Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Parades, Parties and Processions

It’s that wonderful time of the year! The island is buzzing with seasonal activities, music and colour. 

Early in the month the Mexican Christmas celebrations begin with the Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe; many church processions and masses are held in her honor. 
Then on December 16th the Posadas started and continued until December 24th. The word posada means inn or shelter, and in Mexico the posadas are re-enactments of Mary and Joseph seeking shelter in Bethlehem. 

The procession makes its way to a different home on each night of the posada, and the participants sing a traditional song asking for admittance. The family inside the house responds with another song telling the group that there is no room at the inn. 

Eventually the song changes and the group is admitted to the home and supplied with food and drinks, plus a candy-filled piñata for the children. It is an important Christmas celebration in Mexico where an estimated eighty-five percent of the population observe the Catholic faith.

Colegio de Bachilleres students
By mid-month most of the schools were preparing to close for their Christmas holidays, and groups of students performed songs, plays, and skits for their parents and school friends. 

The basketball court across the street from our house was the venue for the high school skits. Each group of students had choreographed their dance routine to a well-known Christmas carol. 

Colegio de Bachilleres students
It was great fun to sit on our upper patio watching the enthusiastic performances of Jingle Bell Rock, Santa Baby, and Rocking Around the Christmas Tree. 

I’m thinking someone should re-write those songs for the tropics: maybe Rocking Around the Palm Tree? Or Riding on a One Dolphin Surfboard? Any volunteers? Many years ago I was booted out of a community choir for my lack of musical talent, so it won’t be me. 

Lupe, Yadira, and Freddy (Elmo) 
On Saturday December 19th we participated in the 3rd Annual Christmas Golf Cart Christmas, the brain-child of our friends Freddy Medina and Yadira Velázquez. 

It was hilariously good fun as we ricocheted through the tightly packed neighbourhoods, following Manolo Figueroa’s very changeable route. 

Sandra Buckholts and her sweetie
Many of us pondered the effectiveness of the brakes on a dilapidated party bus at the head of the parade. We faithfully followed the route up the only-steep-hill-on-the-island, zig-zagging through the narrow streets, and back down the only-steep-hill. 

We didn’t hear of any mishaps, so assume that everyone successfully negotiated the route. 

This year there were at least thirty golf carts festooned with lights and Christmas decorations. About a hundred and twenty excited participants dressed in costumes and a variety of Santa hats.

Valerie and John Pasnau
A surprise arrival of a golf cart driven by Santa and Mrs. Claus (John and Valerie Pasnau) was a great addition to the parade. 

Our police motorcycle escort was terrific at keeping the group together - like herding cats - as the line of golf carts and motorcycles wound its way through various areas on the island. 

Great job guys - keeping us all together! 
Freddy Medina and Lawrie

Everyone had candy to throw, but as usually happens we all get overly enthusiastic at the beginning of the parade, and run out of treats before the parade ends in Centro. 

Note to self: ration the candy, don’t toss huge handfuls at every child. Love this time of year in paradise.

It may not be politically correct to wish you Merry Christmas instead of Season’s Greetings or Happy Holidays – but on this island Christmas is an important family and religious celebration.

Merry Christmas to you all.

Lawrie & Lynda

On a personal note: We have a young female lab-retriever who has been residing at our house for over two weeks.  She would like to be returned to her own family, but we don't know where she lives.  If you recognize this young lady please leave me a message on the comments below, or on FaceBook.  She is a sweetie: gentle, house-trained, and leash-trained.  Someone has put a lot of love into her upbringing.  I am sure there is a family anxiously waiting for her return.
Female, about 2 years old, good health, spayed.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Bitch of the Day

Playa Norte early in the morning
Darn auto correct!  
It’s supposed to be beach: Beach of the Day!
For those of you enjoying your minus whatever temperatures in other parts of the world, here's a quick tour of our world of sun, sand, and fun.  

On our little 7 km long island in the Caribbean we are fortunate to have a variety of wonderful beaches to choose from, depending on the day of the week, or your mood.  

So pull on your bathing suit, sandals, and sunglasses.  Add a t-shirt or tropical wrap and let’s get started:

Fenix Lounge on Sunday Funday - FB photo
On Sunday mid-afternoon the crowd starts to gather at Fenix Lounge to enjoy live salsa music with La Barby and the guys.  

Located on the north-eastern side of the island near Na Balaam Hotel and the renovated Mia Hotel you can dance your sox off to the Cuban beats.

Monday - a good day to just chill on the beach
Monday, you’re probably moving a little slower after Sunday Funday and it’s time relax.

Rent a beach lounger, tuck under a palm tree and nap the morning away on Playa Norte with turquoise water gently lapping against soft white sand.  A number of restaurants and beach bars will be happy to deliver food and more drinks to your sun lounger.  

Designated as a world-class Blue Flag Beach Playa Norte is one of the best in all of Mexico.

Sunset on Playa Centro - Playa Posada
Tuesday just slide around the corner of Plays Norte, on the western side and enjoy Playa Centro, another Blue Flag designated beach.  

More sand, turquoise water, food and drinks!  It’s a great place to hang out and people-watch.  

Life is tough.

Killer Margarita at Soggy Peso - B. Schoenne photo
Wednesday, it’s time to get a bit more active and hit the Soggy Peso Bar & Grill on Rueda Medina, about a third of the way along on the western side of the island.  A small private beach, with three or four loungers, is located on the ocean-side below the main part of the bar.  

It’s a relaxing place to chill for an hour or two while you enjoy one of their killer-Margaritas.  If you intend to walk out of the Soggy Peso without falling in their large swimming pool – limit yourself to a maximum of three Margaritas.  "Don’t Step on the Blue.”  You’ve been warned!

Playa Tiberon - unassuming entrance, great place to chill
Thursday is a good day to explore the various beach clubs along Sac Bajo: Playa Tiberon, Zamas, or the Ice Bar at Playa Mexico where you can freeze your tushy off in below freezing temperatures while enjoying a beverage.  

These are private beach clubs where you pay a small entry fee or consume a certain amount of drinks and food to use the beach and facilities.  Oh darn, eating and drinking, at the beach, again. 

Friday it is on to Playa Lancheros, near the Royal Palace all-inclusive hotel at the round-about where you turn north towards Sac Bajo, or south towards Punta Sur.  Playa Lancheros is famous for their traditional Mayan Tikinxik grilled-fish lunch, cold beer and a nice beach.  

Little further south at Capitán Dulché Restaurante and Museum is a huge restaurant and funky bar.  The owner of the property loves old marine artifacts.  He purchased a battered 1930’s sailboat that, many years ago, had been sailed single-handedly from South Africa.  He has had it restored and it is the centre piece for the bar.

Garrafon de Castilla - Isla Mujeres Info photo
Saturday, Garrafon de Castilla great place for simple, old-time fun with easy beach food, and super snorkeling.  It costs much less than the bigger all-inclusive park next-door, Garrafon Natural Reef Park. 

Garrafon de Castilla is a great place to re-charge your batteries, because you know, the next day is Sunday!  And you can start all over again!

Just another week in paradise.

Lawrie & Lynda

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Something’s fishy on Isla

Beach near Velasquez Restaurante

Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women surrounded by water and fish, lobsters and conch. Until tourism started to boom in the 1980’s the traditional way of making a living for islanders was fishing.  
Even now around dawn the open deck panga-style fishing boats and crews head out to pull in the hopefully-heavy nets.  
If they are lucky, four or five fishermen per boat will be needed to haul the nets into the boat.  
In the evening the reverse happens, the fishing crews return to their favourite locations and reset the nets for the night hoping for a successful catch.
Heading out - watching for the Lady Fish run

When the weather turns grumpy the Port Captain closes the port, restricting the size of the boat that can leave the harbor until he gives the okay to leave.  
These are the days that most island restaurants will tell you that there is no fish for their menu that day.  
Others might have a supply of frozen fish from previous catches, and still others might substitute with a Vietnamese Basa, a river-caught fish, uniform in shape, and softer in texture.   Basa is not my favourite and I will usually change to something that does not include fish for my menu choice.

Cleaning and repairing nets
The good thing about a port closure - it gives the fishermen time to repair and clean their nets.  Sometimes you will see them on the beach north of Velasquez Restaurante on Rueda Medina. 
They string the nets between palm trees searching for rips, pulling off bits of seaweed that have been snagged in the weave.  

Weaving a new net
On very stormy days the net-mending takes place under covered domes where after school basketball games normally happen.  
Watching the fishermen repair tears in the netting is very reminiscent of the folks who weave hammocks.  
Holding a wooden bobbin in one hand and a tough nylon line in the other their hands weave in and out, neatly filling in the torn area.  It’s a beautiful skill.
As you enjoy your freshly caught fish in a local restaurant on Isla Mujeres think about the folks that make that tasty meal possible.  

Cleaning the catch 
Working whenever the weather allows the small open boats to ply the waters, hauling in fish, cleaning the catch at the end of the day and repairing nets on the stormy days in preparation for the next day’s work.  
It’s a physically demanding job, dangerous at times but for those who do the work there is no other job that gives them so much enjoyment.

Cheers from Paradise
Lynda & Lawrie

Crew cleaning up at the end of the day

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Friday, December 4, 2015

News Flash! Isla Mujeres is not really part of Mexico

Isla Mujeres - "not really part of Mexico"
Every once in a while you just have to laugh at the absurdity of “it’s the rules” that really large companies, the behemoths of consumerism, operate by. 
Recently we decided to replace two eight-year-old appliances, a stacking washer/dryer and a small fridge, that were showing signs of age due to rust and corrosion.  

(On the other hand our big GE Profile refrigerator has been replaced three times, and we finally got smarter and switched to an LG model without all the fancy electronics.)

Isla Mujeres - I'm pretty sure we live in Mexico
Lawrie had discovered Costco On-Line shopping with lower prices than the stores, better choices in brand names and best of all - direct delivery to your front door, anywhere in Mexico.  Anywhere.  A phone call to Costco confirmed that, yes they would be delighted to deliver to our front door on Isla Mujeres, at no extra cost.
Encouraged, Lawrie ordered the new Frigidaire washer/dryer combination, plus a Frigidaire wine fridge that would fit perfectly into the under-counter spot recently vacated by the demise of our third dishwasher.  The dishwasher was not going to be replaced.  We decided that for two people and two pets we sure as heck didn’t need another electronic-nightmare princess-of-a-dishwasher.  I mean, really, how difficult can it be for our dog Sparky to clean a few plates, pots and pans?  The utensils, well, that’s a bit more of a challenge because he has to be careful of the sharp knives and pointy forks, but he gets the job done.  

Bird of Paradise in paradise - Isla Mujeres
I was excited about the new appliances.  A new rust-free washer/dryer would be nice to have in hopes of preventing more rust stains on our clothes, but in my humble opinion the wine fridge was a necessity.  Confirmation of our order came through on our email.  We could expect delivery of said appliances in about twenty days.  
A few weeks ticked past without any more information, then we happened to be shopping at the Cancun Costco store.  We stopped at the customer service desk and they referred us to a very helpful English speaking employee.  She checked the status of our order and pointed out that the invoice said: twenty working days, not twenty days.  Saturdays and Sundays were considered non-working days.

Looks like Mexico to me ....
“Oh, okay, so that would be around November 5th?”
“Well, more likely around November 9th, because there was also the October 31st, November 1st and November 2nd national holidays to celebrate the Day of the Dead.” 
“Perfecto! Thank you so much for the update.”

Then on November 3rd we received an email from Costco.  The appliances were now on their way from the distribution center and would be delivered to our front door by Almex, a world-wide ginormous transportation company whose modernized company name is a shortened version of All-Mexico.  Another week ticked past and still nothing, but the on-line status showed that the appliances are out for delivery and should arrive on Isla by November 16th.  Okay, a little later than promised, but no big deal.

Oh look, there's Cancun - in the real Mexico, I guess
November 16th comes and goes, and once again we happen to be shopping in Cancun at Costco.  The Store Manager gets involved this time along with two other very helpful employees.  
They attempted to reach the Almex trucking company distribution center to find out what’s happening with our order.  An hour and many minutes later on his cell phone the Store Manager finally gets through to a person at Almex.  

The response: “We don’t deliver to Isla Mujeres, it’s not really part of Mexico.”  Well that’s strange: our address says Isla Mujeres Quintana Roo Mexico, the islanders speak Spanish, and the local currency is Mexican pesos.  Who knew we weren’t really living in Mexico?
Stacking washer/dryer
Very patiently the Costco Store Manager explained to the Almex branch manager, “Yes, you do deliver to Isla Mujeres.  It’s in your contact.  It’s listed on our on-line webpage.  You deliver to anywhere in Mexico.”
“No we don’t!”
Really, a trucking company giving Costco, another world-wide ginormous corporation, the proverbial finger?  Wow!
Eventually the Store Manager fought his way through the maze of Almex personal to reach someone more important in the hierarchy who very grudgingly says yes, we will deliver to Isla Mujeres.  The Costco manager told us the trucking company will call within an hour and arrange at date and time convenient for us. 
Lawrie and I do a mental eye-roll, and chuckle to ourselves.  Sure.  Sure they’ll call.

Yeah!  Finally arrived - 7 weeks after ordering
For the next few days we hang around the house, concerned about missing the delivery.  By November 21st our patience is getting a bit thin.  We would like to join our friends for Happy Hour, not be stuck at the house waiting.  Lawrie sends off yet another email asking Costco On-line what is the status of our order.  They in turn say that Costco Head Office has had a very up-close and personal conversation with Almex Head Office. 
We will be getting our appliances delivered on Saturday November 28th.  Guaranteed!  Costco Head Office apologizes profusely for the delays. 
Well, just when we thought it is never going to happen - it does.  A day early.  On Friday November 27th at 8:30 in the morning, when both Lawrie and I happened to be out – the appliances arrived!  

Thank goodness for strong friends - laundry centre 2nd floor
Fortunately Lawrie was just next-door at his sister Linda’s casa and his brother-in-law Richard noticed the truck at our house.  Whew!  If we had missed the delivery I am pretty sure that Almex would have refused to try again.   They would have been only too happy to give those pesky islanders, and Costco, the middle-finger-salute!
We have to say we are delighted with our purchases, especially the pretty 42-bottle wine fridge.  The Costco staff went out of their way to help us out.  
The Store Manager even called on the following Monday to make sure that we received our order and that we were happy with the new purchases.  Yes, and yes.
Mexican fisherman cleaning catch - and feeding bird
Almex on the other hand might need a lesson in geography.  Isla Mujeres really and truly is part of Mexico.  
It would be interesting to hear from other islanders, or residents of Isla Cozumel or Isla Holbox if you have successfully had a large delivery from Costco On-line, or did Almex cause you some hair-pulling moments too? 

It’s all part of the daily fun of living in paradise.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

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