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Fox Hill - Jewels
Fox Hill, Freelance Writer and Photographer

I’m walking along one of the roads that run parallel to the waterfront, but it’s not one of the roads a tourist would be likely to see. There are no jewelry stores and no T-shirt shops. No one is asking me to come inside because they “have the best junk,” or “speak broken English perfectly.” No enormous white ships can be seen sitting offshore like office buildings lying on their sides. None of the things twenty thousand cruise passengers a day might remember about this island are on this street, but it does have a few attractions of its own. I pass a bougainvillea, pouring over a mission style wall like a waterfall, exploding with red flowers. The color is so intense in the setting sunlight that it doesn’t even seem real. On my left now is a bright orange house I never tire of seeing. The locals are fearless about their use of color in decorating, with vibrant yellows, blues, and reds everywhere. My neighborhood back home was brown and gray. The sidewalk under my feet is mostly cracked concrete, but in the center of every rectangular section is a small, bright blue square of tile, set like a jewel. Jewels of a different kind for those of us that pass this way.

Yin and yang, good and bad: each needs the other. I enjoy the frequent blasts of beauty I see while walking here all the more, because ugliness is not that rare either. Cozumel is never neutral, and never dull. One minute I might pass a house or restaurant and exclaim, “Oh my god! What is that smell?” as the intoxicating aroma of a delicious meal being prepared escapes into the air. The next, while passing a vacant lot, might produce the same exclamation -- but for a different reason entirely -- as I smell something dead and decaying amongst the garbage and empty beer bottles. It’s a feast for the senses here, but good or bad, everything is set to maximum. When I returned home for a visit last summer, I was struck by how ordinary everything seemed. There were identical houses with identical lawns, no highs and lows, no wild oscillation in the range of sights and smells. Beauty isn’t as valuable without anything to compare it to.

I walk past a municipal jungle, my name for the empty lots dotting the town. Green rectangles of unrestrained nature, they are usually bordered on four sides by man's handiwork. In these places nature makes a stand, and fights back with a ferocity that can only be seen in the tropics. I smile at the notion that the whole island looked like this once, and would look like it again if it were not held at bay every single day. Sky blue flowers, the size and shape of a petunia are everywhere, giving the jungle the look of an out of control garden. A young egret stands near one border of this wild spot like a garden ornament: slim, graceful, and white. But it’s real, and a reminder that nature is patiently waiting to take over if it gets the chance. I often hear we need to save the planet, but I think the planet will do just fine by itself if one day we aren’t around to interfere; it’s we that need to be saved from ourselves.

I heard a parable once about an old man standing near the gates of an ancient walled city. A family approached carrying all their belongings in a wagon. The father spoke to the old man, telling him they were looking for a new place to live, and asking him what he thought of this city. The old man asked, “What was the place you came from like?” The father answered, “It was a terrible place, dirty, ugly, and full of liars and thieves. No one was kind and everyone looked out only for himself.” The old man replied, “You won’t like it here then, because this city is just like that.” With this, the family moved on. Soon another family approached and asked the same question of the old man, as they too were looking for a new place to live. Again, the old man asked, “What was the place you came from like?” They answered, “It was a wonderful place, clean and beautiful, full of loving and kind people that were always ready to lend a helping hand.” The old man said, “Then you will like it here, because this city is just like that.” Well Cozumel is just like that too, and like any other place, it is exactly what you make of it.

The sun has plunged toward the sea now, seeming to set faster here somehow. The sky to the west is on fire with yellow and orange and red. The clouds look like something from an oil painting, illuminated from within as if they are the source of this light and color. I’m on my way to a local nightspot. It’s not some noisy bar full of twenty-somethings, swilling beer and flashing their tattoos and body piercing. It’s a quiet oasis of cosmopolitan flair called Ambar, another example of the surprising range of this place. I walk through the lounge; past eclectic art and machine turned tabletops, thinking this place would be at home in the most hip of districts in any metropolis. I head through the back door into a garden seating area, where jazz plays softly from speakers hidden in the plants. I love the way the architecture in Mexico blurs the distinction between indoors and out. My wife is waiting for me at one of the tables, with two ice-cold bottles of dark beer at the ready. The moon is full, or nearly so, and those areas not lit by the garden lights are bathed in bright blue moonlight. I shake my head, thinking that back home the snow is two feet deep and it’s thirty degrees below zero. We clink our bottles together, making a toast, and drink deeply; it’s hot out tonight.

Travelers to places like this probably go home thinking they have a notion of what it’s really like here. They tell their friends and family they have been to Cozumel. Sadly though, they have likely seen only a sanitized and carefully prepared set, designed to empty as much cash from their wallets as possible. Avenida Rafael Melgar, the main shopping street along the waterfront, is all of Cozumel most people will ever see. They are warned not to wander onto the dangerous back streets, and to be wary of the local eating establishments. Patent nonsense, as this is the safest place I have ever been, and I’d rather trust local restaurants (that feed their friends and families day after day) than tourist joints that serve you once and never see you again. Make the effort to break free of convention and see the real Cozumel, because you won’t find it on Melgar. Sure, you might see some garbage on the streets, or smell something bad, but you might see some unexpected beauty too.

My wife and I are walking home now. The streets are quiet but for the occasional taxi driving by. They still flash their headlights in case we want a ride. I guess we’ll always look like tourists no matter how long we live here. Overhead, the moon is bright and clear, and seems impossibly large. Closer to home, we are passing by another municipal jungle when something catches my eye. We stop to look more closely, and within the densely packed leaves and vines is a natural marvel. Hundreds of tiny flickering yellow lights are moving this way and that throughout the plants. They are fireflies, and they look like Christmas tree lights that have been freed, as if by magic, to float away from their wires and do as they please. I stand and stare in wonder. It’s dark, and though I’m sure this jungle is just as full of trash as all the rest, it’s the fireflies I will remember. Each one of us lives in a world of our own making, given form by the power of our thoughts and perceptions. We can see the beer bottles and garbage, or we can see the flowers, birds, and fireflies: the jewels of a different kind. Each one of us is in charge of how we feel.

I feel lucky. ©2004 Fox Hill  
Other Interesting Perspectives by Fox Hill you might Enjoy!
 Fox Hill - Weather Or Not
I'm lying in the sun on the rooftop deck of our house. Directly above me, the sky is clear and blue. It could be any other beautiful and carefree day on the island of Cozumel. But it's not...
 Fox Hill's Cozumel
Fox hopes to share his view of Cozumel with you through his column and photographs and welcomes your comments.
 Fox Hill - Under the Big Top
The hands of the clock don't move any slower here, they just don't matter. If you're married to the idea of firm schedules and on-time performance, you'd better stick to Cozumel as a tourist destination.
 Fox Hill - Tapestry
Cozumel is draped in a rich tapestry woven from sounds, ranging from the annoying to the sublime.
 Fox Hill - All Around Me
Freedom is a thing so clear and light, that you donít notice when it starts to slip away; and once lost, itís not easy to find again.
Personal Experiences
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It is clear you have a love of teaching as an art in addition to photography... My expectations for this course were only slightly more than: This is a camera, point at fish, shoot...However, this course was outstanding and could appropriately be titled: An Introduction to Becoming a Professional Photographer. Fox Hill Underwater Photography Class Rory Tucker ~ Not Given

As a published underwater photographer with 15 years experience, I was amazed by how much I learned from your underwater photo course. Your depth of knowledge, friendly teaching style and technical tips made the day a great investment for me. I would highly recommend your course! Thank you! Fox Hill Underwater Photography Class M. Cowman ~ Fla

The material presented was so much more than I would expect. Everything was explained clearly. The manner in which it was taught made the concepts easy to understand and follow. I learned a tremendous amount and I look forward to significantly improving my photographic efforts and experience. Fox Hill Underwater Photography Class Ryan Meglathery ~ Not Given

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