Friday, June 23, 2017

Just fun photos - computer malfunctioning caused by the wet & humid weather we have been having!

Sunset view at Ballyhoo Restaurant

Fun colours at the top of Hidalgo Avenue
This one is on Juarez Avenue

A couple of blocks south of our house

Another fun combination

We'll hopefully be back in operation by next Friday!
Cheers Lynda and Lawrie

Friday, June 16, 2017

The chaotic colonias of Isla Mujeres

Business and residential mixed together
The neighbourhoods of Isla, the colonias, have a vibrant atmosphere with a chaotic mix of residential and commercial, much like the small towns in Europe. 

They are lively and lived-in. New visitors occasionally remark that they see extensive poverty. We see diversity. We see hard-working neighbours and friends who live where they work, and work where they live.

Tiny tienda on Juarez Avenue
On Isla Mujeres the tiny store-front businesses intermingle with modest living spaces. In the street just south of our casa there is a myriad of small houses and apartments interspersed with a variety of establishments. The majority of the proprietors live behind or above their business. Within a few blocks we can get our golf cart repaired, purchase a gift for a child, visit the veterinarian with a pet, get our laundry washed, or documents photocopied.

Lawrie at Orlando's Golf Cart Repairs

There are two dental offices just a few blocks south of us. One is situated on an upper floor of a house, and in front of the car repair business. The other is tucked behind the air conditioning and appliance repair shop. Our favourite upholsterer is located between two houses near one of the island’s animal shelters.

If we are hungry or thirsty there are several little tiendas selling sodas, eggs, bread or snacks. Our preferred tienda carries a good selection of fruits, vegetables and freshly squeezed juices. A tortilla factory operates six days a week scenting the air with the delicious smell of freshly-baked corn tortillas. When they close for the day, an evenings-only restaurant sets up in front selling tasty food to their neighbours. Two nearby stores sell cold beer to compliment the evening meal.

The guys having their morning get-together
Scattered in amongst the businesses are the long-time residents; living and working their entire lives on Isla. Every morning a group of seven or eight people from adjacent dwellings gather on one large street-side verandah, to share a sociable cup of coffee and the local gossip. 

Another man walks two blocks south to buy his morning newspaper, returning to sit outside his front door while he carefully reads each page. In the evenings, when the sun has shifted behind the buildings another long-time resident sits on his shady patio waving at passersby, and shouting pleasant greetings.

Vibrant colour combinations are common.
Every home on the island is unique, whether it is an expensive house or a humble dwelling. 

Cookie-cutter neighbourhoods are virtually unknown with the exception of a new development of beautiful high-end homes at the southern end of the island. 

Typically the colonias are an unruly mix of brightly coloured buildings and unfinished houses, varying from simple huts to three-storied residence. 

Until recently a mortgage in Mexico was almost impossible to obtain. 

Even now with an increase in the availability of bank mortgages the interest rates are astronomical compared to the three percent that a Canadian or American would pay in their own countries. Consequently buildings are finished when, and if, the owners have a few dollars to spend.

We love the chaos, the colour, the vibrant feeling of lived-in neighbourhoods. It’s what makes Mexico so interesting.

Hasta Luego 
Lynda & Lawrie

Treasure Isla
Have you got yours yet?

$2.99 USD on Amazon

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Forget the beaches and the turquoise water, Isla Mujeres is really about the party!

North Beach early in the morning before the crowds arrive
Yes, the beaches of Isla Mujeres are some of the best in the world, and swimming in the clear turquoise Caribbean Sea is extraordinary, but, the island party scene is just good fun. 

Great drinks. Music & dancing, all day and into the early hours of the next day. 

We all have our favourites, but there are literally dozens of places you can find good drinks and great music on the island. Places to spend a lazy afternoon, after working on your tan in the morning. Places to enjoy an evening meal and listen to great music. And places to dance, dance, dance the night away.

Lawrie and my great-nieces with the giant Margs
You can’t go wrong with Ballyhoo’s, for food, drinks, and atmosphere. 

Located on the beach, behind the PeMex gas station on Rueda Medina they have in our opinion the best sunset location on the island. 

Depending on the time of day or the month the view includes the comings and goings of a variety of boats; the big and sexy sport-fishing boats, the modest little open deck pangas, the catamaran jet-drive passenger boats or the slow and plodding car ferry. The best way to start a party is with one of their eye-popping big Margaritas.

Soggy Peso
And of course everyone thinks of the Soggy Peso when you mention killer Margaritas. 

The big jug on the bar counter-top contains their special recipe, made with four bottles of tequila, four bottles of orange Controy, and the words freshly squeezed lime juice whispered over the blend. The Margs are strong and tasty. 

Typically customers are happy with one, or if they are feeling frisky maybe two Margaritas, however the record is twelve plus two to go. 

Jeff Current with customer, Cathy, who joined in 
In the winter season local entertainer Jeff Current gets the crowd dancing to favourite tunes, during his Isla Animals fundraiser nights. 

Watch out for the Soggy Peso’s pet spider located above the sink!  It likes to drop down for a visit with unsuspecting newbies. 

The Soggy Peso is a perfect mix of silly fun, great songs, good food and killer drinks. When they are at capacity, the gate is closed.

The Joint - on an island tour with family
At the southern end of the island near Garrafon Natural Reef Park, is The Joint Reggae Bar n Grill. It’s another good venue for a pleasurable afternoon listening to live music every day from 1 until 4 in the afternoon plus on Thursday, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 5 until 8 in the evening.  It’s an enjoyable halfway-stop when touring around the island with visitors or on your own. We’ve heard the food is awesome, but we haven’t tried it yet. Just too many choices and not enough time.

Slow Down Food & Art   FB photo
On the windward side of the island are a few more of our favourite places to eat, drink and be merry. (Or is that eat, drink and get married?)  The newest is Slow Down Food and Art, located in the front of Antonio Fabre’s intriguing art studio. They have a limited but very tasty menu of sliders, Argentinean-style empanadas, and salads. It’s a tiny, two-person operation perched on the edge of the road, across from a gorgeous view of the sapphire-blue water. Open from 11 in the morning until 8 at night, except Sundays, or when they are in Cancun getting immigration papers sorted-out or when the chef is sick ….. you, know it’s Mexico, they are open, except when they’re not.

Villa la Bella photo
And of course don’t forget Villa la Bella for their Cadillac Margaritas with a shot of Grand Marnier on the side. They also serve the prettiest Pina Coladas on the island, or maybe in all of Mexico. 

That’s the place with the well-known ‘beer so cold it will make your teeth hurt’ sign. 

The award winning bed and breakfast has a bar open to the public, unless they are at capacity then the gate is closed. The location is spectacular, the drinks yummy and the view is killer beautiful.

In the same neighbourhood is Caribbean Brisas Bar and Grill, with its colourful atmosphere, live music and delicious food. We have always enjoyed their amazing menu choices. 

Caribbean Brisas Marg - FB photo
A recent addition to their drink choices includes Margaritas made with ingredients like cucumber, chaya, mint, or habanero. Now you can get a buzz while drinking your veggies!  It has to be good for you, right?

There are more, dozens more, but all this talk of food and beverages is making us hungry and thirsty. Time to grab the keys and head out to an old favourite, or maybe try something different.

And when you’ve had just too much fun, you can regenerate your liver cells while soaking up the tropical sun on those sugar-white beaches and gazing at the turquoise sea.

Hasta Luego 
Lynda & Lawrie

Ahoy maties! 

Treasure Isla $2.99 USD on Amazon e-books

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Hidden Gems of Isla

Ricardo and Rosa outside their store on Isla Mujeres
When you meet Ricardo Medina, it is difficult to envision the shy little boy who left school at the age of eight and toiled to help his young, widowed mother support his nine siblings. 

Both he and his charismatic wife Rosa have open-hearted smiles for anyone entering their store on Juarez Avenue – Ricardo’s Fire Opal.

Born in Acapulco, Ricardo moved to the young city of Cancun in 1979. At that time Cancun had fewer than ten thousand residents, a population less than the present-day Isla Mujeres. In 1974 the Mexican government facilitated the construction of an international airport for Cancun, and encouraged investors to build the sprawling all-inclusive resorts on the beaches of the Riviera Maya. The government then went on an intense marketing campaign promoting the Mexican Caribbean to the world. The tourists arrived by the plane load.
Ricardo and his son on one of the Magana boats

Ricardo found employment on the party boats plying the waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres. His main function was to introduce visitors to Isla Mujeres and promote a time-share property on the island. He intended to stay a few months, save money, and find another job. Eight years later he was still employed on the tour boat run, plus working in a jewelry store near a lagoon in Cancun. The jewelry store was destroyed by Hurricane Gilberto in 1988, leaving Ricardo to find additional work elsewhere.

Original store on Juarez Avenue
And then a beautiful woman from the State of Veracruz, came into his life, Rosa Castillo.  Rosa and her sister had moved from Veracruz in 1990 and were employed at the Ultra Femme store in the Kukulcan luxury shopping plaza in the Cancun hotel zone.  Rosa says it was a heady time. She and her sister were paid decent wages, plus commission on items they sold to the huge influx of visitors. The tourists had money to spend, and they were spending it, hand over fist.

Current location on Juarez Avenue
When Ricardo proposed, Rosa accepted with one condition - no more working on the party boats. That was okay with Ricardo, he had a dream to be self-employed. Isla Mujeres was more affordable than Cancun, so the young family moved to the island in 1996 to start a new life. Their first store was in the same area of Juarez Avenue, but across the street. They were in business at that location for ten years, but changes happened with the property and they had to move. They were approached by the owner of the current location, asking Ricardo and Rosa to set up their business in his building. At Ricardo’s Fire Opal you will find an eclectic collection of beautiful Mexican crafts; Catrina figurines, paintings, dishes, decorative items, furniture, jewelry and Mexican fire opals.

Fire Opal 
So, what is a Fire Opal?  The national gemstone of Mexico, is a stone that can be either transparent or translucent, with colours that range from red, to orange, to yellow or brown. The most sought-after fire opals are transparent, with a high iron content creating the distinctive deep orange hue and an iridescence within the stone. Like a flickering flame. In Mexico the fire opal is mined at Magdalena in the state of Jalisco, and in several locations in the state of Querétaro.

Custom designed bracelets 

Ricardo says when you buy from his store, you get exactly what you are paying for; the silver is real silver, and the gemstone is the real gemstone. There are many fake fire opals in the market, so when buying make sure you trust the merchant.

Several times while we were chatting with Ricardo and Rosa, he repeated how thankful he is for his wife and two sons, his life, his church and his clients. The family has become good friends with many of their repeat customers. He is thankful, thankful, thankful to everyone.

Stop by next time you are visiting this little bit of paradise in the Caribbean. You might just fall in love with one of Ricardo’s beautiful fire opals, or a custom-made piece of jewelry. You will definitely fall in love with their warm smiles.

Hasta Luego 

Lynda & Lawrie

Coming August 2017 the sequel to my first novel! 

Treasure Isla 
$2.99 USD Amazon e-books

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The little castaway Iza who captured the hearts of thousands

Iza and Eileen
This is a love story, about a helpless little creature who began life with the odds stacked against her, and has not just once, but twice defied fate and survived.

When islanders first became aware of her plight it was as one of the four raft puppies found in November 2016, by a group of island fishermen. Discovered floating miles from land south-east of Isla Mujeres, the fishermen are convinced the raft originated from Cuba.  
When the men noticed the large raft drifting aimlessly on the Caribbean Sea, they could see something on board but couldn’t quite make out the shape of the thing. They decided to investigate as they were concerned there might be unconscious, dehydrated Cuban refugees on board. What they found was a scrawny dog.

Mama Chica - November

Pulling their boat alongside they lifted the dog from the raft, and then as almost an afterthought inspected a pile of rags heaped on the makeshift boat. Hiding from the sun’s blistering heat were four badly dehydrated and sunburnt puppies, two males and two females. The men named the bone-thin mother Mama Chica and took the entire family to their fishing co-operative on Isla Mujeres.

One of the puppies - November
One of the fisherman knew Eileen and Doug Regn, caring islanders involved with HALO (Helping Animals Living Overseas) an animal rescue organization. The man gave Mama Chica to Eileen to nurse back to health. Once Eileen saw the condition of the mother, she went to the co-op to investigate the health of the puppies. After a lengthy discussion in a mish-mash of English and Spanish the fishermen agreed to give her all of the animals.

Getting a bath and some loving - November

Mama Chica and her babies were taken to the HALO funded Clinica Veterinaria de Isla Mujeres where Dr. Delfino Guevara, and soon to be certified DVM, Rossely Gonzalez gave them extensive checkups. Then it took a number of months to get the little family healthy. Eileen had to be careful how much medication she gave the fragile creatures. Besides dehydration, starvation, ticks, fleas and sunburnt skin they were infested with worms in intestinal colonies so huge the masses looked like baseballs when the dogs expelled the parasites.

Recent photo Dory with friend - Lisa W.
As a nod to their seagoing adventure the babies were given “sea names” of Nimo, Sebastian, Dory and Ariel. When their health improved the babies and their mama were adopted by new families. Dory went to Washington State, Nimo and Sebastian to Minnesota, Mama Chica went to Cape Cod and the last one Ariel now re-named Iza was scheduled to go her new home in Denver.

And then life threw the little girl another fast ball, knocking her down yet again.

Her adopting family, Jason and Kelly Cooke plus their two boys, wanted to get to know her a little before she made the transition to her new country, new home and new people. The night before departure they attempted to take her for a walk in the area of Isla 33 condos. She panicked, slipped out of her harness and frantically raced away.

Devastated the Cooke family searched the neighbourhood, then called Eileen and Doug who joined the search. Heavy-hearted they flew back to Denver next day, without their newest family member.
Reward poster for Iza 

In the meantime Eileen went into battle mode. She offered a reward for the dog, plastering advertisements and photos around the island. She posted the information on every Facebook group possible. She investigated over thirty sightings of comparable dogs seen at diverse locations all over the island. All similar in appearance, just not the right dog, not Iza. The family in Denver contacted her frequently asking for news, offering moral support.

 Baby Ariel/Iza in November

As the weeks wore on Eileen persisted in her hunt for the puppy. “It’s an island, for heaven’s sake. She has to be somewhere on Isla Mujeres.”

Then recently late one afternoon, Monica MacPherson happened to be driving to her vacation home at the southern end of the island. She messaged Eileen that she had seen a similar dog near the Aguakan waste-water treatment plant on the eastern side of the island. Eileen waited until dusk and went to investigate.

A brown dog shot past, running flat out then ducking back under the thick undergrowth. Eileen showed her poster to the older man who is the live-in security for a property near the Aguakan plant.

“Si,” He agreed, demonstrating with his fingers that the dog’s ears often stood up tall, like those of a deer.

Security man who helped Iza 
Eileen nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, yes. Iza.” Using her hands to mimic Iza’s large ears. In the past few weeks the man had left the dog a bit of food, so he was certain it was her.

Eileen returned carrying Iza’s dog dish, her favourite foods, and a blanket that smelled like her litter mates. Eileen also brought along two of her own dogs that Iza was comfortable with, letting them pee in various areas so that the little dog could catch their scent.

One evening she sighted the dog, and called her. The dog stopped, looked back and then ran. Another evening Daniel, an employee at the Aguakan station, managed to snap a couple of photos with his phone. Yes, it was definitely Iza.

Brother Nemo
Determined that she was going to entice the dog to come to her, Eileen dressed in thick jeans, a long-sleeved shirt as protection against nighttime invasion of mosquitoes. She wouldn’t use insect repellent worried that Iza wouldn’t be able to catch her scent. She rubbed cooked chicken on her hands, and set a food dish beside the gate of Aguakan. In the corner of her eye she noticed a dark shape crawling on her stomach towards the front of the golf cart.

“Iza.” Eileen called softly, and the dog launched herself into Eileen’s arms, crying whimpering. Iza squirmed and spun ecstatically. It was a struggle for Eileen to hold the dog. She managed to get a lead around Iza’s neck and set off home with the relieved pooch excitedly snuggling in her lap as she drove.

Brother Sebastian
It had been a long six weeks for Eileen and Iza since the pooch had panicked and ran, a very long and stressful six weeks. At the house Iza barged into the yard, charging through gate to greet her housemates, Eileen and Doug’s collection of rescue dogs, all with their own interesting life stories. 

Iza is a kisser. She kissed every dog, and the two humans many times to express her gratitude and happiness.

You would think that this would be the end of Iza’s story, but there are more and hopefully happier adventures ahead for her. Her adopting family, Jason and Kelly Cooke, are overjoyed that she has been found. It will be a few months before Iza can fly to Denver but her new family is eagerly waiting for her arrival.

And as for Eileen, she says it is heart-wrenching to let any of the rescue dogs go.

Saying goodbye to Mama Chica at airport
When she took Iza’s mom, Mama Chica to the airport their protracted goodbye in the cargo area had all the staff in tears. Mama Chica wrapped her paws around Eileen’s neck hugging her close. 

Eileen said the dog was making a humming sound that jolted her heart with sadness. “I just can’t keep every dog we help. There is a seemingly endless number of pooches who needs our assistance and love.”

Eileen’s eyes were bright with tears, her voice thick with emotion. “Iza will be well-loved by her new forever-family. I have to let her go on to her next adventure.”

It’s a true love story.

Hasta Luego 
Lynda & Lawrie

Treasure Isla
$2.99 USD on Amazon e-books

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt.

Friday, May 19, 2017

We hit a blog milestone this week!!!

Notes from Paradise - Isla Mujeres 500,000 page views!   
Thanks to all of our faithful readers, we rolled over to a half-million page views on our blog this week!  Woohoo! 

It is amazing how a funny little weekly email that we started sending to twelve people in 2009 has grown to a weekly blog with anywhere from four to eight thousand readers a week. (Some articles interest people more than others.)
June 2009 - we started writing weekly emails

When we started in June of 2009 it was to keep family members up to date on our newest adventure, our life in Mexico. The email list grew as family members asked if they could add their friends, and then those people wanted to add other friends. By September of 2011 the email list had grown to almost five hundred names.

When our neighbour Ronda Roberts started her blog, Isla Mujeres News, a translation of local news in June of 2011, she suggested that we switch over from a weekly email to a blog. Here's the link to Ronda's blog

July 2014 - Sunset cool down for islanders
So we did, we created a blog page.  However, many of our readers objected, saying they didn’t want to search the internet to find the articles. They enjoyed having a personal copy sent to their inbox. From September 2011 to June of 2014 we posted the weekly blog, and also sent it via direct email to our readers. It was a lot more work, but it kept everyone happy and interested.

Then in 2014 Google labelled our emails as that dreaded word – spam.  They shut down our list, refusing to deliver the weekly articles to our readers. By our estimation we had sent out around seventy-five thousand individual emails over the five years, but never to anyone who hadn’t asked to be included in the list.   
1984 Great Horned Owl - who had an ambulance ride

In the meantime we also created two more blogs targeted to specific stories that interested us: European Adventure, and Animals and Other Family Members. As you can probably guess by the titles these are not Isla Mujeres-based stories, one being about our travels in Europe and the other funny stories about pets and wild creatures we have befriended. The links to those stories are listed under My Blog List, on this webpage.

About eighteen months ago Tony Richardson, editor of the popular on-line Mexico News Daily started re-posting our blog articles. In his publication our stories are reaching a wider audience, some having been shared thousands of times. Pretty heady stuff for two amateur scribblers. You can find the direct link to Mexico News Daily on our list of blogs that we follow.  Or at this webpage,

Insider's Guide to the Best of Mexico - FREE!
Several of our articles have been included in two on-line anthologies; Insider’s Guide to The Best of Mexico, and the second Insider’s Guide which will be published soon. Here's a link for your free copy:

The collection of feel good stories about Mexico are the brain-child of well-known novelist Carmen Amato. Check her Amazon page for a complete listing of her works. Our current favourites are the police procedurals featuring Detective Emilia Cruz in Acapulco. Here's the link to Carmen's webpage:

July 2014 Diego and I toasting arrival of books
In between the weekly blog articles, island friend Diego Medina and I created the bi-lingual book for children, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Aventuras de Tomas el Gato. Diego and I won a silver award at the International Latino Book Awards in Las Angeles for best picture book bilingual. The sequel is underway.

But wait there’s more!  In 2016, I wrote and self-published my first novel, Treasure Isla. Treasure Isla is a fun beach read, an adventure set on Isla Mujeres. The e-book sales on Amazon are doing well, prompting me to write the sequel, Trouble Isla. Trouble Isla will be launched in late August of this year.

Amazon E-books, Treasure Isla and soon Trouble Isla

All of this creativity started with a weekly email to a few friends and family members. We discovered we like to write stories and paint pictures with words. 

Most of all we like to entertain people, to provide a bit of information mixed in with light humor. 

Thank you all again for your on-going interest in our off-beat stories. 

Lynda & Lawrie