Here, all rental cars are two-wheel-drive. Shop owners disengage the four-wheel-drive switches on Jeeps, and then tear the switches out. “People kept going off road on the northeast corner of the island and getting stuck,” says the expat who owns the rental shop where I’m sign- ing papers. I listen sympathetically. Then three friends and I load up our water and snacks, hop in the Jeep and drive northeast.
I’m not a rule breaker, but we’ve gotten our fill of downtown Cozumel and need something out of the ordinary, even if it’s off the map. We cruise along in our emasculated Jeep, through the last settlement of huts, chickens and a kiosk where Cokes are sold, before the pavement ends. The wheels next hit nothing more than a sandy path bisecting desert flora. Oh, I think there might have been a sign that said “Do Not Enter.” We crest a small hill and look over the rugged, isolated dunes. It’s beautiful and, need I say, all to ourselves. So we keep going. After a mile or so, we stop to drink some of our water (it tastes amazing out here) before turning back. This is when the Jeep’s wheels get buried up to their hubcaps. We silently survey the situation, hands on hips, before starting the muggy, hour-long walk to the main road. There, we flag down a group of guys with a shovel and a four-wheel-drive truck. It is not a rental.