Our third and final port of call on the cruise was Cozumel, an island across from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. We docked on the western side of the island, on the morning of Friday March 6th, at a little place called Puerta Maya. I was relieved straight away that there was no bullshit this time. No shore passes, no delayed taxi boats, just exit the ship at your leisure and get straight to the margs. I liked that everything was laid out and arranged in a way that allowed us to save as much time as possible.
There’s only one faff involved, but it’s not that bad. It was kind of funny how cynical it was, actually. In order to get from the dock to the mainland, you have to get through this long, narrow shopping arcade. It’s long and narrow so that it slows the traffic of people, forcing you to check out all the goods. It’s basically the same kinda stuff you get at duty free in airports. Perfume, candy, sunglasses, beach towels, clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, et cetera. There was a section devoted to tobacco products, and I overheard an American tourist saying “Look, they have to put health warnings on the cigarette packets. It actually says “Smoking Kills!””
This is by no means a Mexican thing. We have these warnings in Europe too. I was shocked by the observations of these tourists, because it implied that they don’t have such warnings in the U.S.A. But then again, maybe they don’t need them. Despite the warnings, people smoke way more where I come from. Even young people smoke in the U.K. When I showed Aaron and Anne-Marie around London, one of the first things they noticed was just how many people were smoking. So you gotta give the Americans that if nothing else; they might have obesity, gun violence, and a healthcare system that would have embarrassed Adolf Hitler- but they deserve credit for more or less purging cigarettes from mainstream society. It’s practically niche at this point- you only really see it in casinos. In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of young Americans simply use the term “smoke” to refer to smoking marijuana. You don’t need to specify, it’s kind of assumed, which I find really interesting.
So anyway, we were being slowly funneled through this arcade like cattle toward a waiting bolt gun, when we finally reached a set of glass doors. On the other side, a hazy sense of margaritas and sunshine. There were a couple of lads that checked our passports, but to our immense relief they just glanced at it before sending us on our way. I wish all customs checkpoints were like that.
At last we were on Mexican soil. I felt like I had to remind myself, because it was kind of a surreal feeling. Why wasn’t I more excited about that aspect? Instead I was excited for our excursion, for margaritas, like I’d been here before. I’d always imagined myself coming here one day, and now all of a sudden here I was. Part of the reason I felt like that, I think, was because in the buildup to the cruise I’d been mostly excited about seeing Jamaica. And I think Jamaica overshadowed Mexico on account of the fact that I knew I’d be getting a very small sample of the latter. Even as I was walking around Puerta Maya, I didn’t feel like I was in Mexico for some reason- not truly. The area we were in was very touristy and composed mostly of jewelry stores and Margaritavilles. We couldn’t stray too far from the docks as we had an excursion booked for the afternoon.
Aaron and Anne-Marie had visited Puerta Maya on their last cruise with Carnival, and remarked that the place seemed exactly as they had left it. On that occasion, they hadn’t booked any excursions, so they had more time to explore the island and get a sense of the real Mexico. Most notably, they wandered across a quiet beach and ended up playing with a friendly pig they found there. I’ve always wanted to play with a pig myself, but we couldn’t pay a visit to the old porker as we had a cooking class to get to.
The Mexican cooking class was the excursion we were looking forward to most. When it was announced that Jamaica and Grand Cayman had been removed from our itinerary, we felt lucky that Cozumel was intact and our excursion preserved. It would have really sucked to miss out on that one. During the month leading up to the cruise, we spent many hours trying to decide which of the available excursions appealed most to us. There were a few good ones, but a lot of them seemed to come with a catch. Every time we found something promising, we would inevitably come across a review that revealed a distinct downside to the experience. Some had way too much travel time, some didn’t come with lunch, some involved squeezing through large crowds. But the cooking class had a near perfect rating. Out of over 200 reviews, all but three were five stars, and those remaining three were all four stars. It seemed too good to be true, and sure enough we had to book fast as there were few spaces left.
We had a good two and a half hours to loaf about before the shuttle came to pick us up for the class. With tickling future Christmas hams out of the question, we browsed the gift shops and took photos. The first place we entered had free samples of a dangerous rum cake. We perused Mexican ingredients, we caressed the smooth surfaces of folded hoodies, we ate and drank our way through free samples. I was reminded of a place from back home called “Clarks Village”. It’s a village in the middle of buttfuck Somerset that’s made up entirely of shops, mostly high-end brands I think. I remember my mom taking me there a couple times as a kid. As far as I could tell, Puerta Maya was kinda like that. The shops- particularly the retail ones- weren’t tacky either. There was a lot of jewelry, perfume, that kinda thing. We stumbled upon a souvenir shop that had a bunch of Mesoamerican-inspired gifts, including a sick fucking baseball bat depicting brightly-colored Mayan gods.
“Look, a fuckin’ Yucatán Slugger, mate!”
I wanted one. But it’s a classic example of something I’d buy and then never use.
Once again the weather was suffocatingly hot. Just meandering through the shops was enough for me to almost succumb to the elements. I was beginning to feel faint and dehydrated. A needlelike pain was making its way through my temple. We decided to stop at a nice, shady bar called Fat Tuesday where I ordered a glass of water alongside my mango hurricane and frozen daiquiri mix. The waiter replied that they only served bottled water, and I was then informed it wasn’t safe to drink tap water in Mexico.
I always feel self-conscious when rolling the “r” in Spanish words for some reason, like I won’t get taken seriously.
The bar had wi-fi and for the first time since leaving Aaron and Anne-Marie’s apartment in Houston, I checked the internet. I was surprised at how much I wasn’t missing using my phone throughout the trip. I figured I was the sorta person that always needed to be connected, but once it was gone I never thought twice about it. And sure enough, after checking my social media at Fat Tuesday, I became bored almost instantly and put my phone back in my pocket. Everything I could ever want or need to be happy was right in front of me. The anxiety I used to feel whenever I wasn’t connected to the internet, that vulnerable sense of being incomplete, was gone- as was the habit of mindlessly scrolling through apps without any real purpose.
The people I so often used my phone to connect with were here, sipping on cocktails and swaying to the music that boomed all around us. I had no need of a phone, or social media, so long as I was with them. If the cruise had continued for another week, or perhaps even longer, I think I could have easily kept going under these circumstances. But I don’t think that had too much to do with the cruise itself.
My favorite memories from the trip were ones like these- sitting around drinking in the company of music. I recalled the many times we sat in the Freedom’s atrium with Tyrone the country singer or the trio of Colombian violinists, the piano bar, the Punchliner, and of course the First Flight bar in Key West. More than anything else we did, these were the experiences I enjoyed the most.
Sitting at opposite sides of the table, Ted and Anne-Marie started spontaneously singing in unison.
“Aruba, Jamaica, oh I wanna take ya…” began Ted in a rich baritone.
“Bermuda, Bahama, cooome on pretty mama,” answered his daughter-in-law in her own silvery soprano.
The two vocal types complimented each other well, and I was impressed by their range. I didn’t get to hear it often. A warm sea breeze flooded us from all angles. The sweat I had accumulated from walking around was gone. The hurricane-daiquiri mix was a contender for one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had. I was intensely happy.
Never mind the cruise, I thought. Why not just stay here on Cozumel and go native? There was little I wanted to return to in the real world. I wondered how easy it would be, realistically, to just slip away. I’d throw my passport and phone into the sea, and just live here on the island forever. What could have stopped me? The Mayans were able to make it work for thousands of years. They never needed electricity or the internet. So it had to be possible.
Then I remembered my preorder for Doom Eternal and snapped out of it. But I left Fat Tuesday with the satisfaction that if the multiverse theory is true, then there’s a universe out there somewhere where I never got back on the cruise ship. In this one, however, I chose Doom Eternal.