The experiences of just being a kid can be very different depending on where you live. Our friend Freddy Medina has many good memories from growing up on Isla Mujeres in the 1970s.
Freddy’s papá, Lucio Medina, built a strong concrete house on the west side of the island near the middle school where he was employed as a teacher. When Freddy was about five years old he remembers attending a wedding in centro with his mom and dad.
After the wedding he became separated from his parents in the crowd of people gathered to congratulate the bride and groom. Being the only boy in the family of six children, Freddy fancied himself as a brave little man. He set off walking home.
It was around 9:30 at night and the only existing road was lit with streetlights that worked only infrequently. He started out confidently, but by the time he was half-way there he was feeling scared and lonely on the spooky, dark streets.
The passenger bus was making its last run of the night south towards the scant number of houses in the colonia, when Freddy ran out into the street, waving his arms and yelling. The driver, a good friend of Freddy’s papá, drove him home, delivering the wayward youngster to his frantic family. His worried papa arrived a few minutes later, having been out searching for his son.
In the early 1970s island life was very simple. Electronic games, cell phones and computers did not exist. Cameras and televisions were scarce. The boring television programs that were available were shown in black and white, so the youngsters invented games to amuse themselves.
They had swimming contests, racing from the beach around a boat anchored 30 meters offshore and back. Every week the boys tested themselves to see if they were ready to swim the longer circuit around the second boat, anchored 50 meters away.
Close in age, cousins Rafael, Tino and Freddy found a number of ways to amuse themselves. One of their best inventions was to create boats from the thick foam packing discarded when a new outboard motor was uncrated.
They jammed six friends into the foam ship and bounced around the bay until the foam broke into small pieces. The smaller pieces were then carefully collected and the boys would spend the next two or three weeks creating toy sailboats complete with masts, sails, rigging and keels. When they tested the seaworthiness of their creations, the boats would either be a failure, requiring additional engineering modifications, or an amazing success.
Nearby, Remigio, the owner of a tiny tienda, created lightweight kites from a combination of paper and coconut fronds. Available in a variety of colors the kites, or papalotes, cost one peso each. Perpetually short of cash, Freddy and his cousins decided that they could create their own aerial toys.
As they gained experience the papalotes grew in size, becoming more elaborate and larger. With the addition of a razor blade attached to the tail, the boys created a fighting kite that could battle for supremacy of the sky over their stretch of the beach. A half-buried wooden boat served as the launch site for the fighting kites, with the losers crashing ignominiously into the surf.
Following the success of these aerial fighting machines, Freddy’s uncles decided to make even larger papalotes, constructed from the heavy paper sacks discarded by the tortilla bakery. When full, the sacks contained about 45 kilos of corn flour.
The men waited until the stiff winds arrived in the spring to launch their creations. Each kite required two or three men, or in the case of the younger crowd, up to 10 children to hold the ropes. Even then the winds would occasionally pull them squealing with laughter towards the ocean.
To make money to pay for their kite-making supplies Freddy and his cousins created a business. The island streets at that time were paved with packed sand, but at the intersection of Matamoros and Rueda Medina the sand was surprisingly soft. Suspiciously soft.
A handful of the cousins would casually perch on either side of the street, waiting up to 30 minutes for the rare vehicle to appear. When the vehicle stopped at the stop sign, be it the soft drink truck, or the snack delivery van, or a tourist’s vehicle, the soft sand would trap the front wheels.
One of the older boys would then run up to the driver and cheerfully offer assistance, telling the driver to remain in the vehicle and to wait for his instructions.
Once the front-man had negotiated the price, everyone would jump to their assigned task: removing sand from around the front wheels, or stuffing rocks or pieces of wood into the holes to help with traction. Next they would congregate at the back and push the vehicle out.
As a precaution a large rock or piece of wood was placed beforehand directly in the path of the vehicle to ensure that the driver would not leave without paying for the rescue service. Freddy still laughs at his and his cousins’ ingenuity.
You can find Freddy at the new El Arrecife Bar and Restaurant that he and his cousin Manuel Figueroa recently opened in centro.
Growing up on Isla Mujeres was a great experience for Freddy Medina and his five beautiful sisters.
The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for nearly 10 years. You can read their blog here.