Friday, March 27, 2015

Paradise Hidden

Sunrise, at our house
Would you like to join us for diving lessons?” Nicole asked.
Sure!” I had been planning for more than a year to try diving, but had been putting it off since I had broken a toe in July the previous year, and it still hurt to flex my toes. 

Stephanie, Kara, Nicole, Diane & Lynda
When asked by Lawrie's niece and great-niece to join them I immediately agreed to give it a try. 

Nicole and her teenage daughter Kara had scheduled a lesson at Paradise Diving, which is part of the Marina Paraiso Hotel complex, here on Isla.

We assembled at the big pool at the hotel with Dive Master Stephanie Hammond de Boboli. She instructed us on safety, signals, equipment and rules. We then took a few minutes to organize swim flippers, wet suit, the vest (Buoyancy Control Device), weight belt, mask, snorkel, and of course the full air tank. Okay that's about forty or more pounds of equipment to pack around. Three of us were newbies, and the fourth Diane, was doing a refresher course on diving. Stephanie patiently ran us through several drills in the pool, getting us comfortable with the equipment, and a few emergency scenarios than a break for lunch. “Remember, no alcohol with lunch,” she reminded us with a grin, “you can celebrate after-wards.”
Dive Master Stephanie Hammond de Boboli in centre
And then it was time to head out to our two open water dives; the first one at the underway museum MUSA, and the second one at a nearby reef. We trouped down to the dive boat, and set off on our adventure. The day had started off calm and sunny, but while we were running through safety drills in the pool a south-west wind had strengthened, creating five to six foot swells. 

Our Captain Josue Aranda Ponce!  Great job!

I love boating and a bit of bouncing around in the boat was not uncomfortable. 

It did surprise me though on how many snorkeling tour boats were moored in and around the underwater museum; the 700 plus statues are thirty feet underwater, and the big waves would have made it almost impossible to see anything from the surface. Not my idea of good snorkeling conditions.

Other boats moored for snorkeling and divers
On board our dive boat we zipped up our wet suits, donned the weight belts, flippers, masks, BCD vest and the air tank. 

Ugh, it's very difficult to move around on the boat while encumbered with all this equipment. 

Kara - getting ready to do the backward-roll
So how do we get into the water? Stephanie expertly demonstrated the backward-roll technique that is necessary to exit the boat safely. Anyone who has seen Jacques Cousteau films or any movie involving scuba divers will be familiar with the procedure – however, my brain queried me tensely: “Are you sure, really sure? That looks dangerous.” Well heck, here goes. One hand on my regulator, one hand on my diving mask strap, cross my flippers and lean back. Not bad! Much easier than it looks. And then I was swamped by a big wave. Fortunately I had my regulator in my mouth and didn't ingest any of the seawater.

My heros! Kara and her mom Nicole - naturals!
Once the four of us were in the water we pulled ourselves hand-over-hand through the waves along the mooring line to the marker buoy and then to the anchor line that would assist us in a slow and smooth decent. Kara disappeared. Nicole disappeared. Diane was having issues with her weight belt, and while trying to sort that out got a big mouthful of water. Eventually she disappeared down the line.

Stephanie - relaxed and slowly rising to surface
Me, I got down about 7 feet, and discovered that I was breathing too hard, over-inflating my lungs. My weight belt and assorted gear couldn't counteract my body's natural inclination to bounce back up to the surface. I tried a second time, couldn't equalize my ears, fussed with my mask and BCD valves, and finally decided – not today. Stephanie was very understanding when I said I was heading back to the boat. I did take a quick look around while I was under the waves, and watched in complete envy as Nicole and Kara swam along the bottom, gracefully as two lithe dolphins. Darn! That could have been me!

One of Kara's beautiful underwater photos.
Diane was still having challenges with her weight belt and Stephanie decided to cut the first dive short to give everyone time to get sorted out. Once everyone reconvened on the boat, we moved over a few feet to a beautiful reef. This time only Nicole and Kara went with Stephanie on the dive. Both Diane and I decided to wait this one out on the boat. 

Forty five minutes later Kara and Nicole popped back to the surface, grinning and babbling about their experience: “The fish! The colours! The coral! The sea urchins! Fabulous! Amazing! Beautiful!”
By now it was late afternoon, most of the other boats moored in the area were making preparations to return to Isla Mujeres, or to Cancun. We all had such fun, and enjoyed the day completely. I am very proud of Kara and Nicole. They are both naturals at this sport. 

Am I disappointed that I wasn't brave enough to finish the experience? A little. 

But, there is always another day, another time to try again. 

There is a beautiful hidden paradise beneath the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Eventually I'll get to experience it.

Que tengan lindo día
Lynda and Lawrie

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Friday, March 20, 2015

It took a neighbourhood to make a cake

2012 - the last time I made these cakes!
I've been obsessing. Obsessing about a particular type of cake – Tropical Carrot Cake – stuffed full of plump raisins, chopped nuts, juicy pineapple chunks, and sweet coconut. Oh. So. Good.
Finding all of the ingredients was a bit of a challenge. I posted on my FaceBook page asking friends for the Spanish words for baking soda and baking powder so that I could find the items in the store. 
The responses flowed in, including where to find them; baking powder is usually shelved with flour and other baking supplies, but baking soda is in the pharmacy section of a store. Weird but true.
Lynda & Patty
Then several friends emailed offering to share their supply of baking soda, or baking powder, and oh, did I need anything else? Raisins! I couldn't find raisins on the island. No worries, Patty had extra raisins and her friend Steve arriving from Cancun would find me anything else I needed. Patty and Steve dropped them off at my house along with the baking soda. 

Dèanne & Brent
Dèanne promised to pass along an extra unopened baking powder. A short time later the bell on our front gate announced that her esposo, Brent, had arrived with the promised ingredient. 
That's the joy of living on a small island, in a close knit community, friendly, helpful and caring.

Checking my list of ingredients I realized I was still missing one item – liquid Coconut Cream for the icing. Rats! I started walking to the big grocery store about fifteen minutes south-west our our house, passing neighbourhood friends. “Hola Lynda” (pronounced Leenda) they greeted as I walked past. “Cómo estás?” In the grocery store I met up with Chuck who offered me a ride home. I love this island.
Marcy & Chuck's kitchen - baking the cakes
On to the next step. Sifting, measuring, mixing the ingredients into the batter and it's final ready for the oven – but wait, we don't have an oven. We seldom bake and having a hot appliance in my tropically-warm kitchen just seemed so unnecessary. After a quick walk up the street to Marcy and Chuck's house carrying a big bowl of cake batter, pans, and assorted utensils, I popped the cake pans into their oven. 
An aromatic thirty minutes later and it was time, time to retrieve the pans, and pop in three more – because, of course, we needed two cakes not just one. While I waited for the oven to do its magic we relaxed on the deck, watching the multi-coloured Parrot Fish surf in the waves and the awkwardly graceful Pelicans gliding overhead. Living here is very different than our Canadian lives: wonderfully different.
Sombra waiting in Chuck & Marcy's golf cart
Eventually all the batter was cooked, and Chuck gave me a ride in the golf cart back to our house. It was much easier than walking with two cakes, two bowls, and other assorted oddments. 
I smiled as we drove past Patricio's construction crew, working on a new house on our street. Several of the guys caught the scent of the freshly baked cakes, their noses twitching like our little terrier-cross dog, wondering where and what that great smell was. Sorry guys, not this time. I'll bake you something else – soon.
Later in the afternoon the cakes had cooled I slathered on the icing made of cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and the coconut cream. 

This is a cake that took a neighbourhood to create, and it was shared with the neighbourhood. Friends and family, nieces and nephews, old friends, and new friends – it was the best cake ever!

Linda G's birthday party with kids and grandkids

Que tengan lindo día
Lynda and Lawrie

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Is Living in Paradise Expensive?

Morning in paradise
As expats who moved to Isla Mujeres a few years ago, we were definitely not prepared or well informed on what to expect with regards to the cost of living in Mexico.  All that we had heard was that electricity was very expensive.
Okay, we could deal with that by building our home using energy efficient methods, but we really needed a few comforts such as air conditioning, an ice-maker, wine fridge …. you get the idea. 
We budgeted our money and figured out approximately how much longer we were going to be around, then tried to live well and die broke! (Sorry kids.)
Typical monthly water bill, in pesos
A few of our anticipated expenses fooled us: the cost of our property taxes is $66.00 dollars a year, electricity averages around $75.00 dollars a month, water and sewer about $9.00 per month, wine and beer …. let's just say a whole lot less than Canada.
We have also discovered the Mexican seniors' card, available to residents over the age of sixty. There are discounts galore for movies, museums, parks, buses, and some air travel. Heck, even the passenger fares on the ferries are half price. Health care is also available and the cost per year is an affordable $400.00 dollars for the most expensive category: very old.

2012 delivery of a new refrigerator
On the other hand the ongoing maintenance of our home is more expensive.  It's best if you are a little handy and can do the small repairs yourself. Everything metal or electronic takes a beating from the salt in the air.  
As you may know from previous blog posts we have had to purchase, in the last seven years, three refrigerators, two dishwashers, and countless microwaves.  It's the cost of living on the Caribbean coast.

Neighbourhood day at the movies - VIP Cancun
For entertainment besides frequenting our favourite bar, the Soggy Peso, we can go to Cancun to see first run movies (in English) at the VIP theatre for about $8.00 dollars. The VIP has waiters who will bring you food and drinks, even sushi to your individual Lazyboy recliner. It's a great way to feel totally spoiled.
So after living here for a bit our budgeting went out the window. We have decided we can live to a ripe old age, have lots of fun, and maybe, just maybe have some left over at the end. 
Sunset - March 2015
The bonus is we live in a very healthy environment. Our stress is way down. The food is fresh and tasty. And best of all the humidity seems to make wrinkles disappear.

Yup, it's working for us. Great country, great people, great fun.

Que tengan lindo día
Lawrie and Lynda

Today was Lawrie's turn to write!

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Isla Mujeres, quirky, haphazard, and delightful

Interesting old building in Centro
I have an accumulation of thousands of photographs taken over the past few years, photographs that I am always eager to include in this blog, to write about, to explain. 
When stumped for an idea I will sit and peruse the files, clicking and scrolling, mentally sorting out the where, when and why of the photos. Usually an idea for the weekly blog post will pop into my head after a few minutes contemplation. This time, Lawrie, was casually looking over my shoulder and suggested a focus for the article just as the idea was formulating in my head! Damn! He's reading my mind again.
Fruits and veggies - near our house
We were both thinking about the contrasts on the island; the big and the small, the expensive and the economical, the grandiose and the modest. 
Contrasts such as the unlit, narrow aisle leading into a quaint little neighbourhood tienda, a small local store providing fresh vegetables and a few assorted dry-goods to customers within a few block radius. 
Chedraui Super Store 
Contrast that with the large, bright Super X-Press, or Chedraui Super Stores offering new motorcycles, alcohol, baked goods, vegetables, meats, dairy products, or pharmaceuticals. Everything from refrigerators to toothpicks.

Expensive plaything
Then my eyes flicked over a series of photographs featuring sport fishing boats, yachts and cruisers ranging upwards to over a hundred feet in length. 
Grandiose indeed! 

Five fishermen headed out at sundown
Contrast those luxury playthings with the average twenty-six foot long open-topped work boats, loaded with fishermen, nets, hooks, and bait, heading out at sundown to in hopes of catching fish to sell to local restaurants.

Modest and cozy

Or housing. On Isla there are a number of humble little old-style houses made from wooden stakes or concrete blocks protected by roofs made of corrugated cardboard, impregnated with waterproof tar. These tiny homes are just wide enough to comfortably hang a hammock at night. 

Colourful and charming!

In the colonias, the thickly populated neighbourhoods, a myriad of modest, brightly painted abodes lend a colourful haphazard appearance to narrow streets. 
Cozy and charming these houses vary in shape and size with sufficient room for a family and pets to congregate for meals. 

Architectural wonder - Villa del la Vida
And then there are the splendorous shapes with commanding views of the turquoise ocean - the architectural wonders of shiny glass, and glittering metal, and dazzling white walls.
Contrasts; every where you look. It is part of the charm of Isla Mujeres, quirky, haphazard, and delightful.

Hasta Luego
Lynda and Lawrie
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Friday, February 27, 2015

A road trip to our favourite places

In centro Izamal Yucatan, Mexico
I wonder if Sylvia knows where we are?” I joked as we turned down yet another tiny, unmarked street in the colonial town of Izamal. 

I was referring to John's IPhone GPS. We were looking for the route back to highway #185, and Valladolid.

Franciscan monastery in Izamal
About a three-hour drive from Cancun, Izamal is one of our favourite places in the Yucatan peninsula to take visitors. Settled in the 1540’s by the Spanish, the city and the Franciscan monastery were built directly on top of an old Mayan temple. The monastery and many of the buildings in centro have traditionally been painted a mellow egg-yolk gold. Even though the reason for the monochromatic hue has been lost over the decades the golden colour gives a lively, vibrant look to photographs.
Our favourite - Kinich Restaurante
Lawrie and I typically travel with maps but since we have been to Izamal a few times in past years we thought we knew where we were going, and he normally has a fined-tuned sense of direction. However, when driving on roads that wind through cramped, narrow streets on flat featureless land – the topography looks the same, all the time. Full from a spectacular lunch at our favourite eatery in Izamal, the Kinich Restaurante, we were a bit drowsy and probably missed the rare and sun-faded directional signs. So, John and his Iphone came to our rescue!
Stained glass window - Izamal
When asked, Sylvia the IPhone politely informed us we were headed in the wrong direction. She then dispensed step-by-step instructions for multiple turns onto tiny one-way roads, including exactly how many meters before our next turn onto yet another dust-covered alley wending our way to the intersection for the highway. I take back every sarcastic comment I have ever made about people relying on GPS! Sylvia the Iphone is a very knowledgeable lady.

Valladolid in the evening
Getting into the centre of Valladolid was easy; we have been there many times and we had good instructions – the pen and paper kind – for finding our hotel. The Casa Tia Micha is a tiny B&B a few steps off the square. With a total of three guest rooms available is probably the tiniest hotel that we have ever booked. The front entrance is quite plain, with a black metal gate opening up to a delightful entrance and courtyard. The B&B is beautifully decorated with great attention to detail; comfy beds, good showers, a complimentary bottle of wine and two nice wine glasses. Just perfect!
Our room at Casa Tia Miche - Valladolid
In the morning co-owner Rosanelly Ayora Sosa treated us to a tasty three-course breakfast of regional dishes, a great start for our day of roaming the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. Settled in around 600, and abandoned in the late 1500's, Chichén Itzá was re-discovered by European explorers in 1842. The entire complex was buried under an accumulation of trees, vines, and other assorted vegetation that had grown unchecked. By 1923 the Mexican government was interested in excavating the main parts of the city. Excavation projects are on going at the site as more structures have been located, some buried underground, some deep in the jungle.
Our travel partners - Maia and John at Chichén Itzá
We arrived at the complex around 9:30 in the morning. We had three hours of relative peace - to take photos, read information plaques, cruise past the hundreds of vendors and leave before the dozens of tour buses from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Mérida disgorged their sun-baked passengers.

Taberna de los Frailes - Valladolid
Turning back to Valladolid we headed to our other favourite restaurant the Taberna de los Frailes for a late lunch. Serving tasty regional specialties the Taberna is a great place to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. The eatery is located in a sub-district of Valladolid called Sisal, beside the Convento of San Bernardino de Siena. The Convento (monastery) was built during 1552 to 1560 by the Franciscan monks and was in use until 1755 when it was abandoned. A self-guided tour of the property is a good way to walk off a few lunch calories.

San Bernardino de Siena
Early the following morning we enjoyed our last tasty breakfast before setting off on our return trip to Isla Mujeres. We decided to drive the “libre” road, the toll-free slower route, and more interesting than a four-lane, dead-straight, nothing-to-see route.

TriciTaxis - Leona Vicario

We bumped our way over the topes (speed bumps) of each small village, passing plant nurseries, handicraft stands and small restaurants. In Leona Vicario we were surprised to see motor-cycle based TriciTaxis, buzzing around, carrying students to and from school, shoppers, supplies – anything. Cool idea!

Casa Tia Miche - Valladolid

And then finally we were headed home on the car ferry, content, tired, and ready to chill out for a few days in our island paradise.
Love road trips! And really love getting back to our home.
Hasta Luego

Lynda and Lawrie

Back home to Isla Mujeres

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dancin' in the streets, all night long!

Super Heros Dancin' - photo Maria Medina Figueroa
Carnaval! (Or as we say in English: Carnival!)
Crazy colourful costumes, pulse-pounding music and exuberant dancers – it's the best time of the year to visit Isla Mujeres. 

2015 King and Queen of Carnaval

The annual five-day event kicked off on Friday night with the traditional coronation of the kings and queens representing various segments of the island population. 

The final coronation for the night was the official King and Queen of the Carnaval for 2015.

Yadira Medina Velazquez in the middle
Early on Saturday afternoon I popped out to a Kyra Thompson Drennan and Bruce Saaranen's house to watch our friend Yadira Medina Velázquez and her amigas dance in the street. When I arrived Freddy Medina pointed out that a latch was open on the bottom of my camera. I looked inside – empty! I had accidentally left the camera's memory card in my computer at home! No memory for my camera – and apparently I have no memory. Fortunately Janet Davison had a card that I could borrow for a few hours. Saved! Thank you! On with the show!

Dramatic black and purple costumes
Thumping music, smiling people and the ladies swinging and swaying to the tunes. Awesome. The twelve women danced several times in the hot afternoon sun, stopping only briefly for a costume change. The first costume was dramatic purple and black, the second cheerful lime green and hot pink. These impromptu and intimate performances are, for us, the best part of Carnaval. Its a chance to get to know the dancers and their friends. Too much fun!

Saturday night in Centro - waiting to dance

Later on Saturday evening we trekked down to centro with John and Maia to watch the Cuban dance band. We arrived around 9:30 and the square was packed with people. People watching the dancers. People buying food from the street vendors. People enjoying a warm Caribbean night. We watched a number of dance troupes run through their energetic routines until around 11:00 in the evening. By then we were too tired to wait any longer for the Cuban band, and trekked back home. 

Red Devil Angels & White Saintly Angels
The few taxis that we saw were overflowing with passengers. No chance of a ride that night. Fortunately we are only about a twenty minute walk from centro, but when you are sleepy that twenty minutes seems like twenty hours.

On Sunday Alexis and Darren Grabby asked us to stop by their house. A neighbour across the street is in a dance troupe, and her group was putting on a show for the neighbourhood. The ladies were a bit late arriving, but eventually a collection of red devil angels and white saintly angles showed up on a convoy of motorcycles. They looked a bit weary, however, they cranked up the tunes and ripped through several dances with big smiles on their faces.

Kids troupe - dancing on another street

While the red devils and white angles were performing at Alexis and Darren's casa, we noticed a second group arrive just a block away. 

I snapped a few photographs of the young dancers. They were all about elementary age; a dozen young ladies, and one brave young man. He seemed to be enjoying himself: a lot.

Kids, kids, kids!

And then it was time to scoot downtown to see the first parade. We met up with a dozen or so friends on the upper deck at Jax Bar & Grill, settling in to wait for the 3:00 o'clock start time.…...... waiting, waiting, waiting. No one was particularly worried as the time was consumed with eating good food, and drinking cold beverages. It's a very pleasant way to pass an afternoon with friends.

King & Queen of Carnaval - totting heavy headdresses
About an hour past the scheduled start time we could hear the police motorcycles sirens clearing the roadway, and luring sunbathers off the beaches and swimmers out of the ocean. Parade time!

The first group to arrive were the reining King and Queen of Carnaval, toting heavy feathered headdresses and brocade costumes, followed by their feather-bedecked entourage. 

The teenager dance troupe

Then the other groups flowed past – each stopping at the reviewing stand to dance for the judges. Teenagers in orange, black and red. Youngsters in blue, red and gold. Grandmothers in sparkling pink, yellow and purple. Thirty-something women in lime green and orange. Supermen – plural. Wonder Women – plural. 

Lime & Orange costumes - very tropical

By the time Carnaval is over the roads will be littered with small decorations that have fallen off various costumes. Hundreds of brightly coloured feathers are already fluttering forlornly on the edges of the road – so many hues I wonder if a flock of psychedelically-dyed poultry had recently met its demise.

Grand mothers kicking up their heels!

The five days flow together in a confusion of colour, motion, and music and soon it will be done for another year. We are already looking forward to Carnaval 2016 starting Friday February 5th. See you there!
Hasta Luego
Lynda and Lawrie

Worn out Super Heros!

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