Friday, April 25, 2014

It's a mad, mad world

Early morning calm
At seven in the morning the azure water gently taps against the edge of the white coral sand, a slight breeze shifts the palm fronds with a gentle rattle. Bliss.

By noon of the same day, it's another story.  It's a different world. The beaches are smeared with bodies large and small, fat and thin, short and tall in various states of undress: bathing suits, thongs, wraps, t-shirts and shorts.  It's the Easter holidays or Semana Santa (Holy Week).

Crowded beaches

Situated just a short ferry ride from the metropolis of Cancun, Isla Mujeres is a favourite day-trip for many city dwellers during the holidays.  

The two car ferries are jammed with extra passengers, so many that the taxi drivers are lined up waiting for customers outside the terminal gates.  

Taxis waiting at car ferry for customers

The quicker passenger ferries have three large boats doing a continuous circuit about every twenty minutes instead of the usual thirty minute departures.  Noisy chattering families crowd the sidewalks lugging their picnic food, coolers, and sun paraphernalia.  It's a mad, mad world.

Electronic Beach Festival 
This year during Semana Santa a new event, an Electronic Beach Festival, featured various bands and DJ's blasting out music from eleven in the morning to nine in the evening.  We did a couple of drive by photo-shoots, snapping pictures of the crowds and mayhem, but didn't actually join in the festivities. We enjoy live music, but hot beaches and big crowds just weren't doing it for us this time around.

Neighbourhood friends
Near the corner of Avenida Rueda Medina and Calle Matamoros a group of neighbourhood ladies had tucked themselves under the shade of a tree. The overhead branches are decorated with fishing red, blue, green and yellow castoff fishing floats.  

One wall of their outdoor living room is a rack of fishing nets drying in the mid-day sun, providing more shade for the women.  Sitting on a collection of red plastic chairs, the friends enjoy their afternoon gossip session, peacefully ignoring the throngs of boisterous visitors steaming past. 

Over on the north-eastern side of the island Fenix Restaurante started off their Easter Sunday morning with a beautiful baptism ceremony on the beach, and then segued into their Sunday Funday with a live band playing salsa music.  The nearby beach is obliterated by bodies and blankets, the smell of coconut oil permeates the air.  The narrow streets are jammed with motorcycles, and golf carts, necessitating careful navigation of the roads.  

People bouillabaisse
The lagoon near the Hotel Villa Kiin resembles bouillabaisse soup with dozens of people marinating in the warm water.  All I can think of is: The poor fish, all those people peeing in their ocean!  

By sundown the weary sun-baked day-trippers begin trekking back to their mainland communities.  The lineups for the passenger boats snake out into the street, vendors begin closing up for the night, and the music event is winding down. 

Semana Santa is a crazy time of year.  Busy and noisy and fun.  And we're very glad when it is over. Thankfully we have our own peaceful little bit of paradise where we can share a cold beverage and contemplate life.  Bliss. 

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Caribbean fairytale wedding

When an event starts off with a cruise in a flotilla of colourful boats bedecked with flowers and ribbons, you know you are in for an adventure.  Wow!  And what an experience it was.

Our new part-time neighbours on the island are a young couple from England, Carly Lancaster and Simon Davison.  They kindly included a number of their island neighbours in the celebration of their wedding on April 14th, the night of the full moon, and of the lunar eclipse.

Gathering at the renamed Avalon Reef/Mia Reef Hotel at the north end of the island, eighty of the bride and groom's family members and close friends from England, Ireland, Scotland, and the Netherlands joined the dozen or so locals. Teetering along the wobbly fun-house style dock at the hotel, we made our way to the flotilla of decorated boats.  Simon wryly commented. "In England this dock would have been condemned."   I couldn't help but laugh. "It's a perfectly good dock - sort of." I said as the dock lurched sideways for several breath-stopping inches.

Clambering into the eight multi-hued boats we cruised past the choppy water near north beach into the calmer area of Makax Lagoon and south to the Zama's Beach Club dock.  Some of the guests experienced the warm Caribbean water first-hand as the odd wave splashed over the low-riding sides.  Other than a few nervous giggles, everyone seemed to be enjoying the experience.

Arriving at the dock we walked through a flower archway to the main entrance of Zama's where the staff offered us yummy cool drinks and an invitation to pick a seat for the wedding ceremony.  The Zama's Beach Club staff had done an amazing job.  The facility was decorated in whimsical hearts, candles, gauze-draped walkways, flowers, flowers and more flowers. 
It was enough to make even the crabbiest of curmudgeons feel romantic. 

Every guest was supplied with a bright pink umbrella to shelter from the hot afternoon sun, and a two-foot long compressed air wedding Popper designed to shoot pieces of bio-degradable paper into the sky at the culmination of the ceremony.  The Poppers are the modern version of tossing confetti or rice.   Magical.

Carly looked like a fairytale princess as she made her way down the rose-petal strewn aisle on the arm of her very proud and emotional papa.  We were treated to a lovely, short ceremony involving the pouring of two types of sand into one vase to signify their union, the release of a live butterfly to invoke a Mayan blessing, and the traditional exchanging of marriage vows with a personal twist at the end.

Then the swirl of Scottish bagpipes could be heard as a fellow Canadian strode down the aisle playing Amazing Grace, on an instrument that only a person of Scottish heritage can truly love.  Foreign to most people the sound of the bagpipes always thrills us, sending chills up our spines, and tingling the hair on our arms.  Simon is a Scot!  He gets it.  

The piper escorted the couple, followed by wedding guests, into the cocktail reception on the upper level at the beach club.  Here we were served beverages, tasty tidbits of food, and serenaded by a full mariachi band paying homage to the country where Simon and Carly have built a new home.  Whew!  At this point anyone would have thought that it had been a very lovely event, and would have not been surprised if that was the end of the celebrations. 

But wait!  There's more!

Next the mariachi group led everyone to the beach for group photographs and to enjoy the Caribbean sunset.  Then we were asked to congregate in the dining area, paying particular attention to find our assigned seating.  

Aye carumba!  

Each place was set with three wine glasses, three forks, two knives, a pink rose, a heart-shaped name tag, a small box of candy, and a menu with two main course choices; Buttered Sirloin, or Tic in Xic Mexican style Grouper.  The centre piece was a three-foot tall crystal vase with an enormous cascade of flowers spilling overhead, but not obstructing the view of our fellow table mates.  While we waited for our main course to arrive a magician visited each table engaging the guests in various tricks.

When dinner was finished, the bride and groom asked their guests to join them on the beach for a demonstration of fire-dancing.  It was a spectacular show that ended with the two halves of a heart blazing together in unison.  We could feel the heat from where we were standing.  I can't imagine how hot it was for the performers twirling, juggling, and dancing with burning batons.  

And there was still more!

Back inside the dining area the eight-piece band began their evening performance with an eclectic mix of modern, oldies, and Latin music.  

Simon and Carly had their traditional first dance as a married couple, followed by family members and finally asking everyone to join in the fun.  Between the great music, and the ever-attentive waiters topping up beverages the dance floor was quickly packed with celebrants.  

Mingling in with guests were performers on stilts, a spinning cage for disco dancers, and a werewolf holding a large picture frame encouraging zany photos.  Dancers were given balloons, glow-in-the-dark glasses, carnival masks, and other party favours to increase their enjoyment.

Later in the evening, closer to midnight, I watched in amusement as five sturdy men struggled to carry in the wedding cake.  

It was huge!  A few minutes later a beautiful slice of cake was set in front of me; four layers starting as red on the bottom layer, and ending with light pink on the top layer.  An amazing amount of detail went into creating this extravaganza.  

About midnight we decided to head home.  As we were leaving we discovered the dessert bar; covered in cookies, and slices, and brownies, and other good treats.  Darn!  I was too tired and too full at that point.  

I asked other friends if they stayed until the end.  No, they didn't, but the party carried on until 3:30 in the morning.   Carly and Simon have stamina.

The wedding day for Carly and Simon was a magical fairytale event, a nice mix of Mexican traditions and British customs.  It was a feast for our eyes, our ears, and our taste buds.  We enjoyed every minute.  We are so happy that these generous folks have moved into our neighbourhood and included us in their special day.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, April 11, 2014

Eat Your Vegetables!

On a corner near Salinas Grande
Bits of worn canvas strung between tree branches shade a quiet street corner, allowing the vendor a bit of shelter from the sun and the rain.  

She and her teenage son have a colourful jumble of boxes and sacks set out on the curb; juicy oranges and ripe yellow mangoes, prickly fresh pineapples and large heads of green cabbage.  It's a kaleidoscope of hues and shapes. 

At a speed-bump on road to Chetumal
In Mexico it is very common to see fruit and vegetable vendors who occupy their favourite locations in the diverse neighbourhoods around the country.  A few years ago we drove south to Chetumal, near the border of Belize and Mexico.  Beside the road, near the ever-present village speed-bumps, we saw a number of vendors hawking peeled oranges, or whole pineapples, or pineapple chunks.  We stopped and purchased a bag of the pineapple chunks, tossing a few pieces into our mouths with great anticipation of the cinnamon-flavoured juices flooding our taste buds.  Cinnamon? Hell no!  The pineapple was flavoured with fiery chili powder. Between yelling in pain and laughing we guzzled water trying to soothe the heat. We have learned to be a little more cautious, but we still buy fresh produce from the street vendors.

Across from tortilla bakery (Photo J. Ghog)
On Isla Mujeres, just a few blocks south of our house and across the street from the tortilla bakery, are two ladies who have been on that corner for as long as we can remember.  It always amazes us how many people walk, cycle, or drive to this stand - purchasing fruits, vegetables and occasionally live plants for a garden.  On the days when it rains, the ladies move their wares across the street and under the protection of an upper balcony at the tortilla bakery.  I have always wondered where they stash their collection of boxes, pails, containers and sun-bleached plastic tables when they are done for the day. 

Near kindergarten on our street
A slightly more mobile produce stand appears a couple of times a year just south of our house in the wider area of the road by the kindergarten crosswalk.  This fruit stand consists of a well-used black truck riding low on its suspension, weighted down with freshly picked pineapples, watermelons and mangoes.  The enormous, juicy pineapples cost around twenty pesos or just under two dollars.  Driving non-stop from the area around Vera Cruz, the family members bring their produce to the island neighbourhoods with each new harvest.

Doña Florentina (Tony Garcia photo)
And at the northern end of the island, across from the Café Cito at the corner of Matamores and Juarez, sits the lovely Doña Florentina.  She has a very loyal following of buyers, and of admirers who have taken her photo time and again over the years.  Dressed in one of her beautiful traditional huipils, made of lightweight cotton and trimmed with brocade-style embroidery she is very photogenic. 

Doña Florentina sells more than just produce. A few years ago Betsy Snider and Captain Tony Garcia purchased a few live laying hens from her.  During the long arduous trip from the farm near Valladolid to Isla Mujeres the hens were stuffed into an old net bag that had previously been used for shipping oranges.  When the hens were released at their new home they happily settled in to lay delicious eggs, while keeping snakes, scorpions and assorted bugs under control.  "I loved those birds," said Betsy.  Organic farming at its best; invented before marketing companies decided that organic farming was sexy and marketable.

Doña Florentina on Matamores & Juarez

In all of these produce stands there are no best before dates, no multi-national corporation "Chiquita Banana" or "Dole" stickers on the goods.  You won't find blueberries, or cherries, or apples.  The produce is regionally grown, and sold when ripe. 

Pick it up, smell it.  Savour the freshness.  And don't forget to eat your vegetables!  

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Lawrie with two dollar pineapple

If anyone has photos of Doña Florentina sitting on her corner in centro, Betsy Snider is planning to create a photo memento book for her.  Betsy is on FaceBook and would love to receive a copy of your photos.  Or you can send them to me and I will forward to Betsy. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

The View from Above

Don't forget to send a copy to my mom!
Our upper street-side deck is a fun place to relax, and to observe the rhythm of life on Isla.  The view from above can be very enjoyable.

Early this Sunday morning we heard the distinctive sounds of running feet, light and rhythmic sounds made by well-conditioned athletes.  I rested my camera on the railing of our upper deck, pointing the lens into the crowd on the street below.  

It took only a few seconds before the runners noticed me and waved, shouting greetings. "Don't forget to send a copy to my mom!" hollered runner #0131. "Sure!  Who's your mom?"  I quipped back, grinning.

The Rooster on the Go Challenge is a new event sponsored by the municipality and Rooster's Cafes with entrants coming from various parts of Quintana Roo and the Yucatan.  One segment of the challenge was a race around the perimeter of the island and the second segment was a shorter run from centro to the park just south of our house and back to the starting point.  The longer race had 50 women and 77 men registered, while the shorter version had 37 women and 32 men, plus assorted baby strollers being pushed by moms and dads.  The current administration at City Hall seems to be enthusiastically promoting new events that will increase tourism on the island, hopefully filling hotels and restaurants in the slower "shoulder season" following the busy months of January, February and March.  

Vegetable vendor
A few days ago as we enjoyed our morning coffee, a vegetable vendor trundled along the sidewalk.  

His hand-cart is a converted wheel barrow, filled with what looks like small red or green tomatoes. 

People walking past, or on motos stopped to buy whatever it was that he was selling.  

Later in the day I saw him set up at the speed-bump by the entrance to the Chedraui grocery store.  That's a pretty clever place to be as everyone must slow down to navigate the big tope, and drivers frequently stop to buy whatever is being sold that day.  

2012 juice vendor pedaling home.
Last night around sundown one of the juice vendors pedaled past, on his way home from a long day of squeezing oranges.  We have seen him before.  Sometimes he enlists the assistance of a family member or friend to pull his bicycle cart behind a moto, giving him a motorized ride home instead of pedal-power.  I can't begin to imagine how strong his leg muscles must be to pedal that heavy cart downtown in the morning and back home later in the evening. The island is only five miles long (seven kilometers) but the neighbourhood where most people live is at least three miles south and at a slightly higher elevation, necessitating a considerable amount of effort to pedal or push a cart up the inclines.   

2009 crew repainting the wall.  (R.Bietting photo)
Other times our source of visual diversion has been to watch the happenings across the street at the Colegio de Bachilleres (high school) basketball court.  In the six and a half years that we have lived in this house we have seen the street-side concrete wall painted twice, the basketball court painted with lines and sections twice, new backboards installed twice and we have yet to see a basketball game.  

Recent work party to refurbish the basketball court
The biggest deterrent to the students using the area is the jungle surrounding the playing surface.  Every time someone misses the ball, it disappears into the foliage never to be seen again!  The players do a half-hearted search but it is a daunting task in the thick undergrowth.  The basketball court could really benefit from a surrounding fence, similar to the tennis courts.  However, as most of us know, with fencing comes other challenges: rust, corrosion and eventually the total demise of the fence.
Installing the backboards.

The next best thing to being captivated by the various activities is accomplishing a task because we happened to look out at the street. 

Just a few minutes ago, Lawrie called to me: "Did you want to ask Pepe a question? He's outside right now."  Correctly known as Jose Alfonso Martinez Angeles, he is the owner of Alucripepe Aluminios y Cristales.  

Pepe and his crew do a great job on replacing or repairing windows, screens and doors.  We need a patio door replaced, as well as a new screen for another door.  Pepe had stopped his truck in the street to buy a flavoured-slushy drink (he calls it a chipi chipi) from a passing vendor. "Pepe, wait a minute please."  I shouted in Spanglish as I ran down our spiral staircase and across the street.  Five minutes later he was inside our house measuring for the two small jobs we needed done.   Perfect! Finding him on our street saved me the time and effort of driving to his place of business. 

Replacing the patio glass

At times it can be noisy living on a busy street, but the enjoyment and convenience make up for it.  

We have more time to sit with our feet on the deck railing, sipping morning coffees or an evening glass of wine.  

Ah!  Sweet!

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie