Sunday, July 2, 2017

Heading Home Tomorrow

This part of North Beach is really fun. It’s not extremely crowded on the sand because the water is so shallow. It’s easy for people to stand thigh deep for about fifty feet out and then it’s still chest deep for 100 yards out. The yachts start dropping anchor around ten or eleven in the morning in the chest deep water. There’s probably 30 or 40 yachts there with all of their guests standing around talking, drinking, and even eating. Joe and I go out and walk around the boats like we’re at a car show. It’s a strange experience, especially when you have all the different music blaring from each boat.
So here’s the food recommendations. Lunch: Buho’s has the best ambiance during the day, but the least remarkable food. It’s on the beach and sits directly in front of Cabanas Maria del Mar. Tarzan on the beach has great chicken tacos. It turns out that I don’t like grilled fish tacos… I like the fish breaded and deep fried. At Buho’s and Tarzan’s it’s grilled (plancha). Oceanvs has very good fish tacos and expensive too. Ice cold beer and a good glass of wine. The Mayan bar has the best fish tacos, with excellent sauces to doctor the taco with. They also have a cool vibe with swings at the bar where you can eat.
Dinner: Honestly the hot dogs rank at the top for flavor, ambiance, and price (Scalding hot bacon-wrapped dogs smothered in sautéed onions, sit on the curb, 25 pesos), on Vicente Guerrero is an Italian pizza place with great pizza, but I don’t remember the name. Dopi’s is outstanding and is a must for dinner at least once. They’re famous for their steaks. Pier 7 (Muelle 7) is excellent and very romantic out on the dock. Valentino’s has sub-zero temperature beer and good food. One little bar called Tres Menteros (3 lies) has beer from the only brewery on the island. They have a porter that is pretty darn good if you are just hankering for a craft beer, they have several IPAs too.
They have lots of little tiny stores to get a snack with small variety of beers. A larger store near the town square (el centro) has a better selection of stuff and some home necessities, but I wasn’t impressed. Apparently there is a large store called Chuapi or something like that. It’s mid-island and needs a vehicle to get there from North Beach. We never made it. My quest for a decent bottle of wine was difficult, but I finally found a liquor store with a good selection of wine. I think it was on Abasolo near Vicente Guerrero.
We rented a golf cart from our hotel. The prices are pretty close everywhere and convenience speaks loudly. (slather your legs with sunscreen for a road trip because they’re in the sun all day) We went to the southern end of Isla Mujeres and paid the 30 pesos to enter the “park.” (the sign is old and reads 30 pesos or 3 dollars… do the math… :) definitely cheaper to pay the 30 pesos)
As you walk out onto the plain sidewalk, you can’t appreciate the beauty that awaits you! Keep going. Follow the path to your right and go down the stairs. Now you are on a path that winds around the cliff with occasional soakings from the surf.
This is the most eastern part of all of Mexico. The hip thing to do is get there for sunrise, so you can say you were the first person in Mexico to see the sun rise. I wouldn’t know, because there’s no way I’m going anywhere that early :)
We cruised back slowly, mainly because we had the slowest golf cart on the island. We stopped at a marina and had lunch. We ordered chicken nachos and guacamole, which was delicious. Then this couple next to us gave us half a fish and two shrimp tacos because they’d accidentally over-ordered. I thought I was going to be sick, I ate so much! We stopped at a bar with a sign saying “Beer so cold it’ll make your teeth hurt.” It wasn’t even close to the truth. Pretty view though, with lots of resident iguanas.
We got to watch a construction project. It’s hard to imagine being able to get away with their safety standards in California. The building was going up over an existing palapa, so they left the palapa up to use as scaffolding. It really was ingenious.
As most of you know, I like to speed walk for exercise. I also like to do it as a way to explore my surroundings. I love being out in the morning while all the tourists are still sleeping (7:00 or 8:00). The houses all have their doors open wide to let in the cool breezes. Shop doors are being rolling up and trinkets set out on rickety tables. Porches are washed down with soapy water. And best of all it’s shady.
At the other end of the day is the beautiful sunsets. I've always wanted to have my sunset view unobstructed, but this time I found myself fascinated by the humans love of the sunset. it is fun to watch the spellbound people staring into the horizon. It is ritual as old as time.
I’ve been able to write almost every day and finally finished writing my current novel. This one is about a group of teens on a mission trip in Colombia getting kidnapped by a gang. They escape and run to the jungle. With the help of a few locals and the three adults who accompanied them, (Sean, Sport and Pastor Tim) they manage to survive. Of course catastrophe strikes, but they survive. Now it’s time to edit… sheesh, doesn’t it ever end?

So this is my final blog before we head home, though I may do one more for some extra stuff. I have to say, this is the first place I’ve been that I felt I could live.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Second Week on Isla Mujeres

We finally braved the heat and went to the cemetery. It’s only open during the day. I try to always visit at least one cemetery when we travel, if I can figure out where it is. I think cemeteries say a lot about a community. This one is actually quite large and has a couple of resident cats.
Each tombstone is completely unique. Some are enormous, others have intricate detail to make it look like a home (some even have fake grass in front of the little houses),
and there’s some itty-bitty tiny houses with baby's toys.
I always have to include stories about animals, especially dogs and cats. There’re a lot of cats here. Skinny flea infested little things. They cruise constantly in the shadows looking for crumbs and prey. The dogs are split into two groups: collar or no collar. The dogs seem to know the distinction.  The collared dogs seem to be strutting around, as though flaunting that they are indeed pets. The collarless dogs will trot behind them sniffing, but as soon as the chosen one turns on them, they scurry away with their tail between their legs. I saw the smallest Chihuahua I’ve ever seen today… it was a little bigger than a hamster! A Shar Pei got tired of people petting him and took refuge under our table.
All of the restaurants are open air, mostly on the sidewalk and street. The other night a fire dancer put on a really lame show. He twirled it like a kid with a baton, dropping it multiple times. We were sitting where we didn’t have a choice but to watch him. I had Joe snap a picture, so I’d remember to write about it. After the show he comes over to us and asks for money. Lesson learned. The next night he showed up at a different restaurant and repeated his abject performance and again asked for money. I told him absolutely not! Not only was he not good, but his fuel soaked batons put off horrible smoky fumes… yuck. I wonder how many more times we’ll see this act in the next two weeks.
Speaking of restaurants, we recommend Pier 7 (Muelle 7). As you enter from the sidewalk, there’s a bar, then seating, then more tables on the sand, but keep going. Out on the pier itself are more tables. In the evening, it is very romantic and has a nice breeze too. I had the chicken mole (moh-lay). The mole was dark red and sweet. It reminded me of the mole-negro common to Puebla, but it had additional flavors of tropical fruit (very subtle). Joe had red snapper with a little side dish of fried garlic in olive oil. It was crunchy and tasted great on the fish steak. Here’s the catch though; this is a pier for day trip tours. So when the big boats dock, the restaurant is full. I don’t remember the times, but it’s something like 2:00, 4:00 and 6:00 is the last big group, so I’d suggest going after 7:00.
Isla Mujeres has a completely different vibe than Cancun or even Playa del Carmen. It reminds me of PDC fifteen years ago… tranquil, polite, minimal crowds. One of my entertainments is watching the people visiting for the day from Cancun. They try so hard to get a loud party mood going. They curse like sailors and talk as loud as possible. But after awhile the quiet local Mexicans win them over. Usually. Sometimes you just have to put up with their BS until they get back on the ferry. Then Isla Mujeres yawns, pours itself a beer and sits down to visit while listening to the dude playing the guitar solo.
Joe and I just got back from the store to by another bottle of wine (a Spanish wine). On the way back we decided we were starving, so we stopped again at the little cheap hot dog stand by the cemetery. Other places in Mexico may be famous for their street tacos, but here it’s the dog. They grill it with a thin wrap of bacon and then top it with grilled onions. Oh man are they good, and they’re cheap too… 25 pesos!
Isla Mujeres (Women’s Island) is named so because when the
Spaniards arrived they found a lot of statues of women dating back to pre-Colombian times. Apparently the island was the sacred home of Ixchel, the Maya goddess of childbirth and medicine. I’d heard a much more interesting story about women being exiled here for various reasons, but no. According to a tour guide we had a couple of years ago they used to send the infertile woman here in exile. Imagine the conflict of emotions if the woman was sent to live on the island  of the goddess of childbirth and came back successfully pregnant!
I got another tattoo, well a henna tattoo. I’m too fickle for a real one. This time I got a snarling shark. He did a great job and even did some nice shading. Our new friends, Melissa, Luke and Gabriella (mom, son, daughter) have been sitting near us on the beach. Melissa and Gabriela got the tattoo that is on the back of your hand and goes down to the fingers. I think it’s called mandala. It was beautiful, but too much for me. Mine is on the calf.
Cops everywhere! They walk up and down the beach continuously in their dark blue uniforms. It makes me feel like having a heat stroke just watching them… full length pants, combat boots, long sleeve shirts, and a hat. I’m over-heated in a bathing suit! They’re super nice too. The other day Joe dropped his shorts on the beach… Hey-hey, wait a minute! It wasn’t like that. His shorts were hanging off of his backpack as we were going to our beach chairs and the shorts fell on the sand. Joe didn’t notice. Pretty soon we see a cop walking around with Joe’s orange shorts in his hand. His wallet and our room key were in the pocket! We were so thankful that Joe went straight up to the little store and got them a six-pack of ice cold sodas. Unfortunately they’d moved on, so he had to walk a mile to find them. Our key alone would’ve been $50 bucks to replace.
Did you know that the bikini is the new old-lady swimsuit? Yep, and the G-string or thong is the new bikini. I can’t believe how many women wear a thong bathing suit! But what’s even more remarkable is how many photos they have to take of themselves in the thing. Then they hand the camera to a friend and pose in fifty different positions with their rumps sticking out in various poses. I’m not kidding! These girls will literally spend 30-40 minutes taking pictures of each other’s butts. I’ve had to scold Joe a couple of times for pretending to pose for a butt photo :)
We’ve made a couple of friends here. One of my favorites is an eleven year old boy. Alex works at a textile shop selling purses, table runners, etc. Our first English (life) lesson with him was to explain to him that guessing my age accurately, which he did, is not good business. Joe told him to guess low for the man and ridiculously low for the woman. “Oh okay, so you’re 50 and she’s 32?” Quick learner.
Now as soon as he sees us he pulls out his notebook and asks us at least five different phrases he can use. He writes them phonically and has me spell it in English for him. He and Joe were comparing muscles yesterday while I wandered through his little shop. Another boy working there tried to get the attention of a passing tourist. In Spanish he says, “Hey lady, if you speak Spanish it’s free for you.” Of course she just kept walking, but I said in an excited voice, “It’s free if I speak Spanish?” He whipped around and said, “You speak Spanish!” He vanished, I mean poof the kid was gone! I still chuckle when I think about his facial expression.
I’m not sure how many of you know this, but I used to work at Denio’s Farmers Market in Roseville California. Denio’s is an enormous flea market. Bigger than a large shopping mall. I started working there when I was about 12 or 13. Mom had a jewelry booth that I worked at. Then I worked selling T-shirts, then I got a job with the old-fashioned photography guy. Finally I started my own business at about 14. I opened Heidi’s Dried Flower Arrangements. We all got there early and left late, rain or shine. The reason I bring this up is because Isla Mujeres reminds me so much of those days. The comradery amongst the vendors is so familiar to me: the little toddler being watched over by everyone when her parents are making a sale of jewelry, the pet dog is protected from a stray by the host at the adjoining restaurant… it’s family.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Isla Mujeres, Getting Situated

The journey is worth it, but man what a journey! Monday morning we got up at 3:30. Our buddy, Dave picked us up at 4:00 to take us to the airport. We flew to Phoenix and sat in the plane for ten minutes before disembarking. Then we had to run to the other end of the airport to get our next flight to Cancun. (A quick side note against American Airlines… They now charge you $33/pp to sit together! When I asked the lady at the counter to try to put us together, she replied it was a full flight. In the rows around us every couple had been split up and each said the website showed all side-by-side seats had been booked. After a confusing and time-consuming process the passengers relocated themselves before take-off. What a scam!)
Then we were met by AGI transportation and taken by van to the ferry. If possible I will always do business with AGI. They were very professional. We took a thirty minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres. AGI met us there and put us in a taxi to our hotel, Cabanas Maria del Mar.
The streets were flooded calf deep in rainwater from the storm we just missed. After the 105+ temperatures of California, the cool breeze felt wonderful. We joined the locals and tourists in our flip-flops and headed out for dinner, slopping through the puddles. It was a lot of fun… really!
We found a restaurant with grass-fed beef from the peninsula. It’s called Dopi’s, El Rincon de Los Sabores. My carne asada street tacos were amazing. Several chalkboards adorn the walls covered with various comments from visitors from around the world. While we were eating this guy came in with his accordion. Nothing unusual about that. A table motioned him to stop and play for them. What made it funny was when he unzipped his back pack with one hand and reached back to turn on a boom box. He then pulled out his cell phone and you could hear a computerized voice state that it had paired with a blue tooth device. He chose his song and suddenly we had a one man band! And oddly enough he had a large coconut nestled in next to his boom box. Such an odd mix of things.
The beer here is incredibly cold. The bars pride themselves in having sub-zero refrigerators, so the beer borders on being a slushee. Every frig has a lit-up indicator of the temperature. The norm is for it to be below zero Celsius. At Lola Valentino’s it was negative four! Joe wasn’t happy because that’s the only time I will drink beer is when his is cold enough :) I won’t order my own, I just drink his.
We’ve traveled a bit and I have to say that the people who live here are nice, super nice. Though you can’t really tap into that if you don’t know Spanish. At one point we were on a mission to find a place to exchange dollars for pesos. So we asked around. Everyplace was closed that does exchanges. (Not a real problem, as most places accept American dollars)  At one restaurant the whole bar joined in the problem solving. We had gotten about half a block away when the bartender trotted up to us to tell us the owner said she’d exchange our dollars if we wanted.
Our Street
Missing are the obnoxious condo salesmen from the mainland. The next day we wandered the through the tiny town unmolested. The salespeople from the little tiendas politely invite you in. One place asked Joe if he wanted a cigar. “No thanks.” “Tequila?” “I don’t drink tequila,” Joe answered. “Cocaine?” We laughed. Someone who doesn’t smoke cigars and drink tequila might prefer cocaine? Too funny :)
The North Beach is popular for its gorgeous sand and calm shallow water. We were still chest deep at about fifty yards out. But if you go around the tip of the island to the east the water is rougher and the beaches form in little half circles edged by jagged coral. We’re staying at Cabanas Maria del Mar on the beach.
Today is day two on our quest to find wine. No easy task, I tell you. First of all is the fact that no one wants to admit they don’t have the answer you seek. They would rather send you the wrong direction than to see that disappointed look on your face. But Joe and I were prepared for this. It’s the same everywhere in the Latin culture. I don’t mean to say that I can always tell whether or not the directions are correct, I’m just saying I am not surprised when we are led astray. One thing I’ve learned is to listen to the directions and if they are very detailed, then it’s probably correct. “Turn left, not at this next street, but the next one. Go one block down to the OXXO and turn right. Go about halfway down the block and it’s on the right.” It was true and I came away with a bottle of Argentinean Malbec.
The next difficulty is deciding where to eat lunch. This island is small, and the northern tip is maybe a half mile round. There’re lots of choices of places to eat though. We usually decide based on what type of beer they have. Joe likes Bohemian Obscura or Negra Modelo (Just don’t ask for a Negro Modelo, unless you want a black man that is, then ask). We discovered a great beach bar by the marina. The bartender named Mike (Miguel) is an absolute sweetheart. They have the best beef tacos I’ve ever had. We went back today and met Mario.
Mario had a t-shirt that had the superman logo on it, but he’d added Jesucristo, Superhombre, Dios Verdadero on the three sides of the big S. He mentioned he’d lived in the states for most of his life. Naturally I asked where he’d lived. He named several places, but all that stood out to me was San Quentin and Folsom Prison. He proceeded to give the best, most impassioned testimony to his becoming a Christian I’ve ever heard. It was truly an amazing experience to see the ferocity of his love of Christ. We’re going to get together with him next week on his day off.
Then a tropical storm swept the flat little island. The wind came out of nowhere. Rain came in the stores like someone was throwing buckets of water sideways! People ran, laughing, for shelter. A young boy held my hand as I stepped up into his store. Golf carts slopped through the roads that had temporarily become rivers. I understand now why the central street going down the middle of the island is the most popular… it’s at the top of the tiny hill, so the water flows down the streets to the sea.
This brings up the daily question… raincoat or no raincoat? An umbrella would be nice, but it’d have to be a very strong one. Mine isn’t. So I wore an adorable bright pink raincoat and discovered it’s not color-fast. Now my white tank top is tie-died pink. So I’ve progressed to the huge orange poncho I bought for Costa Rica. Now I’m dry, but I look ridiculous! I usually just go with getting soaked by the rain… I dry off pretty fast.
So that leads to the word Humidity. There’s hot and humid and there’s cool and humid. I’ve only known the hot and humid one, which isn’t entirely true because I was born on the northern coast of California. That’s cold and humid. Right now, here on Isla Mujeres, it’s cool and humid. Everything is wet and sticky. Because of that we use the air conditioner. It pulls moisture from the air. I wasn’t thinking about that today. All I thought was how nice and cool the breeze felt, so I turned the AC off and opened the windows. I propped my feet up on the bed and read Tarzan for awhile. When I went to stand up, I almost fell. The stone tile floor was covered with a thin layer of water. The room was like an iced over lake and I was like a 101 Dalmatian puppy! I dried the whole thing with a towel while Joe safely took his nap. Five minutes later it was an ice rink again. I shut the doors and turned on the AC. Lesson learned.

This Malbec tastes good.


The story I’ve always been told is that Isla Mujeres is Golf carts and scooters only. Not true. They have cars here, especially taxis. It’s not terrible, but they do have plenty of cars. I was disappointed because I thought it would be so cool to have the quiet of no cars

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Palmas B&B, Laid Back Luxury by Javi

We met Javi at a crossroads in her life. She was our Spanish teacher for two weeks while we were in Puerto Escondido. She was also in the process of signing paperwork for renting a luxury home for the purpose of making it into a Bed & Breakfast Inn. She has since stopped teaching and is devoting her energy to preparing her new home for business. She is already booked for the first three months.

It was fun to go through this with her. Javi invited us over to her home, before it was guest-ready, for an informal dinner party with her mother and sister from Chile, and several friends. Joe and I were very impressed with this place. Structurally it’s a beauty. The spaces flow indoors and outdoors in true Mexican style. The large kitchen, small dining table, the formal dining room, and the front room are all outdoors… as in a roof and one to three walls.

I took a bunch of photos as she toured the whole place for me. There’s a couple of connected rooms downstairs. On the second floor is the family’s quarters. The penthouse suite is the top floor. This includes a small kitchenette, a terrace overlooking the ocean two blocks away, and a sheltered open area reading room. I even got to brainstorm with her and come up with the name, Palmas… and the moto, Laid Back Luxury by Javi. Cool huh? I set her up on Instagram @javiselman.

She asked me and Joe to come stay overnight as a test run BEFORE she opened for business. We could stay for free in exchange for an honest review. I warned her that honest meant honest, but she really wanted us to stay. She felt that a stranger staying in the penthouse suite, especially Americans, would help her make adjustments.

So here’s my REVIEW:

First impression, before bedtime;
Typical big exterior wall, dirt street, house on the corner. Knocked on door and it was opened to an oasis. You enter at garden level. To the right is a lounge area. To the left palms, straight ahead is massive three story structure hidden behind giant plants.

We were led to our room and encouraged to return back to the ground level once we were settled in. The stairs actually skirt the perimeter of the property and are outdoors. There is a way to get to the penthouse without getting rained on except about twenty steps, and then you have to brave the elements.
A terrace with a couch, chairs, and a dining room are first and then snug up to the wall is an open air kitchenette. At this point she hadn’t connected the electricity to the kitchen (electrical plugs are now there), but the large refrigerator had electricity and it had a mini-gas stove. Water jug was included, which is not always the case elsewhere. To the right is a really cool space dedicated to hiding out. It’s a large mostly enclosed room with comfy couches and a large bed for the nights when sleeping outside is irresistible.

Our bedroom was gorgeous, especially the giant glass door which actually pivoted at about midpoint. As pretty as it was, it was not latching properly and kept swinging open. Javi said she’ll fix it, as that could be a huge energy loss. (Javi fixed the latch) The room has a queen-sized bed. Five windows surround the room. There is no curtain for the glass door, but the way it’s situated, no one can see in unless they’re on your terrace. Which leads me to a complaint. There is no door on the bathroom… and while you’re sitting on the toilet you can see the kitchen part of the terrace! Not to mention the problem with smells. (Javi had a pretty wood door put in before opening day.)

The hot water heater is in front of the toilet and is ugly. (Javi put a nice cabinet door in front of it.) I did think it would be nice to have counter space in the bathroom. That would be hard to fix because it’s one of those pedestal sinks. (She had a shelf built next to the sink) It always surprises me to see pedestal sinks at hotels. Our hotel, Quinta Carrizalillo was the same way… you end up putting things on the floor.

We headed back downstairs to our gracious hostess… seriously, Javi is lovely and attentive.

Time for bed;
(I won’t tell you how much fun we had at dinner with friends and family, because that’s not part of the B&B). The bed was medium firmness and basically comfortable. The air-conditioner kept the room cold, but when we decided to turn it off and open the windows we realized there is no ceiling fan. I recommended a fan to her, she said it was a good idea and would try to get it in this month (She has a fan installed now). I think it would save her some money since running the AC is super expensive in Mexico.

By-the-way, to all my American friends, try not to run the AC constantly when you’re not in the room of any third-world-country hotel. This is a baffling American habit. Several hotel owners told me they won’t put in ACs because Americans run them around the clock… I’m guilty there. I suggested that Javi have two “packages” that guests can choose from; one with AC, one without. Not sure if she’ll do that.

Waking up;
Gorgeous! Wow, what a view! Palmas is very close to the surf beach called La Punta… you can see it from the penthouse. We couldn’t make our own coffee because no electricity yet, but that will be there when guests arrive. We couldn’t experience a breakfast at Palmas because it was the day of her son’s international surfing competition over at Zicatela (but we still had the memory of dinner to assure us it would have been good). We wandered down the sand and dirt streets to a restaurant she recommended called Fruitas and Verduras. It was excellent.

You can find Javi on:
Instagram  @javiselman
airbnb under Palmas Bed and Breakfast
bedandbreakfast.eu
FaceBook for Palmas B&B