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Isla Mujeres, Mexico-Feb 09 trip report!

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    Isla Mujeres, Mexico-Feb 09 trip report!

    My friend Jill and I recently got back from a week in Isla Mujeres, Mexico. Isla Mujeres means "Island of the Women". When Spanish conquistadors discovered it, it was littered with stone figures of women, presumably fertility idols.

    Isla is 8 miles off the coast of Cancun, a 30 minute, $3 ferry ride. It is around 30 miles from Cozumel, which was also an ancient Mayan fertility worshiping spot. Isla is much smaller than Cozumel, only 1/2 mile wide by 4 miles long. It's not overly developed. They seem to reserve clubs, discos and high rises for Cancun. Things on Isla are built for hurricanes. Concrete structures with bamboo/thatch roofs.

    Jill and I have had our eyes on this island for years. In the past, it was just too expensive for us to visit. The crap economy in both Mexico and the US really helped, as did the drug wars that have tourists afraid to visit Mexico right now.

    One of my jobs in our friendship is to scope out cheap vacations. My best score was a week in Paris, including airfare and lodging, for $492. But that was the 90's, this is not. Bagging airfare, a week's lodging at a 4 star hotel and full Mexican breakfast, in Isla, for $800 each was an excellent price, so we jumped on it!

    Our hotel was actually on a little island connectd to Isla by a wooden bridge. At the end of the bridge was a sandtrap. We could only escape by taxi, as none of this was wheelchair friendly. So we dropped a few bucks each night on a taxi, to get to town and eat and hang out. Hidalgo Street is blocked off from cars, There are tables in the streets, so I didn't have to contend with the 3 steps up into every business. (They're at sea level in hurricane country-the steps make sense.)

    We took all our dive gear, but never went diving! The cardinal rule of scuba is, you don't do it if you aren't feeling well. Jill is a realtor in Santa Fe. She's still doing ok with sales but the economy is taking its toll. She had what I call "Realtor's Stomach". Also, the dive boats are like wide canoes with double outboard motors. Getting me into a wetsuit on those boats was going to be tough, to put it mildly. So we just beached, ate, read, had a couple of drinks each night, toured the island, hung at the pool.

    It was Mardi Gras week, the highlight of their year in that community, I think. Every night there was some brightly colored musical and dance extravaganza at the town plaza. They had costume contests, the King and Queen and their Court, dance routines they must have practiced all year. Nobody was too old or young to take part. Islaneans top out at about 5'1". They are a short and stocky people, and they are cool with it. This is the first time in my life I could stand and see over a crowd. (I'm almost 5'5".) Their costumes are skintight, midriff baring, and in the US we wouldn't wear them unless we were swimsuit models. I enjoyed the lack of self-consciousness and body criticizing I've been programmed with. 50 year old women, who probably had 5 kids each, in skintight yellow satin do their chorus girl routine, and shake it all the way down to the ground. Chubby teen boys in white spandex pants, with flares made of aqua and yellow net, spandex turquoise shirts adorned with glittery starfish, were proud to wear the sequined seahorse head. I couldn't speak the language but watching the teens flirt, go through drama, lounge, in between dance routines-that's universal. I knew the King and Queen de la Juveniles would remember this night, and this week, forever.

    They will probably also remember Jill and me. Jill, because she is an Amazonian blond of 5'8". Me, because I had THE ONLY WHEELCHAIR IN TOWN!

    Yes, there are no wheelchairs. Where are they? Where are the Mexican SCI's? Perhaps they move to Cancun, with its modern hospital and airport. Perhaps they die? The streets were lined with 40 yr old women aiding 70 year old women, who were assisting 90 year old women. They were all going downtown to watch their kids perform. But nobody was in a chair!

    Mexico is not ADA compliant. Our hotel was 40 years old. I have photos of ramps etc., but they can't convey the terror I felt when I first encountered them. By Day 3, I was blithely unconcerned, summoning senors to push me up, and tipping them well for the trouble. (I did always keep my head tucked...just in case!) My poor wheelchair was torn down and re-assembled, to go in the tiny little cabs, umpteen times. Our first cabdriver, at the Cancun airport, tried to rip us off. Jill thought it was a wheelchair thing. Regardless, I'd done my research, and I didn't pay $75 to get to Puerto Juarez!

    Ah, Puerto Juarez. 2 ferries run every half hour, crossing the bay between Cancun and Isla. 1 people carrier, 1 car carrier. The ferry employees treated me exactly like any other luggage. Left me in my chair, turned me so my back was parallel to the floor, carried me down metal steps and into the ferry. My little Kuschall chair had about 1/2" to spare when it went in the door.

    Maybe there are no wheelchairs on Isla Mujeres because they can't fit on the ferry?

    Boats put me to sleep. They make my traveling companion nauseous. The ferry ride was a replay of a convo we've had a hundred times:

    Me: Yawn. You need a bucket?
    Jill: I'm good.
    Me: Yawn. You sure? Bucket's right here.
    Jill: Well, a bucket couldn't hurt, I guess.
    Me: Yawn. Here ya go. Puke at will. Yawn.

    The bay side of Isla is shallow, that turquoise blue color. The Caribbean side is wild and crazy, and navy blue. Nobody gets in the water on the Caribbean side. It is spectacular to look at, deadly to play in. On the bay side, people walked out 1/2 mile to get to waist deep water!

    Average age of tourists was probably 45. Maybe 75% American, 25% European. Any time you stay at a resort you develop these brief, close friendships. That part is fun. You also get ridiculously nosy about fellow resort-ers. Our resort is a destination wedding location, so we spied shamelessly on bridesmaids, brides, etc. Isla doesn't encourage the spring break crowd. What a relief for the mother of a teen!

    They tried to sell us a time share. We tolerated it for a free golf cart for 24 hours. Those salespeople were vultures. The first, a Canadian divorcee', was the Good Cop. She eventually turned us over to Rene', the Israeli Bad Cop. We told them going in, we aren't buying. Told them we were there on a ridiculously cheap trip purchased from They wanted to sell us shares in what they call "2 bedroom suites", in the months of May-June-October-September. The stay, as owners, would cost us more than we were paying as guests. We're old hands at Caribbean travel. We know those months are 1/2 Monsoon-1/2 Hurricane. The "suites" were 3 hotel rooms in a row. Not adjoining, just in a row. I said "If I brought my teen down here and gave him his own room, in 1 hour that lil bastard would be on that $3 ferry, headed for the bright lights of Cancun. No thanks!"

    Later, we spoke to an American gentleman, there with his Italian mother. He was a timeshare owner. His son had brought HIS 19 year old down. That kid disappeared to Cancun for 3 DAYS! Oh, those poor parents...Way to ruin a vacation, douchebag!

    Rene' told Jill, "You must be a terrible realtor. A good salesperson always has money, yet you say you can't afford to buy this." I was AGHAST. I think that was some macho bs; also v. ineffective sales technique! The peso is down to 14/dollar, and we all know the dollar sucks just now. Yet this guy felt we were obliged to invest, to show how successful we are! (I told them I write for a disability travel mag named DisAdventure. It helped the senors get me up and down the hell ramps, I firmly believe.) I told him magazines are folding left and right in the US-they are-and my job was not secure enough to be buying things. (Since the job was fictional, I think it was fair to say my employment is shaky, no?)

    We were invited to a party/fundraiser on Fat Tuesday. We had new skirts, and such a good time! The cause was animal control and organizing an island-wide bookmobile. The guy who invited us ( a gay man whose name is spelled Daniel, pronounced Danielle) was from W. Virginia. He said the bookmobile of his childhood was his salvation, and that on average, Mexicans read 1/2 book a year. Having been a bookworm all my life, I sure wish him luck with that venture.

    We had TERRIBLE flights. I had to leave from Albuquerque, which meant flying OKC-Houston-Albq on Tues. Had a 6 a.m. flight on Wed; Albq-Atlanta-Cancun. We got to Isla just before sundown. Coming back, the Atlanta customs was a clusterf***. We went through the part named Special Assistance. Unfortunately, the employee didn't want to Specially Assist. She asked Jill, over my head "Can she walk?" Jill, being unwise in the ways of dis travel, said yes. So Lazy Lady makes me walk thru the metal detector, and stand for 15 min while they inspected my chair! My feet were about triple size by then. Owwww. Then we got snagged (we had bought cigs in the Cancun airport.) A rude man checked my passport, told me to take my bags and move along. But Jill had my bags, and he had her passport. I couldn't even lift my bag! (51 pounds of awkward dive gear.) He was too busy yelling at me to listen to what I was saying.

    FINALLY, we make it to the bar in Atlanta. Jill is immediately on the phone, back to work. A handsome man asked me out! Then was mortified when I told him I'm married. Still, he asked, although I was in clothes I'd had on for 36 hours, with triple-sized feet. That made me feel great. Jill snapped her phone shut and said "What just happened?" I told her, still in some disbelief. She sighed and said "You're hot, you've always been hot, but somehow now you're too much of a dumbass to realize it!" and "He was a really good looking man!"

    Atlanta to albq took forever. I spent half the flight with my feet in Jill's lap. She spent the other half laying down with her face in my lap. I said "Boy, I'm glad we're not famous." "Why?" "Because if we were, the tabloids would LOVE this picture!" I like to think Jill's face in my lap made the old man across the aisle happy, at least. We aim to please.

    Isla itself is accessible. The streets are a brick/cobblestone hybrid, so it's bumpy. But there were FAR more curb cuts than in the US. (Strollers, I'd imagine, are the reason for this.) You'll never get a wheelchair in a Mexican hotel bathroom. If you're not shy about using the lobby bathroom, this obstacle can be overcome. The shower was practically roll-in, if a chair had gone in the bathroom. Since I can crawl, that's how I showered. There was also an outdoor shower to rinse off sand and salt water. This would have worked in a pinch, if you can transfer to a plastic lawn chair under the shower.

    You can't drink the water. It is piped in from Cancun. You really shouldn't drink the water anywhere in Mexico. Vacation time is too precious to spend it with turista. You can buy it in the hotel gift shop for double price. I recommend going to town to the supermarket or 7-11, and loading up as much as you can carry on the back of your wheelchair. Half the fun of travel is just participating in local daily life imo. Shopping-not for sarongs!-is part of daily life. So just make sure you keep enough agua around for your morning coffee, and consider yourself fortunate. Isla really isn't set up to deal with dollars, it is more authentic than that. Remember those pesos aren't monopoly money, convert in your head, and act like a person with a brain. Hauling water isn't really an obstacle, is it?

    Anytime you go to Mexico, spring for the hotel breakfast. It's one of the best parts. Omelette bars provide you the huevos of choice, topped w/ refried black beans and pico de gallo, and all the prepared fresh fruit you can imagine...Bananas down there are SO SWEET. Eat the bananas! And eat outdoors, looking at the ocean, while you drink cafe con leche. It really is heaven, those Mexican breakfasts. I have to admit that I miss the days when they were $2!

    I found one modern, truly accessible hotel. Called Privileges Axules, I think any level of disability could be accomodated there. If you want to go, check with the ferry. I'm not sure how a power chair would get on it. You COULD ride the car carrier ferry, I guess? You might be outside for the ride but it is only 1/2 hr. I'd arrange for handicapped shuttle transpo from the airport if I were to do it again. Isla has beautiful seawalls for rolling on. The Caribbean side is torn up from hurricanes, but the bay side was amazingly smooth. Any manual chair can go in a golf cart. If I did it again, I'd say damn the expense and rent one for the whole week. Eating out is no problem. You can roll right into the restaurants on the wharf, and those on Hidalgo have tables in the streets. Just ask for fish! The waiters are wonderful. They'll unwrap your fish, cut your food, peel your shrimp, whatever. Most Islaneans don't have a lot of English. 3 years of HS Spanish and 10 years of living in Houston ensured no language problems. If you want bathtub-warm water, don't go in Feb. You can dress about as hoochie as you want in any Mexican tourist town, but do take layers. The wind is constant and coming off the Caribbean can be pretty chill. If you're not a diver, I'd really suggest going at Mardi Gras time. I got to see the whole community out doing their thing.

    It was WONDERFUL!

    I'll put photos up in this thread later. I have to resize etc first.

    PS-Always allow extra time in Mexico. It is a civilized country like Italy, with siestas, and businesses stay open late to compensate. Nobody is in a hurry except at the airport. You're on Manana Time. Just go with it!
    Last edited by betheny; 10 Mar 2009, 2:54 PM.
    Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?

    There are no real flattering pics of me. Be warned-no makeup! Also, my tripod broke. I'm too shaky to get good photos, so there are hardly any of Jill.

    Waiting on a senor...

    Looks like a postcard! I took this.

    Our hotel, taken from the sandpit at the end of the unpassable bridge

    Room 7005, home sweet home.

    Grandma dance troupe

    View from our room, Caribbean side

    View from hallway in front of our room, bay side. Note Cancun in far distance.
    Last edited by betheny; 10 Mar 2009, 4:43 PM.
    Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?


      That looks like so much fun. Thank you for the report.


        Mexican breakfast rocks...

        Our golf cart, and our new sarongs! Wheelchair taking a break...

        Senor pushing me up ramp from hell-Head tucked. Sheesh, my legs were swollen already!

        Creature from the crystal blue lagoon-me snorkeling

        Jill in thai chair at PEACE party

        Dragging my ass up the beach, post snorkel. Then Jill made senors come pick me up and carry me to my chair, but she had to document my grace in motion first!

        Last edited by betheny; 10 Mar 2009, 5:08 PM.
        Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?


          Classic Mexico-Festive cemetery, sleepy dog (perro)

          View from breakfast

          Fertility idol w. large vaheena, southern Isla Mujeres, out by Mayan temple ruins. Easternmost point in Mexico!

          King of the Teens, El Seahorse Head

          Masked Mardi Gras kid

          Queen of the Seahorse Teens

          Stage at Palacia Municipo, site of much glittery, colorful dancing etc!

          Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?


            oh. the water is so gorgeous!
            T7-8 since Feb 2005


              I like to document all angles of the places I visit, lest I become one of those people that think Jamaica is heaven...because they never left the resort. On this page, Poverty, politics, hurricanes, employment and destruction-The downside of paradise.

              House built of recycled hurricane shutters

              Hovels on hurricane side of island

              Found On Road Dead (but still running! It's a Zombie-Mobile!)

              Even in paradise, there is work. Jill is (unhappily) a Re/Max agent. Hence this photo.

              I remember when they nationalized the petroleum industry in Mexico, about when they issued Nuevo Pesos, which were worth $1. Apparently they are trying to privatize petroleum now, as the Nuevo Peso hits $.08.

              This side of the island used to be as developed as the bay side, but Hurricane Wilma destroyed it. It was nice for me-less tourists-but wreaked havoc with the island's economy. Apparently investors don't want to rebuild. Hurricane Wilma almost destroyed the coral reef here, too. The divers told me the reef looks bad, but is slowly rebounding. Wilma did the most damage of all in Cancun.

              This was once a sculpture on the Caribbean side seawall. There is one intact on the bay side, with fishermen, mermaids, etc. All that Wilma left of this one is a sea turtle and some rebar. There are giant piles of concrete and rebar all over the Caribbean side. Wilma blew down structures that were designed to survive hurricanes.

              Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?


                Wow! Beautiful pictures Beth! I know y'all had a blast.
                You looked so cute! Good for you. I'm glad you got away and had fun.
                Thanks for sharing with us.



                  To get to Avalon, you cross a sandpit and a wooden bridge, a steep rippled driveway and a slick, steep ramp. Apparently these are all simple, on legs. The sandpit and bridge are impassable in a wheelchair. Not difficult, mind you-Impossible. Taxis were our saviors, although they came with their own issues. Yay for helpful cab drivers. Below, the sandpit/bridge intro.

                  It is so hard to show perspective on ramps etc. This lonngggggg driveway is way steep and made of concrete that is kind of rippled. The ripples are 2" tall, and occur every 2". They are caster-killers. As long as people rolled me on my back wheels, it was cool. Way too many people tried it that other way though.

                  This ramp is painted, so it's slick. It goes down 6" per 14" horizontal, per my unprofessional calculations. It has a concrete bannister right at noggin level. Jill tried to push me up it once and said never again. After that, we tipped the senors. Ummm, we tipped the ones that didn't hide when they saw us coming! I tried to find one at the end-Guillermo. I wanted to give him a bonus for never hiding and being extra helpful. He was a gardener, though, so none of the regular hotel staff knew him. They are kind of class-ist. Indoor staff didn't fraternize with outdoor staff.

                  You have to go down this ramp to get anywhere. To breakfast, to town, to the beach, anywhere.

                  I didn't get a pic of the worst ramp of all, the only way to get to the pool. It was just like the one above, only w/ no side bannister. It was JUST wide enough for my chair to go on...and had a concrete wall at the end! I only went down it in my chair once. After that, I got out of my chair and went down on my butt. I was really scared of that ramp! If you look at this photo, behind me you'll see windows that open to a dining area below. see how the pool is elevated? I had to get down to that lower level to get anywhere at all, and up to the higher area to get to the pool.

                  And of course, at any oceanside resort, what is the biggest obstacle of all? That's right. It's THE BEACH! We had the senors carry me, chair and all, and plop me down at our spot. Once, when it started raining, an American lady made her husband and friends carry me back up to the driveway. Thanks, lady! They had to carry me sans chair to snorkel. It made them nervous, dumping me off at water's edge.

                  The worst part of any trip? Going home!

                  Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?


                    I should have never come back to this thread and looked at all those great photos of warm (the new 6 inches of snow and below zero again made me say that). It looks like you had a great time down there.


                      Beautiful pics...thanks for sharing!
                      "The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off." -Gloria Steinem


                        It looks so gorgeous. What a smart place to go when so many of the rest of us have reached our snow tolerance for the year. The "ramp from hell" does look very scary to me, and the rippled concrete would have me in fear of a face plant too. How magnificent to have the ocean right there. Not down the street, or around the back, but RIGHT there!


                          Lovely pictures. You're rather foxy looking!


                            Great photo log of your trip. That is a great shot of you lounging in the sun by the pool.

                            I had to laugh at a remembrance of cafe con leche; my first trip south of the border was our honeymoon ages ago, we went to a Jamaica resort. My first morning there the waiter was pouring our coffee, and I said "no thanks" to the leche, he said "oh brave man" with a smile. I tried to drink it but after about 1/4 of it, I had to call the waiter back for some leche, that was some strong ass coffee.

                            I agree with you on seeing the non-resort areas wherever you go, to get the feel of a place, you have to head "off the reservation". We have done that in Jamaica(just don't go to Kingston we were warned) pre-sci, Mexico pre and post, and Costa Rica post.

                            And yes, there are ramps from hell all over, but as you said there are usually some senor's around, that are even willing to help this ugly ass old man.
                            "a T10, who'd Rather be ridin'; than rollin'"


                              LOL, McDuff, I think the pool shot is weird. I was looking at these Jonny Quest pterodactyl-looking birds called Frigates. Jill zoomed in on me unawares. I need to photoshop that pic to like it, I think. It's just too much bright light for a "woman of a certain age."

                              I will have my revenge. When I get a tripod!

                              Thanks, Kev!

                              I got all those cool halter tops at Bass Pro, of all places. Since it was February, they were on supersale. Just wanted to share that in case any ladies need resortwear someday.

                              McDuff, the worst off-resort area I've ever seen was Honduras. The resort was guarded by a man w/ a machine gun. When we went out in the world, we saw why. I've heard Jamaica is really bad, when you get to the real part. Hondurans made Islaneans look like bazillionaires. I had taken frisbees to give to kids on that trip. I gave one to a little guy, that then got pounded by a bigger kid until he relinquished it. I learned my lesson there. Sneak the toys to the little ones when the bigger ones are distracted!

                              Can you write a report of your post-sci Costa Rica trip? It's on my list.
                              Does This Wheelchair Make My Ass Look Fat?