Accompanied by honking horns, a flotilla of golf carts and other vehicles passes by our house. Dozens of wrapped candies tossed by passengers litter the roadway.
A collection of neighbouhood children madly scoops up the candies, catching them in mid-air, or zipping between vehicles before the goodies are squished under a wheel.
In a parade on Isla Mujeres there will inevitably be a number of golf carts overflowing with passengers who wave and toss treats to enthusiastic observers. They are usually privately owned carts, painted, decorated and accessorized to express the owners’ off-beat personalities.
Some of our friends have decorated their personal golf carts with the logos of their favorite sports teams, or flashy chrome hubcaps or a variety of flags. One American friend has a very charming carrito de golf. It is upholstered in vibrant orange and painted fluorescent pink, matching the exterior of her eye-catching house.
Another friend went all-out with a purple, pink and turquoise combination. During special holidays such as the Day of the Dead or Christmas people get very creative, adding skeletons, Catrinas and skulls, or bows, ornaments and wreaths depending on the time of year.
We have also seen many humorous uses for a golf cart. The funniest one was a carrito de golf pushing a pick-up truck in a political parade. Apparently the truck had stalled and the driver couldn’t restart it.
His friend, who was driving behind, pushed him along the street until they reached an area wide enough for the truck to pull off the road. Other local carritos de golf are used as mini-trucks, hauling workers and equipment to and from work sites.
The basic golf cart come equipped with four wheels, a steering wheel, seats front and back and a one-cylinder, seven-horsepower gas engine. They don’t have turn signals, brake lights, windshield wipers or, of course, seat belts or air bags. In the slightly upgraded models a horn is included – if you are lucky.
They are extremely fun to drive, especially on a sunny day, but a little less fun on a stormy night. Many island residents have retrofitted their carts with plastic roll-down side curtains to protect them from tropical rainstorms.
Carritos de golf are legal to drive on the public roadways of both Isla Mujeres and nearby Isla Holbox as well as some roads in Lake Chapala. On Isla Mujeres there are about a dozen rentals outlets; several are owned by former mayors. The range of rental choices is amazing from flashy black and gold paint jobs, to carts tricked out as vehicles such as a 1957 Chevy or a Jeep Wrangler or even a fire truck.
The slightly illicit feeling you get when driving a golf cart on a public road has become a huge tourism draw for the island. There are an estimated 1,000 golf carts, rentals and privately owned, buzzing around the island on any given day.
Quite recently licensing a personal golf cart on Isla Mujeres has become almost impossible as the taxi drivers keep up the pressure on both the state and municipal governments to restrict the number of licenses available. But, whether you rent one for the day, or own one for your personal use, the one thing the golf carts of Isla are not used for is puttering around a golf course. There are no golf courses here.
Carritos de golf are a fun and inexpensive way to get around. They might be a good addition to other small tourism-based communities assuming drivers follow the rules of the road. Please enjoy yourselves, but be smart about it.
Next time you get the opportunity to drive a golf cart on vacation, give it a try. It’s a slower paced way to enjoy your holiday.
The writers are Canadians who have been full-time residents of Isla Mujeres for eight years. You can read their blog here.