“Catch me if you can!”
Running and chasing after friends as a child will always be a treasured memory. Some kids always got caught first, my sister mostly. Then I would let her tag me so I could help her catch the others. This was our childhood, here in the United States, the land of the free. Traveling, especially to the Caribbean, there is a different childhood story to be told.
This was our second time visiting Cozumel. On our last visit, we spent our time at an all-day, all-inclusive beach party amongst other visitors and vacationers. The beach was sectioned off for our group and only limited access was granted to local solicitors. This time we opted to see more of the island and contracted with a local tour company. We were joined with Mexican native Johny “Jaguar”, a Mayan descendant. Dressed in a uniform shirt and a pleasing smile, he served as our driver, escort and seasoned historian. He pointed out one of the only universities on the island, Partenon, and remarked how few students ever get to attend due to the need to work and help support their families.
With starting gas prices at $3.50 per gallon, commuting by moped is the most popular mode of transportation. As a parent, the sight of child passengers riding along without a helmet was an image that was difficult to digest. For them, it is their way of life.
It never ceases to amaze me how a trip to the Caribbean is a luxury for most travelers yet a large number of the locals are struggling just to get by. What many deem a breathtaking tropical escape is often a privatized prison for impoverished inhabitants.
100% of Cozumel’s income is from tourism with 80% attributed to cruisers. Needless to say, Johny was happy to welcome us ashore. On route to the Mayan ruins, Johny shared some of his fondest childhood memories with us. He talked about his 30 feet tankless ocean dives with friends in search of conch. He pointed out various natural water wells from which he regularly drank before they were declared unfit. He also directed our attention to the plentiful plant life that graced the outskirts of the roads and pathways. The agave plant, used in making tequila, was his favorite ;-)
As a young boy, Johny developed a unique skill set in identifying and gathering natural herbs in the bushes and chasing wild chickens for food.
Although the majority of families were poor and accustomed to relying on natural resources for survival, they were satisfied. Johny described the freedom and accessibility of the lands before the government closed off many of these public areas and listed them for sale to corporations and proprietors. His days of chasing chickens are slightly different now. His wild chickens are now in the form or travelers, tourists and vacationers.
If you would like to know more about visiting Cozumel and perhaps touring the island with my new friend Johny, please contact me here.