Friday, February 27, 2015

A road trip to our favourite places

In centro Izamal Yucatan, Mexico
I wonder if Sylvia knows where we are?” I joked as we turned down yet another tiny, unmarked street in the colonial town of Izamal. 

I was referring to John's IPhone GPS. We were looking for the route back to highway #185, and Valladolid.

Franciscan monastery in Izamal
About a three-hour drive from Cancun, Izamal is one of our favourite places in the Yucatan peninsula to take visitors. Settled in the 1540’s by the Spanish, the city and the Franciscan monastery were built directly on top of an old Mayan temple. The monastery and many of the buildings in centro have traditionally been painted a mellow egg-yolk gold. Even though the reason for the monochromatic hue has been lost over the decades the golden colour gives a lively, vibrant look to photographs.
Our favourite - Kinich Restaurante
Lawrie and I typically travel with maps but since we have been to Izamal a few times in past years we thought we knew where we were going, and he normally has a fined-tuned sense of direction. However, when driving on roads that wind through cramped, narrow streets on flat featureless land – the topography looks the same, all the time. Full from a spectacular lunch at our favourite eatery in Izamal, the Kinich Restaurante, we were a bit drowsy and probably missed the rare and sun-faded directional signs. So, John and his Iphone came to our rescue!
Stained glass window - Izamal
When asked, Sylvia the IPhone politely informed us we were headed in the wrong direction. She then dispensed step-by-step instructions for multiple turns onto tiny one-way roads, including exactly how many meters before our next turn onto yet another dust-covered alley wending our way to the intersection for the highway. I take back every sarcastic comment I have ever made about people relying on GPS! Sylvia the Iphone is a very knowledgeable lady.

Valladolid in the evening
Getting into the centre of Valladolid was easy; we have been there many times and we had good instructions – the pen and paper kind – for finding our hotel. The Casa Tia Micha is a tiny B&B a few steps off the square. With a total of three guest rooms available is probably the tiniest hotel that we have ever booked. The front entrance is quite plain, with a black metal gate opening up to a delightful entrance and courtyard. The B&B is beautifully decorated with great attention to detail; comfy beds, good showers, a complimentary bottle of wine and two nice wine glasses. Just perfect!
Our room at Casa Tia Miche - Valladolid
In the morning co-owner Rosanelly Ayora Sosa treated us to a tasty three-course breakfast of regional dishes, a great start for our day of roaming the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. Settled in around 600, and abandoned in the late 1500's, Chichén Itzá was re-discovered by European explorers in 1842. The entire complex was buried under an accumulation of trees, vines, and other assorted vegetation that had grown unchecked. By 1923 the Mexican government was interested in excavating the main parts of the city. Excavation projects are on going at the site as more structures have been located, some buried underground, some deep in the jungle.
Our travel partners - Maia and John at Chichén Itzá
We arrived at the complex around 9:30 in the morning. We had three hours of relative peace - to take photos, read information plaques, cruise past the hundreds of vendors and leave before the dozens of tour buses from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Mérida disgorged their sun-baked passengers.

Taberna de los Frailes - Valladolid
Turning back to Valladolid we headed to our other favourite restaurant the Taberna de los Frailes for a late lunch. Serving tasty regional specialties the Taberna is a great place to relax and enjoy time with family and friends. The eatery is located in a sub-district of Valladolid called Sisal, beside the Convento of San Bernardino de Siena. The Convento (monastery) was built during 1552 to 1560 by the Franciscan monks and was in use until 1755 when it was abandoned. A self-guided tour of the property is a good way to walk off a few lunch calories.

San Bernardino de Siena
Early the following morning we enjoyed our last tasty breakfast before setting off on our return trip to Isla Mujeres. We decided to drive the “libre” road, the toll-free slower route, and more interesting than a four-lane, dead-straight, nothing-to-see route.

TriciTaxis - Leona Vicario

We bumped our way over the topes (speed bumps) of each small village, passing plant nurseries, handicraft stands and small restaurants. In Leona Vicario we were surprised to see motor-cycle based TriciTaxis, buzzing around, carrying students to and from school, shoppers, supplies – anything. Cool idea!

Casa Tia Miche - Valladolid

And then finally we were headed home on the car ferry, content, tired, and ready to chill out for a few days in our island paradise.
Love road trips! And really love getting back to our home.
Hasta Luego

Lynda and Lawrie

Back home to Isla Mujeres

Friday, February 20, 2015

Dancin' in the streets, all night long!

Super Heros Dancin' - photo Maria Medina Figueroa
Carnaval! (Or as we say in English: Carnival!)
Crazy colourful costumes, pulse-pounding music and exuberant dancers – it's the best time of the year to visit Isla Mujeres. 

2015 King and Queen of Carnaval

The annual five-day event kicked off on Friday night with the traditional coronation of the kings and queens representing various segments of the island population. 

The final coronation for the night was the official King and Queen of the Carnaval for 2015.

Yadira Medina Velazquez in the middle
Early on Saturday afternoon I popped out to a Kyra Thompson Drennan and Bruce Saaranen's house to watch our friend Yadira Medina Velázquez and her amigas dance in the street. When I arrived Freddy Medina pointed out that a latch was open on the bottom of my camera. I looked inside – empty! I had accidentally left the camera's memory card in my computer at home! No memory for my camera – and apparently I have no memory. Fortunately Janet Davison had a card that I could borrow for a few hours. Saved! Thank you! On with the show!

Dramatic black and purple costumes
Thumping music, smiling people and the ladies swinging and swaying to the tunes. Awesome. The twelve women danced several times in the hot afternoon sun, stopping only briefly for a costume change. The first costume was dramatic purple and black, the second cheerful lime green and hot pink. These impromptu and intimate performances are, for us, the best part of Carnaval. Its a chance to get to know the dancers and their friends. Too much fun!

Saturday night in Centro - waiting to dance

Later on Saturday evening we trekked down to centro with John and Maia to watch the Cuban dance band. We arrived around 9:30 and the square was packed with people. People watching the dancers. People buying food from the street vendors. People enjoying a warm Caribbean night. We watched a number of dance troupes run through their energetic routines until around 11:00 in the evening. By then we were too tired to wait any longer for the Cuban band, and trekked back home. 

Red Devil Angels & White Saintly Angels
The few taxis that we saw were overflowing with passengers. No chance of a ride that night. Fortunately we are only about a twenty minute walk from centro, but when you are sleepy that twenty minutes seems like twenty hours.

On Sunday Alexis and Darren Grabby asked us to stop by their house. A neighbour across the street is in a dance troupe, and her group was putting on a show for the neighbourhood. The ladies were a bit late arriving, but eventually a collection of red devil angels and white saintly angles showed up on a convoy of motorcycles. They looked a bit weary, however, they cranked up the tunes and ripped through several dances with big smiles on their faces.

Kids troupe - dancing on another street

While the red devils and white angles were performing at Alexis and Darren's casa, we noticed a second group arrive just a block away. 

I snapped a few photographs of the young dancers. They were all about elementary age; a dozen young ladies, and one brave young man. He seemed to be enjoying himself: a lot.

Kids, kids, kids!

And then it was time to scoot downtown to see the first parade. We met up with a dozen or so friends on the upper deck at Jax Bar & Grill, settling in to wait for the 3:00 o'clock start time.…...... waiting, waiting, waiting. No one was particularly worried as the time was consumed with eating good food, and drinking cold beverages. It's a very pleasant way to pass an afternoon with friends.

King & Queen of Carnaval - totting heavy headdresses
About an hour past the scheduled start time we could hear the police motorcycles sirens clearing the roadway, and luring sunbathers off the beaches and swimmers out of the ocean. Parade time!

The first group to arrive were the reining King and Queen of Carnaval, toting heavy feathered headdresses and brocade costumes, followed by their feather-bedecked entourage. 

The teenager dance troupe

Then the other groups flowed past – each stopping at the reviewing stand to dance for the judges. Teenagers in orange, black and red. Youngsters in blue, red and gold. Grandmothers in sparkling pink, yellow and purple. Thirty-something women in lime green and orange. Supermen – plural. Wonder Women – plural. 

Lime & Orange costumes - very tropical

By the time Carnaval is over the roads will be littered with small decorations that have fallen off various costumes. Hundreds of brightly coloured feathers are already fluttering forlornly on the edges of the road – so many hues I wonder if a flock of psychedelically-dyed poultry had recently met its demise.

Grand mothers kicking up their heels!

The five days flow together in a confusion of colour, motion, and music and soon it will be done for another year. We are already looking forward to Carnaval 2016 starting Friday February 5th. See you there!
Hasta Luego
Lynda and Lawrie

Worn out Super Heros!

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Friday, February 13, 2015

A feast for the eyes

A profusion of colour greets your eyes when you push open the doors on Galeria de Arte Mexicano in centro.
Multi-hued talavera pottery bowls, plates, cups, serving dishes, and wine goblets are crammed into shelves, stacked from floor to ceiling. Brightly painted Mexican hand-crafted masks decorate the walls. Dazzling silver glints in the brightly lit store; earrings, necklaces, rings, pendants, and chains are stuffed into velvet lined display boxes, stacked in glass cabinets, and hung from the walls. Scores of semi-precious stones in hues of turquoise, coral and lapis lazuli blue glow like delicate flowers in a meadow of silver jewelry. It's visual overload!
Alejandro Amaya Trejo & Luvia Espinosa
The proprietor, Alejandro Amaya Trejo, has lived on Isla Mujeres for twenty-eight years, operating his Galeria for the past twenty-two years on the corner of Guerrero Avenue, near the Super X-Press Store. 
Originally from Mexico City in the suburb of Xochimilco, Alejandro and several of his family members migrated to Isla Mujeres, settling into various businesses. Alejandro's father Gillermo Amaya (the same name as one of his brothers) owns a gift store on the corner of Juarez, called Artesanas Arcoivis, and another brother Hugo Amaya Trejo owns Mexico Magico on Rueda Medina. Both of those stores are a riot of colour and textures, overflowing with stock.
Hugo Amaya Trejo owns Mexico Magico
At various times in the past several years we have purchased visually-pleasing square-cornered talavera bowls painted in delicious combinations of red, blue, yellow and orange. Painted by a well-known Mexican artisan, Hernandez, Alejandro purchases these top quality talavera products in Puebla. 

Hernandez Talavera
Pieces painted by Hernandez command a higher price than the factory painted pottery. 
Plus, invariably when transporting fragile pottery products across the breadth of the country breakage must be factored into the final price. 
The slightly higher cost for a beautiful piece is well worth the investment.

Silver, on the other hand, is weighed and the price is charged accordingly. Recently when a childhood friend celebrated her 60th birthday I picked out a very simple silver bracelet for her gift. For myself I purchased a beautiful silver and turquoise stone pendant that I hang on a white gold chain, that had been a birthday gift from one of my sisters. 
Alejandro is one of the silver merchants that I trust implicitly. He sells real sterling silver, not silver plate. It's a very good thing to remember when you are purchasing silver in tourist locations.
Galeria de Arte Mexicano
When you are wandering around the dozens of shops on Isla, searching for that special souvenir or gift, remember to pop into his store and have a look around. It's quite the experience. Alejandro is fluent in English, and quick to smile. 
He and Luvia Espinosa will happily help you find the perfect souvenir of your visit to paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda and Lawrie

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Friday, February 6, 2015

Are we done yet?

Presidente Agapito Magaña
It all started with a photo-op and press conference. On August 30th the Presidente Municipal de Isla Mujeres announced the construction of a new dome to cover the seldom-used basketball court, located directly across the street from our casa. The basketball court is part of the Colegio de Bachilleres school complex on Aeropuerto Road.

Official announcement
The dome is probably a good idea, adding daytime shade, nighttime lighting, fencing to keep the basketballs out of the nearby jungle and bleachers for the fans to sit and enjoy the games. In almost seven years of looking at that basketball court we have yet to see one actual game played. The players are usually just noodling around with a ball, repeatedly losing it into the thick vegetation. Eventually they give up in frustration, and head back into the college classrooms.
September 23rd - backhoe working
So the big announcement was made and then nothing happened for several weeks. We shrugged it off as another idea that would soon fizzle and die. Then around September 23rd a backhoe and operator arrived, digging trenches and shifting piles of dirt to new locations. A few days later the forming crew arrived, creating eight deep holes to be filled with concrete. And then nothing more happened. All through the month of October we had blissful silence across the street; no beeping back-up alarms, no workers, just birds tweeting and twittering. (And, no I don't mean the birds were sending texts to each other!)
November 5th - concrete pumper
Then just around sunset on November 5th, the concrete trucks and pumper arrived to pour the foundations. Okay, things are starting to happen. In years past we have seen various bits and pieces of remedial work done on this basketball court, and never completed so we were still not convinced at this point that this is really going to happen. 

December 6th - upright supports
Back to peace and quiet – until December 6th when a large flatbed truck, hauling eight steel uprights pulled onto the court surface. The crew jostled and jiggled the posts into place on the footings, securing them with large bolts.
By now we are headed into the long break that occurs in Mexico from December 11th to January 7th. It's a time of numerous celebrations, religious holidays and family events. It's definitely not the time to accomplish anything. The construction site across from us languished, quietly waiting until the festivities were over for another year.
January 7th 2015 - curved beams
And then January 7th arrived, bringing a flurry of activity.  Flatbed trucks with stacks of curved steel beams.  
Cranes.  Pickup trucks.  Welding units. Big jack hammers.  A dozen workers. It's a proper construction site!

The clangs of metal braces nudging up against metal beams, the loud bangs of hammers persuading the pieces into place, and sizzle of the welding torch fill our daytime hours with loud noises. That's life. There is still a lot to be finished: the dome covering, the bleachers, and fencing.

February 3rd - welder working up on curved beams

No, we aren't done yet! In the end the students with have a great place to play basketball, or other court games, and in the meantime I have a handy source of action photographs to share with our readers.

Hasta Luego
Lynda and Lawrie

Cleaning up the site

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