Friday, January 30, 2009

The Circus of Life

Our house is full of clowns, acrobats, and magic tricks.

The Clowns
Loco and Maya. They sleep together, and they fight together. Usually Maya starts it by chomping on Loco's leg. If he doesn't react, she moves to other parts of his body - his ear flaps, his mouth, his nose. She grabs onto his face with her claws and bites away until he responds. And then the fun begins - they chew and wrestle and run. Loco is 20 times bigger than Maya but she doesn't care. She's nuts, and she has no fear of any animal here in the house, possibly with the exception of Luna (although she's actively working on that too).

Maya will stand on her hind feet like a prairie dog when she's confronting Loco. Braced for attack. Loco body-slams her to the ground. Thunk. Maya bounces back up and either dives at Loco for more, or runs off, only to return in a minute - hiding behind pieces of furniture to do a sneak attack.

On his own, Loco will put on a burst of energy for no reason. He'll just run at full force from the front of the house to the back of the house, slipping and sliding on the ceramic floor. One front leg might be a bit longer than the rest, because his leg sort of swings out as he runs. He looks like an idiot.

Sometimes the live show is better than what's on tv.

The Acrobats
Minina and Luna. Both are very agile and can jump heights and distances without error. They can scale ladders easily, and use the one at the back of my neighbor's house to get down to ground level after they've jumped over to his roof. Minina is not supposed to be doing this, of course, but sometimes Miguel is not watching her when they're out on the second level terrace, and she jumps through a hole in the wall over to the neighbor's roof.

Minina can also jump and hold onto the screen on the back door until you give in and let her in. Minina has slipped occasionally when jumping across the staircase; one time she tried to grab the potted plant to save her from falling, but the result was that they both fell. Lucky for Minina that she had just enough time to scramble out of the way before the plant came crashing down right where she'd fallen.

Maya is in school to learn how to be an acrobat, and she seems to have some talent. She does somersaults on her own - sitting on the ground she will suddenly just do a flip over her head, for no reason. I told you, she's nuts!

The Magicians
Any one of our cats is a magician when they want to do something. Minina can move the screen in the kitchen window until the clasps give way and the screen is off and she either gets in or out. Minina knows if she jumps at the front door it is likely to spring open, and she knows if she pulls the sliding screen doors from the side she can get them open enough to get out. Maya knows if she fishes under the couch long enough she's likely to pull something out of there (not quite a rabbit out of a hat, but regardless - they turn up with things we didn't even realize we had).

Maya is a master of showing up in places where she wasn't just a second ago. I will have walked through an empty room, and often when I turn around, there is Maya, sitting right in the path, watching me. Where did she come from? I have no idea. She is fast, and sneaky, and small enough still that she can hide in places the other cats cannot fit into.

But the magic tricks don't stop with the animals. This morning I was tidying the downstairs bathroom, and when I turned off the light, a little electronic musical tone sounded. What? I turned the light back on. Nothing. Turned it off again and the music played again. Was it the bulb in the night light making a strange noise just before blowing out? I pulled out the night light - and heard the sound again. Not the night light. I put on all the lights in the bathroom to get a good look, and found the culprit. An electronic Suduko game that was lying on the top shelf. I guess when I placed something up there I jiggled the shelf, which triggered the game to turn on, and it was playing its opening screen music.

There is always something here to keep us on our toes. I feel like a ballerina!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Beep Beep, Tamales, Elote, Verduras, Que-so

The sounds of the colonias. Informing the inhabitants what is coming down the road. Hurry, grab your coins and run out to the street and try to figure out where the sound is coming from, and which direction it's moving to.

The Beep Beep bicycle horn signals hot tortillas, packed in a cooler on the back of the bike. There are plenty of young men riding around beeping the horn, all morning and into the afternoon. Just in case you can't get to the mercado to buy from the factory. I used to get so mad at that sound, not realizing what it meant - why would someone ride around just beeping an annoying horn? Even though I rarely buy my tortillas from them, I now appreciate the service they are providing and I guess the sound just blends into the other sounds here...I hardly notice it any more.

Tamales. Tamales. Over and over. In the morning a man goes by, in the evening it's a woman. Different families selling tamales. We buy from the woman - we love her baked tamales and she knows it, so when she has that kind, she comes around. We have since sent her around the corner to our neighbors - they were in search of good tamales and now they've found the source as well. The tamale lady was missing for a good month, and I had given up on her showing up again. But last night there she was - she'd been on vacation but now she's back and we will once again have tamales at least once a week. Yum!

The tamale is a work of art. Cooked in either a banana leaf or corn husk, which is not just slapped around the masa mixture, it cradles the masa. Tamales are a lot of work, and the end result is a neat little package in natural wrapping, tied up with a cord made from plant material. It's like opening a gift, untying the cord, peeling away the layers of wrapping to reveal the tamale inside.

Eh-LOT-Eh. Elote. Corn on the cob, skewered on a stick. Rolled in mayonaise and drizzled with chili pepper and lime juice. Not a tender sweet corn, but a chewy white starchy corn. Add the condiments and you have a snack.

Verduras, Naranjas, Mango. The fruit truck, blasting its message so fast that I could never make out a single word until Miguel told me what they were saying. I used to think it was some sort of community announcement, never realizing it meant a truck loaded with fresh fruit and vegetables at great prices. Just stop the truck and check out what is on the back. The other day I bought a bag of ripe mango - 5 for 10 pesos. The truck was surrounded by people wanting the mango, as it is just again coming into season.

Que-so O-ha-ca-ca (Oaxaca). A song anyone staying in the colonias has heard. A man dressed in white with a wooden tray on his head, loaded with cheese. The man walks up and down all the streets singing his song well into the evening. He's not young, but he can sing, and he can walk. Every day.

Other vendors come through the colonias on a less regular basis. Some selling bread and sweet pastries, some selling furniture on a truck, some carrying small tables on their backs, some carrying ceramics. Sometimes the juice man is around. Every morning except Sunday there is a woman walking through the colonia carrying a large pot with the food of the day - volancos, salbutes, negritas, empanadas. She stops and gives you what you want, putting the condiments on top (pickled onions, marinated cabbage). Great food for breakfast at a great price.

I look at all the people offering these food services, and other than the young men on the bikes with tortillas, the people are all middle-aged or older. What will happen once these people can no longer walk the streets? They are a part of the Mexican culture, but one I fear will be lost with the younger generation who will find easier ways to make a living.

Just like prepared food in the supermarket has replaced the art of cooking for many people, this art of preparing food and taking it around may also be replaced. By what, I wonder?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Linty House

Yeah, so the new towels are not the hit I thought they would be. The colors were so pretty, and they were so soft. They were not the cheapest but they were not the most expensive either - middle of the road, what I would buy for our personal use. I went with the best color combination I could find based on the colors of the bathroom tiles. I did not want to do white, because white shows everything and it just doesn't do anything for me, personally.

So I went with color. It took lots of trips to lots of stores in Cancun to find the right colors that included a choice of facecloth. Mexicans do not use facecloths, so many of the towel sets I would have bought were eliminated because there would not have been matching facecloths.

I washed all the towels before putting them into circulation at the apartment and the B&B. I noticed all the lint, picked a lot off, and pulled a lot out of the washing machine filter. I thought a couple more washings would take care of the problem. I thought wrong.

After guests left, I noticed the screens in the bathroom were growing Caribbean blue fuzz. Little pieces of fuzz were gathering on the floor, making sweeping a bit of a challenge. I heard from one guest that she ended up covered in blue fur after drying off. Thankfully she is a gentle person and took it in stride.

But we cannot have furry guests. So we bought a stacking washer/dryer. We really just needed the dryer to fluff the laundry and take out the lint. Miguel is in the process of buying all the pieces needed to do the installation.

And now I've noticed that the towels look a lot better when I take them off the line. Another few washings and they would probably be just fine. Not as soft as they were, but no longer fuzz-producing either.

I guess I didn't need that dryer afterall. The House of Lint is soon to be gone.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

For the Foodies and Blog Lovers Amongst Us

CancunCanuck is a finalist in the Ninth Annual Weblog Awards. Great job!

As I visited the site to look at the list of nominees and to click on her behalf, I stumbled on this blog - Go Where the Taxista Takes You and immediately knew some of my 'foodie' friends would be interested in reading. I don't eat sausage but the review of the sausage sandwich in Brazil made my mouth water. I want one!

I continued reading her blog, and this entry brought tears to my eyes. What a sweet story! I can imagine our taxi driver Luis would be just as giving. There really are so many good people everywhere.

Now I have to go and read more of these blogs. My own blog entry for the day will be delayed until tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kranky Nuts

No, it's not a pet name for Miguel.

Yesterday morning Miguel was a happy man. His day started with his usual routine of watering his gardens, followed by a trip to the mercado to buy our daily supplies. On the way home we encountered the plant lady and Miguel bought 5 plants. New plants always make Miguel happy.

Back home we prepared a delicious and healthy breakfast, after which Miguel took his newspaper to the hammock for a read and possibly a short siesta. Then Miguel made a quick run to the apartment where his daughter gave him a packet of Kranky Nuts and a small candy bar.

When he got back home, Miguel handed me a packet of Kranky Nuts and ate the other packet. I commented at the time on the English meaning of the word 'cranky'. Miguel ate the Kranky Nuts and then, while I was working inside, he tackled cleaning the front terrace and windows. Still happy.

As part of cleaning the front terrace, Miguel cleaned the front door by spraying it with the hose. Water was coming into the living room under the door, and I knocked on the door to let him know. Not so happy now.

It was downhill from there on. My happy man, for no reason I could relate to, turned into a cranky person. His belly was full, he'd had his siesta, he'd bought plants...there was no excuse for the cranky mood other than the Kranky Nuts.

Turns out Cerveza is an antidote for Kranky Nuts. This morning Miguel is back to his cheery self. I'd better hide the other packet of Kranky Nuts before he eats them...can't take a cranky man in the house two days in a row!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Trip Report - Sac Bajo

We finally got a break in the weather and enjoyed sunshine this past weekend. We took advantage of the weather and took Loco for a long drive, finishing up with the small dirt trails at Sac Bajo.

We were pleased to see the beach area looking much cleaner than the last time we'd been there, but there was still too much garbage left by uncaring visitors. Next time we have to plan better and take some garbage bags so we can pick up.

Miguel parked at the edge of the beach and wandered off. Loco and I sat there for a while just enjoying the view. If not for the humming of a motor somewhere, and the pounding of a couple of guys on the metal shrimp boats across the water, it would have been total peace with just the whisper of water lapping at the shore. I was surprised that the people were working on the boats on a Sunday - too bad because it ruined the peace of the whole area.

Miguel wasn't coming back in any hurry, so I decided to let Loco off his leash so he could go and join Miguel. ZOOM! Loco was off like a shot. But...not where Miguel was walking along the shore. No, he was off through the bushes. Then Zoom! out of the bushes and running around the parking lot. By now Miguel was back and Loco ran and jumped like a maniac. Then Zoom! again...this time through the bushes on the other side.

But he didn't come back. We waited but couldn't even hear Loco rustling in the bushes. We called, Miguel whistled, we clapped our hands...nothing. No sign of the crazy dog.

We were starting to get worried. Loco was running so fast that he could easily get himself lost in that maze of mangrove. Miguel decided to get on the golf cart and go to the other side and look for Loco. We looked rather silly riding around calling and whistling and clapping our hands, but we didn't come across anyone else in any case. I rode along for a bit but then decided that I should go back to where we were in case Loco came back while Miguel continued looking around the other areas.

So I walked back along the hot road calling for Loco, and just when I turned the corner to where we'd been, the crazy dog came bounding down the road. He had found his way back, or had been answering our calls - who knows. I was glad to see him but now I'd lost Miguel. I couldn't even hear the engine of the golf cart - he was way off somewhere. I hollered at the top of my lungs to let him know I'd found Loco, but there was no way he could hear me.

I didn't have the leash and I wasn't about to let go of Loco's collar. So I looked around and at the side of the road was a small piece of frayed cord - about 8" long. Just enough to loop through Loco's collar and hold onto him without being totally stooped over. We walked to a shady spot at the side of the road to wait for Miguel, who had no choice but to come back at some point.

Loco laid down - exhausted, hot and thirsty. I flicked biting bugs off my legs. About 5 minutes later I heard the golf cart engine, and Miguel still whistling for Loco. I called out and around the corner came Miguel.

So the family was reunited again but it was a bit of a scare. Loco has forfeited his chance to ever run free again, and it's really a shame because he has tons of energy and he just loved going at full speed with complete freedom. But alas, it's not to be any more. We can't risk having him get lost, or hurt, or killed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Don't take things for granted

Yesterday we were out driving along the east coast when Miguel suddenly turned off and bounced us down a sand and rock filled road. Miguel had spotted the guy who walks around the colonias selling his wife's delicious pineapple pie and cornbread.

The man walked over to us and told us what he had in his basket. For some reason Miguel asked him if he spoke Maya (yes, he did). Then Miguel asked if he spoke English. No, he didn't speak English; he said he wanted to learn but he couldn't.

I mentioned the English school and that they accept adults. Then the man told us that he had only gone to first grade and that he couldn't write. I told him that probably didn't matter as he could still learn to speak. He shook his head...maybe he can't read either.

Miguel asked him if he knew his numbers in English, and yes - he did...that would ensure he would be able to tell people, in English, the cost of his baked goods.

This man is not old, he is middle-aged.

There is small grocery store on the island where one of the owners who tends the store cannot do math. She knows the numbers but cannot add, so if the purchases are more than a couple of items, someone else in the family has to come out and calculate the cost for her. She has tried to learn the calculator but I've noticed she has given up. She's a sweet person and is ashamed that she can't add.

Miguel's grandmother couldn't read, write, or do math. Miguel says that his grandmother would charge people by the number of certain denominations of bills that she wanted. A turkey would be 3 100 peso notes ("Abuela, that's too much!), a chicken would be 2 50 peso notes, and so on. So even though she couldn't add, she learned a different way to charge the amount she wanted in the final tally.

Can you imagine a life here on Isla without being able to read or write in any language? I can't. I took my education for granted and there were times I didn't want to go to school. But here, right in front of me is an eye-opener; not everyone is so lucky to have the opportunity of education. So thank you, Canada, for giving me the tools I need to enjoy life - I'm able to read a book, to write my thoughts, and calculate my taxes. And even though I moan about the amount of tax I pay, if that means that everyone in Canada is educated on the three R's, then it's worth it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Working on corrupting my Mexican

Or should that be 'converting'?

A multi-cultural relationship has many challenges: language, communication, manners, festivities, religion, tradition, family, food...to name just a few.

Language is the first challenge. How can you understand each other if you can't understand the words? And then once you understand the words, do you understand the meaning? Words strung together to form a sentence do not necessarily end up with the meaning one intended. At times it can be a struggle to find 5 different ways to get your message across - rearrange the sequence of the words, replace with similar words, give examples, etc.

And then there's the manners. I can get offended by something that is not considered offensive to a Mexican; announcing one's presence at another's home is the first example that comes to mind. How many of you would be comfortable standing on the street in front of the home of your friends or family and simply whistling? Or repeating their name over and over until they open the door? My initial response: "Don't whistle at me, I'm not a dog!" Now...I understand, and it's ok.

Miguel grew up in the mountains...in a tiny family village. No electricity, no hot water, no oven, no car. He had 'pets', but those pets were outdoor animals. One of his hardest conversions has been getting used to having animals in the house. Animals belong outdoors, not inside. And yet...he totally enjoys learning the behaviors and watching the antics of each animal here...they are more fun than watching tv. But at times having the animals in the house is a pain, and that's when Miguel starts his rant - 'animals belong outside', 'it's not my custom', etc.

I've pointed out to Miguel that he would miss a lot of animal interaction if the animals were outside all the time, and that he would not have the same relationship with them that he has now (and by the way, he loves all our pets). I think he understands and agrees with me, although I'm not sure he will ever admit it to me.

When faced with something that is different between our cultures, Miguel says "No es mi costumbre" (it's not my custom). But then he says 'For you, I've changed my ideas'. We sometimes joke about how one thing or another is not part of one of our customs - it's said with a grin because we both realize we've made adjustments and changes in order to live together in (mostly) harmony.

Last night we were out for our nightly drive. Miguel asked if I would like some flan, and I agreed. I was thinking he meant the 'flan' that is actually like a vanilla pudding in a cup - sold out of the front of a home near the airport.

We went into town to get some cash, and when Miguel turned left down Juarez instead of right to go back out of town, I wondered where he was going but didn't say anything. Finally he pulled up in front of Aluxes Coffee House, and it was then that I realized we were there to get cheesecake. When I first introduced Miguel to cheesecake, he said that it was not his custom to eat cheesecake.

But as we sat there on the golf cart and I said 'Oh, so you want cheesecake', the big grin on his face told me I had won that round of conversion. Eating cheesecake is now one of Miguel's customs.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Good luck with that!

As posted yesterday, Maya went to the spay and neuter clinic yesterday morning. It was cold and rainy when we left; we covered Maya's carrier with a blanket and piece of plastic to keep her warm and dry. We got to the clinic just before opening, and with just one other animal ahead of us (that had been there since the day before), Maya got #2 position. We filled out the paperwork and were told to come back at noon to pick her up.

Just past 12 noon we were back at the clinic for our baby cat. Maya's cage was on the floor and she was pressed against the door. She was out, still under the influence of the anesthesia apparently.

One of the volunteers came by, and when I said who I was, I could tell by the look on her face that all was not 100% with Maya. I was told that they'd had some problems with her, that her temperature kept dropping and she'd been hard to wake up - they'd had to get Pepe to look at her.

I am a nurse. There is a common perception amongst medical people that nurses and their families are always more trouble than 'normal' people. Meaning we never have a smooth course, we always present a challenge. Apparently Maya was going to support this concept - rather than an uneventful surgery and recovery that probably most other animals experienced, Maya was going to be a worry.

The volunteer gave us the discharge instructions, told me that cats always take longer to come around, and left me with these comforting words - "I'm sure Maya will be fine, good luck".

When we got Maya home I took her out of her cage, wrapped her in a blanket and laid her on the couch beside me. She was cold, breathing shallowly, and still sleeping. I spent the afternoon stimulating her to breath deeper and trying to warm her up. She stirred a couple of times but went right back into a deep sleep.

Around 3 I tried to get Maya to take some water but she was not interested. I put her in her cage while I prepared chicken enchiladas for us. I think the smell of the chicken stimulated Maya and after we'd finished eating she walked out of the cage and went over to the food area of the kitchen. I gave her the softened cat kibbles and she ate a bit.

And so Maya was on the road to recovery. The discharge instructions say not to let the animal run, jump, or climb for a week. Ha! Once Maya recovered from the anesthesia she was all over the place. Gingerly walking at first, but then jumping up to the couch, and then down, and then up on the chair, and then down, and then up on the bed, and then down. I tried to stop her but she was unstoppable. I tried to put her in her cage but she created such a fuss it was probably causing more harm than just letting her do what she felt up to doing.

Last evening Maya discovered her incision. I was shocked to see her not only licking it, but pulling on it. I tried to push her head away and realized she had the skin in her teeth and was serious about getting whatever was there, out. I did not have one of those collars that are used to keep the animal's head from reaching the incision site, but I had a soft little Christmas leg ornament for Loco (a set of 4 that came with his little cap and scarf). The ornament fit around Maya's neck perfectly and gets in the way when she tries to lick that area.



So Maya and I slept in the downstairs bedroom, with a nightlight on so I could keep an eye on her when she jumped off the bed. But mostly she snuggled with me on the bed and we slept moderately well.

Today Maya is running, jumping, and climbing as if nothing happened to her. She has figured out how to get around the little collar and can get to her incision if she really wants to. There is no way I can stop her.

So, discharge instructions are great, but in this case, impossible to enforce. There should be a disclaimer on the bottom - "These instructions are the ideal recovery but...Good luck with that!".

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Spay and Neuter Clinic - Maya's turn

A couple of weeks ago I received this email from a friend:

"In collaboration with Isla Animals, PEACE Mexico and The Hagenbeck Foundation (Dr. Alejandra Lopez), Dr. Delfino Guevera, Dr. Pepe Vega, and PEACE Isla Mujeres we are happy to announce that we will be hosting a free cat and dog spay/neuter clinic on Isla January 5-16th. Our goal is to help to reduce the stray and unwanted animal population by providing free sterilizations for approx. 200 island animals within these two weeks."

The email went on to ask for volunteers for various tasks. I worked the clinic a few years ago while here on vacation and I think we did surgery on about 150 animals over a period of a week. I took quite a few photos of the animals and the volunteers, here is one of my favorites from that clinic in 2001:



The people who work these clinics work incredibly hard; they are doing such a great service for the animals here. I wish I could help but due to work commitments, I am unable to volunteer my time for these clinics. But I can volunteer a patient. Maya is now 3.5 months old and at a good age to be spayed. So this morning we will pack up Maya and take her over to Pepe's clinic and let a team of experts fix her up so she will not add to the over-population problem.

Maya is not impressed with the proceedings so far. She is used to eating and drinking whenever she wants, and the food and water have been in hiding since we went to bed last night. Maya has been trying to open containers and doors to get to some food and water. Poor baby! She doesn't understand this is for her own good.

The other cats are not happy about it either, as they are used to starting to feed at 6 am and it's now 7:30 and there is no food in sight. But relief is coming, we'll head out shortly and when we get back they can resume their normal routine.

It will be interesting to see how everyone behaves when we bring Maya home later today. I am hoping we can keep Maya quiet without having to keep her in a cage, but we'll see. One of her favorite things to do is torment the other animals here, and the surgery may or may not slow her down for a day or so.

I just hope all goes well for our baby and life will be back to normal again in a few days. Normal, that is, for life here at Casa Susana.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Pockets

We have a pocket issue here. Miguel has too many and I don't have enough.

Miguel wears those shorts with pockets on the side, on the back, and down at the bottom of the legs. The flaps are held closed by velcro, supposedly. It must be the way I dry the shorts, because the velcro doesn't seem to work and the pockets are never closed. Miguel stuffs the pockets with his wallet and lottery tickets, and pieces of this and that that he gathers throughout the day. The pockets gape open and stuff falls out.

I find coins in the hammock, in the couch, and in the washing machine. I have washed more pieces of kleenex than I care to remember - what a mess that makes. I do a search of the pockets before I do the laundry, but with so many to check, I guess I overlook some.

Miguel's wallet has fallen out of his gaping pockets several times while riding on the golf cart. Twice he got it back, once after it had been gone for more than a week. The last time he wasn't so lucky - he lost $200 and all his id.

I've tried to help him with the pocket situation, but it's hopeless. Miguel is like an absent-minded professor when it comes to putting stuff into his pockets. He's not paying attention, he just sort of aims in the direction of the pocket and hopefully the item gets placed in there and stays there.

Me - I need more pockets. A couple of my favorite pairs of shorts do not have any pockets, so there's nowhere to put those little things I pick up from the floor. I've found that cleaning floors goes a lot better when you have pockets. Most of my pockets seem to end up with balls of lint - I don't know how it got there...lint seems to reproduce here.

The worst pocket issue is when we are rushing to catch the ferry and Miguel can't find his ferry ticket. He pulls out all the contents of all his pockets, shuffles through the papers, and doesn't find the ticket until we almost miss the ferry.

Now I am in charge of ferry tickets - we can't take the stress any more.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pesky little sister, take 2

Maya is now 3.5 months old. And just like any junior in the family, she sees what the bigger cats can do and wants to do the same.

She also torments the heck out of Minina; following her, jumping on her back, taking her chair, pushing her out of any space and settling in there herself.

Until recently, Minina had some spaces up high where she could get away from pesky Maya: the kitchen stools, the top of the fridge, the top of the armoire. But Maya is gradually eliminating the 'safe' places, one by one.

Maya has sharp little claws, and she has learned that she can jump at something and catch on with her claws and then pull herself up. She now jumps at the cushion on the kitchen stool and hauls herself up. The other day I saw her doing this when Minina was up on the stool. Minina reached out with both her paws and grabbed onto Minina, who was dangling from the cushion. Was Minina trying to boost her up or push her down? Only Minina knows.

You may remember this picture from last year (Minina on top of the fridge)...



Yesterday I saw this...



Minina has just one place of refuge left - the top of the armoire. But it's only a matter of time, as this morning Maya jumped at the armoire and clung on a small ledge about 2/3 of the way up. She doesn't realize that Minina has a secret way to get up there. But she'll figure it out, and then I don't know what Minina will do. I think Minina needs to learn how to deck her little sister.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

You'd think Limey was getting married. Limey is what we affectionately call our golf cart. I call him other names too, but not to his face (damn cart, heap of junk). Sometimes I even make gestures at him - clenched fists, gritted teeth. I'm not positive but I might have even kicked him once.

Poor Limey. He has worked very hard for us over the last 6.5 years. He has hauled all kinds of heavy loads - furniture, concrete blocks, bags of cement, wood beams, luggage, people. He has rarely complained while working, but he takes time off when he gets over-tired.

Limey just came back from a 5-day vacation. It was a serious break this time to try to recharge his battery. Literally.

Limey's alternator/generator was broken, and his battery was declared to be beyond recharging. As well, the main belt that drives the motor was close to being kaput - split almost all the way through.

The mechanic brought Limey back today with borrowed parts. He needs a new battery and a new belt, but the store is closed until tomorrow. So the mechanic put in a battery and belt from another golf cart just to get us up and running today. Tomorrow we have to go out and buy new parts, and take him back to the mechanic to switch out the borrowed parts.

So Limey has an old motor, a new generator (gently used, actually), a borrowed battery and belt, and owners who feel blue due to the cost of his repairs.

The verse "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue", ends with "A sixpense in your shoe". I'm checking my flip flops but have not found any spare sixpense. Miguel did win the lottery last week, but Limey's vacation took care of that small windfall.

Time to go check the rest of my shoes for hidden coins. With Limey aging not-so-gracefully, I think we're going to need all the sixpense we can find.

Cancun day and Luis, paisano de Miguel

Yesterday we went to Cancun for what I thought would be a quick trip. We wanted to go to Telebodega and Costco. Sounds simple and quick...right? I always make a list for myself but my first clue should have been when Miguel sat on the couch and made himself a list.

Armed with our lists, we hailed a cab to the ferry (the golf cart has been out of service since Tuesday). First delay - when trying to buy the ferry tickets they checked my Ultramar passcard and found it expired. "Go over there", we were told, to get a new card. The new rule for foreigners to get an Ultramar pass is to provide a copy of the FM3. I don't carry around a copy of my FM3, so that left me out of the renewal for now. Miguel, having lost his passcard when he lost his wallet a few months ago, needed a copy of his electoral id in order to get a new passcard.

Off he went to make his copy while I sat on a rock beside the ferry office and people-watched. He was gone long enough that we missed the ferry, and I was beginning to wonder what happened to him. Seems he only had a 500 peso note to pay for the copy and they couldn't (or wouldn't) change it for him, so he had to walk over to the lottery office and buy some tickets in order to get change, and then go back and get his copy.

So, we made the noon ferry. Luis, our Cancun taxi driver, picked us up at the ferry. 'Happy New Year' pats on the back and hand shakes and we were off.

First stop - the IMSS office beside the IMSS hospital. Luis was not sure about this office deal, he just knew about the hospital and the offices at the back of the hospital. Nope, we knew about those offices too, but we wanted to go to the one beside the hospital. I knew he didn't think we knew what we're talking about, but we assured him there was an office there as well, and that's where we wanted to go. If we were keeping track, that would be 1 for us, 0 for Luis.

At the office Miguel ran in to check on the status of his transaction; he has been trying for almost a year to move his pension money from another bank in a city far away to one in Cancun. Last we checked (several weeks ago), it was 'in processo'. Yesterday, it was still 'in processo'. Even Miguel has run out of patience with this 'processo'; he fully expects he will never see that money.

Next stop, some electrical store near Mercado 23 where Miguel needed some stuff to prepare the electricity at his property for 220 volts. Luis and Miguel debated about exactly where it was he wanted to go. Luis was correct. Now we were even. 1-1.

Third stop, the drug store where we buy Miguel's burn gel and my medication. We didn't have to explain any of this to Luis, he knew exactly where we wanted to go. Luis was now ahead, 2-1, and that's how it goes...hard to beat a Cancun cab driver at directions.

Next stop, Telebodega. "Which one?", asked Luis. The big one, I said - the one with three levels, on a corner. Luis knew where I meant. In there we purchased a stacking washer/dryer, to be delivered in two weeks. This means we will no longer have linty clothes, maybe? But it also means taking down some shelving that has only been there for a few months. We seem to do a lot of 'undoing' of former projects. Not really poor planning, just replanning, is how I like to think about it.

After Telebodega we were off to Costco, and by now I was hungry and thinking about the delicious pizza they have there. But first we decided to shop. And there were no people handing out free food samples, must be too late in the day?

My gosh, we loaded the cart - a memory foam mattress for the bed at the apartment, two plastic patio chairs, and two big boxes of other stuff, mostly fruit and food. At the cash, they told me my card was expired (or about to expire?), but they let me pay for my stuff and I could have just left if I'd wanted to. But I didn't want to, I wanted to renew my card, and unlike Sam's, they cannot do it at the cash.

So we headed over to customer service and there I was told that she could not renew my card because it originated in Canada. I would need to take out a new card, Costco Mexico. Ok, fine. And I can have one person added free, and a second added for 100 pesos. So Miguel and Luis got added too. We all got our pictures taken, and our new cards. I guess that makes it official - Luis is almost like family now, he's on my Costco membership.

By now I was really hungry but Miguel asked - do we want to eat here or do we want to go to La Parilla? I knew that meant he wanted to go to La Parilla - pizza just isn't his favorite thing to eat, but beef at La Parilla is near the top of his list.

But first we had to go to Walmart because Costco didn't have everything we needed. At least 45 minutes later and we were finally done shopping. At Walmart we bought a big plastic tote and loaded it full and had to rearrange everything in order to stuff it into Luis' car.

La Parilla didn't disappoint us. Miguel had beef something-or-other, Luis tried the Pollo Frita at my suggestion (chicken breast covered in a sauce made from the squash flower), and I had chicken fajitas Maya delivered on a sizzling cast iron platter (it was tasty but did not come with the usual fajita sides).

Luis took us back to the ferry and we said our farewells. Until next time. And then it suddenly dawned on me that we did not have our golf cart to get our load home, and I wondered how hard it would be to get a cab to take the time to load our stuff at the dock so we could fit in just one cab. By the time we tipped the ferry workers, I had just enough to pay one cab driver.

We were lucky that we got a station wagon taxi, and after loading up and pulling out of the parking area, he waited while I ran to the ATM and got some cash. Ah...all was well now. We had all our stuff, we had money, and we were back home. Seven hours after we left, not quite the quick trip I had envisioned. But productive! Should do us for a couple of weeks, I think?!

Friday, January 9, 2009

A soggy lump of laundry

Where did the breeze go? I have been doing laundry since Tuesday. The towels I put on the line on Tuesday afternoon were almost dry by evening. Almost...so I left them up overnight. And it rained overnight Tuesday. So the towels spent most of Wednesday on the line to dry again. I just got them down Wednesday afternoon and a new load up on the line when the rain poured down. The sheets and thick white towel got an unexpected rinse in rain water.

After that rain stopped I put another load on the line to join what was already there. That laundry stayed up all night too, and the next morning I took down what I could to make way for even more laundry (don't even ask me how many loads I've done in the last few days - NO idea).

So Thursday night all the lines were full again, and everything that had been there all day was still damp. Just hanging there like a limp row of fabric, not moving, not drying, not dancing in the wind. And it was humid. So the laundry was taking its sweet time to dry.

At 4 am this morning the breeze picked up. As I lay in bed listening, I imagined I heard rain (palm trees are sneaky - they rustle and make it sound like it's raining when it's just wind). Not wanting to risk my almost-dry clothes getting another soaking, I got up and took down all the laundry. Most of it is dry enough, I think.

This morning the breeze is back, and it's sunny. And I can wash the sheets on the downstairs bed. How I love the smell of my laundry after it's washed in the wonderful scented Mexican detergent and softener and hung on the line. It's so great to bury my face in the pillows and inhale the sweet smell of sun and sea.

I have a washer that does nothing unless I tell it so. It starts off with me turning the knob to close the drain to the tub. Then I open the tap to fill the tub. If I'm smart, at the same time I open the floor drain and stick the drainage tube in the hole. If I'm not smart, I do that later, after the tub has overflowed and I have water on the floor.

The next step is putting in the detergent, and then the load of laundry. I turn off the water, and turn the knob that is like a timer and that starts the agitator for the set amount of time. My timer no longer means anything as the arrows are not lined up with the minutes, so I just turn it as far as it can go and that means 15 minutes of wash time.

Once the wash time is done, I turn the knob to drain the tub (noting the drainage tube is in the hole on the floor). Once the tub is drained I pour in fabric softener and again turn the knob to close the drain to the tub. I turn on the water to fill the tub, and once the tub is full I turn on the timer to set the rinse to 15 minutes.

Once the rinse is done, I turn the knob to drain the tub. I move the laundry to the spinner tub right beside the wash tub, carefully trying to balance the load so it will spin and not make a horrible pounding noise and move the machine across the floor. I turn the knob to drain the spin tub, and push down on the spinner lid to make the contact to start the spinning. Putting the pressure on the lid is a new step as something is broken and without that little bit of pressure the spinner doesn't start (but once it starts, it keeps going without me pushing on it - I don't get it but it's not worth repairing).

If I have another load of laundry, I start filling the washing side and repeat as above. Once the spin is done, I put the laundry in the basket and carry it outside and hang it up with wooden clothes pins I brought from Canada (Mexican wooden clothes pins are horrible, they fall apart during the first use). I have three clothes lines that I've designed; cords of rope tied to a clip that is inserted into a hook eye at each side of the terrace. The clip allows me to easily take down the lines if I don't need them, but I normally just leave them all up as usually I do enough laundry to fill all three lines (and I'm lazy).

I have a weird fascination with the clothes lines of neighbors. They use pieces of branches and stick them in the ground here and there to build a make-shift support for their clothes line. They don't use clothes pins, they have some kind of clothes line that is a double cord and they just use their fingers and pinch the clothes between the cords. Somehow the clothes stay on the line even in the strongest winds. When the clothes are dry the neighbors just move along the line pulling off the clothes with a yank. I thought that technique looked interesting and more efficient, but I tried buying that kind of cord and could not get my fingers to open the cord and get the laundry in quickly enough to make it worth my time. So I gave up on that idea and just use the regular cord and clothes pins.

But I'm going to buy a dryer. Not to dry the laundry (unless it's an emergency). I need something to remove lint. I'm hoping a few minutes in the dryer after hanging on the line will only take out the lint, not the sweet smell I love. I plan to continue hanging my laundry on the line - there is something very gratifying about that chore, and I am not giving it up.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Today's Grab Bag

This morning I went out on the terrace upstairs to look for parrots. We saw the blackbirds all in a group, pecking away at the food I'd put across the road for the stray cat family. Amongst their chatter, Miguel heard another bird noise. A perico, he said. I listened and then heard it too. Just one parrot apparently having a self-conversation.

Yap, Yap, Chatter, Blurppp! We couldn't see him in the trees, but suddenly there he was - airborne above us. We watched him fly out of sight. Just him. Now I will have to get up there earlier tomorrow to see if I can see more. But they're back, more than three years after Wilma.

Another bird we hadn't seen here since Wilma was the hummingbird. With a garden loaded with flowers and blooms, if there were hummingbirds, we would have seen them. I'd given up on having hummingbirds in the garden, but finally, a couple of months ago, as I was sitting on the edge of the pool, a hummingbird buzzed by my head. Yeah! They're back too.

And then there are the wild canaries. Tiny yellow and green songbirds. They are once again out there, singing and chirping on the wire. Miguel chirps at them and they respond with their trilling. I can't whistle or I would sing to them too.

In the summer we often take our coffee up to the third level terrace to enjoy the view and the breeze. The pelicans sleep in the trees around the Makax Lagoon, and sometimes, as they fly overhead to get ready for bed, they fly so low I feel like I could reach up and touch them. They are such odd birds, and so neat to watch in flight.

We used to have an eagle family nesting in the cell phone tower across the road. We no longer see the nest (since Wilma - darn her!), but occasionally one of the eagles will rest up there and call out. We've even seen them up there with a fish!

Of course the noisest and most common bird here is the blackbird. Minina likes to stalk them, and up on the third level terrace, she almost had one - just got the tail feathers before it got away. That bird circled above her and came back and swooped low over Minina and yelled at her. Miguel said the bird was so mad it risked being caught in order to scold the cat.

The blackbirds also like to steal Negra's food from the bowl on the front terrace. Negra will put up with it for a bit, but then she jumps up and chases them off. We see the occasional feather here and there - not sure who is responsible or how much damage was done (hopefully minimal), but the blackbirds think they are invincible and just keep coming back.

There are other thieves of Negra's food. The brown dog at the corner is good for cleaning up stale food that Negra left in the bowl. The stray cats will help themselves but not for long if Negra is around, as she chases them off as quickly as she does the blackbirds. If the gate is open, other stray dogs may be bold enough to come in and help themselves.

We have lost Negra's bowl several times. Last week we heard a commotion out front but didn't bother to check, and when Miguel went to the market, he found Negra's bowl in the middle of the road a few blocks away from here.

Which dog carries off the bowls? We don't know. Loco's bowl made it to the curb the other day - don't know who did it. And other bowls have just disappeared, vanished into thin air. Now that I know how far they can actually be carried, we'll expand our search area the next time a bowl goes missing.

Maya and Minina have been spending these beautiful days on the back terrace, sprawled in their camp chairs. A huge iguana (like a dinosaur!) sits on the top of the wall. He watches the cats, and they watch him. When Loco gets a chance he runs out the back door and takes a flying leap at the wall (which is probably 10 feet high). Loco can jump high, but not that high...and he looks rather silly jumping with all his strength and then bouncing off the wall with all fours and then whining about it. The iguana barely even flinches; he knows the dog is an idiot and doesn't stand a chance.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Do we hear parrots?

We used to have a large group of wild parrots living in the plants across the road from us. Miguel would tell me how he would stand on the upper levels and watch them as they perched in the trees.

One day I was sitting out front with my sister when a parrot flew over us and we spotted the flash of green. That was the extent of my parrot sighting. Every time I was here I would look for the parrots but I never saw the group - I guess I was not getting up early enough (this was before I lived here and 6 am was a little early!).

Along came Hurricane Wilma, and the parrots across the road disappeared. As did the hummingbirds and the eagle family that used to perch at the top of the cell phone tower. But now, just over three years later, Miguel says the chatter we hear in the trees is the parrots. They've returned (he says).

So now my daily morning routine will have to include climbing to the third level terrace and scouring the tree tops for parrots. I will start tomorrow and let you know what I find.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Feedback about the Island

Comments from recent first-time visitors to Isla:

1. The food is expensive.

2. The food is cheap.

3. It is so beautiful here.

4. I saw a dead dog in a garbage bag and it made me cry.

5. The people on Playa Norte don't look happy. Not the tourists, not the waiters.

6. We like being out of town. We enjoy exploring the island.

7. The fish is amazing.

I can relate to all but #7.

#1 and 2...Depending on where you eat, and what you are used to paying, the food IS either cheap or expensive. It's all perspective.

#3...It IS so beautiful here. The current administration has gone all out to clean up the trash and it really shows. At the moment there is a lot of trash out there again, but that is due to the holiday; I'm sure (hope) they will have it cleaned up again in no time. In general the island is trimmed up, the roads are in good shape, the plants are healthy, and the sea is as beautiful as ever. Natural beauty, can't beat it.

#4...I saw the dead dog too, and it made me sad too. In the last month I've seen a lot more dead dogs and cats at the side of the road than in all my other time here. Why? More traffic? More dogs and cats? (I don't think so). More speed? Less caring people? All of the above?

#5...I remember my early days here as a tourist. Solo trips, where I'd sit at a table on the street and watch the people passing by. And often the look on their faces was boredom, apathy, arrogance, perhaps. Not a lot of smiling, and yet I know people love being here. Maybe a lot of cultures just do not beam and smile and grin and laugh in public like those of us from Canada and the US? And the service people - there have always been great ones, good ones, inattentive ones, and horrible ones. Store clerks who looked so bored and had such little energy to help me that I couldn't wait to get away from them. But then there are the places with wonderful wait staff - they smile, they have fun with you, and they enjoy what they do. Because of those types of people I would grow a smile too.

#6...I like being out of town too. And I look forward to our frequent island tours on the golf cart. Not as much as Loco does, but it is fun to see the changes on the island. And I've noticed that almost everyone we pass as we drive around has a smile on their face. Maybe the happiest people are out of town!?

#7...And the fish? Well, don't ask me, because what I have to say about it will not do it justice. I don't eat it. I don't like it. I don't like how it smells. I don't like how it looks - not on the plate, not in the ocean, not through a snorkel mask. Nada.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

I'm a vacation dud

This week both the apartment and our house have guests - young couples in their 20's/30's. They have energy, they are enthusiastic, they are adventurous. They've been going non-stop since starting their vacation, just crashing for a few hours here and there to recoup their energy before heading out for the next round of fun.

Miguel and I sit here and watch, like we're the mama and papa watching the kids come and go; hearing about their fun and telling them to go and have a great time. Last night the 'kids' came home around 1 am or so, and I greeted them at the door. We all sat on the couch (all except Miguel, who continued sleeping through Loco's barking and our conversation) and they told me about their day.

Our other 'kids' over at the apartment have been hard to catch up with - we wanted to offer them cochinita pibil for breakfast this morning but could not find them yesterday despite various trips over there. So we just took the food over this morning and put it on the terrace, with a note...and they found it, and they ate it, and they loved it. We finally caught up with them tonight - their last night here on the island - to say goodbye and take a group picture. They were getting ready to go out, and the kids here at the house are currently taking a nap to get ready to go out later too. Healthy young people bursting with energy.

And here we are, Miguel and I, just about ready for bed at 8:30 pm. And I realize that I never had as much energy when on vacation as these young people have. I recall being called a "bump on a log", as I literally did sit on a log on a beach in Prince Edward Island as my daughter, nephew, and her dad all did something of interest there (I cannot recall what - maybe looking for dead fish?).

I think I'm a lazy tourist. A big ol' bore, content to sit and observe and think and sleep and read and eat. Just don't ask me to walk miles or stay up late. Not unless there is a log I can rest on every now and then along the way.

Friday, January 2, 2009

What a bunch of whiners

For the comfort of our guests here at Dentro del Jardin we had a carpenter make accordion doors so we could close off the staircase from the kitchen and provide privacy for the guests upstairs. We also want to keep the cats and Loco downstairs so they don't bother our guests by knocking on their door in the middle of the night (don't laugh, they do it to us!).

The carpenter who made the doors seemed to know his stuff when he talked to us. He even had a couple of books with different designs and said he would make any model we chose. So we chose a simple set of doors - 5 panels, and in a couple of weeks the carpenter came and installed the doors.

However, the doors did not slide along the track, they just hung there and would not move. At the end of our patience with the carpenter, we called in the reserves. An aluminum door craftsman who has done a lot of work for us at the house. I figured if he could make aluminum hurricane curtains slide along a track that he would be able to fix our wooden doors.

The owner of the aluminum shop came over, studied the doors and scratched his head a few times. I started to worry that he was truly puzzled, but actually - he was recognizing the materials used in the construction of the doors and putting two and two together. Seems the carpenter had gone to his shop for the track material, saying it was for his closet, and obviously it was not true, it was for our doors. Why the carpenter would have made up that story I don't know, but I'm sure? he had his reasons.

It was clear that the owner of the shop did not know how to quote us the cost of repairing the doors - he just kept scratching his head and muttering. Finally I just told him not to worry about giving me a cost, just fix the doors and tell me the cost later. This is not our normal way of doing business, but we've done a lot of business with this guy and he has always been very fair with us, and we've always been very fair with him. Since this was not his project originally and he was just taking it over at the end, he really didn't know what would need to be done in order to fix the doors and thus, did not want to quote too low.

Relieved of having to come up with a fair quote, the owner heaved a sigh of relief and the doors were removed to take to the shop for repair. Only problem was that this was just before Christmas, and the person who would do the repair went away for the holidays. So we have no door. And we have guests upstairs.

I tried to put up curtains with a spring rod - something to separate the kitchen from the stairs and maybe discourage the cats from remembering the staircase. But Maya thought it was great fun to tug on the bottom of the curtains, and since I'm afraid she'll yank the whole thing down and get knocked on the head, I have given up on that idea.

So now we've been putting all the cats out on the back terrace during the day. Normally the cats are more than happy to rush out the door (when you don't want them to), but because it has become their obligation to be out there, suddenly they do not want to be there. They have food, water, litter, beds, blankets. They have lizards to chase, naps to take. They have the life I wish I had. But it's not enough...

Yesterday I went out on the terrace to hang up the laundry. Luna was up on the shelf under the kitchen window. Maya and Minina were each in a camp chair napping. But as soon as I showed up, the whining started. First Luna started crying. Then Maya came over and tried to climb my leg and started crying. Finally Minina lifted her head in my direction and started crying too. Three cats all crying, just because they had to sleep on the back terrace instead of the preferred piece of furniture of the week inside the house.

Luckily Chris and Christy, our guests, are good sports. And our animals really are not showing much interest in going upstairs anyway - I think they really want to be where we are just so they can torment us with their demands for attention. But I'll be glad when the door gets installed, just one less thing I have to try to control.