As we ate breakfast Friday morning, the captain announced from the bridge that the U.S. State Department had declared a ban on U.S. Government employees’ traveling by ferry service from the island of Cozumel to the Mexican mainland (i.e., to Playa del Carmen, etc.). Therefore, he said, all the ship’s tours that would have utilized that ferry service were canceled. There was no word about the reason for such an action.
A couple of weeks ago, we saw video of one of the ferry boats exploding, in what was at the time believed to be an accident. Don’t have any idea if today’s announcement had anything to do with that or not. Fortunately for us, we were scheduled for something altogether different, but hundreds of passengers were sorely disappointed.
The ship arrived at Cozumel in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo about 10:15 a.m. and was cleared by Mexican officials. Because our stateroom window was facing open water, we were surprised when we debarked to see a total of six cruise ships tied up to the various piers. According to our guide, Cozumel’s population of 10,000 was easily doubled (or even tripled) for the day.
Our tour was again “Give Back with Purpose: Community Tour,” and it did in fact get us out of the tourist areas and into where the real people of the island live and work. A large part of the tour price is donated by Carnival to the places we visit—a church and an orphanage.
Our guide Rafael met us at the pier and herded us through the maze of jewelry and souvenir shops and to our waiting transportation. Not an air-conditioned bus today—it was a big Chevy truck with open-air seating of hard molded plastic.
The first stop was a church, but not San Pedro y San Pablo, as the tour description indicated. Instead, Rafael took us to his own church—San Jose del Mar. As a member of the parish, he helped rebuild it after Hurricane Wilma devastated the city in 2005. It’s just a sweet, plain, neighborhood parish church, but his pride in it was quite evident. He took our group of nine tourists into the church office to meet the secretary, and wanted us to meet the priest, but the padre was on an errand elsewhere.
We drove to the edge of town, past where the paved roads ended, and Rafael showed us the house he is building for his family. He emphasized the line that marked the limit of electrical service, and we couldn’t help but notice that his home-under-construction was on the dark side of the line. It didn’t seem to bother him, though, and he seemed very proud that he and his family would soon own their own cinder block house, rather than living in a rented apartment.
Nearby—and still off the paved roads—we stopped at Ciudad de Angeles, the orphanage we were to visit. Sponsored by Church of Christ and assisted by other Christian denominations, it provides a safe and healthy environment for orphaned, abused, and abandoned children, or, as Julio, our guide through the campus, put it, “the children that nobody wants.” The institution began in 2001 and quickly outgrew a series of houses, so they bought land in 2007 and began building on the current site.
There are several houses to accommodate the 40 kids, eleven of whom are now older than 18. Julio said when a child turns 18, he or she may decide to leave or stay, and so far most of them have stayed—some because they have younger siblings at the facility, and some just because it’s the best place they can imagine living.
We toured several of the homey buildings, staffed by paid house parents. Siblings are housed in the same building, and the general feel is that of families living together. We didn’t get to interact with many of the kids because they were in school off site.
There is a space for music lessons, a community laundry facility, a central basketball/soccer venue, a vegetable garden, and a playscape for the younger kids. Fruit trees dot the campus. Julio pointed out several murals and other art work done by the children. There are two psychologists and a speech therapist on staff, and special needs are fulfilled as funds and other resources are available.
After our tour, Julio invited us to contribute by purchasing T-shirts, mugs, or other souvenirs. Diane chose a necklace with the facility’s angel-wing logo. If you’re interested, you can learn more about Ciudad de Angeles on their website: http://www.ciudaddeangeles.org .
Rafael, our tour guide, then took us back into town to the mercado. After a walk through the market, we proceeded to “a restaurant that is not really a restaurant,” and indeed, it seemed to be kind of like a restaurant, but in someone’s home. Our lunch of milanesa de res was quite good. (When one of our table mates asked what it was, I said that in Texas we would call it chicken fried steak.)
A few miles on the open-air truck back through the city and we were at the pier, where we reboarded Breeze, being careful to choose the correct big white ship. As we prepared for dinner, and with the sun sinking below the horizon, she cast off her lines and departed to the north, heading toward Galveston, Texas, where we were due to arrive early Sunday morning.
Here are a few photos from our day:
Cozumel hosted a total of six large cruise ships the day we were there, but the town seemed equipped to handle such a tourist invasion.
Our wheels for the day.
The church of San Jose del Mar.
Both side walls of the church are filled with stained glass windows, the lower series depicting the Stations of the Cross.
Diane’s shot of a stained glass window inside the church. This one depicts a Christmas scene.
Wall hanging inside the church. The Spanish translates as: “Am I not here, that I am your Mother?”
Rafael made sure we passed by the site of the house he’s building. (And by “he’s building,” I mean with his own two hands.) When it’s done, there still won’t be electricity at the site.
Julio, the PR person for Ciudad de Angeles, showed us some murals painted by the kids.
Diane’s photo of photos of some of the residents of Ciudad de Angeles.
The orphanage does have electricity, but they get their water from this well. They also are constructing more buildings as they receive donations.
Carlos, one of the over-18 residents at Ciudad de Angeles. He’s attending university and studying TV communications.
Alicia works in the laundry at the orphanage. Julio said that because electricity is so expensive, after washing the clothes she runs them up a rudimentary elevator through a hole in the roof, where they utilize “solar technology” to dry them.
Fruits and vegetables for sale in the market.
The “restaurant that’s not a restaurant.” It’s really someone’s house.
Our guide Rafael with the lady who runs the restaurant in her home.