Holbox is an incredibly beautiful island and there is plenty to do there for the whole family. I’ve opted to use this setting to demonstrate the difference between perceived perfection and the reality of travel with small kids but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of useful information to be found…
Pictures really don’t tell the whole story. People see ‘perfect’ families or ‘perfect’ locations and don’t always remember that no family is perfect or that every perfect view could be two metres from desperate poverty or a tantrumming toddler. Then they feel bad that they’re not achieving the perfect life or visiting perfect places and that they can’t share their perfect pictures on social media.
So here’s my story (our story) in pictures with both the sanitised version and some comments on the reality!
That said, it doesn’t mean we didn’t have a wonderful time, just saying that the pictures don’t tell the whole story.
On Monday we piled four adults (non of us tiny), two kids and all our luggage, in to a small green car and headed for Holbox (pronounced Holbosh).
I explain that it’s green because I have no idea of its make or model but I do know that it is green. Green, perhaps, doesn’t demonstrate the size as well as make and model might but it’s all I have for you. Col drove, dad sat with him in the front. Mum, SB, SG and I squished ourselves in to the back. Because we’re a long way from real road regulations we had SB in the middle and SG on my lap. On the motorway. For five hours. Yeah. Not only was it something I’d never, ever, even consider doing at home but it was also fairly uncomfortable. Mum and I entertained the kids by singing every christmas song we know on repeat. Turns out we both know about one verse of every christmas song. Also turns out she still hates ‘Away in a Manger’, and I still enjoy annoying her by singing it at her.
Mexican toll roads are fine. Small Mexican roads are emphatically not fine. In an absence of any other way of controlling drivers (I extrapolate), they build dangerously high speed bumps at regular intervals and then intersperse them with enormous potholes. These potholes are huge and scattered across the road leaving little chance of avoiding all of them.
For the uninitiated, the Spanish for speed bump is topes. We spent a lot of time backseat driving yelling ‘topes’ (pronounced top-es) or ‘stop-es’ (because we’re hilarious). This assistance is entirely necessary since the speed bumps aren’t always accompanied by signs warning drivers of their existence and the buggers are so high that the bottom of the car regularly scrapes along them. Not funny at all. To try and help, we all breathed in and tried to weigh as little as possible.
We eventually arrived at Chaquilla (to rhyme with Tequilla), parked the car and got ourselves on to a ferry to the island of Holbox. The island had been specifically recommended to me as a little slice of paradise where the beaches are gorgeous and the sea so calm and shallow that small kids can play alone in the water. There are no cars on the island, all transport is in the form of souped up golf carts instead as the roads are all sand…
or um, small rivers, as they were when we arrived! What no-one tells you when raving about Holbox, is that fifteen minutes of rain turns the entire island in to a soggy mess where most roads are entirely unpassable without one of these golf carts and that much of it then doesn’t smell great as the water stagnates. The guy in the hotel told us they have to leave the water a few days to let the mangroves taken what they need before the pump it away. So to get from our hotel to the beach (fifty metres), we had to take a detour through a busy building site opposite our hotel and then pick our way past large lakes of water before finally hitting the shore. The workmen were very good natured about our regular trips but it wasn’t quite what we were expecting in paradise.
On our first night in town we headed to the beach, left mum and dad quaffing sundowners and snarfing down snacks in Raices, a gorgeous laid back, slow food, place while Col and I took the kids down to the pier to see what was going on:
This is what we found: Mexicans fishing and pelicans waiting for fish to be thrown back in the sea so they could gobble them up. The guy in the picture is holding a puffer fish that he let the kids touch before he threw it back in the sea. The pier is lovely and it’s really good fun to try fishing here but we were mainly super panicked about SG as she’s a reckless little thing and we were terrified she was going to throw herself off the pier in her excitement. Luckily she didn’t but a day later SB did get his leg stuck between the slats when he didn’t watch where he was walking.
We then headed back to my parents to join them for supper. Dad and I had the most incredible coconut fish. Yummy yum yum. SG ordered a soup (vociferously) and then refused to even try it. But never mind because here she is swinging on a bar swing and being cute so that’s ok, our evening still looks perfect, right?
Tuesday was perfect (ahem): blue skies, no clouds and a brightly shining sun. We walked in to town. Col, Dad and SG walked (waded) along the roads while Mum, SB and I opted to walk along the beach. We eventually met up in the square where we found a tumble down fair not in operation. After a while we managed to find someone to open the two storey trampoline ride for the kids so they played there with some other tourist kids. SB very loudly informed me that the other boy had hurt him and not said sorry. His mum was standing next to me so I danced the fun dance of trying to make him feel better whilst not making the other mum feel bad. I went with ‘oh, I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose but are you ok? Sometimes you don’t remember to say sorry, do you, it’s not nice huh?’. Danced ok?
And then on to the beach. We spent the rest of the day playing in bathwater warm sea, watching pelicans fly over our heads. SG asked me to name my boobs lala and lulu. She also tends to spend most her time in the water trying to undo my bikini. Never trust my two year old.
This picture might be the stuff of tourist brochures but actually she’s having a wee.
On Wednesday mum and dad kindly took us on a boat trip. We were all super excited as we’d been told there was a slim possibility of seeing dolphins (I almost wrote penguins. I guess the possibility of penguins in the Gulf of Mexico is fairly slim too) and flamingos. We’d also been promised an island on which the kids could sit and play in even more perfect waters. We started off at what we now know to be ‘Isla Pasion’ where we saw pelicans, both the local brown, and the Canadian whites, some other birds I can’t remember and FLAMINGOS!!! We saw them flying and we saw them standing around doing flamingo things. Awesome. Even the kids were impressed.
Then the driver of our boat pointed to the island and told me that we’d get lots of mosquito bites if we stopped there so we should just go on to Bird Island. Ok. He’s the boss, he knows our itinerary, right? Well, no. It turns out he should have taken us there because this was the island for the kids to enjoy. We had no idea until we got back to the port three hours later. We were pretty pissed off but he didn’t give a damn, just told us it was tough. The broker also didn’t give a damn when I tried to talk to her about it. So, if you ever go to Holbox, please be very sure you know what you’re getting in your tour package and don’t let lazy boat captains diddle you.
Our next stop was Bird Island and it was incredible. We stayed for ages watching pelicans mainly. They were all nesting in the trees and we all loved watching them…until everyone needed a wee. Col and SB weed off the top of the high tower when no one was around. I held it in and took SG down to the end of the pier to hold her over a gap so she could wee. I did not wee here.
Then we took the boat down to another island that housed a fairly average cenote. But on the way we saw
actual dolphins. There were four of them and they played around our boat for a while. The best bit was how excited SG was to see them. I somehow didn’t expect the two year old to be so thrilled by something unrelated to Peppa Pig but she really was.
As we landed at the cenote island we saw a crocodile and a manta ray. SB loved the crocodile. We then swam in a cenote linked to where we saw the crocodile. I wasn’t convinced this was wise but we’re all still alive and still have all our limbs and digits so I assume it was ok.
Later, after lunch, we took the kids down to the square and they conned us in to giving them another go on the trampolines. SG fell down the stairs between the the two levels and now has a fabulous cut across her face.
That evening, my parents babysat the kids so Col and I could go in to town for supper. Instead of a romantic beach front table, we found ourselves deciding that the best way to use our freedom was to go to an American diner to try a lobster burger. Yeah, it was pretty gross. We shared the burger and a caesar salad and I had a massive milkshake. It was full of bright lights and HD tvs. Not uber romantic or representative of the restaurants on the island but hey ho. Oh, and the burger gave Col a dicky-tummy. I had two bites and didn’t eat more as I didn’t like it and then he got sick and I didn’t. Hmmmm.
Thursday was walked a long way along the beach, kids moaning all the way. We found a new, better spot to spend the day. There was better sand (so of course it was the day we forgot the buckets) and the sea was slightly nicer. There were also these awesome hammocks
stretched out between the letters in Holbox. We had a great time playing in them.
(I’ve drawn over SB’s bum to give him swimming trunks as he was actually naked at this point). Looks like the dream, right? Swinging in the hammock with my wonderful son? He’s actually licking me, a lot, at this point. He’s happily licking me because he likes that I taste of salt. No comment needed, right?
The kids spent the day alternately playing in the sea and making intricate sand drawings. I took the opportunity to persuade SB to write something as I feel we are massively neglecting his writing at the moment.
And then it was time to go home. Friday morning arrived too soon. We took the ferry back to the mainland and watched thirty odd soldiers disembark on to the island as we left. We have no idea why. A coup on the island perhaps?
Oh, and I saw this sign, which I loved. It says, ‘I don’t ask you to clean my island, just don’t dirty it’. It’s sad it has to be said but what a nice way of putting it.
So we all piled back in to our small green car and followed my brilliant idea of visiting Ek Balam on the way home to save us a long car ride another day. Brilliant idea. Ek Balam is a wonderful site with very few visitors, nothing like Chichen Itza. Except it added maybe three or four hours on to our journey. Poor Col drove the entire way. And we never really stopped to eat at any point so we subsisted on ice creams, crisps and taco chips. Not the healthiest day. When we eventually got home, dad and I set out to find food and came back with…chips. So we ended the day with the saltiest chips ever, and a swim in our lovely pool.