Friday, July 27, 2012

5th Annual Island Time - Summer Music Event

5th Annual?  How did we miss the other four? 

Michael Lepines & Jackie Walker hosts of Island Time

When I pointed out to Jackie Walker, proprietor of Jax Bar & Grill, that we have lived on Isla Mujeres for four years and this was the first time that we had heard about this event, she looked at me and said: "Well, that's disturbing!" 

Now, she could have meant; you silly person, where have you been?  Or maybe she meant; damn, I'm not reaching everyone possible with our advertising medium. 

Either way - we had a fabulous time on Wednesday night listening to the great Texas tunes of the Tejas Brothers, and special guest star Larry Joe Taylor. 


Tejas Brothers Band at Jax Bar & Grill on Isla Mujeres

The Tejas Brothers started off at seven-thirty, and quickly had everyone bobbing along to the music, dancing in their chairs, and playing imaginary keyboards on the table tops while enjoying the great food and beverages at Jax. 

The upstairs patio was packed with groups of people who had come to Isla just for the event - apparently they were paying attention to the advertising.


This is how you make an accordion look cool!
The group has so much fun playing music together their enjoyment is infectious.  Dave Perez, vocals and accordion, kept the audience laughing with his antics on 'how to make an accordion sound and look cool.'  

He started playing the accordion in 1988, practicing diligently for weeks before performing at a neighbourhood Mexican restaurant. 

Eventually Dave's musical curiosity led him to the stage at the Stockyards in Fort Worth where he jammed with local musicians, finally making the decision to put a band together. 

According to the band's bio: "After weeks of performing together the magic started.  People in the audience felt it.  The guys on stage felt it.  A band, a real band was forming. 

A few more gigs and the name Tejas Brothers was created." 

Everyone having a great time enjoying the tunes.
Special guest Larry Joe Taylor, on the other hand, started out as a avid fan of music in the 1970's. 

Forty years later he is a respected singer, and songwriter, and the driving force behind a number of music events in New Mexico, and Texas. 

He writes, performs, produces, and promotes his own special brand of music.  LJT, as he is also known, donates his time and talents to numerous causes and events.  


Do not go fishing with these men!
 One of his favourite events Island Time is held on his favourite island, Isla Mujeres.  The event also coincides with his birthday. 

There were a lot of giggles from the crowd when Larry Joe Taylor tried to unobtrusively hook up his guitar and join in the fun. 

The amplifier cords were a spaghetti-tangled mess that took a few minutes to unravel, while Dave Perez kept up a running commentary, teasing Larry Joe Taylor about his grand entrance. 


When the electrical and amplifier cords finally got sorted out and the whole group sang "Will the Circle be Unbroken?" everyone was up on their feet holding hands, singing along with the song. Pretty cool! 
Dancing to the tunes

You picked a great place to celebrate your birthday, LJT. 

Next year, we'll pay attention, Jackie.  

We'll be there for more than just the last night's performance.


The Tejas Brothers with special guest Larry Joe Taylor

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summertime and the Living is Easy

Icy cold cervesas

"How can you live in Mexico in the summertime?"  It's a frequently asked question and has a simple answer.  "Easily!  It's great."  The winds die down, and the temperature and humidity rise a bit, but not as much as you would think.  Living on the Caribbean side of the island - the windward side - we typically have a cooling breeze most of the year.  In the summer it is still breezy, but not windy.  The ocean flattens out and the waves turn into ripples. 


  
Swimming with Whale Sharks on Isla Mujeres
Summertime is the only time you can swim with the benign giants, the Whale Sharks , the biggest fish in the world.  They migrate here in May and usually stay until late September. 


It's hard to get the proper perspective on the size of the Whale Sharks, until they slide along beside or under a 31-foot boat – then you see that they are scary big, reaching up to a 40-foot length.





Large pod of Whale Sharks off Isla Mujeres

And swimming towards a freaking big fish with a huge mouth that is open wide – it is spine-tingling fabulous!   Even Sir Richard Branson, owner of Virgin Air among other things, has twice produced a TV show depicting his experience of swimming with the Whale Sharks.  


The Whale Sharks are still hunted in the Philippines for Shark Fin Soup, but not in Mexico.  Here they are a protected tourist attraction.



One hundred and twenty Sea Turtle eggs
Summertime is also the only time we have nocturnal visits from the sea turtles. 

The females land under cover of dark, or in the pre-dawn hours on our beaches, digging several holes in the sand until the perfect nesting site is found. 


The beaches look like something out of a war movie by the time the ladies have finished with them.  Huge holes as if a mortar-shell had hit the ground - blowing sand and debris in a wide circle. 


During the night various employees of the Turtle Farm patrol the beaches, looking for nests, and gathering the eggs for hatching in a safe environment.  In late September and early October the hatchlings will be released back to the various beaches, starting the cycle all over again.


Ciro, Javier, Julio & Miguel play for singer Jen Rae.

And the other fun ways we keep ourselves amused in summer? 

Listen to live music, recently being featured at a number of bars and restaurants.


Or buy a delicious Panini sandwich from Barlito's on Hidalgo Avenue to enjoy at home while taking a cooling dip in our pool.


Evening sail with Induna Charters

Or gaze at the ocean, watching the fabulous sunsets, while quaffing cold cheap beer - buckets of these icy little treats usually cost less in the summer as an inducement to patronizing the various restaurants. 


Or take an evening sailing cruise around the island with Induna Charters. 






Or if I really get ambitious I borrow a kayak from family members and paddle out to the reef in front of our house. 


Kayaking on a summer day!


It is really pretty darn easy to live here during the summer. 



Friday, July 13, 2012

"Get your butt over here!"

Vivian, chef and owner of Qubano
"Get your butt over here! I need help."

Vivian Reynaldo, the chef and owner of an Isla landmark - Qubano Restaurant - chuckles while recounting her first weeks in the restaurant business five years ago.  She didn't have a clue how to cook pork - one of the main meat ingredients in Cuban foods.  Vivian paid the airfare for a Miami friend to come to Isla, to teach her. 

She laughs: "I'm Jewish.  How would I know how to cook pork?" 

Born in Cuba to a Romanian mother, and a Hungarian father she left her birthplace in early 1961 - sent to the safety of her Aunt Fritzi's home in Brooklyn New York. 

This was the year that Vivian discovered snow, the biggest snow storm of the century - 100 inches!  Later, after the unsuccessful attempt by United States backed Cuban exiles to overthrow the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, Vivian's entire family fled to Brooklyn. 

 Vivian's first excursion to Isla Mujeres was in 1970, with her husband, when getting here was an adventure on its own.  The first paved road linking Merida to Puerto Juarez was built in 1954, allowing limited access to the area. 
The first location of Qubano Restaurant on Isla


Travelers were faced with a long arduous bus from Merida to Puerto Juarez, then a ride on the Sultana del Mar the original and, very slow, passenger boat. 

The streets of the island were carved into the sand.  Sand that drifted with the wind, piling up against buildings, causing havoc for the rare vehicle on the island. 

The new location on Hidalgo Avenue

The main area of habitation on Isla Mujeres was a sleepy little fishing village, with no amenities and couple of hundred permanent residents. 

She fell in love with the island, returning often and in 1978 with two young children, aged three and five, in tow.  Ten years ago she finally built a permanent home on the island. 

"Why," I asked, "did you open a restaurant?" 

"Because my friends liked my food.  They kept telling me - you should open a restaurant. 

So I did."   

Vivian's first location was on the Abasolo Street in Centro.  A cozy, colourful, little place that could squeeze about a dozen patrons inside. 

A few months ago she doubled the seating capacity - moving to a new location across from Angelos Steak House on Hidalgo Avenue.  It is just as cozy, warm, and colourful. 

And the food is still yummy! 

Lawrie's Sliders & my Vivian's Salad

Lawrie is a fan of the little Hamburger Sliders. 

Me, I am a admirer of her special Vivian's Salad, recipe that she created over forty years ago.
 
We haven't tried any of the pork dishes as yet.  But I'm sure that Vivian's Miami friend did a great job teaching her how to cook pork. 

Me, I'm just glad she listened to her friends' advice.  "Open a restaurant."
The Famous Fries!

 

Friday, July 6, 2012

How strange we consider a foreign country "home."

Isla Mujeres garbage truck when it was newer.
At six in the morning I can hear the tired engine and the loud exhaust sounds of the muffler-less municipal garbage truck. 

The crew operating the garbage truck are currently only two houses south of ours.  I have to hustle to get the can out on the street before they pass us by.  The guys wave and holler a greeting as the truck slowly rolls up to our curb. 

One worker tosses the full can high into the air, towards his buddy who is perched atop the myriad of reeking plastic bags and cardboard boxes.  Our can is emptied, and carefully placed back on the street right-side up with lid affixed.  They laugh, joke with each other.  One guy sings bits of a song that could be ribald, off-colour judging by the way it makes the others giggle. 

It's good to be back on Isla.

At the Eiffel Tower in Paris

During May and June we traveled for six weeks through Dieppe, Vimy Ridge, Dunkirk, the Loire Valley, Paris, southern France, Cinque Terre, Tuscany and Venice before returning home via London. 

We mangled several languages, speaking a combination of French, Spanish, and English with the odd word of Italian tossed in the mix for that truly continental sound. 

We ate delicious food, but missed the 'heat' - the spice of Mexican foods.  Apparently our palates have adjusted to Mexican food better than we thought. 




Spaghetti and Mussels in Italy

We drank different wines and beers, enjoying Belgium beers and French wines a bit more than German beers and Italian wines. 

We dealt with crowded underground transit systems, high-speed trains, city buses and commuter boats.   And the crowds. 

Line-ups to see museums.  Line-ups to get on the trains.  Line-ups everywhere! 




Cinque Terre area of Italy

The sights, the sounds, the smells - all different.  New.  Exciting.

Now, sitting on our street-side balcony we watch friends speed past on their motos or golf carts.  They yell hello, welcome back, and wave as they speed past.  Sue Lo, on her daily walk around the airport, stops to chat - recounting her recent adventures in Machu Picchu. 

My sister Joann dashes up the street with her laundry bag in hand, coming for a morning coffee and to do her laundry.  She has misjudged the intensity of the scudding clouds - and is soaked with a warm deluge as she arrives at our house. 

On Isla Mujeres motos are often used as trucks.(M.Watt)
A motorcycle slowly putts past with two adults - the woman clutching onto a little one, so small that one tiny foot with a yellow bootie is all that is visible. 

A young girl, standing in the foot-well of a motorcycle turns to chat with her dad as he drives her somewhere special. 

She is wearing a pink and white polka-dotted dress and a matching bow in her hair.  Her happy smile is wide and loving as she looks at him. 


Parisian woman on motorcycle (K.Lock photo)



The contrast between the Isla motorcyclists and the Armani-suited motorcyclists or the beautiful fashionistas riding bicycles in Paris is startling to say the least. 



 





Parisian woman on bicycle (K.Lock photo)










In the evening we sit on the east side of the house, wine glass in hand, staring at the turquoise ocean, aware that we missed this most of all. 

The colours.  The sounds.  The smell of the water.






We will always be proudly Canadian.  But, this foreign country, is now home.