Friday, April 27, 2012

"Nothing Remains Quite the Same" ... Jimmy Buffet

Benito Juarez - National President

The head of a very distinguished-looking man rests on the ground, glaring a thousand-yard-stare, wondering how this came about.  His blade-shaped nose, piercing eyes, and neatly combed hair give him an air of quiet authority. 

"A victim of a serial killer?"  You ask.  No, the victim of a politician's whim. 

"Let's give Benito Juárez a new head." 

And so the painted fiberglass head was removed from his statue and a new version glued in its place.  The newer head is slightly larger, is turned a bit more to the left, and has a few more realistic aging details. 

The real Benito Juárez is remembered as being a progressive reformer dedicated to democracy and equal rights for his nation's indigenous peoples.  He was also a staunch defender of Mexican national sovereignty.  Elected President of Mexico twice, he died in office in 1872.

Decorated for Independence Day
In the past four years the Isla Mujeres statue dedicated to this distinguished gentleman has gone through a number of changes.  First his black fiberglass statue was painted a dazzling gold.

Then the paint on his protective barricade was changed - in tune with the seasons, or for special events, or in the political colours of the outgoing or the incoming Mayors. 

The white pillars were bathed in pink lighting in celebration of Breast Cancer Survivors, and then draped in red, white, and green bunting for Independence Day. 

Celebrating March 21st birthday for Benito Juarez

Next came bright green and eye-popping orange in celebration of his birthday on March 21st.  Then two weeks later the colours were toned-down with the current white and green combination.  For us, it's an amusing past-time to spot the changes around the island.  Just down the street from our house there is a small park surrounded by a tall fence made out of plastic PVC pipe and concrete. 

At various times the fence, and the nearby benches have been painted white and turquoise, pink and light blue, orange and dark blue, now white, pale blue and green. 

One of the colour combinations on fence
If you happen to peer over the edge of the wall, you can read the entire colour history in the various haphazard paint jobs. 

Bits and pieces of every previous colour remain on the sea-side of the wall, while the street-side is uniformly painted the new colour choice.

The other side of the park wall

On the eastern seawall the paint jobs are even more interesting.  The wall has been painted a kaleidoscope of colours over the years, including very detailed depictions of various countries national flags, or paintings of turtles and fish.  It is currently a hodge-podge of designs as the former colours fade, wear away.  Waiting for new directives from city hall.

Eastern seawall painted with country flags

The most entertaining story we have heard about the public face-lifts concerns the new seawall on the western side of the island, and the beautiful new whale shark statue. 

As dozens of workers rushed to complete the sculpture in time for the official opening of the seawall by the Governor of Quintana Roo, the surface finish of the boat-shaped base was suddenly changed from all blue tiles to a small amount of blue depicting the water, and the balance of the boat-shaped base was covered in bright red tiny tiles. 

Whale shark statue and boat-shaped base in PRI colours

Red being the colour of the PRI political party, and of the current Governor of the state of Quintana Roo - the person that authorized the state funding of  the seawall and the whale shark statue.

Blue is the colour of PAN, the arch-rivals of PRI.

Blue would not do!

I wonder what Benito Juárez would have thought about all this fuss? 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Secret Seclusion and Public Pandemonium

Hacienda Merida VIP
Step through the door and you are in another time - Mexico two hundred years ago.  The Mexico of haciendas, sisal plantations, Spanish nobility and Mayan peasants.  Colonial Mexico, with cool fountains, rustling palm trees, candle lanterns and hushed secret courtyards inside thick stone walls that protect the hacienda.

Secluded courtyards have been prized in homes since the time of the Greeks, and Romans.  The Moorish invaders brought this architecture to Spain in the 700's and the Spanish conquistadors brought it to the New World in the 1500's. 

The inner facing design provides defence, ventilation, and illumination for the occupants of the house.  The plants and fountains help mitigate the heat and dryness.  The design is very appealing, relaxing.  In Mexico it is still a very desirable design - when the space allows. 

Entrance to Hacienda Merida & VIP Merida
Outside the courtyard, the city traffic of Meridá rushes by on the street, a scant eighteen inches from the door of the Hacienda VIP boutique hotel. 
A rushing bus nearly catches my camera's leather strap as I lean back, snapping a photo of the entrance.  I gulp, and hop a step towards the doorway.  

Having escaped that life-altering-close-call, I hustle back inside to the quiet calm interior of the hotel.  Lawrie is already relaxing with a complimentary cold beer.  My glass of wine arrives moments later.  Civilized.


The Hacienda VIP is a tiny hotel with only four deluxe rooms or suites.  It is located on Calle 62, close to the historic cento area of Meridá.  It is the newer section of the nearby sister hotel, the Hacienda Meridá featuring eight deluxe rooms or suites. 

We were on a half-business-half-pleasure road trip first to Progresso, and then over-nighting in nearby Meridá. 

This was our treat - a night at a hotel rated "Best New Hotel in the World" by the travel company Conde Nast.  Lawrie and I have our own rating system; Dependables, Delights, and Disasters. The Hacienda VIP is definitely a Delight.

Beach vendor Progresso Mexico
Before the hushed privacy of our hotel, we were in the hectic and hot Port of Progresso just 30 minutes east of Meridá  looking after a bit of business. Progresso is on the ocean - but the Gulf of Mexico water is green, slightly opaque, nothing like the turquoise Caribbean Sea that surrounds Isla Mujeres. 

Traffic is bumper-to-bumper through the town.  Police stand in the intersections, waving drivers through red lights, trying to clear the back log of cars.  Horns honk.  Engines rev.  People laugh, shouting out greetings to friends.
The beaches were busy with domestic tourists, vacationing with exuberant children free from school for the week.  It's hot!  We're hot. The white sand reflects the intense mid-day sunlight.  We hide under a cool palapa, enjoying a light lunch, waiting until our 1:30 appointment with a government contractor.  

Beach Vendor - white sand, green water
Vendors trudge up and down the beaches, toting a collection of wooden carvings, yummy sweets, inflatable toys, plastic buckets and shovels. 

Our favourite is the man with the tray of sweets balanced on his head, shouting: "Meringues, meringues, meringues."  His hands stay calm, not reaching nervously to steady the tray.  His walk is relaxed, smooth.

Merinques, merinques, merinques
Later with our business successfully completed we arrive at our hotel in Meridá with its secluded courtyard.  After sundown with the heat of the day slowly dissipating, we venture out. 

A short taxi ride takes us to the La Tratto Restaurante, on Paseo de Montejo.  We sip wine and share an appetizer, people-watching. 

We sleep well at the hotel.  It's cool and quiet, silent. 

Peaceful sleep!

Maybe we have time-warped back to two hundred years ago before televisions, cars, airplanes disturbed the night. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Textures of Isla ...... continued

Goin' visiting
A giggling young boy runs bare-assed naked from his home to visit a friend, a few houses down the street. 

He zips down the middle of the road - passing a brightly painted house with a cat quizzically watching from a fence. 

A sign on a small store proclaims;  "Wonder" 

Mariachi Band on Hidalgo Avenue
 A group of Mariachis stroll Hidalgo Avenue strumming guitars, enticing restaurant guests to pay for a song or two.  "A little musica?"  the lead player asks, hope lifting his voice into a question mark.  

An eight-foot-tall Johnny Depp look alike struts on stilts hovering over groups of prospective customers.  "Come have dinner with us."  He implores, pressing a small advertisement  into friendly hands.

Neighbours out for dinner
Expats gather to share a dinner, a glass of wine or a cold beer - one last time before everyone scatters to their northern homes.  We prattle on in English, not struggling to communicate with a mixture of English and Spanish, laughing knowingly about a shared experience, a delay, a frustration, and the fun, oh so much fun.

It's all Isla.

Makax Cottage

We have now lived on Isla Mujeres full-time for nearly four years.  Our first experience was not as home owners, but as tourists in May of 2002. 

We rented a charming little cottage via the internet for one week on the west side of the island, at Villa Makax.  The after-dark taxi ride from "Centro" led along a bewildering series of dark streets, curving roads, and a potholed-almost-not-a-road, eventually arriving at the property.   The cottage was situated on a very private piece of land with a beautiful sandy beach and two congenial hosts - Steve and Lindell Leher - who have since become island friends.

Rolandi Hotel on west side of Isla

For the second week, we had not made any advance reservations and eventually settled on moving one block down the street to the small luxury hotel, the Villa Rolandi. 

The Villa Rolandi provided full-on pampering with gourmet dinners, an infinity-edge pool, and bar service anywhere on the property.  

Steve and Lindell on the other hand, well, we never quite got them properly trained to magically appear with a glass of wine, or a cold beer. Perhaps if we had stayed longer they would have been trainable?

A few years later we returned to Isla Mujeres, this time we were cat-sitting for family members while they returned back to Canada to deal with personal business.  We stayed at the house they had rented on the eastside of the island. There the breeze is constant, the waves are larger, the beach not so sandy, but the slightly cooler temperature were perfect for us. 

Our view on the east side of Isla Mujeres

Several years later we built on the windward side of the island for just that reason - cooler year around temperatures. 

We are still discovering and exploring. 

Two days ago we found a new lane, a undiscovered twisting sand-strewn road that lead us to a different view, a new layer, a different texture.    


Friday, April 6, 2012

The Textures of Isla

A Canadian friend recently mentioned that Isla has textures, many textures - layers within layers.  He's right.
El Varadero Cocina Criolla - on the inner harbour of Isla

We have had similar discussions with friends while sampling food at restaurants, or relaxing with a cool drink at various locations on the island.  Conversations that start out with; "This is amazing!  You wouldn't even know we were on Isla." 
We might have been sitting at the Cuban restaurante El Varadero Cocina Criolla, hanging out over the water in a scene reminiscent of the 1951 movie African Queen starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart, waiting, just waiting for the famed boat to putt-putt past.

Bar cente piece at Captain Dulche

Or perhaps we were sitting at the Captain Dulché Museum and Restaurante on the sand-swept west side of the island.  This location with its marine artifacts, metal sculptures from Cuba, numerous Maya antiques, huge palapa restaurant, and rotating bar is so over-the-top-beautiful it could be in any 5-star resort in the world. 

The view towards the Cancún skyline is gorgeous any time of the day, but the sunsets can be downright spectacular.

Today we had a terrific lunch at Zazil-Ha on the north end of the island, tucked inside the Nabalam Hotel complex. 

We gazed out onto Playa Norte, famous for its blindingly-white sandy beaches featured in the Corona beer commercials. 

Lawrie tempted the beer gods at lunch. 
He ordered a Sol beer, instead of a Corona.  Oh,oh!

Sol beer on a Corona beach!
A few million dollars in bad-boy yachts were anchored in the shallow waters of North Beach, allowing guests to swim in the shallow, turquoise water.  Playa Norte is the beach that most of the tourist sun-worshipers prefer with rentable beach chairs or loungers, restaurants, bars and beach vendors all looking to sell their wares. 

It's also a location that topless sunbathing is grudgingly accepted.  Topless, or wearing a thong is not the norm in Mexico as the people are quite conservative.  The women and girls frequently swim fully dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and underwear, while the men will remove just their t-shirts and swim in their shorts.

Enjoying North Beach

A little further around the corner on the northwestern side of the island are the public beaches where most of the domestic tourists and their families gather to enjoy the deliciously warm Caribbean Sea.
Across from this beach is Jax Bar & Grill.  Their second floor patio one of our favourite places to hang out and watch the action. 

The entertainment can include watching the locals playing a pick-up volleyball game, or savouring the smells wafting up from the street vendors food carts, or listening to the families enjoying their beach, their island, their country.

Just play!  Don't speak to me!

Sometimes we loaf around at Cocteleria Minino's, discussing the beauty of the island with our toes dug into the soft sand, watching the two eighty-something brothers play the marimbas.  They are still angry, not speaking to each other after a fight several years ago.  Awkward.  They make beautiful music together, they just don't speak. 

On the beach, between Cocteleria Minino's and the PeMex gas station is a worn, wooden booth where the fisherman clean and sell the day's catch.   Mmmm.  Good sounds, good smells.  Just good. Very good.

Birds looking for treats at fish cleaning station

There are many, many more layers of Isla to discover.  We are taking our time, enjoying, savouring every minute. 
Waiter, another Sol, please.   
Señor, otro Sol, por favor.



Walking, camera in hand, is one of our favourite things to do early in the morning, or early evening - snapping photos of the various areas of the island.  In sorting through our more than seven thousand digital photos of Isla, it is a chore to decide between photographs.  This photo or that one?   Have I overused that particular photo?  Does this one show the flavours, textures, layers better?  

Ah, well, there is always next week to show you more about our little Caribbean paradise.    To be continued .......