Friday, January 25, 2013

Personal choices – private castles

Casa Luna Turquesa on Aeropuerto Road
Houses fascinate me.  They are three-dimensional expressions of individuality, culture, history and of course the climate.  On Isla Mujeres there are a lot less regulations than in Canada governing what you can or can’t build.  

The Municipality of Isla Mujeres does control the height and the property setbacks, but not the style, colour or overall design. 

Provided an engineer signs off that the house can be built without collapsing under its own weight you can build your dream house.  The creations can be quite fanciful at times.

Our Casa - John and Lawrie waiting for a parade
Six years ago we scratched out the design for our tropical home, with paper and pencil, while sharing a bottle of our favourite wine.  It is a relatively maintenance free home constructed of the standard 8-inch concrete blocks, finished with three coats of hand-troweled plaster.  

The house has a variety of outside decks, and airy living spaces.  The upper deck in covered with a romantic, and very tropical structure, a palapa, made of grass thatching.  

Fun combination that would scare a design committee
We have the ocean breezes on the east-side, and can see the lights of Cancun from the rooftop deck on the west-side of the house.  

We don’t need central heating, and have air conditioning only in the bedrooms as electricity is very expensive in Mexico.  

We have tried to mitigate the cost by installing fluorescent or LED lighting, a propane-fired hot water heater, BBQ, and cook-top.

On the other hand all of our various Canadian houses were built true to time honored Canadian standards.  They were built of readily available and relatively inexpensive timber, with sheet-rock, or Gyproc interior walls, carpeted floors, and a cozy fireplace in the living room.  
Our previous home on Okanagan Lake BC Canada

They were all warm and snug designed to withstand the long and cold, sometimes really damn cold winters.  We had natural gas central heating in all cases, and air conditioning in only the last two which were situated in the dryer, hotter south-central part of British Columbia. 

Here in coastal Mexico heavy rainfall can occur at any time of the year, flooding the streets in a matter of minutes, as it is happening today.  

Houses here are not as waterproof as we are accustomed to; windows leak, the wind blows rainwater under doorways, open-air courtyards and patios flood, furniture cushions get soaked, and then it is over!  The sun comes out.  All is forgotten. 

More eye-popping colour combinations
We enjoy looking at the variety of houses that people have built, expressing their own individuality, their personality.   

And the colours!  

Island houses are joyfully decorated, painted with eye-popping combinations that would scare the bejesus out of a Canadian community design-committee.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Walking: here, there and everywhere

Heading out for a walk early in the morning

Slurping down my second cup of wake-up coffee I can hear my friend Marcy’s voice outside my front door: “hola, hola.”  She’s come to collect me on her morning walk.  Marcy is much more committed to exercise than I am.  I need to be pushed into a routine.  We typically head south on the Caribbean side, cut back west through the Colonias, and then walk around the pathway of the Salinas Grande before returning home. 

Fruit vendor at south end of Salinas Grande

Along our route we pass the fruit vendor’s makeshift stand tucked under the roomy shade of the trees at the southern end of the Salinas Grande.  

She has tables and free-standing boxes stacked with fragrant fresh vegetables and fruits, protected by an assortment of tattered old tarpaulins strung in the branches.

In the shallow marshy end of Salinas Grande there is a variety of birds; herons, storks, cranes, cormorants, a type of duck, and spoonbills paddling and hunting in the muck. 

Various birds in Salinas Grande
Further on a very sweet little pit bull-cross plays with us, begging for pats and belly rubs. We trek past a number of congenial young men having a quiet morning beer or two, chatting with friends, and enjoying the peace of early morning.  

They greet us with Buenos Días, and a smile.  Perhaps they are thinking that their way of beginning the new day or finishing the previous night is preferable to our method.

Pat me please!  (M.Watt photo)
Marcy and I are just two people out of the dozens who stride up and down, or around, the island in the attempt to stay active and reasonably fit.  Every day there is a steady stream of people passing our house. The long-legged former vice-principal of the high school, who now works in Cancun, marches past around six in the morning, with his arms swinging enthusiastically to increase his heart rate.  He returns an hour later, saluting a greeting as he passes our house.  

A little later on, another local couple and their sweater-covered lap dog do the same route from the Colonias into centro and back.  The little poodle manages to keep up most mornings, although occasionally on very hot days he gets a ride in the arms of his accommodating human.

Mango Café - "smoking chair"
Earlier this week, while Marcy was away, I trudged to the south end of the island to feed two kitties (not cats, I’m told) whose humans were out of town for a few days.  

Along the way I snapped a few photographs; the colourful smoking chair outside Mango Café, the group of workers lengthening the ocean side path, the four-year-old sign for the still unfinished General Hospital, and the construction of a beautiful stone wall in front of Isla 33 condos.  

Fifty minutes later I had reached my destination, chugged down a bottle of water, then fed and played with the kitties.  Retracing my route, I had planned to catch a taxi home.  

Four-year-old sign - General Hospital still unfinished
I soon discovered that on the Caribbean-side of the island there are so many walkers, joggers, and dog-walkers that taxis are few and far between.

Everyone is focused on exercise.  They don’t want or need a ride.  I was footsore and sweaty, and about halfway back to our house before a taxi appeared. 

Ah well, by the time I got home I felt righteous, very righteous, for all of my exercise.  

At lunch time I indulged in an order of tasty beef fajitas and a cold beverage at the Soggy Peso, with Lawrie, my other walking partner.  

He usually ambles around the various island neighbourhoods with me. 

Marcy, on the other hand, sets a brisk pace.   We hustle!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Express yourself - with a carrito de golf

Santa Claus parade 2012
Dozens of wrapped candies tossed by giggling children litter the roadway in front of our house.  The two visiting grandsons madly scoop up the candies, catching them mid-air, or zipping between vehicles before the goodies are squished under a wheel.  

Accompanied by many honking horns (or is it horns-a-honking?) a flotilla of vehicles passes by our house.  

In a parade there will inevitably be a number of golf carts overflowing with passengers who wave and toss treats to enthusiastic observers.  These are privately owned golf carts, painted, decorated and accessorized to express the owners’ off-beat personalities.  
Steelers fan!

Some of our friends have decorated their personal golf carts with the logos of their favourite sports teams, or flashy chrome hubcaps, or a variety of flags.  

Many locals have retrofitted their carts with plastic roll-down side curtains to protect them from tropical rainstorms.

Great decorating job!
One American friend has a very charming carrito de golf.  It is upholstered in vibrant orange and painted florescent pink, matching the exterior of her eye-catching house.  

For Christmas she added garlands, bows and ribbons, making her golf cart one of the prettiest on the island.  

Other friends were over-the-top with their holiday decorations, adding ornaments, wreaths, tinsel, strings of garland and pearls, reindeer antlers and even solar powered lights.  

We left a trail of broken ornaments around the island.

When the grandsons were visiting we borrowed a riotously decorated golf cart for a few days.  We entertained a lot of people, leaving a trail of shattering glass ornaments as we were buffeted by north winds, or we thumped over speed bumps.   

Golf carts are legal to drive on the public roadways of both Isla Mujeres and nearby Isla Holbox.  There are a number of golf car rentals outlets on the island where tourists can rent golf carts tricked out in camouflage, or as a 1957 Chevy, or a Jeep Wrangler, or even a fire truck.  

FaceBook photo - not the way to drive a golf cart
And yes, this is a tropical island, and yes, you are on holidays but letting an underage child drive a golf cart is a disaster waiting to happen.  There are ambulances, fire trucks, police vehicles, propane trucks, or 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. 

Quite recently licensing a personal golf cart on Isla Mujeres has become almost impossible as the taxi drivers keep up the pressure on both the state and municipal governments to restrict the number of licenses available.  But, whether you rent one for the day, or own one for your personal use the one thing the golf carts of Isla are not used for - puttering around a golf course.  There are no golf courses on Isla. 

More friends decked out for holidays!
No matter, you can still have a great time driving a carrito de golf that expresses your individual personality while circumnavigating a beautiful little Caribbean island.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter here …. Winter there

Our home in Penticton BC a few years ago
Shivering despite wearing a turtle-necked sweater over a second sweater, her image is projected, via Skype, from her house in the north to our computer in Mexico.   It is -5 Celsius, or 23 Fahrenheit!  The heating system is struggling to warm their house.  

The driveway has been snowed covered for two weeks, with never enough time between snow storms to completely clear it.  It is snowing again as we chat with her.  Brrr.  

Every winter a few of our dedicated friends and family members make the two-week trek back to northern homes to visit with grown children and grandchildren for the holiday season.  Are they crazy?  Probably.

Lawrie leading the way on a hike across our property.
When we lived in Canada Lawrie’s dad would make his annual sales pitch to his three grown children and grandchildren.  “Let’s go to Hawaii for Christmas this year!”  

And every year we all pooh-poohed the idea.  “It’s not Christmas without snow.  It’s just not Christmas with palm trees and sandy beaches.”  Were we crazy?  Yep!
Friends and family enjoying a winter lunch at Ballyhoo

In Mexico we can swim, snorkel, fish, boat, and buzz around on a motorcycle or golf cart twelve months of the year.  

Occasionally we experience a cold front from the north that drops the temperature by ten degrees, blowing fine white sand into our swimming pool and killing the more delicate tropical plants.  

Central heating for houses is unheard of here, so when the odd “norte” hits we simply add an extra blanket to the bed at night.  The “norte” also creates my only gardening challenge; finding plants that can survive the salty winds.

John and Lynda, 1986, x-country skiing
In the north during the winter months you can snow-ski, snow-board, ice skate, toboggan, build snow-people, and shovel the white stuff from driveways, or scrape the ice from your car windshield every morning. 

Annually in October we drove our vehicles to the local garage to have winter-tread tires installed, and then in April we reversed the process to switch back to summer-tread tires.  In later years with the advent of good all-season tires this tiresome chore was thankfully deleted from our annual to-do-list.  

World-famous Ice Wine harvest in Okanagan Valley BC
Every fall I'd carefully put my garden to bed for the winter, covering over less hardy plants with straw mulch, cleaning out pots of geraniums and stacking the terracotta pots in the garage until spring. 

In Canada we prided ourselves on not feeling the cold, wearing lightweight clothing during the winter months as proof that we were truly Canadian, tough like our pioneer forefathers, and able to face adversity. 

Friends and family enjoying a winter in Mexico
When we first moved to Isla Mujeres we snickered at the sight of locals bundled up in parkas, with toques pulled down tightly over their heads, and knee-high boots covering chilly skin.  Strangely enough after living here for four years, we are comfortable wearing jeans and occasionally a sweater during the winter months.  

Our northern blood is thinning, we are acclimatizing.  All the more reason to spend winters here and not there.