Later, my mood withered beneath gloomy skies as I drove toward the leaning lighthouse in Puerto Morelos, my favorite town on the coast. You’ve got to admire a city that counts a broken-down lighthouse as its most beloved landmark, especially when Cancún’s slick pleasure palaces lie just 24 miles north. Puerto Morelos has somehow remained one of the most low-key, unpretentious towns in the Riviera Maya. Sure, large resorts have risen north and south of town and vacation homes line the sand, but that lighthouse, blown asunder by Hurricane Beulah in 1967, remains a comforting reminder of my ﬁrst overnight on a Puerto Morelos beach.
The town’s biggest attraction, beyond its semi-traditional authenticity, is its proximity to the Mesoamerican Reef, the longest reef in the Western Hemisphere. Visions of past immersions into aquamarine water with sparkling sunlight high-lighting pink and gold corals and yellow tropical fish dissolved in the smothering humidity. Wild winds churned that day’s dark gray water into an unappealing frenzy. Shunning gloomy predictions, I believed the weather would improve in time for a snorkeling trip.
After unloading my gear at the modest Posada El Moro, I headed straight to the beach for tangy ceviche, spicy pulpo (octopus) tacos, and a cerveza. Mindlessly chomping on fresh, warm chips, I watched a lady in an embroidered huipil dress lead a group toting umbrellas and chairs along the sand. Sated and somnolent, I joined others aimlessly strolling along the waterfront malecón.
“People move differently here,” joked the posada’s manager as I absentmindedly passed the front desk, headed for my bed and a lengthy siesta. When the evening air cooled ever so slightly, I ventured outside and rambled along dusty streets past souvenir shops displaying blankets with Steelers and Patriots logos hanging beside garish masks. Piles of well-read mysteries captured my attention at Alma Libre bookstore, the best place on the coast to exchange beach reads. Locals were just beginning to settle down for dinner as I returned to my room to prepare for my excursion to the reef the next day.
The streaming sunlight I’d hoped for was nowhere in sight the next morning. I was the sole patron at the dive shop—apparently more sensible tourists were willing to wait for clearer conditions. But this was my only chance to get into the water and a few whitecaps wouldn’t stop me.
The dive master and I reached the reef quickly and jumped into the murky sea. My arms quickly grew weary as I swam with all my might, searching for at least one giant turtle by the reef. I saw a needleﬁsh, a lobster, and swarms of striped sergeant majors, but gave up after 15 minutes and signaled a strong desire to return to the boat. Instead, my guide frantically beckoned me forward. I glimpsed a dark form in the distance, then two ﬂippers and a beady head. Sure enough, a turtle was swimming right toward me. It seemed my good fortune had stuck around even in the most discouraging conditions. Buena suerte indeed.
Maribeth Mellin is the author of several books about Mexico. She is a recipient of Mexico’s prestigious Pluma de Plata award for her ongoing coverage.