Friday, May 30, 2014

The annual computer tax

UltraMar docks at Puerto Juarez
Oh that can't be good,” a friendly voice said, “I see that you've bought a new computer.”

You have no idea, Jeanette,” I sighed as I watched our purchases being loaded onto the Ultramar passenger ferry. “This is our sixth computer in six years. I guess it's the price of living in paradise.”

Six in six years!
We live on the windward side of Isla Mujeres, the east side – the salty side. A combination of humidity and salt blows into our house 24/7, 365 days a year. We thrive in this warm, moist environment, but the climate is hell on electronics. The previous computer lasted a grand total of seven months and we will hopefully get it repaired under warranty. The closest repair depot for a Samsung is Fort Worth Texas plus we are responsible for the cost of shipping there and back. There is also a repair depot in Mexico City, but we are having our challenges reaching them. Lawrie is working on it, and he is persistent, very persistent.

When we bought the Samsung seven months ago we decided that we should attempt to protect if from the salty winds. We shut it down every night, tucking it away in a drawer. As it turns out the was the absolutely worst thing we could do, locking in the daytime accumulation of moisture. Another friend suggested that we leave our computer running 24/7 to dry it out, thereby possibly extending it's operational time. He said he has several televisions located in the open air at his bar. They are never shut off and have lasted for years. Okay, it's worth a try. Any bets on how long this computer lasts?

English language & Spanish language keyboards
Besides replacing the computer, for a lot more money than we would have paid if we purchased it in the USA or Canada, we were now blessed with a keyboard designed for the Spanish language. Finding the @ sign for inputting our email addresses was a big challenge, necessitating a quick text to a friend asking for help. The new keyboard has upside down (to us) question marks, and exclamation marks, and two keys for the letter N. The extra key has the accent over the “ñ” putting ten letters on the middle row of keys instead of only nine. For a touch-typist, like me, it is disconcerting to have an additional key that my fingers have no memory of. Then Lawrie remembered we had a spare keyboard, designed for the English language, that we had bought a few years ago in Canada. We plugged it in, and are good to go. No more hunting for familiar symbols amongst the plethora of Spanish accents and characters.

I can always take more sunset photos
In the meantime we started the usual re-loading of programs, favourites, and files. I lost a few of my photographs as I hadn't backed up my files onto Goggle Drive for a couple of weeks, but other than that we are so accustomed to computer meltdowns it's not a big deal anymore. Just frustrating. I really need to learn how to do recovery backups but I keep procrastinating. Tomorrow, mañana, soon.

Pirate themed birthday at Barlito's at Marina Paraiso
Most of my recent photographs are replaceable; shots of sunrises, sunsets, local people and animals. A few were a one time event, like the over-the-top pirate theme birthday party at Marina Paraiso for a sweet little three-year-old. 

 The dessert tables were crammed with cupcakes, goodies, and cookies; everything in a pirate theme. The birthday cake had a skull and crossbones, underneath a treasure map made from sweet yummy icing. A number of the guests and their adult escorts were decked out in pirate outfits. Whoever planned this event did an amazing job.  Lucky for me Tiffany Yenawine Wareing had photographs of the party.

Now, I am hoping, that since we have paid our computer tax for 2014, maybe, just maybe, this one will last until, dare I say it? - 2016. Hah! Silly me.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Beginning of Whale Shark tour season on Isla

Friday, May 23, 2014

One person's junk ... is another person's treasure

Crouching Crab
A large brightly-coloured crab crouches near rocky ledge; as I sneak up to capture it on my camera I discover it can't run away.  It's a beautiful skeleton, motionless in the sand.  

Further on a single multi-coloured shoe has been discarded on the sand by a careless wave.  The shoe appears to be expensive, with a patchwork of pink, blue and green criss-crossing the sides.  

Lost Sole!
On a fairly regular basis a variety of shoes and sandals float in, prompting one artistic acquaintance to start a tree of "lost soles." Passersby helpfully added their beach finds until over a hundred shoes decorated the tree.  Realizing his creation was out of control, the artist dismantled his display.

All year around the wind brings an assortment of other items to the beaches; some are interesting, and some junk.  Earlier in the year the beaches were buried under an unusually large mound of debris that winter storms had flung high along the eastern side of the island. 

Cleaning up the mess
Picking up garbage became a never-ending job for home owners.  A hard working group of city workers and volunteers were dispatched to dispose of the trash, making the beach usable again.  No one knows where the excess garbage came from, but hopefully we won't experience that again.

The one change I have noticed is I seldom find shells along this beach anymore.  Why?  Perhaps due to the increase in beachcombers.  Or perhaps due to the 2008 removal many tons of sand from the sea bottom to refurbish the Cancun beaches devastated by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.  It's my personal "grumble."  The barges and their massive pumps worked for months stripping the sand, along with mollusks and other small sea creatures.   Many of the shells for sale on the island have been imported from the Philippines, to fill the gap between supply and demand.

Tiny fragile Sand Dollar
Other items I have found along the edge of the surf include an assortment of sea glass, turtle bones, a large turtle skull, and several pieces of fan coral uprooted by storms and tossed on the beach.

I also happened upon a very small and delicate sea biscuit, or sand dollar.  It was only two inches long, and extremely fragile leading me to wonder how survived its journey in the waves.  

Sea Hearts (Monkey Hearts) and Deer Eyes
I now have several glass vases filled with Sea Hearts, and Deer Eyes; drift seeds from the Amazon River. My latest find is a grapefruit-sized seed pod called a Calabash.  

More recently I have been picking up small, smooth flat stones in a variety of colours: tan, black, white. 

Maybe I should create something with them?  Or maybe not.  I enjoy just looking at them.

Garafon Park zip line braking system

Recently I found several wooden items, with two strong fabric straps attached.  We puzzled over that, finally sending a photo out by email asking friends if they could identify the items.  John Stuckless said they were hand brakes for riders of the Garafon Park zip lines.  Exactly right. 

When I returned the items to a staff member, he was grateful, but puzzled.  Why would the items float counter-clockwise against the current at south-point to the eastern side of the island?  Lost items normally float with the current.  He shrugged. I shrugged.  No clue how that would happen. Two days later I found a fifth one.  

Drift seeds, sea glass, turtle shoulder bones, carved wood
Every once in awhile I open a kitchen drawer, or storage box, and realize that - yet again - my collection of treasures is unmanageable.  I ask friends: "Do you want a bag of Sea Hearts?  Or Deer Eyes?  Or sea glass?"  

Thankfully our creative friends are always happy to have fresh supplies for their artistic endeavours.  

Perhaps one person's treasures can also be treasure for someone else?

Lynda & Lawrie

Creative use for sandals found on the beaches in Kenya

A creative solution to the multitude of discarded shoes was created by a group in Kenya - the group makes artistic creations from the shoes.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Going to the dogs

"YOU can be trained to see things MY way"
Dogs!  Friends and alarm systems. Watchdogs and pals.  The smaller the dog, the tougher they act.  For more than thirty years we were dedicated cat people, not wanting the responsibility of caring for a dog.  Recently however, Sparky a cute terrier-low-rider-mutt decided we could possibly be trained as primary care-givers and moved in with us.  His crazy antics led me to review my photographs searching for amusing images of other local dogs.

Chilly weather clothes

My favourite photos are of the pooches dressed warmly for the cooler winter months, when the temperature drops from a day-time high of 30 C to 21 C.  Brrr!  (86 F down to 69.8 F).  Local short-haired dogs shiver in the cooler temperatures, and concerned owners gear them up for winter with warm sweaters and quilted coats.  We have acclimated and can easily wear jeans and sweaters when the temperature dips below the mid-twenties Celsius, so I get it.  I empathize with them.

Michael at Impresiones Magicas 

Additionally there are truly pampered pooches who dress for specific occasions; like Michael a gorgeous pit-bull who guards the Impresiones Magicas store in Cancun. 

He frequently is attired in a seasonally appropriate costume such as Santa Claus in December.  

He's a lovable wriggly, waggly character during office hours, but a serious guard dog at night.  

Miss Tinkerbell
On the other end of the size scale is Tinkerbell, Doug and Suzanne's little toy poodle; she would be after-dinner dental floss for a dog the size of Michael.  Tinkerbell has an array of outfits, bows, ribbons, and even a beautiful pink life-jacket for boating events.  She is well mannered and welcome in most restaurants, enjoying the view from her own chair.
We have also met Willie, who is adored by Ceil and Dick.  He is a perfect guest at the dinner table, handsome and polite.  

We call him Star-Dog (name is Peluche - teddy bear)
Along the malecon (seawall) on the east side of the island is a cute butterscotch-coloured mutt who sticks his head out through the star-shaped holes in a brick wall, woofing a hello to passersby.  If you mention Star-Dog, anyone who walks that route knows the dog, and has likely had a conversation with him.  He seems friendly, but I don't invade his territory.  It's his job to warn off intruders.  

Also amongst my photographs are several of what we refer to as "roof top alarm systems."  It's a pretty common sight; one, two, or more dogs peering over the edge of a roof, barking at anyone who enters their territory.  It is a touchy subject - dogs confined to roof tops.  Petty theft, robberies of electronics and cash, are as common place here as they are in any part of the world.  Noisy dogs are often used as an expedient solution.  Alarm systems are rare and expensive, most being monitored by private companies in Cancun and necessitating a long wait before an alarm is investigated.

These guys are well-cared for - roof-top alarm system
A few months ago the local police advised friends to "get a dog" when faced with the aftermath of a breakin. I must admit I still have challenges with the concept.  As my friend Harriet taught me years ago; this is not my country, I am a guest. Thankfully the Isla Animals organization is on the lookout for neglected animals, involving the authorities when faced with a tough situation. 

Handsome dude - brown, white and pale pink
And then there are the dogs who are enjoyed as companions, friends. Wandering around the various neighbourhoods with my camera, I noticed a house that was painted pink, white and chocolate brown, to match their beautiful pooch whose coat was a combination of brown, white, and pale pink splotches.  The owners grinned when I complimented their dog, and their house, nodding in agreement that he is a very handsome dude. 

Looks like a sleeping bear!  
Another favourite of mine is the monstrous black dog that lives on the road behind the middle school. He is so huge he resembles a bear. Snoozing in the sand he seldom bothers me when I drive past in the golf cart, looking for ideas for blog postings.  He will occasionally lift his head, and give me a half-hearted woof, before deciding that I am no threat to him or his house. When you are that big, you own the road.  

Soggy Doggy in 2009 
Many of our friends have adopted dogs or been adopted by dogs. Soggy Doggy is a fixture at the Soggy Peso bar, sleeping off his elder years under a hibiscus plant close to potential snacks from bar patrons.  He's old, and wheezy, and scarred from many battles for the affections of females, but greatly loved by Sal and Mal.  Every time I see him I smile in remembrance of his brash "I can take 'em all" behaviour, not so much in evidence now with his advanced age and health issues.

Sombra - enjoying her golf cart ride
Curtis and Ashley at Villa la Bella, shared the story of their dog Bella on this blog, posted in October of 2013.  Tiff and Brad at Barlito's have Clienta who I believe is around fourteen years old now.  Chuck and Marcy fell head over heels for Somba at least ten years ago.  Janet and David have adopted three from the island, Pretty, Tan, and tiny little dog also named Bella.  My good friend Diego, the illustrator of our joint venture children's book, also has an elderly much loved pooch.  A number of these adoptees have been featured in this blog at various times.

Sparky is in love ... hopelessly in love.
And Sparky, well just the other day he met a new girlfriend.  She's a beautiful well-trained Boxer that walks with her human every morning on Playa Norte. She is about four times the size of Sparky, playfully wrestling with him and playing tag for a few minutes every day, before we head off on our separate routes. Sparky can dream all he wants, but nothing will come of that relationship.  They are both - what's the current correct terminology? - altered.    

We still really enjoy cats, and soon Tommy will be famous with his first book. Sparky on the other hand will have to wait until book number two to share the spotlight with Thomas the Cat.  In the meantime he keeps us entertained with his antics.  We're happy he chose us.

Lynda & Lawrie

PS:  Information from a blog reader: The "Star dog's" name is Peluche (teddy bear). Love him and all of the Isla dogs!     Cool!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Day-tripping to Isla Contoy

The bay at Isla Contoy
"Hi, is your name Kevin?" I asked uncertainly, thinking I recognized him.  

"No, my name is Joe, but I can be Kevin if you want me to," he quipped.  His response elicited good natured laughs from everyone, easing the strangers-meeting-strangers awkwardness.  By the time we had been fitted with life jackets, flippers, goggles and a snorkel we were chatting easily.  

After several days of wind and high waves, the weather was finally perfect for a boat trip to the Isla Contoy National Park.  The three of us - our neighbour Andy, my niece Renee, and I - had been waiting all week for this day.  

Lovely and quiet
"Okay, today is the day.  Let's go!"  Captain Tony Garcia's brother Alberto, and his nephew Noah, were our captain and first-mate for the day.  Tony hopped into our boat for a few minutes to give us a rundown on the rules; wear your life jackets, don't touch the underwater critters, and stay with the guide when snorkeling the reef.  Pretty simple.

We left the docks promptly at nine in the morning, and arrived at Isla Contoy shortly after ten.  Paradise. Tucked into a crescent-shaped bay was a clean sweep of white sand, a handful of palm trees, two or three communal outdoor grilling areas, plus a couple National Park service buildings. That's it.  Wild and relatively untamed, the island is home to thousands of nesting birds, plus a few boa constrictors and crocodiles in the jungle areas.  

View from the blue observation tower
Our crew suggested that we explore the island pathways keeping an eye out for the meaner residents, or go for a refreshing swim in the bay while they cooked up a meal for us.  They chopped, and peeled, and sliced, and diced, creating a scrumptiously fresh meal of grilled chicken, grilled fish, pineapple and tomato salad, plus guacamole.  The guacamole was so good "Kevin/otherwise known as Joe" and I were reluctant to share with anyone else.  

Noah Garcia - cooking up a great meal

It was a bit early in the adventure for a meal, but when the crew explained the reason it made sense.  Tony likes to ensure that his boat is the first into the dock, and the first out to the reef, allowing his customers an hour of quiet bliss in paradise before the arrival of the other tourists.  Sitting on rustic wooden benches, under a cool palapa we enjoyed our delicious meal, finishing as three more boats arrived at the dock.  The new arrivals spoke a profusion of European and Asian languages, each with their own multilingual guide informing, and educating the groups.  I much preferred our easy, no structure, explore at your own pace experience.

Alberto Garcia - captain and chef

After lunch we floated in the refreshing ocean while the guys packed up the remaining food and beverages.  We then headed out to the nearby reef for a bit of snorkeling. Alberto secured the boat to a mooring buoy just a short swim away from the reef.  Puffing and splashing I struggled to catch up to the group, and then realized that I had forgotten my waterproof camera on the boat.  Darn!  Swimming back, I could hear my fellow travels babbling excitedly about the huge black and yellow grouper that Noah had located. 

Noah Garcia - a man of many talents, snorkel guide
"Hurry up.  Get your camera!"  Yeah, yeah. Easy for you to say, I have two speeds when I swim: slow and slower.  I never did see the grouper.  At the speed I was swimming he had plenty of time to relocate to another reef or perhaps even another island.  I did however see beautiful conchs, starfish, angelfish, butterfly fish, a barracuda, and a whole school of yummy looking dudes that were floating under me.  They didn't appear to be worried, perhaps they know they are protected by the National Park.  

Getting our bodies back on the boat
And then it was time to return to the boat.  Thank goodness for the availability of a good study swim ladder to help us reboard.  It's always such an awkward exercise removing swim fins, balancing on the ladder, and trying to sling a leg over the side while the boat bobs and dips in the waves.  Jacques Cousteau, I'm not.

As we puttered along the shore of Isla Contoy, Alberto slowed the boat to show us a magnificent Manta Ray.  

Beautiful Manta Ray 
The muscular wing-span of an adult ray can reach up to seven or seven and a half meters across. (That's about 25 feet for my metric-challenged friends.)  This Manta Ray cruises around in the sandy shallows of Isla Contoy slurping up his food of choice, tiny inch long krill, through a wide forward facing mouth. Impressive and beautiful, they are endangered in many countries due to commercial fishing of krill, pollution, entanglement in fishing nets, and recently the demand for their gill rakers for some types of natural medicines.  We didn't disturb him, but we did try to capture the beauty of his enormous wing-span with our cameras.  

Snorkeling on a nearby section of the Belize Barrier Reef
Our second stop for snorkeling was located on a small part of the nearby Belize Barrier Reef.  It is the second largest barrier reef in the world.  It runs along the Mexican coastline from the state of Yucatan 220 kilometers south to the Gulf of Honduras.   The jagged coral beds slow down the rougher ocean waves, but the swimming is considerably more challenging in the resulting currents.  I stayed on the boat, enjoying the sun, and let my hardier companions experience the surf.  Here the major excitement was the discovery of a nurse shark lounging in the lee of the coral reef, resting.  Perfect.  She can rest there, and I'll rest here on the boat.

Getting wet - Lynda and Kevin/otherwise known as Joe 
Then we were homeward bound, bouncing through bumpy seas.  The waves slapped the bow and splashed over the port (left side) of the panga.  One of our boatmates, Doug, wore his snorkel and mask as the warm water splashed over him.  It was a very wet and laughter-filled ride home.  

Sun-baked, and tired we disembarked on the beach waving goodbye to our new acquaintances - Kevin/otherwise known as Joe, Amber, Doug, Susan, and Shelagh. (Not sure of the spelling on that one ....)  

I needed a shower, and a cold drink, and a nap!   
Great adventure; thank you Tony, Alberto and Noah Garcia.

Cheers  Lynda & Lawrie 


Note: currently the price per person is $65.00 USD or $800.00 MX pesos.  The cost includes equipment, cold beverages and a delicious lunch.  Bring a towel, sunscreen lotion, sunglasses, and camera.  Wearing your swimsuit is the easiest solution as you will be wet several times during the excursion.  A long sleeved shirt to protect your arms from sunburn is also a good idea.   

Grilled chicken and grilled fish.  Yum!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The late-afternoon "ah" factor

End of the day ritual 
It's become our end-of-the-day ritual, sipping a glass of wine and watching the sun set on another great day.  Ah!

The island has many great locations to watch the sunset.  Most of our favourite places are on the waterfront facing towards Cancun or Isla Blanca; locations where the brilliant colours of the setting sun are splashed on the ocean and echoed on nearby reflective surfaces.  

2002 at Villa Makax on westside of Isla
Our first trip to Isla Mujeres was in 2002. We stayed on the west side of the island at Villa Makax and the Rolandi Hotel.  

At that time golf cart rentals were not very common so we seldom left the neighbourhood.  I have very pleasant memories of standing barefoot in the surf with my glass of wine waiting for the sunset, and we all know good memories induce return visits.

We returned to Isla in 2005, after taking a trip to Bali, and then, as it turns out, one final vacation on the Pacific coast of Mexico.  We decided that Isla was better, much better!   

2005 Sunset Grill view 

On our second trip we explored more of the island, discovering other restaurants such as Sunset Grill at the north end of the island and Casa O's near the southern end of the island.  

2009 Lawrie at Casa O's Restaurante

Both restaurants were delightfully romantic places to spend a few hours savouring good food and beautiful sunsets.  

(The Casa O's property was sold a couple of years ago and has been converted to a lovely private home.) 

View near Brisas Grill and BallyHoo

Now that we are full-time islanders we have several other favourite places.  

A table on the beach at Brisas Grill on Rueda Medina is the perfect location to watch the sun ignite the sky with fiery pinks, oranges and reds before slowly extinguishing itself in the ocean.   

At Ballyhoo we usually try to grab the corner table to really appreciate the evening display.  

Besides the great show of the sun going down, there are usually boats coming and going, kids hanging out with friends, and fishermen bringing in their catch. There is always something to see, to photograph.

Sunset view from Soggy Peso dock

A little further south on the island are other good locations for sunset watching.  We are very partial to the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill, especially since the two large derelict boats that were blocking the great view have been towed away and turned into reusable scrap.  Sitting on the dock with a glass of wine is such a relaxing way to end the day - watching kayakers, and boaters enjoying a last bit of evening light. 

Jeff Current at Marina Paraiso
More recently Barlito's at Marina Paraiso has turned into another favourite sundowner hangout for us, especially on Friday nights when Jeff Current is belting out great beach tunes.  The location is spectacular. 

The jewel-toned lights hanging randomly from overhead tree branches creates a whimsical atmosphere.  The lights are far more romantic than the unfortunately standard florescent tube fixtures found in a number of local restaurants.  Recently Barlito's has added tall bistro-style tables and chairs tucked under tiny waterfront palapas, making the sunset viewing even better.  

My waiter sharing the rooftop view
We have one more favourite sunset location on the island.  It's private.  

Exclusive.  Our rooftop deck.  It's a great place for sunset viewing, for the late-afternoon "ah" factor, however, efficient bar service at this location is always a challenge.  The waiter grumbles when I ask for a refill.  He has to trek down thirty-eight stairs to the kitchen refrigerator, and back up thirty-eight stairs.  Sigh!

It's a good thing I know him quite well.

Lynda & Lawrie