I haven’t worn shoes in 5 days. I also haven’t seen a McDonald’s, Starbucks, brand name hotel or any other chain business in this time. I’ve been doing yoga every day and have been to that spot you see in all the beach vacation ads – you know the one you think doesn’t actually exist, where the sea goes on forever, no one else is around, the colors are spectacular, the sun shines bright. Just when I thought any place like that must be overrun with people, I find this island… And it is amazing!
Which island, you ask?
Holbox Island, in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, in Mexico. Cozumel is the big name island around here. Isla Mujeres is pretty well known. Isla Holbox… It’s much less developed, not well-known, and not really a luxury, all-inclusive resort type place. I LOVE IT!!!
The island, I hear, is nothing more than one big ball of sand. While the central part of the island – in town – has sidewalks and medians to divide the roads, most of the island simply has trees cleared to create a road of sand (or mud, as the recent rain has dictated). The roads on the entire island are, in fact, nothing more than sand (mud), and lots of people walk barefoot (why would anyone want to wear shoes here). Aside from walking, people use golf carts, mopeds, and bicycles to get around. There are parts of the island that are completely undeveloped (I wonder if part might be a protected area, never to be built upon), and there are parts (the rest of it) that are somewhat developed. I hear that the locals are resisting change, not wanting the island to become a big tourist destination like Mujeres or Cozumel. They’ve found a happy medium between the fishing village it used to be and the tourist hotspot it’s not yet become. It’s a peaceful, natural kind of place.
Fish are in abundance, cafes and restaurants line the single main road through town. The buildings have character.
Walking from the ferry terminal to the opposite side of the island – where my hostel is – takes no more than 15 minutes. Walking in the other direction, one end to the other, takes a little longer, as I found out when I – and a new hostel friend – went for a casual stroll to the beach. We intended to find a spot to stop and relax but, instead, we ended up walking for hours. When the tide is out, there is a patch of sand that you can walk on, through the water. This patch leads you well beyond the busy part of the beach to a place of solace, where there are but a few others within view. Literally – there was no one within talking distance when we got to our turnaround point.
We had walked on the beach – barefoot, of course – longer than most, and when we ran out of beach to walk on, we trudged through the knee-deep water, towards the sand bar in the ocean. We were chatting, and enjoying the view, the sounds of the calm waves crashing on our legs, when a local in a canoe passed by and tried to tell us something in Spanish. After a little conversation, we concluded that he was warning us about manta rays in the water, and suggested we splash before we walk for added security. I’ve heard of a manta ray, but what does it do? How dangerous is it? If I get stung (or bit, or whatever it’s called), am I going to need to be rushed to the hospital, which could take…. a long time…. to get to from the island? Eek! Fears aside, forward we went, carefully watching in front of us, splashing our way through the water, looking pretty silly, I’m sure. And then, we made it…
Amazing how just a short distance can make such a huge difference. It felt like we were walking on water, in the middle of the ocean, the middle of the world. As though the island, the hostel, our lives beyond that moment, ceased to exist. We were but one with the ocean, with life at sea, enjoying each precious moment. Well, that last part is not entirely accurate, for we were compelled to take photo after photo of this amazing place. And when we take photos, we really aren’t fully enjoying each moment. But we just had to capture some of this beauty for memories and to share with others. We did eventually stop with the photos, and simply enjoyed it. And there was much to enjoy. My hostel friend – let’s call her Mal – is a beautiful writer, and describes the experience on her blog. Here’s a snippet:
The sea goes on forever. I wiggle my toes in the impossibly soft white sand under a layer of clear water only a few inches deep. This sandbar is so expansive I can walk for miles into the sea without ever entering water deeper than what reaches my calves. The white of the sand, luminescent grey of the sky and translucent turquoise of the sea are so pure and endless they defy the eyes. In hours of walking, I come across barely a handful of other solo walkers, and everyone moves in the same quiet, reverent stillness; we all acknowledge the landscape’s demand of our awe.
The sea was alive with all sorts of species. We saw a bunch of sand pipers. Some were small, some were big – were some babies? Or were they different species? We saw crabs, a starfish, other birds.
And then, my friend pointed to some point in the distance. “Flamingos!!!” She exclaimed with excitement. To be honest, I hadn’t done any research. People told me Holbox was a must-see place and so I came here. I was simply enjoying the relaxed lifestyle, not concerned about what there was to see. My ignorance made this moment all that much more exciting. “Where?” I asked, searching the horizon. As she pointed inland, I finally saw the tiny specks of pink in the distance. We now had a destination. Our walk was no longer simply for the enjoyment of the space; it was to see the flamingos. As the sand pipers piped passed us, we stopped for a few distant photos of flamingos, for fear that they might quickly retreat in our presence. Luckily, they did not. We continued walking, snapping some photos, jaws dropped in awe – FLAMINGOS!!!
These birds are so cool! Their legs look so weird when they walk – they’re thin and bend the opposite of our human legs, which just seems so wrong. Their bodies are huge in comparison and they so gracefully open up their wings to fly even just a short distance away – like when we got too close. Beautiful creatures.
Back at the hostel, there are daily events happening to keep guests entertained. Sunset yoga, therapeutic drum session, salsa dancing, live music, quiz night… all events I’ve taken part in – all barefoot. The vibe is chill and friendly. I can lay in a hammock and read my book, I can sit on the patio writing, or I can find another traveller to chat with. The wooden architecture, thatched roofs, colorful walls, clean and organized kitchen, all help to make this place feel like home. Oh, and did I mention the AMAZING ocean view from the hostel’s rooftop? This is where we did yoga – at sunset!
I could stay here forever.
But today, I put my shoes back on.