cancun: day three

Where to even begin?

The janky, 60-year old, manual transmission “Mexican Ferrari” that we rented to circumnavigate Cozumel Island? The virgin beach that we discovered, tucked between rocky shores? Or the fire coral that stung Felipe while we snorkeled off the second longest barrier reef in the world? Today has been the day of days, and it’s only the third of our trip.

Let’s begin with breakfast. Without knowing how big the food portions were, I haplessly ordered too much of everything. Felipe and I shrugged at each other and dug in…to all of it. We’re on vacation – there’s no shame in pigging out!

After our room serviced meal, we hopped on the bus to Playa del Carmen for the second time in two days. This time, it was to catch the ferry to Cozumel Island, located off the coast of the Mayan Riviera. Cozumel hosted the last of the Mayan people after the population on the mainland began to die off from famine, disease, and wars. Today, like most of the state of Quinta Roo, Cozumel has fallen victim to the tourist industry.

We arrived at the island and immediately went snorkeling. Underwater, I witnessed the miracle of the life aquatic. I found myself chasing after iridescent fish and floating cautiously over fire coral. What looks like nothing more than choppy waves from the surface reveals a gamut of movement, color, and life beneath.

Felipe accidentally brushed against some fire coral while we were swimming. It turns out that fire coral is a misnomer. The plant is more closely related to jellyfish than coral, and it fires nematocysts into your skin upon contact. After getting out of the water, though, he recovered just fine. Crisis: averted.

The northern and eastern shores of the islands are mostly untainted by tourists. There, you can find fishing villages, haberdasheries, and unadulterated beaches. These parts of the island are only accessible by car or scooter. Enter the Mexican Ferrari…

At $35/day to rent, who could say no? Well, after struggling with the 60-year old manual transmission and stalling several times in the middle of a large road, maybe we should have. Then again, our epic drive around the island just wouldn’t have been the same. My dad, Felipe, and I all drove it around the island — all of us recalling bits and pieces of how to drive manual and filling in the blanks along the way. The last time I drove stick was in Germany. It seems like I’ve got a track record of only driving stick shift outside of the U.S.

Half an hour out of the city, we came across a beautiful virgin beach tucked between two rocky coves. There were very few people there, and we had the beach to ourselves, for the most part. Felipe and I lay down in the water and observed different sedimentary and volcanic rocks. My conception of time dissipated into the humid air. I don’t remember the last time I was that happy.

I secretly made a wish that land developers would never think to use the area to build another hotel. I wanted this to be our secret to return to next time we came back to Cozumel. Sadly, that probably will not be the case. Either way, I’m so fortunate to have experienced it this way.

We returned to the mainland tanner, more sore, and much sleepier than when we first left. Somehow, I still managed to stay awake long enough to upload/edit photos, write this post, and run 3 miles. Looking back on today, I feel like I’m watching someone else’s life. Someone who lives in a James Bond movie, or someone who lives in an affluent yet obscure European country like Luxembourg, to whom experiences like these seem commonplace. Yet, when I realize that I was actually there, I’m inflated with good feelings.

Today, I took a road less traveled and discovered a shortcut to happiness.

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