Friday, August 31, 2012

Bureaucracy - gone international, Lawrie’s turn to write

Heading to Canadian Consulate in Cancun
No … not Mexico, but in Canada - and the USA.

It’s time.  Time for us to renew our passports, and since we live year-around in Mexico we decided to renew from here.  First we travelled to the Canadian Consulate in the hotel zone of Cancún to obtain the proper forms.  We were told we could not use the quick renewal process requiring only two new photos and our old passport.  This service is available to Canadians living in Canada, USA, Lebanon, Guinea, Cape Verde, Gambia and Senegal.  It is not available to the estimated 500,000 Canadians living full or part-time in Mexico.   We are given the long form to fill in, requiring two new photographs, a qualified guarantor such as a lawyer or doctor, our birth certificates, and our old passports. 

A week later: okay, got it all.  We returned to the Cancún Consulate and paid for two passport renewals in exact cash – no change available, and no credit cards accepted.  The Consul checked our forms for errors and told us to send the completed forms and the receipt, with a pre-paid return envelope included to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.  Done.

Filling out request for new birth certificate
Then we waited.  I emailed the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City twice.  “Did you receive our applications?”  The first reply was: “We don’t do visa applications.”  Really?  Well, that is certainly a useful, or perhaps, useless piece of information.  “Again, did you receive our applications?”  No response. 

And we waited some more.  Two and a half weeks later the Consul in Cancún phoned to say there was a problem with my passport application.  My birth certificate was no longer valid.  You can probably feel the steam coming from my ears by now.  “Not valid?  I have had my birth certificate for 70+ years – and now it’s no good!  Did I exceed the best-before-date?” 

Apparently, the Province of Manitoba, in their infinite wisdom, decided to change to a more secure form of birth certificates.  The bureaucrats merely neglected to publish the information - as I discovered on an internet article written in 2009 discussing a similar situation.  Lynda, who was born in British Columbia, Canada, does not have to replace her birth certificate.  It’s an old folded, faded piece of paper much like mine, but still valid.  The Consul said they would hold our passport renewals in Mexico City until my new birth certificate arrived.

UPS in Cancun - birth certificate arrives

So, back to the computer I go.  I obtained the necessary forms on-line from the Manitoba government, downloaded, printed, and filled in the appropriate spaces.  But the Manitoba government will not accept a scanned copy.  The completed form must be faxed.  With much searching around on the island I located an internet business that had an antique fax machine, disconnected, but available for use after a warm-up period.  Off goes my application, along with my credit card information to pay for the $100.00 speedy approval and expedited return courier service.  Wow! They did an eighteen hour turnaround.  The new birth certificate was on its way.

The courier special delivery envelope, with one thin sheet of paper, got as far as US Customs in Louisville Kentucky.  And there it sat – for six long days – waiting to be processed through US Customs.  Finally, someone decided that my birth certificate was not a matter of US national security and cleared it through. 
UPS in Cancun - and birth certificate leaves
Back to Cancún again.  This time to the UPS courier office where we picked up the envelope, cut it open, and addressed a new courier envelope to the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City.  Luis at the UPS office was terrific, very helpful.  UPS had my birth certificate delivered the next day in Mexico City. 

At 9:00 in the morning I called the Consular Section in Mexico City.  The French-Canadian woman, working at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico City answered in French.  It took me a few attempts before I was able to communicate what I wanted.  “What was the expected delivery date of our new passports?” 

The reply …. 15 working days.   We’ll see.  

For once, both Canada and the USA, have out-bureaucrat-ed Mexico!

And then one final frustration: today's email from the Canadian Embassy dated August 30, 2012
Dear Canadian citizens,
As of September 17, 2012, Canadians living in Mexico, who meet specific eligibility criteria, will be able to apply for a new Canadian passport through the simplified renewal application process. Further information can be found at the following link:
Our passports are already 3/4 of theway through the renewal process and the rules have changed.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Easing up to the end of summer

Brisas Restaurante - a favourite place for a cool dinner.
This week has been hot and sticky, with high humidity that spikes just before the rain showers hit.  We are moving slower and spending more time hiding in the shade, or floating in the pool. 

If we are eating out my main criteria is - is there a breeze at that location? 

The various car and passenger ferries are still busy bringing tourists to the island. Travelers come to enjoy the beaches, deep sea fishing, the release of baby turtles and whale shark tours. 

Hundreds of tourists from Cancun

This week the municipality hosted drag races, held on the Navy airport runway.  It was amusing to watch as the scheduled start time of Saturday morning became Saturday afternoon, then Sunday morning, and finally around noon on Sunday there were some races.  Apparently the problem was that some of the contestants were not able to get across on the car ferry in time.  T.I.M. This is Mexico.

We are just a few days away from the first of September the slowest month of the year for tourism.  A few friends that operate bars or restaurants are closing for the month to give everyone their annual holidays, and to do a general cleanup of their properties.  Most students are back in school, and there aren’t any important national holidays until Independence Day on September 16th. Despite this being the slow season, the real estate agents have been doing a booming business selling building lots, and a broad spectrum of houses in various price ranges. 

Dragging drag races

This is also the time of year that we look around our house making note of various small repairs that need doing.  And then we say; “Let’s wait until hurricane season is over.”  In other words, we are putting it off until the weather cools down, but blaming our laziness on the possibility of storms undoing our repairs, or painting.  The trouble with waiting too long is all the good repairmen will be busy as the returning North Americans arrive in October and November for the winter.  Even houses that are boarded up for the summer need repairs.  Things rust. Corrode.  Stop working.  Then it’s a scramble to get all the repairs done before the social season revs up. 

Rain showers coming !
So at the moment we are lazing around and enjoying our slothfulness.  Lawrie is blissfully floating in the pool, and I am about to join him.  Ah, summer. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How do you make a grown-up grin like a little kid?

Linda G. and her baby turtle

.... hand her a squirming baby turtle.  The result is a wide, face-splitting grin.

Arriving on Media Luna beach, near the north end of the island we fully expected the turtle release start time would be approximate, más o menos, meaning more or less, accompanied by the appropriate mocking hand wiggle-waggle.

Surprisingly the event started on time! 

Large green tubs of wriggling baby turtles were transported on a flatdeck truck from the turtle farm, getting as close to the beach as possible.

Then individual turtle farm workers lifted the heavy buckets overhead, toting the turtles down to the beach.Covetous hands of all sizes stretched out, pushing plastic buckets, and containers towards the workers as they carefully scooped handfuls of turtles to distribute to the crowd. 

Joann with baby turtle
My sister Joann, Lawrie’s sister Linda, and new island friends Andy and Yumiko were as excited as anyone; holding the babies up for photos, releasing them onto the sand for the dash to the water, and groaning when the surf unceremoniously tossed ‘their turtle’ back on the beach.

How anyone could tell which turtle was their turtle – I have no idea.They are all small, all moving, and all about the colour of dried seaweed.At this point in their lives these turtles are about one inch tall, and the waves were about twelve inches high - similar to a human swimming in twelve-foot waves.   

Birds arriving to feast on babies
As the flocks of predatory birds swooped over the waves plucking up the unlucky ones, I couldn’t help but think that maybe a slightly later start time would have been better. 

Timing is everything. 

Photographers in surf
It becomes a fine balance between creating the right lighting for good photographs to increase the interest in the turtle release program, and dark enough that the maximum number of babies will at least survive the initial launch.  Without the assistance from the hatching program a baby turtle has a one-in-a-thousand chance of surviving. 

This year, in the first three months of turtle season the workers have collected a record breaking 65,000 eggs. The increase in collected eggs will hopefully increase the number of babies maturing to adults. 

I am NOT touching that!

The lucky ones that survive predators and spinning boat propellers and occasional un-sanctioned hunting will return to Isla in about fifteen years to mate and start the cycle all over again.

We have been involved with the fun of previous releases but this one was far more entertaining.  We were with a group of family members and friends that had not seen a turtle release. 
Their grins were delightful; their enjoyment infectious.  Great memories.

Andy and Yumiko - first turtle release

Friday, August 10, 2012

Turtles and Thunderstorms

A perfect summer's day on Isla Mujeres
 August: turtles and thunderstorms just seem to go together.  The turquoise seas are calm, winds are zephyr-light, the cloudless skies are painted a cerulean blue, and the temperature hovers at a comfortable thirty degrees Celsius, or ninety-something on the Fahrenheit scale. 

The weather is perfect for the mama turtles to make their annual trek to the beaches, digging deep holes with their flippers and abandoning their buried eggs to their fate.

 And then .... 
a hurricane arrives!  
The beginning of Hurricane Ernesto

Hurricane season corresponds almost exactly to the mating and egg-laying season for the giant sea turtles, starting in June and ending in late October. 

It is either a perfect symbiotic relationship, or a colossal joke played on these lumbering beasts. 

In the absence of my ownership of a PhD in the science of sea turtles, I am surmising that the relationship has developed over the millennium to accommodate a supply of food for the turtles as they gather to participate in a little fun with members of the opposite sex. 

Otherwise why do it?

At south end of Isla Mujeres sea turtles mate.
A few days ago an enterprising turtle laboriously flippered her way across the upper level of the beach in front of Ronda's house, and all along in front of the vacation rental complex of Punta Piedra, looking for the perfect place to lay her eggs. 

She eventually headed back to sea near Robyn and Al Crump's house, apparently unsuccessful in finding the perfect spot. 

A mama sea turtle's long march during the night.
The following night two of Ronda's guests, Andy and Yumiko, set their alarm clock to wake them in the wee hours of the morning and were rewarded with the sight of a female turtle investigating the same beach for nesting possibilities. 

They waited quietly, and patiently in the dark hardly daring to move for fear of spooking the turtle. 

As it turned out, she wasn't satisfied with the depth of the sand and returned to the ocean to try again someplace else.  These ladies are very finicky.

Watching the wind-swollen surf pound the island.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ernesto, with the wind-swollen surf pounding our beaches do the female turtles have regrets? 

"Darn!  I wish I'd laid my eggs yesterday."  


Friday, August 3, 2012

"I like this place. I'll live here!"

Chica - three years after she adopted us.
"I like this place!"  That's the attitude we got from the skinny, pregnant, and as it turns out very near-sighted, tabby cat that strutted into our kitchen three years ago, sauntering past our horrified seventeen-pound male cat, and over to my place at the dining table.  "Meorroww!" 

It was a command not a question. "Food! Now!"  Lawrie laughed; "I guess you'd better feed her."  And so we were adopted by Chica.

Whether you have visited Isla occasionally, or live here year-around, eventually you will be adopted - by a cat or dog.  They are equalitarian opportunists.  We have a number of friends who have been chosen by an animal to be their servants, their primary-feeders, their companions.  Some of our friends end up with three, or four, or more.

Pretty when she was younger liked rooftops

Dave and Janet Davison must have a sign posted at the end of their driveway that spells out in Dog-Spanish; "Nice people live here."  Eight years ago when their neighbours were building their casa, a scrawny golden-something-or-other dog hung around the construction site begging scraps of tortillas from the workers.  Eventually she wormed her way into Dave and Janet's hearts, earning the name Pretty as she fattened up, and was cleaned of ticks, fleas, worms, and dirt.  She's become a jet-setting dog, annually spending six months in Michigan, and six months in Mexico.

Tan, very comfortable in Michigan
Then came dog number two for the Davisons, Tan, who resembles the Vishla breed.  Four years ago Dave found a frightened, skinny, tan-coloured pup curled up in the plastic swimming-pool chair. 

They decided to help him out, but not to keep him as they already had their hands full with caring for the first dog, Pretty.  They took Tan back to Michigan where he lives, happily, with their son Todd.

Bella and her new dad.
Dog number three, a panic-stricken little scrap of grey and black fur with a dramatic under-bite, not weighing more than a few pounds was seen racing along the street in front of the Davisons' house. 

Unable to catch her, Janet worried about what would become of the dog.  No worries, she later found the dog fast asleep in their garden.  After a few half-hearted attempts at trying to find her a new home, they gave up - she had won them over.  Bella is also an experienced jet-setter, joining Pretty in her annual trek between Michigan and Mexico.
Another friend who must put out good animal vibes is Jackie Walker.  When she bought her restaurant more than ten years ago it came equipped with Mama Kitty, a black and white, broken-tale stray who to this day rules the downstairs level of Jax Bar & Grill. 

Mama Kitty rules the lower level at Jax
About a year later a tiny bundle of grey fur was located stuck inside the cover for the beer cooler.  It was a male kitten.  Jackie freed him, and turned him loose. 

The next day she found the same kitten had hidden inside the beer cooler again.  Jackie threw up her hands: "Now what?"  Tom-Cat became a permanent resident, who lives, quite well, in their upstairs apartment. 

Smiley, the star attraction at Jax.
Then Smiley, the little butterscotch-coloured mutt with the big grin, arrived when things were not going well at Jax Bar & Grill.  Jackie and Michael were in the midst of a conflict with a local politician.  Jackie had fired his nephew.  The politician wanted him reinstated.  She said: "No!"  The restaurant was closed.  Finished.

While the expensive legal battle raged on for over a year, Smiley became Jackie's solace - cleaning, brushing, removing ticks, and nursing her back to health, forgetting for a few minutes her legal woes.  Eventually Jax Bar & Grill prevailed and the restaurant re-opened.  And Smiley, some guests make dinner reservations specifying that she share their table.  She's the star attraction.

Chuck and Sombra on Playa Norte
Around the same time, Chuck and Marcy Watt were smitten by an island beach dog.  They had recently lost a dear friend, Casey, their German Shorthair Pointer and escaped to Isla, their magical-feel-good place, to restore their spirits. 

As they relaxed on the loungers at Playa Media Luna, a black dog arrived and hopped up onto Chuck's lounger, a big, sloppy, doggy-grin on her face:

"Buenos Dias amigo!" 

During their island holiday Chuck and Marcy became very attached to her, feeding her canned dog food daily, improvising with an empty coconut shell for her food dish. 

They checked with Alison Sawyer Current, at Isla Animals the rescue society, to see if the dog had an owner, but were told no.  Sombra as she was called by the locals was a beach dog, living off the scraps from various vacationing tourists.  The defining moment came when Sombra spotted them one morning at a different beach, Playa Norte.  She streaked towards them, running flat out, grinning the whole time. 

"There you are! I've found you again!" 

And so it was done.  Alison and Jeff Current gladly helped out with the paperwork, the airlines and customs - two weeks later she arrived in Canada.  Sombra is another fortunate, jet-setting pooch, spending pleasant winters in Mexico, and warm summers in Canada.

Sombra happy in her Caribbean casa
As Marcy says; "Our Sombra has won the lottery.  Chuck and I feel the same, as well."  

I think we've all won the lottery: pampered pets, and the lucky human companions.  

Chica, our stray cat, continues to amuse us with her eccentric personality. 

On the other hand, the two beach dogs Odd and Missy, that deign to live with us when all of their winter friends have left the island, well, that's a story for another day. 

Let's see what those people are offering today.