Friday, March 27, 2015

Paradise Hidden

Sunrise, at our house
Would you like to join us for diving lessons?” Nicole asked.
Sure!” I had been planning for more than a year to try diving, but had been putting it off since I had broken a toe in July the previous year, and it still hurt to flex my toes. 

Stephanie, Kara, Nicole, Diane & Lynda
When asked by Lawrie's niece and great-niece to join them I immediately agreed to give it a try. 

Nicole and her teenage daughter Kara had scheduled a lesson at Paradise Diving, which is part of the Marina Paraiso Hotel complex, here on Isla.

We assembled at the big pool at the hotel with Diving Instructor Stephanie Hammond de Boboli. She instructed us on safety, signals, equipment and rules. We then took a few minutes to organize swim flippers, wet suit, the vest (Buoyancy Control Device), weight belt, mask, snorkel, and of course the full air tank. Okay that's about forty or more pounds of equipment to pack around. Three of us were newbies, and the fourth Diane, was doing a refresher course on diving. Stephanie patiently ran us through several drills in the pool, getting us comfortable with the equipment, and a few emergency scenarios than a break for lunch. “Remember, no alcohol with lunch,” she reminded us with a grin, “you can celebrate after-wards.”
Diving Instructor Stephanie Hammond de Boboli in centre
And then it was time to head out to our two open water dives; the first one at the underway museum MUSA, and the second one at a nearby reef. We trouped down to the dive boat, and set off on our adventure. The day had started off calm and sunny, but while we were running through safety drills in the pool a south-west wind had strengthened, creating five to six foot swells. 

Our Captain Josue Aranda Ponce!  Great job!

I love boating and a bit of bouncing around in the boat was not uncomfortable. 

It did surprise me though on how many snorkeling tour boats were moored in and around the underwater museum; the 700 plus statues are thirty feet underwater, and the big waves would have made it almost impossible to see anything from the surface. Not my idea of good snorkeling conditions.

Other boats moored for snorkeling and divers
On board our dive boat we zipped up our wet suits, donned the weight belts, flippers, masks, BCD vest and the air tank. 

Ugh, it's very difficult to move around on the boat while encumbered with all this equipment. 

Kara - getting ready to do the backward-roll
So how do we get into the water? Stephanie expertly demonstrated the backward-roll technique that is necessary to exit the boat safely. Anyone who has seen Jacques Cousteau films or any movie involving scuba divers will be familiar with the procedure – however, my brain queried me tensely: “Are you sure, really sure? That looks dangerous.” Well heck, here goes. One hand on my regulator, one hand on my diving mask strap, cross my flippers and lean back. Not bad! Much easier than it looks. And then I was swamped by a big wave. Fortunately I had my regulator in my mouth and didn't ingest any of the seawater.

My heros! Kara and her mom Nicole - naturals!
Once the four of us were in the water we pulled ourselves hand-over-hand through the waves along the mooring line to the buoy and then to the descend line, as it is called in diving lingo, that would assist us in a slow and smooth decent. Kara disappeared. Nicole disappeared. Diane was having issues with her weight belt, and while trying to sort that out got a big mouthful of water. Eventually she disappeared down the line.

Stephanie - relaxed and slowly rising to surface
Me, I got down about 7 feet, and discovered that I was breathing too hard, over-inflating my lungs. My weight belt and assorted gear couldn't counteract my body's natural inclination to bounce back up to the surface. I tried a second time, couldn't equalize my ears, fussed with my mask and BCD valves, and finally decided – not today. Stephanie was very understanding when I said I was heading back to the boat. I did take a quick look around while I was under the waves, and watched in complete envy as Nicole and Kara swam along the bottom, gracefully as two lithe dolphins. Darn! That could have been me!

One of Kara's beautiful underwater photos.
Diane was still having challenges with her weight belt and Stephanie decided to cut the first dive short to give everyone time to get sorted out. Once everyone reconvened on the boat, we moved over a few feet to a beautiful reef. This time only Nicole and Kara went with Stephanie on the dive. Both Diane and I decided to wait this one out on the boat. 

Forty five minutes later Kara and Nicole popped back to the surface, grinning and babbling about their experience: “The fish! The colours! The coral! The sea urchins! Fabulous! Amazing! Beautiful!”
By now it was late afternoon, most of the other boats moored in the area were making preparations to return to Isla Mujeres, or to Cancun. We all had such fun, and enjoyed the day completely. I am very proud of Kara and Nicole. They are both naturals at this sport. 

Am I disappointed that I wasn't brave enough to finish the experience? A little. 

But, there is always another day, another time to try again. 

There is a beautiful hidden paradise beneath the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Eventually I'll get to experience it.

Que tengan lindo día
Lynda and Lawrie

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Friday, March 20, 2015

It took a neighbourhood to make a cake

2012 - the last time I made these cakes!
I've been obsessing. Obsessing about a particular type of cake – Tropical Carrot Cake – stuffed full of plump raisins, chopped nuts, juicy pineapple chunks, and sweet coconut. Oh. So. Good.
Finding all of the ingredients was a bit of a challenge. I posted on my FaceBook page asking friends for the Spanish words for baking soda and baking powder so that I could find the items in the store. 
The responses flowed in, including where to find them; baking powder is usually shelved with flour and other baking supplies, but baking soda is in the pharmacy section of a store. Weird but true.
Lynda & Patty
Then several friends emailed offering to share their supply of baking soda, or baking powder, and oh, did I need anything else? Raisins! I couldn't find raisins on the island. No worries, Patty had extra raisins and her friend Steve arriving from Cancun would find me anything else I needed. Patty and Steve dropped them off at my house along with the baking soda. 

Dèanne & Brent
Dèanne promised to pass along an extra unopened baking powder. A short time later the bell on our front gate announced that her esposo, Brent, had arrived with the promised ingredient. 
That's the joy of living on a small island, in a close knit community, friendly, helpful and caring.

Checking my list of ingredients I realized I was still missing one item – liquid Coconut Cream for the icing. Rats! I started walking to the big grocery store about fifteen minutes south-west our our house, passing neighbourhood friends. “Hola Lynda” (pronounced Leenda) they greeted as I walked past. “Cómo estás?” In the grocery store I met up with Chuck who offered me a ride home. I love this island.
Marcy & Chuck's kitchen - baking the cakes
On to the next step. Sifting, measuring, mixing the ingredients into the batter and it's final ready for the oven – but wait, we don't have an oven. We seldom bake and having a hot appliance in my tropically-warm kitchen just seemed so unnecessary. After a quick walk up the street to Marcy and Chuck's house carrying a big bowl of cake batter, pans, and assorted utensils, I popped the cake pans into their oven. 
An aromatic thirty minutes later and it was time, time to retrieve the pans, and pop in three more – because, of course, we needed two cakes not just one. While I waited for the oven to do its magic we relaxed on the deck, watching the multi-coloured Parrot Fish surf in the waves and the awkwardly graceful Pelicans gliding overhead. Living here is very different than our Canadian lives: wonderfully different.
Sombra waiting in Chuck & Marcy's golf cart
Eventually all the batter was cooked, and Chuck gave me a ride in the golf cart back to our house. It was much easier than walking with two cakes, two bowls, and other assorted oddments. 
I smiled as we drove past Patricio's construction crew, working on a new house on our street. Several of the guys caught the scent of the freshly baked cakes, their noses twitching like our little terrier-cross dog, wondering where and what that great smell was. Sorry guys, not this time. I'll bake you something else – soon.
Later in the afternoon the cakes had cooled I slathered on the icing made of cream cheese, butter, icing sugar and the coconut cream. 

This is a cake that took a neighbourhood to create, and it was shared with the neighbourhood. Friends and family, nieces and nephews, old friends, and new friends – it was the best cake ever!

Linda G's birthday party with kids and grandkids

Que tengan lindo día
Lynda and Lawrie

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Friday, March 13, 2015

Is Living in Paradise Expensive?

Morning in paradise
As expats who moved to Isla Mujeres a few years ago, we were definitely not prepared or well informed on what to expect with regards to the cost of living in Mexico.  All that we had heard was that electricity was very expensive.
Okay, we could deal with that by building our home using energy efficient methods, but we really needed a few comforts such as air conditioning, an ice-maker, wine fridge …. you get the idea. 
We budgeted our money and figured out approximately how much longer we were going to be around, then tried to live well and die broke! (Sorry kids.)
Typical monthly water bill, in pesos
A few of our anticipated expenses fooled us: the cost of our property taxes is $66.00 dollars a year, electricity averages around $75.00 dollars a month, water and sewer about $9.00 per month, wine and beer …. let's just say a whole lot less than Canada.
We have also discovered the Mexican seniors' card, available to residents over the age of sixty. There are discounts galore for movies, museums, parks, buses, and some air travel. Heck, even the passenger fares on the ferries are half price. Health care is also available and the cost per year is an affordable $400.00 dollars for the most expensive category: very old.

2012 delivery of a new refrigerator
On the other hand the ongoing maintenance of our home is more expensive.  It's best if you are a little handy and can do the small repairs yourself. Everything metal or electronic takes a beating from the salt in the air.  
As you may know from previous blog posts we have had to purchase, in the last seven years, three refrigerators, two dishwashers, and countless microwaves.  It's the cost of living on the Caribbean coast.

Neighbourhood day at the movies - VIP Cancun
For entertainment besides frequenting our favourite bar, the Soggy Peso, we can go to Cancun to see first run movies (in English) at the VIP theatre for about $8.00 dollars. The VIP has waiters who will bring you food and drinks, even sushi to your individual Lazyboy recliner. It's a great way to feel totally spoiled.
So after living here for a bit our budgeting went out the window. We have decided we can live to a ripe old age, have lots of fun, and maybe, just maybe have some left over at the end. 
Sunset - March 2015
The bonus is we live in a very healthy environment. Our stress is way down. The food is fresh and tasty. And best of all the humidity seems to make wrinkles disappear.

Yup, it's working for us. Great country, great people, great fun.

Que tengan lindo día
Lawrie and Lynda

Today was Lawrie's turn to write!

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Isla Mujeres, quirky, haphazard, and delightful

Interesting old building in Centro
I have an accumulation of thousands of photographs taken over the past few years, photographs that I am always eager to include in this blog, to write about, to explain. 
When stumped for an idea I will sit and peruse the files, clicking and scrolling, mentally sorting out the where, when and why of the photos. Usually an idea for the weekly blog post will pop into my head after a few minutes contemplation. This time, Lawrie, was casually looking over my shoulder and suggested a focus for the article just as the idea was formulating in my head! Damn! He's reading my mind again.
Fruits and veggies - near our house
We were both thinking about the contrasts on the island; the big and the small, the expensive and the economical, the grandiose and the modest. 
Contrasts such as the unlit, narrow aisle leading into a quaint little neighbourhood tienda, a small local store providing fresh vegetables and a few assorted dry-goods to customers within a few block radius. 
Chedraui Super Store 
Contrast that with the large, bright Super X-Press, or Chedraui Super Stores offering new motorcycles, alcohol, baked goods, vegetables, meats, dairy products, or pharmaceuticals. Everything from refrigerators to toothpicks.

Expensive plaything
Then my eyes flicked over a series of photographs featuring sport fishing boats, yachts and cruisers ranging upwards to over a hundred feet in length. 
Grandiose indeed! 

Five fishermen headed out at sundown
Contrast those luxury playthings with the average twenty-six foot long open-topped work boats, loaded with fishermen, nets, hooks, and bait, heading out at sundown to in hopes of catching fish to sell to local restaurants.

Modest and cozy

Or housing. On Isla there are a number of humble little old-style houses made from wooden stakes or concrete blocks protected by roofs made of corrugated cardboard, impregnated with waterproof tar. These tiny homes are just wide enough to comfortably hang a hammock at night. 

Colourful and charming!

In the colonias, the thickly populated neighbourhoods, a myriad of modest, brightly painted abodes lend a colourful haphazard appearance to narrow streets. 
Cozy and charming these houses vary in shape and size with sufficient room for a family and pets to congregate for meals. 

Architectural wonder - Villa del la Vida
And then there are the splendorous shapes with commanding views of the turquoise ocean - the architectural wonders of shiny glass, and glittering metal, and dazzling white walls.
Contrasts; every where you look. It is part of the charm of Isla Mujeres, quirky, haphazard, and delightful.

Hasta Luego
Lynda and Lawrie
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