Friday, July 25, 2014

Odd Jobs – part two

Breadman in Centro
Yes, I know, I recently wrote about “Unusual Jobs, Not Available in Canada” but it is a subject that continues to intrigue us, the ingenious ways that hardworking islanders earn a living. 

The most visible are the street vendors who walk or cycle daily around the neighbourhoods many with their individual sales pitch or chant, anything to get the attention of potential customers.

Every morning around dawn, when I am out walking our little dog Sparky, a middle-aged man pedals his heavy bicycle cart along our street. The cart is so heavy he is forced to get off and push it up the two not-quite hills. 

 As he passes he calls out to the construction workers who are just starting their day: “Hay tamales. Hay masa.” It roughly translates to: Here are tamales, here is masa. Masa is a very popular corn dough used for making tortillas or tamales.

One of the Tamale salesmen
Many construction workers typically live on site to provide security for building supplies until the house is completed. Grocery stores are not always nearby and the labourers really appreciate having cooked food delivered to their work place. 

Filled with bits of chicken or pork, spices, onions, and chilies the substantial tamales provide much needed nutrition at the start of a long, hot, work day.

Construction workers appreciate cooked food delivery
The question that flickers through my brain when I see the tamale salesman is: How early does he get up if he is already pedaling past our house at six in the morning? Does his wife stay up all night to prepare the tamales, trying to sleep during the frequently noisy and hot daylight hours?

Youngster selling corn 

Even youngsters frequently pitch in to help out with family finances. Awhile ago, when we were visiting friends at the Guadalupana settlement, I noticed a young teen pedaling his bicycle cart through the neighbourhood. He was selling cooked corn on the cob. Presumably mom or an older sister did the preparation, and he was responsible for selling the product. It's a good lesson in economics and business for the young man, but at the same time I am sure he would rather be swimming in the ocean or hanging out with his buddies.

Mamey salesmen arriving on Isla via car ferry 
As the day progresses and the heat increases a number of vendors are out and about, selling everything from seasonal vegetables, to cheese, tortillas, bread, ice cream treats, clay pots, or woven mats and bags. They trudge the streets with display cases confidentially balanced on their heads, or they trundle along the sidewalks with hand carts piled high with seasonal treats such as lychee nuts, or mamey fruit. 

 Shaped like a small rough-skinned football, the orangey-red flesh of a mamey has an intriguing flavour, tasting like a combination of sweet potato, pumpkin and peach. Islanders enjoy mamey as a wintertime treat.

Mid-afternoon snack break
Later in the evening the food carts congregate in convenient locations offering hamburgers, hotdogs, tacos or desserts. Businesses supplying take out meals, or home delivery, proliferate around the island. Few homes have large refrigerators to stockpile fruits, vegetables and meat. Most meals are prepared on small gas stoves, similar to a Coleman, or a two burner hot plate. It boggles the mind to think of how many people make a living supplying food to other islanders.

In many ways the food culture in Mexico resembles the European habits. Eating out at any one of the many economical street-side restaurants is common. For those who cook at home daily shopping turns a potentially onerous chore into a social event. Locals gossip with other shoppers as they gather up items for the day's meals. It's not about rushing around and piling items in a cart. It's about stopping and kissing a friend on the cheek, then asking how their family is, how they are, and responding with your own updates, before moving on to find one more article on your shopping list. Perhaps this is what people mean when they say: slow food, made with love.

Evening treats!

Local people are ingenious at finding ways to earn a living. They work long hours, frequently at physically demanding jobs. They also enjoy life: frequently.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 18, 2014

A surprise birthday gift becomes a life-changing event

Isla Mujeres 
Pondering where to take her husband Mark for a surprise celebration of his 50th birthday Donna Caffo remembered a sleepy little island located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Mexico: Isla Mujeres. 

It was an island she had visited as a teenager in 1980 on a very brief day-trip from Cancun.

Fishing boats and birds
When she and Mark arrived on Isla for his birthday celebration in 2004, it was love at first sight. Small family-owned restaurants littered the sandy beaches, fishing boats were pulled up above the tide line, nets and lobster pots were stacked amongst the boats. 

Island life had a slow easy rhythm. It felt authentic, comfortable, without the big-resort all-inclusive separation between local and tourist.

Views from Ixchel condos
Every year from then onward Donna and Mark vacationed on Isla Mujeres, eventually deciding they wanted something more permanent. 

Late in 2007 they purchased a penthouse unit, at the IxChel Two development, overlooking the white sand of north beach and the aquamarine water of the Caribbean Sea.

Mark Caffo at Artists' Fair 2011
It was bliss, until 2010, when life tossed them a curve ball. Mark was laid off from his systems designer/integrator position and the only work opportunities that were available to him entailed traveling 90% of the time. That did not fit with their lifestyle or goals. They brainstormed for alternative career ideas, deciding that combining Mark's passion for photography and love of the island might just be the answer. Donna and Mark launched Caribe on Canvas in October of 2011, turning beautiful photographs into affordable artwork.

Lawrie purchased a print from Mark - 2011

To make this unique product Mark (and occasionally Donna) uses a number of software programs creating prints that have the look and feel of oil paintings. The resulting artwork is printed on a canvas with a Stylus Pro Printer, then sprayed with an ultraviolet protection finish and finally the fabric is stretched onto a custom-made wooden frame. If a customer prefers the prints can be purchased unframed. Several of our friends have arranged with Mark and Donna to have photographs that are personally meaningful to them turned into colourful and eye-catching artwork. It's a great way to display your favourite images.

Mark Caffo and Abby Fox at Artists' Fair

Participants in the very first Isla Artists' Fair held in November of 2011, Donna and Mark are regular exhibitors at the monthly event. 

A recent addition to their creations included a calendar for 2014. They will also be selling prints and posters from the new Jenny Penny Beach Boutique on Matamoros beside Bobo's Bar & Grill, as well as the new Barlito's Rapido when it opens later in the year.

Next time you are on Isla look them up or if you aren't coming to Isla near future check these two websites for more information:
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 11, 2014

In celebration of a talented local artist

Mayor Cesar Poot praising Diego Medina
Recently, Cesar Edmundo Poot Perez the Secretario General of Isla Mujeres, spoke about the need for students to use their imagination, to aspire to unique professions, and to dream of new ideas. 
He also spoke of how proud he was of Diego Medina, a local artist and my collaborator on our first children's book, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat – Las Aventuras de Tomas el Gato.

Yadira Velazquez on far left, Danaee and Freddy on right

Diego's family tree has very deep roots on Isla Mujeres reaching down through many generations of ancestors. Current family members include one sister Danaee, parents Freddy Medina and Yadira Velázquez, aunties, uncles, cousins, and two sets of grandparents most of whom live and work on the island. Diego comes from a very supportive environment, a family that values education. As a group they were delighted to celebrate his success at our book launch on Tuesday July 8th. The event was organized by Rubén Pérez and staff under the sponsorship of the Direccion Municipal de Cultura.

McFaddens, Flynns, and Merandis - donated books
The agenda for the evening was to include donating a number of books to island schools and kindergartens. New island home-owners Maureen and Randy McFadden from Cedar Park Texas kicked off the idea by offering to donate ten books to the local schools. Then their good friends Colleen and Ken Flynn from Austin Texas, who are also building a home on Isla, supplemented the donation with another ten books. Not to be outdone a third couple – Alison and Tom Merandi – said “we're in for ten books as well!”

Some of the local students that attended the event
In the meantime the Medina Family was busy organizing their donation of ten books, plus city employees Adriana Trejo Glez, Miriam Trejo León, and Víctor Osorio Magaña contributed another fifteen books! The municipal staff and school principals now have a total of 55 books to distribute amongst island and mainland schools. However, the city staff have a secret desire to distribute one book to each of the Cancun schools as well. It's a subtle bit of bragging about the success of one of their own students.

Freddy and his sister Mauri Medina
In the end the book distribution portion of the event was postponed to the evening of Sunday July 13th. This is the last full week of school before the summer break and most of the school principals were unable to attend as they rushed to finish off year-end details.

Direccion Municipal de Cultura book launch was doubly important to the Medina family members and supportive friends. Mauri Medina, sister to Freddy Medina, and Diego's auntie, translated the original story, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat – Las Aventuras de Tomas el Gato, from English to Spanish. 

The Medina family has double-bragging rights for the book!

Meanwhile, Diego and I have begun working on the sequel, involving a few more of the silly, four-footed, characters that inhabit our little piece of paradise.  We'll keep you posted!

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, July 4, 2014

Notes From Paradise
Reelin' in outstanding scholars

Students March 2014
A criminologist, a nurse, a human resource administrator, a graphic designer, a petroleum engineer, a linguist, and an animal health specialist all have one thing in common; the Ron Brown Scholarship Fund available to qualified Isla Mujeres students.

Created shortly after Ron Brown's untimely death in the summer of 2009, the scholarship fund assists a limited number of students with tuition and the expenses of living off-island while completing their education at a university or college. 

Reeling for Ronnie tournament - P Parent Photo
Since its creation Ron's close friend Richard Lock and the Lock Search Group have been the biggest supporters of the fund, along with Ron and Gwen's many personal friends and family members. The fund is incrementally, year by year, increasing the number of students that can be assisted.

In addition to personal donations the fund also raises money through an annual fishing tournament organized by Richard Lock, Frank Berke and Peter Zukow

Patrick Parent - largest fish
The Fifth Annual Reeling For Ronnie Fishing Tournament was held this year at the luxurious North King Lodge, located in the sheltered waters of Caamano Sound on the northern coast of British Columbia. 

North King Lodge Caamano Sound BC Canada
Participants from a variety of cities in Canada and the USA - Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Fort McMurray, Victoria, Vancouver, Minneapolis and Austin – enjoyed a fun-filled four days of fishing and camaraderie. Afternoons were consumed by the recounting of spontaneous and slightly exaggerated fishing stories. 

Airfare to Bella Bella, a helicopter ride to the fishing camp, meals, snacks, beer, wine, equipment, boats, and gear, are all included in the price. Best of all (according to the website) there are no fish stealing Sea Lions in the area! This is serious fishing country!

Gwen Brown and raffle winner Mike Johnson
Between the tournament and a raffle for an all-expenses paid fishing trip the 2014 event raised a record breaking $15,000.00 CDN; 100% of all money raised is used for paying tuitions and student expenses.

Here on Isla Mujeres there were at least a two dozen guys salivating over that trip, purchasing handfuls of tickets in hopes of upping their odds. 

The winning ticket was drawn by Gwen Brown at a Friday night happy hour at Villa la Bella in February. Mike Johnson from Minnesota was the lucky guy; but his nephew was even luckier when Mike gave him the winning ticket. The moans and groans from various ticket holders were painful to hear, everyone wishing that they were Mike's nephew.

Sorry guys! Maybe next time.....

In the meantime anyone who is interested in giving a helping hand to outstanding students please feel free to check out the Ron Brown Scholarship Fund website for more information:

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie