The town hits the ocean at Playa Norte, a well-known beach with palapas-covered bars looking out over crystalline waters. After Hurricane Wilma blasted the Yucatan in October 2005, the government spent $21.5 million to rebuild Cancun's beaches with tons of sand dredged from the ocean. Carlos says that here on this beach, the storm actually brought them more sand.

We come upon a fishing contest in progress. Vendors, surrounded by large inflatable beer cans, are selling food and drinks. Pescadores stand in a line on the pier, dead fish at their feet, waiting to have their catch weighed. First prize is a Ford F-150 pickup.

Behind a food booth, two women are drinking cans of Modelo and hacking off the head of a barracuda that looks to be about six feet long. They smile and wipe the sweat from their foreheads.

"Try some of this ice cream," says Carlos, pointing to a woman behind a cart. "It's homemade." It's some of the best I've ever had. We watch the contest for a bit and then head off to find Mundaca's tombstone.

A pockmarked stone wall rings the municipal cemetery at the north end of Isla Town. Sidestepping a young couple from Chicago who are squinting at their maps, I enter through a creaky metal gate.

It feels like the 1700s, except for the electricity cables snaking in between the crypts. Carlos motions me down a narrow pathway to one tomb that looks older than the rest. Two out of four pillars are broken off. Symbols of trees and a cross are chiseled into the top.

Mundaca carved this tombstone for himself, with his own hands. He added the date 1877, which would have been three years before he left for Mérida. On one side, he etched the pirate skull-and-crossbones symbol, hoping to be remembered as something other than a slave trader. He also inscribed a special message for La Trigueña.

"On this side," Carlos points, "It says 'As you are, I was.' On the other, 'As I am, you will be.'?"

We don't talk. The graveyard is totally silent, and I think, "My God, he really was crazy about her."

Unless they were looking for it, nobody would notice this strange monument to the love of a Mayan girl. Mundaca did not engrave his name anywhere on the tomb. He didn't need to. La Trigueña lived her entire life on the island, knowing his final words to her were right here in the cemetery. A goodbye note for eternity from Fermín Mundaca de Marechaja, the lovelorn pirate of Isla Mujeres.



Know Before You Go...

Flights to Cancun
American Airlines offers 10 flights daily to Cancun (four from Dallas/Fort Worth, one from New York's JFK, four from Miami, and one from Chicago O'Hare).

Ferries to Isla Mujeres
Boats depart from four places in Cancun: Gran Puerto, Puerto Jaurez, El Embarcadero, and a car ferry from Punta Sam. Single-person fare is 35 pesos (about $3.50).
www.islamujeres.info/planning/ferries.asp