Friday, March 25, 2016

Flavours and fun, Americans Vs Canadians

Alejandro assisting Angelita with making mole
The diminutive, and very patient, abuelita Angelita prepared to teach a roomful of strangers the intricate procedure for creating Mole de Oaxaca, that delicious Mexican sauce created from spicy chilies, and fragrant cinnamon and luscious dark chocolate.   

But she didn’t count on what can happen when three Americans from Minnesota met up with three Canadians from British Columbia: a lot of laughter and noise, and inattention to our teacher.  We were such bad, bad students!   

Angelita - roasting vegetables on griddle
Angelita Cu Barrera was born in Campeche City as was her mother before her.  Her papa was from the nearby larger city of Merida.  She moved to Isla Mujeres about fifteen years ago, to be with her two sons Jacky and Carlos.  Her daughter, Cristiana, and family still love living in Campeche.  

Angelita’s two older grandsons are busy with advanced education; one studying international business, and the other is in seminary school.

Angelita, Christy Dix, Alejandro
Those of you that frequent Isla Mujeres probably know some of her island family members.  Daughter-in-law Christy Dix owns On Target Language Services, specializing in language boot camp for both Spanish and English speaking students.  Angelita’s older son Carlos works at the IxChel Condo Hotel, and youngest son Jacky has recently started his own business Jacky Miquel Construction and Remodeling.  

And then there is four-year-old Caitlin, my favourite promising artist.  I am reasonably certain that the drawing she confidently handed me was of our semi-famous cat, Thomas.  Caitlin knows all about Thomas as her momma, Christy, assisted with the English/Spanish translation for our children’s book The Adventures of Thomas the Cat.

Chicken, plantains, chocolate, tomatoes, cinnamon, garlic
As for Angelita, she offers lessons on preparing traditional Mexican food, everything from enchiladas Suisas, empanadas, chilies rellenos, to tamales.  The lessons typically take about two and a half hours, but for our unruly class it was closer to three hours from start to finish.  Angelita chatted in Spanish while she prepped the chicken, vegetables, and spices for the mole.  Her culinary-school trained assistant, Alejandro Fernandez Heredia, worked steadily in the background preparing guacamole and Pico de Gallo, for the hungry mob. 

Tim, Curt, Deanne, and Denise 
By the time Angelita had sautéed the plantains, melted the chocolate, and roasted the garlic my taste-buds were working overtime in anticipation of the finished product.  

The next step was to grill the six chilies mulatos and three chilies anchos before pureeing. Wow!  Did that cause an interesting reaction! 

Hot spicy smoke curled through the kitchen, creating coughing fits amongst the novice students, then laughter, then more coughing as we discovered that laughing causes a person to inhale large gulps of air – laden with spicy oils.  Capsaicin the active ingredient in the pepper spray, used for self-defense, is derived from chilies.

Alejandro plating our lunch.  Yum!
Neither Angelita nor Alejandro were bothered by the effects, having experienced the phenomena many times.  A little fresh air through the two kitchen windows, and everyone recovered nicely.  

A few minutes later Alejandro and Angelita plated up the delicious Mole de Oaxaca over chicken, with rice and pickled onions on the side.  Yum!  

I did notice when I got home that the spicy chili oil was still clinging to my clothes and hair; a quick shower and a change of clothes fixed the problem.  Even so, I really enjoyed the cooking lesson and highly recommend the experience.

And despite what the other students might tell you, I was the quiet, well-behaved one, taking copious notes and paying strict attention to our instructor.  Honest!  I was!   Well, at least there aren’t any incriminating photos - that I know of.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Alejandro, Angelita, Marcy, Lynda, Tim, Day, Curt, Denise  Facebook link for Cooking with Abuelita Angelita.  For information on cost and the lesson schedule please check the Facebook page or contact Christy Dix. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

Colourful Bugs! The Vochos of Isla

VW Bug - a Mexican Vocho  
Bugs!  They are everywhere on the island; painted in an array of fun colours the quirky Vochos, the Volkswagen Beetles, are affordable for basic transportation, work vehicles, and occasionally trucks.  
Introduced to Mexico March 1954, sixty-two years ago this month, the aging collection of the older style Vochos have a faithful following.  

Freddy Medina & Chuck Watt pushing a Vocho to gas station

From 1961 when the first Vochos were assembled in Mexico, until the end of the production of this body-style in 2003, over two million were made in Mexico.  

By 1978 Vochos made in Mexico were being exported back to Germany and Europe.  At one time over one hundred thousand two-door Vochos were used as taxis in Mexico City.  

In recent years they have been replaced by the more convenient four-door Nissan Tsuru.

Perla's Vocho - Paquita
Probably one of the most visible Vochos on Isla Mujeres is owned by Leslie Woodbridge, or as she says, owned by her large Labrador, Perla.  

The red and black, convertible-topped car, named Paquita, usually sits on the street near the Comex paint store, waiting for Leslie and Perla to take her out for a ride.  Apparently Paquita loves to go fast, and hates topes, stalling and acting cranky when forced to slow down.  The rearview mirror has an annoying habit of falling off and landing in Leslie’s lap.  Paquita is getting on in years; she is allowed to be eccentric.

Rob Herrin and Michelle Butler - road trip in Vocho
Although she was named by Leslie Woodbridge, Paquita previously belong to part-time islanders Rob Herrin and Michelle Butler.  During the period that they owned the little Vocho, they once drove her on a nine-hour adventure to Valladolid via the backroads, stopping along the way to swim in the quiet, relatively unknown cenotes and eat in the little family-owned cafés.  Rob says he still misses Paquita’s quirky personality.

David Daniel and Ocho Vocho
Diane and David Daniel own a relatively young Vocho, built in 1998.  The silver-coloured car is named Ocho Vocho, so I’m going out on a limb here and am guessing this one is a male.  As with everything metal eventually things rust and corrode.  The driver’s side window hand crank frequently falls off; the securing pin has rusted through.  The gas gauge is intermittent, leaving the driver to guess at how much fuel might be in the tank.  Ocho Vocho’s resident gecko occasionally rides on the hood of the car, the wind blowing in its face, squeaking:  Yahoo!  What a ride!

Adrian with Sweet Lips
And then there is Sweet Lips!  She allows Adrian and Stacey Ralph to drive her when it suits her.  Being a young-at-heart, older woman Sweet Lips has a few missing, and not quite original parts.  There is only one windshield wiper, and a side window that was until very recently was a plastic laundry bag duct taped to the car.  

To roll up the other window pliers are required, and the left turn signal works sporadically despite numerous new bulbs and fuses.  When the bottom rusted away and the car battery dragged on the topes a piece of plywood was pressed into service as a new floor.  The most recent indignity for this aging temptress occurred when her steering wheel ceased functioning, and she was taken to a car doctor for a checkup.  Sweet Lips will be kicking up her heels for a few more fun-filled years.

Other island Vochos are put to use as public address vehicles, broadcasting daily supermarket specials, or community information.  

Our friend, Ivan Acevedo, uses his Vocho for carting around the various bits and pieces of equipment required for cleaning swimming pools.  

And then there are the first-cousins to the VW Beetles, the dune buggies.  They are fiberglass bodies, placed onto a Vocho platform.  

As with all Beetles, the dune buggies are prone to rust, but the folks that own them love ‘em anyway. 

Francisco Avalos's dune buggy truck
With quirky personalities and aging bodies the tough little cars, affectionately known by our generation as VW Bugs, are slowly disappearing from history.  

The newer sleeker version will find its own place in our collective memories.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

When the gas station was white - two white VW Bugs

Friday, March 11, 2016

Caribbean Sea - Lost & Found

Lost sole
It’s astounding.  The stuff that floats in from the Caribbean Sea is downright fascinating.  

From huge to tiny, boats to drift seeds, wood to rope, all sorts of weird and interesting junk gets tossed up onto the sand.

In our life BD, Before Dog, I combed our neighbourhood beach on a regular basis looking for fun stuff.  

Oars from Cuban refugee boat 
Now that we are WD, With Dog, my short, terrier-cross, walking partner doesn’t have a lot of patience for my frequent stopping and poking at strange items lodged in the sand.  Walks are all about him!  

It’s probably not a bad thing as our house was getting a bit crowded with the treasures I have dragged home. Our casa resembles a hut owned by castaways, salvaging anything that might be potentially useful.

One of my best finds was a set of long wooden oars used by Cuban refugees to land their insubstantial, home-made craft just a couple of hundred feet north of our house.  The boat was equipped with a diesel motor hooked up to a tiny plastic propeller.  The oars were necessary as a backup for the motor, and as assistance when landing the boat eighty-five miles from Cuba on Isla Mujeres.  Not a leisurely cruise, but a dangerous uncomfortable struggle towards a better life.

The start tangled and heavy. Small spheres under bench.
More recently I entertained three young workers with my valiant struggle to drag four hundred feet of wet, sand-saturated, seaweed-encrusted rope out of the water and up to our house.  

From their vantage point at the top of our ocean-side palapa they could chart my painfully slow progress.  They were still giggling when they joined me on the beach to drag my newest treasure home.  

Six hours later - a bit of fun for the patio
It took me six hours of untangling, and re-winding before I was satisfied with the results.  A large pale-blue rope ball now sits on our patio along with a collection of smaller spheres all made with various bits of rope scoured from the ocean.

We usually leave the various fishing net floats, solid pieces of lumber, or bits of netting out on the street.  Someone, somewhere on the island will find a use for these bits and pieces.  

The plastic bottles, old toothbrushes and other plastic junk we collect fairly regularly and toss into our household garbage.  It’s all part of living on an ocean shared by billions of people.

Prettier treasures include jars, boxes, and bowls of shells and fascinating seed pods in every size, shape and colour.  

Monkey Hearts (Sea Hearts) and Deer Eyes drift seeds
There is a sun-bleached turtle skull that I found several years ago, perched on the top of our microwave alongside a bowl of the fragile husks left behind by sea urchins.  

Another bowl holds a collection of volcanic pumice gathered from the beach.  It’s useful for scrubbing calloused feet and I have a thirty-year supply, just in case. 

And sea glass, oh, my goodness, sea glass.  White, aqua, royal blue, pale green and even a few bits of lavender.  
My favourite pieces of sea glass
I collected so much that I finally set it free - salting our beach with twenty pounds of sea glass that I didn’t need. 

It’s amazing how many visitors find sea glass in front of our house.   

I kept a few choice bits for me to eventually have turned into a necklace or a bracelet.  


Moto-helmet washed up on beach
There is always an abundant supply of shoes on the beach, never a matching pair just lonely, mismatched, barnacle-encrusted shoes.  A number of the lost soles have found their way to a shoe-tree built by a guest at Punta Piedra.  The shoes decorating the tree come and go, depending the whim of passing dogs who take a fancy to this one or that one as a good chew toy.  

Along with flip-flops and stilettos the occasional moto helmet floats up on the sand, or a set of keys.  Questions like: Why? How? Who? Flicker through my mind when I see them.

Lawrie repairing fiberglass moon
The most useful bit of flotsam and jetsam that hit the beach several years ago was not found by us, but another islander.  

It was an eight-foot tall fiberglass crescent moon, a very old remnant from an out-of-business bar in centro.  

Lawrie’s sister’s house is called Casa Luna Turquesa so as a surprise fun gift for Linda and Richard we purchased the moon.  

Garry - airbrushing on paint
Lawrie repaired the battered fiberglass shape and an artist friend, Garry Sawatzky, airbrushed on a new paintjob.  The moon has become a focal point of the large swimming pool at Casa Luna Turquesa.   

But the biggest bit of beach junk, was and still is, the navigational light buoy that drifted in over a year ago from the channel at the southern end of the island.  It’s huge.  Unwanted and unclaimed by the various government agencies it is slowly beginning to flake away, bit by rusty bit.   

We aren’t allowed to remove it, or cut it up.  Nature will gradually take its course and in twenty years’ time no one will know it was here.
Slowly, slowly rusting away. 

In the meantime, I really need to convince our little rescue mutt, Sparky, to enjoy beachcombing.  

There are some pretty cool treasures to be found out there.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Painted Ladies of Isla

Great background for memorable photos
They are the grand old dames of Isla, the painted ladies of centro – the one level wooden houses that are scattered throughout the downtown area of the island.  

Built back in the 1920’s and 30’s they have survived hurricanes, infestations of wood-eating tropical bugs and progress. 

La Tablitas - Hemingways different colours again

Tablitas or Hemingways Bar is probably the most photographed of all of the buildings.  Located on the corner of Matamoros and Guerro Avenues it was a favourite local cantina with a noisy mix of people enjoying their afternoon beverages.  It is a prime location for wedding photographers to capture a bit of local history and provide a colourful background for a memorable wedding photo.  Tablitas closed on Monday February 29th under the previous management.  According to island scuttlebutt the owner of the building did not renew the operator’s lease and is planning to open a cantina under his management.  Hopefully it will maintain its funky and fun character.

Tony Garcia's auntie owns this pretty building
Another beautifully painted grand old dame is on the corner of Matamoros and Juarez Avenues.  

Built originally by Tony Garcia’s grandfather Heriberto Delgado de Tejada, father to Guadalupe Delgado Diaz, the house now belongs to his auntie Apolonia Delgado Diaz.  

Painted a cheerful combination of raspberry pink, sunflower yellow and pale blue it is an eye-catching resident of the neighbourhood.  Recently the doors facing onto Matamoros Avenue were open and it appeared that a lady had set up a sewing business. 

Quite close by is another of our favourite painted ladies.  Located on Juarez Avenue it is divided by two fanciful paint jobs.  

The southern half is bright yellow with blue, red and white trim, while the northern half is a tropical orange with white trim.  We have never been able to figure out if this is two homes, or one home and one business. 

Hard to see in the daytime with souvenirs piled everywhere
Most of the other interesting houses are located along the pedestrian only street where the souvenir sellers are congregated.  Some contain shops, others are a false front with the entrance located on the main road of Rueda Medina.  In the daytime these buildings are usually hidden under piles of merchandise, and is difficult to really appreciate their character.  

Silk-screen printing shop
Facing the square near City Hall is a fairly recent addition, La Casa Madera, which has replaced the silk-screen printing shop.  

They have done a beautiful job of restoring the old building, and judging by the photos on their Facebook page are a very popular lunch stop for locals and tourists.

We have been told that the old wooden houses are protected from demolition by city bylaws.  The one thing that they can’t be protected from are fires – either accidental, or convenient fires.  

Fingers-crossed, the painted ladies will survive for many more years adding a bit of fun and character to the northern part of the island.

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

Now Case de Madera Cafeteria

If anyone has more details on the history of these old time houses, please feel free to email me, or post a comment on the blog.  I can update the article as I find out more information.