Inevitably, the story of the emperor’s new clothes came to my mind when reflecting on our three-night stay in Holbox, Mexico.
So how was Holbox? they’d ask.
Meh. Not worth the trouble. Turns out, the emperor’s stark naked.
The above is an imagined conversation, but after three days of trying to survive Holbox on a budget, I can’t say I didn’t fantasize with different ways of, well…bringing the hype down somewhat. I even thought of some hashtags: #holboxoverrated, #dontbelievethehype, and so on.
Of course I kept them all to myself.
If you’ve never heard of the place, check it out on social media. You’ll see a plethora of photos showing beautiful scenes of seaside locations and wildlife peppered with a long list of props: piers, sticks, swings, hammocks…You’ll also see images of street art and cool restaurants and bars that suggest a more alternative crowd than in other beach destinations – perhaps a healthy mix of backpackers, flashpackers and other environmentally conscious independent travelers. (You can get an idea of the vibe here).
Right up our alley, or so we thought.
But Holbox didn’t provide a warm welcome – in fact the welcome was essentially muddy. I guess we should have been suspicious when both our friends and the owner of our accommodation suggested we take a taxi in order to cover the 600m from the pier to our room.
Holbox happens to be a “car-free” island, and so its few streets are unpaved. For many, this is one of its charms. But here’s the thing. When it rains – as it does in the rainy season – the hard pressed sand is not able to properly drain the water, and so huge puddles are formed. Even worse, “car-free” does not mean “traffic-free”, and there happen to be tons of vehicles zipping around: motorcycles, 4WD golf carts and larger pickup trucks. Not only are they loud, but they further press the sand and create bumps and holes that make for even bigger puddles.
Given the side-walks are narrow or non-existent, you can see how making it to the beach or the convenience store, even if it’s just a couple of blocks, can be a very unpleasant walk – that is, unless you are willing to walk barefoot on the mud, as some people do. We didn’t, God forbid.
People actually like it, you know. it’s part of Holbox’s charm, a bartender told us.
Like, these rich people from Monterrey love splashing around in puddles. They said it reminds them of their family’s hometown in the country, you know, walking barefoot and all that.
We smiled. It felt more like a Vietnamese village used by the US Marines as a military base. If you asked us, we’d happily hand it over to the Vietcong.
If we leave tomorrow morning, how long will it take us to make it to Cozumel?, asked K, after a particularly nasty leg of puddle hopping.
Whatever the case, we decided to put on a brave face and give our best to enjoy whatever there was to enjoy: the walks, the wildlife, the sunsets, perhaps a nice meal at a beachfront restaurant? Sadly, it turned out that most of the suggested plans entailed forking out a significant amount of cash (that’s literal, no credit cards accepted). Morning trip to swim with whale-sharks? That’s around 150 euro. How about a boat ride to Cabo Catoche or some other nearby island? No less than 40€.
And the famous walk to Punta Mosquito, that so many bloggers have written about?
At your own risk, said the same waiter. You may encounter crocodiles and manta-rays.
Turns out, a big area on the way there had been declared off bounds on account of protection of the environment (or so the signs warned), so the recommended way was to take a boat – yes prepare another 800 pesos!
In the end, we took a pragmatic approach and decided to invest our hard earned euros in the comfort offered by over-priced beach bars– that is, chaise-longues in the shade and a fair amount of food and drinks that the minimum consumption fee would allow. Plus, we had been lucky enough to be joined by friends for this leg of the trip, so, in the end, the combination of R&R, beach walks, swimming, killer sunsets and (even) some dancing on the street sure left a smile on our faces.
By the time we left, we noticed that the huge puddle in front of our porch had almost dried.
Maybe it’s a sign, we joked.
Maybe Holbox has grown on us.
Maybe, just maybe, the emperor’s suit is made of the finest cloth after all.
It just took a minute on Isla Mujeres, our next destination, to remind us that, far from it, the emperor had been naked all along.