Flying into Cozumel always feels like coming home.  I am a long way and another lifetime from the place I call home, so this is a special feeling.  This particular trip I was discovering that the home of my childhood was reaching out again.

My friend, Lena, and I are traveling alone together, minus family.  The first time it is excruciatingly painful to leave the kids.  This time it is proving to be a wise choice.  We are reconnecting to a part of us that is not wife, mother, businesswoman, or teacher.  We are simply women.  We can sleep in or stay out late with no one to worry about.  My friend is a runner and heads out early to see the sunrise. I am a reader and watch the sunset from my lounge chair.  We both like to write and dance and see all the sights from the top-of-the-line restaurants to the hole-in-the-wall hot dog stand, from the big yacht to the tiny canoes, and from the developed

Another great Cozumel sunset.

beaches with the ever-ready cabana boys, to the wild rocky shores splashing with rough seas.  We remember the past, cherish the present, and plan the future.  We challenge each other to greater things, cry and heal together over great hurts, and generally help each other make life changes we have been avoiding.  Then, we go home to be better at all the roles we hold.

Surf's Up!

We are heading down to Cozumel for a few days lounging around Villablanca, so we are naturally excited.  Despite several trips to Cozumel, I could not recall that particular hotel.  I asked my teenage daughter (also my computer guru) to do a little on-line research for me.  As soon as she heard the name she exclaimed, “Mom, that's the hotel with the shark! You, know, the one you always want to stay in every time we drive by." 

Villablanca is on the road about a mile south from San Miguel.  It is just across the road from the sea and not too far from a public swimming beach and the lighthouse.  You notice first the lush tropical hibiscus hedges surrounding the gleaming white walls that front it. There's a huge white shark watching over the reception area. Every time I drove by I murmured a wish to stay there.  And since we drove by about a hundred times over several trips to Cozumel, the children just rolled their eyes when I said it.  Yet more than just the beauty of the hotel, there is something calling me, making me feel I had been there before.

One of Cozumel's premier
resorts - Villablanca!

We drive up on a glorious Caribbean day.  The white of the pillars reflect the bright sunshine; a mild breeze blows off the sea carrying with it the hint of far away places.  There are places you go that are nice and then you leave and it becomes just a vague pleasant memory.  There are places where you walk in and you know immediately you have come home — a place you would come home to if you could live in a soothing, elegant space in which your every need is attended to.  We step into the cool of the reception area, check in quickly, then we are given our room number.  Juan carries our luggage and in numerous other ways rescues two ladies in distress; he is there with a smile that never wavers despite vast quantities of luggage.  While we explore our room, lean over our balcony, and make ourselves at home, Juan sees to our bags and makes sure all was in order.  Being copious drinkers, of water that is, we are delighted by the large five gallon water jug in our room.  Many hotels on Cozumel provide a two-liter bottle each day and charge dearly for any extras.  We are cheap at heart with the habit of stopping at Chedraui’s (the local grocery) to pick up gallons of water — not much fun to haul around town (we generally walked everywhere).  So this is a delightful introduction to our home away from home — an annoying, time consuming and expensive detail avoided. 

Our beds are spacious!

While Juan was around we do our best to maintain the dignity befitting writers of our stature; however, the minute he leaves we become giddy with rapture.  Our room is huge.  The bed is king size and comfortable.  Behind the bed is a half wall supporting white columns dividing our bed from a sitting area; behind the wall is a large couch-cum-daybed facing arched doors leading to the balcony.  We look over the railing into a lovely manicured garden and we could see the sea waiting for us beyond.  Both my friend and I are writers and we could already feel inspiration.  The flavor of the room is English Colonial, and I feel that we have entered a "Twilight Zone" between Mexico and Africa, a sort of coming together of two places I dearly love. 

Our room is spacious!

Needing a nap, I slide between cool sheets.  Somehow, listening to the silence I feel myself becoming serene.  I yearn to be elegant and enchanting as befitting such a setting.  Dozing off, I dream of high tea served in an English garden in a far-off colony of the Empire. Alas, there is not an elegant bone in this body and eventually I had to wake up and face that fact.  Fortunately, waking up to reality is not too much of a hardship in Cozumel. The dying sun slipping into ocean is elegant enough for all of us.  Huge and golden it looks as solid as an ingo; as we watch, the bottom orb melts into the water, putting out the fire out while spreading golden bullion across the sea.  Watching the sunset is a requirement here and there are several places on the property you can enjoy this time. 

Snacks and sunsets!

Next to the pool is a the snack bar, “Las Adas” where you meet other sun worshippers. Above is a pavilion waiting for your viewing pleasure.  Alternatively, you can put forth a small amount of effort and stroll across the street to get up close and personal with the sea.  Just across the road is Temptations restaurant with a patio where you can relax with your favorite beverage. You might sit on a lounge chair on the beach or sit on the seawal.  You can walk out onto the pier but returning divers have much equipment to take care of so please be civil as you worship in this most ancient of rituals.  Despite the trip being too short for all we are planning, we slow down each night for this cosmic treat. 

The resort is named after
the Villablanca Reef and Wall.

The sea is the main event for most visitors to Cozumel, and Villablanca is the perfect site for one of the most important sea events.  The hotel is located on the Villablanca Reef and Wall, and in fact, the hotel is named after the reef, a wonderful deep dive, and the closest to town. The reef is a sloping wall and according to the Dive Paradise website is different from most of the other deep reefs.  The walls are home to large schools of angelfish and jacks and oversize sponges. The sea is alive with treasures, don’t miss it. The wall is reachable from the beach for experienced divers. For safety, novices go with a boat tour. This beach is not one for paddling around as it is mostly rock in the shallows but there is a nice little patch of sand for sunning while waiting for the more adventurous to come back from a dive.  Dive Paradise operates nearby, one of the most reputable dive outfits on the island with many satisfied repeat customers.

Fire Coral means do not touch!

Villablanca is a wonderful place for divers.  Not only is the location good, speeding your access to the water, but divers can view their own movies after their dive in the hotel's comfortable movie room; share the story of your trips with family and other divers immediately after the thrill of the dive, prompting your reluctant spouse to try it with you. Since I am not familiar with hotels that cater to divers this may be a common practice.  I, for one, think it is just one more aspect in the striving of Villablanca to provide excellence.  Were I a diver the appeal of walking across the street to begin an immediate dive of excellent quality would certainly endear me to this place.  Ah, but I have already been endeared-and by so much else. 

Catching a tan!

Swimming and sunning are, for me, life-affirming activities.  I have access to a pool throughout the year where I teach swimming, but alas, it is indoors and never sunny.  To blend the two is particularly pleasing.  I go down to the hotel pool and I am alone.  After a refreshing dip, a tan is in order. The lounge chairs beside the pool are set atop large stone blocks.I lie surrounded by an almost primeval garden and breath in the humid air, I feel like a sacrificial virginoffered to the sun god.  The Mayan ruins around the island point to a time where this might have been common.  Fortunately, today was not my day.  Instead, I offer my thanks for the serenity. 

Later Lena and I walk around the grounds escorted by the owner, Memo Arana, and his very capable and gracious manager, Jorge. Our room is in the attractive newer section.  There is more to Villablanca than is visible from passing by on the road.  Just past the pool, an otherworldly tunnel draws you in, like Alice-in-Wonderland falling down a rabbit hole into adventure. 

The reason Villablanca is
considered a "Garden Resort".

Inside the arbor it is cool with tiny white fragrant flowers.  Time stops and your heartbeat slows as you breathe in the island's peace. We live life on fast forward. This is a respite needed badly.  The tunnel opens up ahead and sunlight spotlights our entrance into another nook. Delicate wrought iron chairs beckon from various secret places, begging for a bit of stolen pleasures with a louer or a good book while large coconut palms whisper in the wind, standing sentinel over smaller trees and bushes.  Paths meander through the garden leading nowhere, except to another bench from which to survey this tiny kingdom of plants. At home, I do not pay attention to gardens.  I am known for my black thumb. A plant that has the temerity to try to grow in my garden lives under the constant threat of death; alternately dying torturously of thirst or being drowned in genuine apology for my neglect.  In this place, I am persuaded to try again — until the hysterical laughing of my friend brings me back to reality! Despite hurt feelings at her cavalier dismissal of my skills, we continue to explore.  Not even her teasing can dim the magic of Villablanca. The veil of serenity common to gardeners is understood and now envied.  When I am a rich old lady, I shall hire a person with the gift of growing treasures from the earth and surround myself with green and fragrant splendors.  For now, this garden is gift enough.  A bamboo garden here and a cenote there — wonders are everywhere.  Overlooking it all is a tower with angels carved into the facade.

There are, undoubtedly, many more, interesting things awaiting discovery but it is time for a trip to town.  San Miguel is easy to reach from Villablanca.  For the tired or blissfully lazy, one needs only to step out on the sidewalk and shortly a taxi will pull up and offer an inexpensive ride to town.  They are plentiful and safe.  However, if you wish to go slower than the normal rate of speed, make certain you are understood.  One driver evidently thought that we meant go faster when what we really said was “please, do not go so fast.” Nevertheless, he arrived in one piece and so, with rapid heartbeat, did we.

Most days we walk to town.  It is an easy walk drag of about two miles to the main.  Most of the way is on a wide sidewalk along the seawall.  You will share the salty breeze and the view with other walkers, sporadic skaters, and some birds looking for a handout.  The walk takes you past a public beach frequented by locals but open to all.  Here you can take a break for a refreshing dip or a drink from a sidewalk vendor.  Visitors are always welcome.  Halting attempts at Spanish are graciously received.

New and old friends
meet at the square.

Closer to town several hotels are undergoing renovations so the sidewalk needs careful navigating.  Nevertheless, if you are patient you will arrive at the first of many destinations of your choice.  On your right as you head north, keep your eyes out for a large open area.  It is not exactly a square, but it is a congregating place for many local events.  We enjoy several evenings of festivities mingling with the town folk, enjoying the local foods and goods available.  Children play games such as balloon throws and knocking down things with balls to win prizes.  Were it not for the language and the food we would have thought we were at a small-town America country fair.  If authenticity and making friends with Cozumeleños is important to you, this is the place.  Another more formal gathering place is the large square in the middle of the shopping area along the oceanfront.  It is always busy, especially on Sunday night when locals come out in their best clothes to promenade and tourists have fun experiencing the richness of the island.  It is a time for dressing up and showing off your family and meeting with your friends-don’t miss it. Surrounding the square are many shops catering to tourists; prices are reasonable and negotiable.  During the day, flirtation is common (kind of fun for this middle aged divorcee) but in the evening, everyone tones it down and we never feel unsafe or bothered.

San Miguel is a very safe town.  Unfortunately many tourists are discouraged from exploring past the main strip and so miss out on many wonderful eating and meeting places and wonderful people.

La Bamba!

Our favorite nightlife includes Senor Frogs', as well as Carlos and Charlie’s, on the main strip.  These cater more to tourists than some of the others.  They are especially hopping Friday through Sunday, as that is when the fun and the crowds turn out.  A word to revelers; music earlier is a greater mix of Western-style music, but past midnight when all but the hard-core visitors leave the locals get started and their music shifts to more rap and beat oriented music.  This caused me a bit of difficulty as I am rhythm-challenged and a poor dancer to that music style-but hey, at least I am dancing, won’t you please join us! You will recognize my friend and I by the large numbers of water bottles around us; water is our drink of choice as we rock and sweat the night away.

It is late and Villablanca’s comfortable room is calling.  We sink into a taxi for a quick ride home.  As we walk through a small salon leading toward our room the feeling surfaces that I have been here before.  Knowing that is impossible, I drift off to another good nights sleep.

Memo and Jorge in the Penthouse.

In the morning, we look around the hotel further.  We assume that the superior room we have is indicative of the entire hotel.  As we finish our tour with Memo and Jorge, we discover that there is much more.  In an even quieter part of the garden is the answer to the familiar feelings I had been noticing.  The Villa rooms here have a definite African flavor.  Leopard prints on the beds and African artifacts on the walls make these more museum than hotel rooms.  Tubs are sunken in the beautifully appointed bathrooms.  There are choices of one, two, or three bedroom units with cooking areas.  It would be hard to leave these rooms even for the outside glories.  This is a piece of Africa in the Caribbean . Wow !   We could hardly wait to meet their designer.  It t urns out we already have.  As we went through a magnificent foyer filled with African and Asian art our eyes could not get enough.  As Memo showed us the piece-d'resistance, a P enthouse apartment straight out of colonial Africa , he shares with us that it is his vision that created all of this. 

Years back Memo acquired many of these artifacts from African missionaries while traveling throughout the continent with many never to be available in the future. The Colonial era of Africa is largely gone.  The leopard skins, lion skins, ebony statues, tribal shields and masks combine with Asian carvings and wicker furniture to produce an enchanting effect.  The Penthouse comes with a full kitchen, king-size bed, marble bath, and living and dining areas.  It has a 270-degree view of the Caribbean.  It is special and it is a place calling to my heart. I have visited in places like this, in the heart of Africa.  I have even, perhaps, been in a home where these pieces once lived.  I have been in homes where this atmosphere reigned and will likely never be seen again.  The colonies are no longer and the ravages of time, wars, and change have taken away most of these precious things from their original homes. Villablanca has captured and preserved its flavor, taking you to another time, away from the usual hotel amenities.  I hesitate to share it with you, this is my discovery and I want to hoard it. Still, every good deed deserves a telling and Memo creation captures an era.

Quiet time at Villablanca!

Villablanca attests that Memo (Guillermo Arana) should have been an architect or a designer.  He is a lawyer and probably a good one.  However, he is a great designer and this hotel is a tribute to his effort. The hotel was built little by little with the help of many local craftsmen.   Marble from Mexico and Italy were used throughout. The furnishings and décor are from Europe and Africa, thus the flavor is international.

Jorge has been with Memo for five years as manager.  “This job is my life!” he tells us.  It is a good life.  He is responsible for a staff of 24 serving eagerly and seamlessly.  Service is great here and each staff member is attentive to detail, willing to go beyond the requirment.

Set for romance!

If you are a honeymooner, you have privacy to enjoy each other, just as we enjoy this place.  Choose the Penthouse suite to symbolize "something old/something new/something borrowed/something blue". I do not exactly think they will let me borrow the Suite, but the something blue is definitely Caribbean.

If you are a diver, Villablanca is right at your fingertips.  Dive Paradise has a location just across the road and when you are done, you can have a drink at Temptations or Papa Hogs adjacent to the site and watch the sun go down, or go on a night dive.  Then look at your dive movies, walk in the garden, swim in the pool, or perhaps take a soothing bath before climbing into bed to do it all over again.

And, if like me, you remember the old days in Africa when life was slow and lamps were low around the garden while the days hunt was discussed and tomorrow’s possibilities were endless, close your eyes and dream of it again.  You are in paradise and Villablanca's Africa blends with the Caribbean for a new set of dreams.  Yours.