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Monthly Archives: September 2012

Cozumel

We’ve been in Cozumel six nights already but I’m still feeling giddy like it’s the first night of vacation.  I love it here!  Cozumel is an island just east of Playa del Carmen, a quick two hour trip from Akumal including driving and ferry time. We have been here a bunch of times, and every year it becomes easier for us to get here and settle in.

The first year, we spent a whole day driving completely around the island going door to door to hotels asking if they allowed pets, and none of them did. Finally, a little hotel called Villa Blanca took pity on us after I broke down into tears, and said we could stay one night with our dog. After they saw that Diego was a quiet, well-behaved dog, they said we could stay on, and we ended up living in that tiny hotel room for a month.  The next year we realized the hotel had superior suites for just five dollars more, so that trip was much more comfortable. Then the next year we found Costa del Sol, a small group of homes in the south of the island, which we enjoyed for a few years.

This year we decided to try out the new condo buildings in the north of the island. The advantage with the north is that it is a lot closer to the town center, and the accommodations here are brand new high rise towers with amazing infinity pools, modern units, and of course beautiful views. But what is also great is that people actually live in the north….it’s not just all-inclusive hotels.  However, the one disadvantage is that it is a longer boat ride to the good diving in the south.

Anyway, we both had to laugh at how easy things were for us this time.  We decided last minute to head out here because there was construction happening at our condo in Akumal. In a few hours we had packed, booked a condo, loaded up our car with all our toys including two paddleboards and Pancha’s crate, caught the car ferry to Cozumel, drove off the ferry, met the condo manager who gave us our key, and we were moved in! So much easier than the first few years!  And oh my god the condo is amazing. Here are a few photos and a video.

A few hours after we got here the security guard called up and said, “Look out your window.”  There was a school of dolphins swimming by. So beautiful!

So far I’m totally sold on the north side of this island. Pancha and I go for walks every morning and evening, and there are a ton of locals out exercising and walking their dogs. The wide sidewalks are lined with trees so there is lots of shade, and there are even kilometer markers for the joggers and cyclists to measure their workouts.  This island is full of exercise-junkies.  Next week they are hosting a half Ironman, and in November is the real Ironman, which attracts a lot of athletes from all over the world. But the coolest part is to see all the locals exercising themselves. This is not typical for Mexicans, and it reminds me a little bit of New Zealand.  Like New Zealand a lot of the joggers cruise at a very modest pace, but I love that they are out there just doing it. Very cool!

The town center is really lovely, too.  Built around a typical Mexican plaza, the centro has lots of restaurants, bars, and street performers, and once the sun goes down everyone just hangs out there.  Old people dance in the plaza, young people hang out on benches, little vendors sell food, and of course there are lots of dogs everywhere that keep me entertained.

We found a wonderful new dive shop located just a few doors down from our condo. The dive master Fernando is a really friendly guy from Acapulco, and the operation is very organized and professional.  I was so excited to dive that I couldn’t wait for Mark, so the first day I dove without him while he caught up with work. This is not typical for me….I used to be so nervous to dive and would never go without Mark. But again, it’s this vacation-giddiness that has overtaken me!

Finally, we can’t get over how friendly the people are here. Cozumeleños are a lot different from those that live on the mainland, mainly because this island has been inhabited for more than a hundred years (compared to the coast that was developed for tourism just about 40 years ago, and all the workers were recruited in from the neighboring state of Yucatan).  Thus, the Cozumeleños are a distinct group of people that have lived here for generations. They are a bit more educated, more cosmopolitan, and enjoy a higher standard of living than those on the mainland. Many own their own businesses and steady tourism keeps everyone comfortable and happy.  And they are just so darn friendly! We’ve already met so many people who have welcomed us. One waiter gave us an open invitation to dinner at his house and spent time carefully giving us directions to where it was located.

And we are lucky to be here today, September 16, for Mexican Independence Day.  This date marks the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain, over 200 years ago.  This is what happened. On the night before, at 11pm on September 15, 1810,  Mexico’s “Father of the Revolution” Miguel Hidalgo shouted the Grito, a cry of patriotism and independence, in order to rally the people and encourage them to revolt.  Since then Mexico celebrates this night by re-enacting the Grito. This is done all over Mexico in every town center.

Last night we headed down to the Palacio Municipal early to enjoy the festivities. Several streets were blocked off and there was a huge mobile amusement park, carnival games, several stages, professional dancers performing traditional dances from all the states of Mexico,  bands, and tons of food and beer vendors.  The place was packed with what seemed to be everyone on the island: families, kids, old people, one month old babies, etc. We had some delicious tacos and enjoyed a few beers while sharing a table with a New York couple who hooked us up with shots of tequila out of their backpack.

Then the Cozumel mayor stood up on the balcony of the Palacio Municipal and made the pronouncement.

First he listed the rights of all people in Mexico, and then he began the grito, which was basically a salute to the revolutionaries, “Viva Hidalgo!” and “Viva Allende” and each time the crowd would repeat back “Viva!” Then he brought it closer to home, “Viva Cozumel!” and “Viva Quintana Roo” (our state), and again the crowd cheered back “Viva!”  Finally he ended with three cheers for Mexico: “Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico! Viva Mexico!” Then he rang the bell and a spectacular fireworks show began. Here are a few photos to capture the evening!

After the fireworks show we wandered around the carnival and were entertained by the rickety rides and unusual games.  One man was auctioning off a whole warehouse of merchandise in a matter of minutes.  We watched him get hundreds of people to buy random junk instantaneously. Mark was fascinated!

We are already talking about how maybe we need to spend more time in Cozumel, and put this spot into our regular rotation.  For now, we are enjoying it! Viva Cozumel!

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Posted by on September 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Some stories from the summer

Can’t believe it’s Labor Day Weekend already. The summer tourist season is officially over and things are quieting down even more than usual.  The winds have died down, too, and without a breeze our condo is HOT!  We try to spend as much time as possible in the “refreshing” 88 degree water, but alas, we have to get our work done. Both of us hunker down next to our high speed fans and try not to be too grouchy with the heat. Mark still won’t let me turn on the air conditioning because of the environmental impact, but we’re surviving. Neither of us wear anything but a bathing suit all day.  Pancha uses minimal energy by laying under my fan and saving her beach romps for twilight when the sun is almost down.  That all sounds pretty miserable, but in fact, we both just love this climate (weird, I know).  Anyway, I thought I’d share a few of our summer stories in this blog, in case you are curious.

Baptism

One very memorable night happened a couple of weeks ago.  Merly and Orlando, a local Mexican couple that owns a fruit stand in the Akumal pueblo, invited us to their son’s baptism. We only know them from our fruit shopping, but they have always been friendly and last year when Merly was pregnant we talked a lot about the upcoming baby. Well now Axel is a year old, and her older son is turning five, so Merly and Orlando planned a Baptism/Birthday Party for the two of them. We were honored to be invited, and had no idea what it would be like.  First was the mass.  It was at 5 o’clock on a Saturday. We cruised into the pueblo and hopped out of the car, and there was Merly and her family, all dressed up. She welcomed us and we sat in the second pew right behind her. Her husband asked me to be the photographer, and handed me his digital camera.  The service was about an hour and involved anyone who happened to be at the church (it seemed like many of the townspeople were there just for the mass).  They invited several people up to do readings, and Merly tried to get me to go up, but there was no way I was going to stumble in my gringo accent while reading biblical passages in Spanish!  Still the service was lovely and everyone was so welcoming to us obvious foreigners.

Then was the party. I imagined it would be ten or twenty friends and family members gathering for some cake, but boy was I wrong.  She said it was in the “cancha” which is the cement basketball/soccer court in the center of town. This pueblo doesn’t have a plaza, so the cancha serves as a gathering place for people in the evenings. When we got to the cancha we were shocked to see tables and chairs for 250 people, a giant jump house for the kids, numerous tents covering serving tables for the food, elaborate cakes, waiters, a DJ, and three fancy pinatas.  The party went on for six hours, and included tons of food, drinks, entertainment (freaky clowns and lots of pinatas to destroy), dancing contests for the kids, etc.  We met some nice people, including the sweet godparent couple and a very drunk uncle/cowboy from Panama.  Basically everyone in the town was invited, and it was a great party!

The freaky clown pinata

Hurricane Ernesto

We also experienced our second hurricane last month, Ernesto, who passed through on August 6.  The anticipation was more eventful than the actual storm (technically it was only a tropical storm when it passed through Akumal, though it was at hurricane wind speed level about 40 miles south of here).  No one was evacuating so we stayed put, too, but we were a bit disconcerted when the Mexican Federal Military knocked on our doors at 8pm and recommended that we evacuated or otherwise, just be advised that we were on our own.  By then it seemed too late to evacuate (the storm was supposed to hit with a few hours), so we just shut the hurricane shutters and hoped for the best.  The storm surge came all the way up to the terrace a few times, but water never entered the condo, so that was that.

Apocalypto

I’m continuing to teach my English class every Monday to the locals who want to learn.  Most of my students are the hotel maids, along with a few maintenance men and hotel reception workers.  They are so sweet and slowly becoming less shy around me. They’ve been asking me funny things like “What does holy shit mean?” And when I explain it to them (and by the way, this phrase really is odd and makes no sense literally) they tell me that’s what their gringo boss says all day long! They have also been teaching me some words in Maya (their native, indigenous language), and we started talking about the Mel Gibson directed movie Apocalypto, which was filmed in Mexico and is in the Maya language.  So last week they all came over on their lunch break and we watched it at our condo. Mark downloaded the version that has English subtitles, so they listened in Maya and we read the subtitles in English.  If you’ve seen it, you know it’s incredibly violent, and my students knew I wasn’t crazy about violence.  So whenever a violent scene unfolded, I winced and they watched my face and laughed. There was so much laughing going on that you would have thought we were watching a comedy!  Anyway, it was a really fun afternoon!

Paddleboarding Adventures

We bought a second stand-up paddleboard this summer, which is better suited to catching waves, and Mark has been having fun surfing on the little waves that pop up into our bay from time to time.  Now that we have two boards, we’ve been going paddleboarding together, too, which is really fun.

Although as Mark says, I’m a paddleboarding liability!  Last month we did a long paddle to a couple bays south of here, and the plan was to paddle for an hour or so, have a floating picnic, and then paddle back.  Mark had all the gear tied to his board and all I had to do was paddle along beside him on the shorter board, which turned out to be tough.  We noticed a tiny set of waves was coming through, and Mark wanted to try to surf them, so we swapped boards and he headed over there. I paddled around the set, and thought I was fine, until somehow I got sucked into the break. A wave hit my board sideways and everything fell off (snorkels, lunch, beers, the waterproof radio), and my board also floated way.  I panicked, and yelled to Mark, “What do I do?” And he yelled back, “Get the board!” So I swam to it (note that these waves were tiny, maybe one foot tall, but were breaking on very shallow reef so I was getting all beat up). I finally made it to my board and tried to collect all the gear floating around.  Mark came to my rescue and grabbed the rest of the stuff, secured it to my board, and we headed back out. About thirty seconds later another wave hit my board and knocked me and the stuff off all over again. I screamed at Mark, “What do I do now?” and he said, “Just get the fuck out of here, I’ll find all the gear.” 🙂  It was pretty funny! Somehow I managed to get myself and the board out of the waves, and I waited patiently in the calm water outside while Mark got knocked around and collected all our gear again!

Last week we finally convinced the dive shop to rent us tanks, and we went on our maiden solo scuba trip. We loaded the paddleboards up with full dive gear, paddled out to the deep, and went diving by ourselves. We didn’t go too deep (around 30-40 feet). There is a decent reef right outside our bay where we saw lots of fish, a turtle, a grouper, and some pretty coral.  Pretty neat!

The only problem was that when we surfaced, suddenly there were waves lining the entrance back into the bay. This is very unusual (and were caused, we realized later, by another hurricane that was north of us). With a heavy scuba tank and BC balancing on my paddleboard, needless to say I was very nervous to paddle in. We paddled around for awhile and Mark studied the waves, picked the best spot to head in, and then said, “Go now!” I was so scared, and paddled my little heart out, but made it in without falling off my board.  Phew!

Turtle hatchings

Every year we see turtles laying their eggs on the beach and babies hatching from their nest, but this summer we’ve seen more than all the other years combined. This is mainly because we’ve figured out which beaches have the most turtles. Here are a few pics and videos.

Henning and Brandi seemed to attract turtle nests like crazy!

Mark and Henning swam with a group of baby turtles on their first venture into the sea:

Small World

Finally, this little anecdote reminded us what a small world it really is.  Even though Akumal is in a tropical area, you might be surprised to know that there is a not a lot of access to fruits and vegetables here. This soil is not very rich and this peninsula is quite different from the farming areas northwest of here.  All the fruit and vegetables we eat are usually trucked in from central Mexico, and there are often slim pickings (mainly just bananas, tomatoes, avocados, and oranges). However, over the years more and more produce is making its way here, and I’ve discovered shops where I can buy more fruit.  Last week I came home with a bag of nectarines, and as Mark bit into the first one, he commented on how much it reminded him of growing up in Kingsburg, in the Central Valley, the tree fruit capital of California.  The next day he ate another one, and as he picked off the yellow sticker on the fruit he gasped. Yep, you guessed it. These nectarines came from Kingsburg!

Alright, that’s all for now. Headed to a gringo party in the jungle this afternoon. If it’s hot here, it’s gotta be blazing there….but planning to spend all my time in the pool!

a nice sunset a few days ago

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2012 in Uncategorized