The Squirrel of the Caribbean.

As our plane was coming down in Cancun and I saw all of the scrubby, foreign trees lining the city, I immediately began dreaming of all of the exotic, wildly colorful snakes that must be in those trees.

I was so excited over the prospect of spotting one because I absolutely adore reptiles and amphibians. It’s not “I love reptiles and I want one as a pet”, but more of an “OH-MY-GOSH I AM LUCKY ENOUGH TO HAVE SPOTTED ONE IN THE WILD!!!”

My reptile/amphibian adoration has definitely ramped up in the past few years in correlation my hiking obsession. It’s like a treasure hunt thrill to spot a lizard, or even better a frog, or even better a turtle, or even better a snake. It’s as if I saw something beautiful that I wasn’t supposed to see, and it makes me supremely happy.

However, I did not spot a single snake while I was in Mexico.

But.

I hadn’t even considered the complete covering of Iguanas there. I really had no idea.

On the morning of day two, we went on a run after breakfast. It was actually our second run of the trip, as we had gone on one soon after arriving. But that run had been right after an extremely rare island thunderstorm, so all we could see on that run was the massive amounts of humidity-induced sweat waterfalling onto our eyeballs.

Oh – and a dead fish on the sidewalk. But I don’t know if that counts as a nature spotting.

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(But it did count as a Mexican Roadkill sighting for my friend Tanya.)

But that second morning, we set off down a dead end street. It was quiet and residential – perfect for experiencing the island on foot.

About halfway into our run, I spotted him.

A GIANT, MASSIVE, GARGANTUAN, DINOSAUR-SIZED IGUANA. Just sitting, sunning himself on someone’s concrete wall.

I squealed and slid to a stop and ripped my phone out of my arm band. I couldn’t believe my luck. This felt rarer even than spotting a snake. It was absolutely chart-topping on the I-spotted-a-reptile-in-the-wild continuum of thrill.

IMG_9525 2sI know that he doesn’t look dinosaur-sized but photos don’t do size justice and things always look more impressive on vacation.

I hung around and tried to get close enough to pet him, but he finally crawled down the other side of the wall, disgusted at my tourism.

Later that afternoon, we set out on a photo walk. I wanted to take some pictures around the island, hence the walk – so I could tote my big camera. But before we even got out of the gate of our hotel, Chris began pointing wildly and telling me to shush.

There were TWO iguanas on the wall along the resort driveway. A MASSIVELY LIFE-CHANGINGLY AWESOMELY HUGE one, and a smaller one, obviously being pursued by the MASSIVE one.

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It was a romantic resort…who could blame him for trying?

But as soon as I grabbed my camera and crept closer, the pursued female took that as an excuse to scamper away.

Massive Dino Iguana was NOT amused by me ruining his game.

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He puffed out his body and began grunting at me.

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Chris was a few yards away (no interest in being eaten by a massive iguana) and asked, “Is that the Iguana grunting at you??” Yes, yes it is.

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With every careful step I took toward him, he became more bowed up and in attack-form. He was NOT a fan of any human that would ruin his Lady Hunt like that.

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But I slowly inched my way in front of him and he relaxed his puffy muscles and just glared at me, letting me feel the full force of his ire.

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Chris, of course, began photographing me photographing my friend, assuming that they just might be the last photographs he ever had of his wife.

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And plus, it would go well with his photography-of-my-photography collection – for him to show the children one day.

This is the time your mom stood on uneven igneous rock filled with living sea creatures to take a picture. She might have ripped her pants getting down there.

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And this is your mother on the beach taking idyllic ocean pictures that would make all her Facebook friends hate her.
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And this is your mother right before she nearly fell into the sea.

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And this is your mother taking pictures of the very dinosaur that would momentarily eat her for dinner.

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But he didn’t take me out.

When we got back to our hotel room and I edited my Angry Iguana Photos, I was even more taken by his charm. His fantastically creepy circle eyes…his spiny back…his bizarre ear holes.

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I was still under the impression that I’d been blessed to see some unusual creatures…until our run the next day. At which time I lost iguana count.

I saw this guy (the cinder blocks really puts into perspective his size, I felt,)

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Then this massive guy, who was my favorite with his wall-coordinating green splashes,

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And because he puffed out, grunted, and raced me – me running alongside him on the sidewalk, him running on the wall. Until he slipped and nearly fell onto my head and I screamed.

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And then when we got to the other beach, this guy, proving once and for all that iguanas can enjoy a good view, too.

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As I was photographing Beach Iguana (and Chris was photographing me photographing Beach Iguana),

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Chris noticed that there was yet another Iguana to the left, on the other side of the beach wall.

I walked over to check him out, and realized that this iguana was not, in fact, enjoying the view of the ocean.

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CREEPER.

(Which if he was the same iguana for whom I ruined a date the day before, I guess he could have had some unresolved needs…)

I sent a picture of Creeper Iguana to Not-Crazy-Renee.

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I assumed she was joking and moved on.

…Until we got back from Mexico and went to dinner with Renee and her family and the whole thong extravaganza came up and I discovered that NO – she had ACTUALLY THOUGHT that was me, and that my text was saying that Chris took a picture of me like a sleazeball. Like for reals my friend thought I went to Mexico and jumped into a string bikini thong and somehow magically acquired perfectly seared brown buttcheeks. In fact, she thought I was just reiterating how nice my angles were when someone that was not her photographed them.

It’s good to know what your friends really think of you.

But this story isn’t about Not-Crazy-Renee. It’s about Iguanas.

(Or are all stories about Not-Crazy-Renee? I’m not sure.)

We took a cab ride back from downtown that day, and I decided to count Iguanas. On the three mile ride, I saw six, just hanging out on the sidewalks and grabbing some sun like a Mexican buttcheek.

We also had noticed many concrete walls with glass shards decorating the top. At first, we assumed they were to keep the bad guys out. But as the trip went on, we decided they must be to keep the iguanas off the walls. I asked one of our waiters, and whether he was humoring me or not, he said yes, they’re totally to keep the iguanas off the walls.

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On our final night in Mexico, we took the best run of the entire trip. It was sunset, and we explored fully the meandering, and in some places crumbling, trails along the oceanfront.

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I took several kinda-official-stairways up to caves. Each cave had multiple holes in the wall where Iguanas poked in and out. I lost count of the iguana sightings early on in the epic run.

The walkway even went through a cave itself, where, on the other side, was an iguana, just watching the sunset.

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I sat down beside him and watched him watch the sunset. HE WAS MY FAVORITE IGUANA OF ALL TIME.

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He and I became immediate soulmates. And I knew right then that I was meant to live in a place where Iguanas were as common as squirrels.

Vacation Paralysis.

My suitcase is still sitting in my floor, virtually untouched, except to retrieve my makeup and my razor.

(I need a couple other things but I’m having trouble finding them. I could probably discover them if I unpacked, but no.)

I finally finished downloading and editing all my photos, but now they’re laying in my computer in a gigantic heap, begging for the accompaniment of cohesive sentences.

Oh, vacation. It’s so hard to recover from.

I know. Y’all feel ridiculously sorry for me.

So I’ll just start writing, in bits and pieces, and maybe eventually I’ll work my way through our five days of complete bliss. Just don’t expect it to be cohesive. Because paralysis.

But we can do it. We can work through this together. If we really put our minds to it and focus.

So we dumped the kids off in their own paradise Tuesday night, then drove to Atlanta, from where we’d be flying out the next morning.

(For the record, the children have been counting down to this trip for longer than Chris and I have, and they weren’t even invited. But they knew they’d be staying at Gramamma and Pop’s for six days, which is a new record for them, and nothing could possibly be better than that in all of life.)

(Because they haven’t discovered the Caribbean yet.)

This trip was for the celebration of our fifteenth anniversary, as I’d been begging Chris to take me to a Caribbean Island for a while. After a few years of trying to find a place that fit within our budget and desires, and failing miserably, we roped in a travel agent. We told her we wanted a resort that was in a place where it was safe for us to run and explore without getting kidnapped or maimed a few blocks off the oceanfront.

She gave us two choices, one of which was a cruise, and we’re convinced we’re not cruise people, so she basically gave us one choice, which is exactly what we wanted her to do – Palace Resort on Isla Mujeres. She’d been there before, she vouched for the natural beauty and safety requirements, and she knew exactly which week we should go to have the cheapest flights.

It was exactly what we needed to finally enable us to leave the country.

Isla Mujeres is a small island 20 minutes off the coast of Cancun. It is only accessible by ferry, is a few miles long, and is quite safe (one of our cab drivers told us, “Oh yes totally safe! I’ve been here 28 years. In Cancun, someone gets killed every hour. Here – never! Totally safe!”), and it absolutely was the idyllic exploration landscape that we wanted.

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In fact, it was even more perfect than we could have thought to ask for, because we were quite literally nearly the only people exploring the island. Apparently, normal people come to all-inclusive resorts to sit on the beach and have food and drink brought to them all day – which was, for sure, delightful. In the environment of beached, immobile Americans, we were so bizarre that the staff giggled every time we left the resort in our running clothes.

But the complete solitude of the fantastically beautiful scenery only added to its complete intoxication.

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And the thing is, there were trails here. Beautiful paths carefully hewn into the rock ledges. As if some ancient culture many moons ago had actually been these strange running types, intent on exploring and appreciating their surroundings.

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These paths meandered through fascinating caves through igneous rocks, encircling both ends of the island’s lonely, lovely point.

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These paths weren’t always in ADA compliance, but were passable with careful steps and a feigned ignorance of the Spanish language.

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They had the most mindblowing view of the sunset on one side,

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And the very first view in Mexico of the sunrise on the other side – although I was never up early enough to see it. I did, however, enjoy watching a Dad and his son fishing  from a rock outcropping on that other side. That was good enough.

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Although the gorgeous water, rough rocks, and untouched sand were completely addictive,

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We enjoyed the run to those places just as much.

Tip-Toeing through the cemetery,

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Which, by the way, had a mighty fine oceanfront view of its own,

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Visiting the funeral home at the top of the cemetery,

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Also with THAT VIEW,

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Running past the dump and holding our breath,

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(ALSO OCEANFRONT. Seriously guys this was the dump’s view…)

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Peeking down all the interior streets,

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Gawking at the churches,

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And saving schoolchildren’s soccer balls from rolling down the street and into…you guessed it…the ocean.

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Real estate was a bizarre thing on the island. Both of these properties were equidistant from the beach,

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And well-armed walls hiding absolutely nothing were quite common.

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From what we could gather, there have been hurricanes here. And those hurricanes have left deliciously mysterious abandoned properties that incidentally go nicely with ancient tales of buried treasure.

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The island is absolutely aching for the outdoorsy community to discover it, buy up all of its ailing properties, and truly appreciate the stunning landscape.

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…Or leave it as our little secret. Either way is fine with me.

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More to come…and I haven’t even started talking about my new best friends the giant iguanas, or the fact that Mommy Guilt doesn’t even exist here.

For my Wistful Future Self.

A few weeks ago, I shared this video on Instagram. This is Noah’s current favorite phrase to me, thanks much to Farkle from “Girl Meets World.”


(You have to click it to finally make it stop…or it’ll just continue in an eternal loop.)

(As a note, I tried to get him to say “Hellllllooooo GiANN!!!” to the babysitter the other night but Noah told me, “No. NO. I…I just…I could NEVER do that.” So it’s nice to know I’m special.)

Anyway.

This moment made me realize that I rarely video my kids anymore. I don’t know why – I just don’t. I tried that one second a day trend last year and I made it to January 9th before giving up in frustration. Video is just not my strong point.

But, I don’t want to be sad one day that I don’t have their adorable little kid voices recorded – you know, when I’m old and empty nesting and telling other frantic frazzled freaking out moms, “You be sure to enjoy EVERY MINUTE!! It goes by in a flash!” and they flash their middle finger at me.

Yeah.

Anyway. Noah has been kind enough to take matters into his own hands – to help me remember him as he is now forever. He’s learned to audio text me from his iPad. And I figured out how to save them onto my computer.

Sometimes, his messages will remind Future Me of the phrase that was the soundtrack of my life.

And sometimes, his  messages will remind Future Me of how long he could draw out an interruption of, say, me teaching his sister math, just to tell me…

(And then, you know, I feel all the guilt for being frustrated for math interruptions when all the kid wanted to tell me was that he absolutely adored me.)

And then some of his messages are so fantastic, so wistful, so delightful, that they will be the very ammunition that makes me tell that poor young mom to enjoy EVERY MINUTE.

Because I will miss being worshipped endlessly like this when he is a college student who never has time to call his Mom unless he runs out of Mac and Cheese.

But Noah does not, however, leave me hanging in this flux of eternal sentimentality. He doesn’t mind at all reminding me of what else he might like to call me.

But who knows. Maybe I’ll be so crazy that I’ll wish for that one day, too.

Surely not.