Friday, August 22, 2014

Off the beaten path

So, you've been to Isla a time or two and are getting slightly bored with hanging out at the beach all day.  

It might be a perfect time for you to explore, by golf cart, moto or bicycle, some of the local neighbourhoods instead of following the usual route along the perimeter road.

A decent map will help with your explorations.   

Laura McFarlin – the MapChick – produces a handy-dandy map and travel guide for the island.  Her map is available for sale at the hotel reception office of Marina Paraiso, located on Rueda Medina just a couple of minutes south of the whale shark statue.  

While you are at the office purchasing your map you might want to make a quick stop at Barlito's @ Marina Paraiso for a coffee and one of Brad's almost-world-famous Cinnamon Buns.  Yum!  Raisins, cinnamon, icing – three of our favourite food groups!

Okay, got your supplies? Camera?  Bottled water? Then let's go.
Head south along Rueda Medina, until you see the naval housing complex on the left side of the road.  

It is painted bright orange with a tall white perimeter fence, and a guard at the gate.  Turn left at the next street and slowly weave your way up and down the short blocks of the Caridad del Cobra and Canotal neighbourhoods.  

Located between the Salinas Grande (a land-locked salty lake) and the perimeter road this is a quiet residential area.  

Please be respectful and keep a sharp eye out for kids, cats and dogs playing in the roadway.  

A number of the roads will dead-end at the salinas or turn into pedestrian pathways necessitating turning around and retracing your route to the next through-street. 

Many of the houses in these two neighbourhoods are painted in eye-catching colour combinations of pink, purple, green, yellow, turquoise, or orange.  

Most of the really colourful houses seem to be on the streets with bird names; streets named Flamenco, Fragata, Garza Azul, Garza Blanca, Cormoran, and Aquila.  I also discovered a few on Manglero (Raccoon Street).  Unfortunately not all the streets have visible signage.  Time + sea salt = disintegration of everything metal.  

Don't assume you will always find a name for the road you are driving on.  Our road-trip theory has always been: if you don't know where you are headed, you can't get lost.  Just enjoy the experience.

And as we all know, driving in the tropical heat can be thirsty work.  Oscar's Pizza & Restaurante is on the main road, Rueda Medina.  Along the roadside entrance are a dozen or so huge wooden chairs made from the trunks of trees with twisted branches forming the back and arms.  

It's is a good place to have a cool beverage and if you are lucky enough to be there after 5:00 in the afternoon when Michael and the crew fire up the pizza ovens, well, the New York-style pizzas are amazing as are the delicious garlic knots.  Garlic knots; another favourite food group in our house!

Get out there and explore the island.  You will be glad you did.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

On a final note our internet has been down for two days.  I finally resorted to using a Spanish keyboard in one of the local internet cafes.  Please forgive any spelling errors.  I will fix them as soon as things are back to normal. Cheers Lynda

Friday, August 15, 2014

Waitin' on the African Queen

Abandoned boat  near  El Cuba Ron Restaurante
Relaxing on with a cold beverage on a dock-side bar we watch the boats slip past; there are colourful fishing pangas, and charter boats, and whale shark tour boats returning for the evening. Lush vegetation overhangs the languid blue-green water. 

Laughter. Tropical heat. Music. 

It could be the movie set from the 1951 movie, The African Queen, staring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.

Colourful panga-style fishing boat
That movie was made the year I was born, and was considered to be “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the US Library of Congress. 

That's an unusual honor considering in the movie Humphrey Bogart was portrayed as being a quirky and cantankerous Canadian while Katherine Hepburn was a proper, well-mannered Englishwoman.

View from new upper deck at El Cuba Ron
However, on this particular afternoon Lawrie and I are sitting on the new upper deck of the Varadero, also known as El Cuba Ron Restaurante, on Isla Mujeres. 

According to owner Rafael Burgos Rios the name Varadero means a place where boats are built, maintained, and repaired. His grandfather originally used the waterfront property to build and repair boats for island fishermen.

One of Rafael's family members
Born on Isla Mujeres on Mexican Independence Day in 1957 Rafael has Cuban, Spanish, and Mayan ancestors. His ancestors have been on Isla since 1896. His wife Ana Jimenez, on the other hand, was born in Havana Cuba, moving to Isla Mujeres when she married Rafael. 

When Rafael graduated from school he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, cousins, and uncles – working the boats that circulated on a trade route from Florida to Central America. The sailing ships brought oil, maize, medical supplies, shoes, clothing, and the mail. For the return trip the captains loaded live lobsters and turtles destined for American restaurants.

Ana and Rafael
For the first twelve years of operation - El Cuba Ron restaurante - was located on Guerrero Avenue in the funky old building where Pita Amour is now. Then thirteen years ago Rafael decided to move the business to the family owned property on the canal that leads to Laguna Makax. 

Built on the western side of the island near the big boat repair yard it's a great place to hang out on an afternoon, or to enjoy a tasty dinner later in the evening. 

On weekends a Cuban band plays great music from mid-afternoon to early evening.

Rafael outside the entrance
The menu selections include a number of tasty fish, chicken and pork dishes prepared in the traditional Cuban style. 

We also really enjoy their guacamole and Lawrie is a big fan of their mojitos. Mojitos are addictive and sneaky! They are a refreshing drink made with white rum, soda water, sugar, lime and crushed mint. 

The deceptively innocent taste makes it is easy to forget how many you have consumed.

Guest singer at El Cuba Ron Restaurante
While we were enjoying the sunshine, the music, and the ambiance a couple of large cruisers rafted alongside the restaurant – their passengers eager to join the fun. 

One youngster confidently stepped up to the band leader and asked if he could join the group. Pretty soon everyone was dancing and singing along to the tunes.

Well, the boat called the African Queen never did pass by, nor did we see Humphrey Bogart or Katherine Hepburn but it was still a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Try it! You'll like it!

Waterside view of El Cuba Ron Restaurante

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, August 8, 2014

Isla explodes with creativity and colour!

Artist: Saner, on Palacio Municipal      Photo L.Lock
In an explosion of colour and mythical creatures the Sea Walls – Murals for Oceans project blasted its way onto Isla Mujeres. 

Fifteen artists from USA, Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and Spain arrived on Isla in mid-July for the start of a nine day urban art festival. 

The event would eventually see the creation of a multitude of eye-popping murals decorating blank walls of various public and private buildings.

Pangeseed: protection of endangered marine life
Ruben Perez, the Director of Culture for the Municipality of Isla Mujeres was approached last February by the sponsoring organization asking for assistance for the program; assistance gaining permission to paint specific walls on public and private buildings.  In conjunction with Pangeaseed, World Art Destinations, 1XRUN, Residencia Gorila, and Juxtapoz Latin America supplied the funding to make the event happen. is an international organization that collaborates with members of the art, science, and environmental activist communities to raise awareness of sharks and other marine species in peril.

Artists - on FB page of Sea Walls for Oceans
When I asked “why Isla Mujeres” as a location for this amazing project Liz Rashell Creative Director at World Art Destinations said the project organizers “chose Isla Mujeres, México cause Isla Mujeres serves as the nursery of the Caribbean and is on the migratory path of whale sharks, manta rays, sea turtles and large schools of fish.” That sounds to me like a great reason to celebrate with colour and beauty. 

Artist: Pelucas, on Guerrero  Photo L. Lock
As inspiration for the murals the artists were taken out to swim with the whale-sharks and manta rays, to give them an idea of how big, and how benign these gorgeous creatures are. And then the fun began! Spraying, painting, daubing in temperatures hovering around 32C the artist brought to life their fantasy creatures, depicting a wild assortment of marine life and of course our world famous whale-sharks.

We, and a number of other islanders, have spent the last two weeks trying to locate and photograph all of the murals. 

It's a bit like a scavenger hunt – as the website map is more of a suggestion where the images might be found. Driving around in centro can be a bit hazardous at the best of times because the one-way-street system is very poorly marked. Add to that rubber-necking art enthusiasts who are attempting to snap photos while driving past the working artists. It got a bit interesting at times. 

Artist: Cinzah Seekayem on Madero    Photo L. Lock
I resorted to sitting in the back of the golf cart while Lawrie drove, allowing me to take photos as we located the murals.  Finally I found the last one I was looking for painted high up on the Hotel Osorio on Madero Street. 

It's a fun painting called “The Traveler” by Cinzah Seekayem. The mural faces west on a one-way street but it see it requires twisting your neck around and up. 

To take the photo I had to park the golf cart, climb up on the front grill and balance on one foot – I have a broken toe on my right foot so I couldn't put any pressure on that foot. (The silly stuff we do to take photos for this blog!)

Artists: Local students across from school  Photo L. Lock
In amongst the official murals are a few that were done by other artists joining in the fun. The one near the middle school appears to be a collection of complimentary images painted by sixteen local students. 

It a vivid mural done in orange, pink and green depicting Mayan ancestors, whale-sharks, manta rays, and sailfish. It is one of our favourites, although truth be told we like them all!

Artist: Curiot at the entrance to Mercado  Photo L. Lock
The fifteen artists had such a good time on Isla Mujeres, they are willing to return next year with more artists to paint more murals!  Wow! If they run out of blank spaces to fill - we would happily volunteer an exterior wall of our house.

Thank you Tristan Eaton, Tatiana Suarez, Vexta, Saner, Smithe , Nosego, Curiot, Meggs, Aaron Glasson, Shark Toof, Hannah Stouffer, Pelucas, Cinzah Seekayem, Yoh Nagao, and Celeste Byers adding colour and fun to our island.

Artist: NoseGo on back of Mercado  Photo L. Lock

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Artist: Tatiana Suarez official web photo

Friday, August 1, 2014

Apache Mtz – little of this, and a little of that

How long has your family lived on Isla Mujeres?” I asked. “For forever,” he replied with his huge infectious grin, “since the beginning, when the first families settled on Isla.”

I'm curious, what's your real name?”

He smiled again, and laughed. “It doesn't matter, no one knows me by that name. I use Apache, because my dad was called Indio. My grandfather gave him the name because as a little boy my dad was tough. He never cried even when strapped with a belt for stowing away on my grandfather's fishing boat instead of going to school. Dad loved fishing; he hated school. My grandfather admired his son's toughness and started calling him Indio as a nickname.”

Indio's name is synonymous with two island businesses. The Indio's Beach Club on the southwest side of the island was a popular place for people to hang out and enjoy a laid-back island experience. Then in 2005 Hurricane Wilma hit the island leaving a path of destruction through the beach property; the sand shifted over to the Cancun side of the bay, their buildings were damaged, and the golf carts that were stored on the property were destroyed. It was a devastating event for the family.

The other business, Indio's Golf Cart Rentals, was started in 1994. Apache helped out at the family business from the time he was twelve years old. After assessing the hurricane damage in 2005 Indio decided to close the business, but Apache said he was interested in carrying on. He started operations with the four remaining useable golf carts. By 2014 Apache had increased the stock of golf carts to sixteen vehicles by creating a little niche market; they offer 24-hour assistance. If a rental customer needs help it is only a cell phone call away. Clients are supplied with phone numbers for Adrian, the office manager, who is fluent in English.

Just for interest sake I asked how many golf carts were available for rent on the island. With pen and paper Adrian and Apache did a quick tally estimating that there are twenty golf cart rental companies on Isla Mujeres with a total of approximately 580 carts available for rent. Even so many island rental companies are sold out during the busy times of the year, including the summer holidays. That bit of information really surprised me.

More recently Apache has branched out into deep sea fishing, acquiring a thirty-six foot boat in partnership with friends. The two family-owned pangas (small open fishing boats) were not comfortable for off-shore fishing with clients. The bigger boat has air-conditioning and cozy interior quarters. 

He is hoping to attract more couples – people who want the full experience. His off-shore trips will start early in the day with fishing, then return to the Indio's beach club property to cook the catch while enjoying music and drink a cold beverage or two. It's island life as it used to be.

With two sons and two daughters Apache and his wife Arlina are hoping the family businesses will live on with the next generation. He has fond memories of fishing with his dad, and of learning English from his dad's clients. 

Isauro Martinez Magaña May 2013

He has several old photos displayed on the walls of Indio's Golf Cart rentals on Medina Avenue, photos of his dad in his younger years enjoying life and following his passion: fishing. Unfortunately Indio passed away in August of 2013, at the still young-at-heart age of 64 years.

One last question” I said to Apache as I gathered up my things, “I have to know your real name, not knowing is driving me crazy!”

Okay, okay!” he grinned, giving in to my cheeky persistence, “It's Isauro Martinez Polanco.” He was named after his dad, whose first name was also Isauro.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

How to find Apache:  or on FaceBook Isla Mujeres Indio Golf Carts and Apache's Searious Fishing.

PS: the photos are from Apache's collection, except the one of the golf cart, that one I took looking down from our upper patio.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Odd Jobs – part two

Breadman in Centro
Yes, I know, I recently wrote about “Unusual Jobs, Not Available in Canada” but it is a subject that continues to intrigue us, the ingenious ways that hardworking islanders earn a living. 

The most visible are the street vendors who walk or cycle daily around the neighbourhoods many with their individual sales pitch or chant, anything to get the attention of potential customers.

Every morning around dawn, when I am out walking our little dog Sparky, a middle-aged man pedals his heavy bicycle cart along our street. The cart is so heavy he is forced to get off and push it up the two not-quite hills. 

 As he passes he calls out to the construction workers who are just starting their day: “Hay tamales. Hay masa.” It roughly translates to: Here are tamales, here is masa. Masa is a very popular corn dough used for making tortillas or tamales.

One of the Tamale salesmen
Many construction workers typically live on site to provide security for building supplies until the house is completed. Grocery stores are not always nearby and the labourers really appreciate having cooked food delivered to their work place. 

Filled with bits of chicken or pork, spices, onions, and chilies the substantial tamales provide much needed nutrition at the start of a long, hot, work day.

Construction workers appreciate cooked food delivery
The question that flickers through my brain when I see the tamale salesman is: How early does he get up if he is already pedaling past our house at six in the morning? Does his wife stay up all night to prepare the tamales, trying to sleep during the frequently noisy and hot daylight hours?

Youngster selling corn 

Even youngsters frequently pitch in to help out with family finances. Awhile ago, when we were visiting friends at the Guadalupana settlement, I noticed a young teen pedaling his bicycle cart through the neighbourhood. He was selling cooked corn on the cob. Presumably mom or an older sister did the preparation, and he was responsible for selling the product. It's a good lesson in economics and business for the young man, but at the same time I am sure he would rather be swimming in the ocean or hanging out with his buddies.

Mamey salesmen arriving on Isla via car ferry 
As the day progresses and the heat increases a number of vendors are out and about, selling everything from seasonal vegetables, to cheese, tortillas, bread, ice cream treats, clay pots, or woven mats and bags. They trudge the streets with display cases confidentially balanced on their heads, or they trundle along the sidewalks with hand carts piled high with seasonal treats such as lychee nuts, or mamey fruit. 

 Shaped like a small rough-skinned football, the orangey-red flesh of a mamey has an intriguing flavour, tasting like a combination of sweet potato, pumpkin and peach. Islanders enjoy mamey as a wintertime treat.

Mid-afternoon snack break
Later in the evening the food carts congregate in convenient locations offering hamburgers, hotdogs, tacos or desserts. Businesses supplying take out meals, or home delivery, proliferate around the island. Few homes have large refrigerators to stockpile fruits, vegetables and meat. Most meals are prepared on small gas stoves, similar to a Coleman, or a two burner hot plate. It boggles the mind to think of how many people make a living supplying food to other islanders.

In many ways the food culture in Mexico resembles the European habits. Eating out at any one of the many economical street-side restaurants is common. For those who cook at home daily shopping turns a potentially onerous chore into a social event. Locals gossip with other shoppers as they gather up items for the day's meals. It's not about rushing around and piling items in a cart. It's about stopping and kissing a friend on the cheek, then asking how their family is, how they are, and responding with your own updates, before moving on to find one more article on your shopping list. Perhaps this is what people mean when they say: slow food, made with love.

Evening treats!

Local people are ingenious at finding ways to earn a living. They work long hours, frequently at physically demanding jobs. They also enjoy life: frequently.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 18, 2014

A surprise birthday gift becomes a life-changing event

Isla Mujeres 
Pondering where to take her husband Mark for a surprise celebration of his 50th birthday Donna Caffo remembered a sleepy little island located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Mexico: Isla Mujeres. 

It was an island she had visited as a teenager in 1980 on a very brief day-trip from Cancun.

Fishing boats and birds
When she and Mark arrived on Isla for his birthday celebration in 2004, it was love at first sight. Small family-owned restaurants littered the sandy beaches, fishing boats were pulled up above the tide line, nets and lobster pots were stacked amongst the boats. 

Island life had a slow easy rhythm. It felt authentic, comfortable, without the big-resort all-inclusive separation between local and tourist.

Views from Ixchel condos
Every year from then onward Donna and Mark vacationed on Isla Mujeres, eventually deciding they wanted something more permanent. 

Late in 2007 they purchased a penthouse unit, at the IxChel Two development, overlooking the white sand of north beach and the aquamarine water of the Caribbean Sea.

Mark Caffo at Artists' Fair 2011
It was bliss, until 2010, when life tossed them a curve ball. Mark was laid off from his systems designer/integrator position and the only work opportunities that were available to him entailed traveling 90% of the time. That did not fit with their lifestyle or goals. They brainstormed for alternative career ideas, deciding that combining Mark's passion for photography and love of the island might just be the answer. Donna and Mark launched Caribe on Canvas in October of 2011, turning beautiful photographs into affordable artwork.

Lawrie purchased a print from Mark - 2011

To make this unique product Mark (and occasionally Donna) uses a number of software programs creating prints that have the look and feel of oil paintings. The resulting artwork is printed on a canvas with a Stylus Pro Printer, then sprayed with an ultraviolet protection finish and finally the fabric is stretched onto a custom-made wooden frame. If a customer prefers the prints can be purchased unframed. Several of our friends have arranged with Mark and Donna to have photographs that are personally meaningful to them turned into colourful and eye-catching artwork. It's a great way to display your favourite images.

Mark Caffo and Abby Fox at Artists' Fair

Participants in the very first Isla Artists' Fair held in November of 2011, Donna and Mark are regular exhibitors at the monthly event. 

A recent addition to their creations included a calendar for 2014. They will also be selling prints and posters from the new Jenny Penny Beach Boutique on Matamoros beside Bobo's Bar & Grill, as well as the new Barlito's Rapido when it opens later in the year.

Next time you are on Isla look them up or if you aren't coming to Isla near future check these two websites for more information:
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 11, 2014

In celebration of a talented local artist

Mayor Cesar Poot praising Diego Medina
Recently, Cesar Edmundo Poot Perez the Secretario General of Isla Mujeres, spoke about the need for students to use their imagination, to aspire to unique professions, and to dream of new ideas. 
He also spoke of how proud he was of Diego Medina, a local artist and my collaborator on our first children's book, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat – Las Aventuras de Tomas el Gato.

Yadira Velazquez on far left, Danaee and Freddy on right

Diego's family tree has very deep roots on Isla Mujeres reaching down through many generations of ancestors. Current family members include one sister Danaee, parents Freddy Medina and Yadira Velázquez, aunties, uncles, cousins, and two sets of grandparents most of whom live and work on the island. Diego comes from a very supportive environment, a family that values education. As a group they were delighted to celebrate his success at our book launch on Tuesday July 8th. The event was organized by Rubén Pérez and staff under the sponsorship of the Direccion Municipal de Cultura.

McFaddens, Flynns, and Merandis - donated books
The agenda for the evening was to include donating a number of books to island schools and kindergartens. New island home-owners Maureen and Randy McFadden from Cedar Park Texas kicked off the idea by offering to donate ten books to the local schools. Then their good friends Colleen and Ken Flynn from Austin Texas, who are also building a home on Isla, supplemented the donation with another ten books. Not to be outdone a third couple – Alison and Tom Merandi – said “we're in for ten books as well!”

Some of the local students that attended the event
In the meantime the Medina Family was busy organizing their donation of ten books, plus city employees Adriana Trejo Glez, Miriam Trejo León, and Víctor Osorio Magaña contributed another fifteen books! The municipal staff and school principals now have a total of 55 books to distribute amongst island and mainland schools. However, the city staff have a secret desire to distribute one book to each of the Cancun schools as well. It's a subtle bit of bragging about the success of one of their own students.

Freddy and his sister Mauri Medina
In the end the book distribution portion of the event was postponed to the evening of Sunday July 13th. This is the last full week of school before the summer break and most of the school principals were unable to attend as they rushed to finish off year-end details.

Direccion Municipal de Cultura book launch was doubly important to the Medina family members and supportive friends. Mauri Medina, sister to Freddy Medina, and Diego's auntie, translated the original story, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat – Las Aventuras de Tomas el Gato, from English to Spanish. 

The Medina family has double-bragging rights for the book!

Meanwhile, Diego and I have begun working on the sequel, involving a few more of the silly, four-footed, characters that inhabit our little piece of paradise.  We'll keep you posted!

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 4, 2014

Notes From Paradise
Reelin' in outstanding scholars

Students March 2014
A criminologist, a nurse, a human resource administrator, a graphic designer, a petroleum engineer, a linguist, and an animal health specialist all have one thing in common; the Ron Brown Scholarship Fund available to qualified Isla Mujeres students.

Created shortly after Ron Brown's untimely death in the summer of 2009, the scholarship fund assists a limited number of students with tuition and the expenses of living off-island while completing their education at a university or college. 

Reeling for Ronnie tournament - P Parent Photo
Since its creation Ron's close friend Richard Lock and the Lock Search Group have been the biggest supporters of the fund, along with Ron and Gwen's many personal friends and family members. The fund is incrementally, year by year, increasing the number of students that can be assisted.

In addition to personal donations the fund also raises money through an annual fishing tournament organized by Richard Lock, Frank Berke and Peter Zukow

Patrick Parent - largest fish
The Fifth Annual Reeling For Ronnie Fishing Tournament was held this year at the luxurious North King Lodge, located in the sheltered waters of Caamano Sound on the northern coast of British Columbia. 

North King Lodge Caamano Sound BC Canada
Participants from a variety of cities in Canada and the USA - Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Victoria, Vancouver, Minneapolis and Austin – enjoyed a fun-filled four days of fishing and camaraderie. Afternoons were consumed by the recounting of spontaneous and slightly exaggerated fishing stories. 

Airfare to Bella Bella, a helicopter ride to the fishing camp, meals, snacks, beer, wine, equipment, boats, and gear, are all included in the price. Best of all (according to the website) there are no fish stealing Sea Lions in the area! This is serious fishing country!

Gwen Brown and raffle winner Mike Johnson
Between the tournament and a raffle for an all-expenses paid fishing trip the 2014 event raised a record breaking $15,000.00 CDN; 100% of all money raised is used for paying tuitions and student expenses.

Here on Isla Mujeres there were at least a two dozen guys salivating over that trip, purchasing handfuls of tickets in hopes of upping their odds. 

The winning ticket was drawn by Gwen Brown at a Friday night happy hour at Villa la Bella in February. Mike Johnson from Minnesota was the lucky guy; but his nephew was even luckier when Mike gave him the winning ticket. The moans and groans from various ticket holders were painful to hear, everyone wishing that they were Mike's nephew.

Sorry guys! Maybe next time.....

In the meantime anyone who is interested in giving a helping hand to outstanding students please feel free to check out the Ron Brown Scholarship Fund website for more information:

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie