Isla Aguada, Campeche, is overlooked by most visitors to the Yucatan Peninsula. Freedom Shores is an ADA standard wheelchair-accessible 4-star hotel and RV park on Isla Aguada. The rooms and the grounds are easily negotiated by travelers with mobility issues. It was designed and built based on the real-world experiences of the original owner, Bill Bussear. Bill was a United States Marine who became a quadriplegic from a diving accident on his way to Viet Nam. Eventually, he moved to Mexico.
Bill knew that people with disabilities had the same desires for adventure and travel as anyone else. With his specialized motorhome, he drove all over Mexico and the United States. He was acutely aware that truly accessible hotels and RV parks were rare, especially in Mexico.
So, he resolved to fulfill his dream of providing people like him a place where they could go, feel right at home and get around with ease. With the dedication and help of his Tabasco-born wife, Thelma, Bill’s dream took shape on the Gulf of Mexico on Campeche state.
Don’t get the impression that the only guests here are impaired. For the able-bodied of us, the rooms are pleasantly oversized, more like suites than normal-sized hotel rooms.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Bill was sent to Crile VA Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio for “rehabilitation.” It had been built during 1944 for German prisoners-of-war. In the summertime the heat was unbearable. Winter was worse. His desire for a better life led him, as it has for so many of us, to escape to Mexico. Here’s his story.
One November morning, the cold woke me. I could see my breath. Several beds to my left was a paraplegic, sitting up on his bed with his blanket over his head. The windowsill at the head of his bed was covered with snow on the inside.
My God, Bob, you have snow on the inside of your windowsill.
He looked towards me at and said, So do you.
Without even thinking I said to him, We better get out of here before we die of pneumonia.
Shivering, he replied, Where do you want to go?
I said, Let’s go to Mexico, I hear the sun shines there all the time.
We left the first week in December. In W. Virginia, we picked up Bob’s able-bodied friend Bill Walters. We crossed the border at Piedras Negras.
There was very little traffic on this highway and when a car came up slowly alongside us, we took notice. It was a carload of young girls and they were waving and smiling at us.
Americanos. Americanos. Where are you going? they shouted.
We told them that we were headed for Mexico City.
Are you going to stop at our town to spend the night? they asked.
We thought that was a splendid idea. Where is your town? I asked.
Follow us and we will show you the hotel, they said.
Primero de Mayo
Their town, Primero De Mayo, was a large village with a hotel/motel perched on the side of the hill about one-quarter mile off the highway. If they were surprised when Bill took our wheelchairs from the trunk of the car, they didn’t show it. Soon, I had a beautiful young girl pushing my wheelchair across the dirt parking lot. When we reached the hotel, two men in uniform came outside and helped us up the steps into the lobby and into the restaurant. The young lady seemed to be very interested in me and, as we ate dinner, we told them all about our lives and they told us about theirs.
For the first time in more than a year, I was enjoying the company of a beautiful young girl who seemed to be genuinely interested in me as a human being and not as some pathetic crippled person.
After dinner we sat in a hotel lobby and talked for several hours before saying goodnight. They told us that they would be back in the morning to see us off. That night before going to sleep, Bob and I talked about how Mexico seemed to be different than the United States. The next morning as we were eating breakfast the girls came and sat with us as we finished. Bill loaded me into the passenger seat and put our wheelchairs into the trunk.
My young lady came over to my side of the car and asked me, Will you send me a postcard from Mexico City?
I told her I would and we drove onto the highway and went south.
I tell you all this so you can try to appreciate my situation. Coming from a place that was not accessible and I was going to a place where the handicapped were rarely visible. Of course, I wasn’t even thinking about that, I was just escaping from the VA hospital.
Flamingos, Dolphins, Stone Crabs
Bill lived a full, rewarding life in Mexico. He passed away a few years ago. His widow, Thelma, continues to carry on the tradition of service and hospitality at Freedom Shores.
Many years passed and Bill built Freedom Shores. Isla Aguada, Campeche is at the “foot” of the Yucatan Peninsula. The water on the Gulf there is just as attractive as the waters all the way up the peninsula to Campeche and Progreso, Yucatan. Pink flamingos, while not as plentiful as in some Yucatan areas, do live in the waters nearby.
You’ll see enough of them (and fewer tourists) to make it a worthwhile excursion. Birders will find a different variety of shore birds than in other places on the peninsula. Local boats will take you out into the bay to look for dolphins and birds, for a much more reasonable price than at the more touristed towns farther north and east. Naturally, fishing is fantastic. The hotel can arrange fishing trips.
While staying at Freedom Shores, Thelma will be your attentive host. The beachside restaurant can meet all your needs while you are there. The combination of seafood she serves is pleasantly overwhelming. Among the delicacies of the area are stone crabs. Few know this, but the stone crabs you buy in Florida are often immigrants from the Gulf of Mexico in Campeche state of Mexico.
Although there is a “direct” route to Isla from Villahermosa, it is a tedious drive on MEX-180. If you continue east on the main highway (MEX-186), you’ll pass the turnoff for Palenque at Catazalá. You absolutely owe it to yourself to visit Palenque, Chiapas. The ruins there are impressive in their naturalness. The jungle there is pervasive, and you can hear monkeys howling in the canopy at night. The atmosphere of the town is borderline mystical. Waterfalls surround the area. Yeah, you really should take this route. Take your time.
When you leave Palenque, continue east for 101 miles (162.5 KM) to the turn north for Sabancuy. The attached map will guide you well.
Most people take a short route from just east of Diesciocho de Marzo on MEX-186 (before Escárcega). Turn north on MEX-259 (although you should NEVER rely on highway numbers in Mexico. Most Mexicans know highways as by their destinations. For example, this is known as the Carretera Sabancuy-Diaz Ordaz.
Go to http://www.freedom-shores.com/ to get information. You can make reservations for the hotel & RV Park at their Houston, TX office by calling William Bussear (Bill’s son) at 951-218-4023. Eight of the RV spaces are close enough to the beach that you can hear the sound of the surf in your unit. All 35 have EWS with 15/30 amps. The sites are attractive and set amidst 50-year-old Canary Island pine trees.
The rooms and showers are all large and wheelchair friendly – up to ADA standards.
It is a good idea to call and make sure they have room for you before heading off the main road. I’d call a few days in advance.
No matter when you get to Isla Aguada and Freedom Shores, you will wonder why it took you so long. You will undoubtedly come back.
“Mexico” Mike Nelson has been writing about Mexico for forty years. He currently offers road logs (guidebooks) for drivers and personalized trip-planning from his website, https://www.mexicomike.com
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