Friday, November 30, 2012

Guacamaya – Guadalajara – Guacamole, I get ‘em confused

We bought a guacamaya in Guadalajara and he likes guacamole! 

On a recent shopping trip to Guadalajara Lawrie spotted a five-foot-tall fiberglass and resin rendition of a parrot, which as it turns out was actually a macaw, or as it is known in Mexico a guacamaya.  He needed it!  It could add a bit of colour to our outside seating area on the patio.  A real macaw or guacamaya is noisy, demanding, and messy.  It can be expected to live up to seventy-five years even in captivity.  That is a bit beyond what we can realistically look forward to at this point in our lives, so a resin bird will be just fine.  

(Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief now.  We won’t be bequeathing an ornery screeching bird to anyone.)

Just for laughs we decided to document Guac’s journey, similar to the people who take garden gnomes along on vacation and then post the inane vacations photos on the web.  We have way too much time on our hands!  During the three nights that we were in Guadalajara we had to move three times.  Most of the hotels were filled to capacity with a variety of conventions, book fairs, and events.  Guacamaya was treated to a night at the Hotel Morelos in the historic centre of town, a night at the Hilton across from the convention centre, and a final night at the Intercontinental Hotel across from the Plaza del Sol shopping area.  Every morning we stuffed him head first into another taxi to make the move to the next hotel.  Are we having fun yet?

To get Guac back to Isla it necessitated a ride on an airplane.  We arrived at the airport, lined up for the check-in, and had a lot of giggles with the security people as they first of all decided whether or not Guac should be patted down, or if he even could be shipped.  

The decision was to get him doubled wrapped by the baggage-wrapping guys, and the airline would ship him.  It took two guys twenty minutes to wrap, and re-wrap this awkward piece.  Around, and around, up and down, and start over again.  

Finally, done.  Then we waited patiently at the windows of the airport, keeping an eye out for Guac.  There he is!  On the baggage cart.  Okay we can board the plane now.  

(What?  Wouldn’t you abandon your flight plans if your macaw didn’t make the flight?)

In Cancun Guac arrived just fine, sliding off the baggage carousel in good condition.  

Next was the ADO bus ride into Cancun, with Guac stuffed under the bus in the baggage compartment, then another taxi ride from the bus depot to the UltraMar boats.  

At the ferry docks we were greeted by family members Richard, Linda, Richard and Karen – who coincidentally were waiting for the arrival of four more Canadian friends.  They gave us a ride home, and then returned to meet the next boat with Chuck and Marcy Watt, Robyn and Al Crump plus stacks of luggage, and a very relieved dog named Sombra. 

By the time we got the bird, Guac, to our house he had been in five taxis, one airplane, a bus, and a boat, plus a car.  

Next time you are passing our house, come and say hi to the most expensive bird in the world; our guacamaya named Guac that we bought in Guadalajara.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Nothing remains quite the same

It’s been ten years since we discovered Isla Mujeres.  Ten years!  That’s a mere slice of time compared to a number of our friends who stumbled upon this island paradise 20, 30 or 40 years ago.  We are relative newbies to this island.  Looking back through some of our many photos I thought it might be fun to share a few of the older ones. 

The first time we visited we crossed the strait between the mainland and Isla Mujeres on one of the Magaña boats, the dank and smelly Caribbean Miss spewing diesel fumes as it laboured across the water.  The after-sunset taxi ride from Centro led along a bewildering series of dark streets, curving roads, and a potholed-almost-not-a-road, eventually depositing us at our rental house at Villa Makax, Steve and Lindell Lehrer’s cute little casita.  

Our first view a few days later of the famed North Beach was stunningly beautiful – sugar white sand stretching across the top the island, with an unobstructed view all the way to the Avalon Hotel.  Before the IxChel One and IxChel Two condo developments, before the Privileges Aluxes Hotel the only other tall structure at the north end of Isla was the old lighthouse next to Jax Bar and Grill.  Smitten with the island we returned several times either visiting family, or introducing friends to Isla, finally purchasing our lot in June of 2006. 

The changes we notice most are funny little things, things that have personal meaning for us.  For instance, the palms trees at Casa Luna Turquesa that now almost obscure the house.  We and two Canadian friends bought the first two palms for that yard.  We purchased two little sticks, with a few feathery leaves poking out the tops at a garden centre on the island.  

We hustled the palms back to Casa Luna in two taxis - with drivers that were competing to see who could get their passengers back the quickest.  Big tip for the winning driver!

New UltraMar docks under construction 2006
Other changes that have affected us personally include a much better choice of grocery stores.  The first visit we could only see a choice of eating at restaurants, or shopping at the convenience store, Mirtita, in Centro.  

By the time we had built our home in 2007 a St. Francisco Super X-Press had located in Centro across from the municipal plaza and the church.  

Opening Day at Chedraui Super Store December 2011

A second Super X-Press opened in Colonia La Gloria in 2009 and the Chedraui Super Store with a great bakery department, decent produce section and a good selection of wine opened in December of 2011.  

We still venture off to Cancun at least once a month to get the other extras that are not stocked on the island.  This week when we were doing the Cancun run we ran into at least a dozen islanders in Home Depot and the same dozen people in Costco a few minutes later.  We all had a good laugh about doing the circuit of Cancun.

But for me, the best change is the choice in passenger ferry boats, or as we call them, water taxis.  

Instead of enduring the rolling, bobbing, smelly Caribbean Miss, we can ride in air conditioned comfort on the twin-hulled UltraMar jet boats, and make the crossing in fifteen minutes.  

Thank goodness nothing remains quite the same.

Friday, November 16, 2012


Deep fried turkey - compliments of Michael at Jax.
Living in a foreign country with an eclectic mix of neighbours gives us a wide choice of holidays to observe.  Next Thursday the 22nd of November is Thanksgiving for our American friends.  We have been invited to join in the festivities – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and all the good stuff that we eat when Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving in early October.

It’s a bonus - two Turkeys Days within six weeks of each other! 

Revolution Day in Mexico
Then November 20th is Mexican Revolution Day complete with parade and other special events.   We happily honor all Canadian, American, and Mexican holidays.  We are equal opportunity celebrants.

Night of the Kings parade - Lawrie loading up on candy.
Sometimes that has its advantages, and sometimes disadvantages.  An American friend of ours from the island is currently in the process of renewing his passport.  He and his wife work most days, with Monday being his only day that he has to take care of tasks that require interfacing with bureaucrats.  He was informed the American Consulate in Cancun was closed on Monday November 12th for Remembrance Day.  Fair enough, that makes sense.  He was also told the American Consulate was closed on the following Monday November 19th in honor of the Mexican Revolution Day.  And I suppose that makes sense if there are Mexican nationals working for the American Consulate, but if you are the customer wanting service it can get a bit annoying.

Searching on the internet for Mexican public holidays produces a list that covers statutory holidays, civic observances, and religious festivities giving local people a reason to celebrate every month of the year.In December the celebrations start on the 12th with the Day of the Virgin Guadalupe and the festivities continue until the Night of the Kings on January 6th.Parades, music, good food, and lots of laughter.It’s great.Canada and the USA on the other hand have fewer festivities but still manage to include a long weekend every month with statutory holidays.It is frustrating for employers in any country who must pay premiums for employees to work on statutory holidays, but a nice change of pace for the workers. 

Another American tradition that we have been exposed to is the famous Super Bowl parties hosted by Charlie and Mary Simpson, featuring a pig roast and some type of game called “football.”  Maybe you may have heard of this game?  It seems to consist of dozens of over-sized, well-padded men piling on top of a leather ball, and then patting each other on the butt when disengaging from the pile.  Confusing to say the least; I’m just there for the camaraderie and the food.

We Canadians have also learned the finer points of playing another American pastime called Cornhole.  This game is called many things, corn toss, bean bag, bean toss, soft horseshoes, Indiana horseshoes, but in Kentucky or the southern part of Ohio, the game is passionately referred to as Cornhole.  For the last seven years Janet and Dave Davison have hosted this fun event on Isla Mujeres.   Starting around noon mixed teams take careful and very deliberate aim at a slippery, slanted board with cloth bag filled with whole kernel corn, measuring six inches by six inches and weighing an official sixteen ounces.   The fierce competition rages all day, frequently ending after dusk, played out under the lights of the ocean-side patio.  It is a winner take all battle culminating in the presentation of the coveted trophy.

Other times of the year we celebrate the well-known (at least to us) Canada Day on July 1st and in a very neighbourly fashion also celebrate US Independence Day on July 4th.  Then, because Mexico is now our home, we celebrate Mexican Independence Day on September 16th.  For added flavour we and a number of island friends also celebrate Robbie Burns Night on January 25th in honor of our Scottish ancestors, and St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th for our Irish forefathers.

By now we are so confused on our heritage and our traditions we don’t know if we are Canadian-American-Mexicans, or Mexican-American-Canadians. 

Does that make us a C.A.M. or a M.A.C. and does it really matter?


Friday, November 9, 2012

Balance, Muscles, Coordination

Barefoot, casually balanced on top of our eight-foot-high patio wall he slides the paint roller up to the top of the house, and back down again.  His roller handle is constructed out of three five-foot lengths Duct-taped together into one long, oversized handle. 

It’s hard, hot work in the tropical summer heat.  He makes it look so easy.  Up, down, up, down, dip the roller in the bucket and repeat.  Nothing to it. 

It’s all in the balance, muscles and coordination. 

We often marvel at the easy grace of the local construction workers, performing difficult jobs with little or no equipment.  Most worksites in Mexico would cause pulse-pounding night sweats for American OSHA or Canadian WCB safety inspectors. 
Scaffolding created out of lengths of wood, used and re-used for every job site. 
Ladders nailed together in varying lengths and sizes, the steps a combination of wide, narrow, skinny, and thick. 
My favourite ladder photo!
Bracing cobbled together from more bits and pieces of lumber, concrete blocks for leveling, and wire to tie the whole mess together. 
Our expressions of concern over their choices of equipment are met with good-natured grins, laughter.  “No problemo.”

Concrete work is tedious.  The sand, water and cement are mixed usually by hand or sometimes with a portable mixer.  Then tendon-popping, ligament-straining twenty-litre buckets are filled, handed up overhead and lifted again to the next set of hands, and re-lifted to the top of the structure. 

The expensive pumper-trucks are reserved for very large pours that can’t be accomplished in one day by the crew. 

Many workers are bare-footed, or wear ninety-nine cent plastic sandals or flip-flops. 

Work gloves?  Eye protection?  Dust masks?  Hard hats?  No, no, no, and definitely no.

 When our house and several of the houses along this road were built the contractor instructed the workers to dig down to the bed rock before pouring the foundation.  Some of the excavations went down eleven, twelve, thirteen, and for one house sixteen feet to find a firm base for the foundations.  Terrific!  It’s a pretty good bet these houses will withstand a direct hit by a hurricane, however, watching the guys dig the holes – I could hardly stand it.  There were no reinforcements of any kind.   The part of my brain that stores the little bits of useful or sometimes useless trivia to do with safety, first aid, and cave-ins was spinning at 70000 RPM, looking for info on what to do if the walls collapsed.  Thankfully the information was not needed – this time.

I know I have said it before, but Mexico reminds us so much of Canada in the 1950’s and 60’s before workplace safety regulations, before OSHA and WCB, when we too were casually indifferent to our safety. 
Now, we worry and fret about these guys, many who have become good friends. 
They are dads, and brothers, nephews, and sons.  Good guys, nice guys, hardworking guys. 
Hopefully their balance, muscles and coordination will keep them safe. 
Pets have good balance and coordination - Tony Poot Photo

Friday, November 2, 2012

Silly fun and sacred rituals

Sponge Bob and Spider-person
Halloween: it’s the one time of year when perfectly normal people happily make fools of themselves - playing dress-up!  Lawrie and I love costume parties, especially when there is enthusiastic participation of other friends in the zany fun. In previous lives we have worn some unusual outfits.
One year I was an armless-pumpkin requiring assistance to sip a drink through a straw.  Lawrie, on the other hand, was fetchingly attired in a green gingham dress.  Another year I was a bruised up accident victim, and he was the attending doctor.  More recently we were a pirate wench and a headless butler, followed by Miss Piggy and Elmo.  For the third year in a row, Curtis and Ashley Blogin hosted their annual costume party for invited guests at Villa la Bella.    

Sponge Bob and Spider-person who didn't have a clue!
This year my date was a very handsome Sponge Bob, while I was attired as Spider-person.  I had a slight costume-failure, arriving at the party wearing my costume backwards.  Apparently getting dressed without the aid of a mirror or without looking at the end result before heading out to a party is a very bad idea.  Sponge Bob was of no assistance with wardrobe advice as he couldn’t see his own feet, never mind what I was wearing. 
Sponge Bob also had a slight physical challenge; he could not reach his mouth with a beverage container so he cleverly inserted a length of clear plastic tubing up his arm, and into his mouth to aid with the consumption of a beer or two.  
Richard and Linda Grierson
 Halloween or All Hallows Eve is still a relatively unknown tradition in Mexico.  The dress-up, trick-or-treat customs originated in Europe and the British Isles and were brought to North America by settlers. Eventually the traditions found their way into parts of Mexico via television and stores like Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club and Costco.  Immediately following Halloween are two very important Mexican national celebrations. 
November 1st Día de los Inocentes honors children, and November 2nd Día de los Muertos honors adults.  In Mexico the rituals and celebrations venerating ancestors can be traced back about 3000 years to the Olmec, Aztec, and Maya civilizations.


The Día de los Muertos celebrations include building private altars using sugar skulls, marigolds, favorite foods and beverages of the departed.  Some families leave a pillow and blanket outside the door to provide a resting place for their loved ones.  In many settlements people have picnics at the gravesite of their family members, including the departed in the feast. 

The holiday is celebrated joyfully with food, music, or parades with elaborate costumes in the bigger cities.  The emphasis is on honoring the lives of the dead, rather than fearing evil or malevolent spirits.

Flowers being delivered via UltraMar for Day of the Dead
Our traditional North American Halloween merriments are small in comparison to the Día de los Muertos celebrations – but various North American and European symbols such as witches, pumpkins, vampires, bats and black cats are slowly permeating the Mexican festivities. 


We have recently started to participate in the Día de los Muertos rituals.  We have a small altar in the kitchen, decorated with photos of our parents, flowers and candles and mementos.  Just something to remind us of those special people. 

It is a fun time of year with the costume parties, and a contemplative time remembering our family members.

Special thank you to Ashley Blogin, Joyce Urzada, Richard and Linda Grierson for supplying the photos of the Halloween party.