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Beached on Beautiful Bequia....Part 2

Day 5:

There was no beautiful breakfast on the patio on Wednesday because we were meeting a boat very early that morning.

In my customary neurotic fashion, I had contacted Michael Tours MONTHS before our trip to inquire about booking a day trip to the Tobago Cays and Mayreau.

They found it hilarious and basically told me to calm down, crazy lady.

Who knew if they would be going, when they would be going, or where they would be going this early? I was told to check in with them when we arrived on the island and they’d let me know what they had based on weather and other interested parties. Despite the fact that this gave me heart palpitations and required deep breathing exercises, this is exactly what I did.

We had managed to work out trip for Wednesday because another group was interested in going and that gave them enough people to justify the trip.

This required us to actually set an alarm on vacation.

Oh the horror.

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Even with the alarm and no breakfast or coffee stop…we were late. Not only was everyone waiting for us when we arrived, but we had forgotten our money.

We were total losers.

They let us go anyway and told us to just “come by and pay them later in the week.” Seriously laid back, these Bequians.

No vex.

Much to my delight, there was coffee and banana bread on the boat. This was actually good for everyone, not just me, because there are those people who can wake up, chug nothing more than a whey protein smoothie, run 10 miles, and go about their day. Matt is those people. I, on the other hand, wake up with the speed of a sloth and do well to get my pants on right side out and find matching socks before I have had a cup of coffee. Until I have coffee, everyone is in danger.

I arrived at the boat a tousled mess. Every yawn was just a noiseless scream for caffeine. I think I heard angels singing when I saw the coffee set up.
In cute little handmade pottery cups that looked like the ocean, no less!

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The captain let us know it would be a long ride to the Tobago Cays and told everyone to just find a spot and settle in. It was a really big boat and there were only 6 of us, so finding a private space wasn’t hard to do.

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Shortly after leaving, we cruised past the Moonhole, an abandoned dream found on the secluded western end of Bequia.

In the late 1950s, Tom and Gladdie Johnston retired from the rat race and decided to go all in and move to Bequia, a quiet tropical paradise they had come to love. In their exploration of the island, they visited a geological arch formation known as the Moonhole, far on the very western tip of the island. At the time, that end of the island was accessible only by a wet hike along the bottom of the cliffs.

They began to spend time there, picnicking and camping out, and it quickly became their favorite spot on the island. In the 1960s, they impulsively bought the entire 30-acre tract and started constructing a house underneath the arch, working with local masons from a nearby village who walked in daily with food and supplies.

Tom and Gladdie worked side by side with carpenters and masons from the island and created an architectural wonder, a house literally built from the rock, surrounded by the sea, fashioned out of only natural materials, built into the hillside, and completely reliant on solar electricity, rainwater and propane tanks. The architecture was open-air, with lines blurred between indoors and out. It was their dream.

Before long they started inviting friends and relatives, entertaining them at the huge bar made out of a recovered humpback whale jaw bone. Everyone was enamored with their Robinson Crusoe lifestyle and natural home and they wanted it too.

This might be where the Johnston’s “paradise found” began to become their “paradise lost.”

Persistent dream-seekers urged Tom to build houses for them. Soon, the former ad man who had no architectural or building training, was an in demand architect on the island of Bequia. He agreed to build more houses and wanted to develop the Moonhole as a preserve for writers, artists, friends and others who wanted to get away from it all. Over the next thirty years, he built sixteen more houses, a commissary, office, living quarters for Moonhole staff and a gallery where the community could congregate every Sunday.

Tom died in 2001, and things went south pretty quickly. Moonhole began to lose its once devoted but now-disillusioned staff, and many of the houses became seriously neglected. People left. Homes fell into disrepair, and the dream was lost.

Today, only a few homes remain habitable and the original Moonhole house is in total disrepair and, unsafe to enter, can only be viewed from the sea.

Looking at that house was like facing a ghost. It was eerie and sad.

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As we pulled away from Bequia, the rest of the boat ride was just a smooth passage filled with beautiful water and colorful islands.

We sat back, relaxed, and simply took it all in.

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The family of four wanted to snorkel for turtles, but Matt and I opted to be dropped off on a deserted little island to explore. I had seen more than my share of sea turtles and prefered to snorkel where there aren’t gobs of life-vested people bobbing about in the water. The Tobago Cays, while lovely, were quite overvisited. In my experience, snorkeling with groups typically resulted in your peaceful experience, gliding through the calm water admiring the beauty of the underwater world, being abruptly interrupted at some point by some person in a bright yellow vest flapping around, half swimming, half drowning, definitely scaring away all the fish, and more often than not, standing upright on the coral to get their breath.

No thanks.

I would save my snorkeling for the beautiful reefs of Abaco, where I didn’t have to share it with hysterical people screaming because a fish nibbled their leg hair and relentlessly kicking me in the face mask with their fins, completely unaware of their surroundings.

Being marooned for an hour on a deserted island sounded infinitely more entertaining.

Especially one this beautiful.

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Deserted island + Matt + Yeti thermos filled with (VERY STRONG) rum punch = Bliss.

After the Cays, we were going to stop at Salt Whistle Bay on Mayreau. I was pretty excited about this – actually, more excited than seeing the Cays. The beach looked lovely and I knew there were several good bars and restaurants scattered along the crescent of palm filled beach.

En route, one of the deck guys handed us a laminated menu and told us we were eating lunch at the Last Bar Before the Jungle and they would call in our order in advance. Wha….??

Not wanting to rock the boat, we complied and gave him our order, only to be told they were “out of that.”

STRIKE ONE.

We made an alternative selection. No worries. No vex. It was all good.

When we arrived on Mayreau, a long beautiful beach stretched out before us and, inexplicably, the boat pulled up onto the dirtiest, rangiest, most seaweed littered section on the far end and let us off. Because THIS is where the Last Bar Before the Jungle was located.

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Matt and I gave each other a look as we walked warily up to the bar/restaurant. We’ve enjoyed our share of dilapidated, disheveled, and less-than-sanitary beach shacks. We’ve loved them. This one…gave us pause.

Nonetheless, our food was ordered so we powered on. We went up to the bar, which actually had an impressive drink menu, only to find that they didn’t have the ingredients to make most of the drinks. We ordered two painkillers and were brought something extremely NON painkiller like. Whatever it was, it was TERRIBLE. When the Hatfields refuse alcohol, something is amiss.

STRIKE TWO.

The final blow came when I decided I’d like to wash my hands and made the mistake of going BEHIND the bar in search of a bathroom. What I saw was a grill and counter set up underneath the trees in the open air. Our fish sat there, waiting to be cooked, as large black birds hopped about on the counters, picking at things and pooping as they pleased. Flies covered everything. A guy stood mixing a large bowl of salad with his bare hands.

Y’all…..I can eat in some unsanitary conditions. I have. I do. I am the person that gets diarrhea from the street vendor on almost every vacation. I nearly died from food poisoning on the way home from Honduras because, against Matt’s warnings, I ate an inordinate amount of one restaurant’s house made hot sauce as their pet pig watched. My standards are extremely low.

When I say that “kitchen” made me feel nauseous, you know it was bad.

I walked out and told Matt to pay for our food and drinks and leave.

And that’s exactly what we did.

STRIKE THREE…..AND YER OUT!

We walked to the opposite end of the beach. The walk itself took us past several little shacks of bars and racks of colorful beach sarongs.

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At the very far end, we found a beautiful oasis at the Saltwhistle Bay resort. The setting was lovely, the menu was varied and upscale, the drinks were perfect, and the food was amazing.

Happy with our choice, we worried about those two poor kids that were down there eating that fish. Those parents were going to have a long night.

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We enjoyed our remaining time on Mayreau at the Salt Whistle Bay beach before we knew it was time to head back to the boat. I can’t resist a low slung palm tree. Can anyone??

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It was pretty late when we got back, and we still had to pay the Captain for the boat day. The Captain knew the house where we were staying and told us he’d just swing by on his way home and grab our money.

SO LAID BACK, these people.

We got cleaned up, got him paid, and headed to …..where else…..Da Reef for sunset.

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Again, we had no plans for dinner. Bequia was managing to calm even my over planned, neurotic brain. We headed toward town, the post-sunset views literally igniting the sky.

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We had seen Laura’s on our previous stroll along the Belmont Walkway and decided to give it a try. It was open!

Wine, salad, pasta and a beautiful view of the harbor ended a long day on the right note.

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Day 6:

BREAKFAST! I loved having breakfast on the patio at the villa. The views never stopped being amazing.

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On every vacation, Matt and I like to take at least one day to explore and drive around. We decided this would be the day. Bequia was so small, it would take no time at all to drive the entire island.

So we did.

Our first stop was to drive over to a relatively new resort called “The Liming.” Located on the southwestern tip of the island, the Liming was situated on lovely Adams Bay between the airport runway and the Moonhole. I had gathered from my browsing of the interwebs that this was a relatively controversial development.

Promoters of the resort and travel articles touted it as the “next best thing” on Bequia, an uber luxury resort situated on a beautiful beach. However, devoted fans of Bequia, locals, and long time visitors obviously considered it a blight, a development that virtually destroyed one of the most beautiful and pristine stretches of Bequia. It reminded me very much of the struggle between Bakers Bay and the Guana Cay community in my beloved Abaco. I could feel their pain.

I was glad it was the off season, because I wasn’t sure how I felt about supporting the development by visiting the restaurant, but I really wanted to see the beach. As we drove up, a guard stood at the entrance. We simply asked if it was okay to drive inside and he motioned us in. He did keep an eye on us the entire time, however, like we were going to grab a light fixture and make a sudden run for it.

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The beauty of the place didn’t disappoint, but it did make me sad to see what was probably much more lovely before someone decided to gobble it up and put a resort on it.

We decided to continue our drive out toward Hope Bay, Industry Bay, and Spring Bay. The beaches on the southern side of Bequia were wild and wonderful. They weren’t the calm, turquoise, gin clear beaches that you find on many Caribbean islands, so probably not the best bet for a swim or a beach day, but for exploring and just soaking in their sheer beauty, they were perfect.

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The biggest drawback to visiting the south side in the off season was that the one or two restaurants and bars on that side were closed for the season, forcing us back into Port Elizabeth for lunch.

We found ourselves at Mac’s, just a short hop along the Belmont Walkway, for their famous pizza and what should be famous margaritas.

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And sweet dogs. So many sweet dogs.

Dogs are ever present on Bequia and we loved this. These weren’t sad and thin island dogs, strays looking for love or a handout, these were fat and happy island dogs, ready to eat your pizza crust, follow you down the beach, or just lick your face, whatever the moment demanded.

Then it was back to the villa for naps.

We had noticed a great happy hour was held each night at The Firefly, so we decided to forgo sunset at Da Reef and partake in Firefly’s two-for-one happy hour. Not only did it give us a chance to see this lovely, tropical restaurant and bar in the daylight, it allowed us to sample their house special, the “praying mantis” martini, made from a bottle of house infused vodka stuffed with lemongrass and ginger... TWICE!

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I’m not sure what I loved more, the martini or the bar dog. Both were delightful.

For dinner, we decided at the last minute (I was really starting to get into this “fly by the seat of my pants” vacation) to see if Fig Tree on the walkway was open. Once again, we found ourselves to be the only patrons of the restaurant, but this time, we also had an ENTIRE BAND to ourselves. It was like a private serenade.

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We clapped, we whistled, and we enjoyed a delicious dinner of local island specialties. As we got up to leave, the members of the band told us for our last song they would play anything we wanted.

Anything? Never say that to someone from Knoxville, TN.

Day 7:

It was our last day on Bequia. That meant it was our last lovely outdoor breakfast.

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I wanted to spend my last day at my favorite spot, so we headed to Princess Margaret Beach to see if I was so captivated by it earlier in the week because it was truly lovely or because I’d had one too many margaritas.

It was definitely the beach.

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The Belmont Walkway ends at Jack’s, so we decided to walk up and over to see the views, landing us at Bequia Plantation Hotel, which was closed for the season but a beautiful spot, nonetheless.

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We sunned, sipped, and slothed until lunch and then….margaritas!!

Along with Jack’s amazing burger and fries.

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All week, we had seen a little floating houseboat in the bay that we knew to be Bar One, a super cool floating bar that was purported to have very unique cocktails. The bartenders at Jack’s called them up and before we could say “Duck Fart,” a dingy from Bar One was at the dock at Jack’s ready to take us over.

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The little floating bar was a whimsical delight. Beautiful views, fun swings, and really unique cocktails like the mango black pepper gin and tonic, the ultimate dirty bloody Mary, and, yes……the duck fart, which was crazy good.

Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

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It was our last night, so obviously we had to experience just one more, VERY STRONG rum punch happy hour at Da Reef.

Do you realize that $5 EC is $1.85? Just want to make sure that is clear.

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We had seen the restaurant at Frangipani several times as we wandered up and down the Belmont Walkway and I had heard they were supposed to have the best pie, so we headed in and scarfed down mile high crispy chicken sandwiches and weird green pie for our final dinner.

Weird green pie was good.

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Day 8:

It came and went so fast. Bequia has been all we had hoped for and more. It reminded us of all the things we loved about our old favorite haunt, St. John, and a more recent favorite, Jost Van Dyke, without the things we didn’t like. It was beautiful and offered stunning beaches but wasn’t overcrowded or overdeveloped. The pace was easy and the people were kind. The food was good and the drinks were strong. Dogs slept under your beach chair as you wasted the day doing nothing more than staring at the sky. It was peaceful, quaint, and hit a sweet spot that we hadn’t anticipated.

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Unfortunately, to be cliché, all good things must come to an end. But in true Bequian fashion, even the end was sweet. How better to see us off than with a box of puppies on the ferry!

PUPPIES!

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Thank you, Bequia! You’ll see us again.

PUPPIES!

AND PLEASE DON'T FORGET OUR BEAUTIFUL ISLAND HOME OF GREAT GUANA CAY URGENTLY NEEDS YOUR HELP.
The media is gone, the government paralyzed but the crisis continues. PLEASE CONSIDER A SMALL DONATION. Thank you for your consideration. These are lovely people and my friends. If this WONDERFULLY FREE blog has brought you any joy, please share the joy: https://greatguanacayabacos.com/donate/

Posted by vicki_h 10:43 Archived in St Vincent/The Grenadines Tagged beach island caribbean tropical bequia grenadines port_elizabeth saint_vincent_and_the_grenadine princess_margaret_beach Comments (1)

Beached on Beautiful Bequia

Bequia isn’t for everyone.

At only 7 square miles, it’s pretty small….only some 6 miles long and 2 miles at its widest. This tiny island in the Grenadines isn’t as beautiful as some other islands in the Caribbean. It definitely isn’t as luxurious. It certainly isn’t the easiest to get to.

And don’t even get me started on the giant snakes that hang out in the trees on the beach.

But…there was something about this sleepy little island that reeled us in. It was like a soothing balm to our high strung nerves. Bequia was a happy accident.

We didn’t know much about Bequia when we decided to make it our “off Guana” trip for 2019. I can’t even really tell you how we decided to go other than Matt saying he wanted to go somewhere he’d never been, and post-Irma, choices were limited.

Bequia kept popping up in my searches. One article described it as “the Caribbean as it once was,” another “the Caribbean’s best kept secret.” It seemed very laid back, less polished, more authentic. It was also hard to find much information about. I am accustomed to planning out every detail of our vacations well in advance using the information I can find online. When I tried to do that with Bequia, I didn’t have much luck. Partly because of the lack of information online, but I now also know it was partly because of the way things work down there.

I tried to schedule a day trip on a boat and the proprietor actually laughed. I got an email response saying "So early! Relax. Text me when you come. We’ll see what days we are going.” In Vicki-speak, she might has well have said, “Go stick your head in an oven and leave it there until it explodes.”

Bequia was described as small, authentic, and off the beaten track. I quickly discovered that being removed from the mainstream also meant being removed from any easy way to get there. Yet, somehow, after browsing a dozen or so islands, we decided to go to this tiny island that we couldn’t find much information about, that was going to take us 2 days to get to, and that we weren’t even sure how to pronounce.

“Beck-wee-ah?” Matt said.

“Bek-way.” I responded. “We’re going to Bek-way.”

We were going to Bequia.

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Day 1:

Or was it day 2? We had left Knoxville the previous day, flying to Miami (on Matt’s birthday, no less) and arriving at 10:00 p.m. with just enough time to celebrate his birthday in style and get a few hours of sleep before getting up the next morning to fly to St. Vincent fueled by nothing more than determination and airplane bloody Marys.

(Please note that Little Havana's 80's 305 Bar cleverly serves up an old fashioned with a rolled up bill and some curious powder....literally the best drink presentation ever...just wanted to ensure you don't think we celebrated in style with a pile of blow and some cash...)

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After a 4 hour plane ride, we grabbed a taxi for a 45 minute ride to the ferry port and jumped on the hour long ferry to Bequia.

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It was late when we finally arrived at our villa, high above Lower Bay. Tired and hungry, we didn’t even unpack before jumping in our Jeep-like-vehicle. I have no idea what that vehicle was, but it was very sandy, didn’t have many parts on it that actually worked, and literally screamed as we crept down the incredibly steep road from the villa to the beach below.

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It was 6:00 and, after over 24 hours of travel, it was perfect timing for Da Reef’s rum punch happy hour. Let me rephrase. Da Reef’s VERY STRONG RUM punch happy hour.

Just a straight shot down the hill from our villa, this quiet little seaside bar and restaurant with tables right on the water’s edge in Lower Bay offered a beautiful sunset and a perfect way to end a long day of travel (and start a much needed vacation).

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For no extra charge, your table comes with a very persistent cat.

We had dinner reservations at Bagatelle on “the other side of the island” (a 4 minute drive….). After a few dicey hairpin turns in the absolute dark, we found the Bequia Beach Hotel on the opposite side of the island on the shores of Friendship Bay. Their fine dining restaurant, Bagatelle, was one of the nicest on the island and offered a seafood feast on Saturdays. Anything with the word “feast” in it sounded like a good way to start a vacation.

We were seated at a table right at the edge of the water, candles aglow, soft music playing. The feast was a lavish buffet. Unfortunately, it wasn’t lobster season, but there were plenty of good options. We sipped wine, listened to the rolling surf, and settled into what we hoped would be a magical week on a new island.

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It would be a slow and easy week of salty air, turquoise seas, and rum filled lunches.

Hello Bequia…..

Day Two:

I’m not going to lie. It was a hot night. Even with the a/c, the bedroom of the villa had louvered windows that you couldn’t really seal up. The mosquito net kept the flying beasts out of the bed, but it did nothing about the heat.

Nevertheless, it was a beautiful morning on Bequia. Our villa had the most stunning outdoor patio overlooking the water and I simply stood and breathed it in. This was worth a warm night’s sleep. The entire villa was lovely.

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We had no food and, more importantly, no coffee, so we were forced to leave our lovely nest and go in search of breakfast and groceries. It was that or starve with a beautiful view.

We headed into “town” (anyone who has ever visited a small Caribbean island knows good and well why that is in quotes) to grab some breakfast and find some provisions. Port Elizabeth was a cluster of brightly colored restaurants and bars. Nothing was higher than a palm tree.

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We parked our Jeepy thing and wandered through the quaint seaside village. We quickly found ourselves at the Belmont Walkway, a beachfront walkway that hugged the coves and the shoreline between Port Elizabeth and Princess Margaret Beach.

It took us past several shops, bars, and restaurants. Pastel-painted homes dotted the hills and beaches around the harbor, and fragrant oleanders and frangipani spilled over fences. Hummingbirds hovered over hibiscus and gulls drifted over the soft pockets of sand that cushioned the sea. It was a place of tranquility and timelessness. I loved it already.

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Our walk eventually landed us at the Gingerbread Café.

We were drawn in by the the café’s random smattering of tables set underneath the rustling palms with a stunning view of the water.

Okay, it was really the banana rum cake, but the view was very nice.

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We decided to walk the rest of the walkway before heading out for groceries just to learn the lay of the land. Wow. It was GORGEOUS.

Bequia was starting things off right.

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Buying groceries on a small island is always an exercise in patience and flexibility. You aren’t going to really find what you want and you are going to pay way more for it than you really want to. Going to an island grocery store with a list is simply futile and will do nothing more than waste your time and elevate your blood pressure. You’ll go in looking for brie, a fresh baguette, and some grapes and you’ll come out with a bag of generic brand cheese puffs, day old Wonder Bread, and a lime.

We would have welcomed a bag of generic cheese puffs after going to 3 stores only to find them all closed.

IT WAS SUNDAY.

The only thing worse than trying to buy groceries on an island is trying to buy them on Sunday.

We finally found something open and it was pretty minimal. Kind of a cross between a half empty Dollar General and a Seven Eleven. There were two very drunk but very friendly people laying on the sidewalk outside. It would do. We walked over the very happy drunk patrons, grabbed some basics, a bottle of VERY STRONG RUM, and a bag of eggs.

Yes, a bag of eggs. Don’t ask. It’s an island, remember?

We put our food in our Jeepy thing and headed to the produce market. The produce market more than made up for the lack of options at the grocery store. Even on a Sunday, the place was loaded with piles of fruit and vegetables, so fresh and beautiful, so unlike the hothouse crap we buy at home that is picked before it’s ripe and lacks any sort of taste whatsoever. Even better, every vendor wanted us to buy THEIR fruit so they cut things up, handed to them to us, asked us what we wanted to taste. It was practically second breakfast.

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They even convinced us to try some things we’d never had and definitely wouldn’t have bought otherwise.

The Sapodilla was my favorite. This little fella was sweet. I mean super sweet. Like eating sugar. Like eating a brown sugar covered pear or caramel covered cotton candy. It was crazy delicious.

Inexplicably, Matt to decided he preferred the soursop. Not only was it the ugliest fruit God put on the planet, it had a texture much like a snotty nose and tasted similar, not that I have actually tasted a snotty nose, but I feel confident it is quite similar to a soursop. Filled with annoying little seeds, it managed to be stringy and gooey all at the same time. The texture was like the guts you scoop out of a pumpkin when you carve it. Some people will tell you this mushy, slippery mess tastes like pineapples and strawberries. Those people lie.

We loaded up and headed back to the villa to drop our bounty.

I wasn’t lying about the VERY STRONG RUM.

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Sunset VSR is 169 proof. Some say it has notes of butterscotch and vanilla, but my singed nose hairs disagreed. I felt it was more reminiscent of rubbing alcohol.

I don't recommend anyone that is not a native Bequian try to drink this overproof rum. There is no circumstance under which it can end well. It is simply a bad idea. Always. We'll just leave it at that.

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FINALLY…..it was time for the beach. We kept things easy and just headed down to the bottom of the hill to Lower Bay. I was pretty sure it was going to be an awesome beach, so why go any farther?

It was an awesome beach.

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The beautiful bay was calm and turquoise and the soft sand was warm underneath our feet. I counted about 5 other people on the entire expanse of the beach.

We dropped our things at Da Reef and enjoyed a rum punch (or two) before heading down to the water.

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After sufficient sunning and lounging, we heard what sounded like jazz coming from above. We returned to the restaurant to find a live jazz band playing. Wings, fries, and a fish platter rounded out a perfect afternoon (and maybe a couple more rum punches).

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It was time to nap off the rum punches, so we packed it in and headed back up to our villa where we had a very classy and elegant snack of Doritos, guacamole, and cheap wine before dropping off into a beach fueled nap.

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We napped right through sunset, but we woke up in time for dinner at Firefly Plantation. I couldn’t believe we were the only patrons in this beautiful, tropical restaurant.

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We learned quickly that we had just missed “the season” on Bequia and that most tourism shuts down after Easter. This being the first of June, the island was pretty much a ghost town. Unfortunately, this also meant that many of the nice places we wanted to visit had closed only the week before, but there were plenty that were still open and welcoming.

Like Firefly.

Lovely setting, lovely cocktails, and wonderful food. And we had the entire place to ourselves!

Day 3:

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After a beautiful breakfast on the deck, we headed back to the Bequia Beach Hotel.

We noticed at our arrival night’s dinner that they offered a day pass to non-guests. This included a pool cabana, a palapa on the beach, a massage for each person at the spa, a 3 course lunch, and 4 cocktails each.

Yes, please.

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We started the day on pool loungers, relaxing until our massage. I booked an early time because post-sun, post-sand massages sounded messy. And potentially painful. The spa at the resort was a lovely oasis of calm. Full of tropical upscale charm, it was also one of the best massages I have EVER HAD.

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With liquid muscles, we slithered back toward the bar and decided to try out a cocktail. A cocktail turned into two and maybe into 4 and then, I don’t want to get anyone in trouble for serving us more than our allocation, but maybe 5. Who was counting? They certainly weren’t.

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Alternating between the beach and the bar, it was a lovely day. The beaches on this side of the island were definitely more rugged, and not very swimmable, but perfect for sunning and cocktail sipping.

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We were able to order from the menu at lunch and I opted for a tuna poke bowl with thick hunks of juicy tuna and chunky avocado, fresh mango and a Caribbean slaw. Lunch came with dessert and one heck of a view.

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After lunch, we walked to the other end of the beach, taking in the dramatic and rugged beauty of it all. On the opposite end, we found a riot of colorful fishing boats and playing children.

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It was a long, leisurely day and we felt it was worth every penny. While we aren’t resort people, the Bequia Beach Hotel was beautiful and we saw no one else on the beach or pool the entire time we were there. Despite some closures, I must say off season on Bequia rocked.

After our required post-beach naps, we managed to get up and out in time to catch the sunset. Da Reef below the house had already become a favorite, for its location right on the beach, proximity to the villa, beautiful sunsets, and amazing (and cheap) rum punch. We just couldn’t find a reason to go anywhere else.

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Although we’d JUST been there….we returned to the Bequia Beach Hotel (maybe we were becoming hotel people????) to try their Italian restaurant, Blue Tropic.

Blue Tropic was a little hard to find, especially in the dark, after a day of cocktails and a nap-fuzzy brain. We wandered around in the palm trees for a bit before locating it up on the hillside. It was super cozy and quaint and surprisingly busy. “Busy” meant that about 2 other tables were occupied.

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We had a delicious caprese salad and a cheese board (because there is no such thing as too much cheese). Matt opted for pasta and I got a big ole pepperoni pizza. Why? Because there is no such thing as too much cheese.

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Y’all….that pizza was darn good!

Bequia was full of surprises.

Day 4:

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What do you do in the off season on a tiny island in the Grenadines? Already, the languorous days stretched out like sleeping dogs in the sun. Should we take a swim? Fancy a mango? Is it too early for a cold rum punch? C'mon, relaaaaaaaax……..Bequia said.

And we listened.

It was easy to do. Bequia made it easy. We enjoyed a beautiful breakfast on the deck and then…did nothing. That deck was hard to pull ourselves away from.

We already knew the beauty of Bequia wasn’t about sleek designs, luxury resorts, expensive beach bars or A-listers. Bequia wasn’t nearby Mustique…a den of glitz and glam for the rich and famous. Bequia was content to sit outside the limelight. A gentle and slow place where the water was Caribbean blue, clear and calm, lined by white crescent shores littered with palm trees and a scattering of tiny beach bars that were little more than driftwood shacks where time thickened and the days slipped by in waves of sunshine.

“No vex,” they said.

No worries in this place. We were feeling it.

It was time to try Princess Margaret Beach, what I predicted to be our second favorite beach. It actually ended up being our favorite. Named after her one visit to this beach, Princess Margaret was a slice of turquoise heaven.

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I loved Lower Bay, but Princess Margaret had just a little more “oomph.” Maybe it was Jack’s Beach Bar and the lovely food and drinks, maybe it was the fact that you could get a chair and an umbrella, maybe it was the fact that the beach was littered with beach glass and the sand was as soft as flour, or maybe it was Fay’s $3 rum punch?

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Whatever it was, it’s soothing magic sucked me right in.

Jack’s is owned by the Bequia Beach Hotel, so we expected it to be nothing short of fabulous. We were not disappointed. The bartenders mixed up our drinks and poured them into our Yetis to keep them chilled, checking on us out on the beach frequently to make sure we didn’t need anything else. When we did, they grabbed our Yetis and returned, our Yetis full of icy goodness.

Sure, there were less expensive chairs farther down the beach and less expensive drinks…but….WHY? The setting and service at Jack’s were well worth it.

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Lunch arrived and it was a smorgasboard of Jack’s famed fried chicken, French fries, a fresh seared tuna salad, more French fries, and salty margaritas.

Jack’s made a mean margarita. After two of those, I thought I was Princess Margaret myself.

Albeit, a very loud and obnoxious version of Princess Margaret.

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Already creatures of habit, we snoozed the heat of the late afternoon away and ventured out for the magical sunset hour at Da Reef.

The golden hour on Bequia truly lived up to the hype.

And it wasn't just the VERY STRONG RUM.

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We hadn’t made a firm selection for dinner that night. I had a few places in mind, so we set off, not 100% sure where we would end up. We drove to Papa’s and heard live music drifting from the windows and that sealed it.

Bequia doesn’t have a strong online presence, so I was less sure what places were like than I am in preparation for many of our vacations. I wasn’t prepared for how nice Papa’s was. I expected something rather “barlike” and was surprised to find an elegant tropical restaurant set high on a hillside on the far end of Port Elizabeth with live music and a crazy good view of the twinkling lights below.

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The food was amazing – fresh salad, roasted goat cheese, and seafood pasta. I also grew bold and tried the callaloo soup. All I knew was that it was a local specialty. I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS IN IT.

None.

I didn’t even ask.

When it came out, it was so dark in the restaurant, I couldn’t really see what I was eating. I took a tentative bite, not knowing if it was goat head stew, raw squid in broth, or cream of soupsop.

It was delicious and I ate it having no idea what it was. I Googled it later and was pleased to find out all I had ingested was a leafy green vegetable, made into a thick and savory soup.

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We enjoyed dinner, a bottle of wine, and watched as patrons danced to the band. Dinner was over, but we wanted to linger and enjoy the band. The waitress asked if we wanted more wine. We looked wistfully at the empty bottle and agreed we’d each just get one more glass, so we told her yes, one more glass, please.

She brought us ONE. MORE. GLASS.

This is what happens when two Hatfields try to share one glass of wine.

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Stay tuned! We're only halfway through! There is more Bequia to come.....

Posted by vicki_h 10:11 Archived in St Vincent/The Grenadines Tagged beach island caribbean tropical bequia grenadines port_elizabeth saint_vincent_and_the_grenadine princess_margaret_beach Comments (0)

Losing Time on Isla Holbox: Part III

Day Five

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After a breakfast of fresh papaya juice and egg casserole with rustic potatoes and vegetables (and copious amounts of buttered bread), we decided to spend some time exploring the island.

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Today was the only day that low tide was mid-day, allowing us a chance to visit the beautiful sandbar that we had heard about on the other end of the beach.

We rented a golf cart and set about our mini-adventure.

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A short ride down the beachfront took us to the “end of the road.” We found ourselves at Punta Mosquito, an endless shallow sea of impossibly clear water, sundrenched hammocks, and soft, sandy beaches with virtually no one in sight.

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We spent the morning lounging in the clear water, chasing schools of tiny rays, and walking the extensive sandbar as far as we could go.

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This was the most activity we had encountered in 5 days, so we had to follow that with a trip to Barquito for cold beverages with a side order of blue-eyed puppies.

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A ride through town took us past the colorful art that wove its way into every street corner and across every building.

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We followed the road as far as it went in the opposite direction and found ourselves at Punta Coco, another shallow, deserted beach.

It seemed this tiny island had no limit to the sleepy beaches one could find a hammock and endless clear water.

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As we made our way back through town, we stopped for lunch at Viva Zapata. The restaurant was brightly painted with colorful murals and swings hung from the bar.

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We grossly over ordered and found ourselves faced with a table full of food we couldn’t possibly eat: ceviche and chips, queso fundido with spicy chorizo, garlicky shrimp, chicken nachos covered in melty cheese, and a pile of guacamole.

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We did our best, but eventually threw in the towel. Who were we kidding?

We waddled back to our beach and collapsed.

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When we finally roused ourselves, we strolled into town for cocktails at Bar Arena, a rooftop bar in the center of town.

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The drinks were creative and wonderful, the décor was very cool, and the breeze was a welcome respite from the evening heat.

They also served these wickedly addictive candy coated peanuts that we simply couldn't stop eating.

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With no actual plans for dinner, we simply wandered through town looking for something that caught our eye.

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We decided to stop at La Parilla de Juan, which I had heard good things about.

As we climbed the stairs to the upper floor, we really weren’t sure what to expect.

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We were pleasantly surprised by a very elegant, open-air restaurant with an outdoor terrace.

We chose to sit outside where we could watch the chef prepare the meats on the open fire.

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While the restaurant is known for its pasta, the smell of grilled steak was almost more than we could bear.

We compromised with a lobster linquine and surf and turf, served with their amazing grilled bread and a caprese salad.

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We continued to be amazed by the food offerings on Holbox.

Matt was ready to call it a night, but I had spent all week smelling the delicious crepes and marquesitas on the square each night as we passed by. When La Parilla informed us that they had run out of the apple pie, I knew tonight was the night.

Matt has always been perplexed by my inexplicable fondness for street food. If it comes out of the trunk of a car or is being whipped up on a greasy grill on the side of a highway, I’m all over it.

Sure, it has led to more than one bout with some serious digestive distress, but it has also resulted in some of my favorite food experiences.

My very soul needed a marquesita.

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The combination of cheese and chocolate inside a crispy sweet crepe was more than I could resist. It sounded delicious and terrible all at the same time.

I took a bite.

It was a perfect combination of sweet and savory, crispy and soft at the same time. It was the best $1 I had ever spent.

My stint in the long marquesita line had made Matt thirsty, so we popped into Luuma for a couple of cocktails before heading back to Casa las Tortugas.

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It was officially time to call it a night.

Day Six

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It was my favorite time of day: breakfast.

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“What day is it?” Matt asked lazily, taking a sip of his fresh watermelon juice as we waited for breakfast to arrive. I watched as a big drip of condensation lazily made its way down the side of the glass.

“Wednesday. No, wait, Thursday. Friday?”

We had discovered that it was easy to lose time on Holbox.

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The name means “black hole.” The name originally came from the very deep, very dark lagoon found on the island, but I think the name more accurately describes the way you can simply vanish here. I felt like we were disappearing into a void of sunshine and chilled tequila….never to be seen again.

We had settled into the languid rhythm of the island. Days seemed longer. Nights seemed later. Our hair was getting lighter. Our skin was getting darker. The water felt warmer. Drinks tasted colder.

Life was sweeter.

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There was sand and sun, but something was different. Something really set this place apart from anything I had ever experienced…The people. The food. The sounds. The slow warmth of it spread into your limbs until you felt you could simply fade into the soft cotton of your daybed.

It really seemed that time had stood still here on Holbox. Maybe that was why we weren’t even sure what day it was.

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I spent the entirety of our last day at Casa las Tortugas in my bikini. I never put my shoes on. I wasn’t even sure where they were at this point. I smelled like honey and coconut oil.

I tried to keep a cocktail in my hand at all times. If I felt too lazy, someone from Mandarina would bring it to me.

Our day was spent on the horizontal, alternating between a hammock, a soft shady daybed, and a thatched-roof palapa near the beach.

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It was official. We had come undone.

In the late afternoon we roused ourselves long enough to grab some cocktails at a nearby beach bar and find some lunch.

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We enjoyed a late afternoon lunch at Pizzeria Edelyn to try the famous “lobster pizza” that the island claims you can’t leave without sampling.

Our consensus was that we probably could have left the island without sampling it.

It was fine, it just wasn’t worth prying ourselves off our beach chairs for.

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It was worth the walk, however, simply to find the only salon in existence that specializes in that "Duran Duran" look.

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We enjoyed our final sunset with cocktails at Casa Sandra’s small beachfront bar. A mariachi band strolled down the sand. Dogs played at our feet.

It was bittersweet.

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We had decided to have our final dinner at El Chapulim.

Rated #1 on nearly every travel site for Holbox that existed, I felt certain this place would be overhyped.

And we were late.

Everyone knows that if you want to eat at El Chapulim, you show up early. They don’t take reservations and the chef prepares a set amount of exactly 4 entrees each night. When you arrive, if you are lucky enough to be seated, the chef comes out to tell you what he has prepared. Your order is taken, and your food is brought out to you in minutes.

I had read that you must arrive by 6:30 if you wanted to get a seat. It was almost 8:00. I knew we would be turned away in shame.

As luck would have it, we were seated. And we were the last ones that got a table.

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It was Holbox magic.

We had eaten a lot of good meals on the trip. Matt and I both agreed that this was easily one of our best overall food vacations, with the only exceptions being Greece and Italy. The meals had been outstanding.

El Chapulim was the best meal of the trip.

It really lived up to the hype.

Maybe it was the chef’s dog laying under our table. Maybe it was the glow of candlelight that made everything seem magical. Maybe it was just the remnants of the tequila haze that I had lived in for the past week.

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But everything about our dinner seemed perfect.

It was the perfect way to end this trip.

Day Seven

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We couldn’t believe it was our last Mandarina breakfast. We went big, not only ordering the fruit and the omelet, but tackling a giant plate of banana and Nutella waffles too.

We had to leave Mexico.

We were getting fat.

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We had time to take one last look around.

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We had arrived a week ago not really knowing what to expect. We had not found cookie-cutter luxury. It was not a Four Seasons.

Holbox’s edges were rough, but the simple beauty of it shone anyway. There was a gypsy sensibility, an undercurrent of rustic stylishness, and a touch of “beach chic” everywhere we looked. It’s an island of sleepy days and mellow sunsets.

Holbox was lazy. It was vibrant. It conjured images of colorful art, wild flamingoes, and endless palapas rustling in the breeze.

I could still taste the smoky mescal and tangy ceviche and feel the gritty sand between my toes.

We had found an unspoiled island that combined awe-inspiring encounters with nature, true Mexican hospitality and a laid-back European vibe. We found fishermen and wooden boats falling apart at the water’s edge, random dogs lying under our feet at even the nicest restaurants, and an uncomplicated simplicity that we found irresistible.

As I packed to leave, I realized I didn’t even know where my shoes were, and that made me happy.

We’re back home now and Holbox is a distant memory, fading more with each workday.

But somewhere, on a remote stretch of underdeveloped paradise on the Yucatan Peninsula, a swaying hammock waits for my return. 

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Posted by vicki_h 18:24 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico island tropical holbox isla yucatan_peninsula quintana_roo Comments (3)

Losing Time on Isla Holbox: Part II

Day Three

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By the third day, we had pretty well established a routine of swinging lazily on a daybed by the ocean until our stomachs began to rumble. We then wandered lazily, without shoes, over to Mandarina, selected a table, and slipped into the soft cushions of a sofa as we stared out at the emerald sea and listened to the palms rustle above our heads.

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One of the sweet, attentive wait staff would tell us the juice selections of the day and ask which we wanted, bringing that along with coffee and tea. Shortly after, our basket of bread would show up with soft butter and jam.

We sipped and munched, watching random dogs play at the water’s edge until our breakfast selections arrived – always the fruit for Matt (what is WRONG with him??) and the hot breakfast for me.

This morning it was a toasted ham and cheese with a boiled egg. Delicious. I was seriously enjoying the daily breakfast at Casa las Tortugas. It was a lazy and decadent affair.

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There wasn’t a lot to do on Isla Holbox. I knew this going in, and, as this isn’t our norm, I had warned Matt that this vacation was about forced relaxation, not finding a lot to do.

As such, our days followed a pattern of lazy mornings on the beach at Casa las Tortugas with a break for lunch, only to return and spend the afternoon lazing about in the pool or napping on a beachfront daybed.

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We found ourselves moving more slowly. Then slower still. We were adjusting to the slow rhythm of this island and our bodies needed it.
We were sun drunk and it was heavenly.

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Because laying in semi-catatonic state for hours on end really works up an appetite, we decided to walk the hot, sandy streets to Colibri, an insanely colorful restaurant on a busy corner of town.

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It was too hot to sit outside, so we opted for an indoor table by the open doors with a breezy fan blowing overhead and walls plastered with Frida Kahlo portraits, dreamcatchers, and bright paintings. It was tacky cool.

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Colibri, a family-run restaurant just off the main town square, was painted all colors under the sun, both inside and out. It immediately made me happy. The interior was a vibrant mish-mash of paintings, bird murals, Mexican sugar skulls and kitschy table cloths.

Even the sangria was exploding with color.

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We enjoyed ceviche, garlic shrimp, and chicken enchiladas oozing with gooey cheese along with one of their colossal margaritas.

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As we made the very hot walk back toward Casa las Tortugas I saw two words that literally made my heart jump:

Air Conditioning.

That’s how we found ourselves inside Porque No, Holbox’s tiny ice-cream shop even though we were so full we felt like ceviche was about to come out our noses.

It was a hardship, but I managed to choke down a chocolate and coconut cone in order to spend a few blissful minutes in air conditioned comfort.

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The afternoon was a warm haze of sun, sea, sand, and sips.

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The closest thing to a “schedule” that we found on Holbox was our tendency to find someplace for a sunset cocktail each evening, somewhere to watch as the sky turned sherbet-hued and the water turned to mercury. In the evenings, we would always hear someone blowing a conch shell, a low moan that carried across the island.

We began our sunset cocktails back at Huacalito at Casa Iguana, because we had loved the carefully crafted mango margaritas and passionfruit caipirinhas.

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We followed that with a trip back to Il Chiringuito because it looked like it was actually going to be clear sky with a spectacular sunset. I loved the laid back hippy-vibe of the place and Matt had fallen in love with the creamy mango cocktail that the bartender made slowly and carefully.

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As the sun dipped into the sea, we considered our dinner options.

We decided to discuss it over more cocktails at Luuma. The trendy upscale tapas and cocktail bar had wowed us on our first night, so we wanted to return to see if that was simply a mirage generated by travel fatigue.

The intimate alfresco restaurant was just as enchanting as we remembered. The crowd was stylish and the décor was inspiring. The beautiful garden was scattered with locally hand-crafted tables, mismatched chairs and sofas, wicker pendants and Buddha statues. The effect was bewitching.

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As our cocktails were prepared, I took a moment to stroll through the adjacent boutique, Le Bazaar, where I found designer treasures and one very spoiled dog.

We ordered “snacks” again and were presented with another huge platter of exceptional food, despite the small price tag.

The “earth platter” featured several grilled meats – steak, lamb, duck, and house made sausages as well as spicy patatas bravas.

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We were so full after leaving Luuma, that we decided to simply grab a wood fired pizza from newcomer Roots pizza.

I was several cocktails in and a long way from my high school Spanish, so I literally had NO IDEA what I ordered. I saw the word “peperoni” and latched onto it.

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That pizza was AMAZING.

Thin, crispy-chewy, and covered with a delightful combination of zesty cheese, pepperoni, black olives, and fresh zucchini – it was just what we needed.

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We licked the salty greasy from our fingers as we wandered hand in hand down the streets of Holbox.

Day Four

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It was Matt’s birthday, so routines had to be broken. Our lethargic stupor was interrupted by an actual alarm clock rousing us at 6:00 so that we could make it to a scheduled whale shark tour that we had booked for the day.

While the light breakfast that was provided was delicious and completely adequate….I wondered wistfully what I was missing at Mandarina. What if they were serving chilaquiles?

After a breakfast of fresh made yogurt, hot mango pastries straight from the oven, and fruit, we were guided to our boat. We were going looking for the elusive whale sharks.

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On Holbox, they call it the Domino Effect – Whale sharks are affectionately called dominoes due to the pattern on their backs. These gentle giants migrate to the waters off Holbox from May through September and several tour operators offer visitors the chance to swim with these placid beasts.

I knew the chance of finding one so early in the season was unlikely, but I thought actually finding one would make for an amazing birthday.

Let’s just say…..the whale shark tour was not exactly what we expected.

While the weather had been exceptionally beautiful for our entire trip, this, of course, was the ugliest day we had seen yet. Ominous black clouds thickened on the horizon as 8 of us climbed onto the small boat.

Knowing that the ride to where the whale sharks were supposed to be found was approximately 2 hours over rough seas, I expected a bigger, more comfortable boat. The boat was relatively small with nothing but hard benches for minimal seating.

We piled in, expectations high.

To say the 2 hour ride was rough is an understatement. There is a way to boat on rough water that won’t kill your passengers, but our boat captain apparently lacked this special bit of knowledge, evident by the manner in which he pushed the boat forward at maximum speed, no matter how drenched the passengers got or how violently they were bounced around.

I tried holding on, but between the violent waves and the slippery hard seat, I was flying up and down more than a hooker’s underpants. After the 116th time I brutally smashed down on the hard bench, the captain suggested I move to the back of the boat. While the movement was less, the water was more. I was getting drenched again and again with salt water.

Matt and I looked at each other with pity, unsure who was more miserable.

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After the miserable 2 hour ride, we reached the area where the whale sharks tend to show up and began searching. Back and forth. Forth and back. The boat made endless circles in search of the great beasts.

Of course, they were nowhere to be found.

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, the black clouds tripled and a hole literally opened up in the sky and dumped everything it had on our heads. The rain was so heavy, we couldn’t see 10 feet past the boat. This only increased the waves.

All we could do was sit helplessly, still, and hope it passed.

At this point, I was pretty sure my tailbone was no longer attached to my spine, Matt was a wet mess, and two other passengers were vomiting loudly off the sides of the boat.

Oh, joy!

I looked at Matt and shouted over the wretched puke noises, “Isn’t this the BEST BIRTHDAY EVER?????”

He wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

Not only had this been the single most miserable boat ride in the history of EVER, we were going to have to go all the way back without even seeing the stupid whale sharks.

And that’s when it happened.

Right in the middle of the moaning and the rain and the vomiting…..a whale shark was sighted.

Our moment of jubilation was immediately squashed when we were informed that 1) Only 2 of us could get in the water at a time, 2) You could only be in the water for 1 minute, and 3) After 2 of us got in, we had to get in the “back of the line” before the next 2 could go.

I looked at the 24 boats that suddenly appeared out of nowhere and surrounded us.

The process was basically this: Two people jumped in the water, swam with the shark for 1 minute, got back in the boat, and then our boat moved to the back of the boat line. Approximately 30 minutes later, we’d be back at the front of the line and 2 more could get in the water. We had 8 people. You do the math.

A long, boring hour and a half later, that was filled with bouts of vomiting from other guests, Matt and I got our turn.

Don’t ask me how I had managed to wait and hour and a half for this moment and then wasn’t ready when it came….but I wasn’t.

Before I knew what was happening, I was shoved in the water, GoPro in hand. All I saw was a massive mouth coming straight toward me.

I was simply in awe. I was frozen. The camera in my hand was forgotten as the massive gentle monster glided straight toward me and turned, moving about 2 feet from my face – his massive spotted side slipping past my face as I simply stared stupidly.

I suddenly remembered the camera about the time his tail passed me and I snapped one pathetic photo.

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And then our minute was up. The shark was gone and it was someone else’s turn.

But….wow.

At least all the suffering was for something, right?

While the whale shark swimming hadn’t been quite what I expected, it was still something memorable. My vision had been that we’d be the only boat and we would spent abundant time frolicking in the waves with the sharks.

Not so much.

The rain had stopped and we were all soggy and slightly broken, but happy. At least we had seen one.

I was looking forward to the other parts of the day that the trip had promised – a beachside lunch of freshly prepared ceviche, a snorkel stop at an abundant reef filled with turtles and stingrays, and a visit to the island’s famous flamingoes.

Our first stop was the “snorkeling reef.” I am not sure how they define a reef, but all Matt and I found were endless stretches of sea grass. The “turtles and sting rays?” No. Just tons of weird looking catfish.

Boat ride? Fail.

Snorkeling? Fail.

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Maybe the beach picnic would make everything right with the world.

As we passed miles and miles of stunningly beautiful deserted beaches, I was baffled when we finally stopped, not at a beach, but at the marshy lagoon found in the island’s interior. This was….unexpected. It was not stunningly beautiful.

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While we all walked around and explored our less than amazing surroundings, our captain made us ceviche for lunch.

The ceviche was extremely good, but we had to eat it without utensils.

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It would have been better if they had given us a fork or spoon, but in the effort of ecotourism, we were supposed to use only tortilla chips to scoop up the bits of zesty fish and peppers. This would have worked fine if they hadn’t had ONE BAG OF CHIPS FOR 10 PEOPLE.

I had 4 sorry little chips.

Still delicious, even if it was awkward as hell.

Beach? Fail.

Lunch? Fail.

There was one last vestige of hope: the flamingoes. I couldn’t wait to see them.

I should have known. Like everything else on this boat trip, the visit to the flamingoes of Holbox was “almost” awesome, but not quite. It’s like everything they tried to do, they almost got right, but then just missed it at the end.

Technically, they did take us to see the flamingoes as promised. What they failed to tell us up front, however, was that we would be so far away from them that we would only be able to discern tiny pink blobs on the horizon.

Seriously, this is how far away we were.

See those pink dots? Flamingos.

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Can't tell those are flamingos? Me either. I had to zoom in with Photoshop to be sure.

Yep. Flamingos.

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We were parched. We were tired. Our backs ached and we longed for the comfort of our daybed.

I was glad I had the chance to swim with a whale shark, even if it was only for a minute. Was it worth the rest of the day to do it? Probably not.

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Happy Birthday Matt?

At least Casa las Tortugas came through with my birthday dinner plans and salvaged an otherwise less-than-amazing day.

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A table was set at the water’s edge where we enjoyed a perfect sunset dinner.

Our meal started with cocktails at the bar.

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As the sun began to set, we walked down to our table and enjoyed a bottle of wine as we looked over the menu.

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We started off with the fried smoked provolone, topped with freshly sliced tomatoes and crispy bread. We also had the brioche stuffed with spinach and mushrooms and drowning in a decadent cream sauce.

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For our entrees, I had the filet medallions with chorizo ravioli and Matt had the roasted pork loin which sat atop a mountain of fluffy garlic potatoes.

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And there was still dessert - a molten chocolate cake and a lemon tart.

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Thanks to Casa las Tortugas, we went to bed with visions of lemon tarts instead of salt sucking catfish.

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Posted by vicki_h 18:23 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico island tropical holbox isla yucatan_peninsula quintana_roo Comments (0)

Losing Time on Isla Holbox: Part I

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Isla Holbox popped on my radar when I was planning our trip to Utila, Honduras last year. When trying to decide if it was worth the effort to try to see the famed whale sharks that migrate through Utila each year, I found an article about Holbox.

Pronounced Eeeeyaa Olbosh…… it sounded like a whisper.

I couldn’t get the image of the sleepy little island out of my brain.

A mere wisp of an island, some 2.5 hours from Cancun, this is not the Mexico of jello shots and spring break tattoos. Holbox is the anti-Cancun. The un-Playa-del-Carmen. It’s compared to what the more popular locations in Mexico were 20 years ago.

“Paradise on earth,” “heavenly,” “under the radar,” “hippy chic,” “bohemian,” “Mexico’s Eden,” “Mexico’s best kept secret island,” these were the words used to describe Holbox.

The big secret? It’s apparently not a secret anymore. The last few years have brought a great deal of publicity to this perfect little beach town. The good news? It doesn’t appear that it has had much of an impact yet. So far, Holbox isn’t defined by infinity pools or all-inclusive resorts and you don’t need to dress up for dinner. Travel and Leisure may be writing about it, but it still seems to be relatively undiscovered.

This definitely pulled me in.

A late bloomer on the tourist scene, Holbox didn’t have anything modern until recent years. Locals will tell you with a sigh that “things aren’t what they used to be before Coca-Cola showed up in the 1970s.” Apparently, carbonated beverages paved the way for electricity and television, which inevitably led to Telenovela, and apparently, this led to divorce, as the people of this innocent fishing village learned the ways of the world from soap operas.

Sure, it sounds hokey, like some south of the border Mayberry, but Holbox is the real deal. None of the roads in the town are paved and the people here have an unreasonable fear of cement and the development it could bring. Developers are eyeing the island like vultures, as one of the last untouched spots in the Yucatan.

Holbox is currently caught between two worlds – still a small and simple island with low rise eco-chic hotels but it is heavily on the radar of developers who want to turn it into the next big thing.

I decided that I wanted to see it before it became the next big thing.

Arrival:

I knew Holbox wasn’t easy to get to, but most of the places I go aren’t. This wasn’t a deterrent for me.

An early morning flight from East TN landed us in Cancun just before noon. I saw all I wanted to of Cancun in the time it took me to get through the airport and climb into the cool, air-conditioned van that was waiting outside for us.

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Two hours on potholed, chicken-crossed roads later, I was beginning to question my decision to come to such a remote destination….in Mexico. We passed by luncherias with simple thatched roofs and mini supers with dusty dogs lounging on the front step. Mostly we passed nothing….just endless miles of nothing.

At least I had opted for a private transfer. After our DIY experience in Rio de Janiero, I didn’t want to take any chances by driving ourselves, thankyouverymuch. And I didn’t want to share a van…what if we ended up sharing with a family that had 7 kids???? I also couldn’t fathom the thought of jumping on a hot, crowded bus or shuttle after a long flight, one that would likely smell like a dirty shoe and that would have the grime of three decades ground into the seats.

We were solo in air-conditioned comfort with a basket of snacks and cold drinks, pre-arranged by our hotel.

After 2 ½ hours, we arrived at the port of Chiquila. It was particularly unimpressive.

There was a superficial layer of waste and the port itself stark and unkempt. A few dogs wandered around and a woman had a cooler set up and was selling unmarked juices out of it. For a brief moment, I wondered again if I had made a mistake.

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We were given our ferry tickets (again arranged by the hotel) and, after a short ferry ride, we found ourselves on Isla Holbox. This port wasn’t much more impressive than the last one. It was fairly utilitarian and had nothing in the way of amenities and there was a pervasive odor from the sea that was staggering, an offensive combination of diseased fish and human waste.

Seriously….had I really screwed up this time? Had I finally let my wanderlust propel me into a pit of doom where I would be forced to spend a miserable week with the smell of dead fish while trying to find a decent meal at the mini super?

Our hotel had a golf cart waiting at the ferry for us and we loaded up our bags and bumped our way along roads made entirely of sand.

While the port at Holbox had not made a stunning impression, at the golf cart’s snail’s pace, the layers of the island began to peel away revealing colorful huts, a riot of flowers, incredible art, and carefree locals running barefoot through the sandy streets. The beauty of Holbox began to emerge as we slowly passed by.

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We had to cross the entire island to get to our hotel. This took about 4 minutes. The island was less than ½ mile wide.

We were still marveling at the pretty little town we had passed through when suddenly, Casa Las Tortugas stood before us, a huddle of curvaceous, brightly painted palapa-roofed buildings winding through a tropical garden. As someone tended to our luggage, we were ushered into a tropical courtyard dripping with bougainvillea, past a deliciously glimmering pool, and into a beachy chic reception area where we were quickly checked in.

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We were handed 2 small shells to be exchanged at the bar for welcome drinks and were shown to our room. As we walked, I caught glimpses of the turquoise waters just beyond the palm trees. Flowers waved in the dappled sunlight from thatched roofs and I could hear the waves tumbling onto the sand in the distance.

The day’s tension dissolved.

We were on Holbox and it was exquisite.

Rather than setting about the business of unpacking, we found ourselves stashing our luggage, clutching those two little seashells like they were gold doubloons, and heading out for our free cocktails at the hotel’s breezy open air bar.

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As I settled into a cushy sofa that faced the turquoise sea, palm trees swaying gently above me, sipping an ice cold margarita crusted deliciously with salt, I knew this vacation was going to be special.

With a bit of a tequila buzz, we returned to our room, Tucan, a delightful 2 story affair right on the beach. It was tucked back into the trees for privacy and had a porch that led inside to a wonderful sitting area and table with fresh drinking water (that was refilled daily) on the bottom floor. A winding staircase led to the huge top floor with a king sized bedroom and a quirky bathroom, topped by a high palapa roof. Outside the door was a large balcony with seating and a hammock, perfect for post-margarita naps.

It was very Robinson Crusoe meets boho chic.

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We were in love.

We returned to our room to unpack and get settled and then headed out for some much needed food.

At this point, the only thing we’d had since breakfast had been a turkey sandwich from the Charlotte airport and a basket of curious Mexican snacks that we enjoyed, but could not quite identify, en route from Cancun.

Casa Las Tortugas had a sister property next door: Luuma. Set in a beautiful sandy courtyard, it seemed like the perfect place to grab some cocktails and a light bite before our late night dinner reservation.

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“Light bite” was definitely a misstatement. We ordered 2 spring rolls and what we thought (based on the modest price) was a small platter of seafood. This was the small platter of seafood:

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And it was delicious. Everything was fresh and expertly prepared. We scarfed it down as we enjoyed several of Luuma’s inventive cocktails. Watching the bartender make the cocktails was almost as enjoyable as drinking them. The time she spent with each one was impressive, and oh…..were those cocktails good.

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We had 8:00 dinner reservations just down the beach at Casa Sandra’s Esenica’s Cuban Night.

We took a short, but pleasant stroll down the beach as the sunset filled the sky with soft pastel hues.

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Casa Sandra was elegant.

Their on-site restaurant, Esencia, was beautiful.

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On Saturdays, they offer a 4 course Cuban dinner. We dove in with enthusiasm. Minty mojitos were followed by appetizers, soups, mains, and dessert.

The service was impeccable, the food was outstanding, and the setting was stylish and lovely. Imagine our surprise when the bill came and 4 cocktails, a 4 course dinner each, tax, and tip came to right at $60 US.

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This was, quite literally, the most awesome island in Mexico.

Day One:

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I woke up early, too eager to explore to sleep in. I crept out of the dim coolness of our room to let Matt sleep while I prowled around the hotel.

Every nook and cranny offered something unexpected and delightful. Even the outdoor bathroom by the pool was something special.

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I had come to Holbox because I wanted something authentic, not resorty, but I also wanted enough “posh” to feel like I was on a vacation. Holbox and Casa las Tortugas served up that perfect combination. The hotel was graceful, with a hippy-chic vibe and the postcard perfect beachfront led to a powdery white coastline with clear jade waters.

After checking out my beautiful surroundings, I grabbed a cup of coffee and settled myself on a beachfront daybed to relax until Matt dragged himself out of bed.

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When he finally slept off travel day and stumbled out on the beach, looking refreshed and happy, we wandered over to Mandarina, the hotel’s beachfront restaurant for breakfast.

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Breakfast each morning was included in our stay. The breakfast at Mandarina was so good, it became something I looked forward to each day of our stay.

We were started off with fresh squeezed juice (the flavors changed each day – you never knew if it would be watermelon, cantaloupe, papaya, pineapple, guava….) and tea or coffee along with a basket of freshly baked bread with butter and home-made jam.

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Each day you could choose a plate of fruit with yogurt and granola or the “hot breakfast.” I went with the hot breakfast every day. It was exceptional.

On our first day, I was introduced to chilaquiles. Chilaquiles are essentially breakfast nachos.

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HOW HAD I GONE 47 YEARS WITHOUT KNOWING THESE EXISTED??????

Chilaquiles changed my life.

One of the things we noticed immediately about Isla Holbox was the abundance of dogs. Not sad, skinny dogs that made my heart ache like we see on many other islands…these were fat and happy, running free, and living the life of Riley.

We LOVED the dogs.

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With breakfast over, we did nothing more than spend the rest of the morning parked on a daybed with the iPod playing and alternating between reading, dipping in the shallow water, and dozing in the sun.

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The beach on Holbox is simply one long stretch that pretty much goes as far as you can walk. While it lacks the soft white sand and clear turquoise waters that I love so much in the Bahamas, it had its own beauty all the same. The beach on Isla Holbox was crushed coral, endless tiny seashells, and insanely clear jade waters. Tangles of dried kelp and coconut husks scattered about lent it a natural wildness, unlike the manicured beaches of an all-inclusive-resort, but it was clean with no trash or debris. The shallow emerald water stretched out for ages. I had to wade an extremely long way before finding waves that lapped at anything more than knee height.

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It was perfect for lounging and cooling off.

We were finding Holbox simple….quirky….rustic….and we loved it.

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The only thing I didn’t love so far was the heat. As the sun rose higher in the sky, I realized this island was hotter than I was accustomed to. For Pete’s sake, it was hotter than hell and half of Texas.

The only relief came from dipping frequently in the cool water of the ocean and sipping on cocktails from our shady daybed.

Literally too hot to move, we debated our lunch options.
1) We could lay on this day bed until we died; or
2) We could drag ourselves out of the shade and head down the beach to find food and hope we managed to do so before we self combusted.

We decided on option 2 because it at least carried some small hope of survival. We strategized before we peeled our languid bodies off the swinging daybed.

Our lunch destination was 1000 feet away. This was simply too far to go in one push. Have you seen the movie Hidalgo, where the man and the horse are trudging through the cracked desert? That was my vision of trying to walk 1000 feet down the beach in that heat.

Barquito at Posada Mawimi offered cool drinks and a shady palapa only 130 feet away. We’d start small and simply try to make it there before heat stroke set in. If we made, it, we’d cool off with beverages before attempting a longer leg of 600 feet to Raices, where additional cocktails would be required before attempting to proceed to Casa Iguana, another 400 feet away.

We could do this.

We became battle ready by slathering on a layer of sunscreen so thick we looked whitewashed and made our way to Barquito.

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Barquito was a delightful palapa style bar and restaurant on the beach next door to our hotel at hotel Posada Mawimbi. It quickly became one of our favorite places to grab a cocktail, not just because it was close enough that we could make it there without getting 3rd degree burns on our feet, but it served awesome drinks, they were cheap, and the view was impossible to beat.

We sucked down a couple of strong, frosty $5 cocktails (seriously!!!).

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Sufficiently refreshed, we slithered down the beach to the next stop – Raices.

In my online perusing, Raices had gotten mixed reviews. Some people said it was the best seafood EVER and other said they have rested on their former reputation too long and the quality has diminished. After a quick look around, I decided that I agreed with those that advised to get a drink, enjoy the view, and move on.

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The setting was casual and cool, the bar swings were awesome, and this was one of the best margaritas of the trip.

I didn’t change my mind about the food, though.

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We moved on.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know EXACTLY where Casa Iguana was. I didn’t realize it was practically next door to Raices because it was set back from the beach, and we set off on a hot death march down the beach.

About 10 minutes later, and nearly dead, we realized we had missed it. Matt gave me “that look” (the same one he gave me the time I got us stuck in the back of a rangy alley in Rome with no way to turn our car around) as he hailed a golf cart taxi.

We hoisted our sweaty bodies into the vinyl seats and asked him to take us to Casa Iguana. When we arrived pretty much back at where we started, Matt gave me “that look” again.

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All was forgiven when we slid into two chairs in the breezy shade of Huacalilto, the beachside restaurant at hotel Casa Iguana. I would say it was one of the best meals of the trip, but to be quite honest, we had so many good meals on the trip it’s really hard to choose.

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Strong cold drinks mixed with time and care were brought out along with a plate of fresh, tangy ceviche and hot, crispy, salty tortilla chips.

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Matt’s fish looked gorgeous, but it paled in comparison to my coconut crusted shrimp topped with pineapple salsa.

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It was a 15 minute walk down the beach to Alma Bar and we knew we’d never make it, so we hailed another of those delicious little golf cart taxis and rode in breezy comfort.

We found Alma on the roof of hotel Villas Tiburón, with a cool pool and a stellar view.

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We cooled off in their pool hammocks with a couple of spicy frozen mango margaritas.

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We ended the afternoon back at Casa las Tortugas alternating between daybed naps and floating in the refreshing water.

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Up to this point, we hadn’t ventured into town with the exception of the ride from the port to the hotel, so we cleaned up and decided to wander around a bit before locating some sunset cocktails.

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The village is small and tight, and Casa las Tortugas sits right on the edge. The streets were paved with sand and there wasn’t a car in sight. Golf carts and scooters whizzed down the sandy lanes, and dogs of every shape and size appeared in doorways or simply lay in the middle of the street.

It was a riot of color and art. Several years ago, Isla Holbox participated in Mexico’s first Festival Internacional de Arte Publico (FIAP) and invited artists from around the world to come experience this seaside fishing town and create inspired street art for everybody to see. I absolutely loved the murals painted on every available space I could see.

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We wandered to the central village square, only a block from our hotel. At night, this seemed to be the hub of all activity. The streets were filled with the smell of sweet batter as small carts selling marquesitas, freshly cooked, thin crepes cooked on an iron until crispy and then filled with tangy cheese and Nutella. As the light of the day faded, people seemed to emerge from nowhere, spilling into the square. Music drifted out of open doorways, tiny birds hopped from coconut trees onto streetside tables, and a group of boys played soccer in a sandy corner. A tiny cart sold watermelon juice to people passing by.

Unusual for Mexico, there is very little crime on Holbox which is probably why the island’s few policemen were sitting on a wall unwrapping homemade pork and potato tacos from tinfoil.

Even with the heat, it felt nice here. This was a good place.

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Not wanting to miss the sunset, we headed back to the beachside in search of Il Chiringuito, a small thatched bar on the beach in front of Hotel Zomay, rumored to have amazing drinks and the best sunset view.

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We found both to be true.

Despite the fact that the bar was TINY, the bartender took a tremendous amount of time and care making each drink. This seemed to be the norm for Holbox. We watched as he careful peeled and cut a mango, blended it, added rum and coconut cream and then crafted it into a tasty cocktail for Matt.

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A huge fan of margaritas, my goal was to sample as many as I could while I was on Holbox, so I opted for the traditional margarita. It was hand shaken.

Wow.

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The sun dripped into the haze in an eruption of color as we enjoyed the distinctly bohemian vibe of Il Chiringuito. An eclectic crowd of unconventional types sipped sunset drinks, drifted lazily in swings, and kicked soccer balls around the beach while a menagerie of odd dogs barked happily at their feet.

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Eventually, our stomachs called and we had to answer.

We walked the dusty streets through town to Rosa Mexicano. One of the newer restaurants on Holbox’s dining scene, this open-air restaurant drew us in with its sand colored walls and inviting smells.

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Matt’s watermelon martini was refreshing and my mescal margarita was spectacular.

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Drinks were followed by fresh guacamole and queso fundido, and we rounded the meal out with shrimp enchiladas and chicken mole.

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As Matt and I covertly slipped bits of chicken and cheese to the sweet dog laying across our feet, we knew we were falling under the spell of Holbox.

Day Two:

It was our second morning on Holbox, and as usual, I was awake before Matt. As my suspended daybed swung lazily back and forth, I watched the morning come to life.

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I looked around and saw the hotel staff cleaning off the beach chairs with a brush, chairs that would soon be filled with lazy tourists lounging on the beach all day. At this time of day, there were more fishermen than tourists, and I watched as they carried their equipment down the beach toward boats docked at a distant pier.

Small wooden dinghies banged softly together at the water’s edge, with rows of pelicans perched on their bows, scanning the water for breakfast. A short distance down the beach, a small woman sat in a plastic chair repairing a net. Nearby, inside a sun-worn palapa, someone was setting up cold beer as a smattering of lazy puppies and a chicken or two wandered about. A cart rolled down the beach, it’s vendor preparing to sell freshly baked banana bread and prickly pear juice so sweet it would make your teeth hurt.

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The air smelled like the sea and the sweet honey that Casa las Tortugas used heavily in all of the bath products. I breathed it all in.

Eventually he wandered sleepily out onto the beach and we enjoyed fresh squeezed watermelon juice and warm, crusty bread, smeared thick with mango jam and a hot breakfast of chicken and cheese enchiladas.

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The day was bright and beautiful. We had learned yesterday that, in the heat, it was too hard to do any more than spend the day simply melting into the warm sand, coming up for air only long enough to take a cold sip of a tangy margarita and lick the crusty salt from our fingers.

So that’s exactly what we did.

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For lunch, we walked a short distance down the beach to Villa Mar, a casual beachfront restaurant that was rumored to have amazing fish tacos.

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We enjoyed frosty margaritas crusted thick with salt, fresh ceviche, and their famous fish tacos.

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The food was more than we could eat, but we had a little help from a friend.

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We spent the heat of the afternoon lounging in the sparkling pool.

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That evening, we headed back to Barquito for evening cocktails. They were as lovely as they were delicious.

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The night before, as we sat and noshed on our chips at Rosa Mexicano, we noticed El Sushi de Holbox next door. Sushi? In Mexico?

That sounded like a good way to get a nice bacterial infection to me, or, at a minimum, a good case of diarrhea. We were surprised to see the most amazing looking food coming out.

After 2 days of ceviche and Mexican food, our taste buds wanted something different, so we decided to be bold and try El Sushi de Holbox.

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I quickly understood why it is rated as one of the best restaurants on Holbox, despite how weird Mexican and sushi are together.

The ramen was a delicious start followed by several of their specialty rolls. Everything looked as good as it tasted.

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So far, our meals on Holbox had been OUTSTANDING. The food on this island was spectacular. And so cheap!

We walked back to Casa las Tortugas along the quaint streets of the village, watching the multitude of happy dogs run about, enjoying the string lights that stretched across the streets, and hearing the laughter of children playing in the square. The cinnamon-and-sugar smell of fresh churros wafted into the air from a row of sidewalk food vendors who were selling tacos, fruit drinks and crepes.

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It was only 9:30, but the ease of Holbox had seeped into our bones. We wanted nothing more than our cool room and blissful sleep.

Posted by vicki_h 18:22 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico island tropical holbox isla yucatan_peninsula quintana_roo Comments (0)

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