Friday, May 26, 2017

The little castaway Iza who captured the hearts of thousands

Iza and Eileen
This is a love story, about a helpless little creature who began life with the odds stacked against her, and has not just once, but twice defied fate and survived.

When islanders first became aware of her plight it was as one of the four raft puppies found in November 2016, by a group of island fishermen. Discovered floating miles from land south-east of Isla Mujeres, the fishermen are convinced the raft originated from Cuba.  
When the men noticed the large raft drifting aimlessly on the Caribbean Sea, they could see something on board but couldn’t quite make out the shape of the thing. They decided to investigate as they were concerned there might be unconscious, dehydrated Cuban refugees on board. What they found was a scrawny dog.

Mama Chica - November

Pulling their boat alongside they lifted the dog from the raft, and then as almost an afterthought inspected a pile of rags heaped on the makeshift boat. Hiding from the sun’s blistering heat were four badly dehydrated and sunburnt puppies, two males and two females. The men named the bone-thin mother Mama Chica and took the entire family to their fishing co-operative on Isla Mujeres.

One of the puppies - November
One of the fisherman knew Eileen and Doug Regn, caring islanders involved with HALO (Helping Animals Living Overseas) an animal rescue organization. The man gave Mama Chica to Eileen to nurse back to health. Once Eileen saw the condition of the mother, she went to the co-op to investigate the health of the puppies. After a lengthy discussion in a mish-mash of English and Spanish the fishermen agreed to give her all of the animals.

Getting a bath and some loving - November

Mama Chica and her babies were taken to the HALO funded Clinica Veterinaria de Isla Mujeres where Dr. Delfino Guevara, and soon to be certified DVM, Rossely Gonzalez gave them extensive checkups. Then it took a number of months to get the little family healthy. Eileen had to be careful how much medication she gave the fragile creatures. Besides dehydration, starvation, ticks, fleas and sunburnt skin they were infested with worms in intestinal colonies so huge the masses looked like baseballs when the dogs expelled the parasites.

Recent photo Dory with friend - Lisa W.
As a nod to their seagoing adventure the babies were given “sea names” of Nimo, Sebastian, Dory and Ariel. When their health improved the babies and their mama were adopted by new families. Dory went to Washington State, Nimo and Sebastian to Minnesota, Mama Chica went to Cape Cod and the last one Ariel now re-named Iza was scheduled to go her new home in Denver.

And then life threw the little girl another fast ball, knocking her down yet again.

Her adopting family, Jason and Kelly Cooke plus their two boys, wanted to get to know her a little before she made the transition to her new country, new home and new people. The night before departure they attempted to take her for a walk in the area of Isla 33 condos. She panicked, slipped out of her harness and frantically raced away.

Devastated the Cooke family searched the neighbourhood, then called Eileen and Doug who joined the search. Heavy-hearted they flew back to Denver next day, without their newest family member.
Reward poster for Iza 

In the meantime Eileen went into battle mode. She offered a reward for the dog, plastering advertisements and photos around the island. She posted the information on every Facebook group possible. She investigated over thirty sightings of comparable dogs seen at diverse locations all over the island. All similar in appearance, just not the right dog, not Iza. The family in Denver contacted her frequently asking for news, offering moral support.

 Baby Ariel/Iza in November

As the weeks wore on Eileen persisted in her hunt for the puppy. “It’s an island, for heaven’s sake. She has to be somewhere on Isla Mujeres.”

Then recently late one afternoon, Monica MacPherson happened to be driving to her vacation home at the southern end of the island. She messaged Eileen that she had seen a similar dog near the Aguakan waste-water treatment plant on the eastern side of the island. Eileen waited until dusk and went to investigate.

A brown dog shot past, running flat out then ducking back under the thick undergrowth. Eileen showed her poster to the older man who is the live-in security for a property near the Aguakan plant.

“Si,” He agreed, demonstrating with his fingers that the dog’s ears often stood up tall, like those of a deer.

Security man who helped Iza 
Eileen nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, yes. Iza.” Using her hands to mimic Iza’s large ears. In the past few weeks the man had left the dog a bit of food, so he was certain it was her.

Eileen returned carrying Iza’s dog dish, her favourite foods, and a blanket that smelled like her litter mates. Eileen also brought along two of her own dogs that Iza was comfortable with, letting them pee in various areas so that the little dog could catch their scent.

One evening she sighted the dog, and called her. The dog stopped, looked back and then ran. Another evening Daniel, an employee at the Aguakan station, managed to snap a couple of photos with his phone. Yes, it was definitely Iza.

Brother Nemo
Determined that she was going to entice the dog to come to her, Eileen dressed in thick jeans, a long-sleeved shirt as protection against nighttime invasion of mosquitoes. She wouldn’t use insect repellent worried that Iza wouldn’t be able to catch her scent. She rubbed cooked chicken on her hands, and set a food dish beside the gate of Aguakan. In the corner of her eye she noticed a dark shape crawling on her stomach towards the front of the golf cart.

“Iza.” Eileen called softly, and the dog launched herself into Eileen’s arms, crying whimpering. Iza squirmed and spun ecstatically. It was a struggle for Eileen to hold the dog. She managed to get a lead around Iza’s neck and set off home with the relieved pooch excitedly snuggling in her lap as she drove.

Brother Sebastian
It had been a long six weeks for Eileen and Iza since the pooch had panicked and ran, a very long and stressful six weeks. At the house Iza barged into the yard, charging through gate to greet her housemates, Eileen and Doug’s collection of rescue dogs, all with their own interesting life stories. 

Iza is a kisser. She kissed every dog, and the two humans many times to express her gratitude and happiness.

You would think that this would be the end of Iza’s story, but there are more and hopefully happier adventures ahead for her. Her adopting family, Jason and Kelly Cooke, are overjoyed that she has been found. It will be a few months before Iza can fly to Denver but her new family is eagerly waiting for her arrival.

And as for Eileen, she says it is heart-wrenching to let any of the rescue dogs go.

Saying goodbye to Mama Chica at airport
When she took Iza’s mom, Mama Chica to the airport their protracted goodbye in the cargo area had all the staff in tears. Mama Chica wrapped her paws around Eileen’s neck hugging her close. 

Eileen said the dog was making a humming sound that jolted her heart with sadness. “I just can’t keep every dog we help. There is a seemingly endless number of pooches who needs our assistance and love.”

Eileen’s eyes were bright with tears, her voice thick with emotion. “Iza will be well-loved by her new forever-family. I have to let her go on to her next adventure.”

It’s a true love story.

Hasta Luego 
Lynda & Lawrie

Treasure Isla
$2.99 USD on Amazon e-books

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt.

Friday, May 19, 2017

We hit a blog milestone this week!!!

Notes from Paradise - Isla Mujeres 500,000 page views!   
Thanks to all of our faithful readers, we rolled over to a half-million page views on our blog this week!  Woohoo! 

It is amazing how a funny little weekly email that we started sending to twelve people in 2009 has grown to a weekly blog with anywhere from four to eight thousand readers a week. (Some articles interest people more than others.)
June 2009 - we started writing weekly emails

When we started in June of 2009 it was to keep family members up to date on our newest adventure, our life in Mexico. The email list grew as family members asked if they could add their friends, and then those people wanted to add other friends. By September of 2011 the email list had grown to almost five hundred names.

When our neighbour Ronda Roberts started her blog, Isla Mujeres News, a translation of local news in June of 2011, she suggested that we switch over from a weekly email to a blog. Here's the link to Ronda's blog

July 2014 - Sunset cool down for islanders
So we did, we created a blog page.  However, many of our readers objected, saying they didn’t want to search the internet to find the articles. They enjoyed having a personal copy sent to their inbox. From September 2011 to June of 2014 we posted the weekly blog, and also sent it via direct email to our readers. It was a lot more work, but it kept everyone happy and interested.

Then in 2014 Google labelled our emails as that dreaded word – spam.  They shut down our list, refusing to deliver the weekly articles to our readers. By our estimation we had sent out around seventy-five thousand individual emails over the five years, but never to anyone who hadn’t asked to be included in the list.   
1984 Great Horned Owl - who had an ambulance ride

In the meantime we also created two more blogs targeted to specific stories that interested us: European Adventure, and Animals and Other Family Members. As you can probably guess by the titles these are not Isla Mujeres-based stories, one being about our travels in Europe and the other funny stories about pets and wild creatures we have befriended. The links to those stories are listed under My Blog List, on this webpage.

About eighteen months ago Tony Richardson, editor of the popular on-line Mexico News Daily started re-posting our blog articles. In his publication our stories are reaching a wider audience, some having been shared thousands of times. Pretty heady stuff for two amateur scribblers. You can find the direct link to Mexico News Daily on our list of blogs that we follow.  Or at this webpage,

Insider's Guide to the Best of Mexico - FREE!
Several of our articles have been included in two on-line anthologies; Insider’s Guide to The Best of Mexico, and the second Insider’s Guide which will be published soon. Here's a link for your free copy:

The collection of feel good stories about Mexico are the brain-child of well-known novelist Carmen Amato. Check her Amazon page for a complete listing of her works. Our current favourites are the police procedurals featuring Detective Emilia Cruz in Acapulco. Here's the link to Carmen's webpage:

July 2014 Diego and I toasting arrival of books
In between the weekly blog articles, island friend Diego Medina and I created the bi-lingual book for children, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat / Las Aventuras de Tomas el Gato. Diego and I won a silver award at the International Latino Book Awards in Las Angeles for best picture book bilingual. The sequel is underway.

But wait there’s more!  In 2016, I wrote and self-published my first novel, Treasure Isla. Treasure Isla is a fun beach read, an adventure set on Isla Mujeres. The e-book sales on Amazon are doing well, prompting me to write the sequel, Trouble Isla. Trouble Isla will be launched in late August of this year.

Amazon E-books, Treasure Isla and soon Trouble Isla

All of this creativity started with a weekly email to a few friends and family members. We discovered we like to write stories and paint pictures with words. 

Most of all we like to entertain people, to provide a bit of information mixed in with light humor. 

Thank you all again for your on-going interest in our off-beat stories. 

Lynda & Lawrie 

Friday, May 12, 2017

An Indiana-Jones-trip to the cenotes and pyramids of the Yucatan

Las Tres Chicas swimming in cenote
Swimming in a cenote is a bit like being in an Indiana Jones movie. Slippery stone stairs lead to a dark cavern filled with crystal clear water.

The Tarzan-style vines, the roots of above ground plants, hang from the ceiling of the cavern. The slow drip of minerals forms stalactites, their whimsical shapes reaching for the water below. An occasional bat flitters past in the dim light. Dozens of swallows nest in the underground crevices, zipping underground via a hole in earth above. Exquisite and eerie.

Part of  Ek Balam pyramid and surrounding structures
Last week I posted a question on my Facebook page, asking for recommendations for a tour company for a day-trip to the Ek Balam pyramid and a swim in the cenotes. The response was immediate and varied. Many recommended either William Gonzalez, or Patricio Astudillo. 

We dithered, but in the end we went with William because a number of our close friends had taken his tours and really enjoyed the experience. In years past, when we owned a car, we frequently drove our visitors to the pyramids, but currently our only form of transport is a golf cart, and that just isn’t fast enough, nor legal, for a two-hour drive on a four-lane highway. Two great-nieces Lauren, Ellen, plus their good friend Amber, who has become a great-niece via friendship, and I decided to go. We left Lawrie and Sparky at home to enjoy some peaceful guy time.

Heading out on our adventure
We caught the seven-thirty UltraMar passenger boat from Isla Mujeres to Puerto Juarez on the mainland, and met up with Manuel who was our tour guide for the day. Settled into a comfortable seven-passenger van we headed towards Valladolid, and the less busy pyramid of Ek Balam. Lawrie and I have enjoyed several visits to the large pyramid of Chichen Itza, but it has become so crowded it is difficult to get good photographs without including several hundred strangers grinning inanely at their selfie-sticks.

Ek Balam, the Black Jaguar, is located thirty-five kilometers north-east of Chichen Itza, in the municipality of Temozón. The road turns off the toll highway #180, a few kilometers from the City of Valladolid in the direction of Tizimin. Tizimin is well-known for furniture handmade from tropical wood.  
Royal Palace at Ek Balam - 106 steps up, 106 steps down

The road between Cancun and Valladolid is straight, boring, and the flat vista is blocked by thick undergrowth. The secondary road is more interesting but populated by hundreds of topes, speed bumps, in the numerous villages increasing the drive to three hours instead of two. It’s a good time to let someone else do the driving, so you can doze in the warm sunlight or chat with your travel companions.

By ten in the morning we were at the pyramid. The entrance fee is $193.00 pesos for foreigners, but lucky me, I have an INAPAM card telling the world that I am old and a local. My entrance fee was $0 pesos. You do have to produce proof of residency, such as an electrical bill or water bill in your own name and proof of age, to obtain this Mexico senior’s card from your municipality. For Lawrie and me, the savings are helpful. 

Inside Ek Balam we hired a local guide to show us around. José was born in a nearby village, and his first language is Mayan, but he also speaks Spanish and English. 

Jose taking pics of my travel partners 
Our guide was well informed and interesting, telling us the history of each structure and the meaning of the various glyphs. I envied the ease with which José climbed the one-hundred and six stairs to the top of the Royal Palace, and then nonchalantly strolled back to ground level while everyone else baby-stepped their way down the steep pyramid. 

It’s a combination of vertigo and the insecurity of flip-flops on narrow slanted steps that make the descent more challenging.   
The tourist photo!
Next stop was the Samula and the nearby X’kekén cenotes in the town of Dzitnup. The cenotes are part of an underground river system that flows under the limestone base of the Yucatan Peninsula. Over time bits of the ground above has been worn away by rainstorms, animals, or humans creating entrance holes to the subterranean fantasy world.

In the aquamarine water small black fish laze; a type of catfish perhaps? Others nibble at our feet. They remind me of the fish imported from Turkey, used for pedicures in some of the upscale Cancun hotels. Hopefully no one would be foolish enough to populate the pristine Caribbean waters with another imported species of fish, creating a local ecological problem like the venomous Indo-Pacific Lion Fish. 

Wikipedia pic of doctorfish doing pedi
The little fish didn’t bite, but it was an odd feeling to have so many small mouths scouring my skin.

As for the cenotes, the entrance fee for each one is $59.00 pesos for visitors, and half of that for people with an INAPAM card. 

Some locations sell a two-day pass that cover all of the locations, but for us two in one afternoon was sufficient. We spent about an hour and a half lazing around in the water, before meeting up with our driver Manuel.
Restaurante el Atrio del Mayab
By now it was one in the afternoon, and we were starving hungry. Manuel suggested that we have lunch in Valladolid at the Restaurante el Atrio del Mayab. Wow!  

Beautiful setting right off the square in centro, near the cathedral, and diagonally across from one of our favourite hotels in Valladolid, the El Mesón del Marqués. The food was delicious, the cerveza cold, and the service excellent.

On the drive home our group was strangely quiet as our heads lolled against the vehicle windows. Full of good food and feeling sleepy we hardly talked until we were at the UltraMar terminal headed back to Isla Mujeres.

It was a fun adventure, and we highly recommend William Gonzalez. You can find him on Facebook. He’s not the Columbian fencer, not the private equity professional, not the sales associate at Victoria’s Secret, and not the movie director. This William Gonzalez

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie

Treasure Isla by Lynda Lock
Amazon e-books $2.99 USD

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt by the name of Sparky.

Trouble Isla, the sequel will be launched August 2017. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

A little help for our friends

Sparky - at Clinica Veterinaria de Isla Mujeres
Pets occasionally need a visit to the bow-wow doctor, or as Thomas the Cat would say, the cat-doctor. 

Sparky, our almost-famous, island low-rider recently needed a few tests to diagnose his health issues. We took him to Clinica Veterinaria de Isla Mujeres where Delfino Guevara DVM, and soon to be certified DVM, Rossely Gonzalez expertly performed a chest x-ray and blood tests. The last time Sparky needed tests we battled with a car ferry ride to Cancun and back. Staying on the island for his tests, was much less stressful for everyone.

Sparky - about to be x-rayed.  What do I do now?

For analysis of blood samples Clinica Veterinaria currently uses a laboratory in Centro, but a fund-raising campaign for a blood chemistry analyzer will make obtaining results quicker and cheaper for the clinic. Part of the fundraiser includes the memory tile project, displayed on the entrance wall of the hospital. It is one of those things that we have passed time and again, briefly glanced at, but not really noticed.
Friend and artist, Julie Goth mounting Thomas the Cat's tile
The project was started by well-known islanders, Tony and Mim Gallagher, as a means to raise a little extra money for the animal hospital. 

They kicked off the program by generously purchasing six hand-painted tiles with the names of their grandchildren. According to Mim the kids get a giggle out of stopping at the clinic to check on their tiles every time they visit the island. 

Friends Julie Goth and Déanne Gray
It wasn’t until recently when two of our nearby neighbours and close friends, Julie Goth and Déanne Gray, became involved with the project that we really paid attention. Julie Goth created a beautiful image for our mutual friends, Chuck and Marcy Watt, in celebration of their Isla fur-baby, Sombra. Déanne Gray, on the other hand, actively promotes the fundraiser, organizing the placement of the tiles, and collecting the money. To order a memory tile please private message Déanne Gray (Day) on Facebook.

Bonnie Hamilton, Eileen Regn always helping the animals

If you are on the island you can either pay at the clinic, or arrange to pay Julie Goth, Eileen Regn or Déanne Gray, or pay online through Helping Animals Living Overseas (HALO).  The minimum donation is $750 pesos or $50 USD, and goes to helping island animals.

Please remember to add a note that your donation is for a memory tile, and include photos and personal details of the person or pet you wish to honor.

Book cover illustration by Diego Medina of Isla Mujeres

We recently purchased two: one for our seventeen-year-old Thomas the Cat who succumbed to kidney disease last April and the other for Princess Chica, another true-life character featured in my children’s book, The Adventures of Thomas the Cat. 

Chica passed away in 2014. Her tile will mounted on the wall adjacent to her best friend, Thomas. 

Princess Chica and her best friend Thomas the Cat
And in case you didn’t know, both Day Gray and full-time islander Bonnie Hamilton are the legendary cat-trap-ladies. Every week they voluntarily trap feral cats to be spayed or neutered at the clinic. Day has extended an open invitation for us to share the experience. However, she has mentioned on occasion that her clothes are quite odoriferous by the end of the evening’s festivities, giving us a reason to be otherwise occupied.

Delfino and Rossely, blood tests for Sparky
Funded by HALO (Helping Animals Living Overseas) Clinica Veterinaria’s current location is across the street from the original clinic. The new structure was purpose-built about three years ago to house the animal hospital, pet adoption centre, and cat sanctuary. We asked one of the founder members of HALO, Kit Lilly for little background information. Her answer was so detailed and well written, we decided to include it, as is, in this blog post.


The new clinic - before signage, and murals
From Kit Lilly:

“HALO (Helping Animals Living Overseas) was formed in October, 2013 as a US 501c3. HALO’s mission is to support select projects outside of the US that benefit animals.  HALO selected as its first project the construction of the new animal hospital and adoption center in Isla Mujeres.  In addition to the new building, the project added a small adoption area at the front of the building, a cat sanctuary on the land behind the clinic, and equipment such as stainless steel cages for hospitalized animals and an x-ray machine.  The project included providing ongoing operating support to help offset losses generated by the fact that much of the clinic caseload is caring for homeless animals.  In addition, the clinic rates are below market rates for vet services.  The rates are intentionally set this way because many of the island families cannot afford market rate care for their animals and the clinic did not want animals to go without care. 

The clinic entrance, today.
All of the initial founders of HALO had been to Isla Mujeres (several of us are property owners and all are repeat visitors) and admired the work of Clinica Chipie and its staff.  The founders wanted to be able to help improve the clinic facilities, provide a safe space for the “clinic cats”, and have a space to feature adoptable pets.  

Entrance way mural by Barbara Siebenlist
They recognized the clinic as a valuable resource for the island as the clinic, both for the quality of its care and also because it is the only 24/7 emergency care for animals on the island. It was also recognized that because of the free and subsidized care provided by the clinic, ongoing outside operating support would be necessary.  HALO was essentially formed concurrently with selecting this project as its first.   After learning more about the mission of Clinica Chipie and examining its financial statements, it became clear that Clinica Chipie was in all forms except legally, a non-profit.  We suggested that Delfino consider converting his existing business from a traditional Mexican corporation to an Association Civil, a Mexican nonprofit.  He applied to the government to convert it and was successful. 

Illustration by Diego Medina, from Thomas the Cat book
HALO raised funds for the construction of the new clinic building and it was completed in the fall of 2014.  HALO continues to provide operating support and hopes to fund the purchase of a blood chemistry analyzer to facilitate diagnosis later this year.  HALO continues to raise funds for operating support.  The sale of the hand-painted tiles to honor a loved one (human or animal) is one way people can donate and enables them to have a physical connection to the island.”


Sombra sharing a hug with her best friend 
Give it some thought. 

If you have a friend, family member, or a beloved pet you would like to honor, the purchase of a tile is a feel-good project. You will be helping out the island cats and dogs, plus keeping alive the memory of a special person or pet.  

Or in the case of Tony and Mim Gallagher, giving the grandkids a giggle when they visit the clinic and can see their names on the wall.

Hasta Luego

Lynda & Lawrie


Available on Amazon e-books $2.99 USD 

Fun adventure series set on Isla Mujeres

Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt, whose name is Sparky.

Trouble Isla, Book 2 in the Caribbean Adventure series is scheduled to be launched in August 2017.