Up early and out the door on Friday, 6 July, with a 70 kilometer bicycle ride to Playa del Carmen awaiting me, and the knowledge that the furthest in my life that I have ever ridden is 40 kilometers. The tunnels are the worst. Trucks roar by like jet planes, and the shoulder of the road disappears. Once free of the two short tunnels, the ride is merely a matter of: pedal, pedal, pedal and don´t stop, never ever stop. There´s quite a bit of traffic, which is to be expected, but I have water enough. I left before breakfast, so about 55 kilometers into the ride, I was starving, and there were no places to eat along the way. And then, just then, there was a Mexican miracle: The Burger Bar.
It just so happens that the manager of the Burger Bar, Isaac, is a bicyclist, and he comes out to speak. He recommends the hearty 150 gram burger with fries, followed by a dessert of banana bread, pan de platana.
La Isla de Cozumel, where I am typing from now, is a beautiful island. Its beaches are of white sand or rock — smooth stone floors — and it is a hub for cruise ships, whose passengers come for the snorkling, diving, and day trips. The cruise ships seem to be a source of consternation to the islanders. A lady named Susan, a Mexican who studied in London and who lived in Copenhagen for eight years, griped that the cruise ships have caused the decline of the island. “The passengers never stay,” she said sourly. “They are gone by 5 o´clock. They take, and then they go.” She was, for the record, equally critical about the local Mexicans — her own people, “Cozumel is the safest place in Mexico. But be careful, or your bike will disappear.”
But the island is awesome. It is beautiful, and most of the people are laid-back, relaxed, and they seem to know that a life is to be enjoyed. They take delight in their days. They are a friendly people, the Mexican people, and they seem full of love and laughter.
Also, the old Volkswagon Bugs are ubiquitous here, which makes sense. Their small size makes them easy to park, and their engines will never be strained on the flat island roads. The VW Bugs come with license plates in the front that depict a sailfish and say the name of the state, Quintana Roo. Most also have a sticker or two — a Superman sticker, perhaps, or Bienviendos — stuck on the inside of the windshield. They are brightly colored, and remind me of pictures that I´ve seen of Havana.