Isla Mujeres

IMG_4798

 
IMG_4747Literally translating to “Island of Women”, this colourful fishing village was my favourite stop on our journey through Mexico.  Just a short ferry ride from the mainland, it contrasts immensely to the fast-paced
chaotic tourism that comprises Cancun and I think is an absolute must-visit for everyone. For a set fare (about 80 pesos) the ferry terminal is just a short taxi ride away from the bus station. A return ticket to Isla costs about 136 pesos (with the brightly coloured ferry company Manaja) and the trip takes 25 minutes. For us, getting back to Cancun proved a little more difficult – for some reason (not sure if it is always like this) but the ferry queue was enormous. We were in line and there wasn’t enough space on the ferry, so we had to sit in the queue for another hour until the next ferry arrived.

One of the coolest hostels I have ever experienced is Poc Na. Recommended to us by friends, it was located right on the beach, with a dive school attached, as well as offering free yoga, Spanish lessons, massages, beach volleyball and live music (to name just a few of the options) on a regular basis. It also offers various day trips and has a beach bar, a café, and spacious, clean rooms. The hostel is only a few blocks from Playa Norte. With warm blue water that is shallow for ages and heavenly cabanas (which get snapped up quickly!) it is definitely one of the best beaches on the island for swimming and sunning yourself.
The island itself is tiny, and extremely walkable. There is only about 16,000 permanent residents, basically all of whom which are involved in tourism in some way. IMG_4836The town is condensed at the northern end of the island (where the ferry drops you off) and is packed with bars, restaurants, and shops full of cute trinkets. Isla Mujeres is only about 8km long, and at its thinnest point it is possible to see from one side to the other.

I would definitely recommend hiring a golf cart as a fun and convenient way to see the island, visiting the far spots that you mayn’t otherwise reach, and viewing where the craggy cliffs meet the warm blue tones of the Caribbean. We hired one for 650 pesos (Poc Na has them available for hire, but they were sold out for the day already when we went) and attempted to cover every nook and cranny of the island. We passed Dolphin Discovery, the Turtle farm, explored the ruins at the southernmost point of the island, and stopped for a drink at a bar that overlooked the water (with beer “so cold it’ll make your teeth hurt!”).

Other places we ate at include Velazquez, which had simplistic décor (plastic tables and chairs) that was just perfect for this cute little place, overlooking the pier, boats and setting sun. For some reason, ordering a whole fresh fish felt like a necessity as we sat under the beachfront palapa (thatch roof). It was so delicious. The margaritas were enormous, and also delicious. Another spot overlooking the water is Bally Hoo. This place was a lot more formal in comparison (and its prices reflected that to some extent). The service was incredible – the waiter noted both of our names, and used them generously throughout the night. I had steak fajitas and a large mojito – it didn’t take us long to learn that the drinks in Isla were far bigger and stronger than anywhere else we had been. For dessert, I would definitely suggest indulging in the Spanish classic: Churros. At nham nham churros, a family owned and operated business; I splurged on a Nutella filled churro, and momentarily went to heavy. The place itself is cute too; a little food cart within the shop itself, and you can watch the churros being made from scratch. If your body is craving some vitamins and minerals I would head to Green Verde. Admittedly we didn’t make it here, but it was recommended to us a million times. It was a decent walk from the town centre and when we ventured there with the golf cart it was closed for the hour. I was pretty disappointed not to eat here, but c’est la vie.

I was ridiculously excited (and nervous) to get back into the water and do some diving. It had been almost been a year since I last went, and getting my equipment ready was quite a bit harder than I expected (increasing my nerves ten-fold). The boat was pretty small compared to other boats that I have been on (a few of us felt pretty sea sick), and running on Mexico time we were late in leaving. Isla is famous for whale sharks, however it was the wrong season for these gentle giants, and instead I got offered (if I was adventurous enough) to dive with some more ferocious bull sharks (I was nervous enough about the diving itself so I passed on that one!).

First we visited Musa (aka the Underwater Museum). Put in place by the people of Cancun, the museum was full of statues, grenades, cars and would have been incredibly awesome had there just been a few more fish/wild-life. This was my first experience where some of the members of my group had terrible dive etiquette (which must have been bad, for an amateur like myself to notice), for example pushing past each other (and me) underwater, swimming off without their buddies, and not knowing how to effectively communicate with the team. It was a little frustrating, and made me a bit panicky! Our second dive was along a reef at the south of the island. Again the sea-life was pretty disappointing, although we did spot some lionfish and barracuda. We were encouraged to swim through a long, dark, low cave; and although I almost self-induced claustrophobia, I was proud to say that I did it.

Take home message from this blog post: if you are in the vicinity, visit Isla Mujeres.

IMG_4732IMG_4738

Advertisements

Full Moon Festivities

Most hostels on Kohphangan require a 7 night minimum stay across the Full (and Half) Moon party weeks. Being on the budget and time restrictions that we were, this wasn’t really an option to us. We took some advice from friends and opted to continue our stay on Koh Samui, and would just commute to and from the island for the party. Ferries run frequently throughout the day, so getting there would not be a problem. Tip: you can buy a return ferry ticket before you leave Koh Samui. We opted not to buy a return ticket so that we weren’t restricted to a return time and we didn’t want to have to worry about looking after it. Our choice sure made for an interesting night…

IMG_6464

On the morning of the Eve, Cam, Summer, me and a girl from our hostel Molly, joined the ferry queue to get to Kohphangan, home to the infamous Full Moon Party. The boat took us and our bright orange life jackets to the main port, where within seconds of stepping off the boat it was obvious that tourism kept this place alive. Fluoro was everywhere, as were DIY cocktail buckets, face paint, and of course, people. We explored the left of the port first, where there  was a bunch of swanky resorts and one of the most beautiful beaches we had ever seen. We had a deliciously long lunch with an equally delicious view, before exploring the main streets of the beach town. After bumping into someone from New Zealand that amazingly both Summer and I knew, we ended up at Mellow Mountain (at the far end of Haad Rin beach).

After a less than favourable experience at Mellow Mountain we made our way to Emma’s hostel, which was ‘playboy’ themed, and offered free shisha. After demushroomising, and then getting our newly formed crew ready (completely transformed by the powers of fluoro body paint), we all headed out to dinner, bought DIY buckets and made our way to Cactus Bar where we had a good dance, and in general a fantastic time. Bizarrely enough, Summer and I bumped into our same friend, again, entirely coincidentally! We went down to the beach – 40,000 people sure makes it hard to move! We got separated very quickly, and after pushing and shoving our way down to the water, we decided this wasn’t half as fun as before and headed back up to Cactus Bar, where on the way we miraculously managed to reunite with our group, moments before the countdown. We spent most of the night on a balcony that overlooked the beach – the fireworks display after the countdown was epic! Not to mention the ripple of excitement when the hill behind the fireworks caught fire (thankfully this got put it before too long!).

IMG_6505

All too soon we decided it was time to farewell our newly formed ‘Team Seedy’ and after making the typical traveller resolutions of reuniting sometime soon, we began to make our way home. We did a double take when we saw that the wait for the ferry was about two and half hours long; so we were delighted (albeit apprehensive) to see a little Thai couple holding a sign that read “Express Taxi”. We picked our way down the rocks to an over-sized dinghy, which already held a group of drunk people. There were more people than life jackets, and the one-eyed driver was guided only by a lamp. Nevertheless, we continued to pursue this option, our regrets reaching an all time high when the driver asked us to realign ourselves so that the centre of gravity was concentrated in the middle of the boat; it seemed he was concerned that the boat was going to capsize. It was the longest hour ever, and although it made for a fantastic story after, I do not know that I would recommend it to someone else unless they were really out for a YOLO experience. We arrived home to find we’d locked ourselves out of our room, so a comfy night on the couch was spent, seeing in the New Year.

A few tips (both generic and personal) about the Full Moon Party won’t go astray here, so just thought I’d share my 5 favourite ones:

  1. Stay hydrated. Eat dinner, and take nothing but what you need. And what you do take, make sure it is secure.
  2. Buy your cocktail buckets away from the beach where you can monitor their contents. Too many people (including our friend) get spiked by the buckets for sale down on the beach (usually with methanol, by the vendors themselves).
  3. If not staying on the island, figure out the go home plan for the group in advance. Whether it be a ‘fend for yourselves’ approach, or by meeting at a certain place at a certain time, have this sorted. It is almost inevitable that someone from your group will become separated at some point, and it’s not something you want to be worrying about later.
  4. Wear shoes that are covered and comfortable. There is all sorts of unidentifiable muck everywhere, stuff you’d rather not think about (or feel) what it actually is.
  5. Lastly, do not rush to the party. It is there all day, and all night. So enjoy what else the island has to offer before you get there.

IMG_6584

Summertime: Arrivederci Italia!

With our final exams finally behind us it was time to say goodbye to Milano. I think Danielle and I both felt slightly nostalgic as we ventured to California Bakery one last time, and down Via Turino for one last glimpse at a few of the many fashionable shops Milano has to offer. We climbed aboard our train to Rimini which had been chosen as our ‘post-exam celebration destination’ for its epic nightlife and glorious beaches. We had a room to ourselves at the Sunflower City Backpackers Hostel, which was fortunate as it allowed us to rearrange the room so our heads were positioned by the windows, allowing us a breath of fresh air amongst the stifling humidity.

The weather was due to close in about lunch time, so us keen beachgoers were up and at it by 8am, after chowing down some revolting coffee and storing away some self-made Dunkaroos for later on. Needless to say, we were the only ones on the entire beach, and both got slightly more burnt than planned. We ventured out late afternoon to explore the shops, grab a fancy dinner and indulge elegantly in some cocktails, however these plans were soon put on hold as the rain turned torrential – and did not stop. The streets were knee-deep with water, shops were flooding and road works were floating away. This horrendous weather put a wee dampener on the mood, so we opted for a night in with our classic pesto and pasta, and some cocktails while we watched the football. The only problem was the hostel wasn’t showing any of the football, despite the well-advertised Happy Hours that were supposed to occur during the games!  A cloudy sky the next morning failed to stop us beach deprived Kiwis from hitting the beach, which we became thankful for as it turned into a beautiful day. A new sight for us both was the topless sunbathing (something we would both become very accustomed to over the following months) and the concept of standing sunbathing, rotating occasionally, presumably to get better sun coverage!

A 50 minute train ride to Ancona saw us check in for our overnight Croatia-bound ferry, and wait about half an hour for a bus to take us to the ferry itself. After meeting two fellow New Zealanders in the customs queue, I received my first stamp in my new passport, and we made our way to our allocated accommodation: “deck-space”. It was a glorious night; we watched the sun go down over Italy before heading below deck to grab ourselves some sleeping space (a row of chairs with the arm rests folded up) before waking up at 4.30am the next morning to watch the sun rise as we arrived in Split, Croatia.

10440762_10203849780112116_8147543675722887288_n