Most travelers have trips that turned out to be a nightmare. Instead of feeling like becoming a nomadic bum in an idyllic beach, you just can’t wait to leave. Unfortunately a bad trip is like a butchered first impression or disappointing one night stand. It just leaves you with regret and the need to go hit the nearest bar and forget that it ever happened.
That trip for us was a week spent in Cozumel. The proximity to the U.S., tropical weather, cheap all-inclusive packages and “supposedly” amazing diving were the factors that drew us to book a week trip to Mexican island. With all these factors, how can a trip go so wrong?
My answer would be summarized in 5 distinct experiences in the short span of 7 days that made me almost want to swim back to the U.S.
There is no worse feeling in the world for a traveller than to feel like the locals don’t want you there and all that you represent to them is money. We are laid back travelers and love to hang out in local holes and blend in to the lifestyle of the place we are visiting, but in Cozumel, we were constantly and aggressively harassed to buy souvenirs, timeshares, tours and etc… After visiting the main shopping street one time, we chose not to go back and even at our 4-star hotel, we started hiding from the sales people constantly chasing us to discuss a “great deal”.
Where are the birds?
You would think that in a tropical island, you would find birds or some wildlife, but in the week we were there, and after driving the entire island, I didn’t find a bird or reptile on the island. It was a strange feeling, like the animals knew something we didn’t.
The hotel we stayed in was a beautiful, 4 star hotel that had several all-inclusive restaurants, a private beach, several pools and bars, and stunning ocean view suites. It also had an aggravating all-inclusive scam, in which you had to reserve the sit-down restaurants in person from 11am to noon everyday, making it impossible for guests to leave the hotel until noon or dine in these restaurants. In addition, there were only a few tables available and for some reason, even when we arrived at the restaurant before 11am to make sure we could get a reservation, these were all gone. We could not even book a reservation with the concierge and that is saying something.
Wait, that guy is going to drown…
We tried to make the most of our time in Cozumel. So we would not be able to eat at one of the sit-down restaurants while we were there, but one of the reasons we went to the island was the diving. We had heard from other divers that it was a great spot to go. After a few mishaps with the diving company we booked at the same hotel, we were finally able to go on a two tank dive. After the first dive, it was clear to us that we should just call it quits. It was like trying to revive a bad relationship and just making it worse.
The lack of safety displayed in the boat was stunning. Some people did not display the basic knowledge of the sport, crucial to keep themselves and others safe while underwater. One guy that was supposedly certified, jumped into the water and sank to the bottom. We were 60 feet underwater and he couldn’t control his descent. In his panic, he lost his mask and flailed against the coral reef and anyone around him. The dive master/instructor was completely clueless, even with all our signals and took several minutes to realize this guy was going to drown. He finally went over to help and received several punches from the panicked diver, which by now had knocked out the instructor’s regulator out. The whole scene was surreal. The diver should have ascended and been removed from the dive by the instructor. Instead, the instructor gave him his mask and continued the dive. The same guy had several more issues before the dive was over and we just couldn’t wait to get it all over with. Being underwater with such unsafe practices are not our cup of tea. It’s like standing in the middle of a dark road waiting cars to run you over.
Where is our car?
All the reasons above would have been enough, but Cozumel had an additional surprise for us to cement our decision to never go back. We decided to rent a car and drive around the island and get away from the touristy areas and all the people causing us all the aggravations mentioned before. After a nice drive we decided the last stop would be a nice gelato in town. So we parked the car in a quiet residential area, checked for signs that we were not parking anywhere prohibited and proceeded to walk to the gelato place. 45 mins later, we went back to recover the car and return to the hotel to find that the car was no longer in the place we had parked it. We walked around a couple other streets in the proximity to make sure we had indeed parked in that specific street and nothing. We looked again for signs that maybe we had parked illegally and the car had been towed. Nothing. After another 45 mins we decided it was either stolen or towed and all we could do at this point was to go back to the rental car office and seek their assistance.
We walked 2 miles due to the lack of cabs and explained to the rental car worker what had happened. He didn’t seem fazed, things like that happened all the time. The police probably towed it he said. We explained that we had not parked anywhere illegally and he just shrugged “It is Mexico.” He instructed us to go to the police station to see if the car was there and to retrieve it. We walked another 2 miles to the station. There we tried to get information and explain what had happened to the officers, which in turn ignored us. I lost my cool. I was tired, hungry, mad and had just walked 4 miles and still had no idea where the damn car was. Apparently, my hot temper combined with basic Spanish got some attention and one of the officers took us to the lot in the back of the station and pointed at our car. He asked for us to confirm that it was the car we were looking for and we nodded. He explained that he would need a copy of our driver’s license and passport to release the car. We agreed handing him the documents. He smiled and told us the copy machine was broken and we had to go to a nearby store to get a copy. We obliged, walking another half a mile to the location. Once there we asked the lady for the copy and handed her the money. She didn’t have change, which meant we had to go find change and walk back another half a mile to the station. It was now dark, I had walked 5 miles which felt like 10 and was ready to punch a wall. I was sweaty, thirsty and hungry – not someone you would want to know.
Arriving at the station, we sought out an officer to hand our copy to. We handed him the paper and he handed us the keys to the car with no explanation of why the car was towed. No fines, nothing.
That was the last drop. We returned the car, headed straight to the hotel, skipped dinner and packed our bags. The next day, once our flight was in the air and over the ocean, we had a stiff drink and celebrated our escape from Cozumel.
* Picture from Flickr’s creative commons by Brianne