Becoming Famous and Falling in Love: Cozumel

Becoming Famous and Falling in Love: Cozumel

The ride from Cancun to the ferry terminal near Playa del Carmen was my first ever group motorcycle ride. (Not counting riding around the block with my class when I was learning.) It was awesome. There was such a feeling of camaraderie with the crew from Cancun and we learnt all the Mexican signals. Such as when you stretch out both legs, there’s a tope (speed bump) ahead. There was a lot of leg stretching going on!

We were glad to be in the group, as we would have followed the signs to Cozumel, and not made it to the correct ferry terminal. The ferry we were all taking was the cargo ferry, and it departed from a terminal further along the highway.

Waiting to board the ferry

I managed to embarrass myself by dropping my bike in front of loads of others, the kickstand sunk into the soft gravel when I was parking, and I couldn’t quite catch Cricket as she sunk downwards. At least there were plenty of volunteers to help pick her up!

Cricket lays down to wait for the boat.

The ferry ride was longer than I had expected, but uneventful. I took a nap while Phil caught up on his journal writing.

When we rode off the other side Phil and I had no idea where we should go, so we just followed everyone else to a local seafood restaurant.

At least we got off the ferry at the right island!

We hadn’t booked accommodation, and had not had a positive response to any of our couch requests. Despite it being Easter weekend (the busiest weekend of the year in Mexico), we reckoned we’d be able to work something out. We always seem to!

The guys we shared a table with at the restaurant were in a similar situation, and thought they had a lead on an apartment they could rent. After a bite to eat we followed them and a few other bikes to a hotel. Not only could we not get a room in said hotel, they had “lost” the reservations of the guys who had booked. “We thought you were arriving tomorrow!” they claimed.

At this point we decided to split up, Phil would stay with the bikers and see what he could figure out with them, and I would head to Scuba Gamma – the shop that our parents had left us a care package at weeks ago, and see if the owners Jean-Pierre and Danielle could help.

Mum and Dad dropping off our care package in Cozumel in March.

I had barely arrived at Scuba Gamma when Phil called and said he had organised a place for us to stay. He had run into Ben and Nellie, a wonderful couple from Cancun who we’d been talking to in the parking lot that morning, and they offered us the futon in the apartment they had rented. PERFECT!

Our rescuers, Ben and Nellie, who let us sleep on their couch. Thanks guys!

Jean-Pierre warmly welcomed me to his shop and pulled two large bags out of a corner. Our care package. Containing motorcycle parts, more stickers and a replacement pair of boots for Alex among other goodies, I wasn’t sure how we’d fit it all onto our bikes, but was very pleased to finally have it.

Me, Jean-Pierre, Phil and our care packages!

Jean-Pierre told me all about the island of Cozumel, the best places to eat, how the streets were laid out – basically everything a girl could want to know about Cozumel. Phil came in shortly afterwards, having obtained the key to our new digs.

We can’t thank Scuba Gamma enough for having stored our package for us. It’s small logistical things like that that are the most difficult to arrange when on the road.

We dropped our stuff at the apartment and headed to “La Hach” the official bar of the Expobike Fest where they were serving free beer from 9pm-11pm.

When we arrived they had cordoned off the road so all the motorcycles could park in front of the bar. This was the beginning of our rise to fame.

At 197cm and 180cm, even if our white skin didn’t make us stand out, the fact that we’re taller than almost everyone in Mexico would. Phil’s “succulent” beard and unkempt hair also make him quite memorable.  The fact that we’ve ridden our motorcycles from the top of Alaska, and are headed down to Patagonia, only made us bigger heroes. And when they found out I was riding MY OWN BIKE? Well – I became a super hero. Of the hundreds of bikers there, I only saw 2 or 3 other women riding their own bikes. All the rest were on the back of their man’s.

Giant among Mexicans

There is a popular motorcycling magazine in Mexico called Revista 400. Their man on the ground was getting everyone to hold up 4 fingers in all the pictures.

Four fingers means 400…

The bar was packed with motorcyclists, and we were constantly being approached and asked if they could have their picture taken with us. We of course agreed, and there are many, many pictures of us now circulating Mexican facebook.

Hanging with new friends at La Hach

As I have noticed before, there is an instant kinship between motorcyclists, and it was wonderful to have so many new friends. My ability to speak and understand Spanish has improved enormously over the past four months, however it is still not good enough to understand everything, and I still struggle for the words. Phil has a much more “just go for it” approach and he manages to make himself understood with his mix of Spanish, French and English, which seems to easily flow from his mouth.

I spent a long time chatting with Ricardo and Tatiana, a couple from Cancun, who were very friendly and spoke excellent English. They were very excited about our trip, and said that we must go and stay with their friend Kcho who lives in Bacalar, close to the Belize border. They were just about to give me his phone number, when he walked into the room! Kcho was super nice, insisted that we come stay with him, and gave me his number himself.

Tatiana and Ricardo – two very cool cats

The next morning Phil got up early and started chatting to Ben and Jim, who owns the set of apartments we were staying in. Jim has lived in Cozumel for 23 years and has made his property into a lovely treed oasis, fish pond and everything. Phil even got to satisfy his new found love of coconut preparing. He’s getting very good at cutting the ends off so we can drink the coco water, then dissecting the flesh inside for eating.

Jim standing at the pressure washing station (AKA the street outside his house)

There was a free taco breakfast before the Mayor of Cozumel was to make a welcoming speech in front of the town hall. While we were moving the bikes for a group picture a man with a microphone interviewed us. Turns out we were on local radio. We only found this out when someone later told us they had heard us!

Did someone say “free breakfast”?

As we rounded the corner Phil burst out laughing. I looked at him questioningly and he pointed to this sign:

This guy had skills, just not speed. This was about 5 minutes before the Mayor was standing here making a speech…

They were still painting the sign welcoming us to Cozumel, just minutes before the Mayor was due to make a speech in front of it!

We were introduced to the Mayor who then mentioned us in his speech. If there had been an award for “travelled the furthest to be here” we would have won it.

Phil and I hang with the Mayor of Cozumel (white shirt)

After the speech and a group picture, of which we all later were given a copy, the hundreds of motorcycles all headed out on a group ride around the island.

Up until this point we really hadn’t seen much of the island, and I was thrilled to discover it’s wild beauty. The town of Cozumel is a cruise port and is quite developed. The other side of the island has only a few beach bars and restaurants, no electricity (they stopped replacing the lines after too many hurricanes had wiped them out) and fabulous white sandy beaches with clear blue water. Exactly what you’d hope for on a Caribbean island. I was told that it’s similar to what Cancun and Playa del Carmen looked like before they were developed.

A rare shot of the two of us riding Jugs and Cricket.

Me riding along the “wild” side of the island

Being in a huge group of motorcycles was fun, although perhaps not for the few cars we passed who had to wait for us all to pass before they could continue on their journey.

We ended at the San Francisco Beach Club, where they had blocked off a 1/4 mile of the road for drag races, and had organised for us all to use the facilities (pool, fun inflatable sea toys such as floating trampolines, and sun beds). We spent the whole day there, before heading home to change, get some dinner and then… More free beer!

This Columbian lady loved Phil’s beard.

Earlier in the day we’d seen this bike, and commented on how the lack of a rear fender was “bad-ass”, but pretty dangerous:

This guy may have a cool looking bike, but…

On the drive home we stopped when we saw a motorcycle pulled over at the side of the road. It was the same guy:

The result of not having a rear fender… Jacket caught in chain!

Dinner was nice, at the restaurant that Jean-Pierre had recommended. It was far enough out of the main downtown that it had low prices, and you could tell it was good by the number of locals eating there.

That night at La Hach we got talking to Steve again, a really nice guy from Minnesota who spends his winters in Cozumel. We’d met him the night before, he’s friends with the owners of the bar and is a regular there. He invited us to stay with him in his home a few blocks away, which we eagerly accepted. Ben and Nellie had decided to head back to Cancun, and while the rate Jim charged us for the apartment that night was a steal, we’d heard the legend of Steve’s margaritas.

In the bar when Steve still thought Phil was my husband

The next day we had a slow morning. Jim let us use his pressure washer, so Cricket had her first bath in a very very long time. We also went through our new loot and discovered that Dad had bought us an external hard drive. Our little netbook has been having capacity issues for a while now, so that was an amazing gift! We also raided the collection of stickers Dad had provided, putting our names on our helmets, covering our bikes with Canada flag stickers and branding everything we could think of with “”.

Phil brands his top box. Now all drivers following too close can check out our blog.

In case the tailgaters don’t see Phil’s top box, they can always find our blog from his helmet!

Look Dad – now I know who I am!

Dave, who lived next door, had just come back from Guatemala and spent quite a while going over our route with us and making suggestions.

Getting excellent Guatemala travel advice from Jim’s friend Dave.

We headed back to the San Francisco beach club for the final few hours of drag races before presenting ourselves at Steve’s house. And what a house it was. Everything was really nice, and we had our own room with a king sized bed and gorgeous roof terrace. He even had a washing machine. It’s amazing how excited we get at the thought of doing laundry!

Our room at Steve’s house

The margaritas were flowing within minutes, and they were even better than the rumours had me believe. And then he made me a bloody mary, with horseradish. Divine. This man should be a bartender, rather than a retired firefighter! There was a bit of an awkward moment when Steve asked us if we’d thought of having kids. I said something like “Yep, maybe if I meet the right guy one day”. A look of confusion crossed Steve’s face, and then after a minute he exclaimed “You guys are brother and sister?!?”.

Despite the fact that Phil and I take great care in introducing each other as siblings, and refer often to our joint parents and upbringing, Steve was far from the first to think we are a couple. Having the same last names on our business card doesn’t help – just makes people think we are married!

While we were still laughing, his neighbour from across the street came in. David is Canadian, from Ontario, and lives in Cozumel full time. We all got on like a house on fire, and soon he had invited us to dinner the next evening.  Once again a short stop somewhere was turning into a longer stay, and we couldn’t have been happier. In fact a short time later, we discovered it was all you can eat chicken and ribs night at a local favourite restaurant, and moved dinner to Tuesday night instead.

During the preceding few days we’d been in Cozumel, we had been exchanging text messages with Christian, a couchsurfing host who had told us he wasn’t able to host us, but would love to meet up for a drink. We’d been too busy with the bike fest to meet him before then, but on Easter Monday we finally made a plan. After breakfast with Steve and Dave, we headed over to Christian’s apartment to pick him up. He was waiting for us on the corner, and surprised me by choosing to ride on the back of my bike rather than Phil’s. (Thinking back, I guess it shouldn’t have been surprising that a guy would want to ride with a girl given the choice, but I’m so used to everyone always riding on the back of Phil’s because he’s more experienced!)

Jayne, Phil and Christian enjoying the view and beers at a local cantina

Christian directed us to a cantina overlooking the sea with half priced beers. The benefits of local knowledge! We had a great afternoon enjoying the view, talking about spearfishing, Christian’s new job as operations manager at a beach club and life on the island. Christian is Chilean, but has spent a few years living on the island indulging his passion for the sea.

Christian had a rusty old truck which was a “benefit” of his new job, he told us it wasn’t running well, so Phil decided to have a go at fixing it with our trusty bottle of carb cleaner. It certainly seemed to be running better after Nurse Phil had worked on it, but died on while Christian was driving it to work the beach the next morning.

This truck had more than one thing wrong with it.

Nurse Phil tries to bring it back to some semblance of health with carb cleaner. It works on our bikes…

Christian introduced us to his beloved dog Tina.

That truck was dangerous enough without Tina licking your face!

We were having such a great time that we invited Christian to come for dinner with us. Little did I know that I was going to end up spending the majority of the next five days with him.

On the way to Christian’s house we had run into another motorcycling couple who we’d met at the bike fest, Yussef (Jose) and his adorable wife Adelina. It turned out that Steve also knew them, and Dave invited them for dinner at his house.

Dinner at Dave’s was fantastic. Phil had another go at making the perfect poutine which turned out really well as our starter. Dave made us steaks, two kinds of potatoes, garlic bread and veggies, and it was all delicious.

Poutine chef extraordinaire

Outdoor feast at David’s house.

My thoughts were occupied by Christian, his eyes are a grey blue, with specks of gold in them. I found myself lost in those eyes. We immediately hit it off, and Wednesday I spent the whole day at the beach club where he works, getting a bit of a sunburn (oops) while we chatted and flirted. He taught me backgammon, and I lost admirably every time we played, even with him helping me.

I loved this beach on the other side of the island.

Even on the beach I made sure to be wearing “All The Gear All The Time.” Christian laughed and hopped on the back in shorts and flip flops…

We spent as much time as we could together over the next few days, he took me to different places on the island, and when it was time to leave I found that I really just didn’t want to go.

Christian took me for dinner at this restaurant in a beautiful garden

This was never supposed to happen. I am an independent, headstrong traveller. Phil even said that I could stay for a few more days and then catch up to him.  I considered that very seriously. I loved it in Cozumel, I was having the best time with Christian, it would be so easy to stay. However, in the end, Christian was right, I would just be prolonging the agony of saying goodbye, and if I never left, I would always regret not finishing the trip.

I hear you all screaming: “You’ve only known him for 5 days, are you crazy girl???”. Yes, yes I am. It wasn’t until I fell for Christian that I ever seriously considered postponing the trip, but I don’t meet guys who I want to be with very often, nevermind ones who also want to be with me! It was a very difficult decision to go after only knowing him a few days. Leaving Christian was extremely upsetting.

Saying goodbye at the ferry terminal. Sad times.

My only consolation is that Christian is going to be in Chile in August. So I will see him again there. I keep telling myself that I am actually riding towards him rather than away from him. Sometimes it makes me feel a little better.

What was my poor brother doing this whole time? Eating, drinking, snorkelling, and most of all working on his bike.

Dave at the Cantina

Getting his snorkel on


Phil replaces his headlight with a new one from our care package

Motorcycle Minute (by Phil):

Aside from the care package new parts (Uni foam air filter being the most important, goodbye K&N!), Jugs needed a little paint on the pannier frame and the panniers. One too many tumbles had scratched the paint a bit. Scratched paint doesn’t bother me, but I had new stickers to put on and if I was ever going to re-paint, before the new stickers was the time. After grinding off the rusty bits and painting the boxes, I found a small crack in a frame weld! Over to see Jim, who welded it for me, then to his friend Chris across the street who did a professional paint job for me. Also got me set up with a piece of copper pipe that works great as highway pegs. Thanks Jim and Chris for the weld, the paint, the pipe and the beers while I waited!!

(edit April 20 2013: Photo gallery appears to again be broken, so here’s some of the missing photos)

Rust-resistant base coat and all!

Back on the bike, looks great! Thanks Chris!

I almost accidentally took a set of Steve’s keys. Luckily he realised it and chased us down on his bicycle.

Phil’s phone has decided to start pocket dialling. This poor person got 129 missed calls before Phil ran out of credit…

Just before eating delicious cinnamon buns Steve realises his shirt’s on backwards

This sign translates to “No Parking – We puncture tires for free”

Instructions about how to take anti-parasite pills. “swallow two with water” would have sufficed.

While buying anti-parasite pills, Phil also asked for Acetaminophen (Tylenol), the chemist misheard and pulled up Sildenafil (Viagra) on the computer. Phil almost pees himself laughing while I look on very confused until he explains.

Phil went for late night tacos. The kid was really excited about motorbikes, and amazingly knew tons about the KLR. He even showed off a picture he had taken of one… it was Jugs!

Hanging with Julio, the organiser of the bike fest.

Jose, Me and Adelina

We like the message on this dude’s sleeve!