Friday, October 21, 2016

Expats in the electronic age

Sunrise a few days ago
One of the greatest things that the tech-age has brought for expats is everyday tasks that used to be a challenge are much simpler to complete.

Affordable and quite reliable telephone service is available over the internet.  With a service such as MagicJack a low annual rate of less than fifty dollars gives service to and from Canada and the USA without long distance charges.  Expats can easily keep in touch with family and friends using an assigned telephone number from their home community.

Hidalgo Avenue in Centro - before the restaurants open up 
Banking of course is easier via the internet with debit cards and credit cards.  However, the island’s ATMs are currently experiencing a problem again with cards being cloned.  It’s a world-wide problem, apparently originating in Venezuela.  We’re fortunate in that we have a local bank account where we keep a small amount of cash, and can pop into the branch for more pesos as we need them.  Our RBC account in Canada allows us to transfer over the internet directly from one bank to the other.  It takes about five days but works great.

Fun colour combination
Shopping on-line is available in most countries but here it’s a big advantage, bringing a wider choice of items directly to our little island in paradise.  Amazon, EBay, Walmart, Costco, and big local chains such as Liverpool offer delivery to the island.

E-books have really made our lives easier.  In our previous travels to foreign countries we typically had one suitcase with nothing but English language novels to occupy rainy days, or cool evenings.  With our electronic readers we can be anywhere in any country, and as long as there is an internet connection, we can purchase a new book. Best invention ever, for travelers.

Door-to-door furniture salesman
Passports, will soon be renewal on-line for Canadians.  For us that would be a big bonus.  No more trekking into the Consulate Office in the hotel zone of Cancun to submit our applications. 

And in case you are wondering why the photographs, which we normally choose to illustrate the article, have this time around absolutely nothing to do with the article …… a picture of a debit card?  An ATM? An internet phone?  A bit boring to say the least.  

Great mural - there are no design committee rules here

So, instead we’re posting a sampling of recent random photos of life on Isla.  


Hasta Luego  
Lynda and Lawrie 

For the iguanas - should be Lazy Lizard Lounge!
This guy likes our loungers - the sign above is for him!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Random thoughts from paradise

Headed our way!
It’s a random thoughts kind of day; thoughts of weather, knees, a novel, and a dog.  

Connected right?  Only in my mind.

It’s the tail-end of hurricane season in the tropics and we still obsessively check the weather forecast, to ensure we don’t get caught unawares.  Zero percent chance of rain, the webpage stated, as we watched a huge black cloud slowly slide towards our house.  When the curtain of liquid hit we scrambled to slam windows and patio doors.  Fortunately our casa was designed as a beach house, tile floors, outdoor Sunbrella fabric covering cushions on concrete sofas, and a wooden dining set that was originally intended to be patio furniture.  Even our artwork is photographs printed on waterproof canvas.  So other than a few puddles to wipe up, rain inside the house is nature’s way of washing our floors.

Zero percent chance of rain  ..... 
Several parts of the island got the same deluge, while it completely missed other neighbourhoods.  One friend said she encountered flooded intersections where the water was half-way up the large tires on her Jeep.  Others had small rivers running through their homes, leaky windows, and flooded pathways.  Fifteen minutes later the rain stopped.  The sun reappeared, heating the freshly washed air.  Just little tropical tempest to keep us on our toes. 

A short time later the rain returned while I was walking Sparky, our Mexican-lowrider rescue dog near Playa Media Luna.  As I dashed along the beach headed for shelter, my foot landed off-kilter in the sand.  By the time I returned home the knee was swollen and not functioning.  I must say, I am particularly fond of wearing a black knee brace paired with large clunky-soled athletic shoes.  It is such stylish look in a culture that worships thin and lofty stiletto heels.

One caring friend, who has had several knee operations, suggested that I should not do stairs with a sore knee. Good suggestion, except our designed for outdoor-living home has a stairway leading from the living/kitchen/pool area to the two bedrooms and upper patios.  Nineteen steps up and of course nineteen steps down.  Need a cup of morning coffee?  Feed the dog?  Let the dog out for a pee-break?  Make lunch?  Answer the door?  Glass of wine for sundown?   Lawrie has been an absolute sweetie doing the fetch and carry thing, but I occasionally need a break from the computer.  

Photo for cover - Tony Garcia
Which segues into the novel part of my random thoughts.  

I started writing a book, called Treasure Isla, a few months ago.  It’s a fun adventure set on present day Isla involving pirates, buried treasure, and islanders hunting for the loot. 

Creating a community populated with fictional people leaves me preoccupied with ideas, descriptions and phrases.  Occasionally when chatting with friends, my thoughts drift away, as I wonder how my characters would react in a similar situation.  

What would he or she say?  Feel?  Do?  These other people have invaded my brain. 

When do I get to paw-print books? Photo by Tony Garcia
And, of course, there is a dog in the story.  

A pure-breed Mexican-lowrider rescue dog, by the name of Sparky.  He is the doppelgänger for our little mutt.  

After Tony Garcia did a photo shoot for the back cover of the book, Sparky has become an impossible divo.  He is anxious to have his own book signing party.  Hopefully the book will be ready for release as an e-book in mid to late November.  The printed version … well, we’ll see. 

Cheers Lynda & Lawrie
& The Sparkinator

I' want to be more famous than Thomas the Cat 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Hey, when are ya coming back? We're ready for you.

Visions of Margaritas dance in your heads ......
The annual winter migration begins soon, and Isla is ready for your return. Restaurant owners and merchants have been busy over the less hectic summer months preparing for your return this winter ….you know, that’s the time of year that you leave the rain, ice and snow, and prepare to be pampered under the tropical sun.  It’s that wonderful time of year, when visions of frosty Margaritas dance in your heads. 

Freddy Medina Independence Day at El Arrecife 
Centro has a number of new places to enjoy an evening out with friends.  In the spring everybody’s favourite bartender, Freddy Medina opened El Arrecife – The Reef. The new bar is a joint-venture between Freddy and his cousin Manuel Figueroa.  It is located in across from the municipal square and above the paradIceCream shop.  The entrance to the second-floor bar is on Hidalgo Avenue, behind the big tree decorated with toy monkeys.  The Reef serves good fresh food, and all the fun that you can handle with Freddy.  Their street-view bar stools are a great location to relax with a drink, and do some people-watching.

Jax Bar & Grill - the big bar on the corner

‘The big bar on the corner’ Jax Bar & Grill at the northern end of Rueda Medina, recently reopened after their annual staff holidays and restaurant refurbishing in September.  

This year’s big project was to redo the upper deck.  Good thing!  We think our dancing contributed to the old one’s demise.  Jax is one of our favourite places for a hearty breakfast, and tasty fish and chips.

Javi's Cantina 

Another new eatery is Javi’s Cantina & Tapas Bar located on Juarez south of Abasolo Avenue.  

Javi’s serves up cold drinks and great food in an intimate environment with live music several nights a week.  Check out their delicious fresh tuna, ceviche, and nachos.  The sliders look amazing as well. 

(We were recently caught on camera, dancing in the street outside Javi's, by the local paparazzi.)

Amar Cocina Peruana
Over a few streets, across from La Tablita’s and next door to Pleacorp (the pool supply place) is the new Amar Cocina Peruana.  

Owned by Catherine Benson, Amar features Peruvian cuisine and a fabulous selection of ceviches.  The food is very different and very tasty.

In  the same area, on the second floor kitty-corner to La Tablita’s is Facebar, owned and operated by Luz Del Alba Hernandez and her sister.  It’s already of favourite of locals for its cold beer, good prices and a ton of laughs.

Directly below Facebar, is a brand new, only open two days bar and restaurant named BE. That's all we know at the moment.  We happened to be driving past with a camera in hand and discovered that the day before the windows were still boarded up, and the next day they are ready to go.

Heading south along Rueda Medina is the ever popular Soggy Peso Bed & Cocktail owned by Mal and Sal Richards.  Closed for the month of September for staff holidays and renovations, they will re-open this week.  Bar service is now also available on the lower area, on the beach.  When you fall out of your chair, after two or maybe three of their famous Margaritas, it’s a much softer landing.  (We don't have any photos, as yet, of the new additions.) 

New and expanded Donosusa
And in the colonias a few blocks south of our house, but before you get to the double ‘highway’ at the Salinas Grande, is Bofitos.  It’s a great neighbourhood location to get simple, yummy food.

Another big change – Donosusa the grocery store near the tennis courts had done a huge remodel. Double in size, new shelving, brighter lights, and a touch of air conditioning.  Good pricing for basic packaged goods, detergents, paper products with a small deli-meat counter, and a cold beer fridge.

There’s probably more, but those are the ones that we’ve noticed.

Counting down the days until everyone is back in paradise.

See ya soon,

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, September 30, 2016

Musicians of Isla Mujeres – part two

Jesús Campuzano
Two weeks ago we published a long blog article featuring some of the talented musicians on the island.  

We had so much information it spilled over onto another article this week.  Here in their own words, are a few more of the talented folks on Isla Mujeres.

Jesús Campuzano (affectionately known as Chucho Ruidos) has been performing his magical music on Isla Mujeres since 2005. His music is the heartbeat of the island. Call it electro jazz or island jam, it is a most uncommon music – music you will never forget. You can find him rocking Poc Na on Saturday and Monday nights, the new Amar Restaurant, as well as venues all over the island.  
When asked to describe his music, Chucho says: ‘I am an animal playing my instrument and I have always been a rebel.  I try to play the most uncommon music, things that not even a 5-piece band will do. The only certain thing to say about my style is that is violently genuine.’

Jeff at Barlito's @ Marina Paraiso 
Jeff Current says: I'm from a musical family of six kids; my siblings are all more talented than I.  When I was younger I had a lot of choir, church, and school choir training.  At about age ten I learned to play the guitar, performing with various bands until I finished high school.  

I played solidly in college with a trio doing soft and country rock, up and down the front range of Colorado for a few years.  I still enjoy performing some of those songs today.  

Isla Animals clinic - Can you teach me to be a brain surgeon?
After college my musical career was mainly light jamming until we discovered Isla in 1993, and eventually moved to the island in 1999. 
I got to know a lot of the talented Isla musicians when we owned the Sunset Grill on north beach from 2000 to 2005.  I have great memories of Javi Martinez, Miguel Hernandez, and Willie Chacon, and occasionally jammed with them just for fun.  

When our dear friend from Isla Mujeres, Ron Brown, learned to play the mandolin he and I performed as the "Soggy Bottom Boys.’  We played together until his passing in 2009.  Twas a hoot, I miss him dearly.

These days I strum and sing to music backtracks, during the tourist season, at a few of the local bars on the island.  The money we raise money goes to our non-profit charity, Isla Animals.  The evenings are a real blast, and we all have a bit of fun for a good cause.  

(What Jeff, otherwise known as Jeef, didn’t say is - he has a wicked and occasionally bent sense of humour that slips out during his live performances.  His events are always good for a chuckle.)

And there are more:
Gregorio Sanchez

Due to challenges with communicating in Spanglish, we are still missing information on a few more of the islands talented folks. 

We can always add information at a later date.  The wonders of electronic publications!

Gregorio Sanchez sings at Barlito's on Saturday evenings, and performs on Hidalgo Avenue other nights.  

He is a well-known islander, famous for beautiful voice and his dog song.  Our dog Sparky was fascinated by Gregorio's song.

Where to find our island musicians:

Here’s a few of the places that you will find live music, mainly on weekends but other days as well during the winter months.
Adelitas Tequileria – Hidalgo Avenue, centro
Almar Restaurant – Guerreo Avenue, centro
Barlito’s @ Marina Paraiso – Rueda Medina
Caribbean Brisas - Payo Obispo (near Mango Café)
Chichi's 'n Charlie's Beach Bar – the north end of Rueda Medina
El Patio House of Music – Hidalgo Avenue, centro
Faynes – Hidalgo Avenue, centro
Fenix House of Music – Calle Zazil-ha, next to NaBalam Hotel
Javi’s Cantina – on Juarez, centro
The Joint Reggae Bar – Rueda Medina near Punta Sur
Mamacita's – Hidalgo Avenue, centro
Miguel's Moonlight – in centro
Nash's Tapas Bar – Hidalgo Avenue, centro
Parque de Los Suenos – Rueda Medina near Punta Sur
Sardinian Smiles – Hidalgo Avenue, centro
Soggy Peso – Friday nights in high season
Zama Beach Club – Carreterra a Sac Bajo, west-side of the island

Sol Rockers at El Patio House of Music - FB photo

Whatever your choice in music, there is probably someone, somewhere on the island singing that tune. 

Hasta Pronto!

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, September 23, 2016

Ex-pats in Mexico – it’s the little differences

Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres
There’s a hugely popular website called that specializes is communication between people who are scattered around the world, not living in their own country.  This week the discussion topic was: ‘how do you cope with being homesick?’  That’s when we realized we aren’t actually homesick for our country, but we are occasionally still a little discombobulated by the differences.

Beautiful shoes - important to the culture, 
Most of us realize before we leave our home country that there will be some big changes to our lives, but it’s the little differences that can catch you by surprize.

·        Mexico uses the metric system.  No inches, feet, miles, ounces, pounds, or Fahrenheit.  Yes, we are Canadian and our country switched over to metric in the mid-seventies to match the rest of the world, but in school we learned the Imperial measurements.  Change happens slower when you are older.  Buying shoes in metric is still perplexing, but most everything else has sorted itself out in our brains.  We can only imagine how confusing it is to our American neighbours, the last country in the world still using Imperial measurements.

We try - but we are still too early for everything!

·        Appointment times are all ish.  If four in the afternoon is when you are meeting a friend, or expecting a service person that is now four-ish.  Your acquaintance or tradesperson could be thirty minutes, an hour, or two hours late.  It’s not rude, it’s just the way it is.  The person will eventually arrive, all smiles and hugs or handshakes.  Life is good; they are very happy to see you, and therefore it follows, that you are very happy to see them.  Public events, parades, parties – everything is ish!  When we first moved here we always arrived at the suggested time, only to find the host in the shower, and the hostess decorating for the party.  It’s a little less embarrassing now that we don’t arrive exactly on time.

Buy fresh.  Buy often.

·       Street closures are common, especially in the smaller communities.  Why?  Usually for a family event, such as a funeral or a birthday party.  Most of the homes are too small for family gatherings and permission is usually granted to close the street for several hours.  No one gets upset, everyone just adjusts their schedule to work around the closure. 

·        Grocery shopping is a daily task for most locals, and we have changed from our Canadian habit of stockpiling once a week, to shopping every second day.  Produce is fresh, ripe, and doesn’t keep for any length of time.  Buy fresh, and buy often is the local habit. 

Driving in Mexico is entertaining.

·          Signs for small businesses are somewhat limited.  When asking for directions to an unfamiliar store or business, it’s always best to ask for a description of the building including colour.  Many small establishments don’t have signs.  The reasoning is; if you are a resident you know the location.

·        Driving in Mexico is entertaining, especially in the bigger cities.  The local drivers are very aware of traffic around them, and are pretty decent drivers.  The incentive to stay out of accidents is huge.  Get into a fender-bender and everyone goes to jail until the police decide on who is responsible, and who is paying.  Signs and traffic lights are treated as ‘suggestions’ not cast in stone, the exception being the raised striped crosswalks.  Traverse one of those when there are pedestrians using the crosswalk and you will rapidly find yourself having a lengthy personal chat with a police officer.  Been there.  Done that.  
My alter-ego, Minnie with island policewoman
·        And speaking of the police.  When we moved here we were told by many Mexican friends, do not ever interact with the police.  Don’t make eye-contact, or even smile at them.  We did that for a number of years, and then decided that we weren’t happy treating other human beings this way.  We’ve started to acknowledge the officers with a wave and a smile.  They wave, smile back, and chat when they recognize us. 

·        As for guns, contrary to what international television news suggests guns are very, very rare in Mexico.  In fact there is only one store in all of Mexico that sells guns, and you would not believe the paperwork. 


Immigration in Cancun - lineups out the door. 
Bureaucracy is a fine art in Mexico.  Paperwork takes an inordinately long time to process, whether it is immigration papers, building permits, or simply renewing a driver’s licence.  Bureaucrats will test your patience.  It’s a good time practice the fine art of daydreaming as you loiter in the waiting room, linger in the line-up, or shuffle from paper-pusher to cashier and back again.  And smile.  Angry outbursts will guarantee that your documents find a new home on the bottom of the one-meter-high teetering pile of paperwork, waiting for the final stamp of approval. 

·        And the best difference we have noticed; we can actually wave and say ‘hello’ to little kids.   The families are close-knit and loving.  It is everyone’s job to watch out for the younger family members, but a wave and a smile are still allowed.  It’s a refreshing change.

As Ex-pats, living in a foreign country has been very beneficial to us.  We have been able to stop medications for stress and high blood pressure.  We seldom eat packaged or prepared foods.  We are happy and healthy. 

We aren’t homesick, this country is our home.

Hasta Pronto!

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, September 16, 2016

There’s music in the air

The musical talent on this little Caribbean island, Isla Mujeres, is amazing.  We recently asked a few of the musicians that we know if they would be interested in being featured in this week’s blog article.  Some are full-time residents, others live here in the winter months, and one well-known musician was born on Isla.  We started to write the article from our point of view, and then decided that since the musicians had sent us such great biographies …we’d use their words instead.  So here they are, in alphabetical order by surname.

Willy Chacon was born in Acapulco. He started playing guitar at age 11. He spent all his time learning American and British music. Willy formed his first band in high school and played in various venues in Acapulco.  In 1995 he moved to Isla Mujeres and started a band featuring international and Caribbean music.  He was a regular at Toninos Restaurant owned by his cousin, Juan Basto.  Other venues include NaBalam and Sunset Grill.  In 2000 he began playing at Faynes when it opened.  In 2005 he moved to Michigan and continued to play a variety of gigs and venues. In October 2015, Willy moved back to the island and joined Toso Martinez' band “Los Que No Son.”  He is currently adding a variety of music to his repertoire ~ bossa nova, reggae, rhumba, and flamenco.  On April 7, 2015 he was recognized with Toso and inducted as part of "La Trova Islena"....these musicians are preserving our local cultural treasure of traditional Isla music. Currently, Willy and Toso play together at Faynes with "Los Que No Son" and as a duo at Parque de Los Suenos.  In addition, he works as both a chef and entertainer for Dinnertainment owned by Javier and Marla Martinez.

Mike Davanzo has been playing guitar and singing professionally with a variety of bands since the age of sixteen in the New York area.  He has also performed in twenty American states, plus locations in Canada and Mexico.  Mike has worked with numerous old time rock n rollers including Lou Christie, Jimmy Clanton, Chubby Checker, Joey Dee and the Starlighters, Jay and the Americans, The Belmonts, The Crystals, The Vanilla Fudge, The Rascals and Tommy James and the Shondells.  Mike has been visiting Isla Mujeres for 15 years and now spends the winter here.  He plays and sings rock n roll of the 50's-60's- 70's during the November - March winter season at Miguel's Moonlight and Parque de Los Suenos, with guest appearances at Marina Paraiso and other venues.

Miquel and his son at Barlito's 

Miguel Angel Hernandez grew up in an artistic family in Mexico City.  At the age of twelve he started learning guitar, playing in a band with his uncles when he was a young teenager.  By the time he entered high school he had his own rock band that performed at school functions and parties.  By learning the harmonica, Miguel was able to find work with a Mexico City blues band, entertaining at dance clubs.  He also studied flute and guitar at the Escuela Libre de Muscia in Mexico City for two years.  By 1987 Miguel had discovered Isla Mujeres and a Louisiana band who played blues in Cancun and also on Isla at the Bad Bones Bar.  Then he switched to bass guitar for five years at the same island restaurant when it was re-named Ya-Ya’s, and still later when the name was changed to Jax.  In those years there was only work for musicians during the high season, the winter months so to keep himself employed Miguel traveled to Canada and Germany with other musicians.  Today the Isla Mujeres music scene is so busy he is employed throughout the year as part of both The Sol Rockers, and La Banda Sin Nombre as well as solo gigs.  Miguel says, “Music has been my love, and my life, and I am always available to play for private parties and weddings.”

Javier Martinez Cen was born and raised on Isla Mujeres.  He writes: I can't remember when I picked up an instrument for the very first time, but when I was eight years old, my fifth grade teacher asked me to play Mexican songs for a school festival.  I asked my dad to show me how and it was fantastic, people clapping and smiling.   I knew then I wanted to be a rock star!
Year by year learning more from my musical family (my dad and his musician friends, The Vampers), I finally got my chance on the electric guitar.  I played everywhere I could including five government sponsored international festivals.  My favourite gigs were with La Trova Isleña, an association tasked with preserving our cultural music.  With La Trova Isleña I went to Cuba where I learned to play percussion.  A few years later I toured with my dear friends Sebastian and Miguel Hernandez, through Germany and Holland.  Later I met my beautiful wife, Marla Bainbridge, and we created a duo called Hammock for 2.  We toured through Chicago, Minneapolis, and Indianapolis doing private performances.  Fun!

Little by little I started my cooking business with Marla, where I can mix my two passions, cooking and music. Our Dinnertainment created the opportunity for my restaurant, Javi’s Cantina where I combine a taste of Isla Mujeres with international flavours.  I love what I do there; cook and play my guitar!
My gigs are Javi’s Cantina, Faynes, Adelitas, Zama Beach Club and where ever a costumer asks me to play.  La Banda Sin Nombre, my second family, is the oldest band in town.  Love all of them, Julio, Yasser, Miguel, Javier and my dad Toso, together play anything we want.  Music, music, and more music!

Ryan Rickman: Having started to play music at the age of eight, Ryan has always loved performing on stage and being a musician.  Once done with High school he immediately got a job with Club Med as the house musician, starting in the Bahamas and then landing in Cancun in 2003.  Lucky enough to find Isla for the first time on a day trip he fell in love with the Island and continued to visit ever since.  Having started many of his own bands in California and always working as a musician, Ryan has always been busy with music.  Being in the right place at the right time in 2012, Ryan met Penny Deming the owner of El Patio and he has been playing music for her establishments ever since.  His musical selections include, Smooth Island tunes, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s Soft Rock, Country, California Reggae, Jazz, and lots of originals too!  Never far from his side is his huge, but lovable four-legged companion O.G., who will steal your heart (and some of your food) the second you meet him.  He is part of the show!  Ryan loves Isla and is happy to be a part of the community here and being able to have the opportunity to help Isla evolve, grow, and continue to stay the beautiful island that we all love and some of us are so fortunate to call home!

Ken Wanovich: My first trip to the island was in 1989 just after hurricane Gilbert.  The impact on Mexican families made a huge impression on me. Now, twenty-seven years later, my wife Debbie and I are regular visitors to the island in February and July, where I play music as a soloist, and we work for our non-profit organization "Keys 4 Life."  When we are on the island, you'll find me playing music at Mamacita's, Chi's 'n Charlie's Beach Bar, Caribbean Brisas, Sardinian Smiles, and Nash's Tapas Bar.  It’s hard to put a title on my style, but variety comes close: Classic Rock, Trop Rock, Oldies, Country, and Pop. Our work with Keys 4 Life has allowed us to work with families in Guadalupana and La Gloria installing new cement floors over dirt, repairing and replacing leaky roofs, bringing school supplies & clothing, supplying paint for the soccer stadium and middle school, and recently, installing new white boards in each of the thirteen classrooms at the middle school.

There are more folks out there making beautiful music, folks that we weren’t able to connect with this time around, but we’ll do another article featuring island musicians - soon.   We hope you liked reading about some of Isla’s great musicians.

Local musicians honoured by La Trova Isleña

Get out there and enjoy the great tunes!

Hasta Pronto!
Lynda & Lawrie