Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Oh the noise, noise, noise, noise, noise. There's one thing I love, all the noise, noise, noise, noise!" (To paraphrase Dr. Seuss and the Grinch)

Local cutie in parade

Carnival is over!  Finished for another year.  Damn, we miss it already.  The loud music, whistles, honking horns, laughter and traffic-stopping parades created havoc for the five days, and we loved it.  As the third annual Island Time Fishing Festival and country music acts were winding up, Carnival was revving up.

There were events for everyone to enjoy.  You could watch the coronations of a number of kings and queens, starting at pre-school age, working up to seniors, culminating with the celebrity king and queen.  A number of dance competitions were held on various evenings at the municipal plaza.  Or you could take your pick of three different parade nights, if you were patient and didn't mind the confusion of start times, or start locations. 

Rio-style whistles, drums, horns

We decided to watch the first parade, on Saturday night, before Lawrie and I headed into Cancun to see a concert.  We picked out a good viewing spot along the Malecón and settled in with friends to wait for the parade.  One side of the Malecón was blocked to traffic to allow for a staging area.  However, the driver of the Corona bus apparently didn't get the memo and tried to enter the parade line-up from the wrong end.  Part of the problem was the bus was too tall to move under the electrical wires. These wires were scheduled, last year, to be re-routed underground as part of the new road work project  ... instead a Corona employee was stationed on the metal roof of the bus with a long piece of wood, assigned to lift the electrical wires up while the bus moved along the road.  

A logistics nightmare!

Then a number of floats, or pick-up trucks stuffed with dancers and celebrants formed up at the head of the line, blocking the float for the carnival king and queen.  The celebrity floats were then moved from the back of the line to the front, but someone forgot to tell the participants about the change in location.  So, we waited, and waited, and waited for the parade to start.  Eventually the celebrities found their floats and the parade began.  The enthusiasm of the dancers was contagious.  Everyone in the crowd joined in - yelling, whistling, clapping and cheering with great vigor.  Unfortunately with the late start we had to leave before the parade was over to catch the water taxi into Cancun.  We had tickets to see Pitbull.  Pitbull - a high energy hip-hop Cuban-American singer.  Yep, that's us.

More Carnival parade participants

We checked into the Ibis Hotel in the business district of Cancun and had a tasty dinner at their in-house Italian restaurant.  Then we were off to the concert, scheduled to start at nine in the evening.  We got to the football stadium around 8:45, and hiked to the end of the extremely long line-up.  Doing the ten-step-shuffle for forty five minutes we arrived within a hundred feet of the gates - just as they were slammed shut.  That side of the stadium was full, and everyone now had to run around to the other side and line up again.  It's quite entertaining to watch young women run in skin-tight jeans and five-inch tall stiletto heels.

Amazing Carnival costumes

Eventually we found a good spot in the general seating section, costing around $25.00 as opposed to the floor seats, starting at $150.00 finishing up at $500.00 dollars.  Then, yes, we waited, waited.  Waited.  Around 11:00 p.m. a warm-up act started, then another, and another and finally the main attraction, Pitbull, deigned to start his act at midnight.  It was a fun and lively performance.  And we were very entertained with people watching.  In the expensive section the seats were white leather sofas, with waiters attending to the needs of the audience.  Every long-legged blonde in the Cancun area was there on the arm of a purportedly rich man, strutting their stuff in sequined shorts or mini-skirts.  We watched one couple take a tour of the stadium in-field every hour, showing off her sparkly shorts and long legs.

The final events of Carnival wrapped up on Tuesday with the burning of Juan de Carnival (in effigy) after the late night mass service.  We, on the other hand, couldn't stay up that late opting instead to attend the very successful annual PEACE Mardi Gras fundraising event held at La Luna nightclub in Centro. 

Last night of Carnival - wrapping up in Centro

Today we are back to normal. 
Quiet.  Eating at home.  Reading.  
Life is good.

(We didn't get any photos of the Pitbull concert.  Didn't take a camera with us, thinking it might be confiscated at the gate.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Great Music & Deep Sea Fishing

                   782 photos later, I think I got it! 

Nick Norman and Jon Stone at Soggy Peso

Mal Richards introducing singer Danielle Braund
I think I captured the essence of the Soggy Peso country music event on Wednesday February 15th. 

As part of the third annual Island Time Fishing Festival, that includes a fishing tournament and a fabulous line-up of country music stars, the Soggy Peso Bar and Grill once again hosted a fun-filled afternoon of music and laughter.  It's a great way to raise money to help support the Little Yellow School House charity.

The afternoon started off with a thirty-minute performance by singer-songwriter Danielle Braund.  

She had an opportunity to showcase her gorgeous voice and original material, singing just before Nick Norman and Jon Stone arrived to perform.  Danielle is originally from Ontario Canada.  She and her friend Kristi Kirik both worked with Lawrie at Hillside Estate Winery in the Okanagan Valley BC.

Nick Norman and Jon Stone performing at Soggy Peso

The two guys were fabulous - entertaining, joking with the crowd while singing non-stop.  Nick's a South Carolina Southern-Baptist boy who dreamed of playing his guitar instead of attending Sunday school.  His killer smile and bluesy raspy voice are beautiful compliments to the smooth guitar notes.  He calls his music country rock.   Check out Nick's website for more information about his music.    

Jon Stone of The Jon Stone Band is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based artist who performs tributes to country music outlaws of the 60's and 70's.  He pays homage to artists such as Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and David Allan Coe.   These two guys played together last year at the Soggy Peso, wowing the crowd with their music and humour.

Enjoying Danielle Braund's music at the Soggy Peso Bar

And tonight, Friday February 17th, the annual Carnival festivities rev up. One festival is ending, and the other is just beginning! 

Thank you! Sally and Mal Richards, Soggy Peso Bar & Grill

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Festival Week on Isla Mujeres

Parade March 2011
Sequins, balloons, skimpy costumes, tropical-coloured feathers and the thumping beat of salsa music – it is Carnival time in Mexico.  We love this time of year, with 5 days of impromptu parades and dance competitions all over the island.  Traffic stops!  All the dancers pile out of a friend’s pickup and the music cranks up! 

Got the moves!

The group will do a fifteen minute routine, pile back into the pickup and head off to the next stop.  Everyone from the smallest kindergarten kid to the oldest grandmother knows the moves. 
This year we have two big events overlapping during the next eight days.  First up is the 3rd Annual Island Time Fishing Tournament and Country Music Festival starting Tuesday February 14th and ending Saturday February 18th.  Check the website for the details  This fabulous event features performances by music legends such as Phil Vassar, Craig Wiseman, Dallas Davidson, Rodney Clawson, Brett James, Tim Nichols, Tim Norman, Jon Stone and EG Kight.  

Phil Vassar February 2011 at Jax Bar & Grill
Then starting Friday February 17th the kick-off for Carnival starts with the Coronation of the various kings and queens, leading into an-all night party and dance that will continue until dawn. 

Here are some of the events listed on Tourism Isla FaceBook page:

Friday February 17th - 8:30 p.m. Coronation ceremony for kings and queens starting with the youngest and working up to the famous.
Friday February 17th - 11:30 p.m. Coronation dance continues until dawn

Queen and King of Carnival 2010

Saturday February 18th - noon to 5:00 p.m. music and activities on the public beach near Jax's Bar and Grill
Saturday February 18th - 5:00 p.m. start of 1st parade near Jax Bar and Grill at the north end of the island, near the fisherman's statue.
Saturday February 18th - 8:00 p.m. Noche de Fantasia at the Municipal Plaza in Centro
Saturday February 18th - 11:00 p.m. to dawn, dance at the Municipal Plaza
Sunday February 19th - noon to 5:00 p.m. music and activities on the public beach near Jax Bar and Grill
Sunday February 19th - 5:00 p.m. 2nd parade same route, same time  -  probably featuring different dance groups as each group must stop and perform for judges at the reviewing stands
Sunday February 19th - 8:00 p.m. Noche de Cubano in Centre, Dance competitions
Sunday February 19th - 11:00 p.m. Presentation de Show in Centre
Carnival Parade March 2011

Monday February 20th - a number of impromptu dance demonstrations at various locations on Isla  
Monday February 20th - Noche Regional Caribena, 8:00 p.m. dancing and 10:00 p.m. comedy.
Tuesday February 21st - 5:00 p.m. 3rd parade same route, same time  -  probably featuring different dance groups as each group must stop and perform for judges at the reviewing stands which can make for a very slow, but interesting parade.

Tuesday February 21st - in the afternoon Negrada,  Black Face and different costumes for dancers gathering at Municipal hall around 9:00 p.m.
Grande Finale Tuesday February 21st - 11:30 p.m. church services, and around midnight burning of the effigy of Juan de Carnaval in Centre

Carnival Parade March 2011

You may have noticed I use the words "approximately" and "around" when listing starting times.  The times are just a suggestion! 
This is Mexico.  The events are fabulous, however they seldom start on time. 
Relax.  Enjoy the sounds, sights, smells. 
Isn't that why you are here?

Friday, February 10, 2012

I Get Around, 'round, 'round. I Get Around.

Need island transportation?  Take your pick!

If it runs!  Drive it!
We have - per capita - ten times more taxis on Isla Mujeres than the entire City of Vancouver BC, based on my somewhat reasonably-accurate math of approximately 15,000 people on Isla sharing 180 taxis as opposed to 600,000 people in Vancouver sharing about 750 taxis. 

Hailing a taxi on Isla is not normally a problem, unless you happen to be looking for a cab the day after New Year's Eve, or the Sunday morning after the annual Carnival dance.  At that point taxis are few and far between as most of the drivers have been up all night either partying with friends, or driving the inebriated celebrants home.  The cab fares are posted at the Centro taxi stand, however, if you are one of the local full-time residents the cost is usually less.
Is it a car?  Is it a truck?
There is also a bus that circumnavigates most of the island about once an hour, or two buses that pass by every thirty minutes, that is if they both happen to be functioning at the same time.  This week I have only noticed the bus pass by our house once.  The cost is posted on the entrance door.  It is four pesos, or about thirty-five cents.  It's a very inexpensive way to get around if you are not in a rush, or feel like a sight-seeing ride through the various colonias (neighbourhoods).

Jeep Wrangler look-alike golf cart
The unofficial modes of transportation are a lot more fun.  There are golf carts galore that typically cost about forty-five dollars a day, or cheaper for a weekly rate.  And yes, this is a tropical island, and yes, you are on holidays but letting an underage or unlicensed child drive a golf cart is a disaster waiting to happen.  There are speeding ambulances, fire trucks, and police vehicles, dangerous propane trucks, or large tractor-trailer units, plus hundreds of taxis, golf carts, motorcycles and bicycles all vying for limited road space.  You are unnecessarily risking not only your own safety but the safety and livelihood of the other drivers.

One of the many uses for a moto!

As for golf cart choices there the standard four passenger or the larger six-passenger carts, most are painted a plain vanilla beige, while some of the newer ones have been decorated with bright tropical flowers, or military camouflage.  If you are really lucky you might be able to latch onto one of the incredibly popular '57 Chevy or Jeep Wrangler look-a-likes from Ciro's Golf Carts located on Guerrero Avenue.  (Carlos the manager of Ciro's can be reached by email:

And there is the wild and wooly assortment of personal cars, trucks, motorcycles, and bicycles that serve as transportation for the balance of the population.  There are a few vehicles that are new and beautiful, a larger number that are a five to six years old and starting to rust.  Then there are the ones that defy all logic remaining on the road as the windshield falls out, the fenders and doors warp, and the frame twists.  As long as the motor can still create enough power to turn the wheels the vehicle is used. 

Great exercise program!
But the mode of transportation that fascinates me the most is bicycles.  We frequently see people ride two-up, with one rider balanced over the back wheel, standing on two short metal pegs.  That takes talent!  This could be the start of a new fitness craze, with a complete body workout focusing on the core muscles, legs, and butt.  ("The Hitchhiker" - DVD's and fitness manuals available soon.)

But the cheapest and easiest method of transportation is walking!  It's good for you, gets you where you want to go, no cost, no waiting, no traffic jams, and a great excuse to stop for an icy cold beer along the way. 

Lace up your running shoes!  The K9K Run, Saturday Feburary 18th, starts at 8am, people are encouraged to walk or run.  All ages are welcome.  Plus people can sponsor teams in the name of their favorite sports team. 
More information on the  web site and hit the K9K button  The proceeds go to the helping out the animals on Isla.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Art of Basura!

Entrance to palapa workshop

 There is a funny little palapa structure that appeared, a year or two ago, south of Villa la Bella on the Caribbean side of Isla Mujeres.  First it was the location of a refreshment stand, offering cold drinks to passersby, then it changed into a workshop area with all sorts of unusual things hanging or laying around. 

Purchased by friends

Passing it regularly we never thought to investigate.  Then about three weeks ago Robyn and Al Crump showed us a table that one of their sons had purchased from the artisan who works in the palapa.  Wow!  His name is Antonio Fabre.  Originally from Cuernavaca near Mexico City, Antonio has lived on Isla Mujeres for about five years.  He creates beautiful things using stone, interesting woods, recycled metals, and other unusual items. 

The largest table in Antonio's display store.

"But wait, there's more!"  Al and Robyn said we absolutely had to see the bigger coffee table in the shop on Hidalgo where Antonio displays his work.  Okay, let's go.  We hopped into our car and zipped down to Centro around ten in the morning on a Wednesday - only to find the store closed.  We hung around, waited, had a cold drink, waited and finally Al called Antonio on his cell phone.  The store was closed for the day, but Antonio said he would be there in ten minutes.  He was.  The table was lovely.  We needed it. 

Re-cycling wooden gate into a table

"But wait, there's more!"  We wanted a second, smaller table for our outside sitting area. Leaning against an outside wall on our house was a wooden gate, from another house, that had been replaced by an aluminum gate.  Lawrie had rescued the gate thinking it might, in the future, make good coffee table top. 

We showed it to Antonio, and he said, sure I can make you a coffee table out of this.  Great!  A couple of days later Antonio dropped by our house with a choice of three designs for the second table.  We picked one, settled on a price for the two tables and left it at that.

Antonio and Max setting up new table
Wednesday February 1st he delivered both tables.  We couldn't be more pleased with the results.  The one made from the re-cycled gate has been painstakingly inscribed, line by line, with the lyrics of a very old song "Vive" by Jose Maria Napoleon, and rewritten by Antonio's friend Efrain. 

He also added our favourite saying; no regrets, no bad memories.  The base is a beautiful slab of Macedonia limestone from the Mérida area also called Crema Maya, set into a huge block of Zapote, a beautiful and tough tropical wood.  The larger table has a base made from an old anchor, with a porthole accent and carved fish swimming across the surface of the gorgeous tropical wood.

Beautiful lamps at Angelo's Restaurante

When I quizzed Antonio about his work he said he trained as an architect in Mexico City for two years, then when the teachers went on strike he moved to Barcelona Spain for a year to study photography. 

With his creative mind photography was excessively two-dimensional, so he switched to creating beautiful things from wood, metal, stone, and glass. 

Other examples of Antonio's work include the signage at Angelo's Restaurante, Casa Crump del Caribe, the large street-side mobile at Villa la Bella, and the gorgeous multi-coloured lights at Angelo's.

House name for Casa Crump del Caribe

At times Antonio is difficult to locate.  He is often in Cancun, or Merida or other parts of the Yucatan buying materials for his current creations. 

Here's his cell number
998-128-3060, and his email address is! 

Don't despair!  You can locate him, and it's well worth the effort. 

Antonio takes discarded items and turns them into works of art.