Friday, August 26, 2016

Why is the Caribbean Sea so blue?

Knock-your-socks-off turquoise!

It’s a knock-your-socks off turquoise.  An eye-popping azure.  A multitude of shades and hues.  

The first time you see the Caribbean Sea it usually causes a stunned, jaw-dropping reaction. ‘Oh, my god that’s beautiful.’

Youngsters enjoying the beach near our casa

So, why is the Caribbean Sea so blue?  We’re not trained scientists, just observers and we read a lot, and this is our version of the reason. 
The colour of water is controlled by a combination of factors – depth, the floor of the sea, suspended particles (soil and pollution) and plankton.   Plankton are those tasty little organisms that are the base of the food chain for the big, hungry ocean creatures. 

1987 north of Puerto Vallarta
Depth – well, generally the deeper the water the darker the colour due to less reflected light.  
However, in our opinion the deep water of the Caribbean is a brighter sapphire blue when compared to the light jade green of Gulf of Mexico in the north, or the deep cobalt blue of the Pacific Ocean on the west coast of Mexico.  So what else is going on here?
Sand made from coral and sea shells reflects the light 

Well, another big influence for determining water colour is what is on the floor of the ocean.   Pale pink or bright white sand made from coral bits and degraded sea shells – mixed in with a little bits of lost pirate treasure - reflects light better than the fine darker sand found in the cooler waters to the north.  
Then, as we mentioned the amount of plankton and other particles suspended in the water contributes to the colour.  Phytoplankton, for example, harbors chlorophyll that absorbs red and blue light and reflects green.  The more plankton, the greener the water.  The Gulf of Mexico also has a high concentration of river silt and fertilizer nutrients, added daily by the rivers draining into the Mississippi River basin.  All those bits contribute to the pale green colour.
Isla Holbox in the Gulf of Mexico
Even just a few miles north from Isla Mujeres you will see a dramatic visual difference between the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.  The Gulf of Mexico water surrounding Isla Holbox is light green and filled with plankton and nutrients.  The Caribbean Sea water is turquoise and has less plankton.  The colourful ocean critters that live in our area have apparently adapted to surviving in an environment low on nutrients.   

View of Caribbean Sea from Isla 33 condos 

Whatever the reason, the Caribbean Sea is just outright gorgeous.  The clarity of the water makes it a diving and snorkeling paradise.  

Or if you prefer a more sedentary form of exercise hanging out by the water’s edge is a totally relaxing way to spend the day.  Staring at the colour, listening to the gentle ‘shush’ of the waves, or immersing in the warm salt liquid.   

Heaven on earth.

Hasta Pronto!

Lynda & Lawrie

Hanging out in paradise

Friday, August 19, 2016

One person’s junk is another person’s treasure

Don Cosi - on the wharf near Ballyhoo Restaurant
Early in the morning, while walking Sparky among the cluster of beached fishing boats near the Ballyhoo Restaurant, I noticed an elderly local gentleman sitting on the nearby wharf.  

He was manually crushing a pile of aluminum beverage cans; one by one. 

Heading off to the metal recycler

His nickname is Cosi, and he is apparently in his mid-nineties.  

He told one of the waiters at Ballyhoo that when he was a much younger man he built wharfs.  Then quite recently his family convinced him to stop doing hard physical work and retire, but he doesn’t like retirement.  It’s too boring, so he collects aluminum cans and redeems them for cash.  Once he has a bag of cans he sits on the wharf and crushes them flat.  This enables him to fit more weight in a small area.  

Some of the other can collectors just bag up the cans and transport the whole load via two-wheeled bicycle carts or moto to the recycled metal purchaser.  Quicker, but in the end probably equals the equivalent in weight to what Cosi collects and crushes.

In BC Canada - everything gets sorted!
We asked another of the islanders who collects cans from along the roadway how much a kilo of aluminum was worth in scrap value.  He said he is usually paid twelve pesos for approximately seventy one cans.  That’s about .66 cents US for 2.2 pounds of metal.  That’s a whole lot of bending over. 

Mexico is definitely not the leader in what we northerners think of as recycling - plastics, glass, newsprint, cardboard, grass clippings and yard waste - all those things that must be sorted, washed, bundled, or flattened before the garbage crews will remove them once a week from the foot of your driveway.  

In British Columbia Canada (where we were from) there is a deposit of between five cents and twenty cents depending on the item charged on every type of drink container - except milk.  

The night before our garbage pickup day we would leave a box of various containers and bottles at the foot of the driveway - wine, beer, pop, juice boxes, hard liquor - anything.  Gone by morning!   It was just easier to leave the returnables for someone who needed the cash, than to shift the whole lot over to a recycling depot, sort the stinky mess, and wait in line for the cash refunds. 

Garbage collectors - separate out the aluminum cans
On Isla Mujeres, and elsewhere in Mexico, the roadways are littered with non-returnable glass beer bottles, squashed plastic drink bottles, stray plastic bags and discarded food wrappers drifting in the wind.  There are crews of municipal workers who clean the roadway margins on a regular basis, but it is a back-breaking never-ending job.

You can help a little by making it easy for local collectors to find your discarded aluminum adult beverage containers (beer cans!).  Maybe collect them in a cardboard box and put out for the garbage guys.  Hotel guest could ask at the front desk and perhaps encourage a rudimentary recycling program for the aluminum cans.

Just keep ‘em separate from the rest of your daily trash, somebody will treasure your discards.

Hasta Pronto!
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, August 12, 2016

Fine dining on two wheels (Street meats and sweets)

What do I want, what do I want .....
Walking through centro in the evening can be a sensory experience.  

The smells of cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, tacos, and grilled fish waft through the warm tropical night.  

Followed by scents of hot sugar, cinnamon and warm chocolate.  It’s time to eat!

Mealtimes start early with the mobile fresh orange juice vendor setting up on the corner of Matamoras and Rueda Medina.  Freshly squeezed juice is available until the merchant runs out of oranges.  

Juice man 

The proprietor uses a hand-powered press, pulling down hard with his right hand and biceps to squeeze each individual half.  

He quickly flips the spent portion into a refuse pile, repeating the process until the container is filled with the sweet amber-coloured liquid.   

Judging by the bulging biceps the juice vendor could easily win any arm-wrestling challenge.

Later in the morning other mobile vendors arrive to sell cold drinks, flavoured crushed-ice concoctions, popsicles and frozen ice cream treats.  

Choices, choices ......
They set up their carts across from the popular beaches enticing hot sun-worshipers to purchase a cooling confection.  

It’s always a giggle to watch the intense decision making that takes place while youngsters ponder their choices: pineapple, coconut, mango, and chocolate.  

So many flavours.  The youngsters turn with inquisitive eyes towards their parents.  It’s too hard to decide.  Maybe I should have two treats?

Near cemetery on Lopez Mateos
Then at sundown the mobile food peddlers make an appearance, tucking their two-wheeled carts into familiar niches, on street corners at either end of Hidalgo Avenue.  The intersection of Lopez Mateos and Hidalgo Avenues, near the entrance to the oldest island cemetery and the IxChel condos has become a very congested area.  

The vendors vie for their little patch of the pavement, pushing further and further into the street frequently restricting the vehicular traffic to one lane at a time.  

A couple of years ago the city administration decided to prohibit the street vendors from occupying Rueda Medina, limiting their approved location to include this busy corner, and in the square across from the Super X-Press.  

Good idea or bad idea, the jury is still out on that decision.

My favourite street treat is the delicious hot marquesitas filled with chocolate sauce and sliced bananas rolled up with a napkin secured on the end to catch the melting syrup.  


Marquesitas are a traditional Yucatan treat, invented in either in the late 1930’s or early 1940’s by Don Vincent Mena Munoz the heir to the Polito Ice Cream Company. He was looking for a cool weather treat to offset the downturn in ice cream sales during the winter months.  Similar in texture to a waffle cone the batter is heated over a hot fire using a cast iron variation of a waffle pan.  The resulting crepe-shaped form can be filled with a combination of ingredients such as Nutella, goat’s milk caramel sauce, chocolate syrup, shredded cheese or sliced bananas.  The traditional shape was rolled into a cylinder, but here on Isla it is pretty common to see the cooked waffle mixture folded into quarters.  I’m a fan of the rolled shape, it’s easier to cut in half and share.

Juice man headed home at sundown
At the end of a busy day the vendors head home, back to their neighbourhoods in the centre of the island.  Some of the heavy mobile carts are powered by a moto, many others are pedal-powered by two strong legs.  It’s a pretty physical business, getting the cart to centro, standing while preparing the food, and powering the cart back home again at the end of the work day.
And then the streets go quiet for a few hours before the process starts all over again with the dawn arrival of the juice vendor. 

Another juice man headed home late afternoon

Yum!  Good eats!

Hasta Pronto!
Lynda & Lawrie

Friday, August 5, 2016

Spectacular! Round two of the Pueblo Magico Murals

Painted by Jose Luis Torres Sanchez
Jewel-toned turtles and colourful sailfish.  Opulent frogs and silly iguanas.  

Mythical creatures from indigenous legends.  People riding pelicans.  

Fish transporting houses.  And a beautiful woman, with half a head.  It’s a wild collection of images.

Alex Lechuga - hiding from the hot afternoon sun

Faces hidden behind balaclavas, and heads covered by an assortment of sombreros and hats the artists worked feverishly in the scorching afternoon sun.   

Using spray bombs, brushes, rags and paints they created beautiful outdoor masterpieces for everyone to enjoy.

Artist - Chugs
This last week the western perimeter wall of the airport was given a stunning makeover by painters sponsored by the municipality of Isla Mujeres in conjunction with World Art Destinations from Cancun; artists such as Alex Lechuga originally from Puebla and now living in Cancun.  

Or Liz Rashell co-founder of World Art Destinations based in Cancun and co-producer of Seawalls for Oceans.   

Then there is Capitan Klavis (Geovani Klavis Delgado), Chugs (Juan Chuger Herrera), and Dherzu Uzala also based in the Playa del Carmen – Cancun area.
Joint effort by several artists - Welcome to Isla 
And Jose Luis Torres Sanchez who is from Guadalajara on the western side of Mexico.

These are the same artists that created the welcoming mural on the northern end of our island airport, across from the car ferry.  

It’s a delightful collage of whale sharks, manta rays, a lighthouse, and the goddess Ixchel.

Painted by Capitan Klavis

We have photographs, dozens of photographs of the artists, of them working, and of the final paintings, but this week’s blog article is a little light on words.  

We chatted a bit in the hot afternoon sun, then emailed, and ‘friended’ on Facebook, but in the end didn’t gather much information.  

Jose Luis Torres Sanchez - the turtles and sailfish mural
The exception being Jose Luis or Frase as he signs his works; he was willing to answer my Goggle Spanglish inquiries.

Jose Luis is originally from Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico.  

He has been painting murals for over twenty years in many locations including Mexico City, Oaxaca, San Luis Potosi, Chiapas, Durango, Leon, Puebla, Morelia, Acapulco, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum and Cancún to name just a few.  Jose Luis, has also participated in events in Paris France and Fortaleza Brazil. 

Painted by Dherzu Uzala
A graphic designer, a sculptor, and a creator of clothing Jose Luis is a multi-talented artist who focuses on representing the indigenous roots of the Wixarika, Maya, Otomi and Aztec.  

He has worked on projects to prevent violence and crime with young people from marginalized neighborhoods of the city of Guadalajara Jalisco, Durango, Queretaro, Acapulco and San Luis Potosi.  Among his other talents he has also been a coordinator of urban art and graffiti for organizations such as Social HABITAT.  He now collaborates with other members of the Mexican HONGHIKURI Urban art project, creating murals in public spaces.  

Liz Rashell - Co-founder of World Art Destination
For those lucky folks who have experienced the delightful hospitality of Steve Broin at the Casa Sirena Hotelito, you will see a commissioned work by Jose Luis, a voluptuous new mermaid for the top floor lounge. 

Have a look at the posting on Youtube at Casa Sirena Mural 6 hours of painting in 2 minutes:


Hasta Pronto!

Lynda & Lawrie

Capitan Klavis - silly iguanas

Alex Lechuga 

Friday, July 29, 2016

Swimming with the Whale Sharks - again

Orectolobiformes Rhincodontidae
No matter how many times I swim with the Whale Sharks, those bus-sized sea creatures that include Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox in their annual migration, it is still a fabulous encounter.  

A group of island neighbours decided they wanted to experience swimming with the Whale Sharks.   
Did I want to join them?  Sure!  Count me in!
Yumiko, Andy, Julie and Rob

Until a short time ago I was convinced (via Wikipedia webpage) that Whale Sharks were neither whales nor sharks, instead they were considered the largest fish species in the world.

However a well-informed reader of our blog told me they are classed as Orectolobiformes (Carpet Sharks) and comprise the only member of its family, Rhincodontidae.  

If I knew how to pronounce those complex scientific names, I might be scared, but these big teddy-bears of the ocean eat plankton, krill, and tiny baby squid, not humans.  They have big scary names and gentle personalities. 

Victor Ancona
 Our friends, Julie and Rob Goth, recently established full-time islanders, booked our group outing with Xoc Lifestyles.  

It is a relatively new tour company owned by Victor Ancona and his Canadian wife Kasie Dobbs Ancona. The name Xoc, pronounced something like Shok, is Maya for shark.  

For generations Victor’s large and extended family group have been busy island residents.  

Victor’s younger sister Amaranta Ancona Cervera owns a hair and esthetics salon near the Poc Na Hostel on Isla.  

Omar Ancona
His well-known and popular uncle Victor Cervera Cervera has Casa Havana vacations, and previously Casa Havana Restaurante located behind the naval base on Juarez.  His beautiful mamá is Delia Cervera Cervera.  

Victor’s grandfather Wandy Ancona, who lives a couple of blocks south of our home, had a career in the Mexican Navy until his retirement.  Abuelo Wandy and Abuela Olga frequently enjoy sitting on their front porch in the cool of the evening, watching the street activities, and waving at passersby.

Victor’s love for the ocean is in his blood. He and his siblings learned how to operate boats at a young age, and he has many fond memories of staying two and three months at a time on nearby Isla Contoy while his papi, Esteban Ancona Argaez, fished in the surrounding ocean. 
Leaving Isla Mujeres behind

So off we go on our escapade; the five Musketeers, Julie, Rob, Andy, Yumiko and I.  Two more adventure seeking vacationers joined our wacky group, Shonna and Matt from Austin Texas.  

A quick run through of the rules and Victor cast off the lines, while his older brother Omar Ancona Cervera expertly backed the boat away from the family dock in the Makax Lagoon.  

Julie & Rob - let me at 'em!
Headed towards the northern end of Isla Mujeres we passed a number of marinas and beach bars, the car ferry, Playa Centro, and rounded the point by Playa Norte.   

We powered through relatively calm, turquoise seas to join the huge flotilla of tour boats gathered seventeen miles off-shore at the current location for the Whale Sharks.
Andy, check out this beauty!

Now comes the fun part – swimming with these beautiful creatures.
  Two people, per boat are allowed in the water at any one time.  Life jackets are mandatory.  And touching is not allowed.  Human contact can damage the delicate surface of their skin, and disrupt their feeding timetable. 

All set to go with dive mask, snorkel, and life vest Shonna and Matt are the first to jump in, swimming hard to catch up as the critters slid past with a lazy flick of the tail.  Two by two we take turns, some of us dive in more than once while others are content to watch from the boat.  The Whale Sharks swim continuously, like a shark, never stopping their effortless and but rapid movement forward.

Yumiko and Andy
The excitement of my adventure-mates is infectious.  

When it is my turn I am so electrified I forget to pull the diving mask over my eyes, wondering why my underwater vision is so damn blurry.  I sort out my mask, and eventually realize that ooo-ing and aah-ing underwater is not advised; it is a great way to ingest seawater.  

Craving a high-quality underwater camera, one of those stupendously expensive ones that take National-Geographic-worthy photos, I stare in open-mouthed awe as the black and white spotted leviathan cruises past my face.  

Wow, just wow!
Matt and Shonna
And then so quickly it was over, time to motor back to the island.  

Time for a bit of liquid refreshments and snacks.  

Playa Norte was a traffic jam of returning tour boats.  

Big and small, luxury and modest, dozens of boats anchored to allow excursionists a chance to swim, drink cervezas, and chow down on afternoon treats.

Playa Norte 

Our very able, and entertaining crew of the Brothers Ancona, Victor and Omar, dished up some tasty ceviche, quiche, with fresh fruit and of course cold cerveza.  

You just can’t go on a Mexican adventure without cold beer!

What a fun adventure!  Thanks to our neighbourhood friends for including me.  

Omar and Victor - our fabulous crew!
And you may have guessed; Lawrie didn’t join us.  He doesn’t swim with any creature that has the word Shark in its name.  

It’s that 1970’s Jaws-thing.

Hasta Pronto!

Lynda & Lawrie

Look carefully - he's there!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Fantastic images for a fantastic setting

Danae Brissonnet, artist on scaffolding far left
Fanciful creatures from the ocean swarm a human figure holding a conch shell to an ear; listening to what the ocean says.  

Canadian artist, Danae Brissonnet’s very colourful mural adorns one of the new white walls of the expanded Aguakan waste water treatment plant on the eastern side of Isla Mujeres. 

Day one - Danae Brissonnet 

When I first stopped to chat I mistook her slight accent for Spanish and proceeded to torture her with my very limited Spanglish.  

Eventually we both realized that we had English in common, and communicating became a whole lot simpler.  

Danae Brissonnet - egg carton palette 
For a painters’ palette holding multiple dabs of vibrant colours Danae had creatively re-cycled a cardboard egg carton, designed to hold thirty chicken eggs.  Enamoured by the simplicity, she is hoping to find more discarded egg cartons.

A few feet away fellow artist, Hilda Palafax from Mexico City created a woman who languidly swims in the ocean with a huge critter – a Whale Shark.  Painting in the early morning light, and again late in the afternoon when the heat of the day had abated somewhat, Hilda (Poni) crafted an image that is both humorous and beautiful.  An illustrator and graphic designer by trade, Hilda is close to becoming a full-time artist.  It is her true passion. 
Hilda Palafax - painting woman and Whale Shark

Another truly fanciful mural has been painted on northern side of the municipal waste transfer facility.  The creatures are fun and colourful, and brighten up an otherwise dreary space.  

The close proximity of the three murals will attract a lot of attention from the thousands of Cancun daytrippers who buzz around the island via an assortment of golf carts. With the turquoise water and a long white beach directly behind the artists, the soft breezes and gentle waves have to be an inspiration.  An assortment of long-sleeved shirts, comical hats, and scarves protect skin unaccustomed to the blistering sun. 

Hilda Palafax, Poni - almost finished her mural
There are four visiting artists taking part in the Pangeaseed Sea Walls project happening this month on Isla Mujeres.  Unfortunately we never did connect with the other two artists - Tysa and Senkoe who painted the mural on the waste transfer building, and the new mural on the tourist information building.  Some of you may remember the fourteen spectacular murals from the original Pangeaseed project in 2014.  

Many are still intact, adorning numerous buildings in centro: the Mercado, several hotels, a kindergarten and our favourite mural, the huge one decorating the Palacio Municipal (City Hall).  The mural on the tourist information centre on Medina suffered sun damage and is being repainted this week with a different collage of ocean-themed images.

Tysa - mural at the municipal waste transfer facility
The original plan included decorating the bland exterior of the Casa de Cultura in centro, but when Danae Brissonnet examined the wall, she realized the surface was much too rough for her painting.  Too bad for the Casa de Cultura, but very fortunate for the Aguakan facility. 

How did this all come about?  Well, as we understand it, Pangeaseed is the parent organization promoting the idea in various locations around the world.  The local feet-on-the-street coordinators, such as Carolina Marin, are associated with an organization called Visual Junkies.  These are the folks who organize local sponsors, which walls can be painted, and accommodations. 

Caroline Marin, Visual Junkies and artist Hilda Palafax

Islander Eric Shott, of El Milagaro Marina and his very talented staff assisted in 2014 with accommodations for the artists, assembling scaffolding and carting heavy items with their marina company truck.  And again in 2016 Eric provided accommodations for the artists.

Rooster’s Café and the sister restaurant of Bertha’s has helped out with breakfasts, delicious coffee, and a wind up evening meal.  The municipality of Isla Mujeres arranged the walls to be painted, and meals at Pelayos Restaurante on Medina Rueda.  Made in nearby Merida, Maya Solar supplied bio degradable sunscreen and insect repellent suitable for use when the group members ventured out to swim with the Whale Sharks and rays.  OSEL paints have supplied materials for the artists.  
Danae Brissonnet - the hat just made me laugh!

These are just a few of the sponsors that we heard about, if there are more we would be happy to include them in this article.  The joys of electronic publications!

Whether you are on Isla Mujeres right now, or are coming soon for your annual vacation, a tour of the island in search of the multiple murals – new and old, is well worth the time.

Hasta Pronto!
Lynda & Lawrie

Also see our other article about the 2014 project: