Right before take-off, the plane accelerated and suddenly shimmied. On the way back to the gate, we were told there was a problem (duh!), and that they would have to check it out. As everyone left the plane to verify connecting flights, we were hit by the fact that we might not make our connection in Houston. In fact, one of the ticket agents at the gate said that she was not sure if there would be another flight to Cozumel from Houston that day. Mild panic set in, and we decided that we were not willing to lose a day of our honeymoon because of a Continental mechanical problem.
Not wanting to wait in the now huge line, we scrambled back to the main ticket line, and approached the same agent who had checked our bag. She was so wonderful, and made sure that we would be on the next flight; verifying that yes, there was a second flight to Cozumel out of Houston and that we would be on it. She also gave us a voucher for breakfast and an upgrade to first class on the Atlanta to Houston flight. Our hats are off to you, Sonja - you are awesome!
[Note: when we got back to the gate, we found that the first flight had re-boarded and taken off after all (albeit an hour late). Had we stuck around, we would have made it to Houston, but we would have still missed the connecting flight and then had to deal with a different ticket agent in an unfamiliar airport.]
Timeshare Hawking at the Airport
It really didn't matter that we were warned about these guys by our Fodor's Guide; they got us. As we made our way out of the airport and went to the desk to pay for our bus ride to the hotel, this fellow from the Sol Caribe resort reeled us in. He overheard that we were going in to the Paradisus, and insisted that he worked for the same time share company though which we got our reservation (a lie, we later learned). He wove a lovely tale of how we would be reimbursed for our bus ride (120 pesos), and would receive free breakfast for coming and listening to their presentation. All we had to do was give him a fully refundable $10US each to reserve our place at breakfast. That should have been the point when we said "Ciao", but no. Like movie goers at a horror film we both watched as Dave reached into his wallet and handed over a 20.
As we sat there waiting for the bus to fill, we looked at each other and knew that we'd been had.
Checking in at the Paradisus
The Melia Mayan Paradisus is rated at four stars, but perhaps that's deceiving. Certainly they have a nice beach, plenty of amenities, and a friendly staff. But we had a few issues with them - one of which was that if you didn't pay for the all-inclusive meals, you don't get bottles of purified water in your room each day. This may not seem like a big problem except when you consider the effects of turista, otherwise known as Montezuma's Revenge. You simply have to drink purified water when vacationing on Cozumel to avoid getting it. (Our alternative was to go to the market and buy a couple of gallons of water. After all, unless you want to spend all of your time at the hotel, it doesn't make sense to buy the all-inclusive.)
The good news is that the hotel and rooms were clean, the hotel staff was excellent, and the view of the ocean was awesome.
Okay, the fact is, cab drivers on Cozumel drive fast. Really fast. Now we know why seat belts are required in the United States (we just had to get used to the fact that the vehicles on the island didn't seem to have them at all). The cab drivers on Cozumel make most of their money running their fares between downtown and the hotel zones north and south of San Miguel. If they drive slow, they lose money. On one ride during the week, our driver passed a federale vehicle at high speed and never even looked in his mirror.
We advise you to drive any vehicle you rent cautiously, as most accidents seem to involve tourists who either aren't paying proper attention or are not familiar with the right of way in San Miguel (You must stop at every corner traveling east-west in town). And if you rent a moped, prepare for a few thrills, such as buses whose drivers expect you to go as fast as possible and who will pass you at the earliest opportunity.
The only town on Cozumel is a laid-back, wonderful place (when the cruise ships aren't in and it's not flooded with tourists). Avenida Rafael Melgar is the malecon, or main drag that runs north-south along the leeward (west) side of the island. In town, it is a divided street with a beautiful ocean view on one side and shops and restaurants on the other. We learned while we were there that the huge pier south of town (where the cruise ships stop) is going to be extended further north and back to the shore, creating an ugly arc that will ruin the beach view for many of the buildings on the south side of the town.
On the one hand, we realize that the cruise ship tourists are responsible for much of the growth of Cozumel. However, from what we have heard about the cruise lines' travel directors (promoting those businesses which pay a kickback, steering people away from those who don't), we probably will never take a cruise anyway. Note also that we would have been perfectly happy if places like the Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood had stuck to Cancun. If we had wanted american pop culture we could have taken our honeymoon here.
Ernesto's Fajita Factory
One place that came highly recommended was Ernesto's Fajita Factory. There are two locations on the island, one of them is downtown. We stopped in for dinner, since the only thing we had planned for the night was a visit to the dive shop to confirm the resort course on Monday. As far as atmosphere, it got a mixed review. The first thing we noticed was that the TV was tuned to an NBA basketball game on cable. That didn't bother Dave, but Christi seemed to feel the place was too much like a sports bar in the states. Nevertheless, the food was great. If you ever get a chance, try the beef and wahoo fajitas!
Dave had been corresponding with Deborah Felixson, the owner of the shop, for several months prior to our visit, so he had an idea of the kind of service we would get when we went diving. Deborah had been kind enough to answer all of our questions about Cozumel and the Tulum Corridor through e-mail, and Dave had redesigned the format of Deep Blue's web page (mostly as an exercise in fun while searching for information on Cozumel- NOTE: the site has since been redesigned by someone else). In fact, Dave brought a video card and driver disks because he had learned that their computer wasn't set up to display the graphics he had used on their pages.
Deborah and her husband Matt were sitting on the bench in front of the shop when we walked up, and we were greeted warmly by the pair as if we'd known them for a long time. The dive shop has grown out of the original store (where they used to have to transport all of the equipment down to the pier in a bicycle cart) and is now housed in a beautiful corner building with the retail and equipment section downstairs, and a training room upstairs. Business has been good to them, and they should be expanding again soon. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of people, for as we were to learn, they treat their customers like gold.
If Christi had any doubts as to the character of the people who would be taking care of our SCUBA lessons, they evaporated when she met Blue. Blue is a four month old calico, more leg than anything, who wandered into Deep Blue and adopted it. She was so sweet-natured and friendly that the fact that she chose Deep Blue and it's owners removed any vague doubts Christi may have had about these strangers and their dive shop (not that there were any, but Dave was the one doing all the communicating prior to the trip).
We hung out at Deep Blue for a while and talked to Debbie about Cozumel, diving, and things to do while we were there. No matter what you learn about a place through the internet or travel guides, the best information you can get is always from a local. Eventually, the shop closed and we realized we had been there for a couple of hours. Never once did we feel out of place or that we were in the way (try hanging out at any store near you for a few hours and see if the manager doesn't ask you to leave...).
Anyway, we knew we had a big adventure the next day, and we were tired, so we wandered back toward the center of town to catch a taxi back to the hotel. Even though it was late and the streets were somewhat deserted, we never felt nervous about being mugged or accosted. The truth is the island is very safe; the cops don't even carry guns. The federales do, but they aren't much involved with the tourists.
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