Friday, October 4, 2013

The Little Devils of Isla Mujeres

Delivering vegetables to Hidalgo Avenue
“Bicycle?” he asks with a smile, pointing at his specialized vehicle a diablito (little devil).  It’s a combination of a cart and a bicycle welded together in an ingenious fashion.   

The maleteros, bellboys, or bicycle-couriers are a hard working bunch of guys who meet all of the arriving and departing passenger boats.  They offer their portage services to everyone.   

On this particular day two of the maleteros have been hired by a local restaurant owner to cart his heavy purchases from the passenger boat a few blocks to his restaurant on Hidalgo Avenue.  Boxes of ripe tomatoes and aromatic peppers are stacked on top of sturdy cartons of supplies.  Sacks of green cabbage heads and crisp white onions are balanced to one side – the bright red diablitos are loaded and ready to go.  Both maleteros are wearing the sponsored t-shirt of the day, this one from Casa España.  It’s a clever way to identify the legitimate porters.

Bellboys (porters) loading packages on UltraMar
On the other side of the bay at the UltraMar docks in Puerto Juarez, the white porters’ tunics with navy trim, and “Bellboy” embroidered over the pocket strive to create a hotel-resort atmosphere.  This subtle visual reference is presumably designed to ease the concerns of tourists as most travellers will have encountered a bellboy in a safe and familiar hotel situation.  

Puerto Juarez - hotel-style uniforms for porters
To complete the resort illusion the porters use a traditional hotel cart to move packages, not the bicycle-cart diablito.  They will offer to transport heavy bags and purchases down to the docks, stacking luggage in piles for easy loading onto the boats. 

Embarking passengers wait sheltered under large canvas sunshades – chatting amiably with friends if they are familiar with the routine, or eyeing their luggage fearfully if they are new to the island. On the Isla Mujeres side of the water, the procedure is similar, but we have noticed that people are less worried about their possessions on the return trip now that they know the system.

Passengers waiting to board at Puerto Juarez docks
It is always a bit amusing to see a tourist react with suspicion at the suggestion that they turn over their precious baggage to a stranger.  Although to be fair, the first time we arrived on Isla we didn’t feel comfortable enough to let someone walk off with our suitcases.  

Now, we are so accustomed to the service, we gladly let someone else cart our heavy items.  Disembarking on Isla, we hand over our goods, describe in Spanglish where our vehicle is parked and part company.  We walk out the passenger exit, while the maletero must go around to an exit for the diablito.  We meet up again a few blocks down the street where we indicated the golf cart was parked.  For just a few dollars it’s a nice treat, especially for my shoulder and knee joints! 

Diablitos - bicycle/cart combination 
On Isla there is the added service of the bicycle-couriers transporting heavy items directly to hotels in centro, or the customers’ place of business, or to a near-by vehicle.  

And as with every form of transportation on Isla, people become very inventive on what will fit on a diablito: 50-inch TV, propane tanks, groceries, large pails of paint, pet carriers, lumber, mattresses, and of course suitcases.  Some enterprising operators also use their diablito to transport family members when it is not being used to earn a living.  Mom and the kids pile in the cart portion and papa provides the pedal power on the bicycle.

Maleteros - use  hand carts as well as diablitos

Maleteros, bellboys, and bicycle-couriers work for tips.  Be generous.  It’s a hot and physical job.

Hasta Luego 

Lynda and Lawrie


Gailmarie7 said...

I love, love LOVE your blog! Always learn something new...never knew those trikes were cal disabilities! Thanks so much!

Lynda & Lawrie said...

Good morning Gailmarie: I think you meant to type "diablito" not disabilities! Too funny! You must have auto correct on the device you were using to comment. Thanks for reading the blog. Cheers Lynda

Anonymous said...

When we two oldies went to Coba last year, we were transported by diabolito. Island Nana

Lynda & Lawrie said...

Hi Island Nana: Cool, in the cart, like a rickshaw? Cheers L

Karen said...

We have always used the wonderful services of the maleteros and diabolito. Our arrival at the dock and subsequent stay at Ixchel was too far to carry our own heavy luggage but too close to hire a taxi. We followed our bicycle guy and tried to engage in some sort of conversation. He would often laugh at what we thought we were saying. He would ask us when we needed to depart (day and time), he would tell us his name, and he was ALWAYS waiting for us at the prearranged time and place. I have made a trip to Isla four times so that would be my definition of "always". There were usually three or four ladies, or in one instance a married couple, and the luggage was heavy and plentiful. We so appreciated this service and particularly loved being able to provide some work and money for the local residents. Our tips were always $5.00 per bag, but now I wonder if that was considered too cheap?

Lynda & Lawrie said...

Hi Karen: Thank you for the interesting comments. We tip around the same amount per bag. I would imagine that the really large, you-could-carry-a-body-inside-sized, suitcases would merit a bit more. LOL Cheers Lynda