Friday, March 30, 2012

A Perfect Day! (Lawrie’s turn to write!)

The start of a perfect day!
Of course it’s all in the eye of the beholder, but my perfect day started with a phone call from our friend Charlie Simpson – the next day was going to be a great day for weather, with calm seas and very little wind.  Was I up for a fishing trip?  Absolutely!

This retired life is hard, however, with some careful planning I figured I could squeeze a little fishing into my busy schedule. 

We met at the dock at 8:00 a.m., four of us, Charlie, Dave Waddell, Brent Kraushar, and me.  It took us about twenty minutes to load on the gear – ice, bait, beer, and sandwiches – and we were off. 

Charlie has a Grady White 30 foot fishing machine, all set up for multiple rods and down riggers.  

It’s the ultimate guy-toy.

The perfect day
The day was perfect – sunshine, calm turquoise waters and good friends to have a laugh with.  The trip took us about an hour to get to the area where we were going to fish.  It is an underwater plateau about twenty-five miles offshore called Arrowsmith. 

And no you can’t see land from anywhere around there, but the boat has some pretty sophisticated electronics so we knew exactly where we were.  Once all six lines were in the water we decided to have a breakfast beer. 

Great fishing today

Fifteen minutes later we hooked our first fish – a really nice Blackfin Tuna – and now it’s time for another celebratory beer.   Charlie decided to circle around with our troll, just in case this fish had friends and relatives in the area.  And yes he did!  Lots of friends! 

We stayed in the same one mile area all day and caught eight more big tunas.  What a haul.  Good eating!

Late in the day it was time to head back to the dock, clean up a bit and hit the Soggy Peso Bar for a few more celebratory beers, and lots of fishing stories. 


Now the fish stories start ...Brent, Lawrie, Dave, Charlie

A truly fine day in paradise.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Returning to the Scene

I don’t get it.  I just don’t get it!  Put me out in really deep water twelve miles off shore and out of sight of land surrounded by 40-foot-long Whale Sharks and I am happy, ecstatically happy.   But a 100 feet off shore in 10 feet of water – I’m terrified.  What's up with that?

Whale Sharks - freaking big fish!

Last summer my sister Joann and I, plus three other friends, hired a boat on Isla Mujeres for a Whale Shark tour.  This was my second trip to see the Whale Sharks, and it was just as thrilling as the first time a year ago. 

The name Whale Shark is a bit of a misnomer.  They are not whales, but a filter-feeding relative of the shark family. 

They can range up to 20 meters in length (about 60 something feet long), weigh up to 79,000 pounds, and live in excess of 130 years.  It's hard to get the proper perspective on the size of the Whale Sharks, until they slide along beside or under the 31-foot boat – then you see that they are scary big. 

On our tour boat, we donned the obligatory life jackets and had the 5-minute lecture on etiquette - don't touch the Whale Sharks, put your sunscreen on now not later because it harms their plankton food supply, and no alcohol until after the last dive.  Then we headed out east of Isla Mujeres to where the fish were last seen. 

Ah, cute.  Wild dolphins.

We traveled 40 kilometres on choppy seas, spotting a gorgeous pod of dolphins first and then circled for 30 minutes looking for the Whale Sharks.  Finally an excited radio message alerted the 10 or 12 tour boats in the area that the pods had been spotted.  

A short dash across the water and our boat met up with the group of over 200 fish.  My three tour mates and I were so excited we just babbled: Wow, they’re beautiful, big, really big, and beautiful. 

Did I mention that they are beautiful?  And big?  Really big.

The tour boats are licensed and the number of licenses is tightly controlled in an attempt to protect the Whale Sharks from harassment, and to protect the tour industry.  All of the boat captains kept a respectful distance from each other to allow their passengers the freedom to swim with the Whale Sharks.  The tour season is May to September, although there have been a few sightings earlier in the year.  These creatures have been seen at various times of the year along the coasts of South Africa, Belize, Western Australia, Honduras, Mozambique, and near the Mexican islands of Isla Holbox, and Isla Mujeres. 

Joann and I went in first – only three people from any one boat are allowed in the water at a time to limit the amount of interference to the pod.

We paddled around for a few minutes before we realized that the Whale Sharks were still too far away for us to swim over to them encumbered by the mandatory life jackets bouncing around our necks, so we dragged our bodies back on board via a cantankerous little swim ladder while the captain moved the boat closer. 

So here we go, toppling over the edge of the boat and swimming towards a freaking big fish with a mouth that is open wide - wide enough to swallow this Gringa!  Breathe, breathe.  It's okay, it won't eat you. 

The Whale Shark is a filter feeder — and feeds on macro-algae, plankton, krill, crab larvae, and small squid. To feed, the fish sucks in a mouthful of water, closes its mouth and expels the water through its gills.  During the slight delay between closing the mouth and opening the gill flaps, plankton is trapped against the dermal denticles which line its gill plates and pharynx.  Even though denticles are similar to scales, they are really modified teeth and are covered with hard enamel. These structures are packed tightly together and grow with their tips facing backwards. 

So, really, they are not interested in squirming human bodies unless of course you happen to resemble a small squid.

In the water, spine-tingling fabulous!

The creature lazily flicked its tail and all 40 feet slide past me too quickly. 

What a feeling!  I am addicted.  I wonder if I can get a "Frequent Swimmer" discount card?  

This is downright spine-tingling fabulous!  

More info:   or

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Colour on the water!

Caribbean Island water taxi (passenger ferry)
 Wow!  Would you look at the colour of that boat?  Eye-popping purple and green!

The recent repainting of the Caribbean Island one of the several passenger ferries that traverse the 8-mile stretch of water between Cancún, and our little island - Isla Mujeres - brought to mind the various boats that we see on a daily basis.

Boats to go fishing.  Boats to transport people from the mainland, to the island and back.  Boats to take tourists snorkelling, diving or swimming with the whale sharks.  Some are ordinary work boats, and others jazzy multi-coloured tour boats.  Ghostly grey navy ships, red, black and white Coast Guard cruisers, pale blue sailing boats, sleek black 'bad boy' yachts, and car ferries - boats, always great subjects for photos. 

Commercia fishing boats

Settled hundreds of years ago by the Mayas and later colonized by Spanish explorers the island of Isla Mujeres is situated in the Caribbean Sea, north-east of the City of Cancún.  Cancún and its multi-million-dollar hotel zone, generating nearly 10% of the Mexican GNP, were created out of a sand-swept stretch of beach in the mid 1970's by the National Fund for Tourism Development.  

For the islanders who were very self-sufficient up to that point living primarily on fish, shell fish, and turtle meat, they now had better reasons to cross the water in a boat.  Groceries. Supplies. Restaurants.
All the trappings of 'civilization.'

Panga fishing boat in a smokey dawn

Living here on a permanent basis we have become attuned to the nautical comings and goings around the island.  One of my early morning treats is to watch the fishermen navigate their small brightly coloured pangas along the reef in front of our house, picking up their nets. 

Later in the morning turquoise and blue tourist boats drop vacationing snorkelers into the surf.  At one o'clock precisely a bright yellow tour boat passes by on its daily circumnavigation of Isla.  I have - twice - had the pleasure of adventuring several miles off shore to swim with the gigantic but benign Whale Sharks.  Lawrie and I have been deep sea fishing a number of times with Charlie Simpson and various friends. 

Whale Shark - benign giants

 Isla Mujeres is a maritime community.  The ocean defines the activities.  The boats are the local workhorses, adding character and flavour to the island; the wild paint combinations, the stacks of nets, the rusty anchors, the wooden fish cleaning tables awash with fish scales, blood, and innards.   

It is Isla.  It is beautiful.  And it is very colourful.
That purple and green boat - it fits right in.

Frigate birds dive bombing a ray carcas

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fishy Fishy, Come Bite My Line

Local fisherman and his helpful dog

Well, damn, I can’t remember the name of this particular fish. 
I have asked local friends at least three times what the name is, but because I don’t write it down, it’s gone out of my mind – again.   
A few months ago, right about the time a hurricane was sliding across the Yucatan Peninsula thankfully avoiding us, a local family was busy fishing just in front of our casa with hand lines, pulling in dozens of this particular fish – long, thin and bony.   
It seems that the north winds bring this species down from further up in the gulf and the hurricane was creating strong northerly winds for a couple of days which pushed the fish towards Isla.

So many fish!

We have seen this family before, and it is amazing how efficient they are as fishermen.  The brothers and one sister have a great routine. 
The sister either runs along the shore or climbs up on the higher rocks to “spot” the fish for her brothers who then deploy hand lines, or if the fishing is particularly hot she has her own hand line and can haul in as many as the boys.
This dog was trying to be so helpful ...

On this day the fishing was so good one of the boys ran back to the Colonias to get their dad and mom, uncle and auntie, and possibly an older brother or cousin in on the action.  In about 30 minutes the group had a dozen or so of the long bony fish landed – with two Spaniel-type-mutts trying to help out. There was a lot of growling and other fierce noises going on while the dogs shook the hapless fish in their teeth.
It seemed like a pretty good way to have a family outing – and then the rain started.  But the intrepid fishermen kept working the surf for another 15 minutes or so, before giving in and heading back to their homes.

Still fishing in rain storm

Lots of fish for the family dinner that night!

Our friend Tony Poot emailed to say the name of the fish is Lady Fish (English) and Sosin (Spanish).  So, now that I have it written on my blog - I should be able to remember it! Hopefully!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Graffiti - it's in the eye of the beholder

A few weeks ago a twenty-something Belgium backpacker known as "Spear" decided to add his unique brand of graffiti to the abandoned La Perla Hotel.  Situated on a beautiful stretch of beach on the eastside of Isla the three-story tall La Perla Hotel was partially damaged during hurricane Gilberto, and finished off by hurricane Wilma in 2005.  It has languished as a crash-pad for vagrants, a unsightly place littered with garbage and beer bottles.

Arriving on Isla, Corentin "Spear" Binard, discovered the crumbling structure and decided he would leave his mark there.  For three wild days working in a frenzy of creativity he sprayed, splashed, dabbed, and painted.  He created five large, animated portraits of friends on the south walls of the damaged hotel rooms, and two more the north end of the structure.     

Born in Brussels in 1988, Binard "Spear" started out scribbling on the wooden benches at school, eventually studying architecture, before deciding he wanted to explore portrait painting further.  He works with oil, acrylic, charcoal, graphite, watercolour, and yes, even ketchup when nothing else is available.  His riotously creative brain looks for new ways to express brightness, contrast, and expressions of his subjects.  His original plan was to continue the paintings on the third level, but with the lack of access to the upper floor, due to the hurricane damage, that plan never came to fruition.  As of February 25th the La Perla Hotel has been under demolition, authorized by the City of Isla de Mujeres.  

Did he bring too much attention to the sad, dangerous structure? 

Spear has created similar portraits on the north coast of the Honduras, in a tattoo parlour in Belize in exchange for food and lodging, and in the jungles of Coast Rica while looking for new ideas and mediums.  A loose translation from his website which is in both French and Spanish gives his mission statement; to leave my mark and live wild adventures!  Sounds like a great plan!

Corentin "Spear" Binard


We Move Forward 2012 - a 3 day International Women's Day conference taking place on Isla Mujeres March 8, 9 and 10, 2012 - is hosting a public Fiesta in the Square on Friday, March 9 from 8:30 to 11:30 pm.  This Fiesta is being held in partnership with the Municipality of Isla Mujeres Gender Equality branch. 

There will be Live Music by Javiar's "The Band with No Name" and there will be Carnival Dance troupes to entertain the crowd during the band break.  La Luna will have a bar set-up in the square to purchase drinks.  Food vendors will be there to offer traditional Mexican Food. 

We hope you will come out and Celebrate International Women's Day with us.  Together we can show visitors to Isla a wonderful time in Isla's Zocolo.    Viva Mexico!