By Zeke Quezada
Holbox Island was not convenient to get to.
There is something about a journey to a destination. Travel is not about the place you are getting to; rather it is about those tiny instances that occur throughout the adventure. Those fractions of experiences make up a whole that defines who you are. The inopportune stall in time and schedule or the chance meeting of an insignificant character in your mind’s eye are what make up the big picture of your travels. The broken backpack, the friendly gesture and the mud on your feet are the true identity of your trip. Once you embrace the details for what they are you are free to roam with a different set of eyes.
Crave the layover. Seek the extended ground transportation. Choose the outlying destination.
You might be surprised by what you encounter.
“Once a journey is designed, equipped, and put in process, a new factor enters and takes over. A trip, a safari, an exploration, is an entity, different from all other journeys. It has personality, temperament, individuality, uniqueness. A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us. Tour masters, schedules, reservations, brass-bound and inevitable, dash themselves to wreckage on the personality of the trip. Only when this is recognized can the blown-in-the glass bum relax and go along with it. Only then do the frustrations fall away. In this a journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.” — John Steinbeck, “Travels with Charley: In Search of America.”
Travelogue: Holbox Island, Quintana Roo, Mexico
An hour into our car ride to a remote dock in the Yucatan I thought that I had made a mistake. Why would I drag my family across some humid landscape, that is the Yucatan Peninsula, for an experience that may not live up to how we define a vacation? I knew no one that had ever visited this tiny island off the coast of Mexico. Holbox Island, pronounced Holbosh, was as foreign as I could think of when I looked for an island one plane ride away from our local airport and where they spoke a foreign language. On the West Coast of the United States the likely options are in Mexico or South America and for us, it was a flight to Cancun. And then a 3-hour car ride to the tiny town of Chiquila in the state of Quintana Roo. Then a small boat. A Panga. At sunset. We wore life vests. We bounced across the strip of the ocean where the Caribbean sea collides with the Gulf of Mexico. The choppy waters made for an interesting ride and a wake-up call to the four of us.
We smiled at the unknown. We captured the sense of adventure. We looked out at the horizon to see an island approaching us. When we tied up to the dock a few golf carts pulled up to the dimly lit, makeshift port and to ask if we needed a ride. We obliged and soon we were off along the dirt roads of this tiny island. Far away from our own reality and now immersed in a different culture the journey had become part of the destination.
A nighttime walk along the beach introduced us to the darkness. It also illuminated a sky of stars that we had missed for so long. Crabs raced past us in the night and seagrass was caught up in our toes. The restaurants were desolate and the sparse accommodations along the beach all seemed empty and devoid of activity. My youngest son would later tell me that his initial thought was, “What will we do for 10 days at this place and why did we come here?”
The sun came up on Holbox Island and we looked out to a sea of tranquility. Smooth, flat water and a color palette of indigo, iris, azure, and cyan spread out before our eyes. The white coral sand was coarse on our toes and firm beneath our feet. The ripples from a far off swell relented with a last burst of energy on the shore to greet land with warm water and a clarity that rivaled a postcard. In either direction on the beach morning was greeted by more birds than beachgoers. If you could smuggle home a slice of this life it would be to hold the secret to happiness and contentment.
Every morning, every noon and every night the white sand played host to long walks and endless dips into the warm water. Distant fishing boats would appear on the sand to disembark with fresh fish and wide-eyed travelers. Beach side restaurants with plastic chairs and wobbly tables that rivaled the white table clothed four tops of the finest of fine dining restaurants in the world dotted the empty beaches. Beer bottles gathered on the bars and giant fish platters summoned hungry patrons with deep tans.
If there ever was a place where you thought that time could stand still and you would be perfectly ok with it, Holbox Island is that spot.
What Not To Miss At Holbox Island.
- Snorkel with Whale Sharks during the summer. Boat captains travel far off shore and drop you into the clear water with the most majestic of creatures.
- Sample the local fare when the sun goes down in the town square. Grab a pork sandwich and watch the local soccer teams play a form of cement soccer that will leave you wondering why kids in your neighborhood need fancy soccer shoes.
- Rent a golf cart and tour the island and you’ll find that there is not much to this paradise. Except, you’ll discover an endless flock of flamingos, you’ll scurry away when a giant iguana chases you and you’ll stop counting the Horseshoe Crabs.
- If the sign on the shack on the beach says “fresh fish and cold beer” stop and eat
The fish as fresh as it can get in Holbox.
Fresh ceviche on the beach on Holbox Island