Friday, July 29, 2016

Swimming with the Whale Sharks - again

Orectolobiformes Rhincodontidae
No matter how many times I swim with the Whale Sharks, those bus-sized sea creatures that include Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox in their annual migration, it is still a fabulous encounter.  

A group of island neighbours decided they wanted to experience swimming with the Whale Sharks.   
Did I want to join them?  Sure!  Count me in!
Yumiko, Andy, Julie and Rob

Until a short time ago I was convinced (via Wikipedia webpage) that Whale Sharks were neither whales nor sharks, instead they were considered the largest fish species in the world.

However a well-informed reader of our blog told me they are classed as Orectolobiformes (Carpet Sharks) and comprise the only member of its family, Rhincodontidae.  

If I knew how to pronounce those complex scientific names, I might be scared, but these big teddy-bears of the ocean eat plankton, krill, and tiny baby squid, not humans.  They have big scary names and gentle personalities. 

Victor Ancona
 Our friends, Julie and Rob Goth, recently established full-time islanders, booked our group outing with Xoc Lifestyles.  

It is a relatively new tour company owned by Victor Ancona and his Canadian wife Kasie Dobbs Ancona. The name Xoc, pronounced something like Shok, is Maya for shark.  

For generations Victor’s large and extended family group have been busy island residents.  

Victor’s younger sister Amaranta Ancona Cervera owns a hair and esthetics salon near the Poc Na Hostel on Isla.  

Omar Ancona
His well-known and popular uncle Victor Cervera Cervera has Casa Havana vacations, and previously Casa Havana Restaurante located behind the naval base on Juarez.  His beautiful mamá is Delia Cervera Cervera.  

Victor’s grandfather Wandy Ancona, who lives a couple of blocks south of our home, had a career in the Mexican Navy until his retirement.  Abuelo Wandy and Abuela Olga frequently enjoy sitting on their front porch in the cool of the evening, watching the street activities, and waving at passersby.

Victor’s love for the ocean is in his blood. He and his siblings learned how to operate boats at a young age, and he has many fond memories of staying two and three months at a time on nearby Isla Contoy while his papi, Esteban Ancona Argaez, fished in the surrounding ocean. 
Leaving Isla Mujeres behind

So off we go on our escapade; the five Musketeers, Julie, Rob, Andy, Yumiko and I.  Two more adventure seeking vacationers joined our wacky group, Shonna and Matt from Austin Texas.  

A quick run through of the rules and Victor cast off the lines, while his older brother Omar Ancona Cervera expertly backed the boat away from the family dock in the Makax Lagoon.  

Julie & Rob - let me at 'em!
Headed towards the northern end of Isla Mujeres we passed a number of marinas and beach bars, the car ferry, Playa Centro, and rounded the point by Playa Norte.   

We powered through relatively calm, turquoise seas to join the huge flotilla of tour boats gathered seventeen miles off-shore at the current location for the Whale Sharks.
Andy, check out this beauty!

Now comes the fun part – swimming with these beautiful creatures.
  Two people, per boat are allowed in the water at any one time.  Life jackets are mandatory.  And touching is not allowed.  Human contact can damage the delicate surface of their skin, and disrupt their feeding timetable. 

All set to go with dive mask, snorkel, and life vest Shonna and Matt are the first to jump in, swimming hard to catch up as the critters slid past with a lazy flick of the tail.  Two by two we take turns, some of us dive in more than once while others are content to watch from the boat.  The Whale Sharks swim continuously, like a shark, never stopping their effortless and but rapid movement forward.

Yumiko and Andy
The excitement of my adventure-mates is infectious.  

When it is my turn I am so electrified I forget to pull the diving mask over my eyes, wondering why my underwater vision is so damn blurry.  I sort out my mask, and eventually realize that ooo-ing and aah-ing underwater is not advised; it is a great way to ingest seawater.  

Craving a high-quality underwater camera, one of those stupendously expensive ones that take National-Geographic-worthy photos, I stare in open-mouthed awe as the black and white spotted leviathan cruises past my face.  

Wow, just wow!
Matt and Shonna
And then so quickly it was over, time to motor back to the island.  

Time for a bit of liquid refreshments and snacks.  

Playa Norte was a traffic jam of returning tour boats.  

Big and small, luxury and modest, dozens of boats anchored to allow excursionists a chance to swim, drink cervezas, and chow down on afternoon treats.

Playa Norte 

Our very able, and entertaining crew of the Brothers Ancona, Victor and Omar, dished up some tasty ceviche, quiche, with fresh fruit and of course cold cerveza.  

You just can’t go on a Mexican adventure without cold beer!

What a fun adventure!  Thanks to our neighbourhood friends for including me.  

Omar and Victor - our fabulous crew!
And you may have guessed; Lawrie didn’t join us.  He doesn’t swim with any creature that has the word Shark in its name.  

It’s that 1970’s Jaws-thing.

Hasta Pronto!

Lynda & Lawrie

Look carefully - he's there!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fantastic images for a fantastic setting

Danae Brissonnet, artist on scaffolding far left
Fanciful creatures from the ocean swarm a human figure holding a conch shell to an ear; listening to what the ocean says.  

Canadian artist, Danae Brissonnet’s very colourful mural adorns one of the new white walls of the expanded Aguakan waste water treatment plant on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres. 

Day one - Danae Brissonnet 

When I first stopped to chat I mistook her slight accent for Spanish and proceeded to torture her with my very limited Spanglish.  

Eventually we both realized that we had English in common, and communicating became a whole lot simpler.  

Danae Brissonnet - egg carton palette 
For a painters’ palette holding multiple dabs of vibrant colours Danae had creatively re-cycled a cardboard egg carton, designed to hold thirty chicken eggs.  Enamoured by the simplicity, she is hoping to find more discarded egg cartons.

A few feet away fellow artist, Hilda Palafax from Mexico City created a woman who languidly swims in the ocean with a huge critter – a Whale Shark.  Painting in the early morning light, and again late in the afternoon when the heat of the day had abated somewhat, Hilda (Poni) crafted an image that is both humorous and beautiful.  An illustrator and graphic designer by trade, Hilda is close to becoming a full-time artist.  It is her true passion. 
Hilda Palafax - painting woman and Whale Shark

Another truly fanciful mural has been painted on northern side of the municipal waste transfer facility.  The creatures are fun and colourful, and brighten up an otherwise dreary space.  

The close proximity of the three murals will attract a lot of attention from the thousands of Cancun daytrippers who buzz around the island via an assortment of golf carts. With the turquoise water and a long white beach directly behind the artists, the soft breezes and gentle waves have to be an inspiration.  An assortment of long-sleeved shirts, comical hats, and scarves protect skin unaccustomed to the blistering sun. 

Hilda Palafax, Poni - almost finished her mural
There are four visiting artists taking part in the Pangeaseed Sea Walls project happening this month on Isla Mujeres.  Unfortunately we never did connect with the other two artists - Tysa and Senkoe who painted the mural on the waste transfer building, and the new mural on the tourist information building.  Some of you may remember the fourteen spectacular murals from the original Pangeaseed project in 2014.  

Many are still intact, adorning numerous buildings in centro: the Mercado, several hotels, a kindergarten and our favourite mural, the huge one decorating the Palacio Municipal (City Hall).  The mural on the tourist information centre on Medina suffered sun damage and is being repainted this week with a different collage of ocean-themed images.

Tysa - mural at the municipal waste transfer facility
The original plan included decorating the bland exterior of the Casa de Cultura in centro, but when Danae Brissonnet examined the wall, she realized the surface was much too rough for her painting.  Too bad for the Casa de Cultura, but very fortunate for the Aguakan facility. 

How did this all come about?  Well, as we understand it, Pangeaseed is the parent organization promoting the idea in various locations around the world.  The local feet-on-the-street coordinators, such as Carolina Marin, are associated with an organization called Visual Junkies.  These are the folks who organize local sponsors, which walls can be painted, and accommodations. 

Caroline Marin, Visual Junkies and artist Hilda Palafax

Islander Eric Shott, of El Milagaro Marina and his very talented staff assisted in 2014 with accommodations for the artists, assembling scaffolding and carting heavy items with their marina company truck.  And again in 2016 Eric provided accommodations for the artists.

Rooster’s Café and the sister restaurant of Bertha’s has helped out with breakfasts, delicious coffee, and a wind up evening meal.  The municipality of Isla Mujeres arranged the walls to be painted, and meals at Pelayos Restaurante on Medina Rueda.  Made in nearby Merida, Maya Solar supplied bio degradable sunscreen and insect repellent suitable for use when the group members ventured out to swim with the Whale Sharks and rays.  OSEL paints have supplied materials for the artists.  
Danae Brissonnet - the hat just made me laugh!

These are just a few of the sponsors that we heard about, if there are more we would be happy to include them in this article.  The joys of electronic publications!

Whether you are on Isla Mujeres right now, or are coming soon for your annual vacation, a tour of the island in search of the multiple murals – new and old, is well worth the time.

Hasta Pronto!
Lynda & Lawrie

Also see our other article about the 2014 project:

Friday, July 15, 2016

Because everyone knows me ….

Welcome to paradise!

So many of the island business folks that we deal with on a regular basis don’t have signs for their establishments, and when we ask why not, the answer is usually something like, “Because everyone knows me,” followed by a shoulder shrug.  Well that works, at least for locals – but what about the newcomers?

Here are a few of our favourite businesses that we have found over the years – without the aid of signage.

Francisco Avalos -  replacing leather in our Mini Cooper
The first guy we found was Francisco Avalos of Tapiceria Caribe Tropic according to the business card that he gave us in 2007, but if you go looking for his sign: nada!  Nothing.  

Francisco does upholstery of every kind imaginable.  New cushions for sofas, new tops for boats, seats and tops for golf carts, totally new brightly coloured canvas for the big tour boats like Dancer and new leather upholstery for our Mini Cooper seats.  

Sofa and throw cushions - Francisco Avalos
When asked nicely Francisco will even do girlie stuff like create tailored decorator cushions, although he prefers larger jobs.  Francisco is located on Avenida Martinez Ross, south of Dental Splash, just before Delfino’s Veterinary Clinic on the same side of the road.   His building is orange, as are some of his vintage dune buggies, and his favourite pair of shorts.  We think he likes the colour.  Francisco opens after ten-thirty in the morning and works late into the cooler part of the evening.  

Santiago Aguilar's appliance repairs - or get your teeth fixed!
Then of course because we live in a hot, humid and salty climate we occasionally require the use of a mini-split air conditioner to help us sleep.  Santiago Aguilar Junior and Santiago Aguilar Senior, became our next BFF.  (Best Friends Forever).  Air conditioners have the nasty habit of expiring on the hottest night of the year, so having a reliable repair person on your phone contact list is extremely important.  It’s right up there with a sufficient stock of wine to last the week.  

The Santiagos Sr. and Jr., will also repair washers, dryers, and other assorted appliances.  Santiago’s place is also unmarked and located further south on Avenida Martinez Ross.  Recently two dentists have rented the back portion of the property and their business is well signed: Dra Martha Navarro, and Dra M.T.Gomez.  If you can find that sign you have located Santiago’s.  But they are most likely out on a call.  Here is Santiago Senior’s cell number:  998-895-3028.  We usually text in Goggle Spanglish as our verbal Spanish is still a bit awkward.  Okay, really awkward.

Canela greeting Lawrie at Orlando's Golf Cart Repairs
Also on the same street, on the same side is Orlando who does golf cart repairs for us.  

Again, no sign.  He is just a few doors north of Santiago’s property.  Currently the white-painted metal gate is about the only indication of where he is located, oh, and the collection of golf carts in his driveway or on the street.  

Canela (Cinnamon) the big watch dog will loudly announce your arrival, but once the gates are open she is very friendly.  998-259-8612 is Orlando’s cell number, and he is fluent in English.

Pepe - Aluminum, windows and glass
A little further on the same street, on the same side – do you see a pattern emerging here? – is our favourite window and glass guy, Pepe, otherwise known as Jose Alfonso Martinez Angeles.  He is the owner of Alucripepe Aluminios y Cristales.  

Both he and his son Pepe Jr., are delightful to deal with.  Pleasant, fast working, and fluent in English which makes explaining intricate details a lot easier. 

Pepe's guys delivering our refrigerator 2015
They also operate a sideline of picking up heavy items in Cancun and transporting them to Isla, or moving furniture, or removing old appliances.  

You can find them across the street from the elementary school past Isla Brewing, and Comex the paint store. Pepe Sr.’s cell number is 998-143-8825

And then there are the metal fabricators who are located on a corner lot nearer to the Super X-Press in the La Gloria neighbourhood.  These folks can create or fix pretty much anything metal.  Be darned if we can remember their names.  (His nick-name is Pavon.) And we don’t have their cell number either.  Usually we just drive over with the piece or part that needs to be repaired or replaced and the next day drive back to pick it up. 

Metal fabricators in La Gloria colonia - Pavon.
Apparently the no-sign thing does work for business owners, however new islanders will have to do a bit of detective work to find the right person to solve a particular problem. 

Ask any islander, and we will probably all have different answers for the people we prefer. 

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 8, 2016

Our two island paradises

Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Remember that really bad pickup line from the 1980’s?  “So, what’s your sign?” 
We are both Pisces, and that makes us just a little bit different.  

By different we mean, we love water and have to live within sight of it, hence our love affair with islands. 

Bowen Island, Canada

Our first stab at island life was Bowen Island, just off the coast of British Columbia Canada, near Vancouver.  It was a small mountainous paradise, about nineteen square miles in total land mass.  Back in the mid-1970’s when we moved to Bowen Island the population was only around twelve hundred people.  The mixed-grade school was so small it was in danger of being closed.  A student had to be invented to meet the minimum requirement of six students.

Car & Passenger ferry for Bowen Island 
Close to the ferry dock was a very small shopping area, with a couple of places to eat and the Snug Cove General Store operated by parents, John & Evy Lock.  It featured a butcher shop, fresh produce, cleaning supplies, dry goods, canned goods, and huge assortment of penny candy for the kids to ponder over.  

The store was taken over by other family members who eventually moved the business into a larger space, and away from the congested ferry dock.  Snug Cove General Store is still operating at the second location, but under different owners.

Harvesting cocos from Playa Norte, Isla Mujeres

Fast forward a couple of decades.  As we neared retirement age, we once again thought of living on an island – only this time we wanted to be warm.  Our choice was Isla Mujeres, just off the coast near Cancun, yeah - I know, the Las Vegas of the Beach.  Now, don’t get me wrong Cancun is a wonderful vacation spot. Founded by the Mexican government in the 1970’s on vacant stretch of white sand this is where all-inclusive resorts became popular.  A great experience for families, at a fixed cost. 

Playa Centro, Isla Mujeres
On Isla Mujeres, life is simpler here.  Yes, we have our share of tourists, with Cancun being only eighteen minutes away by passenger ferry.  

That’s a good thing; tourism allows the residents a way to earn a living and still have the qualities of life and community that makes island living so special.  

Cancun provides the benefit of a nearby international airport servicing the world, familiar stores such as Costco, Walmart, Home Depot, and Sam’s Club - making living in paradise easy, a no brainer.

Yummy mangoes for sale just two blocks from our casa
And yes, in the beginning we used the benefits of Cancun regularly, but as Isla Mujeres grows our trips to ‘the big city’ are less often.  

We have become a part of the community, frequenting local stores where the owners now greet us by name, and usually have exactly what we want. 

Should you move to a small island?  Maybe.  It helps if you are a Pisces, and are patient, but slightly impractical.  Life on an island isn’t always about tight time-frames and schedules.  Sometimes it is a lazy afternoon hiding out from the hot sun and thinking about what you should be accomplishing – mañana.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Previous life: we were both Bowen Island volunteer Firefighters.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Clothes for the nation

Three Amigos - fishing tournament shirts
Mexico is kinda unique in North America.  

Unlike its northern neighbours, who seem to love t-shirts emblazoned with sports team logos or various rock stars – Mexico relies heavily on political events to clothe the nation.  

Political rally for the Governor and Presidente (Mayor)

A favourite giveaway during election time is a t-shirt with the name and slogan of a political candidate featured prominently, perhaps accompanied by a photograph.  Even though we are residents, not citizens, and therefore cannot vote in the elections we have on numerous occasions been offered a t-shirt from a political party, but we can’t wear them.   As non-citizens we are not allowed to be involved in anything political. 

Crew & participants Fishing Tournament
Another source of free t-shirts for locals are their employers.  

Many of the tour boats or fishing charter boats outfit their crews in white, long-sleeved t-shirts emblazoned with the name of the boat.  It’s a great way to keep the crew looking professional, and to advertise the boat to tourists.  

The long-sleeved style is the preferred shirt when working out on the sun-reflecting water.  They are a hotter to wear, but do a better job preventing sunburn. We know from the half dozen or so times we have gone fishing with friends.   We usually returned in late afternoon hot and sweaty, and relatively burn free.

Local friends winners in Ladies Tournament 2015
A free t-shirt also comes with every entry fee for the numerous annual fishing tournaments.  

There are the standard white fishing shirts for the regular tournament and the prettier pale pink shirts for the ladies only annual tournament that took place this last weekend.  

A boat load of our friends participated in the ladies’ tournament last year and judging by the photographs it looked like they had a heck of a fun time.  Of course with fishing, there is always copious quantities of cold cerveza, bringing smiles to all of the participants.

Crews and particpants - long sleeved shirts
With the political giveaways, the locals are pretty savvy.  It’s a fairly common strategy to profess support for a number of different candidates until the t-shirts have been handed out.  We were out walking the other day, and spotted a clothes line with a number of t-shirts drying in the sun.  Wow!  We could go back at least nine years of political candidates, from all parties.  And best of all they are free.

Lots of different political candidates represented here.
We have amassed our own personal collection of free t-shirts gifted by business friends who wanted to spread the word about their company: restaurants, bars and brewery.  

Hey great!  Free clothes.  Thanks.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie