I was supposed to leave for my flight to Cozumel on December 30, but after going through security and making it to my gate with plenty of time to spare, I somehow managed to fall asleep at my gate and missed boarding. Two hours later, I woke up to find myself completely alone at the gate and my flight long gone. I was disappointed that no one woke me up for boarding, but I quickly realized that I had no one to blame but myself. Instead of counting the day as a complete loss, I was able to spend it with friends in Indianapolis and caught an 8 am flight the next morning.
I have made about 8 trips to Mexico in my life; however, this was my first time leaving the mainland and visiting the island of Cozumel. Although a lot of cruise ships stop at the island and it is a hotspot for tourists, there are still a lot of authentic cultural experiences that can be found on the island.
With a population of about 100,000, Cozumel is definitely not a small town, and most of the island still remains undeveloped. These untouched areas are some of the most beautiful and are home to an abundance of wildlife, greenery, and picturesque beaches. As soon as I landed and stepped out of the airport, I was immediately hit with the heat, which was nice because I had spent the last few days freezing in Chicago, but also quickly noticed the vibrancy of the island. It was not only filled with trees and plants, but amazing streetart and friendly people as well. I have a slight bias for visiting Spanish speaking countries, and being able to speak Spanish for the whole week definitely enriched the experience.
Shortly after arriving in Cozumel, my friend Isaac and I decided to go fly his drone in the park. Immediately after taking off, the drone was caught in a gust of wind and was thrown directly into the ocean. We both imagined that it would be impossible to ever recover the drone, but decided to head for the beach anyway. When we reached the water, a man approached us from what appeared to be an abandoned resort. He gestured to ocean and indicated that our drone had indeed landed somewhere in the ocean. He threw us a pair of snorkeling goggles and jumped in with his own pair of goggles as well. Within five minutes, he miraculously returned with the drone that had been somewhere on the bottom of the ocean. After giving us the drone, he invited us to come into his home. He, along with 4-7 other individuals (depending on the day), had converted an abandoned resort into their own home. All of the walls throughout the entire building were covered in murals and graffiti, and one of the guys living there took credit for all of the artwork. He also showed us how he hung shopping carts from the ceiling to make swings, which, regardless of if they met common safety protocol, were a lot of fun. The bottom floor of the building, where the guys would hang out during the day, was completely open and just feet away from the ocean. It was a spectacular view and was located in one of the nicest parts of town. I found it infinitely interesting that this expensive property, which had one of the most beautiful oceanic views I have ever seen and at one time was home to the now relocated Dolphin Resort, was now inhabited for free by a group of individuals that decided to start living there. The tourists that walked by the front of the building every day on their way to Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville or one of the hundreds of souvenir shops had no idea what was happening inside of this building. The residents of the building enjoyed having guests and opened up to us by sharing incredible stories about Aztec culture and legends, what it was like living in the building, and even their fight against crack addiction. Through their struggle, along with their triumphs, we were presented with an astonishingly beautiful juxtaposition of what it meant to call Cozumel home.
Although the trip was filled with countless deep, thoughtful, and sometimes intense moments, we also had a lot of fun. One of our best decisions during the trip was to rent scooters, even though I did crash mine at a gas station. I was amazed that we were able to rent scooters for 24 hours for only $20, and even more amazed that I was able to reach 100 km (just over 60 mph). Not only were they extremely fun to drive, but they gave us access to parts of the island that would be impossible to reach by foot. In addition to this, I enjoyed the discotecas, snorkeling, delicious authentic cuisine, some of the best dive spots in the world, and even being featured in a clown show one night in one of the parks.
I look forward to returning to Cozumel, and would definitely recommend it as a travel destination. If you have the opportunity to travel, regardless of where you go, I encourage you to not only visit and enjoy the tourist attractions of the area, but also to visit spots off the beaten path and to try to connect with the people who call the area home. My most memorable experiences have never been the sites I have seen, but the people I have had the opportunity to meet.