Friday, January 13, 2017

Islanders coming together to create a special day

Day of the Kings' Isla Mujeres
Kings Day, January 6th in all of Mexico is a very special day for children. It’s a very important event for Catholics in Mexico, celebrating when the three wise men purportedly arrived in Bethlehem with gifts for baby Jesus.  And it’s the day when local children traditionally receive their holiday celebration gifts.

Restaurant owner, Ruben Chavez again hosted a party for the island kids at his tiny little restaurant on Guerrero Avenue, located across from the post office. 

Diego Gonzalez - keeping things organized
For months Mexican and foreigners have been gathering gifts, organizing food, and assembling donations. John Pasnau, as always, was knee deep in the event.  His first mate, Diego Gonzalez and Diego’s family members pitched in to help out both with the pre-organization and all during the event on Friday January 6th.

A gift-elf, keeping the stacks sorted.
In 2016 there were over 800 toys collected and about 1200 children attended the event.  This year, 2017 the group gathered in 1473 toys, but again, there were more children than toys. John Pasnau says the event will be registered as a non-profit organization later this year. He is hoping that will help with his fundraising for January 2018. John’s family members also pitched in carting over three hundred toys to Mexico from American friends.  Valerie Pasnau had at various times suitcases filled with footballs, (we call them soccer balls), Hot Wheels, crayons and more.
Volunteers inside the restaurante
Gail Marie Stewart and the food crew constructed thousands of sandwiches starting at eight in the evening the night before, working for three hours preparing and wrapping and storing in the refrigerators. The gift elves spent hours sorting toys into girl-type toys or boy-type toys then sorted the piles again by age category.

Deanne delivering the hampers of food and supplies
The hamper crew, organized by Déanne Gray, put together boxes of food and household supplies, with Ruben identifying the people who were most in need of assistance. Déanne got the idea of an Advent Hamper from her grandchildren, and asked interested folks to place one item each day into a basket or similar container for twenty-four days. The night before the event, all of the food hampers were carted over to the IxChel Condo Hotel to be stored until the next morning. 

Ruben and hamper receiver
Ruben’s Restaurante was overflowing with gifts sorted and ready for the big day. There wasn’t a single space for a customer to enjoy his great food on Thursday and most of Friday. Even with three cracked ribs Ruben was in the thick of the event – in pain and stressed about the reality of not having enough presents – he was in motion all the time. This is not the only kind deed that Ruben is responsible for. He also donates 10% of his restaurant sales to the Casa Hogar orphanage located in the Rancho Viejo colonia, on the mainland portion of the Municipality of Isla Mujeres.

Waiting in line for hours!
And then there the big day arrived. The lineups started hours before the scheduled start time. Volunteers controlled the crowds, the traffic, and the flow of children by age to the two double-windows where elves handed out the gifts: girls’ line on one side and the boys’ line on the other side. The sandwiches and drinks were passed out through the side window in the garden.
Santa in sandals
Last year Santa sat in the hot tropical sun for hours, personally handing each child a gift. With the increase in numbers that is just not feasible anymore. Santa would have expired from heat exhaustion.  I know from personal experience that Mickey and Minnie, who were on-site for only ninety minutes, were suffering from the heat inside their elaborate costumes.

More islanders at Kings' Day on Isla Mujeres
At the end of the day there were more children than gifts, but not willing to let any child be disappointed part-time islander, Jackie Conlon generously asked John Pasnau to negotiate with the ice-cream vendor for his entire stock.

“The ice-cream cone story was fun.” John Pasnau explained, “Jackie has zero Spanish. I have 20% on a good day. The ice-cream man had about 2% English. With work we found out it was more about how many cones he had, which was doscientos, two hundred. Then I asked how much for all of them.”

Shocked, the vendor replied. “What?”

John patiently repeated, “All of them.”

The vendor replied, “15 pesos.”

John said, “Ok, 15 pesos times 200 is 3000 pesos, si?”

“Si,” the vendor happily agreed.

“Discount for buying all 200?” Asked John.

“Si. 15 pesos each.” The vendor nodded his head in agreement.

John: “So there we were. The proud buyers of 200 cones at retail. Santa has never done so poorly on a bulk buy.”  (Sorry Jackie, I don't have a photo of you and the ice-cream guy.)
Ice Cream man at Day of the Kings
Over the next few days the Facebook chatter and the private messages back and forth between the participants was amazing. Everyone was pleased, happy, and inspired to do it all again. The payoff is the big smiles.

Great work everyone and a big thank-you to you, Ruben Chavez. The man with the huge heart.

Lawrie Lock, Lynda Lock, Ruben Chavez, John Pasnau

Lawrie & Lynda

Super Organizer - Gail Stewart and Rita Lawson

Ruben’s helpers are listed below: I apologize if I missed anyone.  Contact me on FaceBook and I will gladly amend the list.

John Pasnau, Valerie Pasnau, Annelise Pasnau, Gail-Marie Stewart, Jackie Conlon, Diego Gonzalez Torres, Gelmy Garrido Escalante, Fernanda Gonzalez Noh, Emily Gonzalez Garrido, Marrion Nielson, Steve Ferree, Terri Ferrero Tywan, Julie Goth, Rob Goth, Déanne Gray, Brent Curley, Carol Gatlin, Kathy Nicholson, Karly Bandala, Patricia Cauich, Therese McComas Durhman, Christina Rich, Maria Delagdo, Aaron Greene, Ruth Lacey, Wanda Wagner, Jennifer Kelly, Rita Lawson, Annie Tatum Musil, and Alexa Aviles De a O.

Plus the hardworking restaurant staff: Jessica, Sami, and Ricky.

Mickey and Minnie would also like family members Richard and Linda Grierson for once again driving us to and from the event, and keeping a watchful eye on us while encumbered by limited visibility and movement. It’s always a challenge to move around with little fans clinging to our legs and hands. 

Julie Goth and Deanne Gray

Helen Nixon Tenke, Marrien Nielson, Ruben ...

Friday, January 6, 2017

First light of the New Year

Fireworks at midnight in centro
Mexico really knows how to party.  The festivities for celebrating the arrival of the New Year in Mexico begin late in the evening on December 31st, and romp on into the first hours of daylight. 

Tony Garcia photo - Dancing the night away

We have several times in the past nine years joined the party in centro on Isla Mujeres for the fireworks and the beginning of the dancing. We usually give up around two in the morning, leaving our reserved table and chairs for hardier friends to use.  A few times we have noticed the three and four-year-olds still dancing with their siblings and parents as we slink off to our beds. You have to be born into this culture to have kind of stamina!

New Year's Eve celebrations - Jimmy Picuri photo
This year we didn’t make the trek to centro, instead we celebrated quietly, just the two of us and our little mutt, Sparky, with a toast to the New Year and a few tasty snacks.  We were in bed well before midnight. When the booming explosions started I woke up briefly, thought about climbing to our rooftop to watch, then turned over and mumbled Happy New Year to my slumbering hubby. Maybe next year.

Waking at o-dark-hundred at six in the morning, Sparky and I decided to leave Lawrie snoozing and join the group that gathers to welcome ‘first light’ at the southern end of the island – the very first place in Mexico for the sun to strike.  I had an ulterior motive.  The event is featured as the opening scene in my second novel, Trouble Isla, but I had never actually dragged myself out of bed in time to participate.

Road blocked off at Punta Sur - no more room for vehicles
The pooch and I bundled into the golf cart and set off driving south to Punta Sur.  Passing through the colonias I waved at neighbours who were still happily partying in courtyards or spilling over into the roadways.  Loud music, laughter, the clink of glasses and the occasional small explosion from handheld rockets.

The farther south I drove, the more traffic joined the procession. Pickup trucks with mattresses laid in the back were piled with sleepy children. Motos with two and three laughing celebrants whizzed past. Groups of young men and women waved and greeted me with Feliz Año Nuevo as they trundled past, crammed six, seven or eight to a golf cart.  Almost everyone was still dressed in their party finery, vastly different from my jeans, sweater and athletic shoes. 

El Presidente Juan Carillo and his wife Pao Orrico first sunrise
Passing the landfill site I saw the flashing red and blue emergency lights of two police cars. Thinking I had come across an accident I fervently hoped no one was seriously injured. As it turned out, the police were controlling the traffic for a side road, where a large group complete with tents and chairs had set up along the edge of the cliffs, facing south. This is new. It could have been the new Presidente Juan Carrillo Jr. and his wife Pao Orrico with a large group of friends, or it could have been a church gathering. It was difficult to know with the quick glance I had before the police officer waved me on.

Arriving at the turnoff road to Punta Sur, I was surprised to see a police roadblock. The officer waved me through then replaced the traffic cones behind me.  Everyone arriving after me had to park along the main route, cluttering up both sides of the road. Sparky and I parked the golf cart and began to walk the block and a half towards the large palapa near the entrance to the park. There were cars, trucks, golf carts, motos, people, pets, and more people. An enterprising food vendor had set up near the palapa.  Music blasted over the crowd from a nearby DJ. Every available space was crowded with bodies; the tops of the stone walls, the seats in the seldom-used amphitheater, the gardens, and the plaza. People arrived with coolers of adult beverages. A few carried open bottles of champagne.

First light at Punta Sur January 1st 2017
I edged my way through the throng, heading towards a space where I might be able to snap a few photos and met up with two friends, Harriet and Richard Lowe, who have been making the ‘first light’ trek for a number of years. They were astounded at the number of people. In years past the small group was a combination of party-goes and sleepy early-risers, still wearing their pajamas.

Sparky and I hung around until the sky began to lighten with ‘first light’ and then I took a serious look at the number of vehicles parked in the area and decided it was time to go.  

We arrived back at our casa just as the sun was clearing the horizon. I brewed our morning coffee, then headed upstairs with two steaming cups of liquid brain-food to share with my sweetie. It’s a pretty great way to start the New Year.

Happy 2017, Feliz año nuevo

Lawrie & Lynda
and Sparky

Friday, December 30, 2016

Colourful Juarez Avenue on Isla Mujeres

Colourful Juarez Avenue

It’s almost 2017, time for that inevitable New Year’s Resolution – get more exercise! So, here’s an idea for you, take a stroll along colourful Juarez Avenue on Isla Mujeres. Enjoy the fun buildings. Enjoy the sunshine. And stop for lunch or a cold beverage. Hey, you are still exercising, you are just rewarding yourself for the effort.

There are more than a dozen interesting structures on Juarez Avenue with wild colour combinations and murals, or covered in bits of mosaic. Starting at the southern end, behind the navy base and heading north there is lots to see.  

Fluffy white dog and kitty will share their chairs with you

First there is Dede Clark’s tall, narrow home featuring a recent street-side addition of two benches painted to resemble delicate chairs. Friendly images of a fluffy white dog plus a black and white cat, invite you to join them in quiet contemplation of their neighbourhood.  

Across the street from her house is a single-level house decorated in hot pink and fuchsia, with a wild assortment of mythical trees, psychedelic flowers and solar images.  

A few steps further is the busy La Lomita Restaurante decked out in flowers and images, welcoming their guests to enter. As you crest the small rise look to the left. Red Buddha Yoga & Wellness centre glows a ruby red in the morning sun, directly across of another multi-coloured artistically decorated home.  

At the first cross street a solitary woman boldly stands at the corner of a derelict building. She is wearing an eclectic mix of leather and feathers or perhaps tatty fur. What appears to be a World War Two pilot’s helmet is pulled tightly over her short hair, the goggles pushed up and away from her eyes. She has an oddly compelling face. Defiant, yet apprehensive, staring at something only she can see.

Don’t give up explorations when you come to the more commercial looking buildings that are prevalent in the next two blocks, there are more to be discovered.  A little further north of the pedestrian-only street, is another home covered in a mosaic of tiles, glass, paint and poetry. It was a painstaking process for the young artist as she studied each piece before adding it to her creation.

Then there are a few of the old original wood homes with tin roofs, built when Isla Mujeres was a fishing village. We call them the ‘painted ladies.’ They resemble the Victorian-era homes with their intricate architectural details and interesting colour combinations. The interior-decorating business at 13 Juarez Galeria is another fun older building highlighted with orange, green turquoise and yellow.

At the corner of Juarez and Matamoras there are four beautiful structures: the terracotta-coloured Mundaca Real Estate office, the pink, yellow, and blue Café Cito, the wooden painted-lady belonging to Tony Garcia’s auntie, and the hand-crafted stonewall surrounding the home of long time-islander Hettie Veneziano, who sadly recently passed on.

Our current favourite is close by.  It is a newly remodeled space with a sky-blue wall, pink-trimmed doors and windows, mango-coloured interior courtyard walls.  We don’t know who owns the property but what a cheerful addition the neighbourhood.

There are many more buildings with murals and amusing paint combinations scattered all along the street.  Get out there and enjoy colourful Juarez Avenue.

And on a personal note, I would like to thank the many readers of my new e-book novel, Treasure Isla, for leaving reviews on Amazon. It’s a huge boost to my energy level as I am working through the intricacies of the sequel.

A very happy and prosperous New Year to everyone,

Lynda & Lawrie and our almost-famous mutt, Sparky

Happy New Year everyone - from Sparky

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Halloween costume that launched a Christmas parade

2011 Elmo makes his Isla debut

“Hey, cool. We’re invited to a Halloween party October 31st 2011, at Curtis and Ashley’s house Villa la Bella,” Lawrie said as he read aloud an email invite.

Next thing I know the local postman arrives on his delivery moto at our front door with an enormous cotton sack tagged with Lawrie’s name and our address.

“What the heck is that?” I asked, oblivious to his recent on-line costume shopping.  

That - was an Elmo costume shipped from the manufacturer Claudio Mascots Oficial Lima Peru; a large, furry, crimson-red, costume complete with big head and google eyes. It was amazing. Beautifully made, and an exact replica of Elmo.

2011 Elmo greets grandsons Evan & Ethan

Years ago when Lawrie’s eldest grandson was learning to talk he thought Lawrie’s name was Elmo, and the nickname stuck. The boys were coming for a visit in December 2011. Lawrie decided he could get double-duty from the costume; the Halloween party, and greeting our grandsons at the Ultramar boat.  

2011 Elmo making friends at Barlito's

The Elmo costume was a huge hit. In the next two years it was used many times over by Lawrie when he greeted arriving nephews, nieces, great-nephews, great-nieces, sister and brother-in-law and friends at the Ultramar ferry docks. Elmo-Lawrie was invited to the Barlito’s 1st Anniversary celebration when they were still on Hidalgo Avenue. Everyone wanted their photos taken with Elmo; kids, parents, and grandparents. Even a few of the slightly dubious characters that hang around on the street corner late in the evenings wanted a photo with Elmo.

Then in 2013 our friend Freddy Medina asked if he could borrow the costume for a birthday fiesta for a special young boy on the island. Freddy was so overwhelmed by the happiness of the young lad that he suggested the idea of a Christmas parade featuring Elmo and our newest character costumes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, purchased for yet another Halloween party at Villa la Bella.

2013 Elmo-Freddy makes his debut in the parade
The first parade in 2013 was hilarious. There were only about eight or nine vehicles, and a dozen or so motos. Our jefe, Freddy was late and the golf carts had lined up nice and neat, facing north. What did we know? We were all new at this parade stuff.  We eventually got turned around heading south towards the densely populated neighbourhoods.  The parade bounced through the colonias on a higgledy-piggledy route that the driver of the lead vehicle had mapped out in his head.
2011 Parade route - Alexis' photo
We had absolutely no idea what we were getting into. The excitement on the faces of the youngsters. The grandparents and parents running to find the kids to come see Elmo, Mickey, Minnie, Sponge Bob, clowns and the Grinch. The noise the confusion. The laughter.  Lawrie and I had bought five pounds of candy, but part way through the route we asked our drivers, Chuck and Marcy Watt, for an emergency stop at Donasusa to purchase another five pounds.  It was also the year that we learned not to get out of the golf carts.  Lawrie had waded into the crowd to say hi to the kids, when a group of inebriated young men thought it would be uproariously funny to lob Mickey Mouse in to the air and catch him – a few times.  So picture this, a full-sized man, in a full-body mouse costume including a very large head being tossed up and down in a crowd. Only in Mexico!
2011 Freddy Medina as Elmo
Two hours later our tired raggedy group disbanded in centro on Rueda Medina. Elmo’s vehicle happened to park near the assembly point for the Municipal Presidente of Isla’s Christmas cavalcade. The Presidente suggested to Freddy that Elmo should join that parade. Freddy who had just spent two hours dancing in the back of a pickup truck wearing a full-body fur-suit was soaked through to his underwear with perspiration. However, one does not say no to the Presidente. And away he went, dancing and shouting Feliz Navidad for another two hours.  A new Elmo was born!
2014 parade - little Minnie Mouse
In 2014 we had more people join the group bringing the total to about twenty vehicles.  Freddy arranged for the funny bus for participants who didn’t want to drive but wanted to be part of the event. The funny bus is a two level dilapidated vehicle, decorated with coloured lights and blasting loud music.  It haunted the island streets for a few years, the operator charging a small amount of money to take people on an after-dark tour of the island.

2014 Funny people in the Funny bus
That year we followed a route dictated by the height of the double-decker. The low hanging electrical wires are always a challenge in Mexico. The typical solution is to have a person stand on the top of a truck or vehicle with a wooden broom to lift the wires out of the way. Yep, lift live wires with a broom!  Happens all the time. But when it’s a parade there just isn’t the time to lift every low hanging line and sneak past, while the passengers duck below the seatbacks. It was easier to find a different route. Once again the experience was amazing - noise, people, dogs, kids, and loud music. That year we tossed fifteen pounds of candy to the crowds.
2015 Mrs. Claus and Santa
By 2015, and you would think we would have the routine figured out.  More or less, mas o menos.  The funny bus was once again available which meant our route was similar to the previous year, heading south, staying the main roads and finishing in Centro near the new Muelle 7 Restaurante on Rueda Medina. We had all of the usual character costumes in the parade, along with the addition of Batman-Jimmy.  Santa John Pasnau and Mrs. Claus Valerie Pasnau quietly inserted themselves in the middle of the lineup giving the kids an additional thrill as Santa waved and said, “ho, ho, ho.” 

2015 our escorts
2015 was the first year that we had a police escort in the form of four motorcycle cops who tried their very best to keep us all together. It was a bit like trying to herd cats, which if you have ever been owned by a cat you will know is an impossible task. Some of the vehicles broke down. A few drivers turned the wrong way. And still others had non-parade vehicles cut in between, causing more confusion. The laughing youngsters and their smiling parents made it all worthwhile.
2016 Participants lining up outside our casa
And then there was this year’s parade, Saturday December 17th 2016 – our 4th Annual Christmas Golf Cart Parade. We had trucks, cars, dozens of golf carts, two tuk-tuks and a handful of motorcycles, but not the funny bus. It seems to have finally died, expired.  We had Elmo, Santa, Mrs. Claus, Mickey, Minnie and a Ninja Turtle. There were at least four or five dogs including our Sparky, dressed for the occasion riding in their decorated golf carts. There were dozens of Santa hats, decorations bought, and decorations hand-made. Music. Lights. Candy. 

2016 Mrs. Claus and Santa
Without the bus our route was more flexible. We wound south from our casa along the Salinas Chica neighbourhood, into Salinas Grande, Las Glorias, through narrow side-streets along the main road, turning again into the colonias across from Oscar’s Pizza, popped out onto the main road by Chedraui grocery store and back into centro.  But we weren’t finished yet. Our leader took us on a cross-hatch route along Madero, Medina, Abasolo, Guerreo, Juarez, Matamoros, and Medina again. At the end we gathered in the square in centro.

Wow! Just wow. Our faces hurt from smiling. Our throats were dry from laughing. The best parade yet. There was somewhere around fifty vehicles in total.  Thank you so much to everyone participated in the celebration of fun and family. You are what makes this event so special.

Elmo-Freddy and Elmo-Lawrie
The Christmas Golf Cart Parade is usually the last Saturday before Christmas Eve, but our intrepid leader Freddy Medina sets the date. If you want to join in next year just contact Lawrie, or Freddy or me on Facebook. Don’t forget to add battery-powered Christmas lights to your 2017 shopping list. Buying them here is very hit-and-miss.

As for the Elmo costume of the 2011 Halloween party, it now resides at Freddy’s house. It’s a very good home for Elmo. Thank you Freddy Medina for being the good-hearted, crazy person who thought up this event. 

Freddy giving Elmo his annual post-parade bath

Merry Christmas & Season Greetings

Lynda & Lawrie

And Sparky

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas in the Caribbean

Celebrating the Virgin Guadalupe

Yep, I know you’re going to groan and say, “Not another damn article about how wonderful the weather is at Christmas in Mexico.”  Well, the weather is spectacular in December, but that’s not what this week’s blog is about.  It’s about the small town feeling of life on Isla, especially during the holiday season.  Many of the major religions in the world have a special day or week in December that is significant to their beliefs, and to them we wish them all the best of the season.  However, living in a country that is predominately Christian we are more aware of their celebrations.

Annual horse and rider procession

December is a busy time on the island with a number of events including the annual horse-parade, bullfights, folkloric dancers in centro, and the magical nights of entertainment at the Casa de Cultura. December 12th is the Day of the Virgin Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. The Catholic churches have special masses and processions to reaffirm their commitment to Guadalupe. Coloured flags crisscross the streets in centro and outlying neighbourhoods. Lights and decorations. Music. The delicious smells of festive foods. The island is in celebration mode.

Barefoot Santa John and Valerie in 2015 golf cart parade 

Our golf cart is all tricked out in garlands, wreaths, snowmen and reindeer for this Saturday’s Christmas parade. Starting at five-thirty the motley crew of expats and islanders will assemble outside our casa on Aeropuerto Road, facing south. The parade ricochets around the various neighbourhoods and eventually finds it way in to centro. It’s a wild and silly event that entertains the island kids and their parents.  For other events we have been amassing an assortment of toys to be distributed at the January 6th Day of the Kings’ charity event sponsored by Ruben’s Restaurante. 

Saying hi to the local kids at the Day of the Kings event

We decorated our artificial tree last weekend with tiny sombreros, ocean-themed ornaments and carnival beads.  I hate to admit it, but sweating while trimming a tree just isn’t the same as decorating with Christmas music blaring, a roaring fire in the fireplace and a glass of single malt whiskey at hand.  Oh, darn, a sneaky reference to our hot weather just inserted itself into this blog! 

Christmas brunch at Sue & Len's casa

For us part of the fun is the gathering of friends who are not in close proximity to other family members.  There are annual early morning gathering for drinks and snacks, and open house invitations to drop in for a glass of Christmas cheer.  This year two island friends have invited many ‘orphans’ to a Christmas Dinner with Friends, a potluck gathering where everyone contributes a dish or two to the festivities. Our good friends who live just a few houses away, have invited us and our almost-famous dog to their casa for the traditional turkey dinner. 

Sparky and his girlfriend Julie grocery store - M.Watt photo
Yesterday I popped over to the local grocery store looking for a few more decorations. I left Sparky in charge of the golf cart. When I returned he was entertaining two lady friends who thought he looked lonely. Small town living at its best.
Happy Holidays from paradise!

And yes, there are sandy beaches, palm trees, blue skies and hot weather, but it’s still Christmas. It’s the love and the friendship that make this a special time of year, no matter where you live.

Merry Christmas & Season Greetings

Lynda & Lawrie, and Sparky

Lawrie, Canadian Christmas '99