Sunday, March 28, 2010

Xbulu Ha

What a delightful find this was! A well-kept secret indeed on Isla Mujeres. And for some of the tenants, they would like to keep it that way. I met vacationers from this year who have booked their rooms for the next year. Specific rooms. One couple had to change their vacation times so they could get the room they wanted. The two front rooms have windows facing the ocean. These are popular. There also is a balcony area in the front of the hotel that also faces the ocean. This is the view from the balcony:

Here is a view looking the other way from the balcony sitting area, a view of the breezeway:

The balcony is where the guests gather mostly at the beginning of the day, and after the beach. Social central.

The hotel rooms are on the second floor, accessed by stairs in the middle of the building. Looking at the following view of the hotel, the centre is the entry into the building; the restaurant is on the right side - tables spill over into the middle area during restaurant hours. There are offices on the left side, including a dentist.

When I booked my room, the manager, Gabriel, reserved Room 4 for me; this room is in the central part of the hotel area. There are a total of 10 rooms, 4 of them that have kitchen facilities. All rooms have satellite TV, a/c, refrigerator, wireless Internet, and a private bathroom with hair dryer. The first morning, I met Lupe, who very thoroughly cleaned our rooms every day, and was extremely helpful when I needed sunblock on my back. She was cleaning Room 6; people had left that morning. I liked the room; though it was almost a duplicate of #4, it had an extra set of windows. I asked for a change.

And that is how I ended up in the room at the back of the hotel. Quiet. Nice breeze coming in the window. View of palm trees.

Here's where I stayed for 13 days...

Our hosts (Gabriel, Lupe, Alfredo, Selina) were very gracious, helping me with language issues. One day, I had a conversation with Lupe's 7-year-old son who spent a good deal of time teaching me the Spanish word for frog. No matter what I said, I just wasn't pronouncing it right. Perhaps one day he will be a teacher, inspired because of the extreme need to teach foreigners Spanish, all because of one woman who just couldn't say "rana."

Several days after I arrived, we had a guacamole lesson for all the guests. Gabriel, his wife Selina, and their 2-year-old son Max, showed us the traditional way of making the best appetizer. The secret I discovered was being in Mexico. There you get all the best ingredients - perfect avocados and limones that we can't find in Canada. The best part was - NO cilantro. Really, the best part was the tasting. Yum!

As we ate our guacamole and drank free beer, we told stories, and learned more Spanish. A new word everyday. This day, we learned the word, "sede," which means host. I was reading the news headlines that morning, and found out something was happening in Cancun.

So let's say you are planning a journey to Isla Mujeres, and let's say you are thinking of staying at Xbulu Ha. Where do you begin in pronouncing that one? The name comes from the Maya. Here is a try at the phonetics: esh-boo-loo h-a.

I remember a conversation with another guest. They said to me, "If you found this place, I would say you did pretty good." I agree.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Happens in Denver

The skies were a brilliant blue when I woke up on Tuesday morning, the kind of day that is inspiring and full of possibilities. My flight was later in the afternoon so I had some time to linger on the island. After two days of blustery weather, a regular pattern it seems, the wind was calm.

I went to the East side of the island, which I could see every morning from my hotel room.

Then off to breakfast. I decided on the Hidalgo Cafe after a lovely review from Wendy and Paul. There I sat with Chris who shared a table with me and was on her way to the beach. I chose a ham and cheese crepe:

Note the glass of orange juice to the right. I had a hard time choosing between sweet or savoury so I had both. My second crepe was apple and cinnamon. Both were amazing.

I went off to Adriano's studio, having made some fairly vague arrangements for 10 am. Adriano is a night time kinda guy so the early morning arrangement was not favourable. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He decided that the piece of art needed another layer of paint on it; it had a strong smell when I picked it up. What is it, I asked. Fibreglass. Not quite what I imagined. He packaged it up.

A couple of other stops (a half litre of orange juice for the road), and some good instructions from Gabriel on my transportation to the airport. My journey to the airport went well! Despite some definite language issues, confusion about my departing terminal (all of the other occupants of the bus got off the bus in one location - not mine), and a rather insistent cab driver who wanted to offer me a "good price" to the airport. After checking in, I went out into the Yucatan sunshine and drank my Starbucks and orange juice.

On the plane, I sat with two "Spring Breakers," young women who spent the last week in Cancun, and they told me of their many adventures. During the last couple of hours of the 4-hour flight, we watched our free TV. Looking back, I can see the clues of what was coming ahead. The weather channel was focussed on Denver.

During our descent, we had the next clue. A gigantic flash of light outside our window, and our lights went out. All was quiet. There was white all around us - clouds, snow, fog. We landed. The captain came on the speaker system to tell us that there would be a delay in disembarking because of a backlog in planes. He also told us that the flash was lightening; it hit our plane. We sat on the tarmac. My seat companions and I contemplated what this might mean to our connecting flight - our waiting was cutting into the time we needed to be at the next gate. An hour passed.

Out of the plane, we rushed to customs. Wait in line. "Where have you been? How long have you been gone?". Wait, wait, wait for luggage. Recheck luggage. Catch train to next terminal. Find gate. The plane has been delayed until 12:29 am. 2 l/2 hours.

I find Jimmie's Bar and Grill, one of the only places open in Denver airport. I order caesar salad and a chicken panini. The caesar salad is the best that I have ever had in my whole entire life! I calculate the number of hours since my crepes - 13.... I pack up l/2 of the panini and go back to the gate. The flight has been delayed to 12:43 am.

I look out the window.

10:45 pm: We wait. Quiet. Announcement: "Flight 38 to Spokane has been cancelled. Please proceed to the customer service desk to rearrange your travels." I hear the Frontier agent talk to another passenger - there is another customer service area being opened.

11:15 pm: I find the end of the lineup between Gates 42 and 44. All flights have been cancelled coming into and leaving Denver. I hear an announcement: "For passenger information, there are blankets and sleeping pads by baggage claim." I meet Justin who is trying to rebook on his computer. K is on his way to Seattle. Sierra is going home to Portland; she spent the last 5 hours on a bus from Boulder to Denver, normally a one-hour ride. We inch forward. We place our bags on the ground. The woman ahead of me studies. "How can we turn this into an opportunity," we laugh.

12:30 am: My feet are tired. I decide to sit on the ground, as do my companions. Some people lie down between the infrequent moves forward.

1:15 am: A woman comes by and says that there are more customer service agents in another part of the airport. We send a scout. The woman ahead of me says, "I don't know if I am ready to go to another ticket counter. I feel committed to this one." Indeed we have a lot of investment here.

1:30 am: Our scout returns - nothing any better than what we have now.

1:45 am: We see the front of the line, and the customer service agents. They look tired. Hair askew.

2:30 am: "Next please." This is for me. "The next flight to Spokane is at 8:35 am, but it is all booked. I can put you on standby. The next guaranteed seat I can give you is 9:35 pm - 19 hours away." The other choice is buying a ticket on another airline. I take my two boarding passes - for the standby and for the evening flight. I am 7th on the standby list.

2:35 am: Sierra's next guaranteed flight is 8 days away; she is 44th on standby. I hear about a woman who is getting married in Las Vegas the next day, and cannot get a flight. I call the hotel reservations; there are no rooms available within an hour of Denver airport. I hear later that people who did have hotel rooms could not find transportation to get there.

3:00 am: I sit on the airport chairs - ones with arms. Other than upright, there are no other positions to sleep on these. I find a spot on the ground between two benches, place my head on my backpack full of square objects. I open my carryon bag. A waft of fibre glass reaches my nose - I decide not to use the beach towel in there. Besides it is sandy and salty; too stiff for a pillow.

4:05 am: The trio on the bench beside me wake up. And start talking. I get up and move to another spot. This is my pattern until 6 am. There are people lying everywhere. Babies. Children. Old people curled up together. Others walking, some reading, and some with their computers and cellphones plugged into receptacles.

At 6 am, the airport comes more alive. I look at the schedule; Spokane to depart at 9:50 am. I go to Hudson's News; I buy a book, Sudoku, pen, and emery boards - a couple of broken fingernails since I left Cancun - just because I feel terrible doesn't mean I need to look it. I find Sierra again, and we talk about our night. Spokane is delayed again. We are told that the plane will be in at 10:35 am, but no problem because it will be empty. I talk to many people - Jan is from Nelson. A woman is on her way to meet her fiancee's family in Spokane; she keeps them posted by cell phone.

At 11:45 the plane arrives, full of passengers, one who is quite rowdy. We have to wait for the police to escort him off the plane. I ask the Frontier agent where I am on the standby list. I am #6.

At 12:15 pm, they begin loading the plane. There are many, many people getting aboard. Disheartening. They call a man's name. I am now #5. The agents scramble with their computers. At last, an announcement, "we have spaces for standby. We are figuring out how many."

Rawson... Patricia.

I leap out of my seat, tears welling up.

Once we get in the air, the view of our world shifts. Sun shines. Joyful passengers! I sleep all the way to Spokane. I am alert when I get there; driving home seems doable. I shop, and leave Spokane at 5:30 pm.

I arrive home at 8:15 pm. The cat is very happy. Me too. I change into my pajamas. The clothes I shed have been on me for 36 hours. I tally up the number of hours that I spent in Denver - 17 - all of it waiting. The next day at work, Christine asks me how would I rate myself for how I did?

An A. Definitely.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Day 14

Day 14 began with the promise of plenty of sun, and it stayed the whole day. It also began with a wind from the north that prompted you to hang onto your hat. So the decision was to forget the North Beach, though I went for a walk there this morning, and saw a significantly diminished beach with amazing waves.

So what to do on Day 14 of a 14 day vacation? All of those things I either wanted to do or enjoyed so much that I want to do it again. That meant Heuvos Mortulenos for breakfast, with orange juice. I haven't figured out dinner yet, but have many ideas. Perhaps later I will happen upon Lupita who is the feeder-of-the-island cats. She carries bags that are full of: dry cat food, cans of wet food, empty bowls. She goes to various locations around the island in the evening; many of the cats are waiting for her. There are a total of 120 cats that hang out on the island. Most of them have had their operations thanks to volunteer vets. Lupita does her rounds every evening.

In addition to the cats, the streets are alive after the sun goes down. People wander up and down, some are eating at tables that line the street. There are both local islanders and travellers.

What I have noticed about the travellers is that most do not travel alone. Those that do frequently stay at the hostel. Cancun, which we can see from the west shore, is a 20-minute ferry ride away, but the difference between the two places is like being on different planets. Still, the island does get to see the Cancun people; these people, I call:

Day Trippers: They arrived in big boats with loud dancing music; they come for bar service right to their beach chairs. Sometimes you may see them in the shops.

There are also:

Long Timers: These people stay on the island for more than a month. They may go to the mainland to get staples often at Super Stores (Costco, Walmart, Sam's Club). The long-timers usually make some of their meals, but they are important people to talk to if you want to know good restaurants. The long-timers have a conflict. They are very excited about life on Isla Mujeres and cannot contain themselves with their enthusiasm; they want to pass it on. But, they don't want the place to be spoilt so part of them wants to keep it all to themselves. There are sub-groups of the long-timers: those that speak Spanish, and those that don't.

There are also vacationers. These poor buggers have only so much vacation time each year and it is all spread too thin. They often ask questions to the long-timers, to the effect, "how do you do it?"

The charm of Isla Mujeres does not happen right away. But once you have been bespelled, returning is a must. Long-timers may buy property or a time share; vacationers, when they are wandering the streets, look for longer-term rentals in hopes that they can find a way of being independently wealthy.

There are also purists. Once they get on the island, they have no desire to leave. Cancun is nothing but a hassle, so they avoid it like the plague. Purists can either be Long Timers or Vacationers.

Time to find dinner... perhaps a crepe as well....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

These are a few of my favourite things....

The clouds rolled in this morning, so other than a brief visit with Darlene on the beach this morning, this was a no beach day. Nevertheless, it was full. After a walk-about, I decided to have breakfast at the Mango Cafe, which is mid-island. Which led to today´s first new thing. I hailed a taxi. Woo hoo! I am ready for New York.

The Mango Cafe is very popular. When I got to the restaurant at 8:30, I had my choice of any table. By the time, I left, all tables were full. I chose the dish that was recommended, though there were many others to choose from - French Toast. Here is a description from their blog: "Oven-Baked French Toast of Mexican Concha Pastries soaked in Eggnog Liqueur, Sprinkled with Caramelized Almonds and served with a Rosemary-Orange Syrup." Yum! Then I hailed another cab (getting to be a pro), and came back to the centro.

When the cab driver left me off in front of Hotel Francis Arlene, I went to see if Sami was vacationing at this time, and there she was! This is a woman who was here each of the two previous times I have been here. We caught up on all the news, and I walked about town. I found Wendy and Paul, and showed them the market. They hadn´t had the experience of Huevos Mortuleños yet so we went to the restaurant, and had a lovely visit, during a huge rain storm.

While we were there, a couple that I had seen at a restaurant the previous night also came by. I noticed them the night before, and recognized the man first - he used to read his book at Jigsaws in Nelson. When I said Jigsaws, they said, ¨"Are you from Nelson, too?" They just arrived yesterday so I did my best as a part of the welcoming committee. Running into people from back home is quite the head-turner!

More patrolling the streets. The Internet cafe was packed, and the other isn´t open on Sundays. Time for lunch. I went to Tino´s who apparently sell the best ribs - sold out for the day. Then I went to my local haunt, and they had only chicken left. *sigh* Chicken it was. My rib pursuit has gone quite badly, I would say.

I turned on HBO - and saw the beginning of a movie called, The Glass House. It was a bit of a thriller, but too late for me to turn it off so I watched it with a combination of the mute and volume buttons. The good guys won, I am relieved to say. Seeing as the good guys were children.

So here I am, having spent 11 days on this island. And what are some of those things that are inspiring here?

1. fresh squeezed orange juice

Everyday. There is nothing at home that tastes even remotely like this. This is a must-have every morning for breakfast, and then I buy a bottle to bring home. A big bottle is 20 pesos and a small bottle is 10. Ten pesos is approximately 9 cents Canadian.

2. Heuvos mortuleños

This is a new find, thanks to Tony our tour guide for the Coba-Tulum adventure. At the bottom is two tosadas (crunchy), topped with two fried eggs, a red sauce, ham, peas, cheese. Amazing! Just ask Paul and Wendy.

3. The colours of Mar Caribe

The Caribbean Sea is an amazing blend of green, blue and blue-green. I will try to capture it in pictures (again - Ryan and I did it last time); it is spellbinding.

4. The people

First, the locals, who are very gracious, friendly, and helpful. Today a vendor gave me a good low-down on what to say if I will not be purchasing. Some don´t speak a word of English but there are interactions that happen where we burst into laughter - the universal language. There are children every where, playing close to their parents´ work.

Then, there are the people who visit here; they are so enthused about finding this treasure that they are experiencing various levels of happiness. (eg. happy, happier, happiest)

5. What´s on the store shelves

Walking up and down the aisles in the local grocery store is a great source of entertainment. One of the Yoplait flavours here is piña colada - I had to have one. Liquor and beer are both sold here. At quite the cost-saving. Laundry soap comes in bars - in three colours: white, rose, and blue. But of course, I didn´t do my own laundry; I had it done at the local lavendaria.

6. The beach

The great thing about islands is that there are 4 choices for beaches. I never went to the south beach, which is 5 miles away, but depending on the weather and which direction the prevailing winds were travelling, I chose the beach. The sand here is super smooth.

7. The restaurants

So far, I have been to 19 restaurants, and I would recommend each one of them. There are many others, too much for 14 days here. My normal rhythm is to have two meals a day - breakfast and dinner.

8. Sunrises and sunsets

That´s definitely the benefit of living on an island - you get both. And for a mountain gal, this is a real treat!

Time for dinner. Another new restaurant!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Wasn´t that a party

Life on Isla Mujeres is full of rhythms, whether it is the weather or the waves, or how people spend the time. Each day, really, is a beach day.

But really, no two days are even remotely alike. Spontaneity is the real rhythm of island life.

I had finished my shower after the beach, and joined the Happy Hour crew on the balcony. There are now 8 at the hotel who gather; Gail and Bill, who moved to the Hotel Francis Arlene because our hotel is full, also joined us. Bill brought ribs that he bought earlier, and I finally got to taste the elusive delight. I showed them pictures of the sunrise that I captured on camera that morning. Though the landscape was inspiring, there wasn´t too much enthusiasm for getting up early. This is a night crowd. Who love to have fun!

Dinner, it was decided, was to be at Sese Loco´s, a restaurant half way down the island. The minority suggested that we walk the 3/4 of a kilometre, but the taxi crowd won. Two taxis required for 8 - Bill and Gail were not coming along.

Though there were many menu options, I decided that since I have limited meals left here, I was having the garlic shrimp. Great choice! The shrimp is cut in half, and then grilled with a tasty garlic sauce. The shrimp were served with baked potato - I am not sure where they get such tasty potatoes, but they are incredible. I also decided on a strawberry margarita. (The experiment continues.) Everyone else had delicioso meals.

Then, time to get back in the cab. In the front seat, Mike was encouraging the driver, and found international language - Nascar. We beat the other crew back by a landslide.

Out we went into the downtown streets to Miguel´s where they were having a live band. Dancing and singing! Two Mexicans who play North American music, for example, Stairway to Heaven. Pina Colada for me! This was a very successful experiment - it was perfect. So I decided on another. The band played on. I met the woman whose dog barked at me in the morning when I was walking along the Malecon.

Then it was time to leave. Back to my room. And it was 10:55. The Baby Boomer crowd knows how to party. Without being wasted the next day. After all, you never know what´s going to happen tomorrow.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Change of Pace

I decided to take a tour. To see Maya ruins. When I got on the ferry yesterday at 6:30 am, I realized I had not travelled that fast for over a week. My maximum speed, I bet, was 4 kilometres per hour during that entire week. Perhaps slower, coming back from the beach.

We were picked up by a van from the ferry terminal and went into Cancun. This is officially the first time that I have been through Cancun - most of my familiarity is to and from the bus station. Our transfer took us to a place in the Hotel Zone. This reminded me of a conversation that I had with a woman from Germany a few days ago; her plan was to go to Cancun because her guide book says that if you go to the Yucatan and not go to Cancun, it is like going to Egypt and not going to the pyramids.

What I was thinking was that the woman would do better by actually going to see this pyramids.

Technically, the structures are not pyramids since they are built one platform at a time. This is what I learned on the tour. They are temples. Of course, those Spaniards had all their own ideas of what to call things.

The bus was full! Once we started, I found out that a majority of the passengers were on their way to Xcaret . (You will have to see me in person to pronounce that one.) This place has many, many things to do - water things. I am seeing it as a Disneyland time.

Which seemed like the best choice because that morning, it started raining. This was the first rainy day since I arrived here. Once we dropped off the fun seekers, we set off for the ruins. Up to the point where we turned on the highway, I didn´t know where we were going first. Coba is in the jungle, set between five lakes, though we only saw one - when we were driving in. As we arrived in Coba, the rain stopped. It remained overcast while we were there but walking and climbing creates enough heat without the sun, so in a way, it was a perfect weather day.

Our tour guides explained the structures, and gave a thorough historical view of when Coba was built. There are basically 3 periods when the Maya did all of their building - The Pre-Classic, Classic and Post-Classic periods. Coba was built during the Pre-Classic period. What is significant about this site is that it has the tallest structure in the Yucatan, and the second tallest in Mexico. That temple is taller than the one at Chichen Itza, which gets a lot of attention because of its size. They do not allow people to climb the temple at Chichen Itza anymore (safety reasons) but they still allow people to climb the one at Coba. This is one of the reasons that I chose this tour.

I didn´t climb it. Mainly because what goes up must come down. And those buildings are some kinda steep. We also had limited time because of the tour, and much of that time was spent walking to the structure - 2 kilometres. Who on earth thought of that? I did, however, have some of the experience of climbing some of the stairs. My new friends that I met on the tour, Wendy and Paul, took my photo so I have documentation.

Our next agenda item was our lunch (included in the tour); Mexican buffet. Sounds like those two words don´t fit in one sentence, but there we were. Salad, chicken, pork, more chicken, rice, beans, and limone sopa (lime soup) which doesn´t even begin to describe the wonderful taste. A broth soup with chicken, veggies, and a piece of lime. Here they call green citrus fruit - lemons or limones in Spanish. And after a while, you kinda want them in everything.

Back in the bus, and some reshuffling of people which ended in the front seat empty. So I moved forward and got the road experience. A long ride to Tulum - perhaps an hour. Tulum is a Maya site which is on the ocean, so with its spectacular view of that green-blue ocean, it is a very popular spot. This site was constructed during the Post Classic period. (Chichen Itza was constructed during the Classic period - though from my studies, I think the old part of the city was constructed during the Pre-Classic.)

The walk into the entrance was .8 kilometres, and we had to hurry because our time was limited. All the ruins close at 5 pm. Tulum could easily have a day to view - I got a strong sense that hanging out there would be a most pleasant experience. Tulum is from the work for "walled city," for its stone structure all around the place.

What I found out about the building of Maya structures is that they created their own "cement" which was a combination of limestone, honey, and other ingredients which have created a solid mass that has lasted longer than any of the current cement.

Back to the bus (.8 kilometres) and I was so ready to be done walking. "What do you think we have walked today?" I asked Paul and Wendy. He said, "Oh, about 139 kilometres." It sounded like the description of the size of fish on a day out in the boat. I agreed!

The bus ride from Tulum to Cancun is in reality a different experience than you might guess. I saw the sign for 114 kilometres, and we were travelling at 100 km/hour. Sounds like about an hour. Though the road is straight, much is happening. Like going through Playa del Carmen, and slowing down to almost stopping to go over ¨"topes." Speed bumps. Speed bumps in the middle of the highway.

We were back at the ferry terminal at 8:00 pm - 13 hours after we began. Very impressive and fun day!

Wendy and Paul are also staying on Isla Mujeres so we had dinner together once we got off the ferry. I had coconut shrimp with mango chutney. The shrimp are coated in a thick batter with long-shred coconut.

I was on my way home as I passed by George´s bar. Mike and Laurie (from my hotel) were there celebrating St. Paddy´s Day with corned beef and potatoes. They invited me inside, and that is how I ended up having a green pina colada for a night cap.

I got into my room at 11:45 pm.

Which is what provided the impetus for today´s beach day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Life´s Delights

I cannot count the number of restaurants on this island, nor the number that offer drinks two for one. If you are travelling with two, and you like the same drink, this is perfect. If you are alone, this provides twice the opportunity for a very entertaining evening. The benefit is that there is no driving home, and not that far of a walk. The downside is that the next day may be a write off.

I think sometimes people choose travelling when they are at a transition in their lives, or perhaps they are ready for a transition. This morning, I was thinking about how people can be much different than when they are at home. The desire to wiggle out of what they have become might be an impetus. Or perhaps they are peeling back who they have become to see who they really are. It is an opportunity.

Yesterday morning, I went to Bistro Francais for desayunos (breakfast) and had to have the French toast - it was very yummy. And then it was beach day. It was a very relaxing day on the beach as I chose Playa Sol (west side) under the palm trees with friends from the hotel. There are two things significant about this spot - this is where Mexicans hang out and there are virtually no vendors.

I am getting into the habit of watching the sunset, but this means careful timing because I have to go back to the hotel and have a shower. This is imperative after a day in the sun with my skin caked with suntan lotion, sea salt, and sand. There is nothing like the feeling of a shower after a day at the beach. When I got back to the hotel, I had a conversation with Lupe´s 7-year-old son, who I think decided I was an impossible Spanish student. In the end, once he was able to write out the letters, he taught me the word rana and I taught him the equivalent in English - frog.

When I went upstairs, Gail (from Kelowna) was sitting in the guest-gathering place so I sat and we had a chat. I heard voices behind me and looked towards the stairs; I saw Lupe first and then behind her was Jaime! Jaime and his wife Carmen (Cristina´s sister and brother in law) stayed with me for a couple of weeks at the beginning of January 2009. What a surprise!

Jaime has been working in Playa del Carmen, and decided to come and visit me on his day off. Playa del Carmen is one ferry ride, one taxi ride, and a one-hour bus ride from here.

So off we were for dinner at Sancochoz´s, and had 2 for 1 - lime margaritas - I cannot say I am enamoured, but the experiment will continue. I had a chicken taco and a fish taco as well as a quesadilla for dinner. The fish taco was a wonderful surprise, considering I am not that into fish.

Jaime and I caught up on all the news, and were amused at where life takes us. We never could have imagined a year ago that we would see each other on this side of Mexico. Also that his wife Carmen is in Nelson right now with Cristina, who is taking care of Julia.

We looked over photos of both of our lives in El Caribe. Jaime had a photo of 3 women who were travelling from Canada; when I looked closer, they were people who lived in Nelson! I said to Jaime - did you know there were from Nelson? No, he said, only that they came from Canada.

We were having a long conversation about his theory that there were really no problems in life, only opportunities. I glanced up at the couple who were reading the menu close to our table. And I said, is that you, Deb? Indeed, it was her and her partner Ben, both from Nelson. Isla Mujeres was their last stop before they are leaving for home. What a surprise!

So the four of us chatted until it was time for Jaime to catch the ferry. Though it was the first time that Jaime had been to Isla, I was grateful to my "host," for his thoughtfulness in coming a long way to visit me. And wonderful company!

I rejoined Deb and Ben at the bar where there was a live Mexican band. And ordered a mojito, which has been my favourite so far. We stayed until the band finished and then walked the main street for a couple of blocks. The party at one restaurant was going full swing with a couple of women who were dancing on the bar.

Which gets me back to going on holidays, and what it brings for, and brings out in us. Opportunity. Life in a way that you could never plan.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Sunday Island Life

Really, it isn't much different than being at home. People spent the day with their families, many at the beach. At the north beach yesterday, there were about 30 boats, and boats isn't the best way of describing them. They are more like yachts. They park in the furthest sand bar and jump into the water. Meanwhile back on the seaside, we all are doing the dance of shade, sun and water. It is simply too hot to spend too much time in the sun. All of the palm trees have someone planted underneath them. And many people bring along their coolers full of beer.

Many places were closed yesterday - not the restaurants or bars. I had my first mojito last evening, and it was so refreshing. I decided on Fredy's for dinner, and when I arrived, I found 3 of my fellow guests at the hotel in the only occupied table so I joined them. I had Fredy's special shrimp which reminded me a bit of an Italian sauce with tomatoes and onions; it was topped with parmesan cheese. Not quite the same as home, but neither were the shrimp. The shrimp are frozen soon after being caught to preserve their freshness; they are very tasty. Fredy is a bit of a card; when I arrived, he said that he heard that he was to be on the lookout for a woman dressed in a purple shirt.

Dessert I found on the street outside of the grocery store; it was called a strawberry cheesecake, but again, the taste is different than home. There are many choices of flan here - it seems to be a favourite.

When the crew decided to go for a walk about town, I decided to stay home. This morning, I listened to the stories of what happened later. One amusing phrase, I hadn't heard of before was the feeling you get after a few beers - bulletproof. That seems to be the time that tequila shots sound like a good idea.

One of my regular hangouts at the beach is also occupied by two couples and the vendors for the chairs. Darlene and I went to a barbecue place in the middle of the afternoon to buy our lunch. I decided on the ribs, but was told that they would not be ready for 15 minutes. Like Saturday. The elusive ribs.

Looks like it is beach time....

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Change in Weather

For the past few days, it has been humid here with some clouds though that does not mean that the sun does not do its job. The wind, which there has been plenty of, has been coming from the south; today it switched and is now coming from the north. I was advised that the north beach would mean blowing sand so I decided to go to the west side of the island. This is where Mexicans hang out, and I get the view of Cancun and the ferries on the way to the mainland.

I had to go to the market and checked at the travel agency about tours. Breakfast this morning was one quesadilla and one tostada; the food is so tasty with the extra bonus of being quite affordable. My meal was a total of $25 pesos which is just over $2.00 CDN; I also had a fresh squeezed orange juice for $10 pesos. The orange juice (jugo de naranja) is every bit as good as I remember, and with a fridge in my room, I pick up a bottle to have some on hand. Before my breakfast was served, I read the newspaper; read is a bit of a stretch. Some day.

When I got back to the hotel, Gabriel - the host - told me that there was going to be an authentic guacamole creating lesson at noon so the beach would have to wait. Gabriel´s wife, Selina and their 2-year-old son, were the chefs. Max, the young boy, even had his own apron; he was very entertaining and irresistible for the photographers in the crowd. His biggest task was to squeeze the lemons (that´s what they call them here but they are green so my inclination is to call them limes). The guacamole was great, though without garlic, I wondered. But I didn´t miss it a bit. They also gave us free cerveza but I passed - still don´t like beer.

After stopping at the grill next door for ribs (they weren´t ready), I headed to the beach. The sun, gratefully, was not as hot as previous days, and I was actually a little chilly getting out of the water but not for long.

A while after I got there, a man came out of the water, and starting chatting with me. This day I had no beach companions so we had a long conversation about work, Mexico, speaking Spanish, and his home town of Merida. We had a lovely conversation, and I was ready for a break as I have been reading The Blind Side, a book left by a former occupant of the hotel. It is everything to do with football, which I know absolutely nothing about. I am learning a lot about Michael Oher. Ishmael works on Isla Mujeres but lives in Cancun; he speaks English quite well, and I got to practice some Spanish.

The sunset was beckoning so I said farewell (with some sort of nod after he invited me to come and see his hotel tomorrow) because the camera was back at the hotel. I stopped at the rib place, but it was closed. Life is always about timing.

It is Saturday night on the island, and party time. Happy hour has definitely started, as I can hear from my spot at this Internet spot, and people are flocking to the restaurants. Me too. I still have my list of "must goes," but ribs are what I was hankering for. Soon, I will be more inspired by other ideas.

My new word of the day is "popota" which means straw. This is not in the dictionary. Alfredo, the maintenance guy, knocked on my door this morning after me coming back from the market and presented me with a popota. Visual and auditory. A well-rounded education.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A No-Beach Day

How could that possibly be so? It was my original intention. But what does that mean in island life - the land of no plans, or obligations.

I arranged to meet with Rachel and Greg for breakfast at the downstairs restaurant - the home of the cezuelas, which is a combination of souffle and omelet. I chose the one with chayulas, which is a Mexican spinach. One can always benefit from greens, I say. We caught up on our adventures since we saw each other last. They had already been to the bus station in the morning because they were looking for the best way to get to Ek Balam, a Maya site close to Valladolid. What excitement! The question was whether I was going to go along or not - they were leaving on the ferry in 40 minutes. What a problem - to spend my next 24 hours on Isla Mujeres or travelling inland, and seeing a new (well that would actually be old since these are ancient ruins) site. Travelling by car (they decided to rent) - a lovely opportunity. What a decision! Imagine this being the biggest problem of the day? After only 4 days from home, I was hardly ready to be on the move again. For now, I am staying put.

Last night, I had a thorough emergence into food on the island - the best places to eat, the best food to each at certain places... It seems I have much to do here yet.

All of this researching and walking and talking ended in the middle of the afternoon. I was sitting on the balcony when the beach goers came home; the wind chased them away from the sand. So going to beach then didn´t seem like an idea.

I went into the streets. "You look just like a Mexican," the tour operator at the corner said to me. "Those dark eyes," I said. His eyes travelled over my shoulder. I looked behind me and saw two young women approaching his door. He was gone as quick as he appeared.

I spent dinner last night with Kim and Brenda and their friend Rick, here from Regina. Out of our 10 rooms at the hotel, 4 were occupied by Canadians. Kim and Brenda are Isla-socialites; and they do their homework. A wealth of information.

As we walked last evening, they took me to a street corner (as in many places in the world - much happens on street corners) where a woman sold her baking out of the back of her pick up truck. Pineapple pie? Who would think of putting pineapple in a pie? It was a must have! I have had two bites, and it is yummy.

My routines? In the evening, I try to find the novellas on TV (an idea suggested to me by my new workmate Vilija) and listen to Spanish. Oprah is on at 8 pm, but I haven´t seen her once. This is prime time to be on the streets of Isla. There is always much to discover.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Making Friends

My first full day on Isla Mujeres I began on the balcony of the hotel. The view overlooks the Gulf of Mexico; it is across the street from Hotel Francis Arlene where I have stayed previously. All the guests at this hotel flock to this side of the open area, because of the view except for two rooms which have their own windows facing the ocean. These two rooms are prime real estate. The fellow I met yesterday who was leaving (part of his leavetaking was gifting his unfinished bottles of booze) has reserved the room for next year.

I do not have one of those rooms. Gabriel gave me the room in the middle of the court yard, though calling it a courtyard is a stretch because we are on the second floor. The courtyard is on the first floor and is a restaurant. But when I leave my room, I walk into the outdoors!

I have not tried the restaurant yet as I have had my breakfasts at the market. Tomorrow, I have a breakfast date with Rachel and Greg, who I met at the airport.

Yesterday when Lupa was cleaning the rooms, I noticed that the room two doors down was vacated that morning, and so I asked to move there. Why? The room has an extra window and the other window when I open it, I can see palm trees moving in the breeze. How cool is that?

I met a couple at the market yesterday who suggested that if I wanted a knife (I found lovely avocados and mangoes at the market), they could suggest a store so off we went to find what they call the "American market." I have no idea why they call it that. They did, however, have a knife which has the most serrations that I have ever seen. I could do many things with this knife. Except get on a plane.

I spent some of the afternoon on the beach where I met Darlene and Tom who have been here since January 6th so I got the scoop. They have friends they introduced me to - Ann and Glen, who live in Canada except they have been here since December 15th, so perhaps they can say they vacation in Canada!

I am happy to say that I totally avoided a sunburn, unlike another guest at the hotel who spent his day in the shade after the previous day. He looked like he was suffering.

This morning I found out that yesterday was Trish`s birthday; she and her husband Joe are here from Kelowna.

After the beach, shower and nap (yikes - does that sound cool or what?), I went for a walk to find dinner. I bumped into Rachel and Greg on at Playa Norte and so we went to Jax for the best burgers. Not the best pina coladas so the search continues.

So far, I have practiced my English a lot. And met very friendly people. Off to see the changes since I was last here - 6 years ago.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Arrival Day

I have landed! It seems an eternity ago since I dragged the suitcase that was staying behind to my car, and found my red Civic entirely frosted. I pondered whether to leave that great Kootenay water in the car or take the risk that the glass bottle might break. And now I am sitting in my short-sleeved shirt and sandals, and totally enjoying the warm wind. It is windy here this evening, as was the ferry ride over, which made for a choppy ride. I met a couple from Denver in the line up for the bus, and we travelled here together. I had the benefit of their information that they got from their landlords on Isla Mujeres. And they got the benefit of my Spanish (imagine that!)

They had a map of Isla Mujeres and there was no reading it on the ferry ride. The minute I started reading, everything was aswirling.

I caught the 6:15 plane out of Spokane, and had a fine day despite getting up at some unearthly hour. The couple in the Spokane hotel room above me had a late night, arriving in at 1:00 pm and then showering. After a while there was some rhythmic noises which continued for a rather lengthy amount of time. Still, it is good that they were having a good time. Between the neighbours and a stupid early wake-up call, it was a short night.

Most of this day was about travelling - there were many, many others doing the same. It seems that it is not too hard to fill a plane to Cancun.

When I got to Cancun, I decided to take the bus to downtown Cancun and then a cab to the Puerto Juarez, the ferry terminal. This is the most economical way to get from the airport. And the bonus was that it was one of those big tour buses - very comfy. I shared the cab ride with Greg and Rachel (from Denver) and saved even more money!

After checking into my new pad - I am going to wait until the sun shines before I give a review - I do have cable TV! And lovely clean white sheets!

Dinner was camarones al ajo - fresh caught from ocean - this is the way to have shrimp (and of course garlic). I have my aqua purificada and am ready to be horizontal.

Remember the smell of the ocean? That´s my biggest surprise of the day....

Monday, March 08, 2010

Back in the Old Stompin' Ground

My home for tonight is in Airway Heights, a city West of Spokane airport. Lots of wide open spaces here. The car trip here was full of mixed weather, and threats of cold descending. Good timing I was thinking.

I hung out at the shops (Target, Best Buy, a hair salon - gotta keep up to date on the new products and Huckleberry's), and wound my way to the hotel. As I was finding a parking spot, I noticed a sizeable number of vehicles from - British Columbia! When I read the licence plates, there were many from Castlegar, Nelson, Trail. Of course, they are not all in the hotel; they have parked their vehicles here and jetting away to the sun.

For dinner, I decided to check out Rose's recommendation - Scratch. What a great place to eat! I decided on the New York steak; it was au poivre, a marinade that was very tasty. There also was roasted garlic Yukon mashed potatoes, and grilled asparagus and all topped with a brandy mushroom cream sauce. What a taste feast! At the beginning, they serve a bread that one would want the recipe for... The name of the restaurant I understand is because all the food is made from.... well, you can probably guess.

So here I am back in Airway Heights, watching the clock closely because I have a 4 am wake-up call. Thanks to Huckleberry's, I have breakfast. And the suitcase has been repacked.

It was a trip down memory lane today, thinking of all the places I have hung out in Spokane over the years. Some places (like Huckleberry's), are wonderfully the same. I think it has almost been a year since I was here (Easter 2009); and I am still finding treasures!