Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas in the Caribbean

On the twelfth day of Christmas, Isla gave to me:

Twelve Boats a Bobbing:

I wonder if Santa Claus could fit one of these beauties in Lawrie's stocking?

Any Sunday afternoon at North Beach a collection of yachts and mega-yachts can be seen anchored just off shore while their passengers enjoy a dip in the warm aqua-coloured sea water. These yachts are a fairly recent phenomenon as Isla was originally a fishing community. Walk any beach on the west side of the island and you will see numerous small multi-coloured panga-style boats pulled up on the beaches waiting for the work day to begin.

Loungers Laying:

Starting at seven in the morning the employees of the beach restaurants and bars begin to get organized for the day, setting out sun loungers and umbrellas for potential customers. 

Every business has their own colours to identify their area. Waiters will deliver food and drinks to the loungers allowing holiday travellers to just relax and enjoy the sun, sand and surf. 

Lawrie tried to train me to do that at our casa.  It didn't work out so well for him.

Ten Taxis Racing:

Even though the island is only seven kilometres long and a kilometre wide, the taxis are always in a hurry to get somewhere - where ever that somewhere is. Taxis are reasonably priced and can usually be flagged down from anywhere on the island. The main taxi stand is located near the passenger ferry docks. It is still best to ask the price before you ride as the rates can be higher in the holiday season.

Nine Snowmen Waiting:

These nine little donut-snowmen lined up on a baking tray at the Chedraui Super Store made us laugh. 

Snowmen, in the Caribbean? Thank goodness they are not real, and are only in someone's imagination. 

We've done our time with snow: no mas.

Eight Palm Trees Swaying:

Nothing says “the tropics” like a sugar-white beach and stately palm trees swaying in the breeze. Beware – those picturesque, and very hard, coconuts hanging above your head can knock you out if they connect with your softer noggin. 

Usually around this time of year the city workers are out and about removing the almost ripe fruit from the trees in an attempt to prevent injuries. Still, sitting in the shade of a coco tree is just so darn romantic it's hard to resist – potential head injuries be damned.

Hammocks Hanging:

Swinging in a hammock strung between two coco palm trees, sipping on a cold cerveza: ah, bliss. 

We recently planted two little cocos in our small patch of sand on the ocean-side of our house. We daily check their progress to see if they are hammock ready. 

Unfortunately five feet high doesn't quite qualify. We have a few more years to wait. 

Six Massage Tents Ready:

Stressed from gift shopping or flying economy class? Why not hit the beach for a massage. 

Located on the beach, across from Jax Bar & Grill or the Posada del Mar Hotel, are five or six massage tents where the staff will give you a relaxing light massage, guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit.  

Alex, Daniel, Freddy, Inez, Joao, Pepe in back, and Gustavo

Five Freezing Coooold Beers:

Merry Christmas to our good friends Freddy, Joao Gustavo, Alex, Daniel, Pepe, and Inez and of course Sal and Mal Richards at the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill. 

They have the biggest smiles while they serve the best freezing cold beer on the island!

Four Trees in Centro:

The smell, the shape, the decorations of a real Christmas tree brings back great memories for anyone from northern climates, but I always wonder how did a Christmas tree become synonymous with Christmas in the Caribbean? 

As ex-pats we really enjoy seeing the trees, in centro, at the passenger ferry docks, and on top of the City Hall. It's a beautiful thing.

Three Church Bells Ringing:

Christmas time is very special to the islanders. It is the time of year when many children are baptized, or confirmed into the Catholic Church. It is also the start of a six-week-long celebration that includes The Feast of our Lady Guadalupe on December 12th, Posadas Navideñas December 16th to 29th, Noche Buena December 24th, Christmas December 25th, and ending in January with the Night of the Kings on January 6th. The three large Catholic Churches on Isla Mujeres are beautifully decorated and overflowing with worshippers during the holiday season.

Two Christmas Parades:

There are two Christmas parades: the official Municipal Santa Claus Parade, and the Christmas Golf Cart Parade organized by a local carnival dance troupe. Last year we participated in the golf cart parade for the first time, dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse, tossing candy to the crowds of kids. This year the parade was scheduled for Saturday December 20th, but due to the high possibility of rain has been moved to Saturday December 27th starting at 5:30 in the afternoon. It is so much fun to ricochet around the island in a decorated golf cart, trying to follow the lead vehicle when the route is being planned just as the parade starts. The crowds of little kids waving and yelling hello make it all worthwhile. We'll be there again!  

On The Twelfth Day of Christmas Isla Gave to Me - One Brightly Lit and Noisy Party Bus:

It's bright. It's noisy. It's fun. Every year around this time the party bus, or as some people call it the disco bus, or the funny bus, comes out of storage and begins doing nightly runs around and around, up and down the island.
Loud music. Bright lights. And people have fun. It's become a favourite with Bachelor and Bachelorette party celebrations. 

It drives me nuts when I am trying to sleep, but it has become part of the annual holiday celebrations so we have learned to laugh, and go back to sleep muttering: “It's just the party bus.” We have plans to use it soon, and it will be our turn to be silly.

Feliz Navidad to you all – may your Christmas be Merry and bright!
Lawrie & Lynda

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Friday, December 12, 2014

You might be ready to retire to Isla if ….

You might be ready to retire to Isla Mujeres Mexico if:

Fishing tournament season

You are familiar with the four seasons: fishing tournament season, whale-shark tour season, we wish the tourists would hurry up and return season, and holy cow things are smoking busy on Isla season.

Swim with the whale shark season

You know that rust is not just a fashion colour made popular in the 1970's, instead it is the ever-present bi-product of salty air and ocean spray corroding everything made of metal. You have learned to love concrete, glass, granite, marble, wood and plastic.

Rust - not just a fashion colour

If the first name of most of your male friends is Juan or Jose, and your female friends are called Maria or Guadalupe. Everyone has a second name or a nickname that they use instead of their biblical first names. Juan Alfredo = Freddy. Juan Batista = Patricio. 

Lawrie was destined to live in Mexico, he is John (Juan) Lawrie, but has always used Lawrie as his first name.

Our daily transportation

Your everyday vehicle is a golf cart. Personal golf carts range from the plain vanilla original colour to a wild assortment of paint jobs, upholstery colours, festive decorations or fancy hubcaps. Individuality is the key!

You instantly recognize the sound of an motorcycle helmet being blown from the rider's head and bouncing across the pavement. According to the law riders are required to secure their helmets, but frequently the straps can be seen flapping in the wind or clenched in the rider's front teeth. It seems to be a choice of looking good, instead of being safer.

Family transportation
You know that five people can, and frequently do, ride on a motorcycle.

When we first moved to Isla three on a motorcycle was pretty novel to us, then four became the standard, and now we hardly notice when a family of five zip past crammed together on a moto. We are waiting for the next level – six passengers! 

 We have also seen up to twelve locals or tourists jammed onto golf carts, and twenty-four people in a pickup truck.

Coveted treasure - 4 litre plastic jugs
You might be ready to retire to Mexico if you understand the value of an empty four-litre plastic jug, complete with a good-fitting screw cap. Early in the morning or later in the evening you might see the familiar parade of motorcycle riders returning from the gas station with a couple of liters of gasoline in a plastic jug. The gas is used for cooking family meals. 

If you put a clean empty container on the curb, it will last about two and a half minutes before someone on a moto scoops it up, shouting “gracias” as they zip away with their treasure.

Wide range of fun friends 
Your friends range in age from early 20's to late 80's and everyone happily gets along. 

The very best thing about living on Isla Mujeres is that no one cares who you were in a previous life. What you did or are doing for a living is just not important. 

What is important is do you enjoy life?  Answer yes to that question and you'll fit right in.

You don't participate in seniors' organ recitals: “Oh, my liver. Oh, my spleen. Oh, my stomach. Oh, my heart.” Try doing that on Isla, and you will get a quirked eye-brow in response. You're getting older ….. oh, well, aren't we all?

Daily attire - short, t-shirt and flip-flops
And finally, you might be ready to retire to Isla Mujeres Mexico, if your daily attire consists of a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops.

Are you ready to retire to Isla?

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

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Friday, December 5, 2014

Patience! Living in Mexico is all about patience

Living in Mexico is all about patience,” Tiffany Yenawine-Wareing philosophically wrote on her FaceBook page, “things happen when they happen.” 

You can almost hear the exasperation in her typed words.

Tiffany was referring to the road construction and daily changes to the intricate detour routes that allows access to the middle section part of Rueda Medina, the main north-south route on Isla Mujeres. She and husband Brad Wareing jointly manage the Marina Paraiso hotel/marina/restaurant/dive shop complex located behind the detour barricades.

First road block - near car ferry entrance
Rueda Medina is the route that gives customers access to at least eight other restaurants, a handful of bars, several hotels, four marinas, the cement plant, the building supply store, the middle school, a pharmacy, the one and only auto parts store, plus hundreds of homes that are located on the west side of the island between the car ferry and the Chedraui Super Store.

October in front of the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill
The repaving project started in early October and was to be finished within two months. In the meantime, a group of business owners met with the municipality and asked if a sewer line was being installed at the same time. 

They were told there were no plans for a sewer in that area for the next few years. Then the business owners met with Aguakan, the water/sewer provider and asked; “Why not? The road is already torn up, why not do it now, not in a year or two from now and repeat this whole painful process?”

Why not indeed.
November a few hundred feet south at the Marina Paraiso

Eventually with a lot of managerial scrambling the budget was allocated to upgrade the water lines and install a sewer. 

For those of you who have never been to Isla, you probably can't figure out what the big deal is. 

Perhaps you have noticed in your travels through Mexico signs that say: Please do NOT flush the toilet paper! Place it in the waste basket provided.

 That is because most homes and businesses operate on holding tanks, not sewers. The extra paper waste in the holding tank causes a big problem with space, necessitating weekly, or sometimes daily pump-outs with, as our grandson says, “the poo-sucker-truck.” Expensive! Smelly! And not very sanitary when the toilets backup or the tank overflows onto the street. Sewers are needed.

Point south and say you are headed to a restaurant
Besides the dust, dirt, noise and the daily confusion about how to access this area there is a personal cost for the employees. Their earnings (tips) are dramatically reduced with many customers avoiding the area, unsure as to how or where to gain access. 

Many taxi drivers are reluctant to drive customers or employees to the various restaurants and bar. A few taxi drivers have been demanding more money for the nuisance factor of traveling on bumpy dirt roads, worried about damaging their cars. The local Policia are telling people that the businesses are closed. Not so. They are all open, and waiting for you.

New sewer lines and upgraded water lines
The new construction completion date is set for the first of the year, but right now I am looking out my window at a torrential downpour of rain that is turning the dirt streets to mud-holes, filling in the trenches with goopy muck, and slowing down the process yet again!

This week the detour route starts at the north end of the project, near the car ferry docks. When stopped by the police at the barricades, just point south and say you are going to a restaurant, then head on into your off-road adventure. Keep a sharp eye out for the propane delivery truck, and of course the poo-sucker-truck. You really wouldn't want to have an close encounter of any kind with these two behemoths.

Expanded deck area at Marina Paraiso bar
The staff and management of the various businesses would really appreciative your support. Since I wrote this article yesterday, the road has been preliminarily paved up to the entrance to Marina Paraiso & Barlito's. 

Patience my friends, patience. Eventually it will all be finished. 

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

Today's "pretty picture" - three amigos fishing near our house

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Friday, November 28, 2014

Sex in a Hammock

"Swingin' in a hammock in the palm tree shade..."
When we first moved to Isla six years ago, I jokingly asked a Mexican friend, “So, how do you have sex in a hammock.” 

His face turned bright red in embarrassment and he chuckled. “If you sleep every night for one year in a hammock, I'll tell you,” he replied.

Bright colours

Hammocks are common in local homes, strung across the main room maximizing space in a limited-size home, and providing comfort for the entire family. They were originally developed in Central and South America as a portable method of keeping the sleeping person cool and reasonably safe from venomous snakes, scorpions and disease carrying insects. 

These useful accessories eventually make their way into the Yucatán Peninsula area of Mexico a couple of hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish explorers.

Manuel Jesus Pech Pat - in his Isla store
Around 1590 many European naval sailing ships were using the idea of a canvas sling hammock, to accommodate more sleeping spaces in cramped quarters and to prevent the sailors from being injured by rolling out of their bunk beds during rough weather. 

Many sailors became so accustomed to this way of sleeping they brought their hammocks with them while on shore leave. 

In recent years, during the Apollo Space program, the Lunar Capsule was equipped with hammocks for the captain and the lunar module pilot to sleep in, between space walks.

Julian Cauih
Originally made from tree bark and sisal modern day tropical hammocks are typically woven from either cotton or nylon yarns. Several villages like Ek Balam and Tixkokob near the City of Mérida specialize in making hammocks for sale in Mexico or around the world. They are hand woven by men, women and children, while the larger hammocks might be made on a loom.

Located inside the Mercado del Artesano on Abasolo
On Isla Mujeres, a display of colourful hammocks caught my eye as I was walking past the Mercado del Artesano in centro on Isla Mujeres. I stopped to chat with the vendor, Manuel Jesus Pech Pat. He was born in his family village in the Yucatán, and has now lived on Isla for forty-two years. 

Manuel told me that the average chair hammock takes about sixteen hours to create, while the larger two-person hammocks take up to thirty-two hours to weave. A good hammock will have the knots in the twine at the ends, not in the middle of the sleeping area. The weave will be reasonably tight and even.

Manuel weaving a hammock
Chatting as he demonstrated the hand-weaving method of making hammocks, he hardly looked at what his hands were doing - muscle memory preforming the intricate stitches. He and his uncle Julian Cauih share the little bodega. On sunny days you can see Manuel walking the beaches selling his hammocks to tourists and Cancun day-trippers, while his uncle minds the store. Stop in for a visit at their store and check out their supply of hammocks, blankets and handwoven jackets. Their store is in the Mercado del Artesano on Abasolo Street, facing the Poc-Na hostel.

As for the original question to my now very good friend; well we didn't fulfill our part of the bargain by sleeping in a hammock every night for one year, so I never did learn the answer to the question. More research is required!

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Isla Mujeres is Un-Discovered, Un-Forgettable, Un-Cancun!

Fishing boats at sunset
This is my favourite part of Cancun,” the woman sitting beside me said.

Quickly I swallowed my mouthful of wine, to prevent it from being snorted out through my nose. Perplexed I turned to look at her and noticed her all-inclusive resort wristband.

“Cancun?” I said, my eyebrows rising up, questioning.

Sand art - on North Beach
Yes, we are on a day trip from the hotel zone. This is my favourite part of Cancun.”

Lawrie just smiled and diplomatically said, “This isn't Cancun.  It's Isla Mujeres. We're a separate community.”


Same location - next day, are we in Cancun?
A few days later when I was walking along the shore of North Beach, I noticed a sign that someone had built in the sand. It said: Dream Trip! Yep, good assessment. The next day I passed the exact same sign and someone had changed it to read: Cancun. 

Apparently more than one tourist is confused on the concept of where Cancun is located.

Casa Sirena T-shirts 
As Steve Broin, proprietor of the delightful Casa Sirena Bed & Breakfast located in Centro, is fond of saying: Isla Mujeres is Un-Discovered, Un-Forgettable, Un-Cancun. Just a twenty-minute ferry ride from the mainland Isla is a small island hamlet where people generally know a little bit about you, or sometimes a lot, and even occasionally too much. 

Street vendor
It's a friendly, open-hearted community where ex-pats and locals co-mingle. Many long-term ex-pats tirelessly help out with local charities, animal rescue, and student educational programs. Visitors and residents can choose to very involved, or can maintain a lower profile. It's a personal preference.

Like Cancun, Isla does have four all-inclusive resorts: The Privileges Aluxes, The Mia Reef, The Isla Mujeres Palace, and now the Hotel Villa Rolandi has changed to an all-inclusive. However, most of the accommodations are located in condominiums, small quirky hotels, a large hostel, and private houses. The tourists who discover Isla usually have a more adventurous outlook on life, preferring to try something new rather than to ensconce themselves in an all-inclusive, this-could-be-any-beach-resort-in-the-world, atmosphere.

Golf carts are common transportation for locals
As soon as you step off the boat you will realize this is very un-Cancun. The first clue is the number of golf carts on the road – about 800 are available for rent, and many more are privately owned. It's a fun and unusual way to explore the island. 

Then there are numerous tiny restaurants and bars scattered throughout the various neighbourhoods, augmented by street vendors with their mobile food carts. Another clue that this is not Cancun would be the dozens of small fishing boats pulled up above the tide line, festooned with nets, anchors, and bait buckets – ready and waiting. Or perhaps the coco frio vendors, who with the whack of a sharp machete will lop the top off a coco and hand you a cool nutritious drink, all for around two dollars.

Nutritious coco water 
Unlike Cancun, the island has a huge Naval base, just to the right of the passenger ferry docks. Several Navy ships, including the fast rescue boats, are often berthed in front of the base. There is a navy hospital, barracks for single personal, and family housing as well. Frequently the enlisted personal can be seen exercising, practicing drills, or doing maintenance chores at the base. 

And the airport – well, that belongs to the Navy, but occasionally is used by visiting dignitaries or pilots who have connections. However, a word of advise; be discrete if you are taking photographs of the Navy base, or the boats. For security reasons photographers are not welcome.

Navy personal 
Isla is a tight-knit, family-oriented community. Many islanders have lived here all their lives, as have their parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and so on.

Isla is not the anything-goes party-til-you-drop atmosphere of Cancun. 
Come visit. Enjoy. Be kind to our little island and you'll have a wonderful experience, one that will keep you coming back time and again.


And please, don't make me snort my wine through my nose by telling me this is your favourite part of Cancun. 

That's wrong, just so wrong.

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

(Thanks to Steve Broin for his great quote:Un-Discovered, Un-Forgettable, Un-Cancun!)

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