An accidental visit to Isla Holbox may end up being the highlight of this Central American odyssey.
I'm in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico waiting... waiting for a week for the mechanic to show up and fix this motorcycle that wasn't done thoroughly enough the first time he came. I'm planning on taking this machine through parts of Central America to find the most unique SUP and water sport activities in the region. So better than sitting around at my host Gonzalo's place, I head to the beach where I meet Anna, a Mexican girl visiting her family here. After lunch at a local vegan place, La Senda Vegana, she invites me to Isla Holbox on the north point of the Yucatan Peninsula with her family to celebrate her birthday. Perfect! This is just the thing to get my mind off machines and just go with the flow for a while. She tells me it's a chill place where you can just set up a tent anywhere on the beach... and there's stand up paddling. Now I'm really hooked.
We get there around noon the following day and after a little tour of the island by golf cart, I lose my surrogate family and decide to find my own way. I start with a contact that Gonzalo had put me in touch with, Veronica. She's around. Whew!
She walks in the door of Colibri, one of few places with wifi and approaches with a big smile and a sparkle in her eye. It turns out to she's a very interesting woman who came to the island for a 4 day trip and stayed a year (so far). I have a feeling I'll be meeting lots of people here with stories like hers. She is also one of the partners at one of the 2 kite surfing & SUP schools on the island. Of course, after long discussions of our passions for the outdoors and water sports, we make a plan to head for the mangrove lagoons the next day.
The adventure begins around mid day as we set out on our Starboard SUPs from Kukulkite. The boards are new and in excellent condition. Their shop is right on the water and a short paddle to the entrance of the lagoons. The excursion lasts about 6 hours and Veronica is a great guide. We start by walking and SUPing on kilometers long sandbars to get to the mangroves. She knows the spots to find huge flocks of flamingos and gets us just close enough as not to disturb them in their natural habitat. As we wind around left and right through the tortuous paths of the waterway, she points out Spoonbills, varieties of fish below and even Goliath's favorite basking area. They've given that name to the biggest crocodile in the area but is apparently no threat to humans. Cool!
We have an easy cruise back around sunset with the wind behind us and make it in time to join up with some of Veronica's friends on the beach for their daily sunset gathering, a beautiful tradition that many of the island expats and longtime locals attend. This is when everyone comes together and this is where I met many of the kitesurfers and stand up paddlers. The topic of the evening is wind. "There should be wind Friday and Saturday," Veronica mentions and shows me the forecast. Later on that evening when deciding how long I'd actually be staying, the wind is the deciding factor. "I'll stay for the week if that's alright with you," I say and won't ever regret it. She has a spare room and it's apparently the only free bed on the island as high season kicks off.
Friday comes and it's epic. The wind is howling and the kitesurfing community really comes alive. There are not more than 20 people on the beach and there's plenty of space for everyone. It's an environment where everyone is helping one another set up, learn, and occasionally rescue a kite from the mangroves. We spend the whole day out on the water and finish off the evening with amazing food and drinks at a great dinner spot with traditional local fare.
Holbox has this beautiful and expansive mangrove wilderness bordered on the north side by kilometers of untouched white sand beach. The wildlife is incredible and plentiful, they have a beautiful local culture mixed with an international expat scene of kitesurfers, artists, SUPers and all round great people.
The island is growing quickly and there is a fight against the same corporations that have made the tourist strip of Cancun what it is today. Luckily the island is part of the protected area of Yum Balam. This is where you can see the incredible Whale sharks from April to September and is one of the reasons people work so hard to keep it as is.
There is a new highway from Cancun which makes it hardly more than an hour from the airport. If you're looking for something different, you can find cheap flights to Cancun but skip the saturated tourist scene there and head to Isla Holbox.
I make it out as promised a week later and am happy I didn't get sucked in to the Holbox way... for now. Back in Playa Del Carmen with Gonzalo, we voice our frustrations with the mechanic who keeps standing us up. The bike still isn't fixed so we decide to take it in ourselves. As we are getting the bike ready to haul into the back of the truck, Gonzalo gives the bike a try himself. We have a disagreement about a knob here and a knob there and he adjusts the idle. 10 minutes later it's running like a dream. It turns out I had the choke backwards and the gas line off. The fault was in the carelessness of the rider, not the machine. But if I had been more meticulous in the first place I never would have found Holbox.
Next stop: Tulum.
ISLAND TO ISLAND
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