Not long ago, I sat on the beach in Cozumel, Mexico, with my feet buried in the sand, a pink beverage and Paul Beatty’s Slumberland in my hands, and the gentle rush of waves lapping on the beach in my ears. On one side was my wife, the other a mischievous crow intently eyeballing our plate of chips and guacamole. I felt like I had stumbled into one of those utopian Corona ads.
Then an ant crawled across the page I was reading. I flicked it away, as it dawned on me that my little slice of paradise had a slight flaw: Since our first vacation to Cozumel two years ago, a pretty substantial colony of anthills had sprung up near a grassy patch at the edge of the beach, leading to harmless but annoying ants scrambling all over the sand. Given my extreme dislike of insects, it was like arriving in heaven, but learning that Joan Rivers was your neighbor and your house has really thin walls.
Still, no amount of insects could ruin a honeymoon that stood as the light at the end of a fairly arduous tunnel.
As I’ve mentioned before, Montana and I got married back in September, but our respective jobs delayed our honeymoon for a few months. So instead of recovering from the pressure of the wedding-planning process, we basically were thrown right back into the grind, our everyday stresses compounded by the losses of two loved ones, a week without electricity and a broken foot I suffered in a race. And though adding an adorable and precocious puppy to our family was a very positive change, it nonetheless required a lot of work.
Desperately needing some time to ourselves, it was pretty much a no-brainer to return to what we’ve long considered to be our happy place. The weather in Cozumel is immaculate, our resort has a secluded beach and very good food, and our back porch features a jacuzzi a stone’s throw from the ocean. Our travel agent even got us the same room we had two years ago.
That said, we quickly found that simply arriving in Mexico wasn’t enough to mend our frazzled psyches, made even more so by a blizzard that forced us to flee New Jersey for Charlotte a day early. It took the first couple of days to figuratively unpack our bags, to leave behind everything that had been stressing us out for the past few months. I found it particularly difficult to detox from phone and Internet; I can’t count how many times I instinctively reached into my pocket during an idle moment before remembering my phone was locked away in the safe, shut off to avoid roaming costs.
Of course, any amount of time spent scrutinizing my Twitter feed would have been a waste of a golden opportunity. I feel as we get older, we mostly lose the ability to simply live in the moment because there are so many other things to see or do. The only remedy is to strip it all away and rediscover the world unfiltered by an iPhone camera.
Once I was able to fully relax, time seemed to melt away. I spent hours watching birds diving into the sea for fish, or surly iguanas sunning themselves on rocks, or clouds meandering overhead. I went for a few long runs down by the water, hopping across coral reefs hemispheres away from the beaten path while listening to Frank Ocean muse wryly, “Why see the world, when you’ve got the beach?”
Montana and I branched out a bit, embarking on a Jeep tour of the island, which took us to Mayan ruins, an alligator habitat and best of all, a tequila factory. (Our tour guide insisted jovially that having a few shots would make us better drivers; we nonetheless sampled in extreme moderation.) As luck would have it, we also arrived right in the middle of Carnival, Cozumel’s version of Mardi Gras, with three-hour parades, elaborate costumes and beads flung all over the place.
We again indulged in one of our favorite pastimes, shopping downtown, where the proprietors ply you with beer and a tasty almond-flavored tequila named Orendain in an effort to loosen up your wallet. Recalling the exorbitant sum I drunkenly paid for a single bottle of habanero sauce two years ago, I allowed my lawyer wife to handle all negotiations, which she did capably. As a result, I came away slightly hung over, but with fishbone sculptures of Spider-man and the Predator at seemingly reasonable prices.
Most importantly, we finally got to enjoy simply being married to each other. We swam in the ocean almost every day — well, she swam, I just sort of flailed around. We went on long expeditions down the beach, explored defunct and abandoned island resorts, and waded in isolated coves and lagoons. (Any rumors that we went skinny dipping should be treated as unconfirmed.) We spent hours at a time reading under palm trees, played basketball and tennis, and we went to sleep every night at 9 just because we could, dozing off to some channel that ran American CSI-type shows with Spanish subtitles.
The unequivocal highlight was renewing our vows on Valentine’s Day. Montana had originally wanted a small wedding on the beach, which didn’t end up happening. So when we found out the hotel offered a complimentary vow renewal ceremony by the ocean, we saw it as a way to have our cake and eat it too — literally, since they claimed we’d get a free cake.
I’m not positive the elderly man who administered our vows was even a minister, but he was at least a really nice guy. The champagne they gave us wasn’t bad. And though we didn’t really know anyone else on the island, as we walked back off the beach, everyone on the volleyball court paused their game and gave us an ovation. They never actually delivered on the cake, but I don’t even really like cake.
I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our actual wedding day, particularly our footwear. But I was surprised at just how special our Mexico wedding was, given that we didn’t have to share it with a single person other than each other.
When we finally landed back in New Jersey — mercifully, Montana’s parents waited out our delayed flight until at 4 a.m. to pick us up — I was simultaneously saddened and uplifted by the thought that it would simply be business as usual in Cozumel the following week, and the week after that, our presence washed away like our footsteps from our morning walks on the beach.
But we both came home renewed, and we know Cozumel is there if we need it.
With two days left in our trip, something dawned on me: I no longer really gave the ants much thought. I still saw them under my chair once in a while, scurrying after spilled droplets of pina colada, but I couldn’t do anything about them, so I just kind of got used to them. The same goes for the middle-aged loudmouths a few yards away; I eventually found myself tuning out their week-long bemoaning that they were unable to secure first-class accommodation on their flight, or whatever.
It’s not that I dislike insects any less — or droning yuppies, for that matter. It’s more the realization that whether in paradise or in our day-to-day routines, it’s impossible to have things be exactly to your specifications. Ostensibly, there’s always that ant on your beach chair.
And better even than my Spider-man statue, I brought home from Mexico a reminder that by no means should we give undue attention to the few things in our day-to-day life purporting to bring us down, at the expense of all the things that lift us up.