. As it turns out, wires had gotten crossed the other way on David and Meli's trip, and so they ended up on the short trip that we'd planned to be on. Oh well...
We started out the fourth day by shell-picking along the Eastern sea wall. The finds weren't as good as when we'd been there before, but it was nice hanging out with Ruth and M.
We did find a neat little tidal pool full of baby Sergeant Major fish (they're hard to see in this photo).
We spent the rest of the day hanging out at Playa Norte again. And then, our last day, we had one last breakfast at Mango Cafe, then home.