Friday, June 27, 2014

Amazing Stairways

Tiled artwork on San Francisco stairway
Swirls of patterns, and flowers, and geometric designs scramble up the stairs, enticing pedestrians to climb higher and higher still. The eye-catching designs make climbing the steep stairway a pleasant experience instead of a hot arduous task.

Street art is currently very popular in larger cities around the world; cities like San Francisco California, Seoul South Korea, Valparaíso Chile, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, or Rio de Janeiro Brazil. A quick search on the internet for “amazing stairways around the world” will bring up a plethora of steps decorated with realistic faces, piano keyboards, or perhaps a garden of flowers.

(Photo from the Bored Panda webpage)

This hotel is at the top of the Uribe stairway
On Isla Mujeres we have two sets of public stairways. One set is on Rueda Medina between the Navy base, and Bahai Chachi Hotel. 

The street sign says: Andador Virgilio Uribe. It is a shortcut from Medina the main road on the west side of the island to Juarez, the avenue that runs along the back of the Navy base and north through town. 

The other larger set is deep in the colonias, running east from Paseo de Aves the double-laned road to a single lane neighbourhood street. They are both serviceable, plain, and boring concrete.

Boring serviceable concrete stairway on Isla Mujeres
Every time I see either one of those two stairways I think: what could be done here? Flowers? Colour? Tiles? Something! 

Isla has a high percentage of artistic people living and working on the island. There could be an opportunity to showcase our little paradise with beautiful creations. I am not advocating self-centered tagging or graffiti, but well thought-out plans, with pleasing designs and bold colours. 

Almost finished - Goddess IxChel

Our neighbours Ronda and Bruce Roberts recently commissioned Sergio, the artist, to paint a mural of the Mayan Goddess IxChel on their street-side wall. It is meaningful and beautiful, and a nice addition to our neighbourhood.

Perhaps since paint is so impermanent in this hot and humid climate a picture laid in a tile mosaic might be a better option for a public area such as a stairway. 

At various times we have seen decorative murals painted on the seawalls, or public structures. After a few years the paintings fade to ghostly outlines, and then are obliterated with another coat of single colour paint. 

In centro 2010
In centro a few years ago the pillars in the square were decorated with colourful flowers and birds, unfortunately none that I recognized as being indigenous to the island, but still interesting to look at. Time, weather, and municipal budgets have their way with everything. Those fanciful designs have been painted over.

I certainly won't be applying for permission to paint anything other than the walls of our house. My painting abilities lie strictly with the paint-by-numbers canvases that my mother bought me as a child in the vain hope that I would develop into an artistic person. 

Sorry mom, it just didn't work!

But I can still daydream about vibrant colours and beautiful images leading me up a stairway, a colourful and artistic change from plain old concrete.

Inside Marina El Milagro - tile insets add colour
And one final note: a very heartfelt thank you to Maureen & Randy McFadden, plus Colleen & Ken Flynn for donating 20 of our bilingual The Adventures of Thomas the Cat books to the local elementary and kindergarten schools. Awesome!

Maureen, Colleen, Randy and Ken - thank you!

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, June 20, 2014

Unusual jobs – not available in Canada

Trimming palm trees and harvesting coconuts
Thwack! Thwack! Swinging the sharp machete hard, he lopes off a bunch. Tying a rope around the stems of the coconuts, he slowly lowers the payload towards a friend on the ground. 

The worker is harvesting coconuts from the palm trees on the public beaches, clearing the potential hazards before they tumble down on the heads of unsuspecting sunbathers. 

Turning the fresh nuts into beverages
He has climbed a ladder instead of romantically shinnying up the tree to pick the harvest.  The freshly harvested coconuts are sold to the vendors and restaurants for six pesos or about fifty cents each, to be turned into nourishing beverages. 

A job harvesting coconuts? Sorry, it's not available in Canada.

A little further on the same beach a group of fishermen are busy repairing nets, weaving new stands into the broken pieces, and clearing out the debris entangled in the nets. While they work the tang of salt, and fish, and seaweed floats on the air. 

Weaving a new net
Another fisherman holds a wooden bobbin with fingertips covered in adhesive tape to limit friction injuries. He is creating a new nylon net. His actions are rhythmic, smooth, and familiar. The movements remind me of a time in the mid-seventies when I owned a loom, and fancied myself an artisan - weaving place mats, scarves, shawls and wall hangings to gift to unsuspecting friends and family members. “Uh, what is this?” was unfortunately a frequent response to my gifts.

Cacahuates!  Cacahuates!
Closer to the northern end of Rueda Medina a beach vendor strides past, carefully balancing a tray of peanuts and snacks on his head. 

“Cacahuates! Cacahuates!” His posture and graceful movements are enviable. 

Watching him brought back more memories; memories of when my sisters and I were teenagers. Our parents frequently admonished us to walk with confidence; stand tall, head up, shoulders back, and smile. 

At times smiling at everyone I see has been a bit troublesome. In some cities if you smile at strangers you are perceived as being a bit looney. In my case I am channeling my parents instructions, and compensating for being somewhat short-sighted.

Eloy also known as "Dollar" selling his snacks
Meanwhile all around us on the streets of Isla Mujeres, mobile vendors ply their trade selling newspapers or popcorn, Oaxaca cheese or pastries, shoes or tamales, cold drinks or clay pots. Each vendor announces his products with accompanying shouts, whistles, bicycle bells or horns. The sounds, the movement and the colours all add to the allure of living here.

If I was still working, my job of choice would be to deliver the thousands of wriggling recently-hatched baby turtles to the beaches. I would like to be the person who starts them on their arduous journey to freedom.

2013 thousands of baby turtles about to be released

Turtle release specialist? Another unusual job not available in Canada.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, June 13, 2014

The adventure begins!

Hernando didn't make the cut this time!
Whispered sounds sifted across the sand. Something very large was headed his way. A bright light swept across the beach, momentarily blinding him.”

You should write a children's book,” said our island friend Caroline Beebe after she read Hernando's Story in our weekly blog of March 29th 2013. It's a whimsical story about a hermit crab who lives near our house.

Thomas the Cat in my rowboat

Caroline, Harriet Lowe and I met for lunch at Qubano's on Hidalgo Avenue in early April of 2013. They convinced me to seriously consider the idea. Back home I talked it over with Lawrie, and he said, “Great idea!”

And so the adventure began.

Hernando and I worked together for a couple of weeks, trying to turn his story into a book, but in the end I had to tell him, “I'm sorry Hernando, you just aren't adventurous enough to be the central figure in your own book,” and I turned my attention to my very handsome cat, Thomas.

Diego - making changes to the illustrations
Thomas was extremely pleased about the project. He reminded me to include the part about how he liked to ride in my rowboat on Okanagan Lake, while we searched for pirates. As Thomas and I worked on his book I soon realized I needed a talented illustrator to really bring the story to life. Lawrie suggested our friend Diego Medina who was training to be a computer animator at the university in Valladolid. Diego agreed. Little did he know how many hours, and days would be required to create the characters, stroke by stroke, hair by hair. Two cats, two dogs, two people. Thirty something illustrations.

Next we solicited assistance from Diego's aunt Mauri Medina to help with the translation from English to Spanish, making the story bi-lingual. Some sections were too lengthy when translated so Diego and I amended, revised and re-worked the story. Then I enlisted the assistance of Christy Dix of On Target Language Services, to re-check the wording for us, adding her revisions and corrections.
I need a crown please!

With each revision Thomas supervised, pointing out the important parts that he wanted to remain in the book. Chica our little female cat looked over the pages. She decided she wanted a crown and to be called Princess Chica. Diego gave her a crown and we changed her name. The two beach dogs, Odd and Missy spoke up and added their comments. Missy thought that she should have been the princess. Diego mollified her with a flower behind one ear. Odd-the-Dog reminded us that he had one blue eye and one brown eye. “Yes, we know. See? That's what the illustration shows.”

While Diego was finalizing the illustrations it was my job to find a printer. First I tried various printing companies in Mexico, but the printing prices were more than we could possibly charge for a children's book. The high price is dictated by the necessity to import all of the paper for printing, whereas in the USA or Canada the paper is produced locally. Next I tried printing companies in the USA and Canada, but by the time I paid for shipping and importing the prices were still too high for a small order.

Hhumf!  I should have been the princess.
Finally I decided to try having it printed in China. There are literally thousands of printing companies in China, and choosing one who would give us a good price and good service was a bit nerve wracking. Over the next three months I corresponded with various companies obtaining quotes, answering a myriad of questions: Size? How many pages? How many copies? What weight of paper? Type of cover? Full-colour or not? Shipping by air or by sea? Insurance? Which port? Questions, questions, questions; all the while crossing my fingers that I was dealing with the real representatives of the various companies and not an internet scammer.

March - the sample book arrives.
In February we were finally ready to send the final – we thought – document via the internet to Gold Printing Company in Shenzhen China. As it turns out we had a few adjustments to make and with a fourteen-hour time-difference every adjustment took three to four days to complete. And then came the leap of faith. Send money! A 30% deposit was required to continue the order. Two weeks later we received a full-colour, hard-cover sample of what the finished product would look like.

Wow! We were so pleased.

Then came the really big leap of faith – send the balance of the money. Gulp!

June 2nd in Manzanillo Mexico
On May 6th, the shipment left Shenzhen bound for the west coast of Mexico. Through the internet we were able to loosely track the ship as it meandered from China, to Korea, and across the Pacific Ocean to the USA, dodging a category 5 hurricane and an earthquake off the coast of Mexico, before arriving in Manzanillo on June 2nd.

Gustavo at Almex helping Lawrie and I load 420kg of books
Annie, my invaluable contact at Gold Printing Company, put me in touch with both the shipping company and customs brokers in Manzanillo to continue the process. We still had a few more expenses to pay for - unpacking the container, importation, documents, and putting the books onto a truck. We were given another tracking number and spent an agonizing week checking on the progress of the shipment as it traveled to Mexico City, Villa Hermosa, Merida, and Cancun.

Thank you Steve and Chris.  You made our day!
Finally, on Thursday June 12th – thirteen months since Diego and I teamed up to do this project - Lawrie and I drove into Cancun and picked up the 420 kilograms of books at the AlMex loading dock. 

A few hours later as we waited in the lineup at the car ferry docks at Punta Sam we made our two first sales: Chris Shannon and Steve Mattox. Thank you guys, you really made our day.

During the whole process everyone was extremely helpful: Annie and Gold Printing, Erika at Gade Aduanero S.C., Paula at IFS Neutral Marine, and Carla at Grupo Almex, the trucking company. 

They gave us such good service, and encouragement, Diego and I are already working on book two.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Celebrating with Diego, Thomas and Sparky

Friday, June 6, 2014

Day-tripping around Isla Mujeres:

North end of Isla
Golf cart amiga? Carito de golf amigo?” the commission salesman asks as you exit the passenger ferry boats. “Take a tour of the island?”
You stop, and chat, negotiate a price, and follow then him to the rental company's office. What now? 

 The island is only eight kilometers long and less than a kilometer wide. (For our metric-challenged friends that is five miles long and half a mile wide.) You could zip around the entire island in less than an hour and be back at the rental place before lunch. What fun is there in that?

Indio's Cart Rentals new colours

Let's take a tour of Isla in one of these jazzy, fun vehicles. Most of the dozen or so rental companies are located in the general vicinity of where the passenger ferries unload. A few that come to mind are Captain Azul, Cardena's, Caribe, Ciros, Coco's, Easy, el Sol, Fiesta, Gomar, Indios, Isla Mujeres, Islander, Joaquin, Luxury, and Prisma. The cost can vary, but is usually around $600.00 pesos per day - $50.00 US more or less.

Fun rentals from Ciro's
The golf carts come with a few basic instructions, forward, reverse - and it is illegal to let an underage child drive. Then off you go. What they forget to mention is you do not have brake lights, turn signals, or windshield wipers. What you have is a low-power motor, four wheels and a steering wheel plus seating. Basic! Because golf carts are slow, be courteous and stay as far to the right as possible. Passing is a national sport in Mexico: passing on hills, passing on blind corners, and passing four across on a two-lane road. Golf carts are not made for passing – you are the tortoise in this race, not the hare. Relax, enjoy, and watch out for the other drivers. And yes, you can be fined for drinking while driving.

The Mia Reef at North Beach
Let's get started. The congested downtown area of Isla consists of one-way streets; streets that are not clearly marked. If you make the wrong choice your first clue would be the frantic signals of other drivers, waving their arms: Stop!-not-this-way.  Driving on the seawall or malecon is prohibited.  There are also two pedestrian-only streets; Hidalgo Avenue where the majority of the restaurants are located, and Morelos, the one with the pedestrian crosswalk usually controlled by a police officer. Poke around downtown and get your bearings then head north in the direction of the big hotel, the Mia Reef.

North beach is as the name suggests at the northern tip of the island, with white sandy beaches made famous by the Corona commercials and Trip Adviser's surveys rating it one of the Top Ten Best Beaches in the World. 

North beach is glorious on a sunny day, with numerous places to rent a beach lounger and be served good food and cold drinks. But hey, you have wheels, it's time to see the rest of the island.

North-western side of Isla Mujeres
To keep your bearing for this circumnavigation of the island – always keep the ocean on the passenger's side of the vehicle. This trick will take you completely around the island and back to the beginning. As you drive south along Rueda Medina, there are a number of great places along this stretch to enjoy good food and live music later in the afternoon; Jax Grill, Velasquez, Mininos, Ballyhoo, Brisas Grill, and Picus. This is one of our favourite areas to settle in for sunset drinks and snacks. But for now, carry on – you can always walk back to this area after you have returned the golf cart.

Entrance to Barlito's at Marina Paraiso
Drive straight ahead at the intersection by the car ferry, keep going on Rueda Medina until you start to see the various bars and restaurants: Bahia Tortuga, Soggy Peso Bar & Grill, Barlito's @ Marina Paraiso. Anyone of them have icy cold beverages and good food. This might be a good time for a quick stop for refreshments, but don't take too long, you still have the rest of the island to explore.

Back on the road again: turn right and continue on your adventure. Eventually you'll pass the big orange grocery store – Chedraui. Follow the main stream of traffic veering slightly to the right as you drive under the overhead warning lights for the pedestrian crosswalks and traffic congestion. If you notice a line up of impatient drivers behind you let them pass or you might be startled by drivers overtaking you with little or no visibility on Devil's Corner. Remember what we said about passing being a national sport in Mexico?

The Joint at Punta Sur
Great colours at Punta Sur

At the round-about across from the Isla Mujeres Palace Hotel you have a choice; you can make a sharp right and visit Dolphin Discovery to swim with the dolphins for the balance of the day or keep driving south to see the rest of Isla Mujeres. Heading south the next refreshment stop is at The Joint, a relaxing shady spot hidden in a jungle of trees and flowers. 

Then a few feet further along you will see a perfect “Ah!” location. It is a wide spot on the right side of the road where the gorgeous blues of the Caribbean are displayed for your visual enjoyment. It's a perfect location to stop for a photograph, and a homemade ice cream cone purchased from the mobile vendor.

Yummy treats!

A little further on at the extreme southern tip of the island, Punta Sur, is a small collection of stores and the stunning views from the Ancantilado restaurant. For an entrance fee of thirty pesos you can wander the park, and depending on the time of year you might see giant sea turtles mating in the surf.

Whew! You are half way around the island now. Don't forget to use the baños before leaving this area! The perimeter road on the eastern side of the island is primarily private residences, not restaurants and bars.
Don't get distracted by the view!

When leaving Punta Sur, turn right, keeping the ocean on the passenger's side of the vehicle. Along the eastern coast line are a number of beautiful homes. This road will lead you down a slight hill, past the smelly but unfortunately necessary garbage dump, the newer cemetery, and the settlement of Guadalupana. 

The beautiful ocean vistas have been know to distract drivers leading to collisions with motorcycles, other golf carts and assorted vehicles. Be careful! Drivers doing u-turns in this area have been seriously injured and have injured other people.

Famous sign at Villa la Bella
Passing by the various neighbourhoods you will eventually see a sign at Villa la Bella: “Beer so Cold it Will Make Your Teeth Hurt!” You might want to put that claim to the taste test, as this is pretty much the last stop for refreshments before heading back to centro and to return your golf cart.

Remain on the perimeter road, passing the Colegio de Bachilleres (high school) and the airport for the Naval base. At the corner of the airport if you turn left, then take the next right, driving in front of the Naval base, you will be back in the area where you first disembarked from the passenger ferries. Or if you drive straight ahead, behind the Naval base, you will arrive at the Palacio Municipal (City Hall) where a few more golf cart rental companies have their offices.

Our friends Edie and Gary with their 1957 Chevy golf cart

Well done! You made it – time for a sunset celebration.

And don't forget to collect your identification that you left with the golf cart office. It's a real nuisance to come back for forgotten items, although it could be an excuse for a return trip.

It could be opportunity to explore the individual, local neighbourhoods and really get lost in paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie