When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Margaritas: Surviving Mexico Part I

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 shopย 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 fรบtbol 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.


When Life Gives You Lemons Make Margaritas: How I Survived Mexico Part 1. From being accused of stealing a gold cart to losing my wallet and rental car keys, this solo trip was one I won't soon forget.When Life Gives You Lemons Make Margaritas: How I Survived Mexico Part 1. From being accused of stealing a gold cart to losing my wallet and rental car keys, this solo trip was one I won't soon forget.

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What do you do when you're accused of being a golf art thief, lose your rental car keys and wallet and have a tropical storm cancel all your plans in Mexico? Improvise, and make a mean margarita!

What do you do when all goes wrong in Cancun, Mexico? Make margaritas out of life's lemons! Read my travel fail story for solo travel laughs and inspiration.

2018-06-11T14:28:42+00:0023 Comments


  1. Great delivery. Great arguments. Keep up the good spirit.

  2. Juliann July 14, 2017 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    Sorry that you had such a rough start to your trip there, but great that you didn’t let it ruin your day. The seafood looks so fresh and the margarita sounds so refreshing that it sounds like your day couldn’t have been better. (Unless there were sharks.) ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Ann July 14, 2017 at 9:18 pm - Reply

    Jen, you have GREAT perseverance — and that’s the key, the absolute key for travelers. Weird things, sometimes scary things happen, and you kept your head and got through it. Congratulations on getting the dive in — and you may deserve a margarita more than anyone I’ve known in a long, long time!

  4. Jenn and Ed Coleman July 15, 2017 at 5:05 am - Reply

    Isla Mujeres is so high on my places to dive list. The downside is it will be hard to compare to your introduction to diving. We did our fist dives in the Bahamas and Jenn still has a hard time getting up for diving in San Diego. I am actually going diving in Mexico tomorrow. I will be biking there, but it isn’t a crazy as it sounds. The dive boat leaves 2 miles from the house and we aren’t ever stepping foot on Mexican soil. Still – diving in Mexico!

    Someday, you’ll return to Isla Mujeres for a return dive and it will be nothing but unicorns and sunshine.

  5. Susan Ripley July 15, 2017 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    It sounds like you had a crazy trip! But I often find that the times that things go wrong are the most memorable experiences. Sometimes I even end up bonding with strangers over unfortunate circumstances. Hope that the negative circumstances turned into something positive for you. Looking forward to reading more.

  6. Cat July 16, 2017 at 6:51 am - Reply

    I am sorry for the chain of unfortunate events, but so glad that your determination paid off and had a good time at the dive! I couldn’t believe you were accused of stealing a golf cart and almost losing your driver’s license! That’s crazy. I hope your trip onward is much smoother!

  7. Allison Wong July 16, 2017 at 3:21 pm - Reply

    Bad weather is always a bummer but I’m glad you managed to make it a great trip in the end! You’re such a determined girl!

  8. April July 16, 2017 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    What a wonderful story. Sometimes the best adventures are the ones we don’t plan in advance.

  9. Julianne July 17, 2017 at 12:48 am - Reply

    Yes!! Love this!! Sometimes, a margarita is all you need to make things better. ๐Ÿ™‚ On a more serious note, sorry to hear about your troubles prior to that point (rental car keys, the tropical storm, and so on), but I’m glad that you were able to have a good time nonetheless. You go girl!

  10. Harmony, Momma To Go July 17, 2017 at 2:23 am - Reply

    now you have me craving a margarita! I love Mexico, and strangely my kids keep asking to go there!

  11. Ivy July 17, 2017 at 5:20 pm - Reply

    Good for you for not letting it affect the rest of your journey! Sounds like your determination paid off in the end though ๐Ÿ™‚ Ive heard amazig things about diving there; Ill have to get my butt over to Mexico soon after we get our Advanced certification!

  12. Lisa July 17, 2017 at 11:42 pm - Reply

    Always expect the unexpected!

  13. Katie July 18, 2017 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    Wow it sounds like it spiraled like crazy! I’m glad you went on the dive and it was so nice. Sometimes there is a light at the end of the tunnel! ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. Kirti July 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm - Reply

    Often a bad start can tranform into a great trip.

  15. Gwendolyn DeSilva July 21, 2017 at 9:22 pm - Reply

    A very well written story. Thanks for sharing!

  16. marine July 25, 2017 at 8:09 am - Reply

    margarita is life pretty much wherever you want to survive haha

  17. Christine July 29, 2017 at 3:41 pm - Reply

    This is such a great example of how your attitude determines how you experience certain situations! Instead of giving up after – quite a few, sadly – unexpected turns in events, sounds like you finally had a wonderful time in the end!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Jessica Nemire July 29, 2017 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Hahaha, I love this! “Make margaritas.” Travel mishaps make for the best stories!

  19. Julie Small July 29, 2017 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    Funny how the bad stuff makes for the best stories- this is a really well written and engrossing story thanks

  20. orangewayfarer July 31, 2017 at 5:42 pm - Reply

    I think experience gathering happens this way. You cannot have incessant rains of good days! Nonetheless I loved those food pictures!

  21. Taylor August 2, 2017 at 5:27 am - Reply

    In love with the blog post title! The ceviche looks so freaking good!

  22. John the Wanderer August 12, 2017 at 10:12 pm - Reply

    I always love trips where you can just go with the flow. Sometimes the best experiences happen like this when your main plans get cancelled. I don’t know if you would have found better food anywhere on that trip!

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