Friday, July 31, 2015

Landscaping by turtles

Perfect turtle egg-laying weather
Yep, that’s what the title says: landscaping by turtles. 
I know, I know this is the second article in two months about turtles but this is turtle season folks!  
We are in the middle of the nesting season with possibly the largest number of returning turtles since the turtle farm came into existence about twenty years ago. 

Dozens of nesting holes
Hundreds and hundreds of the ladies are nightly digging up the beaches, creating four-foot deep holes on any small piece of sand on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres. The beaches look like a Bobcat earth mover has been at work, operated by someone like me, someone with a very short attention span.  “I’m bored with this hole, I think I’ll make another one over there, oh wait, that’s a better spot.”  And on, and on, into the night.

Sparky checking out the mess left by the mama turtle
A few weeks ago, around mid-night, Sparky our little four-legged alarm system woke us with a woof.  Lawrie and I popped out of bed to investigate the strange noise coming from our ocean-side yard.  It sounded as if someone was shoveling sand, preparing to bury a body.  (You can tell, we read a lot of murder mysteries and thrillers.)  
A quick flick of the flashlight and we spotted a large sea turtle deep in the bushes on the south side of the house, violently flipping rocks and sand.  We wanted to help her find a better spot, but decided that she had to make her own decisions about the suitability of the location for her nest.  In the end she abandoned the attempt and moved on to another place. 
More eggs dug up by another mama turtle
The downside of so much nesting activity is that many of the eggs are not being collected by the turtle farm for hatching in their predator-free environment.  I have recently seen at least six large nests that have been re-dug the following night by another mama turtle, scattering eggs across the beach, crushing the fragile spheres with her large body.  It’s unfortunate.  Presumably the turtle farm hatchery is filled to capacity.  The upside of the extra eggs is the crabs and birds are happily feasting on the embryos, increasing their chances of producing more baby crabs or baby birds.
Mayan Riviera - Sargassum seaweed (Daily Mail photo)
Beside the challenge of finding a suitable place to nest the mama turtles are facing another weird environment phenomenon this year – Sargassum seaweed.  Literally tons of seaweed have been drifting in mats of vegetation and washing up on beaches throughout the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  It is an unsightly mess causing problems in resort areas, especially the Mayan Riviera and Cancun.  The Sargassum seaweed is an algae that originates mid-Atlantic in the warm-bodied Sargasso Sea.  The reason for the problem is perplexing scientists and environmentalists everywhere.  The female sea turtles – in their strange turtle-logic - are typically reluctant to cross the piles of seaweed.  It’s probably an old-turtle-tale handed down from generation to generation by the older turtles to the younger turtles.  “Don’t cross the seaweed or you will die.”  This year the turtles seem to be getting over their fear and clambering over the accumulation of seaweed in their search for a nesting spot.
Tracks from the ocean through neighbours' yard into ours.
We have often wondered why the mama turtles seem to congregate on the eastern side of the island, instead of using the longer, flatter, and much softer beaches on the western side, the side facing Cancun.  
Is it because our beaches are more visible as the ladies arrive back at their home base?  Or is it just more expedient after mating to hit the first available beach, and off-load all those pesky eggs?  
The ladies expend so much effort digging in the rocky sand on the eastern side, I would think a few extra minutes spent scouting out a better location would be worth the time – wouldn’t it?  
As you can probably guess, we really enjoy watching the show in turtle season.  They are pretty darn amazing creatures. 
We wish you a long and peaceful life my friends.
Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 24, 2015

Adventures in Paradise


“Golf cart ride!  Oh, boy.  Can I come too?”  

Sparky yipped, bouncing around as we pulled our suitcases out the front door. 

Thomas yawned, momentarily lifting his head off his pillow, “don’t forget to bring me a present,” and turned his attention back to his interrupted nap on the sofa. 

Don't forget my present!
“Bye boys!  See you soon,” I called to them as I shut the door.  

Lawrie and I were off for a busy two weeks visiting family and friends in Canada, plus an assortment of appointments.  We had arranged with friends Becky and Craig McHugh to stay at our house and babysit our pets: Thomas and Sparky.

Confused, Sparky turned to Thomas, “Where are they going?  Why did they leave me behind?  I usually go with them in the golf cart.”

“Some place different.  It happens every year,” Thomas replied annoyed that Sparky wouldn’t be quiet.  “They’ll come back, smelling differently of other people and animals.  Don’t worry,” he said curling up on the sofa again, “they’ll come back.”

Sparky and Craig reading the pet-sitting manual
The new female human called out, “Sparky, come here.  Let’s get acquainted.”  And just like that Sparky forgot that his people were leaving without him. 

“So, let’s see what this is all about,” said the man as he hefted the thick binder of instructions for babysitting the two boys.  

Comfortably ensconced on the upper deck sofa the humans were reading through the detailed instructions. 

“It says here, when he is hungry Tommy will sit in the kitchen with his back turned.”  The lady called Becky said, “That’s what our dog Saby did when she was hungry.  Oh, and we are to give him a selection of two to three different flavors three to four times a day … Wow!  Spoiled kitty.”

“Meow!” agreed Tommy as he snuggled in for a pat.

Having lunch at Barlito's
By the next morning the household was settling into a routine.  The really tall man, who Sparky thought was named Craig, took him for his first walk of the day.   It was a nice leisurely amble along the sidewalk to the gas station and back, with the occasional heart-stopping moment as Sparky’s best friend Bowser repeatedly crossed the road to check out three construction sites for food scraps.  Thick-bodied and glossy Bowser was not really hungry.  He simply enjoys snacking on human leftovers.

Is it my turn to drive?
During the next two weeks Sparky was entertained with a golf cart rides that might include a breakfast or lunch stop at Barlito’s.  

Tommy was happy hanging out at the house, napping on any one of the three sofas.  

One afternoon Sparky and his human drivers ventured out to the viewpoint at Garrafon Reef Park, enjoying the sight of the beautiful turquoise water with the buildings of Cancun visible in the distance.   Other times they drove through the neighbourhood of La Gloria while Becky searched for fun subjects to photograph.  Colourful clotheslines.  Bright houses.  Painted murals.  Fun signs.   

Sparky checking out his domain  
Whenever Sparky saw human or dog friends he recognized his short tail would rapidly swing back and forth, “Hi!”  The dogs would woof a greeting.  The people usually waved at him, and then quickly did a head-turning double-take.  Who the heck were those people with Sparky?

Late morning before the sun had moved over to the west side of the house, Sparky would lounge on the upper street-side deck, greeting his local fans as they walked past.  “Hi Sparky!  How are you today?”  When Becky or Craig waved back a bewildered look would pass over the person’s face, who are you, they seemed to be thinking.  Sparky thought it was a fun game: confuse the humans.  It was almost as much fun as chasing crabs along the shoreline.

Sparky really liked his afternoon swims and he especially liked searching for crabs in the shallow water.  He couldn’t understand Craig and Becky’s fascination with hunting for bits of coloured glass on the beach.  “Ffpt!”  He snorted, “what good is glass?” “You can’t eat it.  You can’t play with it.  Silly!”

"Are you reading my E-Book?" asked Thomas
In the late afternoon when Sparky and Thomas were lounging with their babysitters on the upper deck it was time for belly rubs and ear scratches.  

Occasionally Thomas would supervise while Craig read his E-Reader.  “Did you order my E-book The Adventures of Thomas the Cat?”  meowed  Thomas, “It’s available on Amazon you know.”  

“Yes, I know Thomas,” sighed Craig, “you have already mentioned that a few times this week.”

“Well, I’m just saying,” said Thomas, a bit miffed that Craig wasn’t more impressed.
"Could you deliver my food to me please?"

During their stay the visiting humans affectionately called the boys different names - names that sounded familiar but were slightly different.  

Spartacus, Spartapotamus, Sparky, or Tommy Boy, Tomas, and Thomasino. 
The boys didn’t mind.  The pats were frequent, the belly rubs nightly, and the love unconditional.  

“So … those other two people … who are they again?”

Hasta Luego

Sparky & Thomas

"So ... those other people ... who are they again?"

Be sure to check out Becky’s blog and her delightful photos:  
Life with Beck

Thank you Becky and Craig for looking after the boys, and for letting us use your photos for the blog.   

Friday, July 17, 2015

Still on vacation from our permanent vacation!

If you are just checking in to see what's new in paradise our humans are still on vacation.  

They told us it is a two-week brain break; whatever the heck that means.

We will be back on Friday July 24th.  
Hope to see you then!

Cheers from 
Sparky (Chispa) and Thomas the Cat.

Friday, July 10, 2015

On vacation from our permanent vacation!

We are taking at two week brain break!

Back on July 24th 2015 with more of our insanely witty blog posts - or something similar.

Cheers, Lynda, Lawrie, 
Sparky and Thomas the Cat.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Spice it up!

No bueno!  Too hot!
Piling the bags of groceries on the counter we started to unpack and put things away, then it struck me how we are gradually acclimating to this culture.  

On the counter were two types of chilies, onions, tomatoes, limes, mangoes, avacados, tortillas and a bottle of our favourite spicy chipotle mayonnaise. 
These are just some of the ingredients we needed to make delicious arrachera fajitas for lunch.  Yum!
Beginning of a tasty meal.
Three years ago when we were touring around Italy, with Lawrie’s siblings and spouses also known as “The Family,” Lawrie and I discovered that we really missed the spiciness of Mexican food – the heat, the zip, the zap.  

The Italian food tasted good, but it used to taste great before we moved to Mexico.  Perhaps we have burnt out the more delicate taste receptors in our tongues by eating hot sauces and salsas.  Now, don’t get me wrong Ghost Chili Peppers, the world’s hottest chili peppers, are not for us!  A bit spicier is good, crazy hot spicy is no bueno!

Living area 2007
The other obvious change in our lives is the amount of colour that has slowly crept into our house.  When we moved here our casa was tastefully furnished in North American colours: black, neutral beige, and of course white.  Attractive?  Sure.  Interesting?  Not so much.  A few years later the main floor sofa and our patio sofa morphed into green, blue and yellow stripes. I have plans for the next reincarnation that include navy, yellow, pink and orange.  

Living area 2015
Our assorted candle lanterns have been spray painted several times to combat the rust and corrosion and each time the colour combinations are more and more lively: green, blue, yellow, orange.  

Even the dishes piled in our open-front kitchen cabinets have undergone a colour infusion from white and whiter to multi-hued hand blown glassware from Guadalajara, hand painted margarita glasses, turquoise plates, and stacks of blue or yellow bowls.

I wanted pink, orange and yellow, this works.
Recently I decided to update a bathroom small cabinet that we had purchased in 2007.  It was painted black, of course.  

I wandered into a local paint store and explained that I needed small cans of perhaps orange, pink, and yellow in something similar to Varathane, but no luck there.  

The new combination - 6 colours.
The clerk helpfully pulled out a selection of 250ml tins of enamel paint in a variety of blues, yellows and turquoise.  Sure!  Why not?  Colour is colour.  

For the next few days I painted and experimented with the various shades, eventually getting a fun result that I am darn-pleased about.  Now I find myself eyeing other furniture items in the house – thinking, hmm, I wonder.

On a grander scale, we could bravely follow in the foot-steps of other pioneering ex-pats and paint our house a multitude of eye-pleasing hues, but to be honest, we are a bit lazy.  On this side of the island the paint takes a beating with the constant but pleasant cooling breezes.  One colour inside and out suits our lifestyle.  Patching and touchups are easier with one shade to deal with – a little here, a little there.  All done.  We are back to reading a book, and sipping on a glass of wine in record time. 

Boats - one of my favourite things to photograph
Less house maintenance also leaves me more time for taking photographs; photographs of my favourite things like brightly painted boats, jazzy houses, and tropical flowers.  

Even laundry hung to dry outside other casas can be eye-catching and bright.  

And then there is our laundry basket.  It is currently filled with t-shirts instead of long-sleeved shirts, shorts instead of long pants, and everything in shades of blue, green, and turquoise to orange, pink and yellow. 

But the one thing that doesn’t change about the laundry basket is the smell!  Canada or Mexico – stinky laundry is still stinky laundry, and needs to be dealt with. 

All clean - hung to dry inside our casa
That’s my next job!  I wisely hang our laundry inside to dry, foiling the attempts of other camera-happy photographers! 

See you next week.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Don't forget to check our other blog:

Friday, June 26, 2015

A Night of Terror

Dawn - five minutes after six in the morning
Exhausted.  Her scraped and bleeding limbs drifting uselessly in the waves Teresa lay on her back unable to move.   Her mouth and nose covered by the shallow water she struggled to breathe.  She had lain in this painful position for hours. 

In the dark of the night Teresa had mistakenly stepped off a rocky ledge, landing hard on the beach below.  She knew she was in trouble, big trouble.  Dawn was breaking and soon the hot tropical sun would bake against her body slowly killing her if the lack of oxygen didn’t do her in first.  If she could just get one decent breath of air, perhaps she could survive a bit longer.  Just a little bit longer.

Turtle hole at top  right of photo - she flipped over here
A noise!  She heard a noise that sounded like two voices with a background of sharp and excited yips.   Trembling with fear Teresa again futilely twitched her limbs.

“Oh god, she alive!” shouted a voice.

“Awesome”, I exclaimed, “let’s flip her over!”

“How the heck to you flip a large turtle?” asked my neighbour Amy, with a bemused smile on her face.

“Carefully, very carefully!”  I laughed, set my camera down on the rocky outcropping, and ran to one side of the turtle. 

Shaking her head at the absurdity of the situation Amy released the leash of her young puppy Bosch and joined me.

“Okay,” she said, “on three.  One, two, three!”  And we flipped a large, heavy Loggerhead turtle right-side up.

Different tortuga - Gaspar helping her dig a deeper hole
With a flurry of splashing flippers Teresa the Tortuga struggled to turn around – paddling, pushing, soaking both Amy and I with a slurry of seawater and sand.   We were euphoric; laughing and shouting happily when the turtle managed to speed off into the deeper water, and away from her night of torment and terror.  I had mistakenly put my camera too far out of reach, and by the time I grabbed it and pointed at the fleeing tortuga she had gone.  Damn!  The three dogs, Amy’s two dogs Bowser and Bosch, and Sparky were very quiet.  They stared at the departing creature unable to comprehend how it would swim out that far, that fast. 

Teresa the Tortuga - swimming fast to freedom
Tortuga flipping is not my normal routine at five minutes before dawn.  Sparky and I usually do his first walk of the day at half-past six along the sidewalk to the gas station and back, fifteen or twenty minutes tops and then it’s time for morning coffee.  

This morning I woke up at half-past five and decided to head out early.  Because it is turtle nesting season I tucked a small camera into my pocket, hoping maybe, just maybe I would get lucky with photos of a mama turtle laying eggs. 

Tortuga dug this up - looking for the perfect spot

From mid-May to October the female turtles typically arrive after sunset and search for a deep stretch of sand, digging one, two or even three test holes before settling on a location and depositing over a hundred eggs.  

The turtles are normally gone well before dawn, however, occasionally a female will still be laying eggs at sunrise having spent too long searching for a perfect nesting site during the night. 

A bucket full of baby turtles about to be released
Before the creation of the turtle conservation program, and the Isla Mujeres turtle farm, the chances of a turtle egg hatching, and the new babies surviving were miniscule.  Dogs, birds, and humans all preyed on the eggs.  If the eggs did hatch then large fish and more sea birds would gobble up the delicious hatchlings as they dashed for the ocean.  Every year the Isla Mujeres turtle farm gathers the eggs, then raises and releases up to ninety thousand baby turtles.  It’s a wondrous sight.  

Wet and sandy Turtle Flipper
On this morning Sparky and I did our usual amble along to the gas station, and then I decided to walk back home along the beach.  About half-way home I noticed our neighbour Amy was out with their new puppy, Bosch, giving him a chance to have a morning pee.  Bosch was excitedly barking at something in the ocean so Sparky and I headed over to see what the excitement was all about.

As Amy and I stood discussing how sad it was to see a dead turtle, and wondering if she had been hit by a boat propeller the turtle twitched her flippers.  And that’s when the fun started.  By the time Teresa the Tortuga had successfully swum away our laughter had alerted Amy’s husband Luis that something was up.  He popped out onto their patio for a look, but the excitement was over. 

This is not the first time that one of our neighbours has righted an up-side-down tortuga.  

We can only hope that Teresa the Tortuga survives to return, again and again, to this beach.  

Sea Turtles mating
But, she will likely have an aversion to that particular stretch of sand where she back-flipped off a rocky ledge onto the sand below. 

While she was struggling to survive, her mate was probably drifting off-shore at south point wondering where she was, and why his breakfast was late. 

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, June 19, 2015

10 Good Things About A Tropical Storm

Arrived home in this ...... wet, wet, wet!
Nails scrabbling on the marble tiles Sparky dashed inside – his whole body, ears to the tip of his tail, vibrating as he vigorously spun the water from his fur.  A few minutes earlier we had tried to meet up with Alexis and her dog Perogy for a doggy play date of carefree running and swimming, but just as we arrived at our meeting place the storm hit – with a vengeance.  This was the start of a four-day tropical depression with driving rain and stiff winds. 
Alexis and I ran to our respective golf carts, shrieking with laughter as the rain obscured our vision and soaked us to the bone.  Both dogs were not impressed, hunkering down inside the open carts, looking for a dry spot - anywhere.  By the time I had driven ten minutes the streets were flooded, rivers of water flowing from the higher elevation of Las Glorias, engulfing the lower level main road.  Golf cart motors struggle in deep water and I spent the next fifteen minutes searching for dryer streets as I wove my way back to our house.
Oceanside view from our house during storm
“Come on, baby.  You can do it!”  I pleaded with the cart as it threatened to stall at every flooded intersection.  “Just a few more blocks.”  I really didn’t want to walk home in the downpour with a short-legged mutt dragging along beside me, and there was no way in hell that any taxi would have picked up two soaking wet passengers especially when one is a very wet dog.
We arrived home, and as is the norm in a rainstorm the carport was occupied by other people hiding from the onslaught.  They moved aside as we parked, grinning at our bedraggled condition.  Lawrie brought me two large dry towels, one for me and one for Sparky.  As I scrubbed the dripping water off my hair and then mopped the dog’s fur I thought there has to be something good about all this rain, there has to be an upside.
So, let’s see:
Five minutes before the storm hit - hot and dry!

One: Soft hair!  Yep, rainwater is great for my hair, leaving it very soft and curly.  I can save money on hair conditioner.  Now if I had planned ahead I would have caught a few gallons in a clean bucket to use later in the week.  
Lawrie on the other hand doesn’t have to worry about hair conditioner.  He’s got a nice smooth head

Two: Soft fur on Sparky.  He needed to be walked.  He doesn’t know about weather, and storm forecasts.  When a guy has to go, well, he has to go.  Thomas the Cat on the other hand was happy to hang around inside and use his clean, dry litter box.  He is obviously much smarter.

Three: Clean railings on the upper decks.  On both sides of the house the railings are sparkling clean, or they would be sparkling if the sun was shining.  The thick cloud cover was grey and angry, so the railings were clean, not shiny.  Still, it’s a positive.
Wet and hiding with all the stuff we brought in from patios

Four: Clean decks.  When the wind was gusting to 50 km/h the decks were swept clean of sand, salt, plant leaves and pet fur. 

Five: Less traffic.  The island pretty much comes to a standstill.  Most islanders use bicycles, motos or golf carts.  During storms these are less than ideal as a form of transportation.

Six: Kids get an extra day or two off school.  When the storm hit on early Friday morning some kids were already in school, but a lot had stayed home.  The windowless schools are designed for hot tropical days not tropical rain storms.

Seven: The rain washes salt off of the electrical connections and wires – reducing electrical arching, and possibly increases the life of the electrical connections.

Eight: Refreshes the salinas.  Salinas are landlocked salty ponds that at some point in their history were connected to the ocean.  Now they are surrounded by land, houses, and roads.  

They can become quite stinky during the winter dry season.  A pounding rainstorm supplies fresh water, and allows the excess to exit through the pump houses into the ocean.  The wading birds - cranes, storks, egrets, herons and spoonbills - really appreciate the fresh water.

Nine: Island cars get a good washing up.

Ten: We meet new people.  Frequently when a nasty storm rolls in it catches people unawares and our carport fills up with islanders hiding from the rain.  We usually put on a big pot of coffee and invite everyone inside to wait for a break in the weather.  Sometimes it takes ten minutes, and sometimes an hour but everyone is happy to be a little dryer, and we get to meet a few more locals.
Several days later when our tropical depression made landfall in Texas, it had become Tropical Storm Bill.  We hope our American friends don’t get too badly battered.   Our carport is nice and dry if you need a place to hide from the rain, and we make pretty good coffee. 
Return to nice weather 

In the meantime, we are happy with the return of light breezes and warm sunny days!

Lynda & Lawrie

This sign at Punta Sur made me giggle - Do Not What?...