It’s Christmas Eve morning and Matt has sent me into town with the boys to get groceries, find internet to get the number for T-Mobile to find out why our data isn’t working, and possibly get some Christmas presents for the boys since we don’t have any yet.  He is on the boat trying to fix the engine.  We are 2/3 of the way there when the dingy engine dies. Really?

I take out the oars and begin to row. There is a strong current setting south, and it is quite an effort to move us across to shore. I don’t have much choice of a place to land and end up on some flat rocks near the seawall. I drag the boat as far up as I can but there is only a loose cinderblock to tie the boat up to. As we walk away I have a sinking feeling that the tide is going to come up and sweep the dingy away.

But we have Christmas shopping to do. I hurry along the seawall without the faintest idea of where I’m going. We are in San Miguel, Cozumel and there are 4 cruise ships in at the moment, so I know there will be things to buy. I see a gift shop and usher them in there. It is full of highly breakable things and I spend my time telling them to look, not touch. There is no chance that I can purchase anything without them noticing.

I manage to get them out of the gift-shop and down the road. Rylan has a particular way of dragging his feet, looking anywhere but where he is going, and finding every whale shark or dolphin painted on a sign. There is no rushing this kid, and he really has no concept of the trouble we will be in if the dingy floats away.

After stumbling along blindly for a few minutes, I see a man in a dive shop and ask him where I can find a grocery store. “Just three blocks up this street, turn left.” I’m sure I have a crazy look in my eye and he doesn’t even try to sell me a snorkel trip.

I pick Rylan up and start hustling up the road. It sure feels like more than three blocks, but somehow we find it. I am amazed by all the fresh produce and products. Compared to Belize and Guatemala, this is fantastic. Everything is about a quarter of the price as Belize so I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

I try to stay focused on what we need for the holiday, but I haven’t really had much time to think about it, so I just run around throwing stuff into my basket. I can’t stock up too much because they might come aboard the boat and confiscate any fresh produce or animal products. I maneuver around the crowded store as quickly as possible, making sure to pick up the promised juice boxes I’ve used to bribe the kids.

We are out of the store and heading back to the dingy to see if it has floated away. I am not only carrying Rylan, but 30 pounds of groceries. Graysen is hustling to keep up behind me, but I can’t really see him so I have to ask every few minutes if he is there. This is the most cardiovascular exercise I’ve had in two months and I can sure feel it. Huffing and puffing, we finally make it back down to the seawall and I let Rylan down from my shoulders. The boys are running ahead but I am too tired to keep up.

“I see the dingy!” Graysen calls. Super.

Now we just need to get back. I manage to get the dingy back in the water and the boys and the groceries into it. We are fighting the current to row back to the boat. It feels impossible, as we are anchored too far out, way beyond the other sailboats, since we had to sail in last night. I am really hoping for a rescue when I see a guy from one of the other two sailboats get into his dingy and come toward us. “Do you need a tow?” he asks. Yes. Yes, we need a tow. Thank you Christmas angel!

Back at the sailboat the engine is running again. Matt found several clogs in the fuel line. The wave action must have stirred up the sediment in the tank.  I am so thankful once again that he can fix things like this. He also fixes the dingy engine while I am making lunch so that he can go to town and finish the Christmas shopping. I put the boys down for their nap and begin tackling the crazy mess in our boat after three days at sea.

When Matt gets back we decide to go out for dinner. We are both too tired to think about cooking. I throw on a dress over my sticky body and try to tame my sea hair.

The streets are full of revelers. People are doing last minute shopping and kids are playing in the fountain in the square. At the restaurant we order extravagantly. Cheese dip, margaritas, the Mexican sampler platter, and fish tacos because Graysen has to have seafood. The bill comes to about $30.

We make our way through the square and back to the dingy. We drive back to the boat in darkness. As we prepare the boys for bed, I remember that we don’t have a tree to place presents underneath. We’ve been collecting tiny shells and looking for branches to make a tree, but have not found any. There are not many branches on tropical islands.

I am desperately looking around the boat for anything we can make a tree out of, when I spy the cinnamon tree branch I brought home from touring a nursery in Guatemala. It is dried and gnarled. Matt tried to throw it overboard a few times already. I fill a jar with the tiny shells and stuffed the branch in. There, a Christmas tree!

When the boys are safely asleep, we get out the presents and wrap them in newspaper. We put an R and a G on the gifts so they can tell them apart. We can’t leave a plate of cookies out for Santa or the ants will get it so we get a plastic container and put some crumbs in it. Matt even pours a glass of milk and drinks it. Then he takes a cardboard star wrapped in tinfoil that the boys made and sticks it to the top of the tree. He puts out two candles to light in the morning.

I don’t have a single gift for Matt. I had lots of thoughts of what I might want to give him, but most of it was simply not possible because of lack of time or resources or availability. I’m feeling pretty shitty about our thrown-together Christmas as I crash in bed.

In the middle of the night I wake up with the idea to make Matt a pirate hat out of a big straw hat someone left on our boat. The thought won’t leave me so I get out of bed and grab the hat from over where Matt is sleeping. I sew up the three sides in the bathroom and use the last of the newspaper to wrap it. I also remember some chocolate I bought back in Guatemala for everyone. Then I head back to bed.

In the morning, I hear Matt’s alarm going off in the other room. He wanted to wake up before the boys to light the candles. It goes off for an hour. He must have gotten up in time because I hear Graysen’s voice. “Santa added a star to the tree! And he lit TWO candles!”


I make some cinnamon rolls as the boys open their presents. Somehow, despite the lack of preparation, it is magical. The decorations are crude but meaningful. The gifts are neither elaborate nor expensive, but everyone loves them. We have a restful day in Cozumel’s harbor, recovering from our passage, and enjoying each other’s company, in the true spirit of Christmas.



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