Monday, May 10, 2010

My Disabled Cruise Story - Chapter 5 - You CAN Drink the Water in Mexico

IMG_1728 On Friday, the mind games began.

Sometimes it’s like there are two people inside of me. No, I’m not schizophrenic. On one level I was still having the time of my life, and I needed to concentrate on enjoying the day ahead in Cozumel, Mexico. On another level I was starting to feel a creeping dread that this vacation would soon be over. Despite this dark cloud on the horizon, I did manage to stay in the moment and thoroughly enjoy the remainder of the cruise.

As I did in Jamaica, I prearranged for a wheelchair taxi tour of the island. The deal was $175 for 4 hours. We departed the ship and ran the gauntlet of vendors on our way to the taxi stand. Per the plan, our taxi driver was waiting for us holding a placard with my name on it- already much better than the situation in Jamaica.

The van appeared modern and in good shape. The driver opened up the rear doors exposing a nice power lift. I positioned myself on the lift, and the driver raised me up. When we got to the top I noticed that there was neither a lowered floor nor a raised roof in the van. Damn, vertical space would be at a premium. As I inched forward the top of my iBOT seat hit the top of the van door opening. Progress stopped.

My wife and I have encountered so many access obstacles over the years that we’ve become proficient and creative at solving them. I wish I had pictures of the time we drove the iBOT onto a dock at my brother’s lake cottage using two planks over the water. Probably we could have solved this taxi challenge as well, but our hearts weren’t in it. My wife’s reluctance was based on her opinion that $175 was too much money to spend. For me, I feared that I would not be able to sit up straight during the 4 hour tour. So, even though our driver urged us to try to squeeze into the van, we played dumb. I apologized to the driver, who barely understood any English, and asked him to lower me back to the pavement.

The walk into town from the pier was 2.5 miles, and we decided to go for it despite the Mexican heat. The stroll was neither scary nor particularly interesting. The sidewalk quality was below Grand Cayman standards, but still passable for me in four wheel drive mode. By the time we reached downtown we were hot, tired, hungry, and thirsty. A gentleman beckoned us into his restaurant with the promise of air conditioning. It worked (both the beckoning and the air conditioning).

IMG_1735 walk into town

IMG_1752 drunkstore bar

After relaxing and refilling our tanks in this authentic, quaint, affordable Mexican restaurant, we were ready to take on Cozumel.

We wandered the clean and safe streets. Although the vendors were vocal, they didn’t bother us. I don't know if they were less aggressive than the Jamaicans, or if we were we simply getting used to that game. Throughout the city, the Spanish speaking vendors had a common English phrase for, I assume, all wheelchair users: “free parking inside”…”free parking over here”…”come on in, free parking.” Ugh. It was only funny the first dozen times.

IMG_1757 downtown Cozumel

IMG_1761 downtown Cozumel

IMG_1765 back up just a little more…

IMG_1790 bars with clowns, what an idea!

I had managed to avoid using the bathrooms in Haiti, Jamaica, and Grand Cayman- just good timing. But because we took advantage of the beer and margaritas in Cozumel, there was no avoiding it. They say not to drink the water in Mexico. I say the water is OK, just don’t use the bathrooms, well at least the handicapped accessible ones. They were not clean, and they didn’t always have grab bars. The stalls were just a little bigger than the standard ones.

But other than that we had a great time in Cozumel. The food, drink, and souvenirs were plentiful and inexpensive. Eventually, we had to return to the ship. But there was no way that we wanted to make that 2.5 mile trek back to the pier in the afternoon heat. We found a taxi driver and asked him to call us a handicapped accessible taxi. It seemed that the ratio of cabs to tourists was about 2 to 1, and there were three large cruise ships in port that day. Tough way to make a living.

IMG_1780 Besides the bathrooms, the other third world-ish aspect of Cozumel was the occasional soldier or group of soldiers toting automatic weapons on the streets.  I just don’t see that very much in Portland, Maine. There is a serious war in Mexico these days between the government and the drug lords, and even the tourist towns are not exempt from it.

When the wheelchair taxi arrived, because we were highly motivated, we found a way to squeeze me and the iBOT into the back of the van for the short ride to the pier. I had asked another tourist earlier in the day what the cost of the taxi ride from the ship to downtown was. The answer- $7. But because this was a special handicapped van, he charged me $14. That kind of discrimination is just something you just don’t experience in America. I took it in stride though.

Unfortunately, I repeated a mistake from earlier in the cruise. I was having so much fun in Cozumel that I had not been careful, and had overheated, although not as badly as in Haiti. I rested in our stateroom with a cold cloth on my forehead for an hour or so, and then I was good to go.

That night we enjoyed dinner with Pablo and Melissa, went to a production show in the ship’s massive theater, and partied a bit more. I lost $100 of my $112 blackjack winnings (of course).

I hope I don’t come across as too critical of Cozumel. I liked the island, and we had more fun there than any other port-of-call that week. The best word to describe Cozumel- festive.

One more here

IMG_1812 view of Cozumel from our ship


  1. Been enjoying reading your travel adventures Mitch. Sounds like a good time overall. And, yeah, the continual bargaining and/or "that's not quite what I thought we agreed upon" is always interesting about encountering different cultures. You sound like you're quite up for it though -- must be the iBOT attitude.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Donna,

    I'm glad you're enjoying my little cruise story. I wonder if my iBOT helps or hurts me in negotiations, hmmm...


  3. You just drove past the Corona Cart and Drunkstore? Of course not ... you mentioned the beer and margaritas. Margaritas, btw, are filled with Mexican water from the ice ;)