Mena "Pulleras" Villanueva - "I was born here when we were only 500 people"
Holbox is a beautiful small island north of Cancun, not yet very touristic but already beginning to grow. It is 42kms long, but only a tiny part of it is populated.
It was definitely one of our favourite places in Mexico.
1. What is your name, where do you come from and what do you do for living?
My name is Mena Villanueva, I was born here in Holbox. I worked for 30 years as a fisherman then I retired, I bought my boat and now I work in tourism. I take tourists on tours to see the whale sharks, to fish or just to go around the island.
Working in tourism is much easier, I got tired of fishing after so many years, it was a very hard way of living. I used to go fishing for lobster, I dived 10 to 15 meters, with my lungs, to catch them. At the time, a kilo of lobster was worth 25 pesos, now it’s over 500, and this is all thanks to tourism. I’ve been working with tourists for the past 10 years, I’ve had a lot of fun and met many interesting people.
2. What advice would you give to someone like us that just arrived here?
Well, I always try to explain that Holbox is a very quiet island, fascinating. People have to take care of it and make sure it continues being a super safe place, with no corruption or crime. Before people came here for a short vacation but in the last 5 years, tourism works by season. People come here all year-round, there are a lot of things hotels, restaurants and shops under construction, there is work for everyone and the island is growing fast.
3. What would you say is your favourite food?
Las Planchas is the best restaurant in Holbox, for its fish and seafood. It’s the best! They cook the fish any way you like, breaded, grilled, fried, in soup, in ceviche, etc. I love fish, I always cook ceviche for the tourists that come in my tours, I cook it very well!
4. What's your favourite place here?
For me, the whole island is perfect. I love the beach, I know every corner and every person on this island. In Holbox we are 2000 people, all pure family, we all know each other very well. Everyone knowns my by “Pulleras”, someone gave me this name when I was a kid, but I don’t even remember why. It’s very hard for me to say one single place, everywhere in Holbox is amazing.
5. What would be the perfect Sunday afternoon plan?
Wander around the island, all day I walk around the island, talking to people, I’m always very relaxed. I have a taxi as well, so when I’m not in the boat I dedicate some time to my taxi and driving people around. I love it because I keep meeting people.
I used to have a fishermen’s group, we called ourselves “Los Cachules”, and we used to fish a lot of sharks. We would sell them to people interested in their skin. But now not anymore, there are very few sharks and way too many fishermen. We used to go out in small boats made of wood, now the boats are made of fibre.
6. What makes you happy?
The island. The people from here. My boat. My taxi. My work. Before, when I was fishing, life was hard, I had to go out in the open sea in a very small boat, it was dangerous and tiring. Now I have no worries, I live with my wife and I have my three kids living on the island, working as school teachers. They understand me perfectly!
7. If could live anywhere in the world, where would you?
In Holbox without a doubt. Every time I leave the island to go somewhere else I get bored after two days and I cannot explain why. I love being near the beach, I was born here when we were only 500 people living on the island. Holbox was only palm trees and beach, people would live off of fishing and the coconuts. Now it’s full of tourists and people from Europe, but it is still a magical place!
8. What would you like to ask our next host?
Why did you get into tourism?
Tips & Recommendations
Rent a golf cart and drive around the island. It's the best way to get to know it.
If it's the right season (from May to September), go see the whale sharks.
Try the Colibri Restaurant for breakfast, it's delicious.