This place is lousy with iguanas. The day I lose the rental car at the resort we’re staying at near Cancun, we drive around in a golf cart for thirty minutes visiting different parking lots. But every couple hundred feet the amiable attendant stops the cart. “Look, an iguana,” she says in perfect English. I guess she expects us to get out and take pictures. But we’ve seen plenty of iguanas by now. We just want to find the gold-colored Toyota minivan with all the pickup of a Hot Wheel powered by two triple A batteries we rented three days ago. It’s in one of these parking lots. I haven’t lost it. Robyn is quick to say, “My husband lost our car,” when she seeks help from the parking attendant. “Misplaced, really,” I note defensively. So, we are rolling around parking lots in the golf cart, checking each one carefully. We approach the last lot on the list for the second time. “Look. It’s an iguana,” our driver says again, slowing to crawl. “Lovely,” we say. I know she wants us to be more excited about iguanas. We can’t see the appeal at the moment. We just want to spot our elusive gold-colored minivan, a species that seems all but extinct.
When we find the minivan, we all climb in grumpily and drive off to Playa del Carmen. Some of the more confusing Mexican road rules get abused slightly on the way. Alto means stop in Spanish. We did learn that. But Alto really seems to be more of a mild suggestion than a rule from what we can tell from watching other drivers. At a roundabout, we spot a sign that says Alto Total, which confirms that Alto essentially means “stop if you feel like stopping,” whereas Alto Total means “really think very seriously about stopping.” We find our way to a parking spot. Then we start trudging along the streets where every vendor calls out to us, each one more loudly and persistently than the last. “Keep your head down and your eyes ahead,” Robyn advises. “Don’t look them in the eye.” It’s awfully tough to see the sights in this manner. Once you have seen about one block of the shopping district, you know what’s coming on the next block. There’s a t-shirt store on this side. On the other side is a store that sells sandals and sunglasses. There’s a bar and a few restaurants over there. Some nifty wind-chimes and dream-catchers over here. Rinse. Lather. Repeat. Don’t make eye contact.
We go into a store where a couple sit side by side on a bench with their feet immersed in water with small fish swimming around them. A sign explains in English that the fish are great at eating all the dead skin. This makes a certain amount of sense. Some fish are good at removing the impurities from the glass sides of a fish tank. When we get back to the resort, I try to describe the flesh-eating fish to Robyn’s uncle Paul. He’s from Texas, and he’s an avid fisherman. He knows fish. But the concept is strange to him. “Were they piranhas?” Paul asks. “Cause I’m not sticking my feet in with a bunch of piranhas.” I nod. “No, these fish eat the dead skin on the foot. Not the whole foot.”
We are advised that we should not shop on the island of Cozumel until after 4 p.m. because the merchants hike up the price when the cruise ships arrive with boatloads of tourists between noon and four. After the cruise ships leave, the prices drop down to a reasonable level again. This seems like insidious merchant collision designed to bilk unwary tourists to us, but it turns out this is just a long-standing local custom and we shouldn’t worry about it. Just keep moving. And don’t make eye contact. You’ll be fine.
We take a ferry to Cozumel. We stop at the first restaurant we see. A three-man band with a trumpet is going to each table and playing a song for them in exchange for pesos. They start to come to our table. “No, thank you,” we tell them before a song can break out. It’s a reflex at this point. I actually think it might have been nice for them to play something. We are just in automatic rejection mode now, wary of every approach. Cozumel is just like Playa del Carmen. Merchants greet us and wave us over. They tell us a price. We tell them it is too much. They tell us another price. Then another. And another. The price is amazingly flexible. You expect them to tell you eventually. “We can pay your twenty pesos to take the hand-made wind chime, but that is our final offer.”
The one purchase I make is a ball that is supposed to skip on water. It actually does this. We play around with it in the pool back at the resort for quite a bit. My son Avery throws it and it skips three times in the water and one final large skip over the lip of the pool and into some dense undergrowth. I rummage in there for 15 minutes before giving up. Avery can’t believe it. He gets out of the pool and spends another 30 minutes searching for it. As I sit in the shade of our cabana by the pool, I wonder if a giant iguana will bite his hand off as he gropes the undergrowth. Do iguanas have some sort of poison bite? Then my pina colada order arrives, and I quit worrying. It’s Happy Hour from noon to four p.m. at the resort. So, drinks come in pleasant pairs. After the two pina coladas have disappeared, I begin to wonder if Avery is still looking for the ball. We’ve seen some strange furry little animals that look larger than squirrels and smaller than anteaters. They actually look just like the Rodents of Unusual Size in the movie “The Princess Bride.” Only they’re smaller. So, possibly Avery has been bitten by a Rodent of Usual Size.
Avery does reappear, eventually, stepping out of the underbrush like a man emerging from the Rain Forest after a long expedition or a center fielder coming out of the ivy at Wrigley Field proudly holding out the ball he caught there.
We survive our trip with a few sunburns, no traffic accidents and no iguana bites. I feel like I should have put my feet in the small water tank and let the fish nibble off the dead skin. Sometimes I worry too much about looking decadent and should just relax. It’s not as if my lovely wife Robyn would have snapped a picture of me with my feet surrounded by small fish and posted it immediately on Facebook despite the international data usage. Oh wait. She definitely would have. So, I missed the fish foot scrub.
And suddenly, for no good reason I can name, I miss the iguanas.