Posts Tagged ‘cozumel’

One Good Meal in Cozumel

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

On the Mexican island of Cozumel, all we really wanted was a good meal. Not a bargain on a snorkeling excursion or a bespangled sombrero for $50 USD, or a cheap rental car. This is what Cozumel promises in abundance when you first arrive, before your feet even leave the ferry dock. In the most touristed of places, a tiny island full of salesman hawking their wares to cruise ship day-trippers, we weren’t sure we’d find it.

We came to Cozumel, and its only major city, San Miguel de Cozumel, for the same reason that everyone comes—for the coral. Cozumel’s reefs are among the best in the world for diving and snorkeling, but what do you do—and eat—after you’ve peeled off your wet suit and drip-dried?

We decided to eat. Working on a tip from a guide book, we searched for a specific taco joint away from the main drag, but never found it. We did find, however, a quieter Cozumel. It wasn’t as glitzy as the tourist-centric fare on Avendia Rafael E. Melgar. We didn’t find a Margaritaville or Senor Frog’s pumping loud pop music onto the sidewalk or selling t-shirts. But this was, of course, was the appeal.

A five-minute walk inland and away from Avendia Melgar revealed low-key dive shops and tiny bars strung with lights. We also found La Cabana del Piolin, a restaurant so good that we went back two nights in a row.

Appetizers

At first glance, it looked less like a restaurant than a room full of plastic chairs lit with bare bulbs. (We didn’t find the sign bearing the restaurant’s name—hand-scribbled and taped to a back wall—until the second night.) But then a waitress offered us a seat and appeared with plastic-laminated menus and a tray full of appetizers to go with our Dos Equis, all arranged on little paper plates, and simply and impeccably prepared. There were cucumbers with chile and lime, noodles in a green chile sauce, stewed squash and onions, a white fish with chopped tomatoes, sausage in a spicy red sauce, and of course, a mountain of homemade tortilla chips.

And This Was The Best Meal We Had (In Our Whole Lives)

Dinner was tacos—maybe the best we’ve ever had. The shrimp came in a light sauce of cooked tomatoes and onions, and was seasoned with nothing more than lime juice and salt, while the beef and pork were chile-rubbed and perfectly grilled. The crispy fried fish was served over a puree of spicy black beans on a bed of lettuce and was topped with raw onion, tomato, and slices of avocado. For dessert, the waitress recommended the caballero pobre, a Yucutan version of a moist bread pudding topped with sugar, cinnamon stick and raisins that we devoured about as fast as she could set it on the table.

For a pair of travelers hungry for both a saner Cozumel and a more flavorful dinner than the cheeseburgers offered on the main strip, this was the exact place to be. All we had to do was step back.

Go there: La Cabana del Piolin, if it still exists, is located on Avendia 15 between Calle 3 Sur and Calle 5 Sur. Tacos, beer, and dessert for two will set you back about 150 Pesos.

Cozumel Minus Everything

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Cozumel in the Wind

The wind in Cozumel puts a stop to everything. It wobbles the passengers on the top deck of the ferry and hitches the snorkeling boats to their docks for the day. It blows the fronds of palm trees straight backward and pitches blood red warning flags on every beach.

On Cozumel, in the wind, there is nothing to do but sit and wait for the wind to stop. We try to sit on a beach. The proprietress of our hotel recommends Chankanaab, a snorkeling and beach club on the Western coast of the island.

When we arrive, a man stands waiting in the large circular driveway holding a clip board.

“Excuse me, do you have a reservation with some dolphins?”

We stare, a little slack-jawed and uncomprehending, until we realize that this is the place in all the brochures: At Chankanaab, you can swim with dolphins. We tell him that no, we just want to sit on the beach.

At Chankanaab, sitting on the beach costs $16.

We pay, trying not to grumble too loudly, and enter the club. There are no real beaches on Cozumel—just a rocky strip of shoreline that drops off to the island’s famous coral reefs. We don’t realize this until after we’ve paid our $16, and have walked along the shore in desperation, searching for a patch of sand to lay ourselves down, crack open a book, and wait for the gale to stop. Instead, we sit on picky wooden lounge chairs arranged on a created strip of sand. The plastic sheeting underneath it pushes through in places like stubborn little bald spots. Hunks of bleached coral make walking a challenge. Finally, we huddle in our chairs under towels and shawls. I joke to Brea that I look like someone’s invalid old aunt who’s been wheeled out for the day to get some fresh air. She tries to read. I try to sleep.

The wind pushes hard against our faces and backs. A blue-black bird takes off from his perch atop a grass-topped cabana and then careens sideways, landing right back where he started. He hoots and honks in angry protest, scratching with his feet.

We don’t really enjoy it. We try to, but the wind is too angry, the beach too barren.

Just downshore, a few brave tourists in wet suits brave the chilly air, and the dolphin pen. Were I a Cozumel dolphin, there are several other ways I’d like to spend my day than heaving tourists up and out of the water with my nose, their limbs flailing everywhere. The pen itself is depressing too—a square of concrete posts closed off with lengths of neon green netting. We are glad that we decided to forgo this particular attraction, even when we see a woman in a life preserver squeal with glee as her whole body rockets up above the surface with a great splash. We never see the dolphin, the thing that tossed her up there in the first place. He is hidden under the water where it’s warm, too busy with his work day and too occupied to preen.

We give up. We don’t want to, but the wind becomes relentless, blows sand in every crevice of our faces, our beach bags. We walk back to the entrance past empty booths that promise snorkeling tours, past empty bars that promise tequila, past an empty restaurant where a single Chankanaab employee—a man in his sixties in a baseball cap—snoozes peacefully in a chair, waiting for something to happen—something other than the wind.


Go there: Chankanaab National Park (It’s more like a resort.) is located on Cozumel’s West coast, just south of San Miguel de Cozumel.