Friday, May 29, 2015

Creating bigger smiles!

Alright, mi amigo.  Good job!
Alright, mi amigo. Good job!” He high-fived and knuckle-bumped the youngster, cheerfully congratulating the boy on his examination results. 
Dr. Lauten Johnson, a sandy-haired, blue-eyed, dentist from Alabama USA was arm-pit deep in elementary children. I met up with him and other Smile Foundation volunteers, Dr. Frank Cain, Hygienist Tizzy Howard, and Lauten's family friend Baily Martin at the Andres Quintana Roo Elementary School on Isla Mujeres.

Waiting for their turn
The group was mid-way through their seventh annual visit, a week-long intense schedule of dental examinations available to all the children on the island. Moving from school to school they plan to check as many children as possible, referring some for emergency surgery and repairs, as well as promoting daily dental hygiene. While waiting for the next class of kids to arrive, Dr. Johnson gave me a bit of background information. The Smile Foundation started coming to Isla in 2008, using first the Red Cross building, and then the Centro de Salud (Health Centre) for their examinations. Over time neither situation proved to be completely satisfactory due to changes in personal and their unfamiliarity with the work of the group.
Baily, Lauten, Tizzy, Manuel, Frank - at the school
Each year anywhere between ten and fifteen volunteers make the trip to Isla. It's a mixed crew of dentists, hygienists, assistants, dental students, translators, and family friends who are enlisted to help. Caroline Rush and her daughter, who are very involved with The Smile Foundation had to return to the USA earlier in the week for a family emergency. Most of this group originates from Alabama, Tennessee, or Florida, and this year a young Colombian national, Manual, is assisting with translation.
Dr. Frank Cain and Tizzy Howard at the school
I hung around with the group for an hour or so at the school, watching them interact with the youngsters. This was the easy part of the day for everyone, a quick check, a few laughs and giggles and most of the kids were all set to go back to class. Several had cavities that desperately needed attention and it was strongly suggested to the parents that they should bring the child to the clinic later in the day.

X-Ray gun that transmits the image to a laptop
Around two in the afternoon the fourteen volunteers assembled in at the Instancia Municipal de la Mujer in Las Glorias, gearing up for a busy afternoon. When I arrived there were at least forty children and their parents waiting for the opportunity of free dental work. As the first of the doctors and assistants arrived, I slipped through the doors into the communal procedural room. There were chairs for a dozen patients, rows of gleaming medical tools, tables stacked with toothpaste, floss, brushes and fluoride paste. The first batch of patients and their parents filed in, apprehension filling their young eyes: What happens now?
One young lad desperately needed to have an extraction done. He was very brave at the beginning when the technician used the new radar gun x-ray to take an image of the damaged tooth. However when the anaesthetic-filled needle was slipped into his mouth his heart wrenching yells were enough to weaken the strongest resolve. And then the actual extraction took place; balanced on chairs, hugging the sobbing boy the three adults worked to relieve his pain. Other children stared in wide-eyed terror. What were they doing to him? And then it was over, copious hugs administered, cartoon stickers applied to bare skin, and tears dried. This will scene repeat again and again during the afternoon and all through the week. Very tough to do, but so very necessary.
Comforting cuddles after the extraction
As I slipped out the doors, back into the waiting room the first two faces I saw were a brother and sister, probably about ten and twelve years old. Perched on the edge of their chairs they stared at the doors. Having heard the screams of the first young boy, they were ready to run from the building. 
I smiled encouragingly at their mom. The poor woman was in for a traumatic time with two youngsters needing work. About then a twisted version of a county and western song flicked through my brain: Mommas don't let your babies grow up to eat sugar ....

So, how can you help?
In 2015 The Smile Foundation purchased an autoclave high pressure cleaner, an ultrasonic cleaner, and a cool laptop with an x-ray gun that creates instant images. The goal for 2016 is to purchase a proper dental chair, a suction compression unit, and enough supplies to offer free fluoride treatments to each child.
Cleaning and fluoride treatment
They are desperately searching for dry, weather-proof storage for equipment and supplies. In past years Mim and Tony Gallagher have been very generous, offering to store extra items at their casa, but with the planned for equipment additions that may not be possible in the future.
There is always the easy way to help out: money. Donations are gratefully accepted for funding the week-long event, and for more equipment.

Comforting a scared daughter
Or if you are a boat owner, and are planning to head south to Isla Mujeres for the winter fishing season, you could transport a piece of equipment. Tiffany and Brad Wareing are working on coordinating this task.
Plus you can give 'em a big [LIKE] on FaceBook at to spread the word about their outstanding efforts to improve dental health for our island kids.
And last but not least don't forget to say thank you to wonderful islanders like Bonnie Hamilton, Tiffany Wareing, Vivian Reynaldo, Kristen Tywan, Mim and Tony Gallagher whose big hearts and caring attitudes make events like this happen.
A very special thank you to this year's volunteer crew: Dr. Lauten Johnson, pediatric dentist, Dr. Clark Thomas, pediatric dentist, Dr. Frank Cain, dentist, Dr. Brandon Pennington, dentist, Dr. Hunter Hale, dentist, Claire Mitchell, hygienist, Valerie Madison, hygienist, Cinthia Bueno, hygienist, Tizzy Howard, hygienist, Paige Preston, hygienist, Baily Martin, dental assistant, Perry Martin, dental assistant, Richard Lang, dental assistant, Juddy Carlton, dental assistant.
Cleaning and fluoride treatments
Thank you all for making this island in paradise an extra special place to live.
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Breaking News:
Our bilingual (Spanish & English) book for children – The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato is now available on E-Books, via Amazon Kindle Books. Order yours today!

Friday, May 22, 2015

From Russia with love

Octavio Paz Lozano - poet & diplomat
What do a classically handsome Mexican poet-diplomat, a wild-haired Russian sculptor, and a beautiful Russian actress have in common?
Isla Mujeres – of course.
If you think the connection is a bit nebulous, well, not really as a full seven percent of our blog readers live in Russia, plus there are four flights a week direct from Moscow to Cancun.

Marthy Vargas, Agapito Magana, Pototsky, Natasha
However, that's not the only connection. Recently the well-known Russian sculptor, Gregory Pototsky, offered the municipality of Isla Mujeres a bronze bust commemorating the life of the world renowned Mexican poet-diplomat, Octavio Paz Lozano. Born in 1954 in the Kurgan region of Russia, Gregory Pototsky has more than 100 bronze portraits (busts) installed in over 30 countries around the world, including several in the USA, Mexico, China, Turkey, and two in our home country of Canada.
N Duran, M Trejo, Adm.Fierro, M Vargas, A Magana, Pototsky
His artistic contribution for Isla Mujeres was installed on a plinth facing the Caribbean Sea near the attractive Isla 33 Resort & Villas on the east-side of Isla Mujeres. Striking a thoughtful pose, the bronze head gazes out over the Caribbean Sea, reportedly a huge source of inspiration for the poet. The inauguration was celebrated in a spicy fusion of languages: Gregory Pototsky's impassioned tribute to Mexico and Octavio Paz was translated into English by the actress Natasha, and replied to in Spanish by our Municipal Presidente, Agapito Magaňa Sanchez. It was a bit confusing, but everyone got the gist of the sentiments.
Octavio Paz - gazing out over the Caribbean Sea
Octavio Paz, on the other hand, was born in 1914 in a suburb of Mexico City, and passed away at the age of 84 in same city. He entered the Mexican Diplomatic services in 1945. During his career as a diplomat he was stationed in exotic locations including Paris France, Tokyo Japan, and Geneva Switzerland, all the while continuing to publish his poems and essays. In 1962 he was named as Mexico's ambassador to India.
Fervent about human rights, and openly critical of the then governing party of Mexico, Octavio Paz is considered to be one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, and the greatest Hispanic poet of all time. In 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: "By a passionate writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensory intelligence and humanistic integrity."
Gregory Pototsky, Agapito Magana, Marthy Vargas de Magana
Which got me to wondering about the real Octavio Paz. His biography page on Wikipedia dishes out the dry as dust details: born, lived, married, worked and died. Yawn! 
But what of the flesh and blood man. Did he like to dance? Was he passionate about good food, and red wine, and expensive tequila? Well educated and well travelled he would have been an entertaining dinner guest, or a perhaps romantic entanglement for well-to-do socialites. Those are the stories that would be fun to read. This could require further research.
Jose Cauich - from Nico's Restaurante (in background)
But back to the present day. As the hot afternoon sun started its slide into early evening the bust was unveiled with a flourish of cloth and enthusiastic clapping. 
Then two tray loads of wine - compliments of Joe Mendez of Isla 33 Resort & Villas - were delivered to the assembled guests by employees of Nico's Restaurante, Jose Cauich and Juan-Jose Pech. 
Salud: Octavio Paz, Gregory Pototsky, and the citizens of Isla Mujeres.
Next time you meander along the edge of the turquoise sea take a minute to enjoy the new statue and think of the Isla Mujeres Mexican-Russian Connection. 

(A special thank you to Ruben Perez, the Director of Culture on Isla Mujeres, for informing us about the event.)

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Breaking News:
Our bilingual (Spanish & English) book for children – The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato is now available on E-Books, via Amazon Kindle Books. Order yours today!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Random acts of kindness

Maria Lopez sold peanuts and pepitas  
 Trudging through hot afternoon sun, clutching a thick file of photographic enlargements Cindy Martinez is on a mission; a mission to deliver her current batch of portraits to islanders. 

Most of the time she only has a first name, or perhaps a doorway in the background to identify the person or the location in the photograph. She charges nothing for her work, her reward is the satisfaction of making someone smile when they receive her gift.

It is also a pleasant way to meet people, to be invited into their homes, and to really get to know them. She started shooting portraits on Isla 17 years ago, shooting the pictures one year and then returning the next with the enlargements.

Cindy with Cuban friends
One of her earlier portraits was of a mother, father, the children and their grandmother. Soon after she took the photograph the mother passed away. The grandmother and kids have continued to have a special place in her heart. 

Another special memory is when she captured the original lighthouse keeper at Punta Sur as he demonstrated blowing a conch shell like a horn. He passed away several years ago and the family has since approached Cindy, asking if she could possibly reprint that image as the original was damaged in hurricane Wilma. At the time her photographs were on film, not digital. This past year she had to hunt through numerous negatives, looking for that particular image in hopes of recreating the family keep-sake, of bringing them a bit of joy. There are times when she is asked to take a photo of an old photo that is fading or damaged. She retouches the original picture and returns with copies that can be kept by the family.

Young ladies in Cuba
Cindy discovered Isla Mujeres back in the late 1990's with her husband Steve, and has been returning to the island as often as possible ever since. As she walks through the neighborhoods she will occasionally spot one of her portraits hanging on a wall inside a house. It brings a smile to her face to know it is still being appreciated. She has also donated photographs to fundraisers for PEACE, the Little Yellow School House, and Isla Animals plus other charities back in her home town of Milwaukee Wisconsin. The featured portraits shown here, are from Cuba, because she keeps the images from Isla Mujeres solely as gifts to the family.

Cindy practicing with Japanese sword
With many interests and passions Cindy is a practitioner in the art of Chinese Kung Fu, wielding swords and staffs with efficient ease. On her trips to Cuba - bringing suitcases of food, shampoo, toothpaste, flip flops and shoes to the nationals - she also packs her sword so she can visit and play Kung Fu at the large Wu Shu Kung Fu school in downtown Havana. 

While on Isla Mujeres she is training at the Escuela de Lima Lama with Maestro Julio. This year she transported a Japanese sword for Julio. At customs in Mexico, she was asked what was in the large box and when she replied that it was a large sword plus shoes to give away, they told her to walk around the scanners and by-pass security!

Well known Cuban woman - recently passed away
Cindy's random acts of kindness started about twenty years ago, after a botched surgical operation. 

Near death, she made a promise to her Creator: “Let me stay here on earth, and I will find ways to be good and kind to other people.”

And she does.

Friday, May 8, 2015

May 3rd Day of the Flowery Cross

Decorating the wooden cross
Carefully winding multiple pieces of crepe paper around and around the wooden form, his large work-calloused hands create a beautiful pattern of colours: red, green, yellow, orange and blue. 
Then bright silk flowers are secured on the pieces of wood; wood that has been scavenged from the work-site and formed into a cross in celebration of this special day for construction workers. 

Workers place the cross at the highest point of the construction
A group of men tote the cross to the highest point on the new building. As the cross is secured in place the workers ask for safety on the job site, and prosperity for the coming year.
Our Canadian friends Déanne Gray and Brent Curley are building a home just a few houses north of ours on the east side of Isla Mujeres. 

The crew - relaxing after work
Déanne and Brent invited us, and a few other North American friends, to participate in the Dia del Albañil (Day of the Masons, stone-workers) celebrations at their construction site. For the fiesta, it is the responsibility of the home owners, along with their architect, in this case Lucy Chavez Cantu, and building foreman to arrange the details.

Celebration lunch for May 3rd
The festivities typically include regional foods like Cochinita Pibil (a slow-roasted pork dish) and cactus salad, with drinks of tequila or mezcal or pulque, plus lots of cold cerveza. 
And of course, dessert. Déanne is known around our neighbourhood for her wonderful baked goodies that she delivers to the workers every Saturday afternoon. For the fiesta she made a batch of sugar cookies decorated with a cross, plus three different types of brownies for everyone to enjoy. Yum! I think we're really going to enjoy having them in the neighbourhood!
Special cookies
A feast day for all of Mexico, May 3rd is also known as El Dia de Santa Cruz (Day of the Holy Cross), or Dia del Albañil (Day of the Masons, stone-workers). 
This celebration ceased in all other countries of the world when Pope John XXIII removed the feast day from the Catholic liturgical calendars in 1960. The Pope was planning to focus attention on the celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th, coincidentally also Independence Day in Mexico.

Lucy Chavez and Déanne Gray
While the rest of the world obeyed the wishes of the Pope, in Mexico, it caused a bit of an uprising.  Since the late 1500's the construction workers had always observed May 3rd as their feast day. They did not want to move their special day to September 14th, the traditional day of celebration for the Charros (Cowboys). 
To keep the peace between the two warring factions the Mexican clergy made applications to Rome to retain the May 3rd celebration. The Vatican agreed - but only for Mexico!

Mexico City  - Flowery Cross
In other parts of Mexico, especially Mexico City where Lucy Chavez previously lived, the crosses are adorned with real flowers, but our Caribbean breezes tatter the petals too quickly so artificial flowers are used instead. 
For Sra. Chavez the May 3rd celebrations are a very important tradition that she strives to preserve by including new home owners in the festivities. 
This week there are three construction sites all within a block of our house, decorated with the Flowery Crosses.

Construction site for 12 new condos on our street

I guess that makes us a busy, and hopefully a well-protected neighbourhood in paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Another new house on our street

More fun stuff from Trip Advisor: How do you pronounce Isla Mujeres?
Eez- la Moo-hair-iss? - Milwaukie
Ees la - moo hair ace? - Washington DC
Eez-la Moo-heh-res? – Seattle Washington

What we hear most often from local friends is:

eez-la moo-Heh-res The accent goes on the second syllable in Mujeres. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Can you get from here to there?

Playa Norte
Reading Trip Advisor, can be a trip (old 1970's hippie saying, in case you are too young to remember). 
On the website there are dozens of questions from people who are first time travelers to Isla Mujeres. 
Recently somebody asked: Can I walk all the way around the island on the waterfront?

Playa Posada
Well, yes, and no ….. You can walk all the way around on fairly decent sidewalks that were upgraded or newly built in 2009, but the waterfront is another thing entirely. 
The waterfront in Mexico is considered federal property and in theory you are allowed to cross it, but in some locations it is just not possible.

West side - lots of restaurants, bars and boats
If you start at the easy part, the sugar-white sandy beach at the north end, Playa Norte and head south on the west side of the island you can walk a good distance past restaurants, bars, marinas, and the two passenger ferry docks. 

 Assuming you are able to actually pass the bars with out stopping at each establishment to check out the degree-of-coldness for their beer, you could walk for at least twenty minutes before you start running into bigger man-made obstacles.
Zigging and zagging around the fishermen and  boats
Your trek will consist of smooth sandy beaches interspersed with mooring lines for the numerous fishing pangas. A lot of high-stepping, rope-hopping is required. Great exercise for the gluts, I'm told. When you reach the area in front of the Naval base – that's the large white fenced compound on Medina Avenue – you will have to detour around this restricted area, and use the sidewalks.

Makax Lagoon - marinas & boats, not pedestrian friendly
On the south side of the car ferry terminal there are more fishing-boat lines to hop over and guard dogs to avoid, three fun bars where you can cool off, a handful of restaurants, and several marinas. In the area between Playita Isla Mujeres (formerly Chuuk Kay Restaurante) and all-inclusive Palace Royale Resort you will have use the sidewalks. The properties on this stretch of waterfront face onto the marshy Makax Lagoon. Unless you happen to be wielding a sharp machete, this area is not pedestrian friendly. Plus the dense mangrove jungle is home to millions of mosquitoes and other unpleasant critters. So hit the concrete and continue walking south.
Capitan Dulce Restaurante & Museum
You might want to re-hydrate with another cold beverage at Playa Lancheros, or a little further along at Capitan Dulce Restaurante and Museum. In this area, on the western side on Isla Mujeres, there are many large tracts of private land owned by beach clubs and small hotels. A number of these properties have all-inclusive entrance fees and have made it difficult to access the beach.

Garrafon Natural Reef Park - private walkway
At Garrafon Natural Reef Park you will definitely have to use the sidewalks. The private concrete pathway beneath the rugged cliffs is only accessible by paying the park entrance fee. This pathway connects with Punta Sur, the southern most part of the island and coincidentally the most eastern part of Mexico. The entrance fee for Punta Sur is only about $2.00 USD and well worth the cost.

Punta Sur walking path - keep back from the cliff edge!
The most scenic path along this part of the island is a well worn track that starts at Punta Sur. It skirts the friable edge of the cliffs, ambles in front of private homes, and re-joins the main road near the waste transfer station. (Yes, unfortunately a place to collect refuse is a necessary evil, even on an island in paradise.) 

Beach along eastern side - near Guadalupana
The pathway slowly descends until once again the beach front is accessible. Built several years ago there is a nice sidewalk that continues on past the newer cemetery, the Guadalupaňa settlement, Isla 33 Condos, Villa la Bella B&B, and a cluster of tasty restaurants: Caribbean Brisas, Bahama Mama, and Mango Café. If you have experienced what the island sidewalks can look like after a big storm or a hurricane you will appreciate that this one is smooth, and relatively stumble-proof.

Beautiful glass wall looks out over the ocean
Then starting at the beautiful glass-fronted Catholic church across the street from the Mango Café, waterfront hiking becomes more interesting. It is possible to clamber over rocks, and around obstacles eventually coming out at the new skateboard park near Casa Ixchel Hotel.

Behind the AguaKan pumping station
From the skateboard park all the way to the naval airport the oceanfront is relatively easy to traverse. Part sand, part round pieces of coral, interspersed with rocky outcroppings the beach meanders past private homes, with a few municipal exits/access points where you can leave the beach and use sidewalks if you choose.

Malecon - seawall walkway 
Past the naval base, make a turn towards the sea, and in behind the AguaKan pumping station is a wonderfully wide malécon, a walkway, perfect for strolling and enjoying the view of turquoise water. This is our favourite place to walk and check out what's happening in the neighbourhoods. The malécon will take you all the way to Playa Media Luna, and a few steps away from the start of your journey at Playa Norte, where once again you can re-hydrate with a cold beverage.

Playa Media Luna 
If this trek sounds too exhausting, you might want to consider a shorter excursion, a Sea Glass Adventure Hike with our friend Daryl Adler. The hike takes anywhere from one to two hours, depending on your level of fitness, or your interest in hunting sea glass. Perhaps you'll find a piece glass discarded by the pirates who visited Isla Mujeres many years ago.

Vintage Sea Marble ring - Daryl Adler
Originally from Seattle Washington, Daryl moved to Isla about three and a half years ago. When the Artist Fair is on, November to April, you will find 

Daryl with his display of water colours, or beautifully handcrafted sterling silver jewelry featuring unique sea marbles and one of a kind pieces of sea glass.
So, you see you actually can get from here to there, but I'm worn out writing about all of this activity. I think I will join my sweetie on the patio for a cold glass of wine, and watch the sunset. Ah!
Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Breaking News:
Our bilingual (Spanish & English) book for children – The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Adventuras de Tomás el Gato is now available on E-Books, via Amazon Kindle Books. Order yours today!