The seagulls are at it again. Driven by a combination of instinct, hunger, and plain old greed these aggressive birds of prey continue to swarm a poor defenseless child who can’t be more than five years old but is obviously delighted at the attention of these beggar birds. The seagulls are drawn to this particular section of the beach like bees to honey and in the very sense of the word the very beach restaurant in which I’m currently sitting is the perfect honey pot. The seagulls are practically serving as babysitter for this particular child whose parents are perfectly content to drink beer after beer while their child runs amok on the beach in front of the restaurant.
There are two very specific reasons that this very symbiotic relationship between seagulls, child, and child’s inattentive parents is practically perfect. A nearly endless supply of tortilla chips with a equally endless supply of seagulls and a child who is perfectly willing to spend the rest of his life throwing chips in the air as the seagulls dive bomb like WWII fighter planes at the tasty morsels being tossed up in the air. During the lull in between the explosions of chips being tossed in the air and the child reloading for another round the seagulls hover in the air salivating at the thought of getting another tasty treat to satiate their ravenous hunger all the while staring down the other birds around them jealously as though they are insulted by their very presence.
I find I feel exactly the same way those whorish tortilla munching seagulls do as I sit at my foodless table with my three companions hungrily looking on at those delicious tortilla chips being tossed in the air while we all are quite literally starving not 10 feet away from this undisciplined wasteful child born to drunk uncaring parents who have already finished their meal while we await our own impatiently. So with that said it should really come as no surprise that when opportunity to eat finally presented itself the majority of my little travel group did so with any thought or concern that we were actually eating our friend Cam’s lunch, and right in front of him no less. Such is life in Isla Holbox home to some of the most beautiful and exotic beaches in the world as well as arguably the slowest food service I have ever experienced.
In the idyllic world of Isla Holbox time seems to stand still, or at the very least runs two hours behind the rest of the world and not as a result of time zones or daylight savings. Rather, much like a gorgeous woman who slides seemingly effortlessly through life in a gentle haze, Isla Holbox is a victim of its own exotic beauty in which it lays entrapped within its own private world where everyone else who happens to exist in its wake is simply expected to adapt.
And usually quite willingly, such is the power of ethereal splendor of Isla Holbox that entrances all those who are fortunate enough to cross its path. Located a mere two hours by bus from the Cancun airport followed by a 45 minute ferry ride, Isla Holbox has somehow managed to remain under the tourist radar thanks to the magnetic draw of its whorish Venus fly trap sister city of Cancun.
In the case of myself, Amos, Lauren, (my girlfriend of nearly seven months), and the aforementioned lunch less Cam we are quite willingly entrapped on the white sandy beaches of Isla Holbox and much like the rest of the islands inhabitants more than willing to let the hours slide by nearly unaccounted for with little responsibility or care for the outside world.
Which of course sums up the type of service one can expect at a restaurant beach bar with no apparent name and waiters that whimsically appear and disappear at just the most inconvenient times possible. So it really isn’t that surprising that we have been waiting for nearly an hour (or perhaps two hours, it’s nearly impossible to know for sure) for our food to arrive.
Not that any of us should be actually complaining as we are sitting under a thatched roof with our bare feet encased in the soft white sand with a nearly perfectly still translucent blue ocean not 50 yards from our table while sipping cold Heineken’s, Pina Coladas, and in my case a Diet Coke which costs just as much as the latter drinks for some ridiculous reason. We are on day three of a ten day siesta here in Isla Holbox and we have long since been under the influence of the gentle easygoing haze that this island infects its inhabitants with upon arrival.
It’s like Novocain for the mind, it numbs everything but the pleasure senses. Plus there is a sign in the restaurant bar that states quite clearly “el cliente no siempre tiene la razón” (which in English translates to “the customer is not always right”) so quite naturally we can’t expect that our food will come when we expect it but rather when our Willy Wonka like waiter Antonio sees fit to deliver it to us.
Antonio exemplifies all the lazy easygoing traits that one would expect of a bastard love child bred from the loins of Isla Holbox through the immaculate inception of life that this magical island is quite capable of delivering. He is short and stocky with a golden smile that contrasts brilliantly against his deep dark brown skin. His smile is quite dazzlingly as he is actually sporting a golden grill that has replaced his front teeth in what can only be an obvious indicator of the type of generous tips he must be getting despite his lacksidasical and utterly inattentive service.
Then again it could also be due to the money he is saving from not having to buy clothes or shoes as he has been wearing the same dirty powder blue t-shirt and tan canvas shorts for the last three days and like everyone else on this island, including ourselves, walks around barefoot all day. All I know is that he appeared out of nowhere to take our orders, then proceeded to forget what we had ordered, was reminded again of the drink portion of our order, which then suddenly appeared at our table at the hands of a different server and then just as we were about to get up to find him to ask where the hell our food was he appears like the devil incarnate at my left shoulder with his ever present golden grin and tells us that there is no fish for at least one hour which presumably means two hours.
This is the normal response that we have already come to expect as one of the main reasons we continue to frequent this completely inept and shoddily run establishment is because of its immediate proximity right on the beach and the most delicious fish dishes that have ever graced my greedy lips. The reason it take so long to get our order ready is that it’s a rather arduous process in the first place just to get our order taken. Then we watch as a fisherman slowly shuffles his feet through the sand to his dilapidated boat and heads on out into the ocean to catch the fish we have ordered.
After what seems like a hour, or perhaps more, he returns to the beach dragging his feet in the sand while hauling a plastic blue bucket full of fish that are still flipping and flopping up to our table where we choose which fish we want. Finally we can sit back and enjoy the view for the next hour or so until they finally remember to cook it and then blessedly serve it to us after we have ordered nearly a half dozen round of drinks in the meantime. Hmm…I believe I now finally understand how Antonio was able to afford his golden grill.
I had just settled down into a pleasingly beach induced haze while Cameron and Amos stared blankly into the horizon with their alcohol fueled glazed eyes as Lauren’s head full of soft but beach tangled blonde hair rests peacefully on my right shoulder when suddenly out of thin air Antonio appears over my left shoulder grinning his golden grin like the devil’s imp he is and placing a heaping dish of freshly make ceviche in the middle of the table along with a bowl of fresh fried tortilla chips. He mumbles something at us and then disappears just as suddenly as he appeared.
“Do you think that’s our food?” asks Amos as he slowly shifts his eyes from the beach and the half naked wisp of a woman in a string bikini that is languidly strolling along the shoreline.
“I dunno,” answers Lauren, one eye trained on me and the other on the half naked woman that I’m pretending not to see. “I think Antonio said that it was an extra appetizer for us,” she continues.
Being that she is the only one in our group that speaks any Spanish we take her at her word and dig into the freshly made ceviche that is drenched in a divinely tangy lime juice that is marinating not only the fish but the finely diced chunks of tomatoes and onions. Using the tortilla chips as edible utensils we dig into the ceviche like the half starved beach bums that we have become.
Cam is the only one who abstains as he is still nursing what appears to be his fourth beer of the afternoon and with a wave of his hand dismisses our half hearted invitation to share in what we assume is a free appetizer…compliments of a restaurant that proudly claims that the customer is not always right.
Just as we are finishing our vicious rampage of the ceviche the Willa Wonka of Mexico appears yet again out of thin air and magically places three fresh fish dishes in front of everyone but Cam and then disappears like a thief in the night presumably to miscalculate our impending check.
“Huh,” says Amos as he points at the three dishes with his half drunken beer. “He must’ve forgotten Cam’s food.”
“Well I know that Lauren and I ordered the fish fillet so he at least got our order right,” I chime in helpfully. “And that must clearly be yours Amos since you always order what I do because you have no sense of self or independent thought.”
In part because I’m right and in part due to the intense sun and multitudes of beers consumed Amos is too far gone to parry back at my jab and simply begins to eat. I look at Lauren who then looks at Cam who again waves his hand dismissively at us while taking a swig from his beer at the same time like the master of multitasking that he is.
Lauren shrugs at me and says poetically “Well good grief let’s eat!” and that’s exactly what we do with great pleasure all while Cam patiently waits for his meal while nursing his beer and staring out into the seemingly endless azure blue horizon. However his patience begins to ebb just as we are finishing our food and he finally barks his first words in nearly an hour (or was it two hours? ) with a slightly slurred voice, “The hell is my food?”
At the mention of hell Antonio appears magically yet again over my left shoulder with our check in one hand while whisking away our plates with his other hand. Lauren asks him in Spanish where Cam’s food is and with a sparkle in his golden smile answers her in rapid fire Spanish and disappears yet again. Being that none of us speak Spanish we look anxiously at Lauren for a translation and answer to the whereabouts of Cam’s meal.
Lauren looks back at us with her big beautiful emerald green eyes that are naturally wide and full of innocence and says, just as innocently, “Oh well Antonio says he already brought it to the table…I thought it was an appetizer….sorry Cam.”
We all look at Cam guiltily like the greedy hungry hippie beach bums that we have become and wait anxiously for his response to the fact we quite literally ate his lunch right in front of his face and brace ourselves for a well deserved tongue lashing.
“Aww fuck,” he says with a wave of his hand, “Just order me another beer.”
And this is how the afternoon passes….
After a long day spent enduring the sweltering heat of the sun and being lulled to sleep by a cool ocean breeze while sprawled out nearly unconscious in the warm embrace of the soft white sand it is not quite unreasonable to expect to be rewarded for a hard day spent at the beach with a glorious sunset befitting of the paradise in which one is whiling away their well deserved time off.
While Isla Holbox may be most famous for its ethereal beaches and delicious fish it is quite possible that its fiery red sunsets are a close second. The best viewpoint for this delightful glimpse into the heavens is at the far west end of the beach which is miles away from what few high end resorts exist and where the hippies of Holbox instinctively flock like the salmon of Capistrano.
Despite the fact I’m sporting a rather delightful mane of long luxurious hair (or so Lauren likes to tell me before admonishing me on my vanity) I don’t exactly qualify as a hippie as my hair is free of dreads and other such strange knots that just an occasional dab of conditioner could easily untangle. But while I don’t exhibit all the outward signs of the free loving hippie I certainly have the same care free spirit and after all, as I was once told in Sunday school, it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
The west end of the beach brushes up against an ancient crumbling pier made of rocks with a seemingly endless horizon in the distance that serves as movie screen for the fiery grand finale of yet another day in paradise. Lauren and I lay in the sand entangled in each others arms as we take in the setting sun and the hordes of hippies playing hacky sack and congregating around the lone beach bar serving libations and some sort of smoky herb that seems to be synonymous with hippies around the world. We are settled in the shade near some mangroves while Lauren plays with my hair and pleads with me to let her braid it in a fashion that would undoubtedly make me the king of the hippies.
In a pleasant voice I remind her yet again that the day I let her braid my hair will be the very same day I sprout a pair of wings and fly away to the moon. Because I’m well aware of the impending pouting on her pretty face that renders me helpless to her charms I quickly distract her by helping her find enough seashells in the sand to spell out our names.
We are now three days into our trip together and my worst fears have been mostly assuaged. When I had originally invited Lauren to come with me to Mexico we had only been dating three months and thus I was taking a much greater risk than I’m used to taking with women as the much safer, practical route is to take things a day at a time and never plan anything more than a week out. But Lauren and I met under unusual circumstances in which we had our first date and then a week later I left to go backpacking in Spain and Morocco for a month.
Generally that would spell disaster for any potential relationship as normally I would have lost interest and then never called her upon my return. But for once I found myself thinking about her and while I preferred to not have any female distractions on my travel adventures it was hard to get her out of my mind. It was as though I wasn’t traveling solo because this fascinating and beautiful woman was along for the ride. Yet it was still a leap of faith to ask her nearly four months in advance to go with me to Mexico and then even more to the point actually enjoy being with her instead of wishing I were enjoying the beach by myself which I have been conditioned to prefer.
But here we were on the beach and still enjoying one another’s company and perhaps most importantly I only had eyes for her…and perhaps that scantily clad woman strolling on the beach earlier that she almost caught me staring at…but honestly that was really more of a knee jerk reaction.
As the sun begins to dip into the horizon we both quickly lose our interest in our shell games and stare into the blinding red orange fire that is engulfing the entire sky and lighting it up in a explosion of fiery madness as though it is the end of the world and not just the end of another day.
“I don’t think I ever want to leave,” whispers Lauren softly into my ear as though she might interrupt the celestial glory we are witnessing. This of course is my cue to kiss her as though it truly is the end of the world and I do so with great aplomb as the sun slips beneath the ocean and disappears. I may not know exactly what it is that those hippies are smoking at the beach bar not twenty yards to our right but I do know a bit about romance…or so I tell myself anyway.
As we stroll past the beach bar on our way back to our hostel I take a deep breath of the smoky skunk like aroma that is wafting around the beach bar like early morning mist and think to myself that Cam would know exactly what it is that they are puffing religiously as though their life depended on it.
In fact I’m positive that Cam would know exactly what type of herb those hippies were smoking because as Lauren and I were admiring the sunset Cam was a few yards away admiring the pillar of smoke rising into the sky from the hippie smoke circle at the beach bar.
So naturally I knew what was going to happen next and quite frankly I was looking forward to it. After all I still remember quite clearly what happened with my pot smoking friend last year when I first experienced the pleasure of observing his hound like ability to track down the devil’s lettuce.
Cam and Amos were no strangers to the wonders and pleasure of Isla Holbox as they had popped their Mexican cherry by accompanying me last year to Isla Holbox and while I initially though I was going to introduce them to a few new things it turned out that they introduced me to a few new things about the town that I didn’t know about.
Like where to buy weed and lots of it.
It turned out that it wasn’t very hard at all as we simply observed a dreadlocked Mexican version of Bob Marley disguised as a waiter at the restaurant we were dining in engage in several suspicious handshakes with several younger patrons of obvious hippie descent at the table across from us. Cam was convinced that a drug deal and just gone down and he wanted in on it, which of course led to a delightful conversation in theory about how to go about asking our waiter to ask his dread locked coworker to sell Cam some weed.
Theory quickly went the way of experimentation as Cam managed to get the attention of Dr. Dread (as I had lovingly tagged him) and invited him over to our table for a chat. After some painfully awkward small talk about the weather and such Cam finally grew a pair and popped the question.
“So what exactly would it take to get a handshake from you like the one you gave your buddies at that table over there?” asked Cam with tone that suggested he meant business.
Dr. Dread tilted his head to the side, his dreads swinging gently in the evening breeze, and grinned in the easygoing fashion of someone who had the upper hand and knew it.
“I’m not sure what you mean but your welcome to swing by after we close and we can talk a bit more about it,” the good doctor said with a sly smile that showed off his pearly whites that surprisingly were free of gold.
As the three of us made our way back to the hostel after dinner Cam casually inquired whether Amos or I would be willing to accompany him back to the restaurant at the agreed upon time. Amos quickly declined stating he wasn’t feeling well (must have been the tacos…it always is) and hurried ahead of us. This of course left me to bask in the prying pleading eyes of my long time friend. This would likely be a good time to establish exactly what his friendship meant to me and quite frankly how I feel about friendships in general.
My friendship with Cam at that point went back nearly three years as we work together at the same company and despite our differences in weed consumption and purchasing have maintained a good enough friendship that I felt confident enough in inviting both Cam and Amos (who has been friends with Cam since childhood) to join me in Isla Holbox.
However my idea of friendship is that it’s born out of convenience and as a result it can abruptly end with the introduction of inconvenience. Joining Cam on his midnight marijuana rendezvous with Dr. Dread was decidedly inconvenient for me and so in an effort to save our friendship I immediately declined to help.
This however did not prevent Cam from missing his doctor appointment and receiving what turned out to be a very generous prescription for medicinal marijuana at what Cam stated was a very reasonable price. Cam went from being the grizzly bear he normally is to becoming a great big cuddly teddy bear for the rest of the trip albeit a great big teddy bear that constantly smelled of skunk.
Naturally on our first evening in Isla Holbox this year the first place we ate at was the very place where Cam was issued his prescription by the good Dr. Dread the previous year but after some less then subtle inquiring Cam was extremely disappointed to find out the doctor was no longer practicing at that establishment. .
So after three days on the beach without his medication and being denied his lunch while inhaling the secondhand smoke of our hippie friends it came as no surprise to me that the hunt for weed was back on for the second year in a row.
For such a small village on an otherwise secluded island the town of Holbox is surprisingly colorful and vibrant with many delightful dining options. At the suggestion of several girls at our hostel reception we went in search of a Japanese fusion restaurant despite my resistance. Call me old school but the idea of coming all the way to this exotic beach location just to eat Japanese food seemed foolish to me when we had so many fish and Mexican dishes to choose from. However I was not only outvoted by Cam and Amos but Lauren as well who was rewarded with my Eye of Sauron glare.
The restaurant turned out to be just the kind of place Cam was looking for and not just because of the food but because of the fact it was clearly run by European hippies. The joint was painted in loud blue and yellow Rastafarian colors with one entire wall devoted to the image of Bob Marley smoking a big fat joint.
Our waiter Franz, we quickly found out thanks to Cam’s careful questioning, was from Frankfurt, Germany on a work visa. Unlike our inattentive and mysterious beach waiter Antonio, Franz was all over us with entrée and drink suggestions that he relayed with a German accent that seemed right out of an Indiana Jones movie.
His short spikey blond hair adorned the top of his head like a crown of thorns and bobbed ever so slightly while nodding politely at all our questions. He was so tall and skinny that he had to bend over ever so slightly to hear what we had to say and he took all our orders without writing them down and returned almost immediately with our drink orders and barely fifteen minutes after that with everyone’s food, including Cam’s.
Clearly this was no Antonio and not only that but this was a place where the customer was most certainly right as Franz immediately replaced Amos’s margarita when he complained that he couldn’t taste the liquor and wondered if they had given him a virgin margarita by accident.
So quite naturally the dinner conversation turned quickly to the best way for Cam to ask Franz where he could buy some weed.
“Just ask him straight up,” suggested Lauren. “He’s European so you know he’s a pot head.”
“I don’t know,” I interjected playing the devils advocate. “He seems far too lucid to be on pot. Personally I would have asked Antonio.”
“Fuck Antonio…” muttered Cam under his breath as he stared intently at the colorful mural of Bob Marley puffing the magic dragon.
“Fine go ahead and ask him,” I said reluctantly. “But I’m not paying extra on the tip just so you can get high.”
With that settled Cam motioned for the ever attentive Franz to come over to our table which he did with German like efficiency with three giant steps from across the room.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” he asked with a smile that seemed so sincere that I wanted to slap it right off his face, it’s just that kind of courteous service that guilt’s me into leaving bigger tips.
“As a matter of fact you can,” says Cam while motioning over to the mural of Bob Marley. “I was wondering if you knew where I could get a little bit of what ol’ Bob over there is having.”
Without any hesitation or change in his overly friendly expression Franz responded, “I will be right back with your check.”
Franz was as good as his word as he delivered our check with a noticeable surcharge added to our bill of nearly 200 pesos and a tip of his own.
“In about twenty minutes go over to that guy selling cotton candy across the street and tell him that I sent you over to buy some dessert,” said Franz as he collected our cash with his ever present sincere smile and without any hint of judgment.
Since we had some time to kill we walked over to the town square which was right across the street from the restaurant and near the cotton candy stand that apparently was a front for weed. We sat in the brightly lit park and watched the local kids kick around a soccer ball while arguing with each other whether or not this was some sort of sting operation. Because I enjoyed feeding Cam’s neurotic side I suggested that it clearly had to be a sting because who in the hell would possibly sell weed at a cotton candy stand.
Lauren, perhaps in an effort to make up for the fact she outvoted me on where to eat earlier quickly agreed with me. “I think you’re about to spend the night in a Mexican jail buddy…but hey you were talking earlier about getting laid so…”
Cam glared at both of us and then turned to Amos and said “Let’s go for a walk”.
The two of them shuffled off and spent the next twenty minutes walking around the town square each of them in opposite directions presumably casing the joint for Mexican narcs. Meanwhile Lauren attempted to teach me Spanish only to get frustrated yet again by my complete in ability to grasp even the most simple verb conjugations.
“I don’t know how it is that you can’t speak the language and yet you just finished taking four semesters of Spanish at school,” she said shaking her head.
“What can I say…Google Translate ruined me…” I muttered keeping a sharp eye on Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb as they neared the cotton candy stand. Amos got there first and bought some cotton candy and then ambled off in the same direction from whence he came. Cam became engaged in what ended up being a thirty second conversation and then ambled off himself in the opposite direction of Amos completely empty handed.
And then all of a sudden as though they were channeling their inner Antonio they both appeared over my left shoulder startling both Lauren and I.
“So it appears Dr. Dread is back in business,” said Cam with a goofy grin on his face. “He ditched his dreads but it is the same guy for sure.”
“Did he remember you?” I asked incredulously.
“Nope. I told him I bought from him last year but he said we all look the same to him,” quipped Cam obviously high at the though of getting high. “He told me to come back in another twenty minutes and buy some cotton candy and he would hook me up.”
By this time it was getting rather late and the whole situation was starting to smell fishy so Lauren and I told Cam and Amos we would meet them back at the hostel.
Lauren and I headed back to the hostel and waited for them while swinging lazily in the hammocks in the hostel courtyard under a brilliantly starry night sky. A half hour later they both came sauntering into the courtyard with Cam wearing a huge smile on his face as he held up a small plastic bag containing what looked to be a combination of pencil shavings and oregano.
“So,” I said sarcastically, “Where’s the cotton candy?”
“Aww fuck,” replied Cam as he turned around to head back into town. “I knew I forgot something”
And this is how the evening passes…