Friday, January 27, 2017

It’s a very fishy island

Fishing at Arrowsmith Banks, 23 miles out -     
Isla Mujeres, just a few minutes away by passenger ferry from the tourist-mecca of Cancun, was settled generations ago by the Maya fishermen and their families. The fishing culture is still very prevalent on the island.

Winter residents - fishing off the dock

There’s fish to catch: You can go fishing with friends, or charter a boat from an islander, or sit on a dock, or stand on the shoreline to catch your finny dinner.

These two guys found a good spot to enjoy the day

Charter boats big and shiny, or small and humble, are docked at the wharves - their knowledgeable captains waiting to take folks out on the ocean for a day charter, or as a participant in an organized fishing tournament.  Unless you are prone to seasickness it’s a great way to get some sun, have a bit of fun, and exercise your muscles while hauling in the tasty treats.

Islander diving for dinner

Some of our island friends free-dive to depths of eighty or more feet to spear a meal. The level of physical fitness required for this activity is astounding. We are the sit-on-a-boat kind of fishing people, and then only rarely. 

School of fish

Fish to swim with: Tug on a pair of fins and add a mask and snorkel, or pull on the full diving gear ensemble and you can cavort with your finny friends along the world’s second-longest barrier reef. With sixty-five species of stony coral, three hundred and fifty varieties of mollusks, and five hundred types of fish the reef is a bio-diverse universe.

Depending on which section of the reef you explore you might find inhabitants such as moray eels, scorpion fish, crabs, lobsters, shrimps groupers, grunts, oceanic triggerfish, angelfish and the multi-coloured parrotfish as well as other creatures such as delicate seahorses.

Invasive Lionfish in tank at turtle farm

The red lionfish, originating in the Indo-Pacific region, has in recent years made an appearance in the Caribbean Sea, devouring many of the reef-cleaning species that maintain the health of the coral. There are annual cooking competitions along the Riviera Maya, featuring lionfish cuisine to reduce the invasive population. 

Although not fish, the reef is host to playful dolphins, giant sea turtles, peaceful manatees, majestic rays and in the summer months the gentle whale sharks.

Local fishermen repairing nets 

And fish to fry. The beaches on the western side of the island are strewn with small boats capable of holding five or six men and a pile of nets. These tough little boats and their hardy owners supply the island residents and tourists with tasty fresh fish whenever possible. When the weather prevents the boats from leaving the harbour the fishermen spend the time cleaning nets or maintaining their boats, or just shooting the breeze with fellow fishermen at their co-ops, cooperativas, located along the western shore of the island. While calloused hands deftly weave the bobbin of nylon yarn, mending rips and holes there is laughter and raunchy jokes. Beers are consumed, insults yelled to friends.

Waiting to go out

Fish can be purchased directly from the cooperativas, to prepare in your condo or apartment. The prices varying according to your island status; born on the island local, new resident, or visitor. The ability to speak Spanish also has some bearing on the prices. However, the fish is definitely fresh when purchased direct from the fishermen.

Yum! At Veradero Cuban Restaurante

Between catching and eating, or photographing and playing with there are lots of fishy activities in and around Isla Mujeres that can entertain and occupy any person no matter what their fitness level.

Come and enjoy a bit of paradise,

Lynda & Lawrie

Don't miss this! 
Get your copy today and join the adventure!

By Amazon Customer on December 11, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

Lynda Lock invites the reader to join the exciting adventures of Yasmin and Jessica as they search for buried treasure on Mexico's beautiful Isla Mujeres. Those of us lucky enough to have already experienced this magical destination will enjoy reading about some of their favorite places. I enjoyed the book's fast pace and I actually learned a thing or two about the Mexican culture that I so dearly love. On my next trip to Isla Mujeres, I plan a treasure hunt of my own - finding that frozen ginger Margarita! 

$2.99 USD on Amazon e-books
Free downloadable app to read on any electronic device. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Money, drugs and power - or lack of power

It is the fission of fear, the feeling of being a part of something dangerous, but not actually in danger that stokes the internet wildfires. The desire to be a part of the news as it happens: I was there. But I’m safe. I was close but nothing happened. I have a friend who was there and he said …..

TV Isla Mujeres photo, Cancun January 17th
When the recent shootings happened in Cancun the internet blazed with news, comments and speculation. The official reports maintain that the attack was a response to the new governor's anti-crime initiatives. The police headquarters were stormed by cartel soldiers who were unhappy with the authorities. One police officer and three bad guys were killed, and another five were captured. The police and gang members took the fight into a high-speed movie-style chase through the streets of centro, scaring city residents and the customers at Plaza las Americas’ shopping center into thinking they were under attack.

Local kids enjoying peaceful time on Isla
It’s a heartbreaking news story that will affect many of our island neighbours who are trying to eke out a living, to live a happy life, to watch their children grow and have families of their own. This area relies heavily on tourism. Millions of visitors from many countries in the world as well as from other parts of Mexico visit the Cancun-Riviera Maya every year. The stories of fear and danger will dramatically slow or stop altogether the flow of tourists to this area.

Lawrie & Lynda 1991, Switzerland with group of Brits & Europeans
We have vivid memories of 1991, the year of the first Gulf War. Americans were advised by their State Department not to travel to Europe, it was too dangerous. We, as Canadians, were not affected by the travel ban. For six months we explored Scotland, Northern Ireland, Erie, Wales, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Andorra, and Portugal with our pick of accommodations, even the ones that were typically booked two years in advance. In the six months of traveling we met dozens of Canadians, hundreds of Europeans and eight Americans. 

2001, empty Intercontinental Hotel in Bali
In 2001 a few months after the bombing of a night club in Bali, we spent a delightful two weeks in a charmingly generous and gentle culture – when hotels were nearly empty, and restaurants closing due to lack of tourists. Every Balinese national that we met said, “Thank you for coming to Bali.” Their small country was nearly destitute from the drop in tourism.

This isn’t a Mexico problem, it is a world-wide problem. Whether it is some crazy person shooting up a school, or bombing a cultural ikon, or gangs involved in turf wars – it isn’t going to go away. Please don’t let this stupidity control your life.

And other happenings in paradise.

On Sunday night the underwater electrical feed, a cable that runs between the mainland and Isla Mujeres was damaged by a yacht anchoring near Playa Norte, leaving the entire island without power for fourteen hours as the electrical company scrambled to make repairs. Then again on Monday night right around supper time – the power was cut to make additional repairs.  Okay, bad timing for the intentional power outage but when the crews are working non-stop they do what they have to do to fix the problem.

Traffic jam on the water - Sunday Funday at North Beach 
We started to think about the funny and slightly annoying things that happen during a power outage. Money that can’t be dispensed by ATM’s. Gasoline that can’t be pumped into motos and vehicles for a community that habitually purchases small amounts of gas daily. Or the lack of cold beer.

Providing lights for dinners - Ruth Lacey photo
One very inventive owner of a local taco eatery brought an operating moto (motorcycle) inside the restaurant, using the headlight as illumination for his customers. It was a two-walled restaurant with lots of open space for air circulation - probably not the healthiest solution but certainly inventive.

And then there were the teenagers, deprived of the internet or phone texting, who were forced to communicate verbally with family and friends. OMG fourteen hours without updating their Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat accounts, it’s a teenager’s nightmare.

Wind-proof lanterns came in handy during power outage
During the power cuts we realized we were actually well organized. We had propane for cooking. Fifteen wind-proof candle-lanterns normally used for romantic evenings on our patio, plus a dozen spare candles. Six flashlights stashed in various locations around the house, and extra batteries. Bottled water. Food in the cupboard for us and Sparky our short-legged mutt.  A hand-operated can opener. Wine to drink and books to read.  

Avid readers we stopped purchasing paper books ten years ago due to the lack of new material available when living in a foreign country.  E-readers are amazingly handy to have, as long as we remember to keep them charged and at least one or two un-read books downloaded and ready to go. Otherwise, they are just another useless electronic device when the power and the internet are out.
Beginning of another warm and sunny day
We certainly weren’t going to freeze to death in temperatures hovering around the mid-seventies F, or mid-twenties C.  Life was good. We were all set for the current situation.


And one final thought regarding the recent incident in Cancun - an interesting quote from an experienced authority.

"Chicago has had close to a 1,000 shootings in the last year," said Walter McKay, a former Vancouver police detective who is an expert on security issues in Mexico. "I still don't see a travel advisory on any websites for Chicago."

"The drug cartels are business entities," McKay said. "They're there to make money. And if they start shooting up and doing this all the time and all the tourists flee, well, what's the point of having the Playa del Carmen area under your control?"   Quote taken from Article by Nicole Ireland

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie Lock

By Amazon Customer on December 11, 2016
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase

Lynda Lock invites the reader to join the exciting adventures of Yasmin and Jessica as they search for buried treasure on Mexico's beautiful Isla Mujeres. Those of us lucky enough to have already experienced this magical destination will enjoy reading about some of their favorite places. I enjoyed the book's fast pace and I actually learned a thing or two about the Mexican culture that I so dearly love. On my next trip to Isla Mujeres, I plan a treasure hunt of my own - finding that frozen ginger Margarita! 

$2.99 USD on Amazon e-books
Free downloadable app to read on any electronic device. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

Islanders coming together to create a special day

Day of the Kings' Isla Mujeres
Kings Day, January 6th in all of Mexico is a very special day for children. It’s a very important event for Catholics in Mexico, celebrating when the three wise men purportedly arrived in Bethlehem with gifts for baby Jesus.  And it’s the day when local children traditionally receive their holiday celebration gifts.

Restaurant owner, Ruben Chavez again hosted a party for the island kids at his tiny little restaurant on Guerrero Avenue, located across from the post office. 

Diego Gonzalez - keeping things organized
For months Mexican and foreigners have been gathering gifts, organizing food, and assembling donations. John Pasnau, as always, was knee deep in the event.  His first mate, Diego Gonzalez and Diego’s family members pitched in to help out both with the pre-organization and all during the event on Friday January 6th.

A gift-elf, keeping the stacks sorted.
In 2016 there were over 800 toys collected and about 1200 children attended the event.  This year, 2017 the group gathered in 1473 toys, but again, there were more children than toys. John Pasnau says the event will be registered as a non-profit organization later this year. He is hoping that will help with his fundraising for January 2018. John’s family members also pitched in carting over three hundred toys to Mexico from American friends.  Valerie Pasnau had at various times suitcases filled with footballs, (we call them soccer balls), Hot Wheels, crayons and more.
Volunteers inside the restaurante
Gail Marie Stewart and the food crew constructed thousands of sandwiches starting at eight in the evening the night before, working for three hours preparing and wrapping and storing in the refrigerators. The gift elves spent hours sorting toys into girl-type toys or boy-type toys then sorted the piles again by age category.

Deanne delivering the hampers of food and supplies
The hamper crew, organized by Déanne Gray, put together boxes of food and household supplies, with Ruben identifying the people who were most in need of assistance. Déanne got the idea of an Advent Hamper from her grandchildren, and asked interested folks to place one item each day into a basket or similar container for twenty-four days. The night before the event, all of the food hampers were carted over to the IxChel Condo Hotel to be stored until the next morning. 

Ruben and hamper receiver
Ruben’s Restaurante was overflowing with gifts sorted and ready for the big day. There wasn’t a single space for a customer to enjoy his great food on Thursday and most of Friday. Even with three cracked ribs Ruben was in the thick of the event – in pain and stressed about the reality of not having enough presents – he was in motion all the time. This is not the only kind deed that Ruben is responsible for. He also donates 10% of his restaurant sales to the Casa Hogar orphanage located in the Rancho Viejo colonia, on the mainland portion of the Municipality of Isla Mujeres.

Waiting in line for hours!
And then there the big day arrived. The lineups started hours before the scheduled start time. Volunteers controlled the crowds, the traffic, and the flow of children by age to the two double-windows where elves handed out the gifts: girls’ line on one side and the boys’ line on the other side. The sandwiches and drinks were passed out through the side window in the garden.
Santa in sandals
Last year Santa sat in the hot tropical sun for hours, personally handing each child a gift. With the increase in numbers that is just not feasible anymore. Santa would have expired from heat exhaustion.  I know from personal experience that Mickey and Minnie, who were on-site for only ninety minutes, were suffering from the heat inside their elaborate costumes.

More islanders at Kings' Day on Isla Mujeres
At the end of the day there were more children than gifts, but not willing to let any child be disappointed part-time islander, Jackie Conlon generously asked John Pasnau to negotiate with the ice-cream vendor for his entire stock.

“The ice-cream cone story was fun.” John Pasnau explained, “Jackie has zero Spanish. I have 20% on a good day. The ice-cream man had about 2% English. With work we found out it was more about how many cones he had, which was doscientos, two hundred. Then I asked how much for all of them.”

Shocked, the vendor replied. “What?”

John patiently repeated, “All of them.”

The vendor replied, “15 pesos.”

John said, “Ok, 15 pesos times 200 is 3000 pesos, si?”

“Si,” the vendor happily agreed.

“Discount for buying all 200?” Asked John.

“Si. 15 pesos each.” The vendor nodded his head in agreement.

John: “So there we were. The proud buyers of 200 cones at retail. Santa has never done so poorly on a bulk buy.”  (Sorry Jackie, I don't have a photo of you and the ice-cream guy.)
Ice Cream man at Day of the Kings
Over the next few days the Facebook chatter and the private messages back and forth between the participants was amazing. Everyone was pleased, happy, and inspired to do it all again. The payoff is the big smiles.

Great work everyone and a big thank-you to you, Ruben Chavez. The man with the huge heart.

Lawrie Lock, Lynda Lock, Ruben Chavez, John Pasnau

Lawrie & Lynda

Super Organizer - Gail Stewart and Rita Lawson

Ruben’s helpers are listed below: I apologize if I missed anyone.  Contact me on FaceBook and I will gladly amend the list.

John Pasnau, Valerie Pasnau, Annelise Pasnau, Gail-Marie Stewart, Jackie Conlon, Diego Gonzalez Torres, Gelmy Garrido Escalante, Fernanda Gonzalez Noh, Emily Gonzalez Garrido, Marrion Nielson, Steve Ferree, Terri Ferrero Tywan, Julie Goth, Rob Goth, Déanne Gray, Brent Curley, Carol Gatlin, Kathy Nicholson, Karly Bandala, Patricia Cauich, Therese McComas Durhman, Christina Rich, Maria Delagdo, Aaron Greene, Ruth Lacey, Wanda Wagner, Jennifer Kelly, Rita Lawson, Annie Tatum Musil, and Alexa Aviles De a O.

Plus the hardworking restaurant staff: Jessica, Sami, and Ricky.

Mickey and Minnie would also like family members Richard and Linda Grierson for once again driving us to and from the event, and keeping a watchful eye on us while encumbered by limited visibility and movement. It’s always a challenge to move around with little fans clinging to our legs and hands. 

Julie Goth and Deanne Gray

Helen Nixon Tenke, Marrien Nielson, Ruben ...

Friday, January 6, 2017

First light of the New Year

Fireworks at midnight in centro
Mexico really knows how to party.  The festivities for celebrating the arrival of the New Year in Mexico begin late in the evening on December 31st, and romp on into the first hours of daylight. 

Tony Garcia photo - Dancing the night away

We have several times in the past nine years joined the party in centro on Isla Mujeres for the fireworks and the beginning of the dancing. We usually give up around two in the morning, leaving our reserved table and chairs for hardier friends to use.  A few times we have noticed the three and four-year-olds still dancing with their siblings and parents as we slink off to our beds. You have to be born into this culture to have kind of stamina!

New Year's Eve celebrations - Jimmy Picuri photo
This year we didn’t make the trek to centro, instead we celebrated quietly, just the two of us and our little mutt, Sparky, with a toast to the New Year and a few tasty snacks.  We were in bed well before midnight. When the booming explosions started I woke up briefly, thought about climbing to our rooftop to watch, then turned over and mumbled Happy New Year to my slumbering hubby. Maybe next year.

Waking at o-dark-hundred at six in the morning, Sparky and I decided to leave Lawrie snoozing and join the group that gathers to welcome ‘first light’ at the southern end of the island – the very first place in Mexico for the sun to strike.  I had an ulterior motive.  The event is featured as the opening scene in my second novel, Trouble Isla, but I had never actually dragged myself out of bed in time to participate.

Road blocked off at Punta Sur - no more room for vehicles
The pooch and I bundled into the golf cart and set off driving south to Punta Sur.  Passing through the colonias I waved at neighbours who were still happily partying in courtyards or spilling over into the roadways.  Loud music, laughter, the clink of glasses and the occasional small explosion from handheld rockets.

The farther south I drove, the more traffic joined the procession. Pickup trucks with mattresses laid in the back were piled with sleepy children. Motos with two and three laughing celebrants whizzed past. Groups of young men and women waved and greeted me with Feliz Año Nuevo as they trundled past, crammed six, seven or eight to a golf cart.  Almost everyone was still dressed in their party finery, vastly different from my jeans, sweater and athletic shoes. 

El Presidente Juan Carillo and his wife Pao Orrico first sunrise
Passing the landfill site I saw the flashing red and blue emergency lights of two police cars. Thinking I had come across an accident I fervently hoped no one was seriously injured. As it turned out, the police were controlling the traffic for a side road, where a large group complete with tents and chairs had set up along the edge of the cliffs, facing south. This is new. It could have been the new Presidente Juan Carrillo Jr. and his wife Pao Orrico with a large group of friends, or it could have been a church gathering. It was difficult to know with the quick glance I had before the police officer waved me on.

Arriving at the turnoff road to Punta Sur, I was surprised to see a police roadblock. The officer waved me through then replaced the traffic cones behind me.  Everyone arriving after me had to park along the main route, cluttering up both sides of the road. Sparky and I parked the golf cart and began to walk the block and a half towards the large palapa near the entrance to the park. There were cars, trucks, golf carts, motos, people, pets, and more people. An enterprising food vendor had set up near the palapa.  Music blasted over the crowd from a nearby DJ. Every available space was crowded with bodies; the tops of the stone walls, the seats in the seldom-used amphitheater, the gardens, and the plaza. People arrived with coolers of adult beverages. A few carried open bottles of champagne.

First light at Punta Sur January 1st 2017
I edged my way through the throng, heading towards a space where I might be able to snap a few photos and met up with two friends, Harriet and Richard Lowe, who have been making the ‘first light’ trek for a number of years. They were astounded at the number of people. In years past the small group was a combination of party-goes and sleepy early-risers, still wearing their pajamas.

Sparky and I hung around until the sky began to lighten with ‘first light’ and then I took a serious look at the number of vehicles parked in the area and decided it was time to go.  

We arrived back at our casa just as the sun was clearing the horizon. I brewed our morning coffee, then headed upstairs with two steaming cups of liquid brain-food to share with my sweetie. It’s a pretty great way to start the New Year.

Happy 2017, Feliz año nuevo

Lawrie & Lynda
and Sparky