Friday, December 28, 2012

Traveling light

1991 Lawrie reading on cruise ship
When Lawrie and I started traveling together about a bazillion years ago, we had a luggage problem; one suitcase for clothes, and one suitcase just for books.  We both were voracious readers, chewing through novels, magazines, and newspapers at a great rate.  There is nothing quite as enjoyable as reading a good book on a chilly winter’s night with a crackling fire burning in the fireplace and a favourite beverage close to hand.  

At one point in our lives we had one room in our house filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with shelves of hard cover or paperback novels.  Books on antique cars, antique furniture, gardening, cooking, Canadian history, or house re-modeling; books we had read and happily loaned out to interested friends. 

1957 Grade one reader
My earliest memories of reading include a set of sixteen large books that my parents had purchased from a traveling salesman who visited our isolated mining-town residence.  The first book started off with nursery rhymes and each one after had progressively more difficult and complex stories.  In between reading those books my three sisters and I feasted on novels featuring Trixie Beldon, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys.  By the time I was nine my dad insisted I read two of his favourite non-fiction books; The People of the Deer by Farley Mowat, and the Miracle at Springhill by Leonard Lerner.  (The latter book was about the 1958 Springhill Nova Scotia mining disaster where 175 coalminers were trapped in an underground earthquake.  More than half of the men perished. It was pretty intense reading for a nine-year-old.  It left a lasting impression on me.)

1987 Another vacation - another dozen books!
Lawrie started reading at a young age as well.  His first memory is of reading My Friend Flicka at his grandmother’s house in Winnipeg, and crying over the sad parts.  As he progressed to more difficult reading he enjoyed the Enid Blyton series of books about three intrepid youngsters in the Mountain of Adventure, Circus of Adventure and Sea of Adventure and many more.  Another favourite series was the Boy’s Own Annual featuring a series of short stories.  Fortunately by the time we moved in together we were on the same page as far as reading goes, enjoying many authors primarily in the adventure-mystery-thriller genre, or the intensely fascinating novels of South African writer, Wilbur Smith.

1987 Reading my favourite author - Wilbur Smith
Fortunately for us, e-readers were created right about the time we moved full-time to Mexico.  It had been a concern for us, wondering how we were ever going to find enough books in English to keep us supplied with reading materials.  Our first two e-readers were Sony books.  We quickly racked up over four hundred novels in the first year and a half.  Then Sony made it very difficult for Canadians to access current titles of our favourite authors, so we switched to Amazon and Kindle readers.  We have already worn out three Kindle readers, and now have two of the newer Kindle Fire version.  

2012 Kindle Fire E-Reader
The Kindle Fire readers have colour graphics, allow internet access and emails.  For e-readers purchased in the USA there are a number of other features such as downloading music and videos.  We have to date read an additional three hundred and eighty-eight e-books through Amazon. 

Our biggest problem is paying for our reading addiction.  When we are in the mood both Lawrie and I can devour a book a day.  The books cost anywhere from $1.99 to $14.99 each!   However, e-books have solved a couple of problems for us.  They have given us the ability to purchase a book in English from any Wi-Fi location in the world as we learned this summer while traveling in France and Italy.  And we have recently discovered a number of new-to-us authors; authors such as Joel Goldman, Tom Lowe, Michael McGarrity, Andrew Peterson, CJ Lyons, Brett Battles, Nick Pirog and G.M. Ford to name just a few.  

2008 Lawrie with original Sony e-reader in Mexico
E-readers have reduced our dust allergies.  No paper pages to foster dust mold.  We have reduced the amount of room we require to store books; just one slim book-shaped electronic device.  

And they have definitely reduced our luggage problem.  We are e-reader converts!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The sky is falling. The sky is falling!

Evan and Ethan - could this really be the End?
With the 5125 year-old Mayan calendar running out this week, many people have been making a fuss over the potential end of the world.  Others debate whether there was an error in calculation and the end is either December 23rd, or 24th, at noon or at midnight, or in the opinion of one Phd degree-holder the official end of the calendar happened six days ago.  

The news media and social networks such as FaceBook have been predicting doom and gloom, urging people to check off an item or two on their personal bucket list of un-fulfilled dreams before the end.  

(Cue the loud and gloomy music.)

The Mayans on the other hand say it is the start of a new beginning, not the end.  They are taking a positive outlook with hopes of prosperity and good health for the future.  Some venues are planning elaborate dusk to dawn events that include Mayan shamans and elders celebrating the beginning of a new era.

There is a countdown to December 21st display at the entrance of Xel-Há, a terrific marine activity park south of Cancun.  When we were there we still had seven days until the supposed end of the world – so we checked off a thing or two on our lists. 

For me, it was the underwater Sea Trek and the opportunity to interact with Sting Rays.  This activity features a walk along the bottom of the ocean at a depth of about eighteen feet wearing a diving helmet.  The helmets are heavy.  They weight sixty pounds!  We were instructed to climb down the ladder until our shoulders were under water then the staff lifted the helmet over our heads, settling it onto our shoulders.  

The weight was considerable, shoving me down the ladder in an awkward manner until the buoyancy of the piped-in air equalized the weight.  Gripping the handrail to prevent the inlet current from dislodging us, we shuffled through the fine sand, marveling at the colourful fish, and the grace of the Sting Rays.  We were able to lightly run our hands over the silky skin of the Sting Rays as the handler coaxed them to swim overhead or beside us.  Both Evan age nine and Ethan age eleven were exhilarated by the experience, as was John, our only non-swimmer. 

Re-surfacing we spent the next seven hours exploring additional park activities.  We snorkeled in the protected inlet searching out more Sting Rays and jewel-toned fish.  

We trekked to the head of the river and floated on tubes back towards the inlet, stopping along the way to test our strength and agility on tightropes strung across the water.  

Evan, the consummate adventurer, tried cliff-diving a few times, or in his case cliff-jumping.  Wearing the mandatory Xel-Há lifejacket he created a mini-tsunami when he hit the water.  

Then of course, being an all-inclusive park we were able to browse the buffet a couple of times: once in the morning and one more time before leaving the park after sundown.  Fillin’ up the boys for the evening drive back to Isla Mujeres.  

The last event of the day at Xel-Há is a sundown Mayan prayer ceremony that includes hundreds and hundreds of floating plastic globes, each one with a glowing candle inside.  

Participants are encouraged to launch a globe on the ocean with prayers and wishes for a prosperous new beginning.

The End of the World?  Hope not.  This world is pretty wonderful. 

Kids?  What kids?  Did we bring kids with us?

(The underwater photo of the diver and ray was taken by John Lock with his new waterproof Canon camera.  Cool camera!)


For Sale:
Luxurious Private Villa for Sale:  Follow link for more information. for the Spanish version of the website.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Ups and Downs of Garrafon Natural Reef Park

The distinctive sound of small metal wheels zinging on a thick metal wire, laughter, and whoops of joy; the sounds of riding the zip-line at Garrafon Natural Reef Park on the south end of Isla Mujeres.  We recently spent a day there with John and his two boys Ethan and Evan.  It’s a handy location, right here on Isla, to entertain a couple of energetic youngsters for a few hours with a choice of snorkeling, kayaking, swimming in the pool, or riding the zip-line.

The scenery couldn’t be better, sunshine sparkling on turquoise blue water, feathery green palms, and sugar white sand.  My version of heaven.  Being permanent residents, and in possession of Mexican seniors’ card (unfortunately, yes, we qualify as seniors) Lawrie and I were able to secure a 25% price reduction for our entry fee.  John and Ethan were the regular price, while Evan was considered to be in the 50% off age range. 

The snorkeling was interesting especially with the new Cannon underwater camera that John and the boys had with them.  I tried it out for a few photos and discovered that wearing a snorkeling mast made it almost impossible to compose a photo – you just have to point, shoot, and hope for the best.  

Predictably we had a number of photos that included the tail-end of a pretty fish, or a kid-sized arm, or a big pink finger stuck over the lens.  Still, it is something that is worth considering for future snorkeling adventures.  John wisely attached a floatation device to the camera for the times when it might slip out of small and busy hands. 

Even though Garrafon Natural Reef Park opens at nine in the morning, the zip-lines don’t start up until eleven so we spent the first hour snorkeling and fooling around in the two-person kayaks.  These two activities and equipment are included in the entry price, while the zip-lines are an additional $10.00 US per person.  The kayaks were fun for a few minutes, but the area they are confined in is quite small, allowing a couple of back and forth trips before it becomes repetitive.  I accidentally strayed too far out of bounds and was promptly whistled back inside boundary by the beach instructors.  “Don’t go there!”  Oops, sorry.

But as it turns out the big disappointment of the park was the zip-line rides; only one trip per person, and both boys had to be accompanied by one of the park instructors.  The age for riding alone is thirteen and older, as the braking system consists of applying pressure to the metal lines with a wooden block.  It is too primitive and difficult for younger hands.  Last year at X-Plor, south of Cancun near Playa del Carmen, the boys were able to do the zip-lines on their own as that park has a better braking system.   Evan was so keen to ride the zip-lines we convinced the instructors to use first John’s ticket, and then my ticket to give him two additional rides.  Luckily in Mexico there is usually a creative way to get around most rules.

The other thing that was a little bit annoying was the park had two different buffets set up – one for people who came in the main entrance, and a better one for the day-trippers from Cancun who arrived via the Garrafon company boats.  Either way the boys managed to find enough food to satisfy them after a morning of activities.

Well darn, this sounds like we didn’t enjoy ourselves at all. But we did; and I bought the complete photo package to remember the fun.  

It’s just that having been to X-Plor last year we are spoiled.  

The up side of Garrafon is the location, convenience for islanders, scenery and it is less expensive than X-Plor.  

The down side is we kept comparing the amenities to X-Plor, and Garrafon comes up a bit short. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Celebrating the Patron Saint of Isla Mujeres

Cowboys, bull fights, church services, baptisms, feasting and parades starting November 29th and lasting into the first week of December; this year we finally have an inkling of what it all means.  It’s the Feast of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception.  

This is an important celebration throughout Latin America, but doubly important to Isleños as she is also the patron saint of the island.

Recently we were chatting with an island acquaintance, Jorge, and he tried to give us a sense of what this event means to local people.  

Beautiful horses and thirsty cowboys
Every village, city, town has its own patron saint who people hope will watch over them and their families throughout the year, bringing good health and prosperity to everyone.  Local people offer prayers, food or gifts to the patron saint hoping to attract her good-will. This is also the time of year when many children are baptized, or confirmed into the Catholic Church.  It is also the start of a six-week-long celebration that includes The Feast of our Lady Guadalupe on December 12th, Posadas Navideñas December 16th to 29th, Noche Buena December 24th, Christmas December 25th, and ending in January with the Night of the Kings on January 6th. 

And in the northwestern parts of Mexico where the drug cartels are very powerful they have their own patron saint of thieves and drug dealers – San Malverde.  Sporting a thick black moustache, neckerchief and pistol belt, San Malverde does not look like a typical saint.  (I think his name translates to Bad-Green, perhaps a reference to money?)  Although he is not recognized by the Catholic Church his festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm on May 3rd in Sinaloa.  His popularity among drug lords is so widespread his followers have built chapels and shrines in his honor near the Mexico/US border. 

Presidente Hugo Sanchez - in front of 2011 parade
Personally, we enjoy the pageantry of our local saint with many island neighbours participating in the event.   I am always amazed how quickly the year rolls past us.  It just seems like last week I was snapping photos of the 2011 Feast of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception parade complete with island Presidente Hugo Sanchez riding with the cowboys.  And here we are again in early December and the celebration of the Feast of the Virgin of Immaculate Conception. 


Esto y lo Otro:

Locally Gladys Galdamez and Susan Stowell have teamed up with other creative people to open a new retail outlet: Esto y lo Otro, which Goggle translates as That and the Other.  But, I am guessing it means something closer to This and That.  

You can find them in the Plaza Isla Mujeres between Juarez and Hidalgo Avenues, in behind Fredy’s Restaurante.  

Take a few extra minutes to browse through the beautiful jewelry creations by Todd Pierce.  Pretty cool stuff!  

I saw Ashley Blogins checking out a particularly beautiful piece made with turquoise stones. 

And one final note:

Tonight at Barlito’s on Isla Mujeres Kay Cole showcased her first novel, Lonesome Knob.  

It is a novel loosely based on her life growing up “at the end of a dusty road on a remote and desolate West Texas farm known as Lonesome Knob.”  

I bought a copy and plan to read it tonight.  Best wishes Kay for much success with your book.