Friday, August 28, 2015

Musical Mariachis and Traveling Tortugas

Warm Caribbean nights.  

Great music.  People-watching, oh, and baby turtles!  

Could it get any better?

Four vocalists - great voices
On Tuesday night the Mariachi Band of the Fifth Naval Region (Mariachi de la Secretaría de Marina) performed in Centro as part of the annual Isla Fest, a summertime celebration of the anniversary of Isla Mujeres.  

Four vocalists Lieutenants Nancy Armenta, Victoria Tapia Master and Gustavo Lopez plus the leader Captain Eduardo Navarro Graciano lit up the stage with their huge smiles and rich voices. 

Lawrie and I arrived a few minutes ahead of the scheduled start time and were surprised that there were so few people in the audience.  

By the time the group started – precisely at eight o’clock, military time – the chairs were filled with navy and city officials and numerous locals.  

And then the music started.  Wow!  You could tell the group of eighteen musicians had been together for quite some time.   Everyone was relaxed and performing at their peak.  It was a great way to spend an evening.  Perfect!

As for the tiny turtles, as most of you know we live in a house on the beach in Mexico and summer time is turtle nesting time.  
Kim Bailey & Celeste Reed - Nashville 

The next night, Wednesday evening, as we were getting settled to enjoy a glass of wine and watch the sunset we heard a voice yell: “Hey, he’s got a baby turtle!” Lawrie and I dashed out to the beach to see what was happening.  

Three visitors from Nashville had caught a local canine in the act of gulping down a hatchling.  Too late!  He licked his lips, checking around for another tasty treat but the Nashville folks were fiercely guarding the nest. 

Bert Bailey - grinning like a little kid.

Unfortunately, this year, none of the eggs from the nests along our stretch of beach have been collected allowing numerous neighbourhood canines to dig up eggs and sometimes the babies.  According to my neighbor Ronda Winn-Roberts’ blog, Isla Mujeres News & Events, SEMARNAT the government office responsible the ocean and shores around Mexico, in conjunction with the local turtle farm, have hatched out approximately 33,000 baby turtles this summer.  A record breaking 130,000 hatchlings are predicted for this year, creating a huge space problem.  The turtle farm is overflowing with nests, baby turtles, and eggs.  There just isn’t any more room for eggs.  Lucky for us; because of the overcrowding we were able to experience a hatching firsthand, to see the baby turtles digging their way to the surface. 

Celeste Reed, taking babies to the water
Typically we wouldn’t interfere with the process but we didn’t want any more of the babies to become snack food for the lip-licking canine.  We spent the next thirty minutes gently scooping up about one hundred hatchlings as they struggled upwards towards the fading light of sunset.  

Our shoreline currently has a two-foot deep buildup of Sargasso seaweed, drifting in from mid-Atlantic.  It is a weird phenomenon this year affecting all of the Caribbean beaches.  As the babies scrambled towards the ocean they were faced with a mountain of seaweed, so our little group of humans gave them helicopter rides over the obstructions into the water. 
Seaweed drifting in from Atlantic

Then in the gathering dusk the sharp-eyed frigate birds spotted the tiny bobbing heads, diving from great heights to snatch up a few of the babies.  The turtles face a long and arduous life of avoiding predatory fish, boat propellers, fishermen’s nets, illegal hunting, and entanglement in plastic trash.  It isn’t easy being a turtle – about one turtle in a thousand will live to maturity.

Lawrie checked the nest again this morning.  A few more late arrivals managed to dig out and disappear under the cover of night, hopefully finding their way over the mound of seaweed, to the sea and not towards the bright lights of Cancun.

Now, if we could have arranged for the Mariachi band to perform at our house while we sipped wine and watched the turtles hatch - that would have been a five-star night!    

Hard not to grin when you see baby turtles!

Hasta Luego

Lawrie & Lynda

Friday, August 21, 2015

Driving in Mexico – It’s like a video game!

Driving in Mexico is a bit like a video game, a test of your reflexes and hand-eye coordination.  
It can be entertaining and fun if not a little bit nerve-wracking.  
The traffic is fast, signals or stop signs are merely suggestions and staying in one lane isn’t always the safest choice.  

Ya gotta keep your eyes open and go with the flow.  Don’t drive too fast.  Don’t drive too slowly.  Just go with the flow.  

Little or no warning - road closed.  Turn here!
Lanes narrow, or disappear without much notice.  Road work can appear suddenly without a lot of warning signs.  A typical construction zone might have one lonely worker waving a tattered piece of red cloth as you are about to run over him.  Watch out!  

And at the end of the workday an assortment of graders, rollers, and vehicles are parked on the dark roadside, with no flashing lights or warning signs. 

End of the day - park the equipment and go home.
On the highways cars, vans, or trucks pass anywhere it is possible to squeak by.  Recently on Isla we were driving south on Aeropuerto Road just starting up the little hill near Casa Cielo when the taxi behind, and the taxi behind the north-bound vehicle both decided to pass at the same time.  It’s an amazing feat of physics, or perhaps time and space, when four vehicles can pass without incident on a narrow two-lane strip of road. 

We drive a golf cart as our everyday vehicle - fun and easy - but very basic on standard equipment.  An island turn signal is your arm stuck out to the left to indicate you are turning left, or maybe to tell the driver behind you it’s okay to pass, or sometimes to tell the driver ahead that you are going to overtake him/her.  Your right hand pointing to the right is usually the indication that you are turning that direction, or perhaps just resting your arm on the back of the seat. 

Recently we were on a short and busy trip back to Canada.  We rented an average car, complete with standard safety equipment such as brake lights, seat belts, and air bags.  I enjoy driving and hopped into the driver’s side of the Hyundai Sonata.  Coming up to our first turn I indicated with my left arm that I was turning left – and slammed my hand into the closed window.  Oh, right. This car has turn signals.  All was well for a few more miles until I had a momentary glitch in my brain’s hard drive, and signaled right by slapping Lawrie in the face with my right hand. 

Internet photo - standard hand signal for right turn

I must admit we get a bit of perverse pleasure in confounding our Mexican friends when we use our left arm, bent at a ninety degree angle to indicate a right turn.  It’s the standard signal in most parts of the world …. just not here.   Other drivers give us a “what the heck are you doing?” look which makes us smile.  Small things amuse us!

Typical street in rural Mexico
In Mexico pedestrians do not have the right of way, as they do in USA or Canada.  

However, those wide yellow speed bumps (topes) are sacred!  They are typically located in extremely busy locations such as across from the passenger ferry terminal, near the schools, and at the Chedraui grocery store.  

DO NOT drive through these crosswalks while a pedestrian is crossing.  This is the quickest way to irritate the police, and for you to donate cash to the Policemen’s Benevolent Society. 

Good luck with your new video game: Driving in Mexico. 

Hasta Luego

Lawrie & Lynda

Juarez Avenue at sunset on Isla Mujeres

Friday, August 14, 2015

Una cerveza más, por favor

Isla Brewing
Real beer - on Isla?  Huh!
Yeah, I know I have had a few hundred gallons of beer here on the island, but that was, you know, just a cold drink for a hot day.  Now we have a real microbrewery on Isla featuring naturally fermented beer brewed to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516.  What the hell is the Bavarian Purity Law you say?  It’s real simple.  Only four ingredients are allowed: barley, water, hops and yeast, and oh yeah, lots of love and effort.

Jeff McGahee - closer to realizing his dream

Let me tell you about Isla Brewing the brain child and passion of Jeff McGahee.  Originally from Asheville North Carolina, Jeff and his family are now well-known islanders.  

Jeff has been working on his dream for the past two plus years, and the results are worth the wait.  I was offered a sample of the pale ale the other day.  Very yummy!  Do not confuse this ale with Budweiser or Corona.  These ales are not a mixture of fermented rice and corn syrup used by the commercial breweries to make what they call beer.  This is ale - made with taste, lots of taste. 

Brewed in very small batches of around 360 liters these ales have body, a hoppy taste, and subtle carbonation.  Initially Jeff plans to make a Pale Ale, a Blonde, a Mica Ale, and a Porter.  I can hardly wait to try the other flavours.  Now I will be able to enjoy a local beer that doesn’t get beat up by the spiciness of our traditional Mexican food.  

Lynda is anxiously waiting for her favourite, a hoppy IPA, India Pale Ale.

As for building a brewery on an island in paradise, it has not been easy.  Jeff has had to create much of the equipment here in a true DIY fashion.  If you get a chance to visit the brewery, check out the grain grinder – it’s powered by a ¼ inch drill.  Amazing.  Most of his brewing ingredients except the water have to be imported – sacks of barley, hops and special yeast.  Hell, I even brought down some live yeast from our friends’ brewery in Penticton BC, Canada - The Cannery Brewing Company.  Sure, I declared it.

Jeff's creative dad built the control panel

Microbreweries are the hottest trend in the liquor business, and the huge demand for better product is prompting the Big Guys to want to play in the game.  It takes more than just a funny name and a jazzy label to make a great beer.  The beer has to be made by the rules.  Too bad for you Big Guys but good for us; we now have Isla Brewing to satisfy our craving for great tasting ales.

To find out when and where the ales will be available give his Facebook page a [Like].  He’ll keep you posted on the latest developments.

Soon your visit to paradise can include great tasting ales from Isla Brewing.

Hasta Luego 

Lawrie & Lynda

A little while ago when the equipment arrived

Friday, August 7, 2015

Pilates on a Moto, part two

Ismael and Pedro delivering  8  framed photos
A few years ago we designed an extensive exercise program that is now wildly popular in many countries: Pilates on a Moto.  
This is part two of the exercise program, focusing on more intense exercises and featuring a gradual increase in the degree of difficulty. 
All of the exercises in this program are designed to strengthen your core muscles: abdominal 6-pack, butt muscles, hamstrings, and calf muscles.  It is strongly recommended that you do each exercise for a minimum of fifteen minutes to ensure the very best results.

Balance and coordination

Exercise #1  Balance and Coordination

This exercise is designed for one person.  Begin by holding a long heavy board in your left hand and get onto your motorcycle.  Then, start the moto with one hand.  As soon as you have the motorcycle moving balance the board on your lap in the vertical position while driving.  

If you do not have a heavy board available, an eight-foot step ladder is a satisfactory substitute.  The key to the effectiveness of this exercise is to ensure the object is long and heavy.   This exercise is guaranteed to dramatically increase your balance and coordination. 

Strengthen Core Muscles
Exercise #2  Strengthen Core Muscles

This exercise is primarily for your passenger’s benefit.  It will increase the strength and flexibility of his or her core muscles.  First, get on your moto.  Next, have the passenger sit behind you.  

Then ask the passenger to pick up a large heavy object, something awkward and weighing almost as much as the person.  Drive for fifteen minutes in traffic while your passenger clutches the object.  For the very best results do this exercise twice with your rider holding the object on first on the left side, and then on the right side of the moto.   This is guaranteed to tighten your core muscles and a few other muscles too.

Total Family Workout
Exercise #3   Total Family Workout that Includes Your Pets

Are your lives too busy to find a few minutes of work out time with the family?  Here’s the exercise for you.  The only equipment required is one motorcycle and one helmet for each participating person.  To perform this exercise, get on the moto, then have the smallest child stand in front of you, while other family members find a place to sit on the back.

A minimum of three people, plus one dog of any size, or a maximum of five people are required to get the greatest benefit from this exercise.  It will increase balance and muscle coordination, plus work on all the core muscles for everyone in the family, including Fido.  This one is a real winner!

Post-exercise cool down.
At the end of your workout we advise a cooling down period.  

The ideal way to cool down is to drive with a large fan balanced on one knee.  This will allow a two-fold benefit: air flowing around as you drive, and air directed at your face by the fan.  It’s very therapeutic.

We hope you enjoy your new Pilates on a Moto exercises.


This blog post was meant to be very tongue-in-cheek.  We are in complete awe of our many island friends who are coordinated enough to carry the funniest array of large items their motos – with or without the help of a family member or friend.  It’s a talent that we just don’t have.

Lawrie and I can barely keep a moto upright, never mind adding extra people and cargo.  A nice stable golf cart is our preferred method of transportation.

Hasta Luego 

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 31, 2015

Landscaping by turtles

Perfect turtle egg-laying weather
Yep, that’s what the title says: landscaping by turtles. 
I know, I know this is the second article in two months about turtles but this is turtle season folks!  
We are in the middle of the nesting season with possibly the largest number of returning turtles since the turtle farm came into existence about twenty years ago. 

Dozens of nesting holes
Hundreds and hundreds of the ladies are nightly digging up the beaches, creating four-foot deep holes on any small piece of sand on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres. The beaches look like a Bobcat earth mover has been at work, operated by someone like me, someone with a very short attention span.  “I’m bored with this hole, I think I’ll make another one over there, oh wait, that’s a better spot.”  And on, and on, into the night.

Sparky checking out the mess left by the mama turtle
A few weeks ago, around mid-night, Sparky our little four-legged alarm system woke us with a woof.  Lawrie and I popped out of bed to investigate the strange noise coming from our ocean-side yard.  It sounded as if someone was shoveling sand, preparing to bury a body.  (You can tell, we read a lot of murder mysteries and thrillers.)  
A quick flick of the flashlight and we spotted a large sea turtle deep in the bushes on the south side of the house, violently flipping rocks and sand.  We wanted to help her find a better spot, but decided that she had to make her own decisions about the suitability of the location for her nest.  In the end she abandoned the attempt and moved on to another place. 
More eggs dug up by another mama turtle
The downside of so much nesting activity is that many of the eggs are not being collected by the turtle farm for hatching in their predator-free environment.  I have recently seen at least six large nests that have been re-dug the following night by another mama turtle, scattering eggs across the beach, crushing the fragile spheres with her large body.  It’s unfortunate.  Presumably the turtle farm hatchery is filled to capacity.  The upside of the extra eggs is the crabs and birds are happily feasting on the embryos, increasing their chances of producing more baby crabs or baby birds.
Mayan Riviera - Sargassum seaweed (Daily Mail photo)
Beside the challenge of finding a suitable place to nest the mama turtles are facing another weird environment phenomenon this year – Sargassum seaweed.  Literally tons of seaweed have been drifting in mats of vegetation and washing up on beaches throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  It is an unsightly mess causing problems in resort areas, especially the Mayan Riviera and Cancun.  The Sargassum seaweed is an algae that originates mid-Atlantic in the warm-bodied Sargasso Sea.  The reason for the problem is perplexing scientists and environmentalists everywhere.  The female sea turtles – in their strange turtle-logic - are typically reluctant to cross the piles of seaweed.  It’s probably an old-turtle-tale handed down from generation to generation by the older turtles to the younger turtles.  “Don’t cross the seaweed or you will die.”  This year the turtles seem to be getting over their fear and clambering over the accumulation of seaweed in their search for a nesting spot.
Tracks from the ocean through neighbours' yard into ours.
We have often wondered why the mama turtles seem to congregate on the eastern side of the island, instead of using the longer, flatter, and much softer beaches on the western side, the side facing Cancun.  
Is it because our beaches are more visible as the ladies arrive back at their home base?  Or is it just more expedient after mating to hit the first available beach, and off-load all those pesky eggs?  
The ladies expend so much effort digging in the rocky sand on the eastern side, I would think a few extra minutes spent scouting out a better location would be worth the time – wouldn’t it?  
As you can probably guess, we really enjoy watching the show in turtle season.  They are pretty darn amazing creatures. 
We wish you a long and peaceful life my friends.
Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 24, 2015

Adventures in Paradise


“Golf cart ride!  Oh, boy.  Can I come too?”  

Sparky yipped, bouncing around as we pulled our suitcases out the front door. 

Thomas yawned, momentarily lifting his head off his pillow, “don’t forget to bring me a present,” and turned his attention back to his interrupted nap on the sofa. 

Don't forget my present!
“Bye boys!  See you soon,” I called to them as I shut the door.  

Lawrie and I were off for a busy two weeks visiting family and friends in Canada, plus an assortment of appointments.  We had arranged with friends Becky and Craig McHugh to stay at our house and babysit our pets: Thomas and Sparky.

Confused, Sparky turned to Thomas, “Where are they going?  Why did they leave me behind?  I usually go with them in the golf cart.”

“Some place different.  It happens every year,” Thomas replied annoyed that Sparky wouldn’t be quiet.  “They’ll come back, smelling differently of other people and animals.  Don’t worry,” he said curling up on the sofa again, “they’ll come back.”

Sparky and Craig reading the pet-sitting manual
The new female human called out, “Sparky, come here.  Let’s get acquainted.”  And just like that Sparky forgot that his people were leaving without him. 

“So, let’s see what this is all about,” said the man as he hefted the thick binder of instructions for babysitting the two boys.  

Comfortably ensconced on the upper deck sofa the humans were reading through the detailed instructions. 

“It says here, when he is hungry Tommy will sit in the kitchen with his back turned.”  The lady called Becky said, “That’s what our dog Saby did when she was hungry.  Oh, and we are to give him a selection of two to three different flavors three to four times a day … Wow!  Spoiled kitty.”

“Meow!” agreed Tommy as he snuggled in for a pat.

Having lunch at Barlito's
By the next morning the household was settling into a routine.  The really tall man, who Sparky thought was named Craig, took him for his first walk of the day.   It was a nice leisurely amble along the sidewalk to the gas station and back, with the occasional heart-stopping moment as Sparky’s best friend Bowser repeatedly crossed the road to check out three construction sites for food scraps.  Thick-bodied and glossy Bowser was not really hungry.  He simply enjoys snacking on human leftovers.

Is it my turn to drive?
During the next two weeks Sparky was entertained with a golf cart rides that might include a breakfast or lunch stop at Barlito’s.  

Tommy was happy hanging out at the house, napping on any one of the three sofas.  

One afternoon Sparky and his human drivers ventured out to the viewpoint at Garrafon Reef Park, enjoying the sight of the beautiful turquoise water with the buildings of Cancun visible in the distance.   Other times they drove through the neighbourhood of La Gloria while Becky searched for fun subjects to photograph.  Colourful clotheslines.  Bright houses.  Painted murals.  Fun signs.   

Sparky checking out his domain  
Whenever Sparky saw human or dog friends he recognized his short tail would rapidly swing back and forth, “Hi!”  The dogs would woof a greeting.  The people usually waved at him, and then quickly did a head-turning double-take.  Who the heck were those people with Sparky?

Late morning before the sun had moved over to the west side of the house, Sparky would lounge on the upper street-side deck, greeting his local fans as they walked past.  “Hi Sparky!  How are you today?”  When Becky or Craig waved back a bewildered look would pass over the person’s face, who are you, they seemed to be thinking.  Sparky thought it was a fun game: confuse the humans.  It was almost as much fun as chasing crabs along the shoreline.

Sparky really liked his afternoon swims and he especially liked searching for crabs in the shallow water.  He couldn’t understand Craig and Becky’s fascination with hunting for bits of coloured glass on the beach.  “Ffpt!”  He snorted, “what good is glass?” “You can’t eat it.  You can’t play with it.  Silly!”

"Are you reading my E-Book?" asked Thomas
In the late afternoon when Sparky and Thomas were lounging with their babysitters on the upper deck it was time for belly rubs and ear scratches.  

Occasionally Thomas would supervise while Craig read his E-Reader.  “Did you order my E-book The Adventures of Thomas the Cat?”  meowed  Thomas, “It’s available on Amazon you know.”  

“Yes, I know Thomas,” sighed Craig, “you have already mentioned that a few times this week.”

“Well, I’m just saying,” said Thomas, a bit miffed that Craig wasn’t more impressed.
"Could you deliver my food to me please?"

During their stay the visiting humans affectionately called the boys different names - names that sounded familiar but were slightly different.  

Spartacus, Spartapotamus, Sparky, or Tommy Boy, Tomas, and Thomasino. 
The boys didn’t mind.  The pats were frequent, the belly rubs nightly, and the love unconditional.  

“So … those other two people … who are they again?”

Hasta Luego

Sparky & Thomas

"So ... those other people ... who are they again?"

Be sure to check out Becky’s blog and her delightful photos:  
Life with Beck

Thank you Becky and Craig for looking after the boys, and for letting us use your photos for the blog.