Friday, October 30, 2015

A witches’ brew of traditions

Pink-haired rock stars and pretty devils

It’s the time of year when devils, skeletal Catrinas, pink-haired rock stars and hobgoblins make an appearance – in a witches’ brew of celebrations and traditions; the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, combined with our North American Halloween, and the very spiritual Mayan celebration of Hanal Pixán.   

It’s a fascinating time of year to be in Mexico.

Recent breakfast at Naval Officers' Club
October is also when the current Navy Commodore’s wife hosts the annual costume-party breakfast at the Officers’ Club on Medina Avenue.  Doña Olivia, along with her right-hand person Susana Olvera, did an outstanding job this year.  

The monthly breakfast event is an important fundraiser that helps purchase equipment and furnishings for the Navy hospital on Isla Mujeres.  

Minnie Mouse
It’s a fun time to visit with seldom-seen friends, and make new acquaintances.  Then breakfast is served, raffle prizes drawn, and sometimes a version of flash-card bingo is played.  The Gringa population informally refers to the event as The Navy Wives’ Breakfast because the longer Spanish name is a mouthful of difficult consonants and unfamiliar words. 

This year Minnie Mouse put in an appearance at the costume party.  Wearing over-sized yellow shoes she stumbled her way to the door.  Peering through eye-holes in the giant head she was greeted by scary hunchbacks, devils, and the Scream Ghostface man.  The room was jammed.   Everyone participated in the crazy fun by wearing costumes and disguises.  A huge amount of effort had gone into the decorations with black and orange balloons, table cloths, napkins, Halloween themed food and a pumpkin-faced cake.

Mariachis band - ten musicians

There was a short video presentation showing the various items at the hospital that had been purchased in the past year by the fundraising efforts of the women.  

Then a ten-person mariachi band played some great tunes and the door prizes were drawn.  At our table of fourteen women, islander Gail Stewart was the lucky one to win a prize. 

Our table at the breakfast
If any of your island friends ask if you would like to go to the Navy Wives’ Breakfast – say Si!  You will have a fun time, and be contributing back to the island.  

Sue McDonald Lo is a great source for information and tickets.  Minnie Mouse is already planning her costume for next October!

As for the rest of the witches’ brew of traditions, the city is hosting a number of events to draw visitors into the local celebrations.  

Friday October 30th is the Paseo de las Ánimas – the Parade of the Souls starting around 6:00 in the evening at the older cemetery in centro and finishing at the recently completed Casa de la Cultura – Cultural Center. 
Altars - Photo from FB Naranja Dulce
On Saturday October 31st in the square at city hall there will be a mix of traditions: the judging of Halloween-style costumes for children, and the building of beautiful altars for the Mayan Hanal Pixán celebrations.  

The altars are traditionally decorated with candles, candy skulls, bright yellow Marigold petals, favourite foods and photographs of the deceased loved ones.   The Municipality of Isla Mujeres has until recently been very low-key on this important celebration, preferring to let the families privately honor their deceased loved ones. 

San Miguel de Allende
I have mixed feeling about making it a public event.  In San Miguel de Allende, closer to Mexico City, the amazing altars, offerings and decorations are a huge tourist draw.  We were there, accidentally, in 2008; the sight is breathtakingly beautiful. 

But a part of me thinks this should remain a private family event, not a tourist attraction. 

Still, it is a fascinating time of the year to be in Mexico.  We can’t think of anywhere else we would like to be right now.

Cheers from paradise!
Lynda & Lawrie

We hope you enjoyed this post.  If you did please feel free to share it with your friends and family. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

When Paradise Gets Wet, Really Wet

A week of grumpy weather
We fooled around with various ideas for a title for this week’s blog.  

Titles like – some days you should just stay in bed, or a little adversity can pull a community together, or when it rains it pours!  

You get the idea.  It’s been a grumpy wet week that has created a few problems for the island community.

 Collapsed wall - TV Isla Mujeres photo

The first problem was an eight-foot tall retaining wall that collapsed from the weight of water in the soil.  Twelve inches of rain in twenty-four hours.  It seems like we are back on the Wet Coast of BC – living in Vancouver, or the American equivalent of Seattle Washington.  

Murals painted in April 2015 - L Lock photo
The wall supported the popular volleyball and exercise area for seniors, located along the double road that runs from the east to the west side of the island, past the newer cemetery and the big church.  This spring local artists were invited to decorate the wall with murals of local creatures such as iguanas, hermit crabs, and turtles.  It was one of my favourite murals, not part of last year’s big Panga Seed fourteen murals painted in one month blitz, but still a well-planned and beautifully painted wall. 

Police cleaning up - TV Isla Mujeres photo
Interestingly enough in Mexico the local police are called out to help clean up disasters such as this.  We have also seen the police painting crosswalks and speed bumps with the bright yellow warning colour, and re-installing broken or missing stop or speed limit signs.  In Canada those jobs are handled by the city maintenance workers, or the provincial highway department employees.  Just another small difference we have noticed between the Canadian or American and Mexican cultures. 

Hidalgo Ave under water, Giovanna Flores photo
As the rain continued unabated a notice was posted on various community Facebook pages asking any able-bodied people to help neighbours in areas that are flooding.  Most of Isla Mujeres is barely above sea-level while the southern end is maybe fifty feet above sea-level.  That creates two problems.  One: water runs downhill, adding more depth to the already saturated areas in the lower parts of the island.  And two: the island is a sandbar in the beautiful turquoise Caribbean Sea.  The tides are currently quite high, and the ocean water combined with the excess rain is creating havoc.  The street corner across from Jax Bar & Grill had an accumulation of six inches of water, as did most of Hidalgo Avenue in Centro. We saw the new fire truck and crew busy pumping out the streets, moving the water into the ocean.  The water eventually seeps back into town: pump, dump and repeat.  But hey, it’s warm water, not icy cold snow-melt.
Lawrie with the hard working Isla Animals gang
Also posted on Facebook was a plea from Isla Animals looking for temporary foster parents for several of their stray dogs.  The lake at the Hacienda Mundaca Park was overflowing, saturating the area around the Isla Animals Clinic, soaking in through the walls and floors.  The free spay and neuter clinics were cancelled for the next few days until the weather changed.  Eileen and Doug Regn and a crew of helpful volunteers were moping the floors and moving the animal cages around when we popped by a couple of nights ago.  They are such a hard working group of people.  

Crocodile prefers pond across from Isla Animals 
The resident crocodile that has been moved by City workers - several times - from the pond across from the Isla Animals Clinic to the lake at Hacienda Mundaca – has returned to the pond, again.  She likes it there!  

One local humorist suggested it was the availability of a better food source that prompts her to make the trek on a regular basis. 

CFE changing weak power pole on our street
Closer to home we have had an interesting week, exacerbated by the rain and higher humidity.  Our third GE Profile side-by-side refrigerator died during the night.  Then our new hot water heater decided to take a day or two off from work, thinking that Lawrie and I would appreciate cooler morning showers.  Our recently purchased 2005 Mini Cooper also wanted a short vacation.  The engine electronics didn’t like the excessive rain.  

Wet Policeman - while CFE changes power pole 
We decided to take the Mini Cooper back to the dealer in Cancun where we purchased the car and get a diagnostic test run.  The weather wasn’t too bad, it looked like things were improving.  Just as the car ferry was docking in Punta Sam a nasty windstorm blew in with pelting rain and high winds, temporarily grounding the boat in the sandy harbour.  As the Captain applied full throttle to free the vessel a freak wind-squall slammed the boat’s bow into the concrete docks.  It was darn exciting for a few minutes with lots of nervous laughter from the on-board truck drivers and ferry crew.  There was some damage to the boat and dock but no injuries that we know of. 

Pepe and guys struggling with fridge
Once off the ferry our drive through Cancun got a bit interesting as the rain continued to pelt down, flooding streets to a depth of a foot or more, making the ever-present potholes impossible to see.  

We decided that since we were already in the city to get the car checked we might as well search for a new refrigerator.  Starting at Telebodega, then Liverpool, Chapur, and Sears we finally settled for a floor model at Costco.  

All the other stores said eight to fourteen days, more or less, before our purchase would arrive from Mexico City. 

Taking the old fridge out past neighbours' house
Islander José (Pepe) Martinez arranged a truck and two strong guys to take our new refrigerator from Costco to our house.  His quote was considerably cheaper than the Cancun-based fletes y mudanzas (cartage companies).  

As the rain continued to pelt down four guys wrestled the thirty-three inch wide beast into our house through an almost-too-narrow front door.  Lawrie had already removed the door and part of the frame but it was still a very tight squeak to get it inside the house.  The non-working appliance, thirty-six inches wide, was man-handled outside, and over a neighbours’ propane tank and onto the street.   Note to new island home owners: check the size of your main entrance before you purchase a large side-by-side refrigerator.  It’s a small but frustrating detail we overlooked eight years ago when we had the house built.

The return of sunny weather
As for the weather, eventually this persistent storm got bored with bothering us.  

It slowly dissipated allowing the warm Caribbean sun dry out our soggy little island. 

Warm breezes, sunshine. It's all good.  We live in paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

We hope you enjoyed this post.  If you did please feel free to share it with your friends and family. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Mañana doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means not today.

Thomas - what the heck is that thing?

 Huh!  What the heck is that?

Close to sunrise, I noticed a small green light blinking on the ocean just south of our house, flashing on and off at regular intervals.  Well, that needs to be investigated.  Our camera has a decent lens so I zoomed in for a better look; it was a huge marker buoy drifting free, and bobbing its way north towards our beach. 

Fifteen minutes later it ran aground, tipped over, and ponderously rolled in the waves until it was stuck about twenty feet from shore.  We emailed a friend who knew how to contact the naval base to advise them of the problem.  

Buoy down and rolling across coral
A group of marinas (sailors) arrived, a non-commissioned officer with his crew, to check out the buoy.  

Then the sleek navy cutter arrived cruising back and forth in the deep water on the other side of the reef, unable to hook a line on the buoy due to the increased size of the waves, and the shallow water inside the reef. 

Waiting for a decision from the big bosses
The weather turned foul so we invited the guys to take shelter on our patio, offering them coffee and snacks while they waited for a decision from higher-up.  The navy bosses were in communication with the harbour master and two employees arrived mid-afternoon to check the situation.  

One lucky guy was designated to retrieve the valuable GPS beacon.  The ocean is very warm in October, but dressed in protective gear it was a bit of a struggle for him to wade into the thigh deep water and remove the heavy beacon, still transmitting its location at 21 14.5 N and 86 44.1 W.  It is good thing the beacon was removed, or we could have had ships trying to take a position reading off of our house.  We envisioned an unscheduled cruise ship visit similar to the Costa Concordia that ran aground in Italy in 2012.

Removing the valuable beacon
By now we were serving ham and chicken sandwiches to the on-shore crew complete with a choice of coffee or pop.  It is a pretty good gig, hanging out with us while the jejes decide what to do with the marker buoy.  Around three in the afternoon the officer in charge flashed us a big friendly smile and said that the weather had become too rough and the cutter was not going to be able to pull the marker buoy back out to sea. 

Oct 7th 2014 - before beacon was removed

“We’ll come back mañana, or when the weather calms down,” he assured us. 

“Si, claro. Okay, no problem.”  

Smiles and handshakes all around, and everyone departed: October 7th 2014.

Yep, a year ago last week, and we are still looking at the rusting bottom side of a huge piece of scrap iron.  For the first few weeks the air stank of rotting sea creatures, until our neighbours helpfully hired a young friend to scrape the dying barnacles and mussels from the exposed bottom.  So how big is this thing?  It has a six foot diameter, and without wading into the water with a tape measure to get the exact measurements, we think it is about fifteen to eighteen feet tall.  It’s big and it’s heavy.

October 11th 2015 - still waiting
We have considered decorating it up for various holiday celebrations:  Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Independence Day.  We have had friends offer to paint it with cool designs.  But no one will remove, or move it, or even consider cutting it up.  It is federal property, but the feds don’t want it, the navy doesn’t want it and the harbour master doesn’t want it.  The first week or two that the buoy was here it moved around a bit, a little to the north, a little to the south, ever closer to shore until it is now half out of the water and stuck between two rocky outcroppings.  Our biggest concern is not esthetics, but of safety.  A big storm could turn this thing into a missile and shoot it straight at our house, knocking out walls and ripping down support columns.  Or, conversely it could be swept out to sea during a hurricane becoming a dangerous navigational hazard, unlit, unmarked, and big enough to punch a hole in a large ship. 

One of several large plastic pontoons
We know it is not the fault of the great folks that work for the navy or the harbour master.  We have always had the greatest respect for them.  They are willing, and helpful.  The decision came from higher up the pay-scale ladder.  It is just not in the budget.  

Well, then, give a scrap dealer the opportunity to cut it up and make a few bucks, it certainly is not going to be put back in service damaged, and dented from a year of rolling back and forth between two rocks.  It’s a win-win situation.   We get rid of a safety hazard, and a local person could make a few bucks salvaging the scrap.

Recent Cuban refugee boat near Casa Coral
Oh, and we have a couple of other little items that could be tossed into the salvage mix: several fifteen-foot long, by two feet around tubes of hard black plastic that were the pontoons for a Cuban refugee boat a year ago, now scattered along the eastern side of the island; plus another recent Cuban refugee boat that is currently lodged in the rocks near Casa Coral disintegrating in the waves.  We love old marine stuff, anchors, old ships, and other marine artifacts, just not half sunk vessels that are capable of causing major damage.  

Hopefully our “artifact” will eventually be removed, but as we discovered several years ago, Mañana, doesn’t mean tomorrow, it just means not today.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Awesome bunch of guys!

We hope you enjoyed this post.  If you did please feel free to share it with your friends and family. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

Isla is Booming!

2015 concrete docks, bigger boats, new signs
Our little paradise here on Isla Mujeres is rapidly changing.  We think it’s great.  The focus has been gradually shifting from a sleepy fishing village to a tourist-based economy with more amenities available for everyone.

Fortunately our Presidente Agapito Magaña was way ahead of the curve on this.  A great many of the projects he has introduced have the tourism industry front and foremost, from having our beaches designated as the coveted Blue Flag status, to getting Isla Mujeres chosen as a Pueblo Mágico destination in Mexico.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that Isla has been frequently mentioned in the news:

Old ferry terminal - 2007 Lawrie waiting for friends to arrive

Trip Advisor - Top Beaches in Mexico
NBC News – Best Islands to Live On
Travel & Leisure - World’s Best Islands
Islands – Best Islands for Retiring Early

And as you explore the island on a golf cart you can’t help but notice the construction of new homes, condos, and resorts, including in-filling of vacant lots in the local neighbourhoods.  

2015 Street side entrance to the new terminal
On our street, in the last seven years, there have been twelve new houses built plus several other existing home have undergone major renovations.  Chris Shannon, Managing Director of Mundaca Real Estate, (Isla’s biggest real estate company) told us that it is hard to keep up with the requests to show property.  Their sales team is busy, and it’s a good busy!

At Punta Sam the continental part of Isla Mujeres, a larger car ferry terminal is under construction.  We haven’t heard what the projected completion date is, but it looks like the project is well under way.  Hopefully the new facility will have a better system for selling tickets to drivers.  

It is always amusing if not a bit unnerving to wait, and wait, and wait until mere minutes before sailing time to see if you are actually going to be able to get your vehicle on the ferry.  It’s all part of the adventure of living here.

Feb 2015 - starting to remove tower (right)
At the south end of the island, Punta Sur, the large observation tower that was built shortly before, and severely damaged by, Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was finally demolished and removed in February of this year.  The newspaper report said that there were 100 tons (metric tons probably) of metal to be removed.  The demolition company cut the tower into several slightly more manageable chunks and lowered them to the ground.  

At the present time there are four modern homes/townhouses being built in the same area.  The removal of that towering menace is certainly a relief to everyone living within its considerable reach had it broken off and crashed to the ground.

Oct 2015 Four new homes being built at Punta Sur
Another new project this year was the completion of a new fire hall, next door to the renovated police station and across the street from the soccer fields.  Now the new fire truck has a home out of the weather, and hopefully will last longer than the last vehicle.  The previous vehicle disintegrated into a heap of rust.  As we have often mentioned living on an island surrounded by warm salty water, creates a huge corrosion and rust problem for anything electronic or mechanical, although for humans, it’s a perfect environment. 

New fire hall and new truck

We know some of you will lament the changes to Isla, remembering the sand covered streets, the small tiendas (shops), and the slower pace, but change happens and we can’t go back.  We wouldn’t want to.  We love our large well-stocked grocery store, the new hospital, a second gas station, the larger passenger ferry terminal, reliable electricity, paved streets and sidewalks.  And the internet – well, it works, most of the time. 

The island people have not changed.  They are still the most welcoming and friendly folks you would ever meet, but now they have more employment opportunities to provide for their families.

Isla is changing, and getting better every day.  Enjoy!

Hasta Luego
Lawrie & Lynda

Discovered by the world as a wedding destination

We hope you enjoyed this post.  If you did please feel free to share with family and friends.  

Friday, October 2, 2015

Finally, it’s open!

Main entrance on Calle #1
Finally, the new Hospital Comunitario de Isla Mujeres is in operation.  The hospital construction project was started during the administration of Presidente Alicia Rincaldi and languished from lack of funding through the administration of Presidente Hugo Sanchez, coming to completion under Presidente Agapito Magaña.  

It’s a beautiful facility located on the corner of Rueda Medina and Calle Paseo de los Peces, across from the large palapa entrance to the Hacienda Mundaca historical park. 

Doctor Zapata & Jorge Avila
Our friend, Jorge Avila who is the Coordinador de Sanidad Internacional for Isla Mujeres met us in at the entrance and introduced us to the Hospital Director, Doctor Zapata.   Doctor Zapata is an orthopaedist, and also specializes in trauma injuries.  It’s good to know he’s is available to assist with life-threatening problems.

As we started our tour of the hospital, Jorge explained that we were allowed to take photos inside, only today, as the final installation of equipment and the sterilization of the operating suites was taking place and many of the areas would soon be off-limits to the public.   Even so, we didn’t take photos of the patients as we didn’t want to infringe on their privacy.

There are ninety-five people employed by the hospital; three doctors in general admissions, and two doctors in the emergency area.  The hospital has its own pharmacia, (pharmacy) a vaccination room, and a place for island children under the age of twelve to receive free monthly check-ups and vitamin milk. There are also new x-ray and ultrasound laboratories.

X-Ray room
A new hyperbaric chamber is due to be delivered soon to facilitate treatment for a variety of problems.  Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) squeezes the oxygen molecules to allow more oxygen to enter the blood stream, and increasing the healing ability of the body.  It is used to treat deep water decompression sickness, the complications of diabetes, radiation treatment burns, and broken bones that are not healing properly.  The existing hyperbaric chamber in centro is funded by the fishing cooperative, and will remain available for the fishermen’s use.

Another interesting bit of information we learned is that restaurant workers must be tested every six months for hepatitis and salmonella.  

The hospital has a separate lab with its own entrance to accommodate the huge number of islanders involved in the restaurant industry.  

On the second floor of the facility are several private and semi-private rooms for recuperating patients, as well as the administration offices, and segregated dormitory rooms for future employees. 

Delivery room for babies
The maternity area was most impressive with the delivery room, recovery room, a separate area for newborns.  I can’t begin to name all the fancy equipment and machines that we saw but they certainly looked important.  

Fortunately the hospital is air conditioned so perhaps the normal rust and corrosion problems that are common here on Isla won’t be such a challenge.  At our house anything electronic has a very short life span.

More cool stuff for newborns!

As for what additional equipment they need Jorge said he is coordinating requests with the Seniors and Friends of Isla, a group made up primarily of expats who have been coming to Isla for many, many years.  

Here’s their FaceBook page link: or you can always contact me for the email addresses of Gary, or Denis, or Andy. 

One thing Jorge did mention is the need for good quality type-three cardiac stethoscopes.  On average a stethoscope only last a few months due to salt, humidity and corrosion.   Just an idea if you are looking for a way to contribute to the community. 

So, fingers crossed Lawrie and I won’t need to personally check the quality of emergency care at the new hospital but it is reassuring to know that we have a beautiful, new facility just a few minutes away. 

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Hospital Comunitario de Isla Mujeres 

We hope you enjoyed this post.  If you did please feel free to share it with your friends and family. 

Any errors with the information in this post are my fault!  It’s my darn Spanglish that tangles me up!