Friday, November 28, 2014

Sex in a Hammock

"Swingin' in a hammock in the palm tree shade..."
When we first moved to Isla six years ago, I jokingly asked a Mexican friend, “So, how do you have sex in a hammock.” 

His face turned bright red in embarrassment and he chuckled. “If you sleep every night for one year in a hammock, I'll tell you,” he replied.

Bright colours

Hammocks are common in local homes, strung across the main room maximizing space in a limited-size home, and providing comfort for the entire family. They were originally developed in Central and South America as a portable method of keeping the sleeping person cool and reasonably safe from venomous snakes, scorpions and disease carrying insects. 

These useful accessories eventually make their way into the Yucatán Peninsula area of Mexico a couple of hundred years before the arrival of the Spanish explorers.

Manuel Jesus Pech Pat - in his Isla store
Around 1590 many European naval sailing ships were using the idea of a canvas sling hammock, to accommodate more sleeping spaces in cramped quarters and to prevent the sailors from being injured by rolling out of their bunk beds during rough weather. 

Many sailors became so accustomed to this way of sleeping they brought their hammocks with them while on shore leave. 

In recent years, during the Apollo Space program, the Lunar Capsule was equipped with hammocks for the captain and the lunar module pilot to sleep in, between space walks.

Julian Cauih
Originally made from tree bark and sisal modern day tropical hammocks are typically woven from either cotton or nylon yarns. Several villages like Ek Balam and Tixkokob near the City of Mérida specialize in making hammocks for sale in Mexico or around the world. They are hand woven by men, women and children, while the larger hammocks might be made on a loom.

Located inside the Mercado del Artesano on Abasolo
On Isla Mujeres, a display of colourful hammocks caught my eye as I was walking past the Mercado del Artesano in centro on Isla Mujeres. I stopped to chat with the vendor, Manuel Jesus Pech Pat. He was born in his family village in the Yucatán, and has now lived on Isla for forty-two years. 

Manuel told me that the average chair hammock takes about sixteen hours to create, while the larger two-person hammocks take up to thirty-two hours to weave. A good hammock will have the knots in the twine at the ends, not in the middle of the sleeping area. The weave will be reasonably tight and even.

Manuel weaving a hammock
Chatting as he demonstrated the hand-weaving method of making hammocks, he hardly looked at what his hands were doing - muscle memory preforming the intricate stitches. He and his uncle Julian Cauih share the little bodega. On sunny days you can see Manuel walking the beaches selling his hammocks to tourists and Cancun day-trippers, while his uncle minds the store. Stop in for a visit at their store and check out their supply of hammocks, blankets and handwoven jackets. Their store is in the Mercado del Artesano on Abasolo Street, facing the Poc-Na hostel.

As for the original question to my now very good friend; well we didn't fulfill our part of the bargain by sleeping in a hammock every night for one year, so I never did learn the answer to the question. More research is required!

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

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Friday, November 21, 2014

Isla Mujeres is Un-Discovered, Un-Forgettable, Un-Cancun!

Fishing boats at sunset
This is my favourite part of Cancun,” the woman sitting beside me said.

Quickly I swallowed my mouthful of wine, to prevent it from being snorted out through my nose. Perplexed I turned to look at her and noticed her all-inclusive resort wristband.

“Cancun?” I said, my eyebrows rising up, questioning.

Sand art - on North Beach
Yes, we are on a day trip from the hotel zone. This is my favourite part of Cancun.”

Lawrie just smiled and diplomatically said, “This isn't Cancun.  It's Isla Mujeres. We're a separate community.”


Same location - next day, are we in Cancun?
A few days later when I was walking along the shore of North Beach, I noticed a sign that someone had built in the sand. It said: Dream Trip! Yep, good assessment. The next day I passed the exact same sign and someone had changed it to read: Cancun. 

Apparently more than one tourist is confused on the concept of where Cancun is located.

Casa Sirena T-shirts 
As Steve Broin, proprietor of the delightful Casa Sirena Bed & Breakfast located in Centro, is fond of saying: Isla Mujeres is Un-Discovered, Un-Forgettable, Un-Cancun. Just a twenty-minute ferry ride from the mainland Isla is a small island hamlet where people generally know a little bit about you, or sometimes a lot, and even occasionally too much. 

Street vendor
It's a friendly, open-hearted community where ex-pats and locals co-mingle. Many long-term ex-pats tirelessly help out with local charities, animal rescue, and student educational programs. Visitors and residents can choose to very involved, or can maintain a lower profile. It's a personal preference.

Like Cancun, Isla does have four all-inclusive resorts: The Privileges Aluxes, The Mia Reef, The Isla Mujeres Palace, and now the Hotel Villa Rolandi has changed to an all-inclusive. However, most of the accommodations are located in condominiums, small quirky hotels, a large hostel, and private houses. The tourists who discover Isla usually have a more adventurous outlook on life, preferring to try something new rather than to ensconce themselves in an all-inclusive, this-could-be-any-beach-resort-in-the-world, atmosphere.

Golf carts are common transportation for locals
As soon as you step off the boat you will realize this is very un-Cancun. The first clue is the number of golf carts on the road – about 800 are available for rent, and many more are privately owned. It's a fun and unusual way to explore the island. 

Then there are numerous tiny restaurants and bars scattered throughout the various neighbourhoods, augmented by street vendors with their mobile food carts. Another clue that this is not Cancun would be the dozens of small fishing boats pulled up above the tide line, festooned with nets, anchors, and bait buckets – ready and waiting. Or perhaps the coco frio vendors, who with the whack of a sharp machete will lop the top off a coco and hand you a cool nutritious drink, all for around two dollars.

Nutritious coco water 
Unlike Cancun, the island has a huge Naval base, just to the right of the passenger ferry docks. Several Navy ships, including the fast rescue boats, are often berthed in front of the base. There is a navy hospital, barracks for single personal, and family housing as well. Frequently the enlisted personal can be seen exercising, practicing drills, or doing maintenance chores at the base. 

And the airport – well, that belongs to the Navy, but occasionally is used by visiting dignitaries or pilots who have connections. However, a word of advise; be discrete if you are taking photographs of the Navy base, or the boats. For security reasons photographers are not welcome.

Navy personal 
Isla is a tight-knit, family-oriented community. Many islanders have lived here all their lives, as have their parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents and so on.

Isla is not the anything-goes party-til-you-drop atmosphere of Cancun. 
Come visit. Enjoy. Be kind to our little island and you'll have a wonderful experience, one that will keep you coming back time and again.


And please, don't make me snort my wine through my nose by telling me this is your favourite part of Cancun. 

That's wrong, just so wrong.

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

(Thanks to Steve Broin for his great quote:Un-Discovered, Un-Forgettable, Un-Cancun!)

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Only in Mexico!

Ah, sunset.  The end of another great day.
The pale tones of dusk - mauve, light pink and pale orange – are shouldered aside by the setting sun. A blaze of deep orange, red and purple colour the western sky as another great day is coming to a close. I pour two glasses of our favourite white wine and ask Lawrie to join me on the upper street-side deck for a sunset drink.

Be right there! I just have one small job I want to finish,” he hollers back. Okay, no worries. I put his glass of wine back in the refrigerator head up to the deck. Peace!
Concrete pumper truck arrives

And then it starts.

Across the street a concrete truck and a concrete pumper truck pull into in the seldom-used school basketball court. Several months ago the local government in conjunction with school administrators decided the basketball court needed a covered dome, and now the construction has started. Two sets of air brakes sigh, the hydraulic mechanism starts up as the pumper truck extends its four-sectioned boom out over the length of the basketball court. Nope. Too great a distance to be efficient. The operator retracts the pumping mechanism and moves the truck closer. Okay, let's try again. More noise and shouts as the crew positions the pump's spout and begin spewing concrete into numerous foundation forms.

Municipal worker removing loose wire
A few minutes later a municipal bucket-truck stops outside our house, reverses backwards into the thick traffic to stop mid-lane while a worker removes a low-hanging wire; all the while the truck's reverse alarm is incessantly bleating. 

Beep, beep, beep, beep. 

Our road is currently extra busy with traffic because it is the only route open to drive from one end of the island to the other. The road on western side of the island is closed for two or maybe three months, more or less, for re-paving.

But, mom, these are my favourite sandals
While the municipal truck has nearly blocked the north-bound lane, a woman driving her two children on a moto suddenly stopped in the south-bound lane. Her young son had lost his sandal. Now the non-stop traffic weaves and dodges around a small boy, the back end of the moto, and the stopped municipal truck.

"Be right there, I just have one small job to finish."

But wait, there's more. My handyman husband fires up his hand-held grinder, preparing to clean rust and corrosion from our gas stove burners.

Sparks fly. Particles of old paint and rust floats upwards, settling in my lovely glass of chilled white wine.

Street busy with dump trucks.

The last assault on my peaceful sunset enjoyment comes in the form of a large beaten-up dump truck, that rumbles past with a cheeky blast of his Jake brake, the engine retarder, producing a loud unnecessary blast of noise that is the equivalent of a middle finger salute.

Eventually everything quietened down. The municipal workers removed the fallen wire, the young boy retrieved his sandal, the traffic thinned out, and across the street in the basketball court the construction workers finished up for the night.

Busy working on the foundations for the new dome roof.
Even Lawrie eventually finished his noisy repairs and joined me with his glass of wine, but by then the sun was tucked away in bed for the night.
Tomorrow there will probably be another colourful Caribbean sunset. We'll try again to enjoy our peaceful, end of the day, ritual.

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

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Friday, November 7, 2014

What is your address? ¿Cuál es su dirección de la calle?

Memorable entrance
It's a simple question that often leads to long descriptive directions, similar to – we live in Colonia Cañotal next door to so-and-so's house, across from the Mini Super, look for a yellow house with green and white trim.

Mexico is not the only country in the world with a confusing system of addresses, but most of our nearby neighbours originated from Canada or the USA. We are accustomed to a numbering system that has odd numbered house on one side of the street, and even numbered houses on the other side. The numbers typically radiate out from the centre of the town or city, increasing in numerical value further from the centre. We were required by law to affix our assigned number in a visible location on the outside of the house to assist the emergency services such as police, fire and ambulance to and ensure that the postal employees could find the address.

Our casa
On the other hand our house address here on Isla is a bit of a mouthful: Casa K'aay Hà, Lote #3 Circunvalacion Aeropuerto SM 02, M 204 Isla Mujeres QR 77400 Mexico. Just for fun I emailed four of our nearby friends to ask what their official addresses were. We all live on the east side of the street within a two-block area, on a road commonly known as Aeropuerto that runs along the east-side of the island.

Of the four friends I received four different addresses. One lives on Carretera Perimetral, two live on Circunvalacion Aeropuerto, and another lives on Carretera Garrafon. 

Some of us apparently live in the neighbourhood of Colonia Rancho Alegra, while the others don't. Lawrie's sister Linda, and her husband Richard live one lot south of us so their address is almost exactly the same as ours, except they are lote #1, the lot in between us is still vacant and would be lote #2.

Along this road there are several lots numbered 1, or 2 or 3 because every time the Manzana number changes – that's the M204 in our address – the lot numbers start over again. Many of our friends have attempted to number their houses with something recognizable, something that makes sense and the result is quite interesting: #216 is south of #305, which is south of #20. In other words if you were driving from the centre of town trying to find a specific number you would see #20, then #305, then #216. It's a good way to keep everyone guessing!

Other friends have chosen to name their houses in an attempt to be easily located by postal workers, delivery personal, or emergency services. Some of the best names we have seen are slightly humorous ones such as Sandra and Carl's Casa Spanglish, Brook and Paul's Cas-A-Beer, John and Betty's Casa Piolin (Tweety Bird) or Chuck and Marcy's Casa Gallo, (Rooster is Chuck's nick-name).

Linda and Richard Grierson call their house Casa Luna Turquesa (House of the Turquoise Moon). They have an easily recognizable turquoise crescent-shaped moon attached to the upper edge of the house. Harriet and Richard Lowe, on the other hand, chose Casa Flamboyan. The name aptly describes their beautiful multi-coloured home. A number of local folks just put a plaque with their family name on the house, and that works too. When we named our house Casa K'aay Hà, we thought we were calling it the Mayan equivalent of Singing Water, as it turns out the name can mean either Song Water or Fish of the Sea!

Well, with all of these choices for addresses no wonder the postal delivery folks have a challenge making deliveries. We have been lucky, always getting great service from the post office. 

Here's three hints that might help you get good service as well:
  1. name your house, or put a number on it – anything to distinguish it from the others on your street
  2. visit the post office with a photograph of your house and get to know the employees
  3. stop by on November 12th, National Postal Workers Appreciation Day with goodies, beverages, and of course a tip. (They are only open until noon on this day.)
We also offer a bottle of cold water, or a soda to any of the delivery people hired to drop off bank statements, utility bills, or parcels. A little kindness goes a long way towards getting great service.

As for how to find us, that easy! We either say we are on Aeropuerto across from the high school basketball court, or we say we are next door to Casa Luna Turquesa. Richard and Linda have been here on Isla longer than we have, and most people know where they live.  It's simple!

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

An error correction: Along this road there are several lots numbered 1, or 2 or 3 because every time the Manzana number changes – that's the M204 in our address – the lot numbers start over again.    That should read Monzana - we have lived in this house for going on seven years, and all of our paperwork says Manzana (apple) but I just discovered the word is Monzana (block).  Too funny!

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