March 1, 2016
Ilsa Holbox (again).
Romy getting comfortable on the voyage.
After my solo trip last year to Holbox Island in Mexico, I decided I wanted to take the girls and Xavier - such a remarkable, untouched place. We planned the trip for when Marguerite would be with us in New York. If I could do it again, we would have stayed longer. Travel takes almost a full day on both ends (flight to Cancun, 2.5-hour drive northwest through the Yucatán Peninsula and then a boat ride to the island). Thankfully, Marguerite, Colette and Romy were cooperative and in good spirits through the trek - entertaining each other. Colette played the role of pilot in one of the games they were playing at the airport: “Does everyone have her ipad and her doudou ready for takeoff?” Romy and Marguerite nodded seriously in response.
ipad check, doudou check
The drive through the peninsula is a path through a Mayan lowland tropical forest – very little evidence of community life or civilization. It feels strange landing in Cancun and then driving for over 2 hours and seeing only trees and an occasional tiny settlement. By the time we got to the ferry it was late and dark. The little girls had slept on the way and were revitalized for the passage across the water. Despite being worried about the steep drop from the top of the passenger deck and the lack of barriers, we swaddled the girls close and sat out on the on the bench under the exposed sky. The passage between the island and the peninsula was mystic – eerily calm. We were soothed by the silver lambency of the moon as the boat carried us and the idyllic silhouettes cast of each of the girls. The water was calm, the stars above us resolute.
We pulled into the small dock of Holbox, past the flooded forests that lead up the island – trees submerged in water without any discernible land platform. We were all a bit under the spell of the place, but it was 8:30pm and I was worried about finding our house. It wasn’t a hotel – just an Airbnb and the directions were abstruse even for the local ‘taxi’ driver. He squinted reading the instructions. There are no cars on Holbox (except Police trucks) and everyone gets around by bike, horse or golf cart. We set off jouncing along the sandy streets (no pavement) – the girls were delighted by the open air transportation. The taxi golf cart drove through the central village and then out to the cost line to follow the beachfront path away from town. It was very dark – the moon alone spread light around us. We stopped at one location and our taxi driver shook his head and continued on. We asked some local residents passing by on a scooter, showing the picture of the gate and the house from my phone. No one knew. I had a sinking feeling when the lady we were renting from wasn’t answering her phone. Finally, someone with a flashlight was waving our vehicle down and we were all relieved to find the caretakers there to welcome us to the house.
The house was great – built up and up toward the sky, like a great tree house. The first floor was the equivalent of being on the 3rd story of a traditional house. Terraces off every room. Wide windows facing the ocean. And climbing another two stories of steps, the rooftop terrace. Remarkable perspective. And right there – the beach. We woke up and all flooded out onto the beach, which was clearly ours. The northern side of the island is unique because the ocean water remains very shallow for a long walk out. Perfect for three little girls. Like a grand wading pool. Turquoise, clear, white sand. Romy fearless, Colette breathless but hesitating, Marguerite joyful.
The dizzying perspective looking down from the rooftop terrace.
The three girls spent the time splashing, digging for crabs, shells, fish; doing gymnastic and yoga routines on the beach; chasing each other into the sunrise and set; impatiently abiding sunscreen smears (the sun was so intense, I mandated reapplication every 30 minutes); watching pelican after pelican dive for fish; swinging along the beachside restaurants and bars (none of which were ever crowded – sometimes we were the only patrons); mermaiding in the sand; taking golf cart driving lessons and holding on for dear-life when Xavier was chauffeur; lounging on the roof; licking ice cream cones; insulting mosquitos (couldn’t be perfect).
Little Romy was a roving lady from the minute we set foot on the island. The first morning on the beach, I was applying sunscreen on Xavier, focused on the task. We looked at each other after a couple of minutes, “where is Romy?” Searched everywhere around and ended up finding her walking down the shore, a bit far off – heedless of us or the distance, wrapped up in her journey.
We visited various beaches around the island during our stay and at each one, she would find the right opportunity to take off – particularly if she spotted kids anywhere. At some point, she joined a gaggle of local kids who were chasing schools of fish in the shallow water. She was part of the gang. When I called her name, she tried to hide behind one of the bigger kids since she knew I would herd her back toward our station.
Even while sleeping she wandered. We didn’t bring a portable crib, so we put a mattress on the floor and called it hers. Numerous times in the night she would call out and we would go in to find her confused by her surroundings, in the curtains, on the floor next to the night table, halfway under the bureau in the room. On the move.
The light in general bouncing around Isla Holbox - dazzling, but particularly at the beginning and ending of the day. Pastel - or black and white anodized.