Even today, the woven-grass palapas, which shelter bars from the sun, are built by Mayan construction crews using ancient techniques. And don't even get me started on Cochinita Pibil, an amazing local pork dish prepared with Mayan spices.

Maybe Mundaca also liked the Pibil; history doesn't tell us. But what is known is that he fell madly in love with La Trigueña, and in her honor, he named the entrance archway to his hacienda El Paso de la Trigueña, "the Step of the Brunette."

Unfortunately, as is so often the case, money can't buy love, especially between a young girl and a middle-aged guy trying to impress her with his money. La Trigueña would have nothing to do with Mundaca and instead married a local closer to her own age.

Dejection festered in his heart, and by all accounts, he went off the deep end. While La Trigueña raised her family on the island, the jilted pirate puttered around his garden and walked the beaches, stuffing stones in his pockets. If metal detectors had been around, he probably would have had one.

In 1880, Mundaca left Isla Mujeres for the town of Mérida, approximately 200 miles to the west, where he passed away that same year at the age of 55. Some guidebooks suggest he died alone in a brothel; others claim he succumbed to the plague. Roger, though, tells me that Mundaca eventually married another woman, so who knows what really happened. The ruins of Mundaca's hacienda are located near Playa Lancheros, on the southern end of the island. A brochure describes some gardens and pathways and a small zoo. Carlos tells me we'll drive by, but that there's really nothing to see: a few stone foundations and some cannons propped up to give it that pirate feel. "It's not that old," he explains.

When we pull up to the crumbling brick wall, the gate is locked. Closed for the day.

The Mexican Navy established a base on Isla Mujeres in 1949. Underwater conduits brought fresh water and electricity from the mainland. An elderly taxi driver informed me that the island became further modernized as Cancun underwent aggressive development in the mid-1970s.

We pull into Isla Town, the main village, and walk down the narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants. Unlike Cancun, there are no thundering discos or chain restaurants with a giant frog perched on the roof. The pace is refreshingly ­­laid­­-­back - brightly colored crafts and curios, racks of Che Guevara T-shirts, and owners muttering "Cuban cigars, guys?" Locals sit languidly on steps, chatting in the shade. A teenager whizzes by on a Segway, dialing a cell phone.

Italian food is very popular, and Carlos tells me that, in general, Europeans prefer Isla Mujeres to Cancun because they want a more authentic Mexican experience. Except for the Italian food, I suppose. On the other hand, Americans gravitate to the more commercialized Cancun, where more English is spoken - especially in restaurants that have a giant frog on top.

We walk through a sunbaked plaza filled with pigeons, cats, and squealing children. Some youths are playing basketball. Carlos says the local team is the best in all of the Yucatan. When I ask why, he smiles, "There's nothing else to do."