Friday, November 20, 2015

What do Nashville entertainers and migrating sailfish have in common?

The 7th annual Island Time Music and Fishing Fest.  This fun event features world-class catch and release sail fishing and top notch entertainment from Nashville Tennessee.  It all happens here in paradise.
Almost seven years ago, the Island Time Fishing Tournament and Country Music Concert, held its first event featuring an intimate evening with Nashville artist Phil Vassar who happens to have a personal connection with Isla Mujeres.  He was joined by entertainers and songwriters Tim Nichols, Tim Johnson, James Dean Hicks, Jon Stone and Nick Norman.  Recently renamed the Island Time Music and Fishing Fest, it has now burgeoned into a large music festival, with the added attraction of great fishing. 

Margarita Madness at the Soggy Peso 
In past years we have enjoyed the tequila-fueled entertainment of Jon Stone, Nick Norman and Lewis Brice during the wild Margarita Madness at the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill. This outrageously fun event has been relocated to a larger venue featuring six artists including the original three very popular guys.  Jax Bar & Grill was the original host restaurant for a number of years offering intimate concerts with the performers, and auctions of crazy items such as Reba McIntyre’s teeny-tiny autographed jeans. 
The bigger festival has necessitated a move to larger venues and also a change in ticket prices.  Because this is a charity event with the proceeds earmarked to help the local school for developmentally challenged children, the organizers are trying to keep the costs to a bare minimum.  The Little Yellow School House on Isla Mujeres began with one room, six students and a really big dream. The school now has six classrooms, full-time teachers and over 50 students, with fifteen more on a waiting list.

For the Music Fest the list of entertainers includes Kellie Pickler, Jerrod Niemann, Blackjack Billy, Love & Theft, Kyle Jacobs, American Young, Nick Norman, Natalie Stovall, Lewis Brice, Joal Rush, Hailey Steele, Rob Hatch, and islander Ryan Rickman.   Although the artists are generously donating their time, the non-profit society is responsible for covering expenses for travel, accommodation and meals.  Venue tickets per person for the 2016 events range from $199 for All Access Except the Opening Show to $249 for All Access Including the Opening Show at Casa Fenix.  (Food and beverages not included.)
Here’s the link for tickets:!events/c8k2
If you want to have a great time listening to current country hits, up close and personal with some of Nashville’s best talent – head to Isla. 

Sunrise - day one, boat captains getting ready to head out
Or maybe you actually want to go fishing; getting up before the crack of dawn to head out on the bumpy ocean and put squiggly wet things on sharp hooks to catch really big and hard fighting fish.  (You can probably guess, I won’t be doing that!)  In between the entertainment and the many cold beers, tournament competitors usually find time to go fishin’.  Trophies and bragging rights are awarded to the boats, anglers, and junior anglers with the most releases.
Whatever your choice, it's a fun way to enjoy a week in paradise and to give something back to the community.  
We’ll be waiting for you!


Lynda & Lawrie

John & Betty Raimondo - a big thank you!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lies the cat told me

Waiting to get on the big boat

“Whew, what is that smell?” my human said, as she waved her hand in front of her face, and rapidly lowering the car window.  She turned to look accusingly at me. “Sparky, was that you?”

I confess.  It was me.  I accidentally let out a little gas.  We are going someplace called Cancun.   It’s my first time leaving Isla Mujeres, and Thomas (he’s my much older feline roommate) said that when dogs go to Cancun, they don’t come back – ever!  That’s why I’m so scared, and why I farted.  Thomas knows a lot more about traveling than I do.  He has lived in two countries, and he has been on airplanes several times, so I believe him. 

That big red and white thing is the boat 
My two humans – I call one Driver, and the other one Servant – and I are waiting at the car ferry terminal on Isla for a big boat to take us to Cancun.  I have seen this boat leaving and arriving many times when we are out and about on the island, but I have never been on it.  Big Adventure Day for me!

Eventually the boat arrives, and all the trucks and cars are jammed on board.  There are so many vehicles we can’t open the doors on the car, and I can’t explore the boat.  What seems like a really long time, only forty-five minutes in human time, we arrived in Punta Sam and drive towards Cancun. 

I'm a bit scared - and have a nervous tummy

My goodness, I have never seen so many cars, trucks, motorcycles, people, cats and dogs in one place.  Big buses whiz past, really close to our little Mini Cooper car.  Vehicles change lanes, buzzing in and around each other.  A few horns honk.   The noise and smells are overwhelming for my sensitive ears and nose.  I started trembling, but Servant turned around and gave me a reassuring pat.  “It’s okay, Sparky, nothing to be afraid of,” she said. 

A few minutes later, we stopped on Kabah Avenue in front of a building that said Centro de Especialidades Veterinarias.  

Oh, oh.  That can’t be good.  Thomas also warned me about going to the veterinary, or as he calls them, Cat-Doctors.  He said they do terrible things to animals.  I wish Thomas hadn’t told me all these bad stories.  I accidentally farted again as we went into the building. 

This big cat lives at the Cat- Doctors' place
Inside there was a huge fluffy cat that looked a bit like Thomas.  He didn’t seem to be worried that he lived in the Cat-Doctors’ building.  Still, I was well behaved just in case.  The two Cat-Doctors took weird see-through photos of my back, legs, and pelvis because when I am tired I run on three legs.  I was hit by a car a few years ago, before I adopted Driver and Servant, and my back right leg doesn’t work as well as the other ones.  The Cat-Doctors agreed that my joints looked okay, but my muscles on the right side needed strengthening – they prescribed less running and more swimming.  Swimming is okay, but I love to run!  I’m not sure I agree with their treatment.  We’ll see.

Christmas flowers at Home Depot store
Fortunately for me the Cat-Doctors let me leave without doing nasty things to me.  So far all the bad stories Thomas told me about Cancun have been big fat fibs.  I think he was trying to scare me.  Our next stop was at Home Depot where Servant and I waited outside in the shade and Driver went inside to buy a few things for our house on Isla Mujeres.  Servant was amused to see Poinsettia flowers and Canadian fir trees being delivered in early November to a store in Mexico.   Something about it was ‘way too early, or something like that.  Personally I don’t think it is ever too early to have a tree.  Every house should have a Christmas tree, all year around, for the dog to pee on.

Hardly any room left for me in the back seat

After Home Depot, we drove to an even bigger store, Costco, where Driver and I waited in the shade while Servant did the shopping.  I guess I’m not allowed inside the stores, so one person stays with me while the other one does the chores.  I’m okay with that.  I get lots of attention.

One last stop at Mega, next door to Costco, to stock up on Thomas’s favourite cat food flavours.  By now the trunk is full and more packages are stacked up around me in the back seat.  We have the top down on the car because I look so very cool, hip, with it, in a convertible.  I really like Driver’s choice of cars.

This is living - riding in a convertible
Finally we are headed back to Punta Sam, my ears are flying in the cooling breeze and I am looking forward to getting home.  

But, not yet.  We have to wait until the boat arrives for the three o’clock sailing.  I stretched out in the shade, keeping a sharp eye out for the gang of dogs that live at the ferry terminal. 

When the boat arrived and unloaded a man drove his big truck - the one my humans call the poo-sucker – on board and he emptied the holding tanks.  Then, at last thirty minutes late, we are allowed to board the boat.   We still can’t get out of the car, but I’m too tired to care anymore.  I collapsed on the back seat in amongst the parcels and tried to snooze while we headed back to Isla Mujeres.

Waiting at Punta Sam for the ferry boat

Arriving safe and sound back home the first thing I did was to tell Thomas he was wrong about dogs never coming back if they go to Cancun.  

He just flicked his bushy tail at me and smirked.  “Got ya!”  

Sometimes living with a know-it-all cat can be so frustrating. 

Anyway, it was a big adventure for me! 

Cheers from paradise,

Sparky  aka The Sparkinator!

The boat docking at Punta Sam

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Friday, November 6, 2015

Remember when?

Having fun at Marina Paraiso 

No, I don’t mean the sandy streets or the quaint little stores scattered around centro on Isla Mujeres, I am talking about your memories of being a child, growing up in Canada or perhaps the United States.

You played all weekend with your friends - cowboys and Indians (yes, it was okay to say Indians then), scrub baseball, street soccer - and all you had to do was to come home when your dad whistled, or the street lights came on.

Softball on the beach - team sharing mitts (in the air)
You struggled home, dirty, tired, scraped, bruised and completely laughed-out.  As you got older you ventured further afield, on your bicycle exploring nearby neighbourhoods or in our case the next town.  No helicopter-parenting here.  You just knew you had to be home for dinner or you were in big trouble.  That was what it was like for me and my siblings when we were kids – a few years back – okay, many many years ago.

So, where am I going with this?  Here on Isla Mujeres, it is like stepping back in time.  Kids are allowed to be kids.  No safety helmets or tracking devices, no daily schedule of planned activities, just day to day adventures.

Fooling around by their families' boats
We were in the local grocery store the other day when two young sisters, about six and four, came in holding hands.  They were on an errand for their mom.  The girls made their purchase and headed home, about a block away from the store.  

We remember doing errands like that for our moms.  How very simple.  

But, back in the USA or Canada the parents can be sentenced or fined under the Child Abandonment statutes for letting their little kids walk to the store alone. 

Some of our favourite local kids fishing - a few years ago
We think the island teenagers grow up to be more self-sufficient and responsible being allowed more freedom to make their own decisions.  We get to see a lot of them as we live near the high school.  Yes, they all have their status-symbol smart phones but they still flirt, and giggle (the boys) and shriek (the girls).  They talk, joke, and interact with each other much more than their northern counter-parts.   The Mexican culture seems to encourage this type of communication and we think it’s great.  At their homes the local kids are like any other kid, perhaps a little more respectful of their parents, but if Grandma tells you to do something you had better do it.  It’s the norm for grandparents to live with the family and help out with child-rearing.

Dancing to her own beat.
My grandparents lived with us when we were kids.  It was frustrating at times, but now that I look back and remember what they taught us about manners, family history and good judgement – it was worth the frustration.

So, if you miss the good old days of being a kid without worries, come to paradise, on Isla Mujeres.  

No matter what your age, you can still be a kid here.

Cheers from paradise!
Lawrie & Lynda

Pretending to drive - M. Watt photo

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Friday, October 30, 2015

A witches’ brew of traditions

Pink-haired rock stars and pretty devils

It’s the time of year when devils, skeletal Catrinas, pink-haired rock stars and hobgoblins make an appearance – in a witches’ brew of celebrations and traditions; the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, combined with our North American Halloween, and the very spiritual Mayan celebration of Hanal Pixán.   

It’s a fascinating time of year to be in Mexico.

Recent breakfast at Naval Officers' Club
October is also when the current Navy Commodore’s wife hosts the annual costume-party breakfast at the Officers’ Club on Medina Avenue.  Doña Olivia, along with her right-hand person Susana Olvera, did an outstanding job this year.  

The monthly breakfast event is an important fundraiser that helps purchase equipment and furnishings for the Navy hospital on Isla Mujeres.  

Minnie Mouse
It’s a fun time to visit with seldom-seen friends, and make new acquaintances.  Then breakfast is served, raffle prizes drawn, and sometimes a version of flash-card bingo is played.  The Gringa population informally refers to the event as The Navy Wives’ Breakfast because the longer Spanish name is a mouthful of difficult consonants and unfamiliar words. 

This year Minnie Mouse put in an appearance at the costume party.  Wearing over-sized yellow shoes she stumbled her way to the door.  Peering through eye-holes in the giant head she was greeted by scary hunchbacks, devils, and the Scream Ghostface man.  The room was jammed.   Everyone participated in the crazy fun by wearing costumes and disguises.  A huge amount of effort had gone into the decorations with black and orange balloons, table cloths, napkins, Halloween themed food and a pumpkin-faced cake.

Mariachis band - ten musicians

There was a short video presentation showing the various items at the hospital that had been purchased in the past year by the fundraising efforts of the women.  

Then a ten-person mariachi band played some great tunes and the door prizes were drawn.  At our table of fourteen women, islander Gail Stewart was the lucky one to win a prize. 

Our table at the breakfast
If any of your island friends ask if you would like to go to the Navy Wives’ Breakfast – say Si!  You will have a fun time, and be contributing back to the island.  

Sue McDonald Lo is a great source for information and tickets.  Minnie Mouse is already planning her costume for next October!

As for the rest of the witches’ brew of traditions, the city is hosting a number of events to draw visitors into the local celebrations.  

Friday October 30th is the Paseo de las Ánimas – the Parade of the Souls starting around 6:00 in the evening at the older cemetery in centro and finishing at the recently completed Casa de la Cultura – Cultural Center. 
Altars - Photo from FB Naranja Dulce
On Saturday October 31st in the square at city hall there will be a mix of traditions: the judging of Halloween-style costumes for children, and the building of beautiful altars for the Mayan Hanal Pixán celebrations.  

The altars are traditionally decorated with candles, candy skulls, bright yellow Marigold petals, favourite foods and photographs of the deceased loved ones.   The Municipality of Isla Mujeres has until recently been very low-key on this important celebration, preferring to let the families privately honor their deceased loved ones. 

San Miguel de Allende
I have mixed feeling about making it a public event.  In San Miguel de Allende, closer to Mexico City, the amazing altars, offerings and decorations are a huge tourist draw.  We were there, accidentally, in 2008; the sight is breathtakingly beautiful. 

But a part of me thinks this should remain a private family event, not a tourist attraction. 

Still, it is a fascinating time of the year to be in Mexico.  We can’t think of anywhere else we would like to be right now.

Cheers from paradise!
Lynda & Lawrie

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Friday, October 23, 2015

When Paradise Gets Wet, Really Wet

A week of grumpy weather
We fooled around with various ideas for a title for this week’s blog.  

Titles like – some days you should just stay in bed, or a little adversity can pull a community together, or when it rains it pours!  

You get the idea.  It’s been a grumpy wet week that has created a few problems for the island community.

 Collapsed wall - TV Isla Mujeres photo

The first problem was an eight-foot tall retaining wall that collapsed from the weight of water in the soil.  Twelve inches of rain in twenty-four hours.  It seems like we are back on the Wet Coast of BC – living in Vancouver, or the American equivalent of Seattle Washington.  

Murals painted in April 2015 - L Lock photo
The wall supported the popular volleyball and exercise area for seniors, located along the double road that runs from the east to the west side of the island, past the newer cemetery and the big church.  This spring local artists were invited to decorate the wall with murals of local creatures such as iguanas, hermit crabs, and turtles.  It was one of my favourite murals, not part of last year’s big Panga Seed fourteen murals painted in one month blitz, but still a well-planned and beautifully painted wall. 

Police cleaning up - TV Isla Mujeres photo
Interestingly enough in Mexico the local police are called out to help clean up disasters such as this.  We have also seen the police painting crosswalks and speed bumps with the bright yellow warning colour, and re-installing broken or missing stop or speed limit signs.  In Canada those jobs are handled by the city maintenance workers, or the provincial highway department employees.  Just another small difference we have noticed between the Canadian or American and Mexican cultures. 

Hidalgo Ave under water, Giovanna Flores photo
As the rain continued unabated a notice was posted on various community Facebook pages asking any able-bodied people to help neighbours in areas that are flooding.  Most of Isla Mujeres is barely above sea-level while the southern end is maybe fifty feet above sea-level.  That creates two problems.  One: water runs downhill, adding more depth to the already saturated areas in the lower parts of the island.  And two: the island is a sandbar in the beautiful turquoise Caribbean Sea.  The tides are currently quite high, and the ocean water combined with the excess rain is creating havoc.  The street corner across from Jax Bar & Grill had an accumulation of six inches of water, as did most of Hidalgo Avenue in Centro. We saw the new fire truck and crew busy pumping out the streets, moving the water into the ocean.  The water eventually seeps back into town: pump, dump and repeat.  But hey, it’s warm water, not icy cold snow-melt.
Lawrie with the hard working Isla Animals gang
Also posted on Facebook was a plea from Isla Animals looking for temporary foster parents for several of their stray dogs.  The lake at the Hacienda Mundaca Park was overflowing, saturating the area around the Isla Animals Clinic, soaking in through the walls and floors.  The free spay and neuter clinics were cancelled for the next few days until the weather changed.  Eileen and Doug Regn and a crew of helpful volunteers were moping the floors and moving the animal cages around when we popped by a couple of nights ago.  They are such a hard working group of people.  

Crocodile prefers pond across from Isla Animals 
The resident crocodile that has been moved by City workers - several times - from the pond across from the Isla Animals Clinic to the lake at Hacienda Mundaca – has returned to the pond, again.  She likes it there!  

One local humorist suggested it was the availability of a better food source that prompts her to make the trek on a regular basis. 

CFE changing weak power pole on our street
Closer to home we have had an interesting week, exacerbated by the rain and higher humidity.  Our third GE Profile side-by-side refrigerator died during the night.  Then our new hot water heater decided to take a day or two off from work, thinking that Lawrie and I would appreciate cooler morning showers.  Our recently purchased 2005 Mini Cooper also wanted a short vacation.  The engine electronics didn’t like the excessive rain.  

Wet Policeman - while CFE changes power pole 
We decided to take the Mini Cooper back to the dealer in Cancun where we purchased the car and get a diagnostic test run.  The weather wasn’t too bad, it looked like things were improving.  Just as the car ferry was docking in Punta Sam a nasty windstorm blew in with pelting rain and high winds, temporarily grounding the boat in the sandy harbour.  As the Captain applied full throttle to free the vessel a freak wind-squall slammed the boat’s bow into the concrete docks.  It was darn exciting for a few minutes with lots of nervous laughter from the on-board truck drivers and ferry crew.  There was some damage to the boat and dock but no injuries that we know of. 

Pepe and guys struggling with fridge
Once off the ferry our drive through Cancun got a bit interesting as the rain continued to pelt down, flooding streets to a depth of a foot or more, making the ever-present potholes impossible to see.  

We decided that since we were already in the city to get the car checked we might as well search for a new refrigerator.  Starting at Telebodega, then Liverpool, Chapur, and Sears we finally settled for a floor model at Costco.  

All the other stores said eight to fourteen days, more or less, before our purchase would arrive from Mexico City. 

Taking the old fridge out past neighbours' house
Islander José (Pepe) Martinez arranged a truck and two strong guys to take our new refrigerator from Costco to our house.  His quote was considerably cheaper than the Cancun-based fletes y mudanzas (cartage companies).  

As the rain continued to pelt down four guys wrestled the thirty-three inch wide beast into our house through an almost-too-narrow front door.  Lawrie had already removed the door and part of the frame but it was still a very tight squeak to get it inside the house.  The non-working appliance, thirty-six inches wide, was man-handled outside, and over a neighbours’ propane tank and onto the street.   Note to new island home owners: check the size of your main entrance before you purchase a large side-by-side refrigerator.  It’s a small but frustrating detail we overlooked eight years ago when we had the house built.

The return of sunny weather
As for the weather, eventually this persistent storm got bored with bothering us.  

It slowly dissipated allowing the warm Caribbean sun dry out our soggy little island. 

Warm breezes, sunshine. It's all good.  We live in paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

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Friday, October 16, 2015

Mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means not today.

Thomas - what the heck is that thing?

 Huh!  What the heck is that?

Close to sunrise, I noticed a small green light blinking on the ocean just south of our house, flashing on and off at regular intervals.  Well, that needs to be investigated.  Our camera has a decent lens so I zoomed in for a better look; it was a huge marker buoy drifting free, and bobbing its way north towards our beach. 

Fifteen minutes later it ran aground, tipped over, and ponderously rolled in the waves until it was stuck about twenty feet from shore.  We emailed a friend who knew how to contact the naval base to advise them of the problem.  

Buoy down and rolling across coral
A group of marinas (sailors) arrived, a non-commissioned officer with his crew, to check out the buoy.  

Then the sleek navy cutter arrived cruising back and forth in the deep water on the other side of the reef, unable to hook a line on the buoy due to the increased size of the waves, and the shallow water inside the reef. 

Waiting for a decision from the big bosses
The weather turned foul so we invited the guys to take shelter on our patio, offering them coffee and snacks while they waited for a decision from higher-up.  The navy bosses were in communication with the harbour master and two employees arrived mid-afternoon to check the situation.  

One lucky guy was designated to retrieve the valuable GPS beacon.  The ocean is very warm in October, but dressed in protective gear it was a bit of a struggle for him to wade into the thigh deep water and remove the heavy beacon, still transmitting its location at 21 14.5 N and 86 44.1 W.  It is good thing the beacon was removed, or we could have had ships trying to take a position reading off of our house.  We envisioned an unscheduled cruise ship visit similar to the Costa Concordia that ran aground in Italy in 2012.

Removing the valuable beacon
By now we were serving ham and chicken sandwiches to the on-shore crew complete with a choice of coffee or pop.  It is a pretty good gig, hanging out with us while the jejes decide what to do with the marker buoy.  Around three in the afternoon the officer in charge flashed us a big friendly smile and said that the weather had become too rough and the cutter was not going to be able to pull the marker buoy back out to sea. 

Oct 7th 2014 - before beacon was removed

“We’ll come back mañana, or when the weather calms down,” he assured us. 

“Si, claro. Okay, no problem.”  

Smiles and handshakes all around, and everyone departed: October 7th 2014.

Yep, a year ago last week, and we are still looking at the rusting bottom side of a huge piece of scrap iron.  For the first few weeks the air stank of rotting sea creatures, until our neighbours helpfully hired a young friend to scrape the dying barnacles and mussels from the exposed bottom.  So how big is this thing?  It has a six foot diameter, and without wading into the water with a tape measure to get the exact measurements, we think it is about fifteen to eighteen feet tall.  It’s big and it’s heavy.

October 11th 2015 - still waiting
We have considered decorating it up for various holiday celebrations:  Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Independence Day.  We have had friends offer to paint it with cool designs.  But no one will remove, or move it, or even consider cutting it up.  It is federal property, but the feds don’t want it, the navy doesn’t want it and the harbour master doesn’t want it.  The first week or two that the buoy was here it moved around a bit, a little to the north, a little to the south, ever closer to shore until it is now half out of the water and stuck between two rocky outcroppings.  Our biggest concern is not esthetics, but of safety.  A big storm could turn this thing into a missile and shoot it straight at our house, knocking out walls and ripping down support columns.  Or, conversely it could be swept out to sea during a hurricane becoming a dangerous navigational hazard, unlit, unmarked, and big enough to punch a hole in a large ship. 

One of several large plastic pontoons
We know it is not the fault of the great folks that work for the navy or the harbour master.  We have always had the greatest respect for them.  They are willing, and helpful.  The decision came from higher up the pay-scale ladder.  It is just not in the budget.  

Well, then, give a scrap dealer the opportunity to cut it up and make a few bucks, it certainly is not going to be put back in service damaged, and dented from a year of rolling back and forth between two rocks.  It’s a win-win situation.   We get rid of a safety hazard, and a local person could make a few bucks salvaging the scrap.

Recent Cuban refugee boat near Casa Coral
Oh, and we have a couple of other little items that could be tossed into the salvage mix: several fifteen-foot long, by two feet around tubes of hard black plastic that were the pontoons for a Cuban refugee boat a year ago, now scattered along the eastern side of the island; plus another recent Cuban refugee boat that is currently lodged in the rocks near Casa Coral disintegrating in the waves.  We love old marine stuff, anchors, old ships, and other marine artifacts, just not half sunk vessels that are capable of causing major damage.  

Hopefully our “artifact” will eventually be removed, but as we discovered several years ago, Mañana, doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means not today.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Awesome bunch of guys!

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