Friday, May 22, 2015

From Russia with love

Octavio Paz Lozano - poet & diplomat
What do a classically handsome Mexican poet-diplomat, a wild-haired Russian sculptor, and a beautiful Russian actress have in common?
Isla Mujeres – of course.
If you think the connection is a bit nebulous, well, not really as a full seven percent of our blog readers live in Russia, plus there are four flights a week direct from Moscow to Cancun.

Marthy Vargas, Agapito Magana, Pototsky, Natasha
However, that's not the only connection. Recently the well-known Russian sculptor, Gregory Pototsky, offered the municipality of Isla Mujeres a bronze bust commemorating the life of the world renowned Mexican poet-diplomat, Octavio Paz Lozano. Born in 1954 in the Kurgan region of Russia, Gregory Pototsky has more than 100 bronze portraits (busts) installed in over 30 countries around the world, including several in the USA, Mexico, China, Turkey, and two in our home country of Canada.
N Duran, M Trejo, Adm.Fierro, M Vargas, A Magana, Pototsky
His artistic contribution for Isla Mujeres was installed on a plinth facing the Caribbean Sea near the attractive Isla 33 Resort & Villas on the east-side of Isla Mujeres. Striking a thoughtful pose, the bronze head gazes out over the Caribbean Sea, reportedly a huge source of inspiration for the poet. The inauguration was celebrated in a spicy fusion of languages: Gregory Pototsky's impassioned tribute to Mexico and Octavio Paz was translated into English by the actress Natasha, and replied to in Spanish by our Municipal Presidente, Agapito Magaňa Sanchez. It was a bit confusing, but everyone got the gist of the sentiments.
Octavio Paz - gazing out over the Caribbean Sea
Octavio Paz, on the other hand, was born in 1914 in a suburb of Mexico City, and passed away at the age of 84 in same city. He entered the Mexican Diplomatic services in 1945. During his career as a diplomat he was stationed in exotic locations including Paris France, Tokyo Japan, and Geneva Switzerland, all the while continuing to publish his poems and essays. In 1962 he was named as Mexico's ambassador to India.
Fervent about human rights, and openly critical of the then governing party of Mexico, Octavio Paz is considered to be one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, and the greatest Hispanic poet of all time. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: "By a passionate writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensory intelligence and humanistic integrity."
Gregory Pototsky, Agapito Magana, Marthy Vargas de Magana
Which got me to wondering about the real Octavio Paz. His biography page on Wikipedia dishes out the dry as dust details: born, lived, married, worked and died. Yawn! 
But what of the flesh and blood man. Did he like to dance? Was he passionate about good food, and red wine, and expensive tequila? Well educated and well travelled he would have been an entertaining dinner guest, or a perhaps romantic entanglement for well-to-do socialites. Those are the stories that would be fun to read. This could require further research.
Jose Cauich - from Nico's Restaurante (in background)
But back to the present day. As the hot afternoon sun started its slide into early evening the bust was unveiled with a flourish of cloth and enthusiastic clapping. 
Then two tray loads of wine - compliments of Joe Mendez of Isla 33 Resort & Villas - were delivered to the assembled guests by employees of Nico's Restaurante, Jose Cauich and Juan-Jose Pech. 
Salud: Octavio Paz, Gregory Pototsky, and the citizens of Isla Mujeres.
Next time you meander along the edge of the turquoise sea take a minute to enjoy the new statue and think of the Isla Mujeres Mexican-Russian Connection. 

(A special thank you to Ruben Perez, the Director of Culture on Isla Mujeres, for informing us about the event.)

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Breaking News:
Our bilingual (Spanish & English) book for children – The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato is now available on E-Books, via Amazon Kindle Books. Order yours today!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Random acts of kindness

Maria Lopez sold peanuts and pepitas  
 Trudging through hot afternoon sun, clutching a thick file of photographic enlargements Cindy Martinez is on a mission; a mission to deliver her current batch of portraits to islanders. 

Most of the time she only has a first name, or perhaps a doorway in the background to identify the person or the location in the photograph. She charges nothing for her work, her reward is the satisfaction of making someone smile when they receive her gift.

It is also a pleasant way to meet people, to be invited into their homes, and to really get to know them. She started shooting portraits on Isla 17 years ago, shooting the pictures one year and then returning the next with the enlargements.

Cindy with Cuban friends
One of her earlier portraits was of a mother, father, the children and their grandmother. Soon after she took the photograph the mother passed away. The grandmother and kids have continued to have a special place in her heart. 

Another special memory is when she captured the original lighthouse keeper at Punta Sur as he demonstrated blowing a conch shell like a horn. He passed away several years ago and the family has since approached Cindy, asking if she could possibly reprint that image as the original was damaged in hurricane Wilma. At the time her photographs were on film, not digital. This past year she had to hunt through numerous negatives, looking for that particular image in hopes of recreating the family keep-sake, of bringing them a bit of joy. There are times when she is asked to take a photo of an old photo that is fading or damaged. She retouches the original picture and returns with copies that can be kept by the family.

Young ladies in Cuba
Cindy discovered Isla Mujeres back in the late 1990's with her husband Steve, and has been returning to the island as often as possible ever since. As she walks through the neighborhoods she will occasionally spot one of her portraits hanging on a wall inside a house. It brings a smile to her face to know it is still being appreciated. She has also donated photographs to fundraisers for PEACE, the Little Yellow School House, and Isla Animals plus other charities back in her home town of Milwaukee Wisconsin. The featured portraits shown here, are from Cuba, because she keeps the images from Isla Mujeres solely as gifts to the family.

Cindy practicing with Japanese sword
With many interests and passions Cindy is a practitioner in the art of Chinese Kung Fu, wielding swords and staffs with efficient ease. On her trips to Cuba - bringing suitcases of food, shampoo, toothpaste, flip flops and shoes to the nationals - she also packs her sword so she can visit and play Kung Fu at the large Wu Shu Kung Fu school in downtown Havana. 

While on Isla Mujeres she is training at the Escuela de Lima Lama with Maestro Julio. This year she transported a Japanese sword for Julio. At customs in Mexico, she was asked what was in the large box and when she replied that it was a large sword plus shoes to give away, they told her to walk around the scanners and by-pass security!

Well known Cuban woman - recently passed away
Cindy's random acts of kindness started about twenty years ago, after a botched surgical operation. 

Near death, she made a promise to her Creator: “Let me stay here on earth, and I will find ways to be good and kind to other people.”

And she does.

Friday, May 8, 2015

May 3rd Day of the Flowery Cross

Decorating the wooden cross
Carefully winding multiple pieces of crepe paper around and around the wooden form, his large work-calloused hands create a beautiful pattern of colours: red, green, yellow, orange and blue. 
Then bright silk flowers are secured on the pieces of wood; wood that has been scavenged from the work-site and formed into a cross in celebration of this special day for construction workers. 

Workers place the cross at the highest point of the construction
A group of men tote the cross to the highest point on the new building. As the cross is secured in place the workers ask for safety on the job site, and prosperity for the coming year.
Our Canadian friends Déanne Gray and Brent Curley are building a home just a few houses north of ours on the east side of Isla Mujeres. 

The crew - relaxing after work
Déanne and Brent invited us, and a few other North American friends, to participate in the Dia del Albañil (Day of the Masons, stone-workers) celebrations at their construction site. For the fiesta, it is the responsibility of the home owners, along with their architect, in this case Lucy Chavez Cantu, and building foreman to arrange the details.

Celebration lunch for May 3rd
The festivities typically include regional foods like Cochinita Pibil (a slow-roasted pork dish) and cactus salad, with drinks of tequila or mezcal or pulque, plus lots of cold cerveza. 
And of course, dessert. Déanne is known around our neighbourhood for her wonderful baked goodies that she delivers to the workers every Saturday afternoon. For the fiesta she made a batch of sugar cookies decorated with a cross, plus three different types of brownies for everyone to enjoy. Yum! I think we're really going to enjoy having them in the neighbourhood!
Special cookies
A feast day for all of Mexico, May 3rd is also known as El Dia de Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross), or Dia del Albañil (Day of the Masons, stone-workers). 
This celebration ceased in all other countries of the world when Pope John XXIII removed the feast day from the Catholic liturgical calendars in 1960. The Pope was planning to focus attention on the celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th, coincidentally also Independence Day in Mexico.

Lucy Chavez and Déanne Gray
While the rest of the world obeyed the wishes of the Pope, in Mexico, it caused a bit of an uprising.  Since the late 1500's the construction workers had always observed May 3rd as their feast day. They did not want to move their special day to September 14th, the traditional day of celebration for the Charros (Cowboys). 
To keep the peace between the two warring factions the Mexican clergy made applications to Rome to retain the May 3rd celebration. The Vatican agreed - but only for Mexico!

Mexico City  - Flowery Cross
In other parts of Mexico, especially Mexico City where Lucy Chavez previously lived, the crosses are adorned with real flowers, but our Caribbean breezes tatter the petals too quickly so artificial flowers are used instead. 
For Sra. Chavez the May 3rd celebrations are a very important tradition that she strives to preserve by including new home owners in the festivities. 
This week there are three construction sites all within a block of our house, decorated with the Flowery Crosses.

Construction site for 12 new condos on our street

I guess that makes us a busy, and hopefully a well-protected neighbourhood in paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Another new house on our street

More fun stuff from Trip Advisor: How do you pronounce Isla Mujeres?
Eez- la Moo-hair-iss? - Milwaukie
Ees la - moo hair ace? - Washington DC
Eez-la Moo-heh-res? – Seattle Washington

What we hear most often from local friends is:

eez-la moo-Heh-res The accent goes on the second syllable in Mujeres. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Can you get from here to there?

Playa Norte
Reading Trip Advisor, can be a trip (old 1970's hippie saying, in case you are too young to remember). 
On the website there are dozens of questions from people who are first time travelers to Isla Mujeres. 
Recently somebody asked: Can I walk all the way around the island on the waterfront?

Playa Posada
Well, yes, and no ….. You can walk all the way around on fairly decent sidewalks that were upgraded or newly built in 2009, but the waterfront is another thing entirely. 
The waterfront in Mexico is considered federal property and in theory you are allowed to cross it, but in some locations it is just not possible.

West side - lots of restaurants, bars and boats
If you start at the easy part, the sugar-white sandy beach at the north end, Playa Norte and head south on the west side of the island you can walk a good distance past restaurants, bars, marinas, and the two passenger ferry docks. 

 Assuming you are able to actually pass the bars with out stopping at each establishment to check out the degree-of-coldness for their beer, you could walk for at least twenty minutes before you start running into bigger man-made obstacles.
Zigging and zagging around the fishermen and  boats
Your trek will consist of smooth sandy beaches interspersed with mooring lines for the numerous fishing pangas. A lot of high-stepping, rope-hopping is required. Great exercise for the gluts, I'm told. When you reach the area in front of the Naval base – that's the large white fenced compound on Medina Avenue – you will have to detour around this restricted area, and use the sidewalks.

Makax Lagoon - marinas & boats, not pedestrian friendly
On the south side of the car ferry terminal there are more fishing-boat lines to hop over and guard dogs to avoid, three fun bars where you can cool off, a handful of restaurants, and several marinas. In the area between Playita Isla Mujeres (formerly Chuuk Kay Restaurante) and all-inclusive Palace Royale Resort you will have use the sidewalks. The properties on this stretch of waterfront face onto the marshy Makax Lagoon. Unless you happen to be wielding a sharp machete, this area is not pedestrian friendly. Plus the dense mangrove jungle is home to millions of mosquitoes and other unpleasant critters. So hit the concrete and continue walking south.
Capitan Dulce Restaurante & Museum
You might want to re-hydrate with another cold beverage at Playa Lancheros, or a little further along at Capitan Dulce Restaurante and Museum. In this area, on the western side on Isla Mujeres, there are many large tracts of private land owned by beach clubs and small hotels. A number of these properties have all-inclusive entrance fees and have made it difficult to access the beach.

Garrafon Natural Reef Park - private walkway
At Garrafon Natural Reef Park you will definitely have to use the sidewalks. The private concrete pathway beneath the rugged cliffs is only accessible by paying the park entrance fee. This pathway connects with Punta Sur, the southern most part of the island and coincidentally the most eastern part of Mexico. The entrance fee for Punta Sur is only about $2.00 USD and well worth the cost.

Punta Sur walking path - keep back from the cliff edge!
The most scenic path along this part of the island is a well worn track that starts at Punta Sur. It skirts the friable edge of the cliffs, ambles in front of private homes, and re-joins the main road near the waste transfer station. (Yes, unfortunately a place to collect refuse is a necessary evil, even on an island in paradise.) 

Beach along eastern side - near Guadalupana
The pathway slowly descends until once again the beach front is accessible. Built several years ago there is a nice sidewalk that continues on past the newer cemetery, the Guadalupaňa settlement, Isla 33 Condos, Villa la Bella B&B, and a cluster of tasty restaurants: Caribbean Brisas, Bahama Mama, and Mango Café. If you have experienced what the island sidewalks can look like after a big storm or a hurricane you will appreciate that this one is smooth, and relatively stumble-proof.

Beautiful glass wall looks out over the ocean
Then starting at the beautiful glass-fronted Catholic church across the street from the Mango Café, waterfront hiking becomes more interesting. It is possible to clamber over rocks, and around obstacles eventually coming out at the new skateboard park near Casa Ixchel Hotel.

Behind the AguaKan pumping station
From the skateboard park all the way to the naval airport the oceanfront is relatively easy to traverse. Part sand, part round pieces of coral, interspersed with rocky outcroppings the beach meanders past private homes, with a few municipal exits/access points where you can leave the beach and use sidewalks if you choose.

Malecon - seawall walkway 
Past the naval base, make a turn towards the sea, and in behind the AguaKan pumping station is a wonderfully wide malécon, a walkway, perfect for strolling and enjoying the view of turquoise water. This is our favourite place to walk and check out what's happening in the neighbourhoods. The malécon will take you all the way to Playa Media Luna, and a few steps away from the start of your journey at Playa Norte, where once again you can re-hydrate with a cold beverage.

Playa Media Luna 
If this trek sounds too exhausting, you might want to consider a shorter excursion, a Sea Glass Adventure Hike with our friend Daryl Adler. The hike takes anywhere from one to two hours, depending on your level of fitness, or your interest in hunting sea glass. Perhaps you'll find a piece glass discarded by the pirates who visited Isla Mujeres many years ago.

Vintage Sea Marble ring - Daryl Adler
Originally from Seattle Washington, Daryl moved to Isla about three and a half years ago. When the Artist Fair is on, November to April, you will find 

Daryl with his display of water colours, or beautifully handcrafted sterling silver jewelry featuring unique sea marbles and one of a kind pieces of sea glass.
So, you see you actually can get from here to there, but I'm worn out writing about all of this activity. I think I will join my sweetie on the patio for a cold glass of wine, and watch the sunset. Ah!
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Breaking News:
Our bilingual (Spanish & English) book for children – The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato is now available on E-Books, via Amazon Kindle Books. Order yours today!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Save a life or save a limb

Isla Mujeres Hyperbaric Chamber
The Hollywood A-list actors have a big secret. It is a hyperbaric chamber, normally used for saving the life of a diver, or a lobster fisherman who has been too deep under water, for too long, resulting in decompression sickness.
For years we have walked past the local hyperbaric chamber located slightly behind the health clinic and beside the new public washrooms in centro. The unassuming building has an abandoned feel to it, and we never give it much thought. Recently when chatting with local friends, Sue Lo and Len Sacks, we discovered that Len was undergoing a series of treatments for a shattered humerus bone, that involved twenty visits to the local facility. “Really? How does that work?” I asked.
Unassuming exterior of the building
Called hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) it is used by many medical facilities including the Mayo Clinic in New York. The increase in barometric pressure squeezes the oxygen molecules to allow more oxygen to enter the blood stream, and increasing the healing ability of the body. Sue explained Len's orthopaedic surgeon in Mérida prescribed the sessions to speed the healing of his bone from an accident a few years ago. Patients with diabetes, or who have recently had radiation treatments also benefit from the therapy, allowing their skin lesions to heal over.
Simulating diving pressures
With each treatment the patient enters the chamber and remains inside for quite some time. First the pressure is slowly increased to mimic being the equivalent of 45 five feet under water. Then for thirty minutes he or she is given oxygen, then five minutes of regular air. This is repeated twice more; thirty minutes of oxygen and five minutes of air. The final time the barometric pressure is slowly decreased back to normal atmospheric readings. Len will do this for five days on, and one day off for until he completes his twenty treatments; pressures and times vary according to a patient's complication.
Len - reading to pass the time
Len is currently sharing the chamber with a young man from Cancun who has a broken leg, and a local fisherman who was diving at 120 feet of depth for a long period. I took a peek through the porthole into the chamber. Len was reading a book, the other two guys were just relaxing. They are in communication via a two-way radio channel with the operator of the unit. There is also an internal camera for monitoring during emergency situations such as when the fisherman was first brought to the unit.
Operation of the local hyperbaric chamber, including wages, is funded by the fishing co-operatives with government assistance for the utilities. At times when the fishing season is slow, or the lobster season is closed the funding is sparse or non-existent. The unit is supervised by long-time resident of Isla Mujeres, Rosember de Jesus Dzul Ochoa. He grew up on Isla, continued his education for eighteen months in Chetumal, before spending four years at the UNAM in Mexico City. (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico).
Inside the chamber - photo by Sue Lo
Rosember has worked with hyperbaric chambers for fourteen years, six of those on Isla. Part of his studies involved oceanography plus a week of studies in Cuba, sponsored by Pemex and the university, for specialized training. He says he knew when he was still in high school that this was the career that he wanted. Rosember lives on Isla with his wife and two young daughters. He really enjoys his work, helping out lobster fishermen, divers, and other patients. All of his training upgrades are paid for out of his own pocket. Starting in July 2016 Rosember will begin training local fishermen on the operation of the unit, allowing him to not be on call 24/7.

Rosember Dzul Ochoa 
When asked approximately how much oxygen is used for the procedures, Rosember replied about one and a half tanks, depending on how rapidly or deeply the patients are breathing. These are not your standard recreational-diver sized tanks. They are much larger, standing about five feet tall, and costing about $1425.00 pesos per tank to refill.
The interesting side effect of hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is a reduction in skin wrinkles for a short period of time! Now you know Hollywood's big secret. Of course if you live on Isla, the high humidity also significantly reduces skin wrinkles without spending hours in a hyperbaric chamber!
On a positive note, the young man who is currently undergoing treatments for a leg fracture is improving. For two years his leg fracture would not heal. The x-rays now show his leg is on the mend.  How fortunate that we have the availability of the hyperbaric chamber and a trained operator, Rosember Dzul Ochoa, to save lives and limbs.
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Breaking News:
Our bilingual (Spanish & English) book for children – The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato is now available on E-Books, via Amazon Kindle Books.
Order yours today!

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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