Monday, November 20, 2017

11-12-17: Trying New Things

Joe and Larry went diving this week. Isla Mujeres doesn’t get rave reviews for its diving, but it does have a couple of features. One is a bizarre under-water museum of statues. If you’re interested Google it, because it is pretty weird. They also have a couple of shipwrecks. The guys went to the wreck, and it’s a real wreck, not set there for divers. That means it’s a tough dive in a strong current at 85ft. I didn’t go because going diving from a boat that is as big as a ski boat isn’t my idea of a good time. Club Med has spoiled me.

Karina had decided she’d like to learn how to snorkel. Since she’s a swimmer, she thought it would be easy. Turns out it’s not. First of all, she bought a child’s mask and snorkel on accident in Guatemala. So it basically didn’t fit her face and was rigid plastic… I know because I had to give her mine. She basically hated snorkeling, but she did it. For the rest of the day she had a headache. I guess it’s not for everyone, especially if you’re a nose breather.

Karina amazed me on this trip. She is so brave and curious. She’ll try anything. Here she is on her first vacation, her first time to an island, first time in the sand, and the ocean. First time to float on her back, see yacht, to eat a banana split with beer, and much more, lol.

Speaking of curious, we are always wandering into hotels. It’s kind of a free excursion. We were walking around north beach by Mia Resort and we came across a new outdoor bar/restaurant (brand new) called Cha Cha Cha. After we listened to the band for one beer, we cut across the street to an appealing hotel entrance. It was still under construction and the owner was standing at the passageway. For some reason, maybe our praise for the beauty of the place, he gave us an impromptu tour. We clambered over little hills of sandy dirt to peer into the unfinished pool. We followed him through the imported thick wood doors from India into the presidential suite. He proudly pointed out the yard full of bubble wrapped gym equipment that had just arrived that day. He turned on the lights in the lobby to show us the artwork.

The next night our hotel told me and Joe that they would like to upgrade us to Playa Arena’s presidential suite! We figured they needed our room and we were right. So we stayed the last two nights on the top floor with a gorgeous terrace and a view of the ocean. 

The little pool was right on our patio and no one came up to it, so it was like a private pool. Unfortunately, when a heavy rainstorm came through it flooded our terrace and seeped into the room.  It was poorly designed. FYI, those little rubber discs covering the shower drains are there to keep the bugs from crawling up the pipes into the room… they also keep the sewage stench from wafting into your vacation.

Friday, November 17, 2017

11-10-17: Adventures Away From the Hotel

Occasionally we venture away from our little town at the north end. Last weekend we rented golf carts and headed off to the south end. The island is only about four miles long and just under a mile wide. There’re basically three towns, but dwellings are scattered everywhere. Larry and Lisa’s golf cart was on its last leg. After multiple stops and starts we limped into the southern park which is considered the most eastern tip of all Mexico. They have a little amphitheater to view the sunrise (that way you can be the first person in Mexico to see the sunrise).

The temple of Ixchel is located there… well what remains of it. The ruins were knocked down to the foundation the year we got married. Ironically it was Hurricane Gilbert that did it. 

The park is basically a flat-topped bluff. Just keep walking to the second trail to your right. This will take you down a stairwell to the well-designed sidewalk skirting the cliffs. At some points the waves crash against the rocks and spray you, so plan on the possibility of getting a little ocean spray. A restaurant is located at the entrance with a great view. They also have a few shops to buy local souvenirs.

Coming back up the island we stopped at the Launcheria (I think that’s what it’s called). They are famous for their Titinxic fish. We ordered one to split between five of us, and some guacamole, and were stuffed. The waitress tried to convince us to get one fish for two people, but we knew better from our last trip. You can easily make ten or eleven tacos from one Titinxic.

It’s much, much cheaper to take a taxi than it is to rent a golf cart. There’s a certain freedom to having the cart and they are fun. You can change your mind and whip a U-turn to check out some little roadside stand selling seashells. But taxis are everywhere and very convenient… usually.


Our second outing was go to the only micro brewery on the island – Isla Brewery. Tres Mentiras restaurant on the pedestrian street serves their beer, so we knew it was good. Our plan was to hit the brewery then the famous Mangos restaurant. Apparently Mangos was destroyed or is being renovated, because it has no roof. We hopped in the first taxi to stop and told him we were going to Isla Brewery. He didn’t know where that was, but he started driving anyway. I mean how lost can a taxi driver get on Isla Mujeres? It turns out that if it’s his first day on the job, he can get pretty lost! After zigzagging across the island for twenty minutes, he finally followed our instructions using Larry’s phone app. All that said it is a good brewery and Oscar’s Pizza is worth the short drive.

Lisa and I wandered down the alley in search of restrooms and suddenly we were on the marina! It was beautiful with the jungle greenery growing right up to the docks. I've always loved marinas, but especially since writing my recent screenplay about yacht piracy. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Critters

11-7-17
Critters:
In order of abundance, the cockroach wins hands down. They are at least two inches long and fast. Unless you can run over them with a golf cart, there’s no way to get rid of them. But they actually stay hidden for the most part.

Then it’s the iguanas. These guys fascinate me. They look prehistoric as they creep along, stopping to do push-ups. But if you get too close, you’ll see the speeds they are capable of… fortunately they run away.

This morning, after the downpour all night, the sky was swarming with dragon flies. It was a beautiful sight.

Everywhere you look are birds. I wish they were tropical birds, but they are mostly your standard black or grey birds, some seagulls, pairs of doves, and the ever present pelicans (who look like they belong to the same era as the iguanas).

As for cats and dogs, the cats rule here. On our little street a man shows up every morning with a bag of cat food. Cats come running from every direction with tails straight up. He scatters the food around in little clumps. One restaurant, Lola Valentina’s has five house cats to keep the pest problem under control. Pretty much every restaurant has a working cat. Most of the old timers have chunks missing from their ears to prove their turf wars.

The dogs are mostly pets, but I’ve seen a couple of strays. Little dogs are the theme here. The other day an teenage puppy was having a stand-off with an old veteran cat. The dog was blocking the entrance to the cat’s yard. The cat wasn’t moving, it just stayed crouched in the middle of the busy pedestrian street. The puppy was frantically trying to work up the courage to come near the cat. I thought its tail was going to fall off, it was wagging so hard. It would hop forward a few inches at a time until the low growling from the old tom would intimidate it back again. Thirty or forty people stood or sat around to watch this little battle. Finally the pup got distracted and turned its back. In a blur the cat dashed into its fenced-in yard. The puppy sat stunned and defeated as it watched the cat stretch out within a foot of the fence.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Island Life

11-5-17
The WiFi was so weak I couldn’t get enough of a signal to post my blog with pictures. It will have to be done from home. So these were written in real time, but posted later with the photos. I was able to do Instagram photos, but it’s kinda hard to write anything very interesting with a smart phone :(

Larry and Lisa have joined our little group (on 11-4). They came on Saturday evening. I texted them, “Do you want us to meet you at the ferry or the hotel lobby?” Larry texted back, “The beach!”

Here’s the cycle of island vacations; Work-out, Eat, Beach, Eat, Beach, Nap, Eat, Music, Sleep, Repeat.

I have doubled my caloric intake! I knew I would but it still surprises me what a little piggy I become. For that reason, I start my day with a 30 minute speed walk. On the east side of the island it is very windy and they’ve paved about a mile of the shoreline with a walking path -- a promenade. Even though it’s in the sun, it feels good to have that constant breeze. All the fitness-minded people trot, walk and lunge their way up and down this path all day long.

My seat was on the pink bench with the kids :)
Then the big decision… breakfast. Which one of the hundreds of restaurants shall we try today? I tend to gravitate to the beach places. There’s nothing like coffee, fruit and yogurt while watching the oceans shifting colors.

Next we have to hustle down to the beach and get our favorite chairs. We like the ones under the palm trees and we have them put umbrellas up for us too. The other day an older gentleman stopped in front of Lisa and Larry’s chairs we’d reserved with towels (they had stopped at their room to change). He just stared at the chairs and then at us. Finally he said, “I like chairs in the shade.” I pointed out that they had umbrellas for that purpose. “I like the trees and the umbrellas,” he stated as he stared at us like we should move. I politely pointed to the neighboring palm tree and suggested he pull some chairs under it.

After splashing around in the ocean and oohing and aahing over the fancy yachts, we huddle and decide where we should eat again. Usually a beach place… usually fish tacos and beer. Then back in the water (and we don’t wait thirty minutes like our mom’s told us to do). We walk as fast as we can in the shallow water for a few minutes to reduce the guilt and then flop in beach chairs like we’re exhausted. Nap-time, or reading for those of us that don’t understand the concept of a nap.


Then it’s time for hot showers and clothes. Off to the four-by-four-street town of North Beach. How they can squeeze this many restaurants and bars in such a small town is beyond me. It’s not unusual to stop and listen to 3 or 4 different bands while wandering around. Surprisingly, we agree pretty easily on where to eat. Lobster is a big deal here. Joe had lobster tacos last night. I had filet mignon tacos :)

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Ilsa Mujeres, Round Two

It’s always easy to book the earliest flight out of Sacramento. It’s not so easy to get up at 3:00 am. This time we flew United and that was a good decision. They didn’t wait until 24 hours before our flight to tell us we had to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra to sit together like American Airlines. United lets you choose your seating ahead of time. The only downside is they didn’t give my luggage a seat. My suitcase got left in San Francisco. On a positive note I feel vindicated for all the years that I have packed a full change of clothes, swimsuit, sarong, incidentals and vitamins in my carry-on. I had everything I needed… except the two bottles of wine in my suitcase. Fortunately it arrived at the hotel the next day.

By the way, we’re back on Isla Mujeres. This little tiny island is on the Caribbean side of Mexico. It’s incredible how safe it is here. Obviously you can get in trouble if you look for it, but it doesn’t come to you. I like that. Bill came with us this time, so we treated him to a special dinner at the hotdog stand. These aren’t just any hotdogs… these are wrapped with bacon and grilled until the bacon is crunchy. Then it is placed in a grilled bun and smothered with sautéed onions and jalapenos. That was Monday night.

Karina, my Guatemalan daughter, arrived on Tuesday night on the ferry. She came off the ferry with some guy pulling her luggage for her. As soon as she saw Joe’s face, she snatched her bag out of his hand and said goodbye. She thought Joe was going to be mad at the guy for picking up on his daughter… lol. It was pretty cool to introduce her to the Caribbean. Her reaction was priceless when she followed our lead and took of her shoes off. She stepped down into the silky white sand and said, “Oh wow, oh my gosh… oh,” and then she giggled as she wobbled after us in the shifting sand.

The next morning she stopped in her tracks when she saw the brilliant turquoise sea. “Look at the colors!” Of course this was followed by boldly walking into the ocean with the three of us… well ‘bold’ might be pushing it. Within fifteen minutes she’d mastered floating on her back and half an hour later she swam all the way out to the buoys.

This is always an interesting time of year to visit Mexico. The day of the dead (Dia de Las Muertas) is important everywhere, but in the more touristy places they combine the American Halloween customs with theirs. Starting on October 30st the kids begin shamelessly begging for candy at all the gringo hangouts dressed up in ghoulish outfits. On November 1st the local cemeteries are crawling with family members with buckets of paint and fresh decorations. This is the day devoted to the children who’ve died. Teenage dancing groups perform in the streets… first they sway back and forth like ghouls with heavy serious music. Then they change the tempo and throw back their scarves to reveal skeleton painted faces and whip into a frenzied dance. Nov 2nd is the day for deceased adults.

We were sitting upstairs on a terrace listening to a singer strumming his guitar, when he was suddenly drowned out by a performing group working their way down main street. He stopped and went to the edge to look over. We all followed suit. We’d just paid our bill so we went down and joined them for a bit as they swayed to somber music and then broke into dance.  Then we went and watched the little children drive tiny motorized cars around the church courtyard. Finally we headed back to the hotdog stands and ate dinner sitting on plastic stools and juggling messy dogs, napkins, Styrofoam plates and a brisk breeze. (It’s a skill developed over many years of travel!) Mind you, this was all after sunset. Because of the island heat, this town doesn’t come out of hiding until dark.

Joe has gotten his usual teasing from the vendors about his cowboy hat, “Hey Texas, hey cowboy! You wanna buy some tequila? Cigars? Dope?” So what’s this mean? Do Texas cowboys come here and drink tequila and smoke cigars or weed? Bill and Joe have a standing bet about how many times someone will ask Joe if he wants tequila. But if he’s not wearing the cowboy hat, they ask him if he wants to go snorkeling or fishing :)

We got to see our friend Mario on Tuesday while we were waiting for Karina to arrive. He is just as on fire for the Lord as always. It was fun to see him get all riled up and excited as he told Bill his testimony. At first Bill was interested, but then Mario kept getting closer and closer. For someone intense like Mario, having them inside your personal space can be too much. When we saw him later, his way of introducing himself to Karina was, “Do you know Jesus?” Karina was a little overwhelmed… hehe.

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.