Paradise Found in Isla Mujeres This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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It was my first day in Mexico. I was jetlagged, aching, and sleep deprived. I felt myself skimming the surface of a dark and terrible mood, about to sink into its stormy depths. But for the moment I was floating on undiluted, wide-eyed awe as I took in my new surroundings.

The streets were narrow and broken, framed by cracking sidewalks, punctuated by ragged weeds and shaggy stray dogs. Nowhere were the glistening palm trees, high-rise hotels, or ­excellent shopping that had characterized my idea of paradise.

I was sweating in my Juicy Couture sweat suit, the hems of which were slowly turning brown like guacamole in the sun. I could hear Latin music playing faintly in the distance. It grew steadily louder as we approached the town. In a matter of minutes, it was so loud that I could feel the vibrations in my chest, pounding like a second heart.

Soon the source became apparent: 20 teens were blasting music from the bed of a pickup truck. It took me a second to process their strange outfits: they were all dressed in drag! Girls sported baggy white T-shirts and Sharpied beards, while boys flaunted tutus, bras, and visible thongs. Either Isla Mujeres was home to an abnormally large and flamboyant gay community, or today was not just an ordinary day.

“They're celebrating Carnivale!” exclaimed my aunt, who had been here before. She proceeded to explain that Carnivale is the week-long Mexican version of Mardi Gras, and we had arrived in the heat of it.

Delight sprang to the tourists faces, and cameras to their hands, when the kids decided to have a dance party in the very parking lot where we stood. They spilled out of the truck as a crowd of onlookers accumulated. American tourists snapped picture after picture of the dancing teenagers.

With my aunt and mother enthralled by the show, I quietly slipped through the mesh of bodies and out of the crowd. Overheated in clothes better suited to New Jersey's mild climate, I began walking down the street, trying to get as far from the noise and clamor as possible.

It was then that I noticed something in the distance: one lone white spire in the cloudless blue sky, barely visible over a dingy cement wall. I walked until I reached a white cement enclosure on the side of the road. Curious, I stuck my head in to find the last thing I expected: a small cemetery.

It was as colorful as a bed of flowers. Hand-painted, pastel-colored memorials were strewn with roses, tulips, and daisies. White wooden crosses stuck crookedly from the ground or lay like toothpicks over well-tended graves. Spindly ­angels and Virgin Marys looked down protectively from tall monuments, casting deep shadows in the blazing sun.

Everywhere I looked, I saw bursts of color to match the brilliance of Andy Warhol's paintings. This small cemetery was devoid of sadness and full of love and tender remembrances. I could have spent 10 minutes wandering through the neat rows, attempting to decipher the lengthy Spanish prayers, hand-carved words crawling like ants on every surface.

I could no longer hear pounding Latin music, so I assumed that the dance party had ended. Walking back to the crowd, I felt as if I had discovered the vulnerable side of Mexico, its quiet face of prayer. I left the cemetery happy that no high-rise hotels cast their shadow over this tiny, dusty gem I had uncovered.

I reunited with my mom and aunt, who had been taking pictures with a young man in a tutu. As we headed out for dinner, I began to form a different view of paradise. I fell in love with Mexico that day, but not because I was staying at the nicest hotel or because the food was particularly delicious. Instead, I grew to love the simplicity of Isla Mujeres.

On my trip, I fell asleep in a hammock, lulled by a cool breeze. I didn't watch television for a week, a previously unthinkable feat. A dance party started with only a boom box and a few tutus. I spent time with my family. I discovered one aspect of Mexican culture tucked away on a street corner. I would discover one more by the end of the week: paradise does not take out advertisements, it does not sell condos, and it is not all-inclusive. Paradise is finding happiness wherever you are, with whatever ­you have.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Sweetie said...
Jan. 4, 2011 at 9:08 am

Maura..

what a great article!  New Yorker should be keeping their eyes on you!  Seriously, you captured the whole idea/feeling of the Island.  It was fantastic.  I look forward to reading more from you.

M

 
auntiej3201 said...
Jan. 2, 2011 at 6:06 pm
Hey moe - I finally got to read it and it is magnificent. I could not have said it better. It's all about simplicity and peace; that's what keeps me going back. Thanks, love,  Janet
 
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