Most day-to-day Cozumel health problems are easily preventable,
and fall into four categories: Water, Food Preparation,
Spices, and Alcohol.
The water treatment systems in Cozumel produce water
that meets most modern world standards for purity and
cleanliness. However, those ratings are for water as it
leaves the plant…the pipes in-between the plant
and your house may be old and highly suspect. Everybody
(gringos and Mexicans alike) drink bottled water, and
restaurants universally serve purified water from the
standard 5-gallon (18 liters) containers and serve ice
delivered from an ice company that uses purified water
as well. Bottled water is also available at every grocery
store, from the largest to the tiniest, in ½, 1,
and 1-1/2 liter bottles. If you stick to bottled water,
you’ll never have a problem.
FOOD PREPARATION: Most
everybody cleans their food with water treated with Microdyn,
an anti-microb agent mixed with water (it purifies drinking
water as well, so use tap water with Microdyn rather than
bottled water). You can find Microdyn in nearly any grocery
store in Cozumel. Add 8 drops to each liter of water,
and soak your fruits and vegetables in the mixture for
10 minutes. You only need to treat produce that is going
to be eaten un-cooked whole or with the skin…for
example treat celery and tomatoes, but there’s no
need to treat melon. Produce with lots of ‘wrinkles’
is most important to treat…for example, lettuce
and cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, etc.
Basic conditions of cleanliness should
be observed before eating at street carts. Watch to see
that the hands that handle the money are covered in plastic
gloves or bags, or that the person handling the money
is not handling food. We’re aware of many guidebooks
that advise against eating from the food carts on the
basis of health and sanitation reasons, but feel that
their views are a tad over paranoid. All the carts are
regularly inspected for sanitation, and carts serving
poor quality food don’t stay in business long. There
are a few things you might want to do if you’re
concerned. Squeeze some lime (“limon”) on
your tacos before eating them…every cart has limes,
and the juice is a natural anti-bacterial, and adds a
flavorful ‘zing’ to your food. Also, if your
stomach tends to be sensitive, take some Pepto-Bismal
before your meal.
Mexicans LOVE chili…a visit to any supermarket will
reveal an entire section of canned chilis and an antire
section of fresh and dried chilis in the produce department.
They’re used to it, but YOUR stomach is probably
NOT. Go easy on the salsas, at least for starters. Ask
for your food “no picante” (not spicy”)
or with “salsa picante a lado” (spicy salsa
on the side). Again, Pepto-Bismal is good protection for
sensitive (or possibly-sensitive) stomachs.
In our opinion (and we can personally testify to this),
excess consumption of alcohol is probably the number-one
cause of “Montezuna’s Revenge”. When
on vacation, people tend to ‘cut loose’ and
imbibe in considerably larger quantities of tequila, beer,
and other booze than their system is familiar with. If
you’re only here for a week, well, we’re sure
you can justify it when you get back to normal back home.
If you’re moving here, it can be
all too easy to slip into a routine of daily happy hours,
sunset parties, and other social gatherings which revolve
around alcoholic beverages. Monitor yourself, and know
that AA meetings and support are available in Cozumel
if you start to slide down the slippery path of alcoholism.
Mexico safe? Is Cozumel safer than where I live now?
The answer to the first question is “Yes, but it’s
not perfect”. The answer to the second question
is “Yes, probably much more so, but it’s not
perfect”. Mexico is a VERY different country, MUCH
more so than, say, the difference between the U.S. and
Canada. Tourism is a huge industry for Mexico, the third
largest generator of revenue in fact (behind oil and foreign
remittances by Mexicans living abroad), so the country
in general and the towns of Cozumel in particular are
very protective of tourists (even those ‘tourists’
who live here year-‘round). You will see army and
police personnel with machine guns occasionally. This
doesn’t mean there’s a gang of bandits about…it’s
merely a sign that Mexico intends to protect a valuable
asset – tourists.
Are there ‘banditos’ here?
I’ve never seen any, except for the timeshare hustlers,
but that’s not to say they don’t exist. Your
chance of a first-hand experience with violent crime here
are drastically less than in Canada, even more so than
in the U.S. While this is true in most of Mexico, it is
particularly valid here in Cozumel where tourism is virtually
the ONLY industry, and therefore the focal point of the
government’s protective stance.
Taking normal precautions, just like
you would at home, will keep you safe: Avoid walking unlighted
streets at night, keep your money safe, don’t flaunt
expensive jewelry in unfamiliar surroundings. Your safety
is not likely to be compromised by a criminal, but more
often by other hazards which you might not even have imagined...read
Mexicans are aggressive drivers. This, however, seems
to be the norm as opposed to ‘the States’
or Canada where you have a mix of overly-aggressive and
overly-cautious drivers and everything in between, which
is the base cause of accidents. As it is, since EVERYBODY
drives aggressively here, it all seems to flow very smoothly
(though not quietly…Mexicans love to communicate
with their car horns). Indeed, most gringos are amazed
at the considerable LACK of road accidents here, compared
with their daily experiences back home.
Driving at night outside of the city
is widely recognized as something to avoid if at all possible.
This is not due to gangs of banditos setting up roadblocks
to rape and kill, but because stray cows and other farm
animals tend to be attracted to a nice warm stretch of
asphalt as a place on which to sleep (an even more serious
‘roadblock’). Of course there’s also
always the question of how sober the other guy coming
at you might be.
The real danger from traffic is when
you are a pedestrian. Here, the pedestrian does NOT have
the right-of-way. It’s important to recognize this
immediately, and wait for large breaks in traffic before
crossing a street, and to check BEHIND YOU before crossing
for vehicles which intend to turn the corner across your
dangerous can a sidewalk be? The answer lies in the wonderful
lack of lawyers and the legal difficulty in filing liability
lawsuits. Amazingly, in Mexico, a person is actually LIABLE
for their OWN MISTAKES! So forget about suing the restaurant
that served you the steaming hot coffee you ordered and
then spilled on yourself, causing 3rd-degree burns. No
lawyer in the city, state, or country will take your case.
What’s this all have to do with
sidewalks? Well, in Cozumel, they are not always level,
even, or flat. Sometimes they’ve got little holes
in them where the cover for the water access has been
removed, or they’ve simply settled and cracked.
In older parts of town, one section of sidewalk was built
first, but later land-owners on either side decided to
make their sidewalks a little higher, or lower. Sometimes
the sidewalks suddenly become ramps or driveways. Curbs
can be a few inches high or as high as your knee, maybe
with steps and maybe without.
We know that especially when you first
arrive, your tendency is to be looking up and around,
not at your feet. Try to do BOTH: WATCH YOUR STEP!
Keep your head about you! Getting falling-down drunk is
sending an invitation for abuse by non-scrupulous types