As I left the port of Playa del Carmen for Cozumel, the waves parted around the boat turning the water into what looked like the foam on top of a very British pint of lager. After spending time in hippy-chic Tulum, the blue and yellow boat suddenly felt very offensive and I looked in horror at the white hotel resorts that were getting nearer. Where were the palapas? Would I meet like-minded people? Had I made a big mistake in leaving Tulum so early for Cozumel?
“What goes up must come down.” Isaac Newton
Cozumel is an island located in between Tulum and Cancun, about a 30 minute ferry away from Playa del Carmen. I had heard it was a cruise-ship destination, and the idea of mass-tourism seemed a million miles away from the hippy life I was trying to experience. But I had also read that the island boasted world-class diving sites, and having just completed my Open Water PADI, I needed to check it out.
Unlike the calm waters on the way to Holbox Island, the waves rocked us violently from left to right. I’m going to be sick, I thought, although I couldn’t quite decide if that was from feeling sea-sick, from the approaching hotel resorts, or from the fear of the unknown. I had been spoilt on my trip so far. In Holbox Island I had been well looked after with transfers and activities, and by talking to the girls, a huge milestone at the time, it had incidentally set up my trip to Tulum. Through them I had made some very well-connected Mexican friends who looked after me well, but yet here I was once again with no friends and no where to stay.
I can always go back, I thought, which was funny because just the night before I was bemoaning how Tulum was so expensive and saying I wished I had discovered it a decade ago. Perhaps I am very quick to judge and pick faults at things rather than appreciate them for what they are? I wondered if I would ever get used to leaving a place for the unknown by the end of my Mexican trip?
You can do it, I thought as the sea wind blew against my face. I looked around at the faces on the ship trying to imagine what kind of people I would meet at my new destination, just like I had done on the way to Holbox. If my dream man was waiting for me in Cozumel, then he wasn’t arriving on my ferry. In fact, I couldn’t see anyone my age, not that I could see much past the young couple violently PDA’ing directly in front of me. The people I saw looked like they’d come straight from a Donald Trump rally, and there was a man in a Hawaiian shirt unenthusiastically playing a ukulele over an instrumental rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine at the front of the ship. I was in a bad mood.
When did I become so miserable and judgemental? I put money in the musician’s tip box and checked myself, forcing myself to look on the bright side. As we approached the shore I noticed a Hard Rock café, and lots of designer shops such as Cartier and Omega, but I was also pleased to see the traditional Caribbean buildings and palm trees amongst the commercialism. My moment of forced enthusiasm was tested the moment I stepped off the boat when a pirate ship set sail with a thick American accent blaring over the speaker before Cotton-Eyed Joe started playing as it sailed away. At least it was sailing away from me, I thought somewhat optimistically!
I decided to head straight to the Diving Shop and book my dive for the next morning so that I had something to look forward to. I had found a recommended centre in my Lonely Planet Guide and made my way towards it through the streets, and paid about £120 for a three-tank dive the next morning. It was only when I walked out of the shop and turned left towards my hostel that I saw the dive shop I had intended to go to. I had booked a non-refundable dive in the wrong place! How could I be so stupid? What if the diving equipment was going to be awful?
When I arrived at the hostel I completely chickened out of staying in the big communal dorm room; I was tired and a bit emotional so decided I wanted my own space. Plus, I did have to be up super early for diving the next day (that’s the excuse I gave myself anyway), so I paid the extra money and made my way to the room. I opened the door to a very plain room with a double bed and private bathroom and felt relieved to put my backpack down. It was once I was sat on the bed that I noticed all the cigarette butts on the floor. It’s not a big deal, I told myself trying to ignore my OCD and reminding myself that I was here to experience all kinds of places. It felt dirty, but at least I had my very own shower so I could feel clean. I unpacked my toiletries and placed them on the glass shelf in the shower before jumping in myself. It was as I reached for my shampoo that I sliced my arm open on the shelf, which turned out to have a broken corner. I jumped out the shower and realised that I had left my towel in Tulum and there were no towels in the room. I stood naked under the air conditioning as I tried to bandage up my arm thinking that this sh*t-show of a day seemed almost farcical. I did not want to succumb to negativity or self-pity so I decided to head to the most expensive restaurant recommendation in my Lonely Planet Guide, a restaurant called Kunta.
As I walked down to the address I quickly realised that the restaurant did not exist, or if it did I was unable to find it. Up and down the street I went, before eventually settling for an awfully touristy restaurant on the main square. I sat listening to Shakira blurting out as I drank a beer to try to numb not only my stinging arm, but also my emotional state.
I made my way into bed before 9pm, and as I lay falling asleep I realised that bad days are possible even in paradise. Things don’t always go the way you want them to, but tomorrow was a new day and I would be back in the ocean.
For some holiday outfit inspiration, check out some of my picks below: