Rather than losing my head, I could have easily lost my mind. “Be careful,” a few of my friends advised when, with excitement, I told them that my husband and I were heading to Mexico, on a vacation.
Despite all the macabre news of violence and crime in Mexico, our vacation was a go. Being a native Colombian, I had already learned of similar violencia de las drogas—drug-related violence. I sighed with disgust as I thought of the innocent victims of this violence. I couldn’t repress my angry thoughts
The social worker in me was thinking. I sighed again, trying to push away my negative thoughts as I started packing. I was able to switch my focus to more pleasant thoughts. A white sand beach, a warm blue ocean, the splendid sunshine... the promise of a paradise island: Cozumel.
The brochures held true to their promise. As soon as we arrived to Cozumel the peaceful and friendly island atmosphere embraced us. We were received by fabulous local people proud to be our hosts.
Cozumel, located off the northeastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, a 249-square-mile island, with a population of more than 75,000, was now our place of temporary solace. We learned that the name Cozumel means "Land of the Swallows" in Mayan, and was named so due to the indigenous, graceful birds that can be seen regularly patrolling Cozumel's beautiful beaches and coastline.
Land of the Swallows, I repeated in my mind. A piece of heaven, I grinned.
A turquoise sea, with playful waves, welcomed the cruise-ships that stopped at the island. Crystalline water made the beach a delightful place. Colorful fish were easily spotted. Friendly fish, almost tamed, perhaps accustomed to being around ocean lovers swam by, or simply a behavior they learned from the locals—kind and welcoming Mexican people, who always had a courteous “hola” for everyone, with natural smiles blossoming on their faces.
We learned that Cozumel is known throughout the world for its first-rate sport fishing and scuba diving conditions. That Jacques Cousteau first introduced the world to Cozumel’s abundantly vivid sea life, and the area’s second largest coral reef in the world: the great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (once called the Palancar Reef).
As for us, we indulged in reading, writing, walking, snorkeling, conversing. All simple activities made dazzling and more intense than usual.
Day and night.
Following our adventurous spirits, my husband and I decided to tour the Mayan ruins on the island. We got in our rental car, and headed off to San Gervasio, an archaeological site of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization.
“Cozumel was settled roughly 2000 years ago by ancient Mayans, a seafaring people, who saw Cozumel as a commercial trading stop as well as a sacred shrine.
“The island of Cozumel was a mecca to Mayan women who made the voyage from the mainland to Isla Cozumel in large dugout canoes to worship Ix Chel, the Goddess of fertility. Leaving the mainland from what is now Playa del Carmen and Tulum, Mayan women crossed the treacherous channel in open canoes to give offerings at the alter site of Ix Chel. What remains now of the altar and ceremonial center of Ix Chel can be seen at the San Gervasio ruins site near the center of the island.” www.cozumelinsider.com/History
San Gervasio was a place for contemplation and admiration. I could have easily bent my knee to the ground to express my deep respect to the Mayan culture. An undeniable feeling to genuflect persisted as I continued exploring the ruins. As my hands touched walls, rustic steps, loose rocks, road dust, my mind was fixated with what to me were images of the Mayan people. Like in a time machine, my mind was taken to the past by the wings of my imagination. The Mayans. The Ancestors. My own ancestors, perhaps, as I wondered how intertwined they were with my genealogical tree of ancestors, the Andean natives.
“And you probably wonder, what happened with the Mayans?” My thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a tour guide, being followed by a group of tourists, eagerly listening. “Where did they go? Did they disappear?”
The man paused. There was a touch of suspense in his voice. The tourists remained quiet and expectant.
“No, they didn’t disappear. We are the Mayans’ descendants!” he proudly exclaimed. Several people smiled, with a gesture that appeared to me a near sign of relief.
I grinned, and continued taking more pictures.
After leaving San Gervasion, we began another journey: a drive around the island. A road circles the entire island. The road is well maintained, so the ride was easy and enjoyable. We visited the eastern or “wild side” of the island. This side was nearly deserted, spotted with a few little ramshackle beach bars and restaurants. We heard that a hurricane devastated the eastern side of the island several years ago, causing major destruction, including wiping out of the power transmission systems.
“There’s not much here to see,” my husband commented, blandly, as we looked at wild vegetation on one side of the road, and the rocky, turbulent beach, on the other.
“I actually think this is very interesting. We are exploring the rustic side of the island. Don’t we all have a wild side? And so does Cozumel!” I raised my eyebrows, teasingly, then laughed.
Shopping had to be included in our schedule. Not that I care about spending a great deal of time, or money, on shopping during my vacation, but I do like to visit the local stores, and browse the locals crafts.
While hunting for souvenirs, I was suddenly stopped by a young man who offered me yarn name bracelets.
Friendship bracelets! I was excited. What better souvenirs that personalized handmade bracelets.
I picked two bracelets from his display board, and asked him to make a couple more with more uncommon names. He told me it would take about 10 minutes to make them. I agreed to wait. As his skillful hands started to work on the yarn, I initiated a conversation. We talked about his job. He had moved to Cozumel just four months earlier, along with two of his brothers. He said he came from Guerrero, where unemployment was a serious problem. We talked about Acapulco and the recent violent events. He regretted that it was happening and affecting his country.
“I am sixteen,” he said, and I thought he actually followed quite well my grown-up conversation considering his age. He was polite and knew how to keep the customer—me— motivated. I was amazed at his dancing fingers which, as if by magic, transformed the threads of yarn slowly into colorful names. The bracelets looked precious. He well deserved the twenty dollars he charged me. Watching him craft the bracelets was as entertaining as the product itself.
I was thrilled as I envisioned my friends’ faces of surprise when I’d hand them the friendship bracelets. Bracelets with their names, handcrafted by a fine young man. My nameless, winged-hearted friend from the “Land of the Swallows.”