Friday, January 31, 2014

Top 10 Reasons Why We Live in Mexico

A few days ago a local taxi driver asked me: "Where are you from?"  

And I replied as I always do: "I live here, but I am originally from Canada."  We then moved on to discussing the winter weather and how this has been a record-breaking cold winter north of the US/Mexican border. 

"Menos treinta grados centígrados?"  He tosses both hands in the air in an expression of mock horror.  (-30 Celsius is -22 Fahrenheit. That's damn cold!)   "Por qué?"  He asks.  "Why?  Why live there?"   
"I don't know!"  I respond, grinning.

My response prompted a comedy routine.  Unusually expressive, his hands hardly touched the steering wheel for the entire ride as regaled me with his thoughts on living anywhere where the temperature was less than 15 Celsius.  (59 Fahrenheit)   I was still laughing as I exited the taxi and then I started thinking of our Top Ten Reasons Why We Live in Mexico.  And here they are in reverse order in the style of the David Letterman Late Night Show:

Number 10 - History and culture:  Mexico is ancient, dating back to Mayan, Aztec and Toltec civilizations.  Add in a little Spanish culture starting in the 1540's and you get a nice mix of romantic, expressive and passionate people.  

A deeply religious culture the citizens have a number of fiestas and celebrations throughout the year adding colour and music to the environment.

Number 9 - Sea creatures: Whale sharks, sea turtles, and dolphins still abound in this ocean.  Deep sea fishing is a thriving business as are the underwater photographic safaris specializing in whale shark, sailfish, and marlin dives.  I have experienced swimming with the whale sharks, twice.  It is a fabulous feeling when a forty-foot-long creature glides past, uncaring that I am floating just a few feet away, suspended in its world.  Wow!  Diving and photographing the sailfish are still on my bucket list. 

Number 8 - Good restaurants and cool beverages:  We can eat, drink, and be merry at a choice of over 100 restaurants, bars and taquerías on the island. We can choose between Cuban, Italian, Swiss, Argentinian, Chinese, French, Mediterranean, Tex-Mex, or of course local Mexican flavours in a range of prices from expensive to very inexpensive.  Lounge on a beach, dine on the street, tuck yourself away in a hidden beach bar - the choices are amazing. Many of the eating establishments feature live music during the late afternoon, or evening.  The music adds to the festive feeling of a holiday in paradise.

Number 7 - Sunrise and sunsets: My favourite times of the day, the beginning and the end.  In the morning the sleepy sun reaches up to fingerpaint the sky in pinks, and oranges, and purples.  It is the start of another new day.  At sunset the sun slowly gathers in the colours, putting them back into storage for the night, tucked away safely until morning.  A glass of wine, and my sweetie beside me as we watch the sunset - it's a perfect ending to another great day.

Number 6 - Beaches and boats: 
Two of my favourite things to photograph are the white sandy beaches, and the myriad of interesting boats moored or anchored nearby.  

Many of the boats are painted delightfully cheerful combinations of yellow and blue, turquoise and white, red and yellow, or green and orange, reflecting the love of bright colours prevalent in this culture. 

Number 5 - Laughter and easy acceptance: Living on Isla Mujeres is the best choice for us. It is a small community where people care about you as a person.  Friends accept you for who you are, not what you were.  In other words if you were an important person in your previous life, or just an uncomplicated worker, it doesn't make any difference either way here on the island.  You are simply a friend.   

Number 4 - Kids can be kids: The uncomplicated lives of local kids always brings a smile to our faces. We seldom hear parents talking about scheduled activities, or playdates, or lessons that consume the hours for Canadian and American children. Here the kids play: they play by themselves, and with older siblings or grandparents. Swim in the ocean. Explore the neighbourhood.  Run from house to house with friends. Giggle and laugh. We feel younger just watching their antics.

Number 3 - Colours:  Reds, blues, greens, yellows, oranges and purples tossed willy-nilly as if a omnipresent painter was having a temper tantrum, scattering tins of paint with a sweep of a large hand.   Houses decorated in fanciful combinations, reflect the owners personal preferences. Frequently clothing hung on an outside line to dry in the sun will be as colourful as the outside walls of the home.  Brilliantly tinted flowers tumble over walls, in an array of reds, oranges, and pinks.  Fruit vendors offer up papayas, pineapples, and melons.  Eye-catching and beautiful colours abound. 

Early morning on January 29th 2014, at North Beach
Number 2 - The weather: January is the coldest month of the year with average daytime temperatures of 27 degrees C, (81F) and nighttime temperatures of 19 degrees C.  (67F) 

January is also part way through the dry season starting in November and ending in April.  That means cool dry weather with an average of nine hours of sunshine per day. 

Number 1 - New adventures keep us young: Just ask any of our multitude of "senior citizen" friends.   We are all healthy, happy, active and enjoying life.  

There is no time for what one friend referred to as "the Florida organ recitals" as in my kidneys hurt, my stomach aches, my gall bladder is acting up .... and on and on.  No one cares that we are getting older.  We enjoy each day.

So, -30C in many parts of Canada and the USA as opposed to +27C in Mexico on the same day in the month of January.  No wonder the taxi driver regaled me with his comical anecdotes about Canadian weather.  It is totally beyond his comprehension why people live in colder countries.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, January 24, 2014

Scary and Beautiful

Tucked into a small space near the corner of Avenida Hidalgo and Avenida López Mateos, sits an unassuming little store, Artesanías Glenssy.  

This store has intrigued me for quite some time.  The walls are hung with brilliantly coloured, very scary creatures.  Does this man have nightmares?  I wondered: Nightmares that he transforms into vivid three-dimensional sculptures?  

I’m certain the two-headed creature with three rows of pointy teeth, and a bright yellow tongue was the main villain in one of the Alien movies!

In an attempt to protect his intellectual property, to prevent other artists from copying his ideas the artist has posted a number of signs in his store: no photographs.  I am a camera buff.  Photographs help me write about things that interest me, so I decided to approach the artist and see if he would be willing to chat and to be photographed.  As it turns out he is quite fluent in English, which is a good thing, as I am still struggling with Spanglish.

His name is Emilio Sosa Medina, and he was born in Yobain Yucatan in 1955. 

A political activist since he was a teenager, Emilio left his home town in 1974 moving to Isla Mujeres where he met an island woman who took him under her wing, helping him find work.  

He first worked as a kitchen assistant, and then a bartender but continued to yearn for a creative outlet for his energies.

In 1986 Emilio took lessons at the local Casa de la Cultura to learn paper maché techniques and he became entranced by the possibilities.  Using up to 40 kilos (87 pounds) of newsprint for some of his larger sculptures Emilio creates supernatural beings from Maya mythology plus his own fantastic monsters.  His imagination is astounding. 

Crafting each intricate piece is a painstakingly slow process. The piece he is currently working on will take up to three years to complete.  

Layer upon layer of newsprint are carefully formed over a wire frame and left for several days to dry naturally in the warm Caribbean climate.  Several coats of vivid acrylics followed by a final glaze of clear polymer resin give the grey paper maché vibrancy and character.   

Content to live simply with his three children and four grandchildren nearby, Emilio is blazing a new trail in folk art.  Even though Mexican mask folk-art has been in existence for thousands of years, and was a well-established part of life when the Spanish arrived, Emilio brings new life to the art form.  

His one-of-a-kind pieces enhance interior spaces in homes on Isla Mujeres, and around the world. 

Emilio's legacy of scary and beautiful sculptures will live on beyond his time.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, January 17, 2014

Reducing the world’s supply of puppy poop

Alison on puppy poop patrol
“She’s over there.”  A young woman points into an obscure corner of the large room, towards a tall blonde-haired woman who is cleaning up puppy poop, a whole lot of puppy poop. 

“Yep!  That’s Alison.”  I agree, walking towards her.  

Alison grins at the dozen or so puppies as they tumble around her feet. “Okay, now, no more poop!”  She admonishes them with a lighthearted laugh.  

Nice try, Alison. Feed a puppy; it poops.

VIDAS clinic this week in Mexico
Today is the sixth and final day of the free spay and neuter clinic being held in the Alfredo V. Bonfil neighbourhood near Cancun.  The VIDAS (Veterinarios Internacionales Dedicados an Animales Sanos) organization is sponsoring the surgery encouraging residents to bring in family pets or street strays.  Hundreds of people responded, bringing in dogs and cats.  Fifteen veterinarians, local and American, were on duty to operate on the animals.  

The final total was over 1200 animals spayed or neutered.  Impressive.

Recovering strays and sick animals
A long-time resident on Isla Mujeres, Alison Sawyer Current began helping stray dogs over fourteen years ago.  She and husband Jeff Current share their home and yard with dozens of dogs as they convalesce from illnesses, or injuries.  

The dedicated volunteers of Isla Animals organization have succeeded in placing over 5000 dogs into happier homes in Mexico, Canada and the USA.  The organization has also sponsored a number of spay and neuter clinics on Isla Mujeres working towards curbing the overpopulation of cats and dogs on the island.  It’s an endless job.  Not a thankless job, but endless. 

Nelly Cortes and Trina Noakes
Walking me around the VIDAS treatment area, Alison gave me a quick biography on some of the folks who volunteer their time, year after year for these events.  I met so many talented people; people like Nelly Cortes who owns a company in Cancun called Storm Catchers specializing in hurricane shutters. She is adept at gathering up strays, and helping owners get to and from the clinics.  Nelly and Jesika, founder of Animalistas rescue society in Cancun, make a formidable team, searching the neighbourhoods for more patients for the doctors.

Gillian Pultz - with messy toes

Then there is Gillian Pultz who competently handles the post-op recovery area, ensuring the dogs and cats are safe while they slowly start to regain consciousness.  

I watched in amusement as Gillian quickly pulled a large dog’s head and shoulders over the side of a table, while the dog vomited on her toes.  She never flinched, just carried on ensuring the dog was safe and breathing well.  

Once the dog had stabilized she grinned ruefully, saying: “I have to wash my feet.  It’s a bit gross.”

Owners helping pets with recovery
An important part of the surgery is the recovery process that is very hands-on for the owners.  The owners lovingly pat and rub the animal, stimulating them back to consciousness while the disoriented animals swivel their heads back and forth in confusion: Where am I?  What happened?  

Alison with her quick sense of humour likened it to being abducted by aliens and returned to earth - after someone messed around with your reproductive organs. 

I watched as Lisa Edwards and Vanessa Hill knelt on the floor beside each recovering pet, patiently explaining to the owners how to care for their animal post-surgery. Fluently bi-lingual they recited the instructions as if it was the first time that day, not the hundredth time.  Keep the animal quiet, calm, dry.  Don’t wash them or the incisions, no ointments, once they can walk on their own give them a small amount of food and water, check the wound for signs of infection.  Over and over and over again.  Always smiling and empathetic.

Tony Ikonen - post op instructions
As with every job, there is always someone who does the heavy lifting. Tony Ikonen is the muscle for the group; lifting and carrying the large dogs from the surgery tables, to the cleanup area, and then to the recovery floor to be with their owners. 
He also spent time with the owners explaining the post-surgery care procedures, and reassuring them that help is only a phone call away if any problems develop.

Gillian Pultz and Leasa Newlin cleaning up animals
Next Alison introduced me to Leasa Newlin, with her lovely French polish manicure.  Alison laughed as she recounted meeting Lisa a dozen or so years ago.  “She arrived with these beautifully well-manicured nails, and I thought to myself, she’ll only last a day or two at most.  And here she is all these years later still helping and still falling in love with strays.”  Today Leasa was assisting with deworming, tick and flea removal, ear cleaning, removing matted hair and clipping nails. “This is a full service clinic.” Alison says with a grin.

Doctor Lesli Groshong and her daughter
The veterinaries are fast, experienced, and accustomed to treating local diseases and specialized problems.  Lisa McCarthy returns year after year, managing what is referred to as The Super Hero Team.  In the operating area the doctors were concentrating on their work, so the only one I was able to chat with was Doctor Lesli Groshong, one of the original organizers of the free clinics.  Lesli started in 1998 but by 2002 when she was pregnant with her second child, her daughter, she was unable to be the main coordinator.  The veterinary college students, under the guidance of Doctor Claudia Lewy, took over the management of the events.  Lesli has continued to assist in every way possible.  Her two pre-teen children are immersed as well in her work, her passion, contributing wherever they can. 

Keeping track of the pets
Between helping out and checking on the volunteers Alison continued to chat with me about her personal passion, Isla Animals.  Anytime that Alison and Jeff are involved with the larger spay and neuter clinics in other mainland cities, it directly benefits the animals of Isla Mujeres.  How?  Most of the supplies for the island clinics come from the leftovers from a bigger event, and every year her list of helpful contacts increases. 

Jeff!  Go-for-more-puppies!
She and Jeff have recently rented a small house in Cancun close to the passenger ferries that travel between Isla and the mainland.  

The new location will help relieve some of the pressure on their personal home on the island, giving them time to refurbish and repaint.  A mainland facility will also give them easier access to more veterinary services in Cancun without the back and forth shuffle on the passenger ferries.  

In the meantime, Jeff is the main gopher-guy for the organization: Jeff go-for-this, Jeff go-for-that.  And sometimes he’ll arrive back at the treatment area with tasty reward for the group - Krispy Kreme donuts – to be devoured between tasks.  My kind of man!

As a last comment, before I headed back to Isla Mujeres, Alison said she has two rescue organizations in New York City that can help out with adoptions.  All she needs are human escorts who are travelling to nearby locations.  If you are able and willing, send a message to Alison via the Isla Animals Org. FaceBook page. 

Hard working doctors!
Thanks to Alison and Jeff, for an insider’s peek into their world.  I know I missed mentioning a number of hardworking doctors and volunteers, but I didn’t have a chance to speak with everyone.  You were all so darn busy improving the lives of so many animals. 

“Oops, better check the bottom of my shoes before I get a ride with Jeff.  I think I stepped in puppy poop!”

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

(All errors and omissions are mine. Please be gentle with me.)

Friday, January 10, 2014

The white stuff!

The wind howls, shouldering its way through cracks and crevices, forcing its way into the house.  It slides under the door, bringing with it fine white particles.  You can’t hide from me!  I’ll find you.  

Outside the flecks blow through the air, collecting along the edge of our patio, drifting into corners and coating accessible surfaces.  The particles insinuate themselves into clothing, sliding into tender spaces where jackets meet pants.  In Centro, the street cleaners shovel it – yet again – off the streets and over the retaining walls: sand, damn sand!

What?  Did you think I was talking about snow?  We live in Mexico! 

A few months ago we were enjoying a beach day when a Norte was just getting started.  

A Norte is a belligerent storm that blows from the north across the US/Mexico border, bringing strong winds, cooler temperatures, thick clouds and heavy rains.  

On this particular day it was still brilliantly sunny and the kite surfers rode the exhilarating winds, getting huge air under their boards.  

We, on the other hand were being sandblasted.  We carefully picked particles out of our beachside lunch.  Chomping down on a burger seasoned with bits of coral and shells can be tough on tooth enamel.  

We discovered the easiest solution is to rinse the offending grit out of our mouths with an icy cold beer.  And don’t talk a lot, just enjoy the day.  Talking leads to sand in your teeth.

However this week we are suffering from the effects of the Polar Vortex that is enveloping most of Canada and the USA with record-breaking cold.  Island tourists had abandoned plans for a lazy day at the beach, huddling instead inside hotel rooms wondering: why now, why me?  

When a Norte hits after an extended dry spell, the sand is lighter and easily snatched up by the wind, and deposited wherever.  Other times the rain will saturate the grit before the winds arrive to plaster the wet mess onto buildings.  It’s a lot like blowing snow, but without the cruelly cold temperatures.

Meanwhile back at our beachside casa we have different challenges with sand.  We have a beach and we have pets.  It’s an interesting combination. 

The two cats, Tommy and Chica seldom venture far but they like to investigate the surrounding area before deciding where they will nap for the next few hours.  Each trip out and back beautifies our floors and furniture with numerous paw prints.  

Tommy, my fourteen-year-old cat has a thick double coat that feels more like unspun wool than hair.  

Particles cling to his substantial belly, and his chunky legs.  His favourite napping spots are identified by a circular pattern of debris, the shape of a large, relaxed cat.  

Chica, the younger tabby cat deposits her contributions on coffee tables and comfortably padded kitchen chairs.  She is fastidious with personal hygiene – spending the next thirty minutes removing every fleck of sand from her silky fur, leaving it for me to remove from the furniture.

Sparky, a short, part-terrier, part-something-else pooch recently decided that he too should live at our house.  He’s a rough coated low to the ground sand-magnet.  His ideal day includes a swim in the ocean then a tussle in the sand with a neighbour’s dog, finished by a quick dash inside to say hello.  Strewn across the patio is his gritty pathway leading into our main floor living space and up the circular stairway into our bedroom. 

Sweeping, I return the sand to the beach for the animals, and us, to recycle on the next jaunt through the house.  Housekeeping is a hit-or-miss proposition.  We usually think about cleaning the house when the dust-bunnies are larger than our seventeen-pound cat, or when the ocean-side windows are occluded with a glaze of salt and sand.  

If we clean the house, it will only get dirty again.  It’s inevitable.  

Accumulations of sand lend authenticity to the beach house theme of our casa.

And finally, there is the challenge of sand in your shorts caused by swimming in the warm Caribbean Sea.  The sandy-bottomed ocean reflects beautiful hues of turquoise, indigo, and aqua-blue.  The rolling waves scour the ocean bottom, lifting the fine white sand into suspension – and depositing the residue in the tender areas under bikinis and bathing trunks.  It can be painful.

So, to our hardy northern readers who are currently dealing with temperatures as low as -50C, save a bit of sympathy for us.  Instead of enduring record setting cold and snow, caused by the Polar Vortex, you too could be dealing with the challenge of scratchy sand in your shorts. 

It’s a real hardship.  Honestly.  You should try it sometime.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sunrise. Sunset. And another year is gone.

I have dozens, no, make that hundreds, of photographs that capture the beginning and the end of the day; photos depicting the rapid change from blue and yellow to hues of red, orange, pink, and purple.  Sunrise or sunset – it’s a reflective time of day.  

But the one sunrise I have never captured is the first one of the year.  At the Punta Sur on Isla Mujeres is the Cliff of Dawn, the eastern-most point in all of Mexico.  This is the first location in Mexico to be touched by the morning sun. 

Sign marking the Cliff of the Dawn at Punta Sur
Many New Year’s Eve revelers dressed in their party clothes and fancy shoes will trek to the tip of the island to toast the sunrise on January 1st before heading for home.  Making their way from the parking lot, along gravel pathways, and down several flights of stairs carved into the sand and coral cliffs this is a pilgrimage of renewal.  

It’s a way of celebrating that all is well in their world as they begin another year. 

Photo from Sue Lo's collection
This year on New Year’s Eve the weather was perfect, clear skies and gentle breezes.  We admired the diamond bright stars scattered overhead, contrasting with the velvety blackness of the night.  Around eleven-thirty in the evening we and a few friends walked into Centro to join the celebrations.  

We arrived as the midnight fireworks began cascading from the roof the Palacio Municipal (City Hall) on to the celebrants.  Heads tilted back to admire the show no one seems to notice the burning embers and falling debris.  "¡Feliz año nuevo!"  It’s time to party and celebrate until dawn!

We slowly circulated around the mob of party-goes, stopping to hug, and kiss, and wish Happy New Year to hundreds of island friends.  The live band pounded out a thumping salsa rhythm.  People swayed, shuffled and boogied to the beat.  It’s an infectious sound that will blast the downtown core until dawn.  No one expects to sleep.  A little closer to the eastern sea-walk the food vendor’s stalls are jammed with hungry patrons.  Kids shriek with laughter running in gangs of six or seven between tables and parents. 

From Day Grey's photo collection
Some are in possession of handheld fireworks; an invitation to disaster.  A huddle of five small boys has gathered, scheming to set off their fire crackers near the Port-a-Potties (baños).  They giggle and cast furtive glances over a shoulder, checking for a disapproving parent.  A nearby policeman cocks an eyebrow and the boys disappear to create mischief elsewhere.  

Two hours later we are tired and looking forward to bed.  We are happy to let the celebrations rage on without us.  

As we walk the narrow streets past the Navy base towards home we occasionally catch a glimpse of a private dinner party.  Champagne, and food, and laughter.  

One enthusiastic woman wishes me happy birthday in English.  “No, no.  I meant Happy New Year.” She says, laughing at her mistake.  

I casually wonder if they are celebrating the tradition of the twelve grapes.  

Each grape has special significance – wishes for prosperity, luck, love, wealth and good health. The twelve grapes must be consumed in the twelve seconds leading up to midnight to bring the good luck.  

We don’t how to ask if they practice this tradition, so we wish them "¡Feliz año nuevo!" and continue walking home.

Sporadically during the night we were woken by the popping of nearby fireworks - neighbours in the colonias who were determined to celebrate all night.  Around dawn we hear an increase in traffic passing our house as some of the celebrants find their way home.  By eight in the morning the traffic has all but ceased, and the streets will remain quiet until early in the afternoon.  Many stores and restaurants are closed for the day.  There are few employees able to work after an all-night celebration.

Sipping my morning coffee I remark to Lawrie, that in two years I can officially retire.  He looks at me quizzically. “What?”  I laugh, and explain that I remember sitting in my grade-ten history class, calculating what year I would turn sixty-five and be able to retire.  How odd for a fifteen-year-old to be thinking of that, and even stranger that I would remember the occurrence forty-eight years later.  As it turns out we retired six years ago, much sooner than I anticipated, to this exceptional little Caribbean island.

Best wishes for a wonderful 2014
It’s a great place to wake up to the first sunrise of the New Year.  Maybe we didn’t make the trek to actually see the sun strike the eastern-most place in Mexico, but our hearts were there in place of our corporal beings.

Okay, that’s just a fancy way of saying: I was too tired to even think about it!

Happy New Year to Everyone
Lynda & Lawrie