Cozumel, Day Three (Aug. 6, 2011)

The only bad thing I can say about today is that it made me want to strap on a backpack and skip out of the country for six months.* Slept in, then enjoyed a wonderful breakfast of bagels, lox and capers in the formal dining room. As soon as we left the ship, we were accosted by hawkers of T-shirts and plastic Day of the Dead skulls. We pushed our way through the masses lining the corridors of the garish, nondescript port. As soon as we walked out the terminal door, it felt as if we had been transported. Waiting for us was a busy Mexican street lined with sidewalks, stucco houses, dive restaurants under thatched roofs or tucked away in shacks, and lots of beautiful tropical flora.

Grabbed a map of the island and walked three miles to a museum of cultural and natural history I read about on Lonely Planet's website.Along the way, we saw butterflies, Great-tailed Grackles, and even an iguana sunning himself on the sidewalk.** A Magnificent Frigatebird soared over the water without ever flapping its wings. The plants were stunning, but we couldn't identify anything. One had thick, waxy, lily-pad shaped leaves that shielded grape-like bunches of fruit. Another had mimosa-like leaves, bright orange clusters of flowers and foot-long seed pods. Worn limestone, each like a giant stone sponge, was strewn about everywhere.***

The first floor of the museum held a traditional Mayan house, a modern art gallery, and displays on the four island ecosystems, wildlife, geology, and coral reefs. The second-floor Mayan archaeology**** exhibit was the highlight of the museum. The Mayan docent was eager to answer our questions, and he filled us in on everything from the face jugs used to burn offerings to the hand-carved canoe that could carry 25 men.*****

After the museum, we wandered the back streets until we found an open-air restaurant where we could rest with a couple of Sols.****** We enjoyed the shade at Abuelo Gerardo for half an hour before walking back to another restaurant, Antojitos Ambar, whose friendly owner and sidewalk menu had intrigued us earlier. The food was ridiculously good. Our waitress brought out corn chips fresh from the oven and an assortment of sauces including a nuclear garlic paste, cilantro-vinegar salsa verde, and thermonuclear pico de gallo. Fantastic flavor, though I had to wedge my tongue down a bottle of Pepsi Lite to ease the pain.

Lunch was simple, fresh, and exquisite: corn tostadas covered with a thin layer of black bean paste, fried fish, pickled red onion, and tangy, smooth, cool sour cream. The owner's wife was crocheting, so I mimed to her that I like to knit. She disappeared into the back room and returned with a photo of an elaborate, traditional dance costume she had knitted for her 4-year-old daughter Ambar, the restaurant's namesake.

If they offered me a jar of pickled onions, I might have stayed here forever.

Begrudgingly, we began the walk back to the port, stopping halfway at a thatched-roof restaurant on the beach where I searched for a small piece of limestone as a keepsake.

Avoided our obnoxious dinner companions altogether by sneaking in to the early seating. My three courses: mango bisque, broiled pike, and a tiramisu split with Brad. His choices: fried mozzarella wedges and tiger shrimp. Spent the rest of the evening lounging on the Serenity Deck, watching the moon, soaking in the hot tub, and listening to the churning water.

Tonight's towel animal: an oliphant.

Brad's footnotes:
* This is bad?
** Two iguanas. Jenn keeps forgetting about one we saw scurry quickly into a marsh when OTHER tourists made lots of noise as they passed. Bastiges.
*** Well, in lots of places. But not, say, on the road. Or the sidewalk. But lots of other places.
**** Jenn's a showoff and likes using three vowels in a row sometimes.
***** Mayans must have been small.
****** And maybe a tequila shot. I'm just saying.

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