Mexico, as It Used to be, and Sarah’s Place: A Travel Story
Although, in my opinion, we are running out of places to visit that are truly laid-back, charming and unspoiled, we were fortunate to find just such a place very close to the more “upscale” Cancún, a resort we visit each year and where, five years ago, we met a lady called “Wilma.”
An article in the travel section of the New York Times, just about one year ago, describing an idyllic place, Puerto Morelos, caught my wife’s attention. She immediately clipped it and carried it with her to Cancún when we traveled there last October.
The article carried a photo of “The Ixchel Beach Club,” also known as “Sarah’s Place.” Both the Times photograph and the description of Sarah’s Place captured our interest and our commitment to find it and “check it out.”
This was the Times recommendation for Sarah’s Place:
When you’re ready to swim or sunbathe, head for the beach club Ixchel. From the pier at the main square, turn left at the lighthouse and follow the beach until you find a small, wooden shack on the white-coral sands. Also known as Sarah’s place, this beach-club bar is a gathering spot for locals and expatriates alike. Here, you can exchange town gossip with Sarah herself, or rent an umbrella and chair for the day (50 pesos each).
If you have already peeked below and seen the photo of “the Ixchel Beach Club,” you may think that I am getting ready to express my disappointment; that the little shack that is Sarah’s Place is a far cry from a “Beach Club;” that somehow we felt duped. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
I wrote a piece about beautiful Puerto Morelos in our local newspaper this weekend. Because of space limitations I did not mention Sarah’s Place.
Let me just say that this simple, rustic, little shack smack in the middle of the beach was probably the highlight of our visit to Puerto Morelos. We were enchanted by its owner, Sarah, an attractive, charming lady originally from Canada; taken by her “town gossip” and impressed by her knowledge of the town and the area: its history, its people and its ecological importance* and frailness; and mellowed by her delicious blue margaritas. On top of that, and as The Times promised, we met the most interesting “expatriates” from several countries, each with an intriguing story on how and why they settled in Puerto Morelos.
Anyway, here’s the Puerto Morelos story. Hope you get the chance to visit it sometime—before it becomes just another crowded tourist destination on the Mayan Riviera.
During our annual vacation on the Yucatán Peninsula, we usually stay one week in “upscale” Cancún and one week close to the more casual Playa del Carmen. This year, after reading an article in The New York Times’ Travel section praising the charms of “What Mexico Once Was,” we set out to discover Puerto Morelos, only 20 miles south of Cancún but, as the Times appropriately put it, “a world away.”
We were somewhat apprehensive that the publicity generated by the Times’ article might have brought about some unwelcome changes in this village of about 5,000 people, the oldest port community in the Mexican Caribbean.
Not to worry. We found Puerto Morelos to be all it had been painted to be, and more. It is a delightful town that greets you with a colorful, palm-treed plaza surrounded by small, alluring restaurants and Mexican handicraft shops; a town that immediately invites you to take off your shoes and run along its wide, uncrowded, white coral sand beaches and tempts you to take even more off and jump into its clear, azure Caribbean waters; a town that summons you to explore its narrow streets lined with charming homes, small bed-and-breakfasts, a number of mom-and-pop eateries and more upscale restaurants, such as John Gray’s Kitchen and the latest addition, La Suegra de John Gray, or John Gray’s Mother-in-Law.
Having observed a number of locals actually fishing for lunch or dinner on Puerto Morelos’ lovely pier, we had to try the local fish and stopped at a small, simple restaurant named Pepita.
We were the only “gringos” among several local families. We ordered the house special: shrimp ceviche and grouper a la plancha. What a delicacy, and what a price! The low cost, the “old Mexico” atmosphere and, most of all, the friendly people of Puerto Morelos certainly merit the Times calling this idyllic place “almost out of another time.”
* Puerto Morelos and its adjacent beaches, waters and coral reefs are part of a Mexican government Marine-National Protected Area/National Park system—there are over 125 such protected areas in Mexico, including 11 coral reef ecosystems. This ambitious and innovative Mexican government program to conserve and protect its fragile eco-systems, relies significantly on community sense of ownership and participation.
We found Sarah to be a great asset to and representative of this approach. Her knowledge of and concern for the Puerto Morales area’s unique eco-systems were simply amazing and truly commendable.