Friday, November 29, 2013

When romance comes knocking: Nora and Henry

Nora and her son Henry
There was a light knock at the door of his mother’s house.  Henry opened the door, saying hola, but thinking: Wow!  She’s beautiful.  I wonder who she is.
The pretty stranger at the door was his mother’s neighbour, Nora Perez Sosa.  

Her mom owned a little business – part restaurant, and part grocery store – but Nora liked the tortillas that Henry’s mother made better than her mother’s.  It was her normal routine to pop over and purchase a few tortillas from Señora Sarita Cruz.

After living and working a few years in Santa Rosa California, Henry Cruz was back at his family home in the Municipality of Peto, located in the Yucatan one hundred and thirty-five kilometers south-east of Mérida.  One of nine siblings, Henry’s name really is Henry.  His mother heard the name on a radio program and liked it well enough to give her son the same name.  Henry laughs when foreigners ask him his name and he says: HenryNo, what’s your real name?  Henry.  No, I mean, what is your Mexican name?  He smiles good-naturedly and tells them it’s Enrique, but it isn’t – it’s Henry.

Henry - at Jax Bar & Grill 
Eleven years ago when Nora completed her certification for teaching she was offered a position on Isla Mujeres at the Gabriel Mistral kindergarten in centro.  It was a very good opportunity for her, so she accepted, leaving her home town, parents and five siblings behind.  Henry waited a short time before visiting Nora.  Once he arrived he quickly decided that if Nora was on Isla Mujeres then he needed to be on Isla Mujeres.

Fluent in English Henry easily found a job working for Jax Bar & Grill. He’s a well-known fixture at the restaurant; personable, efficient, and always smiling.  In the ten years since he started working at the restaurant he’s done just about everything - except the cooking.

Nora at Isla Mujeres Artist Fair
Even though Nora is busy with her kindergarten teaching position five days a week, plus raising two active young sons, she finds time for her hobbies – or as she says – her obsession.  Nora crafts wonderfully quirky accessories, earrings and decorations.  On the first Thursday of every month you will find her at the Isla Mujeres Artist Fair with a large display of her creations. 

We recently asked Nora to decorate forty-eight rather plain beer koosies as a jokey birthday gift for Lawrie’s brother.  (Koosies are those neoprene bottle covers that keep beer cold longer – vital in the tropics.)  The finished product was fun and fabulous.  The beer koosies are decorated with pink and orange, blue and red, yellow and pink, purple and pink – depicting the newest little-kid-craze, the Angry Birds.  My favourites are the six decorated in formal white and black that look like Angry Birds wearing tuxedos.  Too much fun!

Lawrie and Nora holding Angry Bird beer koosies
Because Nora enjoys her obsession so much, Henry is happy to help out anyway he can around the house and with the boys.  

Their oldest son, age seven, enjoys his Tae Kwon Do lessons and the younger one is a happy busy little guy.  

The funny thing is Henry’s oldest son is named Henry just like his papa.  And his youngest son?  His name is Enrique.  Somebody has a good sense of humour in this family.

Henry Jr, Henry (proud papa) and Enrique Cruz

Luckily for Henry, all those years ago when he was visiting his family in Peto, he was there to answer the knock on the door.  It was the knock that led to romance, and happiness.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, November 22, 2013

The PGA/Mayakoba Road Trip (Lawrie's turn to write)

Seven in the morning - headed to boat
Sometimes paradise is not what you might think. Oh, yeah, there are palm trees, white sand beaches and crystal-clear turquoise water; all the usual things you would expect.  But paradise is not always about the visual stuff.

Last weekend a group of guys from Isla Mujeres made the annual trek from the island to the PGA Mayakoba final round.  This was our fourth year of getting a bunch of friends together for a day of watching great golf, enjoying each other’s company, and okay, maybe a few cocktails. 

Our day started early with catching the 7:30 a.m., UltraMar boat to Puerto Juarez and boarding the 52-passenger luxury bus which would take us to Playa del Carmen.  

On the way we enjoyed a stop at Krispy Kreme at the south end of Cancun.  (After all it was a guys’ trip. Coffee and donuts are mandatory.)

Patricio - last to board the boat!
The Chameleon Golf Club is located inside the Mayakoba Resort complex, slightly north of Playa del Carmen on the Maya Rivera.  

The complex is so expertly in tune with its surroundings you can’t even spot a hotel and there are three on this magnificent property.  Developed back in the 1990’s by OHL (Obrascón Huarte Lain S.A.) this complex is a true jewel, environmentally sustainable, but still, a resort you can have fun in.  

On board the 52-passenger bus

Oh, and fun we had; following the pro-golfers from tee to tee, or in my case watching from the 10th green with a drink in my hand, being served by pretty girls and having the world’s best golfers play right to me.  Okay, now you can tell I’m into maybe my fourth or so drink and enjoying myself a bit too much. 

This is the only PGA event outside the USA or Canada, and as such attracts great golfers from around the world; players like Harris English, Mike Weir, and Justin Leonard.  Now in its seventh year this great tournament has top line sponsors just waiting to give away hats, beer, wine, bottled water, snacks and more. 

I wonder what Brian is taking a photo of?
Alas eventually the tourney is over and we walk, or stagger, back to the resort shuttle buses that will take us to our bus and the one hour trip back to the Isla Mujeres ferry.  

The party continued however as a couple of the guys convinced our bus driver to purchase a cooler full of beer just in case we got thirsty on the drive back. 

Headed home - more free hats!

Now you might think this trip is all about the guys, however, this year we sold raffle tickets on board the bus, and will continue to sell them until all of the 200 tickets are sold.  

All proceeds collected go to support the Ron Brown Scholarship Fund.  The fund assists qualified Isla students with expenses related to college or university education.

The Raffle Prize: is an amazing three-day salmon fishing trip to northern British Columbia in mid-June of 2014.  The fishing tourney is situated at a five-star floating fish camp.  It is the perfect location to land a 40-pound king salmon, or a monster halibut.  The prize includes airfare from anywhere in Mexico, US, or Canada to the camp, all the gear, guide, gourmet meals and fine wines.  Sound good to you?  Great!  Contact me for your tickets.  The ticket price is 500 pesos for 1 or 1000 pesos for 3.  You could be joining thirty-three other guys in the Reeling for Ronnie Fishing Tourney in northern British Columbia in June 2014. 

June 2013 - me, at the Reeling for Ronnie Tourney in BC

So, same time next year for our fifth annual Isla Mujeres PGA road trip!  It’s a date.  Fortunately for me, that’s a little bit away, as I am moving slowly today.

Hasta Luego

Camera's are confiscated at the entrance gate - so no photos of the players or the game.

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Tale of Two Islands Part Two: Just Being a Kid - on Bowen Island Canada

Stan, Gus, Archie, Scotty, unknown, and Harry in Bow-Mart
"What d'ya want?"  Demanded the tall, cantankerous man, stifling a grin as the little blonde girl flinched at his voice, stumbling with her penny candy choices.

"Ah, ah, ah. Twenty-five cents worth of bottle caps, and pixie sticks, please."  She stammered, wide-eyed in panic, worried he wouldn't let her buy her Saturday treats.  Sandi Stansfield quickly shoved her money across the counter, snatching her hand back, afraid that he might grab it.  Alik McLennan loved to terrorize the kids, but his bark was all there was: no bite.  He and Helen Holte owned and operated the infamous Bow-Mart grocery store-coffee bar that specialized in out-of-date packaged goods and strong, muddy coffee served with a side-order of island gossip.

The packaged goods at the Bow-Mart usually sat on the shelves for so long, a potential buyer would pick up the item, and blow the dust off the top to see that the heck was in the box.  Giggles between visitors could be heard as they prowled the few rows of groceries.  "Can you believe this place?  It's straight out of history."  The Bow-Mart's coffee-counter stools were habitually occupied by group of island characters, all men, all sitting on their specific stool. Heaven help the person who mistakenly sat on the wrong stool.

Bowen Island ferry to mainland
Geographically 6360 kilometers apart, Bowen Island BC Canada, and Isla Mujeres QR Mexico are so different and yet so similar.  The islands are small. They are both located near large cities.   Both islands rely on tourism as the main industry.  Located in the cold northern Pacific Ocean, our former home of Bowen Island is a hilly mountain-top poking of the sea.  It is twelve kilometers long and six kilometers wide, and three kilometers away from the mainland. Located in the warm Caribbean Sea, our southern paradise Isla Mujeres is a relatively flat wind-swept sand bar, seven kilometers long, and half a kilometer wide.

Both islands are a short ferry ride away from a significant metropolis.  Bowen Island is close to Vancouver the largest city in British Columbia Canada, while Isla Mujeres is located near Cancun Mexico. On Isla the main road circumnavigates the perimeter of the island.  On Bowen Island the hilly geography necessitates a different road system. The island roads spread out like fingers radiating from the palm of the hand, Snug Cove.  And of course, being islands, the inhabitants rely on boats to cross the stretch of water between the island and the mainland.

One of the country roads on island
Bowen Island is what is referred to as a bedroom-community, with most working residents commuting daily to jobs on the mainland.  Life revolves around the ferry schedule.  What time is the next boat?  Can I make that one?  Do I have to wait two to three hours for the next one?   For part of my working years I travelled on the car ferry for thirty minutes and then drove for an hour to another city New Westminster: five days a week.  At the end of my day, I would repeat the process in reverse, leaving me with strong visual and sensory memories of the journey to and from the island.

Memories of seagulls screeching and gliding overhead in a flicker of grey and white feathers, and the smells of pine and fir and the sharp medicinal odor of arbutus trees.  An undernote of the distinctive woodsy aromas of the native leathery-leafed shrub salal, tickled the olfactory nerve.  Cold water mussels, clinging to sturdy wooden pilings that had been painted with a pungent creosote preservative, added a salty-briny-tangy smell.  It is the scent of an untamed ocean bumping up against humans and civilization.

Angie, April and Allan Boothman family photos
In the sheltered cove were only a handful of homes, and two small marinas with power boats and sail boats tied to the docks.  On land the roads were narrow, with deep ditches on either side to carry away the rainwater.  On the frequent rain-drenched winter days the main harbour, Snug Cove, is dark and gloomy, pressing in on three sides with an impenetrable forest; a forest populated with wild deer, birds, squirrels, frogs and harmless snakes.  On sunny days the cove is a paradise of sunlight reflecting on the water, bouncing off the windows of nearby homes and sparkling on automobile windshields.

On Bowen Island in 1973, there were so few children the elementary school did not have sufficient enrollment to keep the school open.  There were five kids - and the school needed six to receive government funding.  Lisa Berube was registered as the sixth child, enabling the school to continue operating.  Her family moved from the mainland to the island once their new home was completed.  The 2010 Bowen Island population is listed at 3400 full-time residents, with summer residents swelling the population in July and August.

Sandi Stansfield, John Lock, Larissa Grierson - Halloween
Halloween night was a big hit with the local kids.  The School Road-Miller's Landing area of Deep Bay had the highest concentration of houses.  Many parents would drive their youngsters to the area for a convenient and lucrative haul of treats.  At the end of the evening youngsters and parents gathered to watch the community display of fireworks on the beach by the lagoon, while sipping steaming mugs of hot chocolate.  In the mid-to-late 1970's the island was inundated with new arrivals, people who were looking for a small safe community to bring up their young families.  In October 1978, I remember more than 150 costumed youngsters knocking at my door and shouting: "Halloween handouts, trick-or-treat!"  Big changes in just a few short years.

Lawrie and son John operating our Sealander boat
Sandi's classmate, Angie Boothman Malpass, has fond memories of riding her horse on Bowen Island with her friend Amanda.  There were fields, and country roads, and lanes to explore and sunshine, fresh air, and good friendship to share.  When they tired of riding, the girls would spend a long lazy afternoon watching Little House on the Prairie on television, sharing cups of tea and slices of toasted bread.  As Angie says: so innocent.

Even then Bowen Island had a decent selection of television programming, broadcast in colour.  The Canadian kids probably spent more time watching television than their Mexican counterparts, but they still had a lot of time to enjoy outdoor adventures.  In the winter while our Isla Mujeres friends enjoyed swimming in warm water and sunning on white sandy beaches our Canadian friends might have been ice skating on an outdoor pond.  Chilly!  But enjoyable.

Sandi, Larissa, John, and June - ice skating on pond
Another Bowen Island friend, Cliff Long was fifteen when he moved to the island from the flat prairies in Alberta Canada.  As a student Cliff remembers his terrifying Monday-to-Friday bicycle ride from his home to the ferry.  The older students had to commute to West Vancouver on the mainland to attend high school.  As he careened down "Seven Hills" on his skinny-tired, ten-speed bike, cars rushed past him, speeding towards the ferry.  In the dark winter mornings the rain-slicked roads were treacherous.  Despite his heart-racing rides Cliff managed to navigate safely to the docks, secure his bicycle to a post, and board the ferry.  At the end of the school day, Cliff faced the long ardous bicycle ride up "Seven Hills" to his home.  (Been there.  Done that.  And it nearly killed me!)

Lawrie driving Bow-Fest parade with nephew Jim on back
Summers on Bowen were a big hit with everyone.  Finally the ocean was warm enough for swimming. Jumping from rocky cliffs, or off the wharf was the quick way to get wet and past the shock of hitting the cool ocean water. Summer was also the time for Bow-Fest; a three day festival with rides, and games, and believe it or not - slug races.  You know, those slimy, soft, creepy things that live in the woods feasting on decomposing leaves?   A special track was constructed to allow several of the land-based mollusks to race side-by-side.  The race could be long and tedious as the shy creatures slowly slimed their way to the finish line.  A hot sunny day usually guaranteed that all of the contestants would curl up and refuse to move.  Sunshine, noise, and people: totally outside the comfort zone for a slug.

Very slow when made to participate in slug-race

As the Bowen Island youngsters turned into teenagers their free time was filled with beach parties, or house parties, or hanging out at the ferry dock, and listening to music.  And there were summer-time baseball games - featuring the Bowen Island Sluggers.  Good memories especially for Cliff Long who played on the team for a few years.

When they were old enough to drive vehicles, like teens everywhere in North American, they spent their summer evenings cruising the few roads on the island with the volume cranked up on the music.  I don't know why, but driving and loud music just go together.  I confess.  I did it too.

Most islanders are kind, hard-working, and happy to have a good life.  And I might add, a little quirky!  The people we have met on both islands seem to share a slightly skewed perspective on life in general, preferring to enjoy life rather than fuss over small details.  Bowen Island, and Isla Mujeres: a northern paradise, and a southern paradise.  We are happy to have friends on both islands.

View from our home at Eaglecliff Bowen Island

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Thank you so much to Lawrie's niece Sandi Stansfield Burton, and Angie Boothman Malpass, and Cliff Long for sharing their Bowen Island memories. Special thanks to Catherine Bayly of the Bowen Island Museum and Archives for the fabulous photo of the Bow-Mart regulars.  

Friday, November 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Islands Part one: Just Being a Kid on Isla Mujeres Mexico

Same family another generation - enjoying being a kid.
The experiences of just being a kid can be very different depending on where you live, or as it turns out the experiences can be very similar. 

Our Isla Mujeres friend, Freddy Medina has many good memories from growing up on Isla in the 1970's.  

Freddy's papa, Lucio Medina, built a strong concrete house on the west side of the island near the middle-school where he was employed as a teacher.  The house is located just off Rueda Medina, across the street from the school. When Freddy was about five or six years old he remembers attending a wedding in centro at the Catholic church with his mom and dad. After the wedding he became separated from his parents in the large boisterous crowd of people gathered to congratulate the bride and groom.  Being the only boy in the family of several girls, Freddy fancied himself as a brave little man.  He set off walking home.  It was around nine-thirty at night, the only existing road was lit with street lights that worked - infrequently.  He started out confidently, but by the time he was half way there he was feeling scared and lonely on the spooky, dark streets.
120 Kg Wasa caught by a family member - child is not Freddy
Thankfully for Freddy, the passenger bus was making its last run of the night south towards the scant number of houses in the little colonia.  He ran out into the street waving his arms and yelling for the driver to stop.  The driver, a good friend of Freddy's papa, told him to get on the bus, and then he drove him straight home, knocking on the door and delivering the wayward youngster to his frantic family.  Papa arrived a few minutes later, having been out searching for his son.  Freddy said that was the only time he remembers getting spanked with a belt.  His papa was angry, and afraid for his son's safety.  

Freddy's father unfortunately passed away at the very young age of thirty-five. The family then moved downtown, living in a house owned by his auntie, where the present-day Fayne's Bar is located.  Eventually they moved to a house on Matamoros where his mom and step-dad still live.  He has a very vivid memory of when his kindergarten teacher walked the class from their downtown school to Playa Norte (north beach).  He remembers it being a very long walk.  And then he smiled and added: "It was about three or four blocks, but that was a long way for a little kid.  I remember walking through the thick green bushes, and past the tall palm trees to the beach.  White sand. Turquoise water.  Fluffy clouds.  So beautiful."

Sharks caught by fishermen - 1980's 

In the early 1970's island life was very simple.  Electronic games, cellphones, and personal computers did not exist.  Cameras and televisions were scarce. The television programs that were available were shown in black and white. The boring programming consisted of cooking shows, or politicians talking, so kids invented games to amuse themselves.  Freddy enjoyed the company of his many cousins; a number of them were as adventurous and mischievous as he was.  They had swimming contests, racing from the beach around a boat anchored thirty meters off-shore, and back to the beach.  Every week the boys tested themselves to see if they were ready to swim the longer circuit around the second boat, anchored fifty meters away and back to the beach.  In the evenings a group of kids would sit on the anchored boats, fishing with hand lines, discussing really important kid-stuff late into the warm tropical nights.

Close in age, cousins Rafael, Tino and Freddy found a number of ways to amuse themselves.  One of their best inventions was to create boats from the thick foam packing discarded when a new outboard motor was uncrated.  They jammed five or six kids into the foam ship and bounced around the bay until the foam broke into small pieces.  The smaller pieces were then carefully collected and the boys would spend the next two or three weeks creating toy sailboats complete with masts, sails, rigging, and keels.  When they tested the seaworthiness of their creations, the boats would either be a failure requiring additional engineering modifications, or a amazing success, sailing away on the ocean never to be seen again. 

Freddy with his beautiful mom, and five gorgeous sisters.
Nearby, Remigio, the owner of a tiny tienda created light weight kites from a combination of paper and coconut fronds.  Available in a variety of colours the kites, or papalotes, cost one peso each.  Perpetually short of cash, Freddy and his cousins decided that instead of paying the one peso, they would create their own aerial toys.  Eventually as they gained experience the papalotes grew in size, becoming more elaborate and larger.  With the addition of a razor blade attached to the tail, the boys created a fighting kite that could battle for supremacy of the sky over their stretch of the beach.  A half-buried wooden boat served as the launch site for the fighting kites, with the losers crashing ignominiously into the surf.

This was Cancun in 1970 - imagine how rustic Isla was then.
With the success of these aerial fighting machines, Freddy's uncles decided to make even larger papalotes.  They were constructed from the heavy paper sacks discarded by the tortilla bakery.  When full, the sacks contained about forty-five kilos of corn flour.  With strong wooden ribs, and a rope to hold the kite the men waited until the stiff winds arrived in the spring to launch their creations.  Each kite required two or three men, or in the case of the younger crowd up to ten little kids to hold the ropes.  Even then the winds would occasionally pull the kids squealing with laughter towards the ocean.

And to make money to pay for their supplies Freddy and his cousins created a business - of sorts.  The island streets at that time were paved with packed sand, but at the intersection of Matamoros and Medina, the sand was surprizingly soft.  Suspiciously soft.  A handful of the cousins would casually perch on either side of the street, waiting up to thirty minutes for the rare vehicle to appear.  When the vehicle stopped at the stop sign, be it the soft drink truck, or the snack delivery van, or a tourist's vehicle the soft sand would trap the front wheels.  One of the older boys would run up to the driver cheerfully offering assistance, telling the driver to remain in the vehicle and to wait for his instructions.  

Yadira and Freddy - at a costume party
Once the front-man had negotiated the price, every kid would jump to their assigned task; removing sand from around the front wheels, or stuffing rocks or pieces of wood into the holes to help with traction.  Next all the kids would congregate at the back and push the vehicle out.  As a precaution a large rock or piece of wood was placed, beforehand, directly in the path of the vehicle to ensure that the driver would not leave without paying for the rescue service. 

There is a history of pirates such as LaFitte, and Mundaca residing on Isla.  It would seem that the boys paid particularly close attention to this part of the island history!

To be continued next week .......with memories of Canadian friends who grew up in the 1970's on Bowen Island BC, Canda.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

I'm sorry about the lack of photos ..... but well, cameras were very scarce!  
All of the older photos are from various family members' collections.  The last photo of Freddy and Yadira dancing at her "dress as a Mexican" birthday party is from our photos.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Rescue Warriors - Navy Search and Rescue

Rescuing the sailboat
Whipping the tops off the 5 meter-high waves, the relentless 50-knot wind and pounding rain battered the drifting sailboat. 

"Mayday. Mayday.  Mayday.   This is the vessel Arawack.  We require assistance."   The firm voice repeat again, and again.  

He prayed to a forgotten God.  Let someone hear us.  Please.

BR-103 and crew on a calmer day
The reply came in Spanish-accented English, calmly asking for their location and situation.  Search and Rescue BR-103 was dispatched from the Isla Mujeres naval base to locate and assist the yacht.   The skipper, Capitan de Corbeta C.G. IM, Nicolas Lorenzo Huerta Perez, is a well-known Isla Mujeres islander.   As the sleek ship pounded through the waves Capitan Huerta thought about the situation they were facing.  Two men, one in his eighties, and the other just a year or two younger were on the stricken pleasure craft.  What is God's name would possess two elderly men to be sailing by themselves?  He wondered, shaking his head in bemused puzzlement.  

BR-103 - Naval Appreciation Day, memorial service at sea
Stationed on Isla Mujeres for more than four years, Capitan Huerta was the commanding officer of the Search and Rescue group.  He and his crew of twenty-eight men operate three boats, rescuing on average around one-hundred and twenty people per year.  It was a rewarding job, and Nicolas enjoyed every adventure.  Sometimes, he thought, you just had to wonder at the situations people got themselves into.

Eventually locating the US registered Arawack, the navy rescue crew struggled to put repair technicians on board the disabled yacht.  Sliding into the deep troughs of the waves, and riding high on the swells the two boats tossed and jerked in a macabre dance while personnel from the navy boat transferred to the pleasure craft.  Visibility was terrible.  The winds fierce.  And the waves increasing in size. 

Side-view of BR-103 during training sessions
Once on board the Arawack, The navy technicians wrestled for over two hours to untangling the sails and lines from the propeller, and making other necessary repairs.  Then a line was secured to the Search and Rescue boat, the BR-103, and the pleasure boat began its long, uncomfortable journey to Isla Mujeres. 

After fifty arduous hours, since the BR-103 had been dispatched from Isla Mujeres, the two boats arrived back at the Naval docks.  Captain Huerta later discovered that the skipper of the Arawack had hoped that the US Coast Guard would have come to their rescue as he wanted to be towed back to an American marina.

Getting ready for Hurricane Rina in October 2011
But the story does not end here.  The very next day, the Mexican Navy Search and Rescue received a distress call from a boat that had problems with their propulsion.  They also had problems with their sails.  The two people on board the yacht - Arawack - were the same two elderly gentlemen that had been rescued the day before.  They had sailed away to continue their adventure - only to meet with mishap once again!


Nicolas Huerta and his lovely wife Lupita, plus their six children have recently been transferred to Acapulco.  He is currently the Academic Director at the Mexican Navy School of Search, Rescue, and Diving.  Although he has always served on bases located in Mexico, Nicolas is very well traveled.  He has been to many countries including the USA, Venezuela, Panama, Chile, Spain, Portugal, England, Finland, Russia, Germany, Denmark, Guatemala, and our home country of Canada.  

They are missed by their many island friends.  

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie