Today was going to be a pretty easy day. We had dinner reservations lined up for the evening, and we had a 10:00 van to catch for a boat ride out to Cozumel for some swimming and a nice lunch. Even with the later start, it was a struggle to get everyone going to catch a 10:00 shuttle and eat breakfast without rushing. We got to the buffet by 9:30. Fortunately i straight up lied to everyone and the actual shuttle came at 10:20. Now we could eat in peace.
Breakfast was good. each of the buffets are almost the same, just little differences – one has a smoothie bar, this one had a better Nespresso machine for coffee. No matter what i keep getting some French Toast since the Mexican Cinnamon is epic. We went out front and only waited a short bit until our van arrived. Inside we were surprised to find the Spanish couple from yesterday’s tour! This was their last day and they booked the same cruise we did as a fancy going away present for themselves. We got on board and chatted a bit while the driver hit the freeway.
It was a pretty quick drive up to Playa del Carmen, the van pulled into town and stopped at the tourist mall in front of the ferry pier. I wasn’t sure if we were catching the ferry or another boat. The driver waved us at one of the tourist shops. We were lucky to have the Spanish couple since they started peppering him with questions and found out that the tour desk was up the escalators. We went up and were given our ferry passes – so no private boat, fine. We also were given stickers to wear to tell which group we were in for the guide at the other dock.
She then sent us downstairs to wait a few minutes and said she would join us to bring the group to the ferry dock. That turned into another 30 minutes wait. Yulia got a hat and some bug bite medicine. Mostly we just wandered about waiting for the next thing. Our guide eventually came down and gathered a large group of us together, and we started walking to the ferry dock. Our friends noted that this whole mall by the ferry dock was filled with Spanish shops. We didn’t recognize anything but for them it was like being in Madrid. It was really nice and we figured we could return here later in the week.
The ferry terminal was big and busy – there were lots of taxis arriving with tourist carrying full luggage from the airport. So this seemed to be the only ferry to and from Cozumel. I could look out the pier and see the ferry – it was pretty big. We waited again in line for a while and eventually the line moved for boarding. We got on and headed up to the upper deck. we found pretty good seats and I grabbed a beer from the vendor as he passed. It was already past noon – so this was lunch. It took some time to load the ferry, I was watching down the dock and was pleased once they pulled the gangways down and started on the lines.
The ferry pulled away from the pier and headed across the channel. It moved pretty fast, but the water wasn’t super smooth so it took us a while to make it to the island. We were looking at our watches now – for something that was described as a quick swimming tour we were already close to 1:00 in the afternoon and still trying to get there.
This was an Omen.
At the Cozumel dock we left the ferry and found some other tourists with the same stickers. We herded together and found a guide waving at us on the far side of the pier. He gathered all the matching sticker people together and had us follow him back into the pier and onto the marina docks attached to it. I had noticed these docks when we came in – as a boater, I’m kind of conditioned to always look for a landing. I also noticed that the docks were all empty. All except a small metal covered skiff out on the last dock. My vacation Spidey sense was telling me that this wasn’t the ride to a larger boat. But I went along.
The whole group loaded into the boat, it was just seats around the sides, with vests hanging from a net in the hard cover. Big drink containers were strapped down in the center and a door towards the front had faded letters that once said “Bano”. It had a real Jungle Cruise vibe – but I didn’t think we were going to Schweitzer Falls (Named for Dr. Falls). Once we were all packed in, they crew cast off and explained that we had a 45 minute drive to the reef, then a short drive to the Starfish sanctuary. We would have lunch on the beach after that, then be back for the 7pm ferry.
Seven. Pee. Em. Oh for fucks sake.
One of the families asked to go back to the dock. This was not what they paid for. We all looked at each other – no one was expecting this time table. We dropped the once family off back at the dock and everyone looked around. Our glances were a collective “Fuck it!” and the boat headed back out. The Captain was actually pretty good – he kept the pounding to a minimum, but a few big waves did crash over the sides. We all went down to bathing suits and life jackets at that point. We were not going to stay dry for the ride over. A young boy near me was getting close to puking in a bag, I gave his mom some tums for him to chew on. It helped a little. I really didn’t want to deal with a puking kid – unless we were at the reef – then it would be useful since it would attract fish. The coast of Cozumel was really beautiful. a mix of towns, jungle, and some amazing estates. The trip was spotted with waves that we didn’t hit just right, and that broke into the boat. it wasn’t a bad trip out, but again , definitely not what we expected.
We pulled up to the reef for snorkeling, We were passed out some equipment. I was handed ladies fins and children’s goggles. Sasha got men’s size 13 fins. A small amount of equipment trading was required apparently. We figured it out amongst ourselves, and headed to the back of the boat. We basically fell off at that point and swam over to the reef. In all honestly it was great. not at the Molokini level, but a huge reef with schools of fish that we hadn’t seen before. We saw a stingray swim past the group, and some amazing schools of blue fish swim in and out of the coral beds. It was good snorkeling, not Molokini level, but not much is. We swam along the reef, with our boat following. At the far end they picked us up and we rode a short distance to the Starfish Sanctuary. The guides reminded us to not touch anything, since it was a protected area and we dove in again. This was really different – being a wide sandy area spotted with starfish. I don’t remember seeing anything like it before so I was impressed.
We continued from there to the beach – and by beach they actually meant sandbar. We didn’t get too close to the actual shore, the boat pulled up with a big group of similar sized small boats and dropped anchor in about 3 feet of water. We all jumped out and walked around in the surf and sand as drinks and fruit were handed out, and each boat was playing music. This was really pretty cool. I don’t think we’ve done a sandbar party like this before, and we really enjoyed it with the others from our boat.
We also talked to our guide. He was really upset when we told him that the hotel completely mis-described the tour – especially since the tour was really pretty good. He said this is a problem that they have a lot – his crew doesn’t control how the tours get promoted, and wanted us to make sure to write that feedback to get it fixed. We were definitely going to do that. But right now the important thing was to just enjoy where we were.
after about an hour we loaded back up into the boat and started the drive back to the marina. This is when all the beer and rum took hold and several people were introduced to the Marine Toilet on the boat. It was in a small door in the bow, and I could see that no one knew how to properly pump or flush it, so as the boat bounced the “contents” swirled and splashed about, working their way into the bilge.
Gaze not into the Abyss indeed.
The water was a bit rougher for the ride back so we all got splashed several times again for the return trip. By the time we got back we were tired, needed a proper restroom, and covered in dried salt. Once the dock we were given the number of our return shuttle to the hotel on a sticker. I stood on the dock with a sticker of the number 8, and nothing dry enough to stick it to. I put it in my bag and it felt like the end of Sesame Street. “Today is brought to you by the Number 8 and the Letter T (for tequila)” Our guide pointed out a gift shop across the street with proper toilets so we tipped them (they did work hard despite the insanity) and ran for relief. Once we were back to a semblance of normal we had one hour left before our ferry.
I needed several drinks.
We found a bar right behind the gift shop and sat for a few tequila shots and some chips. We were too tired to shop or anything more complex than that. We decompressed in the shade of the bar and saw several of our fellow passengers, including the Spanish couple wandering about. Everyone was beat. The hour went fast and we left back to the pier to get in line. Fortunately our ferry tickets were once of the few remaining dry thigs i had, and the loading went pretty quick. We did end up on the lower level for the ride back, but at this point we didn’t care. We were tired and the trip went fast. At the dock a new guide gathered everyone and led us through the terminal to a street. Then he left. Several white vans pulled up with a number written in crayon on the window. We all looked around and found “8”. We weren’t actually sure if this was the right van so I turned to our Spanish friends and said,
“Why yes, let’s all get into an unmarked van in Mexico at night. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Everyone looked at me then our Spanish friend grilled the driver for a few minutes until he saw that the list was correct and this was the right company. I love causing a bit of panic.
The ride back was quick, and we were beat. We entered the lobby to find a huge 4th of July celebration going on. That’s right, it’s the 4th. There was a stage with rock music playing – Red, White, and Blue snacks. A burger and hot dog bar was on the side with a 12 foot Statue of Liberty. Two bars were setup and hustling. It was like viewing a vision of America through Mexican eyes – and they weren’t too damn far off. We tried to grab some food and drinks but just couldn’t last long. We were beat.
At least we have no plans for tomorrow so we can sleep in – wait, haven’t I said that before?