The Cozumel Coast Road is different than most of the drives you'll see in my Great Roads collection, but if there is a single criterion that a road must meet for inclusion, it's memorability. The Great Roads series is intended as an eclectic guide for people who love to drive. It will grow and become an ongoing resource, and we want you to be part of it – if you have a favourite road, tell us about it in the Comments section. Even better, post photos on my Facebook fan page (you can join it by clicking the Like button at www.fb.com/cheneydrive) Who knows? I may drive your road and make it part of the collection.
I didn't go to Cozumel for the driving. I went there to scuba dive with my extended family, and I only had a car for one day. But I found a road that has haunted me ever since.
A great road offers more than just a drive. Instead, it taps into our souls. And so it was on the southern coast of Cozumel, where I found myself on a road that I had never seen before, yet somehow knew.
It ran along the ocean, a narrow, sun-bleached ribbon that followed the curves of the coast itself. To our right was a vista of white sand and the Caribbean Sea, sparkling like a vast blue gemstone. It was spectacular, yet the road was virtually empty – no tourists, no tacky beachside hotels, just surf, sea turtle nests, and the curves ahead.
The driving was outstanding. And I had a powerful sense of déjà vu. Then I remembered a place just like this one: the coast of Ghana in the 1960s, where I cruised with my father when I was a little boy. My father and I drove for miles without seeing another human, and we stopped to surf and snorkel wherever we felt like it.
My dad was long gone, but my memory of him, and that road, was etched into my memory like a high-definition movie clip. And now the Cozumel Coast offered not just a road, but a trip on an avenue of memory. And not just of my dad. We had come to Mexico to heal after the death of my mother-in-law. She had been the last of our parents, and her loss meant many things, including the end of a 23-year family summer trip tradition: driving to her house in Halifax with the kids. (We cooked lobsters and took the kids to the beach every day.)
Losing her, and the life that went with her, was hard. Now we were in Mexico, on a road that took us past beaches that looked like Nova Scotia's might in a dream. We pulled over and swam in the surf with the kids for more than an hour, then rode on in our open-topped Jeeps. The road curved and dodged, then swept north up the other coast. For mile after mile, there were no other people. When we finally encountered a town with crowds, buses and exhaust smoke, the spell was snapped.
The next day, we all went scuba diving, and it was easy to see why Cozumel was a favourite of Jacques Cousteau, the legendary inventor and underwater explorer. We were alone again, in a vast blue submarine cathedral. Was the blue underwater world of the Cozumel reefs better than the Coast road we drove the day before? Not for me.
I only drove that road once, but it was a perfect drive. We had two families, seven kids, and a day to cruise a lost world of sea and sky. That made it a great road in my books.
The Drive: The Coast of Cozumel
Where: The island of Cozumel, Mexico
Distance: approximately 50 kilometres
Road Style: winding oceanfront road, varying pavement quality
What you see: blue ocean, breaking surf, sea turtle hatching areas, palm-thatched oceanfront restaurants, Mexican villages, palm trees
Reason to go: you’ll drive through a lost paradise of ocean and white sand
How to get there: Start in St. Miguel, on the west coast of Cozumel, and head south on the Raphael E. Melgar highway. About 15 kilometres down the road, the resort strip ends. Keep to the right and follow the coast along the narrow two-lane. The road loops back north along the east coast of the Cozumel. Follow it to the Benito Juarez highway westbound, which takes you back to St. Miguel
You can see more photos and video clips from Peter Cheney's drives on his Facebook fan page at www.fb.com/cheneydrive
Twitter: Peter Cheney@cheneydrive
Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/