I watched as the men who staffed the dive shop squeezed fresh lime juice into a bowl filled with various sea creatures, all skinned and prepared to absorb the flavor. In Isla Mujeres, Mexico there’s a saying–what you’re eating today was sleeping in the ocean yesterday. I smelled the sizzling Mahi Mahi on a nearby grill and listened to the soft hum of the ocean just a few feet away, our own personal brine for the meal we were about to eat.
It was a spread fit for a queen–the morning’s freshest seaside hauls served with spicy guacamole and a cold, salt-rimmed Hornitos margarita. It was being graciously prepared for me, as an apology for the island’s behavior up until then.
You see, I had arrived in Mexico just one day prior and had already encountered formidable circumstances. I was accused of stealing a golf cart and involved in a three-person struggle over the rights to my driver’s license. While I left victorious, my glory was short-lived when I realized I lost the rental car keys in the commotion and wouldn’t be able to access the car that night.
On the ride back to the AirBnB, the taxi driver addressed me regretfully. “It was so sunny before you arrived,” he noted as he glanced over his shoulder. “You picked a bad time to visit.” I looked down at my allegedly thieving hands and, for the first time since starting my year of adventure, felt my resolve start to waver.
The next morning, I awoke to news that the whale shark excursion I’d booked months earlier was canceled due to the weather, an ominous tropical storm that coincided precisely with my dates of arrival and departure. It seemed I had a cloud hanging over my head for the duration of the trip, both literally and figuratively.
Still, I was determined to salvage the trip. Instead of retreating into the comforts of the rental bed and hiding from the world, I faced the situation head-on and started making phone calls. Someone had to be doing something noteworthy on a Sunday in Cancun.
My first few calls went unanswered. I would later learn that most outfitters are open 365 days a year so a storm is their version of a holiday. Some places don’t even open depending on the forecast. One call went through to an American cell phone (our lack of work/life boundaries can come in handy at times!) but he confirmed what I was scared of hearing–that the next available excursion would be after the storm, and after my visit.
I persisted, relentless in my pursuit of entertainment and blog-worthy photographs. I’d seen pictures of an underwater museum off the coast of Isla Mujeres but didn’t think I’d be able to visit short of getting dive certified and spending a significant amount of money. To my surprise, one place actually picked up the phone and agreed to take me out on the water, provided I complete a mini-certification upon arrival. “If you can get here before it starts to pour this afternoon, we will go,” the owner said, posing the challenge and placing the ball squarely in my court.
It was 10:50am. The downpour was expected to start around around 2pm. I had my rental car keys again after an earlier meeting with the rental car representative. Getting that problem fixed was as easy as admitting my shame and paying $200 for duplicate keys, more than the cost of the rental itself.
One ferry ride, a taxi cab and a short walk later I arrived at a dive shop on the other side of Isla Mujeres. It was a 20 minute drive from the port and I had to explain to the cab driver how to get there, but I made it. You could tell right away the place was different. It wasn’t like the tourist traps surrounding the port, where representatives wait to lure unsuspecting customers into overpriced and impersonal experiences.
This was a local dive shop. I was the only patron there so I found the staff relaxed and watching a fútbol game when I arrived. They didn’t even protest when the match was changed so I could watch the PADI training video on the only TV on site.
The dive was incredible, and afterwards I found myself the guest of honor at a feast made that much sweeter by life’s lemons. I had earned the right to celebrate after my first time scuba diving and was grateful for the unexpected turn of events. With a smile, I held up my white styrofoam cup and said “salud!” to my new friends before taking a sip of my margarita.
While it wouldn’t be the last of my troubles in Mexico, for a moment in time, everything was alright.
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