See Fish, Eat Fish: A Trip to Bonita Cozumel
Our weeklong trip to Cozumel really was a mixture of seeing fish, eating fish (and ice cream and churros and mojitos) and repeating. A wonderful recipe for a vacation, I must say.
After three blissful half-days with the vivacious Alfonso (our Zumba-loving, camo-wetsuit-clad scuba instructor), my husband and I became PADI certified scuba divers!
My husband was the most jazzed about scuba diving, since the weightlessness lets him relive his boyhood astronaut dreams. I took some special coaxing to embrace the idea. Turns out, it was totally worth it. I mean, seeing the other half of creation — the realm of the underwater world that we know less about than space — was pretty breathtaking (or maybe that was just my funky rented regulator). We saw everything I had hoped to see: sea turtles, a nurse shark, eels, barracudas and an octopus and squid on our night dive. (More pictures from the trip and our underwater photo sessions are here.)
We got a kick out of Alfonso, and Stacey and I even attended his real-deal Zumba class for a true local experience. It was led by a professional dancer named Daniel (who we decided to call Enrique) and filled with Latina women easily following his hip gyrations once the salsa music kicked on. I’ve never felt so white, in my sporty spice tennis skirt, but it was an absolute blast. With no a/c in the little gym, I’m glad we tried this in April and not July.
Then we walked a few blocks for a well-earned meal at what may be the best restaurant on the island ‚ El Moro. I mean, we only went to a few eateries outside of our resort — it’s hard to leave that all-inclusive buffet, but one must explore! — and I can’t imagine any being better.
But what really makes El Moro is the people. I would use the word service but hospitality would be more accurate, since the restaurant is located in what used to be the owner’s home in this off-the-tourist-path neighborhood. The taxi drivers all know where it is and it’s like you’ve cracked the good tourist code by asking to go there (or you had the fortune of sitting next a Cozumel-visiting veteran on a dive trip). I would tell you more, but I want to save something for the story I hope to write about the place. They cook with corazón and you can taste it.
Here’s a glimpse of the goodies… ceviche, guac, to-die-for nachos with this deep red sauce and the creamiest coconut ice cream you can imagine.
Besides diving, some of our favorite memories were made on little visits to town. My cousin had gone to Cozumel a couple weeks before us and tipped me off to the live music scene in the town square on Sunday nights. We arrived to a family-friendly affair, with kids painting at easels and families gathered around tables of confections that looked like little more than a bake sale. Though we knew enough not to eat the fruit, we couldn’t resist the churro stand. Golden, fried, cinnamon-sugared goodness. They were hot out of the fryer (the man obliged me by squeezing out a strand for a photo) and nearly burned our hands through the paper wrappers. I wanted to slap our friend when he mentioned the likes of Taco Bell’s cinnamon twists in comparison. No, no, no.
Beyond food, there were plenty of street performers in the square: fire-baton throwers and a woman who did unthinkable hip gyrations while standing on stilts, not to mention the silver-painted cowboy who had my friend Stacey fooled he was a statue until she posed for a picture with him. He put the NYC versions to shame.
We left the square to linger in a little street-side bar that — either we lucked out or they’re all like this — served the best mojitos we’d ever had. We bought the glasses with the puff-painted ingredients written on the side and returned to our all-inclusive resort on a mission to train the people making our free drinks (Ahem, please blend my mojito — mint and all — and add some coconut rum and extra lime. Gracias.)
Though the Mayan ruins in Cozumel are sort of anticlimactic (I mean, only 1,200 years old, compared to the others), we enjoyed another must-try eatery on the way back, tucked inside a beautiful old mission house called, as it were, La Mission. It had the best ambiance by far, walking through an expansive garden — complete with parrots — to the open-air seating and art deco archways. And a table full of locals seemed to be celebrating a special occasion next to us, which is always a good sign. Stacey gave us all order envy with her coconut shrimp, served in a coconut filled with a yogurt and mint sauce that absorbed the coconut-y goodness. So good.
And if you go to La Mission, you have to do the tequila tour in the courtyard. None of us are tequila drinkers or particularly like the stuff, but that Sandra is pretty convincing, with her “my family has been making this for generations” schtick. She offered more samples than we could handle — their butter pecan-flavored tequila was too good to have on hand; and Sandra reportedly has the coffee-flavored one with her breakfasts. We fell for all of it, hook, line and sinker, and each brought home a bottle of LOS 3 TOÑOS “sipping” tequila. To get a glimpse of the tour, here’s a video of Sandra’s impassioned presentation on tequila. Did you know “the good stuff” comes from blue agave plants that are at least a dozen years old? And that, as Sandra repeats twice in this video, it is an aphrodisiac?
After collecting our drinkable souvenirs in town, we spent our last half-day relaxing from all the dives and watching other people do the work. Midway through the week, we noticed an increasing number of chiseled individuals from all over the world arriving at our El Cozumeleño Beach Resort. When the men started sporting speedos and the women eating piles of pasta at the buffet, we knew something cool was going on. Turns out, the World Cup of swimming — a 10K race in the ocean — was to be held at our resort this past Saturday. We quizzed the physiologist from the British team (if only to hear her lovely accent) about the details.
First fun fact: the swimmers eat some 6,000 calories a day while they’re training with two-a-days. It must be nice to be at an all-you-can-eat resort, we said. And then she told us, much to our chagrin, that they can’t actually eat the meat at the resort, because the meat in Mexico has too much steroids in it and could cause their swimmers to fail the no-doping tests. “WHAT!?” my organic-eating friend and I said, after we’d been gorging on the buffet for three days. Awesome. Great. So we tried to focus on ocean-grown proteins for the rest of the week.
It was a fun ending to our vacation to cheer on the Americans (and the Brits a bit) as we saw the start of the women’s race Saturday morning. The race took more than 2.5 hours, with each lap taking three times as long against the current as on the way back. It looked exhausting, to say the least. But maybe they enjoyed the fish while they were swimming!
We sure did.