Saturday, December 31, 2011

'Tis the Season

'Tis the holiday season - to celebrate the winter solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, Posadas Navideñas, all leading up to the grand finalé of New Year's Eve. 

We enjoy experiencing the differences between our Canadian celebrations and the Mexican celebrations.  The Posadas Navideñas take place on the nine days preceding Christmas.  From the 16th to the 24th of December local processions reenact Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in Bethlehem.  The processions lead to a different house every night for the culmination of the posada - a small fiesta at the house.   Although some Mexican families have Christmas trees, nacimientos (nativity scenes) are a more common Christmas decoration.  Many families have elaborate nativity scenes in their homes or yards.  There are also large public displays set up in common areas such as the City Hall square or Centro.  The nacimiento is usually set up on December 16th, the baby Jesus is added on the evening of December 24th and the three kings are added on the Night of the Kings, January 5th.

Christmas Eve is called Nochebuena in Spanish. This is the night of the last posada.  Many people attend midnight mass and then have a dinner together with their families.  Christmas Day is generally a quiet day.  Gifts are not traditionally exchanged at Christmas but instead gifts are given to children on the Night of the Kings.  This custom is changing, as the concept of Santa Claus becomes increasingly more prominent in Mexican Christmas celebrations. 
Around 5:45 on Christmas morning, I was awakened by an unusually large number of vehicles, motos, trucks, golf carts passing the house.  Curious I slipped out to the upper balcony to see what was happening.  It was the revelers returning from all-night fiestas at private homes, or in some cases, night clubs.  There were golf carts crammed with eight, ten, or twelve family members.  Motos with two, three or four people.  Trucks with the pickup boxes overflowing with people still dressed up for the Christmas Eve festivities. 

It reminded me a little of when I was a child.  My mother had been adopted by an Icelandic couple in Selkirk Manitoba when she was around seven years old.  Their traditions included a church service late on Christmas Eve, and then the gifts are opened after midnight.  My mom thought that was a more civilized way to celebrate because then her four daughters wouldn't want to get up at five in the morning to open their gifts.  However, we never officially adopted her Christmas Eve tradition - although occasionally she would convince me - the youngest - to insist that we open the presents.

It is a bit odd to be commemorating, what we know as a winter event, under a warm sunny sky with the fragrance of flowers in the air, and palm trees swishing in a light breeze.  It's times like that I think about Lawrie's dad who every year tried to convince his family of adult kids and their spouses that we should all be celebrating in Hawaii, or someplace warm.  We scoffed at the silliness of such an idea.  Christmas without snow!  Christmas without ice!  Christmas without grey skies! 
What was he thinking? 

Now we know.  He was right. 


On December 26th Jackie Walker and Michael LeFines celebrated the 10th anniversary Jax Bar and Grill for their 10th Anniversary celebrations. 
Jackie created a video montage of the past ten years remembering the ups and downs that she and Michael had experienced as business owners in a foreign country.  Beside the financial interference of a corrupt local politician which resulted in a lengthy and costly court battle that Jackie and Michael eventually won, the property was severely damaged during hurricane Wilma in November 2005.  But as the sign says - "We're still here!"

Tuesday December 27th Lawrie was the auctioneer for the 2nd Annual Treasure Island fundraiser for the Las Glorias English School.  Maggie and Tom Washa, with their small army of volunteers put on a great event.  All of the funds raised go to scholarships for students who are unable to pay the tuition. 
There were pirates from many areas of the USA and Canada that congregated to invade Isla Mujeres. 

We love it because it's another excuse to play dress-up!  .

Friday, December 23, 2011

Elmo, and Pirates Invade Isla

Take three kids, add eight adults, toss in a few pirate hats, pirate wigs, and swords and eye-patches, and you get - a treasure hunt!

On Monday afternoon we marshaled the group at our house on Aeropuerto Road, starting with the first clue that directed them to the downtown area with instructions to"walk east to where lost souls gather" and to quietly look for the secret clue behind the Pirate Mundaca's gravestone.  Shhhh.  Don't let him hear you.  And be very respectful of other residents sleeping there.

From there Lawrie (Captain Elmo) led them through town, with clues to "walk south past the brightly painted building with a name that translates to either tomorrow or morning."  Then they trekked along the seawall looking for clue number three which then directed the group past the Naval base with various directions including "look for a man named Benito.  The fourth clue is behind the golden hands."

I had the easiest job.  I kept fifteen minutes ahead of the group in the nicely air-conditioned car, setting out the next clues.  One stop included the Casa de Gallo - "House of the Rooster" where Chuck and Marcy Watt helped out with clue number five.  They also provided a cooling drink of "grog" for the pirates.

Out on the road again the next clue included "Drive south past: beer so cold it will make your teeth hurt, and turn right onto the road to the newest house of God."  As it turned out I had to amend that instruction to avoid that particular route, as various carnival rides were now parked smack in the middle of the road.  Oh well, this well-equipped pirate had a cell-phone to communicate with the drivers to re-route the cavalcade of golf carts.

At the Hacienda Mundaca park, in the centre of the island, the group paid the twenty pesos per person entrance fee and stormed the park.  The sixth clue was inside the Pirate Mundaca's Casa "behind the light that does not shine."  I was waiting hidden in the bushes at the park, watching to see if the group would take the correct path to the next location.  Lawrie had dropped off at our house to make sure that the treasure was buried on the beach in front of our house.  

Our neighbors Ronda and Bruce Roberts snuck onto our beach after the pirate cavalcade left the area, and created a giant X on the beach, along with a terrific sand sculpture of a skull and crossbones!  Lawrie then buried the three sacks of treasure in the sand.


Meanwhile, still back on the treasure hunt the pirates were told to "walk into the Jardin de Mundaca and look for the source of water, then draw up your seventh clue."  


Finally the hot, tired, group arrived back at our house to look for clue number eight which directed them to our rooftop: "Climb Up, up - to where you can see the sea. Look to the east - then look down.  What do you see?"  Pandemonium ensued while the three boys scrambled down the tower staircase to be the first to get their hands on the treasure.

Great fun for everyone.   And a special thanks to everyone who participated.  Too much fun.

In case you think that we don't do anything but goof around, well, you would be correct in making that assumption.  Wednesday this week Elmo (Lawrie's secret alter-ego) made a guest appearance at the first anniversary celebrations at Barlito's on Hidalgo.  Judging by the many fans, big and small, clamoring for a photo with Elmo - he was a huge success!
Barlito's was jammed with invited customers and friends of Brad and Tiffany Wareing.  Fabulous event guys, especially the Piñata at the end of the evening.  Evan and Ethan (the grand-kids) had a great time at their, quote "first Mexican party."


Wednesday was also "Dolphin Discovery Day" for the guys.  They had a ton of fun there as well.  The Boyz head back to Canada tomorrow afternoon.  We've had so much fun these last two weeks with Evan, Ethan, and John, but dear God we are worn out!
Elmo gets the girl!
A very Merry Christmas, and a special Seasons Greetings from all of us to all of you!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

The Lock Men - on the car ferry to Cancun

Holy cow we're tired!  Ethan aged 10, and Evan aged 8 arrived with their dad, John, on Wednesday December 7th and we have been going non-stop since.  Where do they get the energy? 
On Tuesday morning we headed off for a two-day road trip, aiming for the first car ferry which I was absolutely positive left at six-thirty in the morning.  We arrived at the ferry dock in time to watch the boat leave at six o'clock.  Darn!  We turned around and headed back home to try and nap for a couple of hours since none of us slept much the night before, waiting in anticipation for the five o'clock alarm. Three hours later we were on the car ferry headed off for our adventure.  The first stop was the X-Plor Adventure Park near Playa del Carmen.  Wow!  What a great place to go. 

Good thing the 'crocodille' was asleep and didn't see me
We and the guys rode zip-lines, swam in the river, splashed down into the water off of the hammock zip-lines, bashed around on a jeep tour through the jungle, and finally Lawrie and I did the river rafting using small hand paddles.  Okay, I could give that a pass next time.  Our shoulder muscles were screaming in agony by the time we finished the activity!

By six o'clock in the evening we were done.  The guys loaded up one more time at the buffet and we headed off to our eco-chic hotel Retiro Maya on the beaches of Tulum. 
"Eco-chic?"  A bit of an oxymoron.  It was fun, but definitely not chic.  We had Mayan-type grass shacks on the sugar white beaches, with mosquito netting over the beds, and an outdoor shower/washroom.  Despite a slight mix-up at the front desk with the reservation we all eventually crashed into bed around nine at night. Exhausted!
Lawrie on the high zip-line

Up again early in the morning for a quick breakfast and then off the Tulum to see the Mayan ruins.  Ethan is quite interested in the Mayan culture, however, the prospect of another day at another adventure park took a bit of the edge off of his interest. 

Holding on to Tarzan the Iguana at the Tulum Ruins

And Evan, the younger brother, all he could think of was which park we were headed to next, Xel-Há? X-Caret? Xel-Há? X-Caret?  The rich history of the Mayas and the beautiful ruins of Tulum were pretty darn boring to him.

The Boyz at the Tulum Ruins

Around noon we arrived at X-Caret Eco-Adventure Park, which is right next to the X-Plor park near Playa del Carmen.  We could have stayed overnight at the hotel on the X-Caret site, but we really wanted the "Boyz" to experience a beach hotel instead, hence the drive to Tulum and back again.
So onto more fun and adventure - oh boy!  Or is that, sigh, oh, boy.  First stop was the Mexicana buffet to load the guys up with fuel for the afternoon.  It was pretty interesting watching them try out "poppers," the deep fried jalapeño peppers, chicken molé, and other traditional Mexican foods.  Somehow I think the dessert bar was the biggest hit for the day.  I discovered the great taste of Mexican Café Olla, make the traditional way with ground spiced cane sugar, cloves, orange rind, and cinnamon.  I'm hooked.  

Evan, John and Ethan on the Rio Paraiso River Boats
At X-Caret, after hiking some distance along the jungle pathway past macaws, flamingos, deer, vicunas, and the mushroom farm we boarded the big multi-person raft for the easy twenty minute Paradise River cruise.  It was fun, but pretty tame after some of the activities we had been doing. 

Our next adventure was the Subterranean River.  It's a swimming and snorkeling activity that takes about an hour from start to finish.  The best part of this event it was the first time that Ethan, Evan or John had been snorkeling - and they are now enthusiastic converts to the sport. 

Rio Paraiso boats at X-Caret Eco Park
 About four in the afternoon, Lawrie and I begged off any more activities and hiked back to the main plaza to sit down with a rejuvenating cup of coffee.  John and the Boyz carried on with visits to the manta rays, sharks, aquarium before meeting up with us as the water activities were closing for the day.  We could have stayed to watch the fabulous evening shows of horseback riding or traditional folk dancing but we were just too pooped out.  Time to head back to Isla Mujeres and our own comfy beds. 

I think we all agreed that X-Plor was the more interesting park for what we wanted to do.  They also have a very inventive system for capturing photos of the park users.  Everyone is issued a safety helmet to wear on the park property.  It serves two purposes; one is to keep your head from bumping into the stalactites hanging down from the natural limestone cavern that is the centre or 'heart' of the park. 
The other reason is the helmets have an embedded data chip.  The date chip triggers the various cameras around the park whenever the wearer is within photo range.  At the end of the day the photos for everyone in your group are downloaded onto a memory stick that you take with you - after you pay for it of course.  It's a great system. 

At the older park, X-Caret you have to wait around for the printed photos, or you can purchase them on-line the following day.  However, I have checked several times today and the photos from X-Caret have not as yet been uploaded to their website.
My sweetie and I - at the heart of the park

Today is a recuperation day - a day to relax and let sore muscles mend. 
Tomorrow - well, that's another adventure!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

NEW: Chedraui Grocery Store and the Iguanas Restaurante

When can we start shopping?  Now?  Soon?

Yippee!  We have a fabulous new grocery store on Isla - Chedraui!  For those of you who do not live on Isla, you probably can't understand the excitement amongst the 'gringo' community.  When Canadian friends come to visit they are amused by the many conversations that start with; "I found fresh milk at Costco, or Paul Newman's Salad Dressing at Plaza Las Americas, or English Muffins at Sam's Club."  As ex-pats, our life revolves around finding stuff that we want, crave, or need.

Helpful Chedraui staff

So now, on the island, there is a fresh fish section, a fresh produce section, pet food, salad dressings, turkey dressing, clothes, household items, and a bakery that is larger than the main floor of our house. Oh man, there goes the diet!  The new store will cut down on the number of times we go to Cancun for groceries, however there are still some very important items that they don't stock such as Fancy Feast cat food for my two spoiled cats. 

Staff welcoming first customers

The official opening was scheduled for Wednesday morning, but we heard via the island grapevine that a 'soft opening' would be held on Tuesday at 1:20 p.m., so a number of us stood in line outside door to be the 'first' customers.  Much to the amusement of the locals, Lo-Lo Lorena found a way to squirm past the crowd and be the first person up the escalators. 

Lawrie and I loaded up on good stuff, including six boxes of Twinning's Darjeeling Tea - my favourite.  (Okay, maybe we bought a few bakery items as well!)

One of these, and one of those, and a chocolate 'Raton"


Iguanas Restaurante & Bar at Marina Paraiso
The new Iguanas Bar has recently opened at the Marina Paraiso.  We popped in on Tuesday afternoon to have a look around.  The palapa-covered Iguanas Bar sits on the beach with a great view of the blue Caribbean water and a number of beautiful yachts moored at the docks.  The numerous 'jelly-fish' lanterns hanging over the bar create a colourful ambiance.  We had a pleasant time, chatting with Coleena Smithwick the bar manager and several other guests who had arrived on Isla via their private yacht.  It's a great spot to have a quiet evening drink and watch the sunset.

Pool at Marina Paraiso, overlooking the new Iguanas Bar 
The Iguanas Restaurante was still a couple of days away from opening, but should be operational by this weekend.  Regis Nicouleau, the restaurant manager who originally hails from France, mentioned that he was experiencing a few delays due to most of the island workers, and repairmen being occupied by the new Chedraui Store opening date.  Now that the grocery store is officially open, the workers are once again available to finish things off at Iguanas Restaurante. 
We are waiting with great anticipation for the opening.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Bulls - one, Little People - zero!

Waiting for the parade to start

The much advertised bullfight featuring little people and young bulls was apparently a fun filled event.  It was held at the temporary arena, recently installed on the Caribbean side of the island, just past Villa la Bella.  I was too chicken to attend, in case the bulls got the worst of the event.  However, judging by Life With Beck's video - it was hilarious.  Some of the matadors were dressed in devil's costumes, others were dressed in ballerina tutus, and still others wore padded horse costumes covering up their vital parts.  The young bulls were teased into butting the matador over.  It looks as if the bulls were the victors in this fight.  

The Matador, Osvaldo Hernandez, is a member of Los Enanitos Toreros.  They are a group of comedians from the Yucatan that travel to various cities and locations to demonstrate their skills.  (Photo credit Mirror News UK)
In the week leading up to the bull fight numerous posters appeared on the island advertising the event to start at 3:30 p.m.  We had a great giggle over that bit of information as we watched the group of horsemen, and horsewomen assembling behind the Naval base around 3:30 in the afternoon for the parade to the arena.  Eventually the dignitaries arrived, and the group did a hoof-clattering circuit of the 'Centro' and then paraded past our house around sunset, approximately two hours later than advertised.  But, it's the norm.  Everyone is so accustomed to events starting late, it becomes a self-perpetuating situation.  The participants don't arrive on time, because, well the event will not start on time.  And the event will not start on time, because, ah yes, the participants are late.

Anyone seen Clint Eastwood pass by??

As the group of riders paraded past our house, we could almost imagine them riding the dusty, cactus-strewn plains in central Mexico.  The traditional clothing, and the accompanying bull fight music featuring brass horns created an atmosphere reminiscent of an old high-plains cowboy movie. 
Hugo Sanchez Presidente (Mayor) of Isla Mujeres, and Julian Rincalde Presidente of the Benito Juarez district on the mainland, led the parade.  Senor Rincalde was riding the handsome black stallion shown in my photos.  The horse was decked out in a hand tooled silver and black saddle that could have been an antique Charro saddle, but judging by the size of the stallion, it might have been custom made just for him. 
He was a handsome brute!  (The horse, I mean!) 

Damn, I'm handsome!

When taking photos of the group I carefully made sure I was well outside the range limit of any hind leg.  I saw a number of hooves flash out in annoyance as the horses waited for the parade to begin.  Having once been kicked in the shin by a horse when I got too close, I have the utmost respect for the pain that a well placed hoof can cause.  I still have a slight dint in my left shin bone, dating back to 1969.

Next time this group comes to the island - we'll be in the grandstands, not too early though as they probably won't start until sundown no matter what the posters say.

President Rincalde background, and Presidente Sanchez in middle