Sunday, May 4, 2014

Isla Mujeres: Lose Yourself

 
Gus' and Joan's Panama Hats just kickin it

Welcome to "paradise." Where everything moves slowly. Where it is all about blue sky breezes, and stunning views. Splashes of “happy” color, friendly people, and few or no worries.

All giving meaning to that Jimmy Buffett quote so popular in the Caribbean: “When you lose yourself, you find the key to paradise.

We arrived on the sleepy little island, by catamaran, mid afternoon. Arrangements had been made to stay 3 nights at Hotel Villa Rolandi. We checked in and were shown to room 307 on the top floor. 
Ocean View Junior Suite
with private terrace, outdoor hot tub, and living area.

The hotel features only 35 ocean front suites. Once played host to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife; it is rumored that the rock group U2 once rented the entire resort. We unpacked, changed and went down to the beach. On the way to the beach we passed by ... 
Raspberry red Bougainvillea, Plumeria, and yellow Hibiscus
among palm trees and other tropical flora landscaping the resort
No sooner had we picked out our lounge chairs that we were greeted by the beach attendant with beach towels and a request of "what can I get you to drink?"

Two margaritas, reading, then two more with maybe a nap somewhere in between ... it was time for dinner.
 
Tonight's dinner was "on property" at Casa Rolandi. With delight, we found the food and service to be exceptional. Gus "crushed" a dish of octopus and Joan enjoyed most of two lobster tails ... all washed down with a wonderful Pinot Grigio.
 
The next morning ...

Breakfast at Casa Rolandi.
On the left, Gus' chilaquiles (considered to be Mexican comfort food and often
 touted as a hangover cure) and on the right, Joan's scrambled eggs with lobster
 (leftover from dinner the night before)

Finishing breakfast we returned to our room and made ourselves ready for our day ahead. First things first, we picked up our keys for our electric golf cart. Next, well next was unknown ... we were just going to wander the island and let what happen, happen.

In our vanilla beige carrito de golf we headed southeast on Carretera Sac Bajo. On our left was a mangrove lined lagoon.
Makax Lagoon is the best known hurricane hole in the NW Caribbean.
 It’s surrounded in mangroves and raised limestone road beds.
On our right was ocean front house, after house, after hotel, after house ...

 
 
 
 
 ... at a traffic round-about we turned and headed north toward the windward side of the island, the east side - the salty side.
Caribbean Sea
with a strong surf and a rocky coastline

Continuing north we passed to the east of El Centro (downtown), then through downtown, and on to the famous beach called Playa Norte. (No. 10 of the Top 25 Beaches in the World -Travel Advisor 2014)
 
Payo Obispo
Avenida Juárez, Centro - Supmza
Southern section of Avenida Rueda Medina
Just a bit beyond the moped is one of the many topes, or speed bumps which are scattered all around the island. Don't be surprised ... one definitely feels it in a golf cart.

¡Vaya! Playa Norte certainly deserves the recognion as one of the top beaches in the world.
Playa Norte
  It has shallow turquoise waters, stunning soft white sand, and is lined with
 palm trees. This is where the majority of travelers will spend their beach
 time so it can get crowded during peak season.


Yes, indeed!
We turned south with the new destination goal of Punta Sur, the southern tip of the island.  
 



Mayan Goddess Ixchel
She is the Goddess of the moon, also known as the
 wife of the sun, with fertility and healing powers.  For
 centuries, Mayan women came to Isla Mujeres on yearly
 pilgrimages to seek her help.

Iguanas are a common sight on the island, especially at Punta Sur.
 
We paid $30 pesos to enter and explore a series of paved trails that led through a sculpture garden, past a Mayan temple, and down to the very edge of the ocean. 
 

Punta Sur Sculpture Garden 
The Sebastian Foundation, along with 23 artists from Mexico and around the world, created this exhibit for Isla Mujeres in 2001. Famous sculptors such as Jose Luis Cuevas used modern shapes and bright hues to interpret the legendary spirit of the Mayan. This kaleidoscopic outdoor art exhibit could stand alone in its allure, but with the sky, the cliff and the Caribbean Sea as its backdrop, it becomes a uniquely impressive garden of art.

 

 

 
Reaching the end of the sculpture garden we came to a lofty bluff overlooking the sea ...
 
Mayan Temple of the Goddess Ixchel
Archaeologists believe it was dedicated to the goddess Ixchel. It is
 believed that Maya women traveled here on annual pilgrimages to
 seek Ixchel's blessings of fertility.
A number of Maya structures once populated the site, including observatories, lighthouses and places of worship. Now only remnants of Ixchel’s Temple can be found,  Unfortunately, in 1988 Hurricane Gilbert caused extensive damage, leaving most of the foundation but only a very small portion of the temple. The entry fee to the park is used to maintain the sculpture garden and not the temple.
 

 
The bluff is the eastern most point in Mexico and consequently is the first place that sunlight touches in the morning. Many New Year's Eve revelers trek to this spot to be the first to toast the sunrise on January 1st before heading for home.
 
 
 
 
 
From the bluff we took steps leading down the Acantilado del Amanecer or "Cliff o the Dawn" to nearly the ocean's edge.  The views were extraordinary.
 
Gus at the bottom of the steps, on the left, and Joan literally at the demarcation between
 the Caribbean Sea and the sea between Isala Mujeres and Cancun, on the right.
  
Baño del Rey or "The King’s Bath"
  The pool is huge, circular, almost completely surrounded by a rock
 wall tall enough to break the force of the waves but low enough to
 leave an unobstructed view. The water gently slopes to about a six
 foot depth of crystal clarity.
 
   Baño del Rey
View of the north (left) and south (right) sides when a wave has just filled the "tub" to over-flowing
 
West side of the promontory with its rocky coast and spectacular
 turquoise water
 
The walkway designers managed to make it feel like you're standing in the middle of the wild ocean. It's humbling and beautiful.

On our drive back to the hotel we passed by two very unique houses ...
The Conch Shell House
Featured on an episode of HGTV's Extreme Homes. It is the most
 unique house on the island, built in the shape of a giant conch shell.
 The owner is artist, Octavio Ocampo. Octavio's brother, Euardo
 Ocampo, designed and constructed the home; it’s available as a vacation
 rental through Air BnB.

Owned and built by eccentric Richart "Rishi" Sowa. The island and the house that stands on it are made from natural and recycled materials. Over 150,000 discarded plastic bottles were used for the base. The island is about 70 ft. in diameter with a small beach, a house, a pond, a waterfall and river, with all the energy provided by solar panels. The various plants and mangroves growing on the man-made island make it a small jungle. Sowa continues to make improvements so it will always be a work of art in progress.
 
Back at the hotel, having circumnavigated the island ... another afternoon of intoxicating relaxation. Rather than the beach, today we decided to lay by the pool. It was clear that, each afternoon, we settling into a seductively slow island rhythm. "Buenas tardes señor, yo quiero dos margaritas, por favor."
 
Dinner tonight was back to El Centro (downtown).  We wanted to eat on the waterfront and we were told about a place where you take off your shoes/sandals/flip flops and feel the sand between your toes ... Mininos Coctelería (cocktail bar). This no-frills spot that serves fresh ceviche (shrimp, octopus, conch, or mixed varieties) or fish simply grilled.  
 

On the left, Gus and our carrito de golf and on the right, chica belleza. 


Like true Islenos, Joan and Gus sitting in plastic chairs, at a plastic table,
 and having just been served two huge margaritas. Don't worry, we have
 our toes wiggling in the soft, white sand.

As the sun descended, we were prepared for a remarkable light show ...
... as the sun melted slowly into the horizon.


We finished dinner around 9:00 p.m. and the temperature outside was still in the high 70s with a gently stirring of a breeze which made for a comfortable ride back to the hotel.
 
Like Gus said, island rhythm. Slow morning, breakfast, laying by the pool, in to town for 80 minute massages at The Mayan Spa, followed by a bit of shopping ...Joan bought a beautiful pair of earrings. Back to the hotel and bit more hanging out at the pool.
 
Dinner tonight was a bit different. Gus had arranged for a private dinner at the home of Lolo Lorena. We were to show up at 6:00 for dinner at 7:00 p.m. Arriving on time, we introduced ourselves, took a brief tour, then hung out in the kitchen (each with a glass of champagne rosé) while she ran through what she was going to cook for us. 

Lolo and her "Girl 24/7," on the left. On the right, the other essential team member.
 
Bisou or "Kiss"
Lolo's favorite cat!
 
Dining area in Lolo's funky and whimsical courtyard.
On the left, our talented server and on the right, a very happy Gus.

Colorful table setting for Gus and Joan

Lolo, the chef/owner who is French, has lived on Isla for twenty years. Her kitchen is an artist's
studio where wonderful dishes are created from a palate of fresh and simple ingredients.

The argument has been made that Lolo Lorena is one of the best restaurants on Isla Mujeres. It is certainly the most interesting. Serving a set menu that changes nightly is nothing new, but when you add the eclectic setting, the ability to bring your own wine without a corkage fee, and the high quality of the food, this is the place for serious eaters.
We had a six course dinner - beet carpaccio, zucchini soup, risotto, Thai shrimp, lobster, and a dessert assortment - artfully prepared and skillfully served. 
 
We arose the next morning, packed, went downstairs and had breakfast. Today we were to continue the next leg of Latin Tour 2014. We checked out and boarded Villa Rolandi's catamaran, The Cocoon I for the 30 minute trip to Cancun.

Villa Rolandi
¡Adios!

 Makax Lagoon, on the left and the Carribean Sea on the right

Arriving at Cancun
Disembarking, we were quickly on our way to Cancún International Airport and boarding flight CU 153 to Havana, Cuba.