Friday, June 16, 2017

The chaotic colonias of Isla Mujeres

Business and residential mixed together
The neighbourhoods of Isla, the colonias, have a vibrant atmosphere with a chaotic mix of residential and commercial, much like the small towns in Europe. 

They are lively and lived-in. New visitors occasionally remark that they see extensive poverty. We see diversity. We see hard-working neighbours and friends who live where they work, and work where they live.

Tiny tienda on Juarez Avenue
On Isla Mujeres the tiny store-front businesses intermingle with modest living spaces. In the street just south of our casa there is a myriad of small houses and apartments interspersed with a variety of establishments. The majority of the proprietors live behind or above their business. Within a few blocks we can get our golf cart repaired, purchase a gift for a child, visit the veterinarian with a pet, get our laundry washed, or documents photocopied.

Lawrie at Orlando's Golf Cart Repairs

There are two dental offices just a few blocks south of us. One is situated on an upper floor of a house, and in front of the car repair business. The other is tucked behind the air conditioning and appliance repair shop. Our favourite upholsterer is located between two houses near one of the island’s animal shelters.

If we are hungry or thirsty there are several little tiendas selling sodas, eggs, bread or snacks. Our preferred tienda carries a good selection of fruits, vegetables and freshly squeezed juices. A tortilla factory operates six days a week scenting the air with the delicious smell of freshly-baked corn tortillas. When they close for the day, an evenings-only restaurant sets up in front selling tasty food to their neighbours. Two nearby stores sell cold beer to compliment the evening meal.

The guys having their morning get-together
Scattered in amongst the businesses are the long-time residents; living and working their entire lives on Isla. Every morning a group of seven or eight people from adjacent dwellings gather on one large street-side verandah, to share a sociable cup of coffee and the local gossip. 

Another man walks two blocks south to buy his morning newspaper, returning to sit outside his front door while he carefully reads each page. In the evenings, when the sun has shifted behind the buildings another long-time resident sits on his shady patio waving at passersby, and shouting pleasant greetings.

Vibrant colour combinations are common.
Every home on the island is unique, whether it is an expensive house or a humble dwelling. 

Cookie-cutter neighbourhoods are virtually unknown with the exception of a new development of beautiful high-end homes at the southern end of the island. 

Typically the colonias are an unruly mix of brightly coloured buildings and unfinished houses, varying from simple huts to three-storied residence. 


Until recently a mortgage in Mexico was almost impossible to obtain. 

Even now with an increase in the availability of bank mortgages the interest rates are astronomical compared to the three percent that a Canadian or American would pay in their own countries. Consequently buildings are finished when, and if, the owners have a few dollars to spend.

We love the chaos, the colour, the vibrant feeling of lived-in neighbourhoods. It’s what makes Mexico so interesting.

Hasta Luego 
Lynda & Lawrie


Treasure Isla
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Treasure Isla is a humorous Caribbean adventure set on Isla Mujeres, a tiny island off the eastern coast of Mexico. Two twenty-something women find themselves in possession of a seemingly authentic treasure map, which leads them on a chaotic search for buried treasure while navigating the dangers of too much tequila, disreputable men, and a killer. And there is a dog, a lovable rescue-mutt.

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