Friday, April 17, 2015

Yesterday's News is Today's New Business

Sandra Herrera - new store on Juarez north of Elements
Who'd have thought - your morning newspaper and coffee could be turned into art.
What started as method to learn English, reading discarded newspapers from the hotel where her papa worked, has turned into a business for Sandra Herrera. Eight years ago she moved to Isla Mujeres from the silver town of Taxco in the state of Guerrero. 
Soon her sister Monica followed, then her dad, and finally she returned to Taxco to bring her mom and younger brother to the island.
Sandra working on a new item (from her photo collection)
Working at a local café, Rooster on the Go, her boss urged her to learn English. She attended the English School on Isla for a year and a half, and diligently read the newspapers. Slowly, slowly she learned to understand, and then speak the language. And then her life took a funny little twist. She made a small basket out of the discarded newspapers as a gift for a customer at the coffee shop. The recipient was delighted: “It's beautiful! Why don't you make more of these?” Using glue to bind the rolled paper, and coffee to varnish the finished products she created more baskets to sell at the café.
January 2012 Artist Fair at original Barlito's location
Then when approached by Brad and Tiffany Wareing of Barlito's to participate in their first Artist's Fair, Sandra shyly agreed to display her baskets. She was pleasantly surprised when her creations sold at the event. Sandra agreed to participate in the second show as a way to practice her English. A year ago when the Artist Fair changed locations from the street corner in front of Barlito's to the larger municipal plaza, Sandra continued to participate, gaining more confidence and selling more of her art work.
Sandra's new store on Juarez
Recently Sandra decided to take the plunge, opening her own store on Juarez just north of Elements of the Island. She said the scariest part of being a new business owner is keeping up with the demand for new creations, and special orders. 
Even though discarded newspapers are plentiful on the island, she still needs a steady supply of clean papers to keep up. Sandra smiled as she recounted one incident - she was checking various nearby garbage cans for newspapers when a customer from the café recognized her. She laughed with embarrassment, felling a bit foolish at being caught with her hands in the garbage can. If you happen to have newspapers that you are throwing out, why not drop them off at her store and check out her newest creations.
Materials for making baskets (photo by Sandra)
Sandra is normally at her store Monday to Friday from 10:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening, unless she is in Cancun buying supplies.  On weekends she works at Rooster on the Go, situated on the street behind the Artisan's Market near Poc Na. The owners are very supportive of her creativity.
Sandra at a recent Artist's Fair 

When the Artist Fair resumes in the fall, you will find Sandra set up at the municipal plaza with her beautiful creations and a gorgeous welcoming smile. Be sure to stop and say hello. She makes some pretty cool stuff!
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

My favourite - a purse made of paper! (photo by Sandra)

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Friday, April 10, 2015

Tropical creepy crawlies

Sign  - low to the ground so that dogs and cats can read it
Scorpions, spiders, ssssnakes and a lonely crocodile – these are some of the creepy crawlies that call Isla Mujeres, home.
A recent post on a community information FaceBook page tweaked our interest. 
A tourist was aghast at finding a scorpion in a house that they were renting on Isla. The family left the island because they were terrified of scorpions. Someone quipped that maybe they should go back north if they wanted to avoid nasty critters. Well, unless you are in the far-frozen north, up near where Santa Claus lives, that won't work either. 
Our black scorpions look much skinnier than this one
Scorpions are found in every country from the tip of South America to central British Columbia Canada, from Australia north to France, Spain, and across all of Europe and China. There are more countries where they do live, than countries where they don't live. You can run but you can't hide.

Black Widow & Brown Recluse spiders
And spiders, they live in almost every habitat on the earth. The only places where there are no spiders are the north and south polar regions, the top of highest mountains and in the oceans. A few spider species have even adapted to living in the rock and coral crevices of the intertidal zone.

A Scorpion-Hunting Snake, looks like the snakes on Isla
Well then what about snakes? The 2900 species of snakes are found throughout the world except for Antarctica, plus the islands of Greenland, Ireland, Iceland and New Zealand. They live in forests, prairies, grasslands, and several species live in lakes, rivers and along the ocean shorelines. The two types of snakes that I have heard about on Isla are both non-poisonous, including a native boa constrictor that typically is not a concern to humans – small pets maybe, but not people.

Scorpion habitat - National Geographic map
As for your chances of dying from a bite or sting? According to the internet statistics for just the USA, out of 140,000 reported snake bites per year about 5 people die. 
Other stats include about 11 people a year die from scorpions stings, and one or two a year from spiders. The death rate for car crashes on the other hand is 3297 people per day in the USA.

Common sign on golf courses in southern BC Canada
For the most part these critters are more afraid of you than you of them. They will scoot, slither and crawl away to avoid confrontation with predators and humans. Don't get me wrong, some of these guys can be downright nasty if they do bite or sting especially if you are allergic to their toxins. If you do have a close encounter of the bad kind and are having an adverse reaction, you should get to a medical clinic as soon as possible. Knowing what bit you will be a big help in getting the proper treatment.
So, how can you avoid these bad guys? If we are working outside, we always try to wear a pair of gloves and never put our hands into crevices where we can't see what we are touching - that includes gopher holes on golf courses!
Lonely fourteen-foot crocodile - escaped for one day
Before putting on a pair of shoes we give them a vigorous shake to dislodge unwanted visitors. Give them some warning you are headed their way and they will scurry off in the opposite direction.
Usually we find one or two scorpions in our courtyard every year. Since my first encounter with a scorpion in southern France in 1991, I have perfected a live-capture method. 
I place a wide-mouthed drinking glass over the critter, and then slip a piece of paper or thin cardboard underneath. This traps the scorpion or spider inside the glass. I then walk over to an empty lot and set it free. Killing them just doesn't work for me.
Crowd of on-lookers watching escaped crocodile
Stepping on a nest of fire ants – now that can be very unpleasant. These tiny guys are aggressive, and like to build nests underground. The nest entrances are usually an inch or two across, and hard to see, until you step on it. Then look out! The soldiers will swarm your legs biting as they travel upwards. I am allergic to their venom, and must apply ice packs, plus take an antihistamine as soon as possible. The bites take about two weeks to disappear.
Crocodile wranglers - captured and returned to its habitat
But what about that lonely crocodile you ask? He (or is it a she?) lives in the swampy lake at the old Pirate Mundaca Hacienda located in the middle of the island. Two years ago during a particularly rainy October it made a break for freedom, scooting down the road past the big church, right on by the new cemetery, and into the ocean.
Free at last! Except someone reported its breakout. Soon there was a gaggle of curious people, the police, the marines toting big guns, and a boat load of fishermen chasing the reptile while it swam towards Playa Norte and a buffet of tasty pale tourists. It swam so quickly past our house I couldn't get a decent photo, so I hopped into the golf cart and drove ahead of the swarm of on-lookers. Eventually the crocodile was netted in the bay near centro, and returned to the lake at the hacienda. Occasionally I wonder, what exactly does that crocodile feed on, all by itself in that not-overly large lake?
Crocodile habitat at the Pirate Mundaca Hacienda
So you see, we do have lots of interesting and somewhat dangerous things living on Isla, but changing your vacation plans just to avoid the creepy crawlies seems like an over-reaction. 
Come back! Give us another chance, you'll love it here.
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

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Friday, April 3, 2015

A dog's eye view of Isla

Sparky tells his story about Isla
Hi! My name is Sparky, and I thought you might be interested in a tour of Isla, from my point of view. 
Oh sure, my humans are always taking pretty pictures of what they see, but I think it's time to show you my island, Isla Mujeres, or as I call it: La Isla de los Perros.

Sparky and his driver
I'll start my introducing you to some of my friends, and then we'll explore my favourite places in my golf cart. Yup! It's my golf cart. Well, that's what I tell my friends. 
Okay, maybe it's not really my golf cart. We get to use it when it when other family members don't need it, and besides, dogs can't own vehicles. I won't tell if you don't tell. It will be our little secret. Okay? Great!

Bowser, Sombra & Sparky on the beach near our house
My closest friend is my housemate Thomas the Cat.  
He's pretty famous. He has his own book written about him, but I know there is a second book being created that will star both Thomas and me. 
That's right! I'm going to be famous too, soon, very soon.  I think it is going to be called: The Adventures of Thomas, Sparky and the Pirate. Pretty cool, don't you think?  My other two good friends are Sombra and Bowser.  They both live quite close to my house.  We have lots of fun playing together.
Sparky and his girlfriend Lola at Playa Norte
Since I adopted my people last year I have had lots of fun experiences. Every day I swim in the ocean. We used to go early in the morning to Playa Norte so that I could have a swim without worrying about big waves slapping me in the face. I don't like getting salt water in my eyes. And sometimes at the beach I would meet other dogs who were walking with their humans. We would have a bit of fun playing in the water before we went off in separate directions. However, the rules have changed. (I don't like rules. They ruin a dog's fun.)
Running in mud is almost as much fun as swimming
All the signs posted at Playa Norte have that weird symbol – a circle with a red slash through a picture of a dog. Apparently it means no dogs allowed. But the words underneath say that if my people keeps me on a leash, and picks up my – um, poop, I can go to the beach. But whenever we try to go for a swim we meet up with all sorts of cranky folks who don't want me there – so we have found other places I can play.

Cliffs at Punta Sur
My second favourite thing to do is run. My humans sometimes drive me in my golf cart to Punta Sur – at the southern end of the island. There is a trail that follows the tops of the cliffs, where I can run as fast as I want and I won't bother anyone. The only thing is I have to remember not to get too close to the edge of the cliffs, because somethings things break off and slide a long, long way down to the deep water. I wouldn't want that to happen to me. I can swim, but the waves at Punta Sur are really big, and sometimes there are huge sea turtles or dolphins swimming there. Scary!
 Carnitas Zinapecuaro - tasty pork, and fresh juice
When my people take me out in the golf cart I like to hang my nose out over the edge and let my Spaniel-type ears flap in the cool breeze. It's a great way to see and smell all the interesting sights on the island. 
Just up the street from our house is one of my favourite stops. It's the place where they sell cooked pork. My human sometimes stops on our way home and buys a small package of the delicious meat. If I am really really good, she will give me a little piece as a treat. I can also woof at other dogs as we pass, letting them know that I'm out in my golf cart. Look at me! Some of the dogs get jealous, and chase us, barking loudly. I don't let it bother me. I just look at them running along, tongues hanging out and think, lucky, lucky me.
Lucky, lucky me!
Besides the golf cart, did I mention that we owned a boat? Well, we shared it with other people but I think it really was my boat. Boats are as much fun as golf carts, you get to see different parts of the island, and you can go swimming anywhere you want. No rules! 
One day we traveled around the island. We saw Playa Norte, Playa Media Luna the turtle release beach, our house, Punta Sur, Garrafon Reef Park, Playa Indio, and then motored back to the marina in Makax Lagoon. 
We got quite wet when the waves splashed us, but it sure was fun.

Sunset cocktails at Ballyhoo
Another place I like to visit is the corral on the south-west side of the island – Isla Mujeres Horseback Riding. There are a bunch of pretty horses that people pay to ride, which, I guess, is interesting if you are a human. 
I am more interested in the chickens. I want to chase them, but I'm not allowed. It's those darn rules again: No chasing chickens! Pfft!

Chillin' at the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill

Another fun activity I enjoy is going out to lunch, or sunset cocktails with my humans. So far I have visited Barlito's @ Marina Paraiso Hotel, Ballyhoo Restaurant, and the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill. 
As long as I am on my leash, well-behaved, and my human picks up my – um, you know, deposits, I am welcome. Some times on hot days I sit right in front of the big fan at the Soggy Peso, and cool down while my people are chilling with a cold beverage.

Roof-top alarm system
Since I have mostly told you about different places on my island, I think I should also mention some of the jobs that we dogs have. We are all watch-dogs, and alarm systems, giving our humans a warning bark if someone comes near the house. 
One really lucky guy, a black and brown German Shepard, works for the Navy. He is in charge of sniffing out drugs that people might try to sneak onto our little island in paradise. He's a very serious guy, and doesn't like to have pictures taken of his face, so I can't show you how good-looking he is. You will just have to take my word for it. 
Camera shy Navy drug dog
There are also two pretty Golden Labradors who guard the Navy airport runway and tower. 
I'm a bit jealous of their important jobs, but then they don't get to ride around in a golf cart so I think I have the better deal.
Anyway, that's my view of Isla Mujeres. If you see me out and about on the island, stop and say hello. I'm very friendly.

Woof, woof, oooooo!  See ya soon!
Sparky (aka The Sparkinator!)

Sparkinator sharing his boat with his lucky humans

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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 Diving Instructor 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.”
Diving Instructor 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 buoy and then to the descend line, as it is called in diving lingo, 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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