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by Dan and Jan Ahart
"They copied all they could follow, but they couldn't copy my mind, so I left em sweating and stealin', a year and a half behind." That quote is from the Rhyme of the Mary Glouster, by Rudyard Kipling. Maybe that quote has no relevant bearing on this chapter, but I like it. So there it is.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico was a special place for us. It was our last stop in the Caribbean. When we left, we would head for the states - the land of plenty where most everyone speaks English. Sojourner has been our faithful home in many foreign countries for nearly four years. It was time to take her to the states for a good refit where parts, supplies and services are readily available with, hopefully, no language translation problems. But, I am getting ahead of myself. The island is small. It is about 10 miles long and at its widest point about a mile wide. The water around it is crystal clear and the beaches are snow white. It is very touristy with water ferries transporting hundreds of tourists from the Cancun area all day long. Even so, it has a small town feel about it and the people are very friendly. When we tied up at the dinghy dock, we got out our chain and stainless steel padlock and proceeded to lock the dinghy to the dock. Another couple were leaving the dock and watching us commented that we must have come from Venezuela, because we used a chain and padlock. They assured us neither were necessary on Isla Mujeres. In fact, the first night we went ashore, we were immensely relieved. Walking around town was more like walking around a friendly neighborhood than a foreign country. Many streets were blocked off for pedestrian traffic only and the sidewalk cafes come to life after sunset. The Mexicans have a sense of music that is both compelling and non-invasive in the sense that the music is pleasing to the senses and not so loud that it dominates. Many solo guitar players ply the streets and for a fee will sing and play a love song to tourists. Even if you cannot understand the words, a good love song sung in Spanish is an emotional experience. Had we the time, we would still be in Isla Mujeres. Anchoring out is free, the food prices are reasonable and the island is safe. Plus there are many other cruisers to visit with and many attractions to visit on the mainland. Besides the cruisers, there were many visiting boats from our home state of Texas. It is a mere five to seven day sail from Houston to Isla Mujeres, so naturally many Texans head there once a year or so to partake of the culture and the good fishing.
The only frustration was checking in. The Mexicans still love paperwork. We first had to go to El Officina Migration for examination of our passports and our Zarpe from our last port of call. Then we were sent to make four copies of our crew list. I had many copies of a pre-prepared crew list, but the Mexicans wanted copies of the crew list prepared by the authorities at our last port of call, which was Belize. Once the copies were made, at an office supply outlet four blocks away, the lists were stamped and we were told to go to El Sanatorio, which is sort of a public health office adjacent to the local hospital. There, a nice clerk stamped our crew lists with a very official looking stamp, dated and initialed them. That was it! We did not have to present ourselves for health examination and the clerk wasn't even mildly interested in our inoculation records. We then took these "official" forms to El Capitano de la Puerto, who entered a great deal of information in a computer. This included our passport numbers, our names, our boat name, our Coast Guard documentation number, our last port of call, our next port of call, etc., etc. When all the information was provided four copies of a very official looking form were printed out. After we reviewed the form for accuracy, we were told to go back to the office supply outlet and make one copy of one of the copies of the form just printed out. Why five copies of the form couldn't have been printed we never understood. When we got back with the fifth copy, it was stamped and initialed and given to us for our "official records." Well, it just goes to show that the bureaucracy is more interested in process than function. Believe it or not, checking out involved a reverse of the above-described procedure, including two visits to the infamous office supply outlet. All the paperwork not withstanding, Mujeres was a delight. Every day was fun and the people are so friendly and laid back we forgot all about officialdom and just chilled out. And after being deprived of our native cuisine for so long, I'm afraid we really pigged out on tacos, burritos, fajitas and anything else with jalapenos as a major ingredient.
We had a new and interesting experience while visiting Isla Mujeres. We were talking with the operators of the Marina Paraiso, which is sort of a hangout for Americans and we were asked if we had obtained our "Importado?" Naturally our reaction was, "What is that?" In short order we were told that there were three cruiser's boats in the harbor that had been impounded because the operators were accused of importing the boats without paying an import tax. Technically, any "extended" stay raises the suspicions of local officials that the boat may become a permanent fixture in Mexico, which is ok, if the import tax is paid. The way to avoid this is to obtain a free Importado, which allows a boat to come and go in Mexico for up to 10 years without being required to pay an import tax. Not knowing how long we would stay and not willing to take a chance, we set out to obtain our Importado. This involved taking a ferry to the city of Cancun, then a bus to the airport where we filled out forms at El Oficino de La Aduanera (Customs). Indeed, there was no fee and now Sojourner can stay as long as she wants in Mexico until May of 2014. That is a first in our Caribbean experience.
On 29 May 2004 we departed Isla Mujeres with very mixed emotions. Sojourner had left "No Name Harbor," which is located south of Miami on 16 December 2000. After three and a half years, she was heading for the United States again. We have flown back to the states each year of course, but this will be an extended stay. Our plan is to acquire an RV and do a little land cruising during the summer of 2004 and then return to Sojourner when the weather is cool around January of 2005 and do whatever work is necessary to bring her up to first class condition again and then head back to the Caribbean, which we thoroughly enjoy. So, we bring to a close a chapter in our lives that we will pick up again later. So I will say "stay tuned" again in a few months. There is more to come. Next time around we will experience different things and go different places. The Caribbean is a big place and we skipped a lot on the first go around. I will take a break in this series and leave you with a thought to ponder. "Freedom is measured by the increased knowledge of what you can do without." So said Henry David Thoreau.