Sheryl, moi, JoannaFRIENDSHIPS. Some friendships are forever. Those who you can call at any inconvenient hour and they would be there for you whatever ails you. I have tested this friendship before. Sheryl is one of my close friends and however long the years, it always seems like it was just yesterday since we last met. We worked together and shared an office at IAL (International Aircraft Leasing company) near Miami airport in '94-'96.

Sheryl's long time friend Joanna, at 75, has been going to Cozumel every year for the past 27 years some of the others from the group for close to that. On this trip, there was also Walter & Jim, regulars too for the annual Feb. jaunt in the Caribbean, both whom I had not met before.

Joanna & Sheryl are some of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Joanna is the matriarch of the group, charming, beautiful, smart, funny & sophisticated, this was the second time I was fortunate enough to join them. Over the years, some of the others much younger than her who had formed part of her group, have passed on. Jim & Steven to name a few. Jim I knew well since he was Sheryl's brother and they had visited me in Caye Caulker many years ago as well as he was present the last time I met the group in Cozumel. We spent evenings talking of the good memories of old friends over wonderful dinners at restaurants Joanna frequented over the years. Her inside culinary knowledge was invaluable.

Although these Mexican coastal towns have exploded with tourism, particularly catering to the cruise ship passengers, they really have a certain charm that can be exciting if you haven't been in a fast paced environment for years and your shopping choices have been restricted. These places I would normally stay away from over-priced, over-hustled, over-crowded , but since I have not been out of the real Banana Republics for a while, it was a welcome change. I came to realize that I must get out more from Belize and experience the wonderful sights, sounds & flavors of my neighbor country MEXICO...OLE!!


It really is in-expensive to get there and only takes a day. I was gone all of the weekend and the most money I spent was on shopping. The room rate was reasonable and so were the meals and drinks. Costa Brava about $40 usd nite with a/c, 2 double beds and center of the main strip.

I got a late start on my journey on Friday 11:00 a.m. After catching the water taxi to Belize City ($7.50 usd), I took the direct tourist bus from the Marine Terminal to Chetumal the border town in Mexico ($20.oo usd). Once there, I got on another bus ADO to Playa del Carmen ($12.00) and then the ferry across to Cozumel ($10.) and arrived around 9:30 p.m. at the hotel Costa Brava. For under $50 usd, I was in Cozumel from Caye Caulker. On the way back I spent a little more since I decided to fly to Ambergris Caye from Corozal, the border town on the Belize side. That cost me $42.00 usd for the flight, and then another $7.50 usd water taxi to Caye Caulker from there.

For Playa del Carmen, gone was the little seaside town where you could rent a cabin on the vast white sandy beach for $15. nite. In it's place were huge condo high rises, big shopping malls and restaurants. Most business' cater exclusively to the Cruise ship tourist like Senor Frogs which seems to have a non-stop dance & drink party from early in the morning to late at night. There were big fancy stores, selling diamonds & silver down to colorful street stalls selling local art & hand-made jewellery.

The crowds wandered around spilling into and out of every corner laughing and dancing with the vaction and alcohol induced buzz. Thousands of people invade these places running on adrenaline & rum punch. Playa & Cozumel now look a lot like a first world seaside destination like Miami Beach. Sometimes....just sometimes....I miss Miami Beach. Having been away from such a scene for so long, I felt like a deer caught in the headlights. Bright lights big city! Mall's and McDonalds I had all but forgotten about. Shopping choices I have not had in years. I was like a kid in a candy store. I wanted two of everything.
On some days, there are as many as 12 cruise ships that come to Playa & Cozumel's shores in a single day. That makes for a festive feel in the air. You can choose to join the festive ones, or you can jump off the band-wagon & find a secluded beach to hide. Then the off day would come when no ship arrived like on Sunday, and all was quiet until the evening when the local people come out to listen to their local bands in the city square.
I got an ego boost lounging by the crowded poolside at the Barracuda hotel across the street near the beach sipping frozen drinks and catching up with my old & new friends. Such a vacation mecca like Cozumel has a ton of young horney men especially the ones castaway at sea for long periods of time. So you sit, sip & accept flirty eye contact from the Turkish & Phillipino men in speedos, ship's crew, prancing around the pool bar. There are restaurants & bars that cater to other Phillipino crew members by offering all-day karoke and my hotel had one such place. It was hysterical for me to come down from the room to the ground level at 10:00 a.m. to see & hear the cruise ship crew belting out Sinatra & Elvis tunes and supporting each other with loud applause after each song, regardless of how horrible it might sound in broken english. As a matter of fact, there was a sign that says "Broken English Spoken Here" so no surprise there .
Hideous were the carriage rides with horses wearing big Mexican sombreros which unfortunately seemed popular although there has been a local outcry of mis-treatment of horses left in the merciless sun too long to log lazy tourists fat butts around. Some even collapse in the street from dehydration. This type of tour to me, is as dumb as swiming in the cold sea in the flu season.
Scooter & car rentals (translate traffic jam), street side markets, tours, snorkel, dive, drink (booze cruise), you name it, they had it to offer. I found that if you don't monitor your change properly, you get shorted a lot, on purpose, I imagine, trying to take advantage of a tourist who might not have enough mathematical skills to convert US into pesos.

Mordidas is spanish that literally translates in English to "little bites". The Federales in Tulum are crooked as the teeth in their round jawbone. They stop just about every bus 5 mins before arriving in Tulum and demand money from the conductor who has to spend a good half hour rounding up the amount from the irate passengers. This is the same place where my bus was stopped the last time in Mexico and my sister Diane & I were taken off the bus because we were 'illegal' and then forced to wait in the dark at the roadside from 4:00 pm to 3:00 am while the Federales tried to convince us to get sexually violated in exchange for freedom. Surprisingly they did not accept the bribes we offered. Not until my sis jumped in the road and flagged down a bus, did they take us back to Chetumal where we were placed in lockdown in a temporary holding cell in the Immigration office for two days until "el jefe" showed up. We told our story which fell on un-sympathetic ears, only for me to be charged with 'bribery" & escorted to the border & deported back to Belize after being locked up the entire weekend with a bunch of other presumed illegal aliens. There went the magical Tulum sun-kissed weekend in which I had planned to frolick with naked Europeans doing cart-wheels on miles of white sandy beaches near "la ruina".
After this trip, my sister got a telling-off by her late husband Michael for "wanting to follow Tina around on her adventures, didn't I tell you it would be trouble"
Well, it really was out of my control. The episode. It did not matter to them that we were both American citizens, they had no intention of checking that out, however, we did not have our passports on hand to prove otherwise. We had entered with our Belize passports and gone further than Chetumal which was a big no-no we found out and consequently we paid for the mistake. I assure you, that will never happen again!

I had sworn then that I would not go back to Mexico after that terrible experience, but I was glad Sheryl got me to change my mind. Mexico is beautiful, special and with all the tourism & crooked Federales, its still a great place to visit especially if you jones sometimes for " first world" and the Mexican coastline is looking mighty first world.
Regardless, I'll be back soon.