Friday, December 30, 2016

Colourful Juarez Avenue on Isla Mujeres

Colourful Juarez Avenue

It’s almost 2017, time for that inevitable New Year’s Resolution – get more exercise! So, here’s an idea for you, take a stroll along colourful Juarez Avenue on Isla Mujeres. Enjoy the fun buildings. Enjoy the sunshine. And stop for lunch or a cold beverage. Hey, you are still exercising, you are just rewarding yourself for the effort.

There are more than a dozen interesting structures on Juarez Avenue with wild colour combinations and murals, or covered in bits of mosaic. Starting at the southern end, behind the navy base and heading north there is lots to see.  

Fluffy white dog and kitty will share their chairs with you

First there is Dede Clark’s tall, narrow home featuring a recent street-side addition of two benches painted to resemble delicate chairs. Friendly images of a fluffy white dog plus a black and white cat, invite you to join them in quiet contemplation of their neighbourhood.  

Across the street from her house is a single-level house decorated in hot pink and fuchsia, with a wild assortment of mythical trees, psychedelic flowers and solar images.  

A few steps further is the busy La Lomita Restaurante decked out in flowers and images, welcoming their guests to enter. As you crest the small rise look to the left. Red Buddha Yoga & Wellness centre glows a ruby red in the morning sun, directly across of another multi-coloured artistically decorated home.  

At the first cross street a solitary woman boldly stands at the corner of a derelict building. She is wearing an eclectic mix of leather and feathers or perhaps tatty fur. What appears to be a World War Two pilot’s helmet is pulled tightly over her short hair, the goggles pushed up and away from her eyes. She has an oddly compelling face. Defiant, yet apprehensive, staring at something only she can see.

Don’t give up explorations when you come to the more commercial looking buildings that are prevalent in the next two blocks, there are more to be discovered.  A little further north of the pedestrian-only street, is another home covered in a mosaic of tiles, glass, paint and poetry. It was a painstaking process for the young artist as she studied each piece before adding it to her creation.

Then there are a few of the old original wood homes with tin roofs, built when Isla Mujeres was a fishing village. We call them the ‘painted ladies.’ They resemble the Victorian-era homes with their intricate architectural details and interesting colour combinations. The interior-decorating business at 13 Juarez Galeria is another fun older building highlighted with orange, green turquoise and yellow.

At the corner of Juarez and Matamoras there are four beautiful structures: the terracotta-coloured Mundaca Real Estate office, the pink, yellow, and blue Café Cito, the wooden painted-lady belonging to Tony Garcia’s auntie, and the hand-crafted stonewall surrounding the home of long time-islander Hettie Veneziano, who sadly recently passed on.

Our current favourite is close by.  It is a newly remodeled space with a sky-blue wall, pink-trimmed doors and windows, mango-coloured interior courtyard walls.  We don’t know who owns the property but what a cheerful addition the neighbourhood.

There are many more buildings with murals and amusing paint combinations scattered all along the street.  Get out there and enjoy colourful Juarez Avenue.

And on a personal note, I would like to thank the many readers of my new e-book novel, Treasure Isla, for leaving reviews on Amazon. It’s a huge boost to my energy level as I am working through the intricacies of the sequel.

A very happy and prosperous New Year to everyone,

Lynda & Lawrie and our almost-famous mutt, Sparky

Happy New Year everyone - from Sparky

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Halloween costume that launched a Christmas parade

2011 Elmo makes his Isla debut

“Hey, cool. We’re invited to a Halloween party October 31st 2011, at Curtis and Ashley’s house Villa la Bella,” Lawrie said as he read aloud an email invite.

Next thing I know the local postman arrives on his delivery moto at our front door with an enormous cotton sack tagged with Lawrie’s name and our address.

“What the heck is that?” I asked, oblivious to his recent on-line costume shopping.  

That - was an Elmo costume shipped from the manufacturer Claudio Mascots Oficial Lima Peru; a large, furry, crimson-red, costume complete with big head and google eyes. It was amazing. Beautifully made, and an exact replica of Elmo.

2011 Elmo greets grandsons Evan & Ethan

Years ago when Lawrie’s eldest grandson was learning to talk he thought Lawrie’s name was Elmo, and the nickname stuck. The boys were coming for a visit in December 2011. Lawrie decided he could get double-duty from the costume; the Halloween party, and greeting our grandsons at the Ultramar boat.  

2011 Elmo making friends at Barlito's

The Elmo costume was a huge hit. In the next two years it was used many times over by Lawrie when he greeted arriving nephews, nieces, great-nephews, great-nieces, sister and brother-in-law and friends at the Ultramar ferry docks. Elmo-Lawrie was invited to the Barlito’s 1st Anniversary celebration when they were still on Hidalgo Avenue. Everyone wanted their photos taken with Elmo; kids, parents, and grandparents. Even a few of the slightly dubious characters that hang around on the street corner late in the evenings wanted a photo with Elmo.

Then in 2013 our friend Freddy Medina asked if he could borrow the costume for a birthday fiesta for a special young boy on the island. Freddy was so overwhelmed by the happiness of the young lad that he suggested the idea of a Christmas parade featuring Elmo and our newest character costumes, Mickey and Minnie Mouse, purchased for yet another Halloween party at Villa la Bella.

2013 Elmo-Freddy makes his debut in the parade
The first parade in 2013 was hilarious. There were only about eight or nine vehicles, and a dozen or so motos. Our jefe, Freddy was late and the golf carts had lined up nice and neat, facing north. What did we know? We were all new at this parade stuff.  We eventually got turned around heading south towards the densely populated neighbourhoods.  The parade bounced through the colonias on a higgledy-piggledy route that the driver of the lead vehicle had mapped out in his head.
2011 Parade route - Alexis' photo
We had absolutely no idea what we were getting into. The excitement on the faces of the youngsters. The grandparents and parents running to find the kids to come see Elmo, Mickey, Minnie, Sponge Bob, clowns and the Grinch. The noise the confusion. The laughter.  Lawrie and I had bought five pounds of candy, but part way through the route we asked our drivers, Chuck and Marcy Watt, for an emergency stop at Donasusa to purchase another five pounds.  It was also the year that we learned not to get out of the golf carts.  Lawrie had waded into the crowd to say hi to the kids, when a group of inebriated young men thought it would be uproariously funny to lob Mickey Mouse in to the air and catch him – a few times.  So picture this, a full-sized man, in a full-body mouse costume including a very large head being tossed up and down in a crowd. Only in Mexico!
2011 Freddy Medina as Elmo
Two hours later our tired raggedy group disbanded in centro on Rueda Medina. Elmo’s vehicle happened to park near the assembly point for the Municipal Presidente of Isla’s Christmas cavalcade. The Presidente suggested to Freddy that Elmo should join that parade. Freddy who had just spent two hours dancing in the back of a pickup truck wearing a full-body fur-suit was soaked through to his underwear with perspiration. However, one does not say no to the Presidente. And away he went, dancing and shouting Feliz Navidad for another two hours.  A new Elmo was born!
2014 parade - little Minnie Mouse
In 2014 we had more people join the group bringing the total to about twenty vehicles.  Freddy arranged for the funny bus for participants who didn’t want to drive but wanted to be part of the event. The funny bus is a two level dilapidated vehicle, decorated with coloured lights and blasting loud music.  It haunted the island streets for a few years, the operator charging a small amount of money to take people on an after-dark tour of the island.

2014 Funny people in the Funny bus
That year we followed a route dictated by the height of the double-decker. The low hanging electrical wires are always a challenge in Mexico. The typical solution is to have a person stand on the top of a truck or vehicle with a wooden broom to lift the wires out of the way. Yep, lift live wires with a broom!  Happens all the time. But when it’s a parade there just isn’t the time to lift every low hanging line and sneak past, while the passengers duck below the seatbacks. It was easier to find a different route. Once again the experience was amazing - noise, people, dogs, kids, and loud music. That year we tossed fifteen pounds of candy to the crowds.
2015 Mrs. Claus and Santa
By 2015, and you would think we would have the routine figured out.  More or less, mas o menos.  The funny bus was once again available which meant our route was similar to the previous year, heading south, staying the main roads and finishing in Centro near the new Muelle 7 Restaurante on Rueda Medina. We had all of the usual character costumes in the parade, along with the addition of Batman-Jimmy.  Santa John Pasnau and Mrs. Claus Valerie Pasnau quietly inserted themselves in the middle of the lineup giving the kids an additional thrill as Santa waved and said, “ho, ho, ho.” 

2015 our escorts
2015 was the first year that we had a police escort in the form of four motorcycle cops who tried their very best to keep us all together. It was a bit like trying to herd cats, which if you have ever been owned by a cat you will know is an impossible task. Some of the vehicles broke down. A few drivers turned the wrong way. And still others had non-parade vehicles cut in between, causing more confusion. The laughing youngsters and their smiling parents made it all worthwhile.
2016 Participants lining up outside our casa
And then there was this year’s parade, Saturday December 17th 2016 – our 4th Annual Christmas Golf Cart Parade. We had trucks, cars, dozens of golf carts, two tuk-tuks and a handful of motorcycles, but not the funny bus. It seems to have finally died, expired.  We had Elmo, Santa, Mrs. Claus, Mickey, Minnie and a Ninja Turtle. There were at least four or five dogs including our Sparky, dressed for the occasion riding in their decorated golf carts. There were dozens of Santa hats, decorations bought, and decorations hand-made. Music. Lights. Candy. 

2016 Mrs. Claus and Santa
Without the bus our route was more flexible. We wound south from our casa along the Salinas Chica neighbourhood, into Salinas Grande, Las Glorias, through narrow side-streets along the main road, turning again into the colonias across from Oscar’s Pizza, popped out onto the main road by Chedraui grocery store and back into centro.  But we weren’t finished yet. Our leader took us on a cross-hatch route along Madero, Medina, Abasolo, Guerreo, Juarez, Matamoros, and Medina again. At the end we gathered in the square in centro.

Wow! Just wow. Our faces hurt from smiling. Our throats were dry from laughing. The best parade yet. There was somewhere around fifty vehicles in total.  Thank you so much to everyone participated in the celebration of fun and family. You are what makes this event so special.

Elmo-Freddy and Elmo-Lawrie
The Christmas Golf Cart Parade is usually the last Saturday before Christmas Eve, but our intrepid leader Freddy Medina sets the date. If you want to join in next year just contact Lawrie, or Freddy or me on Facebook. Don’t forget to add battery-powered Christmas lights to your 2017 shopping list. Buying them here is very hit-and-miss.

As for the Elmo costume of the 2011 Halloween party, it now resides at Freddy’s house. It’s a very good home for Elmo. Thank you Freddy Medina for being the good-hearted, crazy person who thought up this event. 

Freddy giving Elmo his annual post-parade bath

Merry Christmas & Season Greetings

Lynda & Lawrie

And Sparky

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas in the Caribbean

Celebrating the Virgin Guadalupe

Yep, I know you’re going to groan and say, “Not another damn article about how wonderful the weather is at Christmas in Mexico.”  Well, the weather is spectacular in December, but that’s not what this week’s blog is about.  It’s about the small town feeling of life on Isla, especially during the holiday season.  Many of the major religions in the world have a special day or week in December that is significant to their beliefs, and to them we wish them all the best of the season.  However, living in a country that is predominately Christian we are more aware of their celebrations.

Annual horse and rider procession

December is a busy time on the island with a number of events including the annual horse-parade, bullfights, folkloric dancers in centro, and the magical nights of entertainment at the Casa de Cultura. December 12th is the Day of the Virgin Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. The Catholic churches have special masses and processions to reaffirm their commitment to Guadalupe. Coloured flags crisscross the streets in centro and outlying neighbourhoods. Lights and decorations. Music. The delicious smells of festive foods. The island is in celebration mode.

Barefoot Santa John and Valerie in 2015 golf cart parade 

Our golf cart is all tricked out in garlands, wreaths, snowmen and reindeer for this Saturday’s Christmas parade. Starting at five-thirty the motley crew of expats and islanders will assemble outside our casa on Aeropuerto Road, facing south. The parade ricochets around the various neighbourhoods and eventually finds it way in to centro. It’s a wild and silly event that entertains the island kids and their parents.  For other events we have been amassing an assortment of toys to be distributed at the January 6th Day of the Kings’ charity event sponsored by Ruben’s Restaurante. 

Saying hi to the local kids at the Day of the Kings event

We decorated our artificial tree last weekend with tiny sombreros, ocean-themed ornaments and carnival beads.  I hate to admit it, but sweating while trimming a tree just isn’t the same as decorating with Christmas music blaring, a roaring fire in the fireplace and a glass of single malt whiskey at hand.  Oh, darn, a sneaky reference to our hot weather just inserted itself into this blog! 

Christmas brunch at Sue & Len's casa

For us part of the fun is the gathering of friends who are not in close proximity to other family members.  There are annual early morning gathering for drinks and snacks, and open house invitations to drop in for a glass of Christmas cheer.  This year two island friends have invited many ‘orphans’ to a Christmas Dinner with Friends, a potluck gathering where everyone contributes a dish or two to the festivities. Our good friends who live just a few houses away, have invited us and our almost-famous dog to their casa for the traditional turkey dinner. 

Sparky and his girlfriend Julie grocery store - M.Watt photo
Yesterday I popped over to the local grocery store looking for a few more decorations. I left Sparky in charge of the golf cart. When I returned he was entertaining two lady friends who thought he looked lonely. Small town living at its best.
Happy Holidays from paradise!

And yes, there are sandy beaches, palm trees, blue skies and hot weather, but it’s still Christmas. It’s the love and the friendship that make this a special time of year, no matter where you live.

Merry Christmas & Season Greetings

Lynda & Lawrie, and Sparky

Lawrie, Canadian Christmas '99

Friday, December 9, 2016

Sweating for fun, sweating for work – it’s a matter of perspective

View along the Caribbean side - for early morning joggers

In the early mornings right around sunrise until an hour after, the roadways along the Caribbean side of the island are littered with people. People walking. People running. People cycling.  Some are exercising for health, others are using their feet or bicycles to get to their jobs.

Groups of joggers are scattered along the route: three women, a man, two women and several solo guys pound along the roadways dodging stray dogs, and potholes. Decked out in the latest brightly coloured athletic gear with coordinating leggings, tank tops, hoodies, and footwear these folks are serious about their fitness routine. Their large iPhone or equivalent smartphones are strapped to a bicep, earbuds jammed into ear canals and music pounding out the beat as they run along the outer perimeter road to Punta Sur and back.

Other bike riders in centro

Four youngsters sharing two single-gear bicycles, each with a passenger balanced on the foot pegs poking out from the rear axle of the bike, slowly grind southwards headed to one of the numerous construction sites near Punta Sur. The rider stands straight and still, with hands resting on the peddler’s shoulders. It’s a way of getting to and from their manual-labour jobs. It’s hard to know which part of this duo works the hardest. The one peddling the bike. Or the one balanced on round metal pegs. As kids we did the same thing, but the goal was to get to the playground quicker, not to arrive at work six days a week by eight in the morning.

Ab exercises at work
A group of construction workers, in their twenties, trudge southwards towards their job wearing jeans, battered t-shirts and sometimes runners but more often than not cheap disposable sandals. They have a measured pace, arriving at the job for the eight o’clock start time. They will labour until sundown, and frequently later. It’s not uncommon to see workers toiling under inadequate lighting until late in the evening.
Ab exercises on the beach
Vehicles, golf carts, and motos are beginning to make their appearance on the roadways as parents make the frantic dash to school. If the child doesn’t arrive before the gates are locked, then the parent is stuck with sorting out childminding problems for the day.

Our friend, Yaron pushes past on his multi-speed bike, his muscular legs churning like pistons. He zooms up and down this road from first light until he finishes his routine number of laps, or time. His fitness level is impressive. He lifts the fingers of his left hand in a half-wave and smiles while fiercely concentrating on the bumps and challenges of the local road. Hitting a pothole or rock while piloting a skinny-tired bicycle can result in flying lessons for the rider.

Early morning biker rider - selling tortillas

The dog walkers generally have a more leisurely pace while the dogs sniff, pee, sniff, pee and repeat. A few walkers such as Ana have big dogs that set a faster pace. She almost jogs to keep up to her exercise mates. We routinely run across Melissa and Issy, out for their morning constitutional. And Carol’s seventeen-year-old Alfie is blind but knows his way along the sidewalks and pathways. Our Sparky likes to visit with him, but Alfie prefers his solitude instead of in inquisitive wet nose investigating his private areas.

2011 photo - the navy groups use smaller trucks now
A squad of Marinas from the naval infantry is on an early morning circumnavigation of the island. Riding in a grey truck they smile and waggle a couple of fingers in greeting, trying to look seriously bad-ass in their combat gear while grinning a hello.

An hour after sunrise the road in nearly empty. Even though it in now a week into December, the daytime temperature is hitting 30 degrees Celsius, or mid-eighties Fahrenheit.

It’s time to find a shady spot.

Internet photo - we are waiting for our trees to grow this tall

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, December 2, 2016

Sparky, the almost famous divo of Isla Mujeres!

It’s finally happened. I’m famous, or infamous, or something similar. Being a dog I’m not all that familiar with the fine points of this language.

Just this week my action adventure novel – Treasure Isla - was published on Amazon e-books. Yep. That’s right – my novel. There are other characters in the book such as the two women who are hunting for buried pirate treasure, dodging disreputable men, and a killer. There are good guys and there are bad guys in the book, but in my opinion I am the main star.

Why can't I sit on the table? I'm famous you know!

My name is Sparky, or as I am known to my close friends – The Sparkinator! I am a pure-bred Mexican low-rider; a handsome combination of Jack Russel Terrier, a bit of Spaniel, and a touch of Dalmatian. I live on Isla Mujeres in a comfortable house right on the beach and I have two well-trained employees who cater to my every need.

The first employee is Servant. She is the ghost writer for my novel. Servant also serves my meals, cooks my special requests, and takes me out for walks or golf cart rides to whatever location on the island that I wish to explore. She also likes to teach me new things. Just this morning while she was making me a very special meal of chicken bits and other stuff, the container slipped out of her hands and the hot ingredients splashed across the kitchen floor and onto the cupboards. She said some new words that I hadn't heard before. I need someone to translate for me.

Servant also frequently refers to me as a ‘divo’ which I think translates to special, or very special. For some reason she shakes her head and rolls her eyes when she calls me a ‘divo.’  I shake my head when I get ear lice, so perhaps she has ear lice.

Pet buffet

My other employee is Driver. He gives me lots of pats and enjoys my company on any one of our sofas, or beside him in the bed. He also acts as my alternate chauffeur when Servant isn’t available. Until recently Driver drove me around the island or in the city of Cancun in my dark blue, Mini-Cooper S convertible. Then one day Driver sold my hot little car. He said I wasn’t using it enough to justify having both a car and a golf cart. We still have the carito de golf for my daily excursions, but since he didn’t have my permission to sell my sports-car I am considering docking his pay for the next several months. It is so difficult to get good help these days.

Sold the Mini-Cooper S
My novel is only available on e-books, so I won’t be able to paw-print a copy for my many fans. When my second novel is published in 2017, I am going to renegotiate my contracts with Servant and Driver. They just aren’t treating me with the respect that I deserve.

Hasta Luego

The Sparkinator    

(Lynda & Lawrie)