On the ferry ride from Puerto Juarez to Isla Mujeres I noticed hovering high above were birds that didn’t flap their wings to fly. They glided with the wind without exertion and seemed to accomplish the same tasks as their brethren of a different bird species. They were aptly named the Great-tailed Grackle bird, donning a formal tuxedo tail equal the size of their body. Watching them wind surf to the music of the live solo mariachi performance on board was a fitting start to the workation in Mexico that was a carpe diem move now that remote work made the dream of working from anywhere a reality.
Isla Mujeres could accurately be described in the same way as so many other island getaways that rank high in travel guides. Rich turquoise beaches, clean white sand, a strong sun, and friendly locals. What was different and instantly noticeable was the vibe. It wasn’t the party atmosphere you may find in Mykonos or the choose your own commercialized adventure in the Bahamas. Isla Mujeres, translated as “The Island of Women,” was blanketed by an ancient vibe that wasn’t something you saw but felt. It was as if more primordial footsteps walked the island than modern ones. After a year of working isolated and stuck in a cozy New York City apartment, the change of scenery was exactly what I needed to start the process of feeling normal again.
Privilege Aluxes was an easy walk from the port. The beach front resort hotel was an ideal location to enjoy island life while continuing to engage in the day-to-day activities – work, eat, sleep, and zoom. Guests were not required to wear a mask, but many travelers did so while indoors out of respect for the staff who were masked and taking precautions. Luggage was wiped down before entering the lobby and a square mat doused with sanitizer let you wipe your feet clean. It felt like a tabula rasa ritual to get you ready to start a new journey.
I wanted to look outside and feel the air on my face without a mask and without the worry of the virus. For my workation in Isla Mujeres, Mexico I got a room that overlooked the beach with the view of Cancun’s developed skyline at a distance. On the balcony I set up shop with 2G WiFi that was slower than the 5G I was accustomed to and had a few moments of down time but thought of them as more of an amenity than a chance to gripe on Yelp. I envisioned some Mayan goddess messing with the signal to force the modern visitors to pause, look up and appreciate the change. She had a point. Flocks of the Grackle birds that welcomed me to the island were gliding about in synchrony as if they all made up the sail of a kite. They reminded me that I could fly without flapping like a maniac.
“So, how did the island get its name,” I asked Roseanna, the manager of the luxe spa on the property that offered an array of body massages and treatments. “The pirates heard women singing and followed the voices, but never found women. Only this island.”
After a week of working more productively and efficiently than when I’m in my familiar surroundings, I rented a golf cart that was perfect for an all-island excursion. On the Gulf of Mexico side that overlooked Cancun was mostly nature growing wildly, probably a sign of what the entire island once looked like before humans. A few humble houses were tucked behind the thriving trees that looked like the colorful houses typical in Mexico. At the southernmost point of the island was where the Statue of Ixchel was erected along with a small Mayan ruin. Ixchel was the goddess of the moon, love, and fertility – all categories connecting with the divine feminine. This story of the island’s origins is the one the internet shares, with the statue as evidence. Roseanna’s version I wouldn’t say was incorrect, but a reminder that there is always more to travel than what a google search will reveal. Perhaps both stories are part of the history of the island, with one better to attract tourism than the other.
We drove back on the other side of the island lined with the Caribbean Sea. Here there were newly erected homes of a more affluent style. Vast in size with floor to ceiling windows and architecture that was modern with manicured lawns. These were the sure signs that the obscurity of the island may soon come to an end. It wasn’t big enough to become the new spring break hot spot, but I highly doubt this will be a hidden treasure for long.
Back at the resort I wanted to be sure to take advantage of the huts along the private beach for guests only. Working on the beach was not as distracting as I imagined it would be. WiFi was still accessible with the same periodic hiccups that I welcomed. Even during Zoom calls people didn’t seem to mind that the connection was poor. It’s as if the vibe of the island calmed people even visually or after a year of change we’ve learned to be less rigid about what it means to be at work. Many have finally accepted that being in an office was not the sure way of getting the most out of some workers. Some could work from anywhere and be just as efficient, if not more than while confined to a designated workspace.
The huts offer full service to order lunch or a frozen cocktail. Think of the glass of wine during lunch while you were at the office. Nothing intense, but something to just enjoy without the need of a recovery period. Juan was my server. I wanted to ask him about the long-tailed Grackle birds.
“They’re very clever,” he said with a gritted smile as if he’d been losing the battle to outsmart them for a while. “They talk to each other. They team up and they’ll take the food right out of your plate.” “Very smart birds,” he concluded. I asked him if he noticed that they didn’t flap their wings much. “Maybe that’s why they have much energy to steal food,” he said.
I ordered the guacamole and a seafood poke bowl. The guacamole was like velvet. It wasn’t the seasoning but the inherent flavor and texture of a food product that was grown local and fresh. It’s a good portion that can be shared for sure. The poke bowl had the same organic taste of vegetables and shrimp that was picked fresh and served. As I was enjoying the poke bowl and the view of the ocean two Gackles swooped in to take an unattended chip sitting on the adjacent table. The two enjoyed their chip. I noticed the others looking on with envy. I thought if New Yorkers were a bird. I shared the leftovers with the others and decided to give my arms a rest from all the flapping.