Playa del Carmen: Mayan Ruins and Sea Turtles

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August 18.

We pick up the anchor and leave Isla Mujeres heading south.  (The windlass suddenly doesn’t work, so Ivo has to bring the chain and anchor up by hand.) Our destination: Rio Dulce, Guatemala, a hurricane hole famous among the cruising community. Lots of boats spend the unstable summer months here as Rio Dulce is one of the most protected anchorages in the Caribbean and storms rarely visit this pace. The distance we have to sail is about 450 nautical miles, at least 4-6 days of sailing depending on the wind and if we don’t stop at night.

But we have to be mad not to stop, we are sailing parallel to Riviera Maya, keeping close to shore, and on our starboard side are some of the most beautiful Mexican beaches and resorts. Why not spending some quality time in a five-star ultra luxurious resort (or somewhere near it) for free?

 

Hotel Pool, Playa del Carmen

Hotel Pool at a 5-star resort, Playa del Carmen

 

After a few hours of uneventful sailing we drop anchor just south of the crowded Playa del Carmen after the last hotel right in front of the beach. There is not a single anchorage here, so we are hoping for calm winds and seas at night. The next day we explore.

 

Fata Morgana anchored off the beach, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Fata Morgana anchored off the beach, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

For the first time we leave our boat anchored in front of a beach, alone, in a country notorious for its high crime rate. There is no dinghy dock here, so we paddle to shore and finally Viktor brings the kayak back to the boat and swims to shore with a bag full of shoes. Thus we don’t have to worry at least for the kayak. We head to town.

 

Viktor after swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes.

Viktor after swimming from Fata Morgana to the beach with a bag of shoes.

 

Once a small fishermen village, today Playa del Carmen is a major tourist destination with modern gated hotel complexes and condominiums, downtown area with shopping plazas and boutiques, internationally recognized chain restaurants and bars, and luxury department stores.

 

Public Beach at Playa del Carmen

Public Beach at Playa del Carmen

 

From here we go to Tulum to check out the ruins. If we had a good detailed chart or/and a cruising guide explaining how and where to clear the reef breakers, we could have sailed to Tulum, a few miles south of Playa del Carmen, and anchored just in front of the God of Winds Temple perched on the edge of a bluff, facing the sunrise. But we don’t have a guide and the chart doesn’t show any depths beyond the reef, so we take the bus instead.

 

Mira in Tulum

Mira in Tulum

 

Tulum, City of Dawn, is one of the last Mayan cities and one of the best preserved Mayan sites. (Maya did not have to pay admission because of her name. Joke. Because kid under 13 enter for free.) We are impressed by the size of its territory and the number of individual structures: temples, palaces, frescoes, platforms. But the hundreds of tourists invading the ruins inevitably spoil the entire experience. At some point we just want to run away from there. Plus, we are getting worried for Fata.

 

Tourists at Tulum

Tourists at Tulum

 

We get back at the boat in the afternoon to find her undisturbed, quietly waiting for us. The next day we spend walking around the coast. South of the last hotel and sandy beach is a rocky deserted shore where we notice at least twenty recent sea-turtle nests. Suddenly, we spot a coati digging in the sand. The animal runs away and hides in the bushes as we approach. There is blood and turtle eggshell. He’s been eating recently hatched baby sea-turtles! We find two survivors and keep them in a bucket covered with sand, like Suzy did back at Loggerhead Island. We plan to release them on the beach around midnight.

 

Ivo with a baby green turtle

Ivo with a baby green turtle

 

It’s midnight, full moon. Ivo and I paddle with the kayak to the beach to release the two baby turtles. One is dead. The other one swims away. And then, we see a huge green turtle just finished laying her eggs, exhausted, covered with sand, heading back to the Caribbean Sea. I can’t resist and snap a picture. She tolerates us, ignores us, and disappears in the black waters of the night. We are overwhelmed. Was it a dream?

 

A green sea-turtleheading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

A green sea-turtle heading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

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Isla Mujeres, The Island of Women, is a small stretch of land, once populated by Mayan goddesses. About 4 miles long and less than half a mile wide, it is the eastermost point just off the Yucatan peninsula in the Quinana Roo province, across from Cancun; here Mexico wakes up. The northern half of the island bordered by vast fine sand beaches, is the tourist area: hotels, colorful negocios, street vendors, bars and restaurants, on both sides of the busy main street, everywhere vacation people chilling, having fun. The southern half of the island is occupied by las colonias where the locals live tranquilos in small brick houses of all colors.

 

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We really love Isla Mujeres, its colors, people and laid back atmosphere. We explore the island, north and south, walk around the beaches and the east wall, shop in Cherdaui, a huge store in the residential area where we can find anything we need and even more things that we don’t need, including green sausages, freshly made pastries, and tons of ridiculously cheap tacos. We pretty much eat tacos for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and sometimes for snacks in between meals) every day.

 

Pastries in Chedraui

Pastries in Chedraui

 

We spend a week anchored in front of the charming El Milagro Marina using their dinghy dock with 24 hour security and internet for free. This is one of the best marinas we have seen so far, with excellent facilities and friendly staff. But the anchorage holding is very poor, it’s covered with sea-grass, and we drag our oversized Rocna anchor three times during some very strong squalls. Good thing that pretty much all boats drag together in the same direction during the squalls, like a synchronized dance, so we don’t bump into each other.

 

El Milagro Marina, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

El Milagro Marina, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

One day, we take the kayak to check out the floating plastic island not far from the anchorage. The artist, Richart Sowa, who, using recycled plastic bottles, built the small island and a two-story house where he resides, did it as an ecologiacal project hoping to demonstrate that garbage can be transformed and reused without harming the environment. You can read more about Joysxee, the floating plastic eco island here.

 

Eco Island, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Eco Island, Isla Mujeres, Mexico

 

We also check out Poc-na Hostel with Steve, Julie, and Mike, very cool young travellers we first met in Key West, then in Cuba, and now here, in Isla Mujeres. (Check out Mike’s blog here.) This is probably the coolest hostel in Mexico! There is cheap drinks, live music, and a beach party almost every night in the hostel’s backyard and the crowd is, of course, bare-foot, bearded backpackers from all around the world.

After a week, it is time to move on. We didn’t plan to stay so long in Mexico at all, we were on our way to a protected anchorage in Guatemala where many boaters spend the hurricane season. So we never even cleared immigration and customs, officially we’ve never been to Mexico.

 

More photos from Isla Mujeres

 

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El Perro Azul

El Perro Azul

 

 

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