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