We had a little bit more of a plan for the second day, although we did have our Amazing Race moments. Tuesday was dolphin day. Dolphins! I had made reservations online a few weeks before, so we just needed to figure out how to get there. We were going to Dolphin Discovery on Isla Mujeres. I had heard that the island was a cool place to visit anyway, so I figured we could go early and bum around.
The Dolphin Discovery people have a ferry that runs from a place in the hotel zone, but it goes right to their facility and I think it’s like $10 or $15 per person. I figured we’d take the public ferry from Puerto Juarez, because it goes right to the town and it’s only $7 (both prices are round trip). Also, the Puerto Juarez ferry has more departure times (every half hour vs. every couple of hours) and is quicker (15 minutes vs. 45 minutes), and less time on a boat is always better for me.
The trick was figuring out to get to Puerto Juarez.
We figured we’d just take the city bus. After all, I love the bus! We knew how to get into downtown Cancun, but not how to get to the port from there. We could have taken a taxi from the hotel, but there were two problems with this. One was that a taxi would cost a lot more and the other was that we were staying at the Ritz Carlton and apparently the rate from a “luxury” hotel is about twice what drivers charge from other hotels. So, we could pay double or try to flag down a taxi on the street somewhere.
We asked the concierge about taking a bus to the port. She said it wasn’t possible. But, my tour book said that you could catch a bus from downtown Cancun. We aren’t great with directions to start with, so this did not bode well. In any case, we hopped on a bus to downtown and got off at Avenida Tulum , where the book claimed you could catch a bus to the port. Buses everywhere! The book, as usual, was completely wrong about the route number we wanted. We just looked for a bus that had “Puerto Juarez” on the front. And waited. And waited. Did I mention how hot it was?
People were yelling and motioning at us every three seconds with the “honeymooners”, “shop here”, etc. A guy ran over to us and asked if we were going to Puerto Juarez. We attemped to politely ignore him. He said that no! He didn’t want to sell us anything! He just wanted to help. And the Puerto Juarez buses didn’t come by that often so we might want to take a taxi. But that we should negotiate the rate before we got in because it should only be about $2. He then high-fived us for some reason. But he was nice, so we started walking over to find a taxi. “And then, when you come back from Puerto Juarez, stop by my shop!” He called after us. A few seconds later, he came running up: “Your bus is right there! You don’t have to take a tax after all!” And he was right. He high-fived us again and reminded us about his shop.
Here’s the thing. The ferries at the port in the hotel zone are more expensive, doesn’t leave as often, and take longer to get to Isla Mujeres. On the other hand, that port is a lot easier and quicker to get to (although since we never took it, I’m not sure if they go to the main town or just to the places at the other end of the island). It probably took us at least 45 minutes to get from our hotel to the port (20 minutes for each bus ride, plus waiting in between). It’s about a 15 minute bus ride to the first port. So, it’s probably a toss up. We went back to Isla Mujeres later in the week and we went from Puerto Juarez again. It worked out fine for us.
I’m not even positive we got off at the right port. It didn’t say Puerto Jaurez anywhere on it. But it was in the right general vicinity and the ferry came over half hour between 6am and 1am and it only took 15 minutes and it was only 35 pesos each way. So, we called it a win.
The best part about the trip was the absolutely breaktaking water. You could see all the way to the coral at the bottom. But the second best part was the home videos. We watched a little video about where the life jackets and life boats are and then, out of nowhere, they started showing home videos of people dancing, then slipping and hitting their heads really hard, or somehow losing their skirts, or falling off stages. Then, we saw some of dogs climbing over tall fences and little kids trying to walk and toppling over. It was all set to happy, fun music. Mexico’s funniest home videos! Proof that the world truly is the same everywhere.
We got to Isla Mujeres several hours before the scheduled dolphin swim. What to do now? Did I mention that we’re terrible at deciding what to do? Like if someone came up to us right on the street and said, I’ll give you a million dollars if you can decide between the two of you in the next 30 seconds what to have for dinner, well, we’d still be poor. The rich stranger could give us 30 minutes. It wouldn’t matter. It’s a wonder we don’t starve right to death.
You can rent golf carts to drive around the island. It is, after all, only five miles wide. You can walk along the beaches, hire out boats to take you snorkeling, sit at beachside cafes and drink margaritas, shop, eat lots of food. We did none of these things. We walked and walked and walked along an interior road with no view of water or beaches and that had no cafes or margaritas. We did not intend to do this, but learn from our cautionary tale of what can happen when you are unable to come up with a plan.
We stood around for a while and then consulted the book. The terrible, lying, cheating, backstabbing book. It told us that one of the big highlights of the island is the turtle sanctuary. Must see! Turtles! So, we were off to see turtles. We figured we’d take a taxi.
Before I tell this story, I want to mention that generally, I don’t expect everyone in the world to speak English. If I’m in a non-English speaking country, and people there don’t understand me, it’s my problem, not theirs. However, I also sort of think that if you work in the tourism service industry and you cater to English speakers, understanding some English might be helpful in your job. If I worked in the tourism service industry in the United States, I would want to speak at least a little of the language most tourists to my hypothetical tourist destination spoke.
And when I say “tourism service industry”, I don’t even mean all taxi drivers. When I watch The Amazing Race and the racers are in some urban location, I don’t feel bad at all for them if their taxi drivers don’t speak English. But. We were on an island that is only five miles long. It is unlikely that the taxi drivers were there for any other reason than for the tourists. And there are only so many interesting destinations on a five-mile island.
I still wouldn’t expect every taxi driver to know the English words to all of these destinations, but here’s the thing: I think that if the taxi driver has no idea what you are saying or where you want to go, he should not nod his head vigorously and motion you into the cab. This is someone saying, yes! I know exactly where you want to go! Jump in and I will take you there! When actually he’s thinking, I have no idea what you just said and I’m just going to drive around until you see the place you want and start pointing excitedly. After all, this island is only five miles long. If I drive around long enough, I’m bound to pass whatever it is you want.
So, a taxi driver saw us standing around and pulled over. We didn’t even motion him or anything. We leaned in and asked him if he knew where the turtle sanctuary was. He nodded. “Si, si!” And waved us in. We got in. He drove. And drove. And drove some more. Finally, he turned to us and started talking rapidly in Spanish. I couldn’t make out any of it. I finally realized that he wanted the name of the hotel we wanted him to take us to. I told him we weren’t going to a hotel. He looked really confused. No hotel? No. Donde? The turtle sanctuary. He asked again (in Spanish) for the name of our hotel. I looked in the book. It gave a basic location for the turtle sanctuary.
The sanctuary is on a piece of land separated from the island by BahÃa de Mujeres and Laguna Makax, at Carr. Sac Bajo #5; you’ll need a taxi to get there.
Uh-huh. I said, Laguna Makax? Bajo cinco? He looked at my blankly. He motioned out towards the water. I realized he was saying, you see all that water out there, lady? That’s Laguna Makax. I have no idea what this “bajo cinco” thing is you’re talking about.
He kept driving, the whole while, muttering things in Spanish. We looked at each other. I went way back to my six years of Spanish and… could not for the life of me remember the Spanish word for turtle. That’s one fine education, I was thinking. I really am making good use of that. Finally, finally, I remembered. Tortuga? Ah, tortuga! The driver said. And off we went.
He dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. I mean, there were turtles, but a worthwhile outing that would take at least an hour? Guided tours? Gift shop? Snack bar? We found four or five small concrete pools, each with a few turtles in them. The turtles swam around. They were cute. We took a few pictures.
Five minutes later, we walked out and realized we were stuck at the desolate turtle farm with no idea how to leave. So, we started walking. We walked along the water for a while, first one way and then the other. There were these weird all-inclusive places along the water. We passed by one, which seemed to also be a hotel, where they promised you could see a shark or have your picture taken with a shark or pet a shark or something having to do with a shark. We passed. Then we went the other way and happened upon this sort of sad little place with a buffet and hammocks and things. We slyly walked through and found the entrance, which led us to a road.
Ha! A road! I remembered seeing a sign for the dolphin place, so we walked towards that. Once we found it, we realized that the sign had an arrow pointed back the direction we had come. So, we started walking the other way. And we kept walking. And walking. This was an interior road, so we got mostly a view of bushes and concrete, rather than ocean and beach. We walked for at least an hour. It was really hot for a while, but then it started raining on us, so that cooled things off a bit. Finally, a taxi passed us. We waved him over and asked him about the dolphin place. He said it was maybe 100 yards away and we should walk. Well, of course that’s when we’d see a taxi.
As we walked, I thought about how I could eat all the great food I wanted that night for dinner without guilt because of all the exercise I was getting. Eventually, we made it to Dolphin Discovery. We were very happy.
A couple of things: swimming with the dolphins is amazingly awesome and everyone should do it. The rest of Dolphin Discovery? Not quite so much with the awesome. The ferry they suggest you take comes right to their location, and they encourage you to pay $19 for the all-you-can-eat buffet, and they rave about their other activities, for instance, snorkel with the sharks.
Here’s what snorkel with the sharks is: Three sharks are in the ocean, surrounded by this plexiglass like material in a big circle. You go out in the ocean with snorkel gear, and you stand on a platform and look into the plexiglass. You can pop your head underwater and get a better view. To get the sharks to go to where the snorkelers are, staff members lower meat chunks on a rope. The sharks appear to have no interest in the meat chunks. But they do swim around in circles, not unlike goldfish in a fish bowl. The sharks are pretty, but you can also watch them for free from the pier that goes to the plexiglass cage. Also, the meat chunks are kind of gross.
You can choose from a variety of dolphin swims and I highly suggest the Royal Swim, which is what we did. It’s also the most expensive. With this package, you get to swim with the dolphins in a huge area in the ocean, whereas with other packages, you are in a very small area and not much actual swimming takes place.
I cannot tell you how much fun this was. The entire thing was about the photo opportunities, but it didn’t even matter. The dolphins were just wonderful and cute and talky and bouncy and soft.
There were eight people in our group, and we were with two trainers and four dolphins (two with each trainer). The trainers obviously were very experienced and had great rapport with the dolphins. Everything was about the happiness and safety of the dolphins (well, and about the photo opportunities, of course).
The firs thing we did was kiss the dolphins. When it was our turn, we were supposed to lean down to let the dolphin kiss our cheek as we held his chin up with our hands. The trainers stressed that we had to stay in this position for five seconds. To get the dolphins used to us? Because sudden moves would frighten the dolphins? No, so the photographer could get a good shot. After the dolphin kissed us, we kissed the dolphin back. On the lips! P. said it wasn’t kissing a dolpin on the lips, but of course he did and of course I had to buy that picture. That taking pictures and charging $10 each for them was brilliant! My dolphin didn’t want to kiss me. He kept swimming away. Finally, another dolphin swooped in and came up for a kiss. He was thinking, well, if you don’t want to kiss her, I’m always up for a kiss!
We also got to swim way out in to the water and then hold our arms out to the sides. Two dolphins came up behind us on either side and we held on to their fins and they carried us around while they swam. Another time, we had to put our feet straight down and the dolphins came in under us, each with a nose under a foot and then they pushed us in the air and swam really fast as we flew. Those dolphins are strong. And they have great communication skills to make sure they were evenly pushing each foot.
We also got to just swim around with them, and pet them, and feed them little fish, and wave at them, and listen to them talk. The funniest thing about feeding them fish is that we were in the ocean and there were fish swimming around us everywhere! And yet the dolphins paid no attention those fish and went for the snacks we gave them. I asked the trainer about that and he said that sometimes in the morning, they would come in and find that a dolphin was hunting, but mostly, they liked having their food brought to them.
I had a bit of trouble hugging the dolphin. The way this worked was that you swam out and a dolphin swam over to you and then hovered in front of you while you hugged it. The dolphin posed for a picture and then swam away. Except the dolphins didn’t want me to hug them! Everyone else did this just fine, but when my turn came, the dolphin hovered too far away. The staff made me try again. And then again. (I couldn’t very well buy a picture of me hugging the dolphin if one didn’t exist, right?) Finally, I gave up. It was fun just trying.
After it was over, they had us all watch the video they put together. During the dolphin hugging footage, they spliced in me trying to hug the dolphin in between everyone else hugging successfully. It was almost worth the $50 price tag for the DVD. But not quite.
And when we were ready to leave, we even found a taxi to bring us back to town. And we watched more little kids falling down on video on the ferry ride back. And from the ferry terminal, you can catch a bus that takes you all the way back to the hotel zone, so we didn’t have to worry about changing buses. Which was good because we were wet and tired and smelled like dolphin.
Later in the week, we went back to Isla Mujeres again, and discovered that a golf cart makes all the difference.
We went back to the room and had showers and margaritas and lots of food. That was basically the theme for the week.