Friday, April 29, 2016

A week off for us - entertaining family members for a few days!

Just a few colourful photos to keep you entertained.  

New camera has a HRD Paint program.  Fun to fool around with - hope you enjoy!

Painter jazzing up house on Juarez

Looking down on square from The Reef Bar

Fun colours on Juarez Avenue

Tuggui popsicle salesmen headed back after long day

Another colourful street

Cheers Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, April 22, 2016

Cubanos seeking asylum in Mexico

Cuban boat abandoned at North Beach January 2015

The make-shift rafts, hand-built boats, and in one case a hot tub transport hopeful people from Cuba to the eastern coastline of Mexico.  Cubanos desperately looking for a better life.

When we moved to Isla Mujeres in 2007, we knew nothing of the Cuban refugee situation other than what was broadcast on American news; refugees periodically arriving in Florida in dangerously unsafe boats.  Fascinating stories, but it didn’t affect our safe lives in Canada.

Cuban boat east side of Isla Mujeres June 2009 

Since our first winter on Isla there have been about a dozen, or perhaps more, landings that we are aware of.  The Cubans are looking for a less oppressive life-style, and for the most part they have strong family connections with Mexico, especially Isla Mujeres.  Isla’s most well-known pirate, Fermin Anonio Mundaca de Marecheaga became a famous and wealthy slave trader in the Caribbean, selling Mayan slaves from this area to plantation owners in Cuba.  In 1860 when the British campaigned against slavery, Mundaca rented out his ships to the Yucatan Government, which continued to capture Mayans and sell them to Cuba. Family members of both Cuban and Mexican fishermen visited back and forth for centuries, before international rules and treaties made it difficult to do so. 

Across from Naval Base - May 2009
According to long-time islanders, after the communist takeover of Cuba, the business of importing undocumented Cubanos has been a time-honored way to make extra money.  When finances become tight, anyone with a strong boat and two or three fast motors can do well supplementing their income.   Across from the Navy base on Isla Mujeres, there is a long string of seized boats, rafted together.  These are boats confiscated from smugglers; smugglers of contraband and of people.

Refugee boat - April 2012
The actual laws governing Cuban refugees is a confusing situation.  For example in the USA the Cuban Adjustment Act was changed in 1995 to what is referred to as the Wet Foot-Dry Foot policy.  If they are captured at sea (wet foot) they are returned to Cuba and possibly imprisoned for the remainder of their lives, or they could be sent to a third country that was willing to take the refugees.  If they were captured on land in the USA (dry foot) they were given a chance to apply for an expedited permanent resident status.

Discarded wet clothing - November 2010 near our house

In 2012 the Canadian Immigration and Refugee Board did an extensive study on what happened to failed asylum seekers who were returned to Cuba, and to their family members who had stayed in Cuba.  The information was scarce and difficult to validate, but officially the returning person is only incarcerated if they committed a crime before fleeing Cuba.  However the option for the officials to declare the returnee a traitor, and ‘blacklist’ that person preventing him or her from obtaining employment or other services is a very real threat.

Tourist inspecting boat that landed on September 4th 2015

In Mexico the laws are a bit fuzzier.  It would appear that if the Cubanos are captured, either on the ocean or on land, the official policy is to return the people to their own country.  However, in chatting with various islanders that is not always the case.  Because of their close family ties, and the historical background the refugees are treated differently. 

There have been in past years dramatic rescues of prisoners that are being transferred to prisons.   There have been cases of the refugees being arrested, then released with the admonishment to show up for their hearing in a week’s time.   There have been reports of officials pointing north and stating: “The US border is that way.”   Being Spanish speaking the Cuban refugees assimilate quickly into the Mexican culture, receiving dry clothing, food and assistance from the locals.   

A wink, a nod, a knowing smile when we ask questions of our Mexican friends.  Legends.  Stories.  Nothing documented.

Cozumel boat arrived April 2016 - Por Esto photo
As for the most recent arrival on Isla Mujeres of nine men and three women, and another larger group of men captured in Cozumel we haven’t been able to learn what will happen with them.  According to recent news reports, the authorities believe that both groups and their make-shift boats were ‘planted’ a short distance off-shore by bigger boats, enabling the people to safely reach land. 

Either way, stay or return, it is an uncertain future for the refugees.  Hopefully their status will get sorted out and they can get on with building a better life here in Mexico.

Pieces of a Cuban boat drifting on north-east side January 2015

And for those of you who have been following the story of the five missing island fishermen - the aerial search for their boat, the Anastacia, is now centred over the Honduras.  Missing since March 30th, there is still hope for their safe return.   

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Five fishermen and boat missing since March 30th

Friday, April 15, 2016

Cuban refugees land on Isla, while ocean search goes on for five missing local fishermen

Makeshift barge 12 people, 18 days from Cuba, L Lock Photo
An intense nautical search has been underway for the last two weeks to locate five island fishermen and their 32-foot boat the Anastacia missing since March 30th.  

While the quest to find the Anastacia was underway a makeshift, homemade barge equipped with a rudimentary sail and oars landed on the eastern coast of Isla Mujeres with a dozen Cuban refugees on board.  

Three women and nine men posed with relieved smiles for a photograph at TV Isla Mujeres.  They had been at sea since March 27th, eighteen days in a rickety dangerous craft, arriving in reasonably good health, proving that there is still hope for the safe return of the five young men from Isla.
Por Esto photo

Seeing the primitive Cuban refugee barge got us to thinking.   If the Cubanos spent more than two weeks at sea - with a minimum amount of shelter, food and water - how long can people survive on the open ocean?  What is the record number of days?  What type of craft were the survivors typically found in?  What do they do for food and water?

There are a lot of accounts on the internet about people who have been successfully rescued after drifting for long periods of time in strange makeshift vessels, making do with rain water and the occasionally caught fish or seabird.  There is one story about two people adrift for nearly five months in an ice box scavenged as their fishing boat sank, and another about a sixty-two year old man floating for three months in a disabled sailboat.  When the search for the Anastacia and crew first started two other boats were found that had been drifting, without power for a couple of weeks.  One boat was from Isla Holbox, the other one from the Veracruz area.   No one had reported them as missing. 

5500 miles in a small boat - photo
But the internet story that really gives us confidence that our islanders will be found is the account of the five fishermen from the west side of Mexico, who on October 28th of 2005 set out in a twenty-five foot boat to do some shark fishing.   

Lucio Rendon, Salvador Ordonez and Jesus Eduardo Vivand, along with two other companions motored out to their chosen location and set their lines, then the crew relaxed with a few beers for the evening.  The next morning they couldn’t locate their expensive equipment and spent a number of hours searching the sea, until without fully grasping their new predicament they ran out of fuel - too far from shore to paddle the boat to safety.  The boat began to drift with the strong ocean currents. 

Fundraiser at El Patio April 15th
By the time the men were located a record setting nine months later in August of the following year, they had drifted to within two hundred miles of the Australian coastline, a total of five thousand five hundred miles across the wild Pacific Ocean.  

Living on the raw flesh from sea turtles, sea birds and fish, plus collecting rain water in their plastic fuel containers three of the five fishermen survived to be rescued by a Taiwanese fishing trawler.  

It is unimaginable what they went through in their reluctant journey across the Pacific.  It is also unimaginable the pain and heartache their families were subjected to, never sure what had happened to their loved ones. 

If these folks can survive so can our island guys.
If you would like to help out here’s what you can do. 

There is always hope they will be found! Isla Fiesta photo

The El Patio House of Music is having a fund raiser starting at 7:00 p.m. on Friday April 15th.   

100% of proceeds from food and beverage will be donated to the families.

Help support the five families who are without their wage earners by donating to the
Help to Find the Anastacia fund and pay for the fuel for the search by donating to

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, April 8, 2016

Missing! Five Islanders and the Anastacia

Anastacia - before it went missing.  Isla Fiesta photo

They are husbands and fathers, brothers and sons, uncles and nephews, cousins and friends; and they are missing.  Five friends left Isla Mujeres on a 32-foot boat, the Anastacia, Wednesday March 30th.  They were headed towards the island of Cozumel to fish for sharks.   

They have not been heard from since.

Waiting for news
At the fishing coop where the Anastacia berths the families wait, faces pinched by worry and love, seeking comfort from each other.  

Eyes brim with tears that quickly spill with the arrival of more friends, affectionate hugs, and soft words of solace.  An upset child picking up the unsettled mood, tugs at a sleeve of his mother, plaintively asking: When is papi coming home? 

But each new day is a morning filled with hope and optimism.  “Today is the day we will find them!” 

The search coordinating committee is made up of many islanders including Jorge Fernando De La O Pino papa to Jorge De La O, the captain of the Anastacia.  

Javi, Marla, Jorge Sr., and Jill

Others members are Marcelo Cupul Ku, Rogelio Digurnay Perez, Marcelino Cupul Avalos, Javier Martinez Cen, Marla Bainbridge Martinez, Wilberth Ancona Argaez, Julio Sosa Chuc and Thelmo Burgos Uc.  Jill Hardekopf is also helping out with her American contacts.  

Most of the committee has other jobs that they have taken a leave of absence from, allowing them to devote time to finding their family members.  In the case of Jorge Sr., the opening for his new restaurant has been delayed indefinitely.   Javier Martinez Cen (Javi) and Jorge Jr., have been as close as cousins since birth.  For him, and all of the other families, this search is intensely personal.

Currents - Mexico, Cuba, US
The search grids are based on suggestions from highly qualified experts from around the world and experienced members of the community, fishermen, captains and mates who know the currents and wind patterns.  From early morning to late at night coordinators makes phone calls to authorities seeking assistance, asking permission, planning for the next day’s search grid, raising money to pay for the massive amounts of fuel required, and answering hundreds of emails and Facebook posts.  

All through the day optimistic words of hope are spoken.  Never give up!  We will find them.   Each sunset is the beginning of a night filled with very little and restless sleep, exhausted brains spinning with questions.  Where are they?  Are they okay?  What can we do next?  Where should the search focus tomorrow?

Huachisan III and crew searching in Cuban waters

Deline García Canto talks with pride how his papa Juan de Dios García Povedano (Huacha) and crew aboard the Huachisan III have been given permission to search in Cuban waters.   They are tired, worried and a long way from home, but still searching for their friends.  The Mexican government has initiated the request for assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, and are still waiting on their reply.  

Also out searching

The navy, the harbor master, and the UltraMar passenger ferry have all assisted. Mexico News Daily with a readership of twenty thousand expats carried the story a few days ago, as did a TV station in Houston because Jorge De La O lives there part of the year.  A gofundme campaign has raised thousands of dollars to assist with the cost of fuel for the search boats; more is needed.  

Locals and expats have come together providing basic needs for the five families, waiting without a source of income, for the return of their husbands and fathers.  The search committee is working remotely with the specialized, volunteer Search & Rescue team from the USA.  Their arrival has been delayed, awaiting documentation.

Isla Mujeres is a strongly knit community of locals and foreigners all pulling together to bring the five men home safely, hopefully with an interesting adventure story to tell their children.  But the social media network is slowly picking at the threads of the community, bit by bit, picking and unraveling the fabric of the island.  

Social media is a curse and a blessing.  It is an instant form of communication.  And an instant form of condemnation and criticism.   Why didn’t they do this?  Why don’t they do that?  I could do this better.  Not taking into account the tangled regulations involved with three separate countries – Mexico, USA, and Cuba who hasn’t had a diplomatic relationship with the USA from 1960 until just this year.  Permissions are required to cross, enter or fly over airspace and oceans.  And not taking into account the personal toll on the family members as each new rumor is bandied about as “the truth” while family members are left to wonder: Why wasn’t I told.  I am sitting right here five feet away from the coordinators.  Why didn’t they tell me my son was okay?  And then it’s revealed to not be the truth, but just a fast-moving rumor spreading like wild-fire through the internet searing the hearts of those waiting for news.

Dawn of another day of hope!

Maybe today is the day that they will find them!  

Be strong, stick together, and work to a common goal.  It’s what makes Isla Mujeres such a special place in a complex world.

Hasta Luego
Lynda & Lawrie

Please feel free to share our blog post. 

If you would like to help - please donated to the Find the Anastacia Fund gofundme

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sergio’s Isla Art

Sergio the artist - Tiffany Wareing photo
He has an irrepressible smile that lights up his weathered face; whether he is teaching batik, painting a mural or riding his bicycle he is always smiling. 

Sergio was born sixty-two years ago in Champotoń in the state of Campeche into a family of three sisters and three brothers.  His family moved to Isla Mujeres when he was a young boy, and he has lived on the island, on and off, for over fifty years.  When he was a younger man Sergio worked on several construction projects in the Tulum area. 

Sergio - at the Isla Mujeres Art Fair - photo from FB page
And then there was a seven-year period when he lived twenty-five meters above ground, in a very primitive tree-house.  

When asked by a friend why he lived so high up he replied with a face-splitting grin. 

“You have to get above the snakes!”  

That’s about eighty-two feet above the ground, a long way down if you roll over in the night, forgetting you are high up in the trees. 

Sergio - photo Ceceila Hart-Hodges
Keenly interested in anything to do with art since he was a small child, Sergio has mastered the Indonesian technique of Rōkézūzūmi batik.   

His gorgeous wall hangings are complex and brightly coloured, depicting Maya themes.  

They can be purchased at the Isla Mujeres Art Fair which takes place the first Thursday of every month between November and April.  The Art Fair is located at the Casa de Cultura in Centro, on the eastern side of the island near the municipal esplanade.

Sergio teaching kids at the Casa de Cultura
Sergio has also done a number of wall murals, the most recent being the Maya goddess IxChel on Ronda and Bruce Robert’s house, next door to our casa.  

And on Tuesdays and Thursdays he teaches classes in batik or tie-dying at the Casa de Cultura.  

The information is available on his Facebook page, thanks to John and Valerie Pasnau who are the energy behind promoting Sergio’s artworks.

Recent students, Danielle, Barbara, and Carol
Here’s the information for art lessons from Sergio:
There are two classes a week, every week, Tuesday and Thursday.
Start time is 10 am, Gringo time. 
Finish time is when we finish, Mexican time, about three hours.
Fee is 350 pesos plus 50 pesos to cover materials. You will make a batik or tie-dye wall hanging.
Sergio's work - photo Isla Art Fair FB page
Classes are held in the Cultural Center in Centro.  Classroom door is in the center courtyard.  
If the front door is closed walk around to the Caribbean side. The courtyard is open on that side.
We hope you will let us know in advance if you plan to come, but drop-ins are welcome.
So, either way, get some beautiful art; purchase one of Sergio’s creations, or make your own fabulous wall hanging.  
What a great souvenir of a vacation in paradise.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Sergio - fascinating mural at John & Valerie's house