Friday, October 17, 2014

Notes from Paradise – Finding paradise

2005 Boat found drifting after Wilma - Sergio used for a bar
So, you're from Wisconsin?” The woman queried, puzzled.

No, no, I live in Oregon. I said Milwaukie Oregon.” Jackie Conlon replied, a tiny bit frustrated that no one seemed to grasp the concept of a city named Milwaukee that was actually located in Oregon, not in Wisconsin. True, Milwaukie Oregon was home to only about 22,000 people while Milwaukee Wisconsin held about 600,000 inhabitants, so one was definitely more famous than the other, but neither city could be considered as “paradise.”

1993 Na Balam Hotel view 
Jackie first discovered her version of paradise in 1993. She was looking for a new adventure, a new place to relax after a strenuous six-months of commuting between Oregon and Colorado for her job in telecommunications. She was tired of the Mazatlan – Puerto Vallarta area, and suggested to her travel agent that she was ready for something new: maybe Belize. “Un-uh! No, a woman traveling alone in Belize is not a good idea,” the agent said. “I think you would like the Playa del Carmen or the Yucatan area of Mexico a lot more.”

1993 El Presidente Hotel damaged by hurricane
So her first trip to the Caribbean side of Mexico included two nights in Cancun, then ten days in Playa del Carmen, and another ten days on Isla. Unfortunately her first visit to Isla Mujeres included breaking her toe on arrival, limiting her island experiences to hotel, beach, and restaurant. However, the turquoise water, soft white sand, and charming locals hooked her on the island. In the next twenty-one years she returned time and again to her island paradise, bringing family members and friends to share the experience.

1996 Garrafon Park
Now a confirmed Islahólico – a true fan of Isla Mujeres – Jackie is a longtime member of the Isla Mujeres Scholarship Group. The group formed in 2005 with a goal of providing financial assistance to qualified students who wanted to continue on to college or university. Jackie told me that this is a personally satisfying venture, one that gives her close contact with the students and their families. She can see how her monthly contributions are improving the life of the student and of the student's family. Whenever one of the students graduates, she is happy to sign up to assist another one for the four or more years needed to complete their education.
Bunch of youngsters

Jackie is also an avid supporter of local businesses, and enjoys promoting them. She created a FaceBook page for a local restaurant, to help them market their business. And if you happen to be her personal FaceBook friend you will see a variety of “food porn” photographs, promoting various local restaurants, but she confesses, until very recently she had never tried the wonderfully decadent Mexican specialty – marquesitas. Marquesitas are the crepe-like batter confections that are cooked on a large pan, filled with sliced bananas, and chocolate sundae sauce, then rolled into a tube-shape and handed to you with a small paper serviette wrapped around one end. Heavenly!

2005 October, high seas before Hurricane Wilma

Even though Milwaukie Oregon may not be a tropical paradise, Jackie has discovered her own paradise here on Isla Mujeres. 

She is a big-hearted addition to the island.

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

All of the photos are from Jackie Conlon's collection 

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Stories about critters we have known:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Yeah! The new ferry terminal is open, sort of

Ribbon cutting - photo via Municipality of Isla Mujeres

At last after many false starts and delays dating back to December of 2013, the new ferry terminal was officially inaugurated by a large group of dignitaries on Saturday October 4th.  

Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa & Roberto Borge Angulo
Every level of government was represented from our own Municipal President Agapito Magaña Sánchez, to the Governor of Quintana Roo Roberto Borge Angulo, to the Federal General Coordinator of Ports and Merchant Marines Guillermo Ruiz de Teresa, the President of Cancun, the President of Cozumel, our Naval Vice-Admiral Juan Ramón Pigñol, plus a host of other dignitaries.

Waiting for the event to start
A good crowd of islanders were on hand for the celebration. A large white tent was quickly erected in the new parking lot. It sheltered two massive video screens and convention-style raised platform for the honored guests plus dozens of white slip-covered chairs for the general public. It was a classy event.

Appreciative crowd listening to Agapito Magaña
But, you know, everything runs on Mexican time. The event was supposed to start at 10:30 in the morning, but didn't get started until the last dignitary arrived via helicopter around 12:30 in the afternoon. And as always, everyone waited patiently for the commencement. The only people checking their wrist watches with mild irritation were us, the ex-pats. (We are learning, slowly, very slowly, not to fuss over start times.)

Governor Roberto Borge & Presidente Agapito Magaña 
Finally the event started. Municipal President Agapito Magaña Sánchez called it “an historic day” for Isla Mujeres to have this new 700-thousand square-meter terminal. The new structure is fantastic, with plenty of room for the two plus million visitors that Isla Mujeres will host this year.  Of course the smaller vendors, eating establishments, and tour operators will take a little time to settle into the new facility, but be patient, eventually it will happen.

I know some of you will say that the old quaint facility had character, befitting the island, however, in our opinion, one visit to the washrooms or the waiting area would have put paid to that idea.  Isla Mujeres is a world class destination - funky, quaint, rustic, fun, beautiful, romantic, or hip - but it is that first impression that grabs the newcomer, creating a yearning, a compulsion to return again and again to this beautiful little island. This gleaming white facility, with it's Mayan architectural influences is a dazzling new entrance to paradise.

Governor Roberto Borge

Governor Roberto Borge also promised in his very popular speech, the completion of the Cultural Centre, completion of the on-going hospital project, more utility services on the mainland portion of Isla Mujeres, upgrading the car ferry terminal at Punta Sam, and last but not least the repairs and upgrading of the popular Isla Mujeres baseball field. 

Whew! That's a big list, hope it happens.

Congratulations to the many levels of government that created this handsome new facility. Great job!

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

You can also find us at:
Animals and Family Members is a collection of stories about critters we have known:

The Adventures of Thomas the Cat is our first book, written in Spanish and English, for young children to enjoy:ás-el-Gato

Friday, October 3, 2014

Hidden Secrets (Lawrie's turn to write)

I know, it's a hard job running around Isla looking for all the fun bars. Oh well, my “check liver” light is not on at the moment, so here goes.

Starting downtown on Francisco Madero Street, just off Hidalgo Avenue is Tiny's Bar. No, Tiny, the owner is not tiny, but the bar is. 

Two-for-one Mojitos
It is probably only eight feet across. Tiny's is a fun spot with great drinks, and my brand of beer: Sol. 

But since it is two-for-one Mojitos day, I had to sample a couple, and then it is time to move on. 

This time I stopped at the Bunga Bar, also known as The Drunken Mermaid, just a cross from the ferry terminal on Rueda Medina. They don't carry my brand of beer, but oh well, I guess rum and Coke it is. 

This is a perfect spot to people watch in the late afternoon – lots of small and even smaller bikinis passing by on the street – with fun music playing in the background.

I've got a bit of a buzz going. I'm going in circles, retracing my route back to Hemingway's Grill (La Tablita) on Guerrero Avenue. 

La Tablita - Hemingway's Grill
This is a place for me to get into serious trouble. Luz the bartender takes very good care of me, and they have icy cold Sol. Well, I'm going to leave the downtown area now, and travel up the west side of the island to where I can park the golf cart, and get a taxi as driving will soon not be an option for me.

Bahia Tortuga - listening to music.
Bahia Tortuga is the first bar I came across. It is a great palapa bar situated on the bay, with a stage for the outstanding live music acts they feature. 

They don't have my kind of beer, but a Margarita or two will be just fine fun.

Soggy Peso SOL - colder than a penguin's butt
Next is a short walk to the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill. Okay it's only two doors away. 

Here I am in serious trouble; icy cold Sol cerveza, killer strong margs, and fun, friendly staff. I had to be taken home at this point (I think).

Oh, the sacrifices I make for a good story.

The day after I continue my quest to hunt down all the fun bars on Isla; besides I need the golf cart back.

Daddy Blues at Barlito's 
On to Barlito's at the Marina Paraiso. It's another enjoyable palapa bar, overlooking a marina, that also features live music three nights a week. Barlito's serves most types of beer, which is rare, as most bars in Mexico are either a Sol house, or a Corona house, but not both. It's a licensing thing.

The Band with No Name at Chuuk Kay
Next door to Barlito's is Casa Blanca. It's one of those bars that is not structurally sound, as they seem to need a brass pole to hold the ceiling up. This one is probably best enjoyed later at night.

A little further along, and back on the waterfront, is Chuuk Kay with a new and very large palapa right on the beach. The covered space would easily accommodate a large wedding group. Chuuk Kay also has my kind of beer, and good food. The Band With No Name – Javier and the guys – play fun danceable tunes on weekends.

Five-piece Cuban band with a guest singer
Right next door is Varadero, also known as El Cuba Ron. It's an excellent Cuban restaurant overlooking the passage where all the expensive boats pass by, headed into their docks, or stopping at Varadero for food and fun. They have live Cuban music on the weekends, both Sol and Corona products, and super fish dinners, but I'm just drinking this time. After leaving Varadero, out on the main road is Bronco's, with cold Sol and late night entertainment. I would need a special kitchen pass to go there – and I'm afraid to ask!

I've heard good things about the Casa de los Sueños happy hour, and the one at Maria's Kan Kin on the south-west side of the island, but darn, I'm impaired again and will have to continue this fact-finding mission another day …....

Hasta Luego
Lawrie, Maureen, Randy, Amy, Kevin, Ken, Colleen, Linda, Rich
Lawrie & Lynda

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Small acts of kindness

Feeling a bit hungry he walked across the road looking for a better place to eat. A loud noise, a blur of red, and then indescribable pain!  He lay flat on the roadway, unable to move, barely conscious – when he felt himself being lifted up and placed into a large container.

Jacana - slowly recovering
This was not how the young Jacana bird, Jorge, had planned to start his day; first a collision with a taxi, and then a human taking him prisoner. 

His mother had warned him about the dangers of living near humans, but sometimes you just had to take the risk to find food. Collapsing in pain inside the bucket, Jorge wondered what his fate might be.

He heard a man and a woman discussing him, saying he probably wouldn't live more than a few minutes due to his head injury. “No! I will survive.” Jorge decided. Waiting, waiting: as the hours passed Jorge slowly regained a bit of strength. The woman checked frequently to see if he was still alive. Eventually he was able to lift his head off the bottom of the bucket, and then finding a hidden reserve of energy he tucked his long-toed feet under his body and sat upright. Oh, but the pain in his head. It was fierce!

The human popped her head into the room again, pulling back the edge of the towel covering the top of the bucket, talking to him as if he understood her words. “Well, I posted on FaceBook asking if anyone knows how to help you. My friend Dan Kane offered to contact, Delfino Guevera, a local veterinarian. So we'll see what Delfino says.” she said, gently replacing the towel, leaving him alone in the dark, fretting over what would happen next.

Clinica Veterinaria de Isla Mujeres - Delfino's new clinic
A short time later the Jacana could hear another human voice, asking was he still alive? “Yes, he's here.” the woman said, “I have a bird in a bucket in my bathroom.” Jorge didn't understand why that was funny but both the woman and the man she called Delfino chuckled.  Next the veterinarian deftly moved him from the bucket into a cage that smelled alarmingly like cats! “Oh no! Was he going to be fed to cats? What a horrible end to a really bad day that would be.”

Delfino told the woman that he would take the bird, the juvenile Jacana, to his clinic.  If he survived Delfino said he would probably take him into the bird sanctuary in Cancun the following day. The trip to the clinic on a motorcycle was short and scary. Once inside the bright new building Jorge was thoroughly examined by the veterinarian and placed back in the cage. As he huddled in fear the smell of cats, and dogs, and strange chemicals swirled around him. He was accustomed to the smell of the ocean, the marshes, other birds, and nearby humans. He was not accustomed to having so many predators, his enemies, in the same area. It was terrifying!

Rosa & Codie
Very soon another male voice could be heard. “Is this the poor guy that had a run-in with the taxi?” the man asked. 

Instead of taking the bird on another stressful trip to the sanctuary in Cancun, Delfino had called an island friend who had a lot of experience helping wild birds recuperate. “I'll take him home.” Gunther Hepner said, gently picking up the bird. "We'll get him fixed up.”

Another fast ride on a motorcycle, then they entered yet another building and Jorge could smell birds – other birds! “This is Codie and Rosa.” Gunther said as he introduced his pets to Jorge, “Kids, say hello to your new roommate.”

Jorge the Jacana back in the wild
Well, this is encouraging,” Jorge thought. He was beginning to feel better already. “If this human has pet birds, then he probably won't feed me to a cat!” Jorge was put in a dark, quiet place for the night, and given water to drink. 

The next morning the man gave him a tasty breakfast of fresh flies. By now Jorge was able to stand on Gunther's hand, balancing precariously for a few minutes.   You'll be fine,” he said, “I'm going to put you back into a marshy area where you can find food and water, and similar friends. But, first, we need to have a chat about your bad behaviour. You must stay away from roads. Next time you may not be so lucky!”

Jorge agreed wholeheartedly. He was very lucky indeed to have so many humans helping him get better. And he was very lucky he could still enjoy life in paradise.

So the next time you see a beautifully coloured Jacana bird, it just might be Jorge. Please say hello from us.  Tell him Dan Kane, Delfino Guevera, Gunther Hepner plus Lawrie and I are very happy he survived his nearly-fatal encounter with a taxi.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Dia De La Independencia De Mexico

¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!  Long live Mexico!

Grito of Delores!    
At eleven at night, on September 15th Presidente Agapito Magaña Sanchez tugged on a thick ribbon-bedecked rope, ringing a large brass bell and shouting the traditional cry of independence. The huge crowd shouted back: ¡Viva! ¡Viva! ¡Viva! The energy in the air send frissons of excitement through our blood, tingling our nerve endings: Wow!

Overhead fireworks in centro
And then the fireworks started – blasting from two different directions above the crowd gathered in the city square. Whistling shrieks, then a series of booms, followed by a slight pause and the atmosphere exploded into constellations of red, green, blue, and yellow, the billowing phosphorescent smoke slowly dissipating over the city.

We, along with family members Richard and Linda Grierson, had been enjoying a late night dinner just up the street from centro at Pita Amore Restaurante, before heading to the celebrations. We fully expected everything to be running behind schedule, as is the norm, but discovered that was not the case. The event was clicking along, right on schedule.

When we arrived in centro a number of dancers were on stage. The women were dressed in huipils – the beautiful lacy tunics created from fine white cloth, colourful ribbons, and intricate embroidery. 

They had fanciful flower headdresses woven into their beautiful dark hair, topped by traditional white straw hats. Their escorts were attired entirely in white as a counterpoint to their colourful female partners.

The men in another dance troupe wore a stylized cowboy outfit while the ladies were decked out in red and blue multi-layered fiesta dresses that could be swirled high in the air when dancing. 

The music, the smiles, and the colour – an amazing sight.

We missed the very beginning of program but were able to enjoy the dancers for an hour before the cry of independence: the Grito de Delores. The original Cry of Delores was shouted in the early morning hours of September 16th 1810 by a Roman Catholic priest, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, in the small town of Delores near Guanajuato. His proclamation marked the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence, demanding independence from the Spanish colonial government.

And no, Cinco de Mayo is not Independence Day in Mexico. 
That date commemorates a battle between the Mexican army and the French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th 1862. The Cinco de Mayo is more popular in the USA – especially since the advent of beer commercials promoting the celebration!

As the fireworks ended the ten-person band began to play fun traditional music signaling the start of the all-night festivities. The four of us looked at each other and laughed: yep, it was past our bedtime. We aren't conditioned for the all-night parties. 

Walking back to our vehicle, Lawrie picked up a couple of large pieces of tough black plastic – smoking hot pieces of plastic that had fallen out of the sky during the fireworks display. 

The shower of hot debris had sent a number of people scurrying for shelter. It's normal. Fireworks displays are always an adventure in Mexico.

Love this country!   

Feliz Dia De La Independencia!

¡Viva México! ¡Viva Isla Mujeres!

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

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Friday, September 12, 2014

Blue Flag Beach – Going for a Touch Down!

North Beach - Playa Norte
Armed with rakes, shovels and large black plastic garbage bags a dozen or so hardworking ladies gather every morning on the public beaches of Isla Mujeres. It's their job to keep the sand clean. They chat, and rake, and pick up trash while bopping along to music played via their cell phones, IPODS or MP3 players. Their job is a never-ending task.

Beach cleaning crew
The current municipal administration of Isla Mujeres is working toward a Blue Flag designation for North Beach – Playa Norte. The list of requirements to obtain the coveted blue flag is extensive, and the list is reviewed every year before the status is renewed. For example a Blue Flag beach must provide full-time life guards, clean public washrooms, garbage containers, strict control of domestic animals using the beaches, clean drinking water, wheelchair accessibility, and frequent water quality sampling – to name just a few of the conditions.

New life guard tower - not staffed yet
If you have been down to North Beach recently you probably have noticed the addition of three life-guard towers and a big blue tractor-type beach-cleaning machine. The tractor operator sweeps past, combing up debris and leveling the sand very early in the morning before the concession operators set out their loungers and umbrellas for the day.

I often wonder when watching the process if the machine gathers up the lost necklaces, chains and other items that the metal-detector-wielding beachcombers usually search for. I wouldn't mind a turn at driving the tractor. Big machines fascinate me, just ask Lawrie who in the past has rented fun machines like a 32-foot-high-scissor-lift, or a Bob-Cat loader, or a Bush Hog Rotary Cutter, so I could do stuff around our property in Canada.

I want a turn driving this tractor!
However, back on Isla when our low-to-the-ground dog, Sparky, and I are ambling the shoreline giving him an opportunity to swim in the calmer water of Playa Norte I enjoy watching the preparations for obtaining a Blue Flag designation. The addition of clean, public washrooms would be a wonderful thing. It's a bit tricky right now for the crowds of folks who use the beaches. Many of the nearby restaurants are frustrated by the situation and have posted signage: restrooms are for the use of paying customers only. So what do the beach-users do when nature calls? I really don't want to know.

Busy beach!

And yes, I do carry my handy-dandy supply of puppy-poop bags to clean up the beach after Sparky, has done his business. However I am pretty sure that under the Blue Flag designation we will have to find him another location for swimming.

But seriously, North Beach is a beautiful area, enjoyed by thousands every month, and a little extra cleanup is a good thing. It a great place to hang out for the day, people-watching in the shade of a big old palm tree. A cold beverage or two helps the day along as well. Blue Flag or not, it's a beautiful location.

Pier near the Islander Beach Club location

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

PS: when Sparky and I were doing his morning swim/walk we noticed this.  It is a boat which arrived at North Beach sometime just before dawn - filled with Cuban refugees looking for a better life.  

Cuban refugee boat arrived on North Beach early Sept 12th

Friday, September 5, 2014

Shocking Statistics

Fishing economy changing to tourism
Sometimes in the course of looking for ideas to write about for our weekly blog we come across information that is surprising, or even quite shocking. Part-time resident Karen Rosenberg, LISW, recently emailed me the stats on diabetes in Mexico – and they are awful!

According to Mexico’s Department of Social Health, it is believed that 20% of all Mexican women and more than 25% of men are at risk of developing the disease. It’s the nation’s #1 killer, resulting in about 70,000 deaths a year. Diabetes has also become the main cause of limb loss and blindness in Mexico.

Tourists enjoying North Beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon
The economy of Isla Mujeres is gradually shifting from a fishing community to a tourism-based community. 

In the busy season from December to May workers can conceivably earn more money in the form of tips from restaurant or bar patrons, but on average most islanders earn around $9.00 USD per day. That does not leave enough money to eat in a healthy manner. Inexpensive processed food and high-sugar beverages are commonplace. 

Affordable - Coke Cola for baby
We shudder every time we see the young construction workers pedal past on their bicycles clutching their lunch break supplies in one hand. Most days their lunch consists of a two-litre bottle of Coke Cola and a fifty-cent stack of tortillas.

A few years ago the Medical Director of the Salud Publica (health clinic on Isla Mujeres) stated that the clinic does not have glucose monitoring devices or meters available. He estimated that up to 80% of the islanders live with undiagnosed diabetes until it is a life threatening condition. 

Diabetes Clinic 
Karen Rosenberg has been coming to Isla for the past eighteen years, and hosting the Portals to the Self: Isla Mujeres Women's Retreat at the Na Balam Hotel for the past fifteen years. 
Karen said she started the clinics after a friend who worked at the hotel died from complications of undiagnosed diabetes and another friend at the Women’s Beading Coop went into a diabetic coma.
The first two free clinics were held at the Women's Beading Cooperative, but they soon outgrew the limited space and moved the next year to the English School premises. The following year the clinic was so well attended they relocated again, this time to the even larger space at the Red Cross location in La Gloria.
Diabetes Clinic workers
Another community-minded full-time resident, Kathy Ennis RN, pitched in to help with the clinics. 

Then Geovanny Avalos from the Cruz Roja Isla Mujeres, added his invaluable assistance, helping the health professionals with testing and diabetes education. 

Registration of the walk-ins is handled by members of the Women's Beading Cooperative so this effort is a collaboration of ex-pats and local Islenos.
Members of Women's Beading Cooperative at art fair
So, what can you do to help? The organizers are in desperate need of donations of test strips and meters, preferably Contour and Contour Next brands. The Fifth Annual Diabetes Clinic will be held on Thursday October 23rd, starting at 9:00 a.m., at the Red Cross. The clinic will continue during the day until the supplies run out. They will perform testing of blood sugar levels, teach the recipients how to use the meters to monitor their blood glucose, counsel them in diabetes education and give replacement supplies when needed.

Karen writes: “If you have any connection with pharmaceutical companies or reps, doctor’s offices or hospitals that can donate these supplies, (short dated or even recently expired) please contact me via private message on FaceBook”

Money donations may be made through PayPal via Supplies will then be purchased in your name and used for the clinic attendees.” If you would like additional information please contact Karen or Kathy via the email addresses listed below.

Hopefully these shocking numbers will motivate others to help out with the battle against diabetes on our favourite little island in paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie             Karen Rosenberg   Kathy Ennis