Friday, June 23, 2017

Isla Mujeres, Getting Situated

The journey is worth it, but man what a journey! Monday morning we got up at 3:30. Our buddy, Dave picked us up at 4:00 to take us to the airport. We flew to Phoenix and sat in the plane for ten minutes before disembarking. Then we had to run to the other end of the airport to get our next flight to Cancun. (A quick side note against American Airlines… They now charge you $33/pp to sit together! When I asked the lady at the counter to try to put us together, she replied it was a full flight. In the rows around us every couple had been split up and each said the website showed all side-by-side seats had been booked. After a confusing and time-consuming process the passengers relocated themselves before take-off. What a scam!)
Then we were met by AGI transportation and taken by van to the ferry. If possible I will always do business with AGI. They were very professional. We took a thirty minute ferry ride to Isla Mujeres. AGI met us there and put us in a taxi to our hotel, Cabanas Maria del Mar.
The streets were flooded calf deep in rainwater from the storm we just missed. After the 105+ temperatures of California, the cool breeze felt wonderful. We joined the locals and tourists in our flip-flops and headed out for dinner, slopping through the puddles. It was a lot of fun… really!
We found a restaurant with grass-fed beef from the peninsula. It’s called Dopi’s, El Rincon de Los Sabores. My carne asada street tacos were amazing. Several chalkboards adorn the walls covered with various comments from visitors from around the world. While we were eating this guy came in with his accordion. Nothing unusual about that. A table motioned him to stop and play for them. What made it funny was when he unzipped his back pack with one hand and reached back to turn on a boom box. He then pulled out his cell phone and you could hear a computerized voice state that it had paired with a blue tooth device. He chose his song and suddenly we had a one man band! And oddly enough he had a large coconut nestled in next to his boom box. Such an odd mix of things.
The beer here is incredibly cold. The bars pride themselves in having sub-zero refrigerators, so the beer borders on being a slushee. Every frig has a lit-up indicator of the temperature. The norm is for it to be below zero Celsius. At Lola Valentino’s it was negative four! Joe wasn’t happy because that’s the only time I will drink beer is when his is cold enough :) I won’t order my own, I just drink his.
We’ve traveled a bit and I have to say that the people who live here are nice, super nice. Though you can’t really tap into that if you don’t know Spanish. At one point we were on a mission to find a place to exchange dollars for pesos. So we asked around. Everyplace was closed that does exchanges. (Not a real problem, as most places accept American dollars)  At one restaurant the whole bar joined in the problem solving. We had gotten about half a block away when the bartender trotted up to us to tell us the owner said she’d exchange our dollars if we wanted.
Our Street
Missing are the obnoxious condo salesmen from the mainland. The next day we wandered the through the tiny town unmolested. The salespeople from the little tiendas politely invite you in. One place asked Joe if he wanted a cigar. “No thanks.” “Tequila?” “I don’t drink tequila,” Joe answered. “Cocaine?” We laughed. Someone who doesn’t smoke cigars and drink tequila might prefer cocaine? Too funny :)
The North Beach is popular for its gorgeous sand and calm shallow water. We were still chest deep at about fifty yards out. But if you go around the tip of the island to the east the water is rougher and the beaches form in little half circles edged by jagged coral. We’re staying at Cabanas Maria del Mar on the beach.
Today is day two on our quest to find wine. No easy task, I tell you. First of all is the fact that no one wants to admit they don’t have the answer you seek. They would rather send you the wrong direction than to see that disappointed look on your face. But Joe and I were prepared for this. It’s the same everywhere in the Latin culture. I don’t mean to say that I can always tell whether or not the directions are correct, I’m just saying I am not surprised when we are led astray. One thing I’ve learned is to listen to the directions and if they are very detailed, then it’s probably correct. “Turn left, not at this next street, but the next one. Go one block down to the OXXO and turn right. Go about halfway down the block and it’s on the right.” It was true and I came away with a bottle of Argentinean Malbec.
The next difficulty is deciding where to eat lunch. This island is small, and the northern tip is maybe a half mile round. There’re lots of choices of places to eat though. We usually decide based on what type of beer they have. Joe likes Bohemian Obscura or Negra Modelo (Just don’t ask for a Negro Modelo, unless you want a black man that is, then ask). We discovered a great beach bar by the marina. The bartender named Mike (Miguel) is an absolute sweetheart. They have the best beef tacos I’ve ever had. We went back today and met Mario.
Mario had a t-shirt that had the superman logo on it, but he’d added Jesucristo, Superhombre, Dios Verdadero on the three sides of the big S. He mentioned he’d lived in the states for most of his life. Naturally I asked where he’d lived. He named several places, but all that stood out to me was San Quentin and Folsom Prison. He proceeded to give the best, most impassioned testimony to his becoming a Christian I’ve ever heard. It was truly an amazing experience to see the ferocity of his love of Christ. We’re going to get together with him next week on his day off.
Then a tropical storm swept the flat little island. The wind came out of nowhere. Rain came in the stores like someone was throwing buckets of water sideways! People ran, laughing, for shelter. A young boy held my hand as I stepped up into his store. Golf carts slopped through the roads that had temporarily become rivers. I understand now why the central street going down the middle of the island is the most popular… it’s at the top of the tiny hill, so the water flows down the streets to the sea.
This brings up the daily question… raincoat or no raincoat? An umbrella would be nice, but it’d have to be a very strong one. Mine isn’t. So I wore an adorable bright pink raincoat and discovered it’s not color-fast. Now my white tank top is tie-died pink. So I’ve progressed to the huge orange poncho I bought for Costa Rica. Now I’m dry, but I look ridiculous! I usually just go with getting soaked by the rain… I dry off pretty fast.
So that leads to the word Humidity. There’s hot and humid and there’s cool and humid. I’ve only known the hot and humid one, which isn’t entirely true because I was born on the northern coast of California. That’s cold and humid. Right now, here on Isla Mujeres, it’s cool and humid. Everything is wet and sticky. Because of that we use the air conditioner. It pulls moisture from the air. I wasn’t thinking about that today. All I thought was how nice and cool the breeze felt, so I turned the AC off and opened the windows. I propped my feet up on the bed and read Tarzan for awhile. When I went to stand up, I almost fell. The stone tile floor was covered with a thin layer of water. The room was like an iced over lake and I was like a 101 Dalmatian puppy! I dried the whole thing with a towel while Joe safely took his nap. Five minutes later it was an ice rink again. I shut the doors and turned on the AC. Lesson learned.

This Malbec tastes good.

The story I’ve always been told is that Isla Mujeres is Golf carts and scooters only. Not true. They have cars here, especially taxis. It’s not terrible, but they do have plenty of cars. I was disappointed because I thought it would be so cool to have the quiet of no cars

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Palmas B&B, Laid Back Luxury by Javi

We met Javi at a crossroads in her life. She was our Spanish teacher for two weeks while we were in Puerto Escondido. She was also in the process of signing paperwork for renting a luxury home for the purpose of making it into a Bed & Breakfast Inn. She has since stopped teaching and is devoting her energy to preparing her new home for business. She is already booked for the first three months.

It was fun to go through this with her. Javi invited us over to her home, before it was guest-ready, for an informal dinner party with her mother and sister from Chile, and several friends. Joe and I were very impressed with this place. Structurally it’s a beauty. The spaces flow indoors and outdoors in true Mexican style. The large kitchen, small dining table, the formal dining room, and the front room are all outdoors… as in a roof and one to three walls.

I took a bunch of photos as she toured the whole place for me. There’s a couple of connected rooms downstairs. On the second floor is the family’s quarters. The penthouse suite is the top floor. This includes a small kitchenette, a terrace overlooking the ocean two blocks away, and a sheltered open area reading room. I even got to brainstorm with her and come up with the name, Palmas… and the moto, Laid Back Luxury by Javi. Cool huh? I set her up on Instagram @javiselman.

She asked me and Joe to come stay overnight as a test run BEFORE she opened for business. We could stay for free in exchange for an honest review. I warned her that honest meant honest, but she really wanted us to stay. She felt that a stranger staying in the penthouse suite, especially Americans, would help her make adjustments.

So here’s my REVIEW:

First impression, before bedtime;
Typical big exterior wall, dirt street, house on the corner. Knocked on door and it was opened to an oasis. You enter at garden level. To the right is a lounge area. To the left palms, straight ahead is massive three story structure hidden behind giant plants.

We were led to our room and encouraged to return back to the ground level once we were settled in. The stairs actually skirt the perimeter of the property and are outdoors. There is a way to get to the penthouse without getting rained on except about twenty steps, and then you have to brave the elements.
A terrace with a couch, chairs, and a dining room are first and then snug up to the wall is an open air kitchenette. At this point she hadn’t connected the electricity to the kitchen (electrical plugs are now there), but the large refrigerator had electricity and it had a mini-gas stove. Water jug was included, which is not always the case elsewhere. To the right is a really cool space dedicated to hiding out. It’s a large mostly enclosed room with comfy couches and a large bed for the nights when sleeping outside is irresistible.

Our bedroom was gorgeous, especially the giant glass door which actually pivoted at about midpoint. As pretty as it was, it was not latching properly and kept swinging open. Javi said she’ll fix it, as that could be a huge energy loss. (Javi fixed the latch) The room has a queen-sized bed. Five windows surround the room. There is no curtain for the glass door, but the way it’s situated, no one can see in unless they’re on your terrace. Which leads me to a complaint. There is no door on the bathroom… and while you’re sitting on the toilet you can see the kitchen part of the terrace! Not to mention the problem with smells. (Javi had a pretty wood door put in before opening day.)

The hot water heater is in front of the toilet and is ugly. (Javi put a nice cabinet door in front of it.) I did think it would be nice to have counter space in the bathroom. That would be hard to fix because it’s one of those pedestal sinks. (She had a shelf built next to the sink) It always surprises me to see pedestal sinks at hotels. Our hotel, Quinta Carrizalillo was the same way… you end up putting things on the floor.

We headed back downstairs to our gracious hostess… seriously, Javi is lovely and attentive.

Time for bed;
(I won’t tell you how much fun we had at dinner with friends and family, because that’s not part of the B&B). The bed was medium firmness and basically comfortable. The air-conditioner kept the room cold, but when we decided to turn it off and open the windows we realized there is no ceiling fan. I recommended a fan to her, she said it was a good idea and would try to get it in this month (She has a fan installed now). I think it would save her some money since running the AC is super expensive in Mexico.

By-the-way, to all my American friends, try not to run the AC constantly when you’re not in the room of any third-world-country hotel. This is a baffling American habit. Several hotel owners told me they won’t put in ACs because Americans run them around the clock… I’m guilty there. I suggested that Javi have two “packages” that guests can choose from; one with AC, one without. Not sure if she’ll do that.

Waking up;
Gorgeous! Wow, what a view! Palmas is very close to the surf beach called La Punta… you can see it from the penthouse. We couldn’t make our own coffee because no electricity yet, but that will be there when guests arrive. We couldn’t experience a breakfast at Palmas because it was the day of her son’s international surfing competition over at Zicatela (but we still had the memory of dinner to assure us it would have been good). We wandered down the sand and dirt streets to a restaurant she recommended called Fruitas and Verduras. It was excellent.

You can find Javi on:
Instagram  @javiselman
airbnb under Palmas Bed and Breakfast
FaceBook for Palmas B&B 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Workforce

Man using a ladder like pogo sticks
I really truly enjoy watching the work-force in different countries. Mexico is exceptionally interesting because they work under any conditions except 100 degrees at noon, then they wait.

You don’t have an orange cone to warn people about the gaping man-hole cover over the sewer water? No problem… just break off a huge mango tree branch and set it next to the hazardous opening. All the cars go around the branch. When they finished working they just threw the branch in the nearby field.

The last hotel we stayed at, La Barca, was under construction during our stay. These guys worked from dawn to dusk 7 days/week. There scaffolding was made of random boards and they frequently just leaned out the fourth floor opening and painted or welded while gripping an interior bar with the other hand. This guy was smart enough to own a construction harness, but didn’t seem to quite have the concept of hooking it up to the structure!

The first signs of a new construction project here is a pile of rocks on the sidewalk in front of the intended project. What a mess.

The taxi business here is amazing. At first I shunned the idea of taking an expensive taxi to a beach fifteen minutes walking distance away. At the same time I noticed the taxis were super busy… all the time. We never had a taxi driver ask us if we wanted a ride. They aren’t desperate. Okay, so what gives? The fact is that the taxis here are so cheap, it’s crazy not to take one. We took a taxi from La Punta (the other end of town) at night. The driver kept picking passengers up and dropping them off. We had six passengers at one point! Everybody just accepts it as normal especially at night. They consider it a favor that the driver is willing to pick them up, like a co-op taxi.
Let’s go to the beach now. That’s where you really see the hustle.

At other beaches the hustle has been the obnoxious kind. Not so here, they take no for an answer with no attitude. Everyone works here, from child to ancient. Every single day on Playa Manzanillo I see this old man slowly cruise by with his wheelbarrow with a big tub of coconut ice cream and cones. Another very old and tiny lady comes by with wooden beer mugs and spoons.

Over on Playa Carrizalillo they have the surf instructors with white sunscreen pasted on their faces like some sort of ancient war-paint. These guys love to surf, but they also love to get high. I have been sitting 3 feet away from them as they smoked pot and I can barely smell it because of the updraft of wind on the beach. It doesn’t seem to keep them from teaching people to surf, though they do get a little crazy when bored. The other day they entertained themselves by running towards the ocean and trying to do a complete no-hands forward flip on the sand. This went on for a good 30 minutes. I thought for sure one of them would break his neck.

They have the boys between 5 and 10 years old standing on rocks in the surf fishing. They use a hand-size square board with fishing line wound around it. Some of the older kids and teens swim out to the bay with fish spears.

The boating business is huge on Playa Mazanillo… little boats. I haven’t seen one single boat bigger than 25-30 feet long. The boat has one outboard motor. There are three main functions; fishing, sightseeing, and dragging an enormous banana shaped floatie with 10 people on it. As the business slows down towards the end of the day is when it really gets entertaining! You see, there are no docks here, so they must get the boats as far up on the sand as is possible. Here’s the scenario… the boat comes in for a warning to the five-hundred people playing in the water. 
Being Mexicans and with considerably higher self preservation skills than your average American, they part the water. The land crew lays water weenies on the sand to guide the boat in and warn the pedestrians. The boat goes back out into the bay a good distance to get a running start. Everyone keeps playing but stays out of the way as the boat comes flying across the water, as fast as possible, and lifts its motor at the last second. 
It goes about 40 feet up the beach and the people in the water go back to where they were. This happens for hours every single day! For the video check out my Instagram under H. Schussman.

They have one henna tattoo artist. He’s absolutely everywhere. His name is Franko and he’s from Honduras. If you get the chance, I recommend getting a tattoo from him, just to hear his life-story. He also does an outstanding job. I got this tattoo of a turtle because I thought it was pretty… good enough reason for me. It initiated multiple discussions everywhere I went. It turns out that the turtle, with the hibiscus flower drawn onto its shell, is the surfer symbol. The legend goes that when a Hawaiian surfer dies surfing, he/she is re-incarnated into a turtle with the Hawaiian hibiscus flower on its shell. So if you ever see a turtle with this flower pattern say Aloha!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Made Me Smile

Gotta love those California cowboys!
I’ll break up the next couple of blogs into categories of Made Me Smile, We’re Not In The USA!, How People Work Here, Survival Of The Fittest, and Yucky Bad Stuff

Made Me Smile;

I’ll start with what I’m doing right now… writing from my latest office. The top of this hotel has an enormous palapa built over the roof. The view from here is stunning, plus it always has a fresh breeze. My office is in a little nook at the edge of this terrace. The cleaning lady says she’s going to make a sign for my table that says, “La Oficina de Heidi.”

Our Spanish teacher has become our friend. Javi (have-ee) is absolutely adorable with a cheeky grin and a sassy sense of humor. She loves Pepe (Joe), but she doesn’t let him get away with senseless chatter :) In the past he’s been able to say whatever came to his mind and get away with because he’s so cute. Not with Javi. 

She invited us to her new home three days after she’d moved in. She purchased it for the purpose of renting out the top floor to Airbnb customers as a full Bed-and-Breakfast. Her mother and sister from Chile are here helping her get settled in. It was a beautiful catered dinner party with about fifteen of us there. It is located two blocks from La Punta, the best surfing spot. I’m sure she will be very successful. They loved the bottle of California wine I brought from Sobon Vineyard. After much deliberation we all decided on Palmas' B&B... Laid Back Luxury by Javi.

Javi has a membership at a beach club called Villasol. She can go there with as many people as she wants to invite. We went for class one day and fell in love with it. The next time she left us there to enjoy it for the rest of the day. It’s on Bacocho Beach. They have a large pool with a lot of comfortable loungers, unlike the beach’s chairs made of wood. I ordered a hamburger, and rolled my eyes in ecstasy as I ate it… grilled to perfection, smothered in blue-cheese… I’m drooling again. But I guess the thing that makes me smile is the irony of travel. I can’t wait to explore new places and relish every moment, even the bad times, as part of the grand experience. However I feel an enveloping sense of American comfort when I visit immaculate luxurious places like Villasol. I think everyone who travels away from their home country feels this way when they step into a place familiar to home, even if they choose to live elsewhere.

Our neighborhood, La Rinconada, is mostly pedestrian. Rush hour is if there are three cars or motorcycles in sight on the main road. I wanted to take a picture of more than one car on the main road for this blog, but I gave up. I can see more runners than cars. One lady runs every single day. Javi pointed her out to us and said they call her the “Forrest Gump of Puerto Escondido.”

We miss the last hotel for the comradery. La Barca is the main hotel for the Oasis Surf and Language School, so it’s always full of students from everywhere. We loved our room, but since we only took two weeks of classes we moved to this hotel (Quinta Carrizalillo). This place has an air-conditioner :) Every Thursday night they have a surf coaching class over at La Barca with snacks and last week it even included an arm-wrestling competition! It started with the champ of the group. He proceeded to throw-down the strongest kid with no apparent effort, and then he left the table for the amateurs. Everyone took turns, even the girls, until Joe decided to do it. The first guy comically pushed everyone out of the way to be the one to wrestle Joe. It was a fair struggle for at least 60 seconds, until he put Joe down. Then they switched arms and it took longer for the young guy to win. The next day he asked Joe if he was sore. The kid was clearly disappointed when Joe said, “Nope.”

The birds here are numerous and noisy. AND they start their singing early. The first time I heard them I thought Who’s the jerk whistling at six in the morning, right outside my window? I finally figured it out. It’s a black bird (looks like a crow) that has a human-like whistle. Everywhere you go is the chatter and song of thousands of birds. They also have a huge population of dogs here. Apparently the owner of the local supermarket adopts every dog. The dog at La Barca (I already posted a photo of him) is named Treno (Thunder). His bark reminds me of the 101 Dalmations movie. He isn’t the friendliest dog. He puts up with all of the guests, but not with joy. A couple of weeks ago, when we were coming home, he was outside in the street. He barked so loud and wagged his tail so hard when he saw us, I thought he was going to fall over. If I could put words in his mouth he was saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad you’re here! I got locked out of the house somehow!” After that he was our best buddy. He especially liked the forehead massage I’d give him.

I can’t leave out the turtles. They have a turtle release program here on Bacocho Beach. It’s free to observe and 50 pesos to release your own little baby turtle. Joe coughed up the pesos for me. They gave a mini lecture and then we lined up to get our baby turtle. We all walk over to a roped off area to simultaneously release our babies. I named mine Isabelle in the hopes that it would be inspired to run fast and have cross-country endurance like my friend, Isabelle. I said, “Your name is Isabelle.” She looked directly at me. We bonded… I think :) 
Anyway she was fast but not good with directions. She kept going sideways towards me. Finally she looked straight at me for a moment, then walked into the surf. The last I saw of her was her little flipper waving goodbye. Pretty cool.

I love watching the little tiny kids learn the skills for surfing. They look so small on the boards, even the little boards. Most of the time the parents just let them go out in the water and figure it out by themselves. These kids are the beach people, not the country people. Those parents load up their kids with water wings and a life vest and then they hold onto them with an iron fist.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Surf and Turf

I’m here to say that not all pizza is created the same! La Mediterraneo makes extremely good pizza. The other pizza place actually made us a pizza with hot-dogs and deli ham on it. Seriously? Oddly enough the hot-dog-pizza place is always packed. On Halloween it was packed with goblins and scary brides.

I’ve mentioned it before, I’m sure, but Puerto Escondido is a surfing town. Surfing is the pulse of this community. The cafes are open early and packed with people getting coffee and pastries. If the surf is good then the town is empty. The night-life in this part of town is non-existent. Everyone eats super late because it’s too hot to eat earlier, but then it’s off to bed. They have a party scene over in Zicatela for the foreigners, which is where the best waves are. It only cost 35 pesos for a taxi. Heads up, that’s not a swimming beach. The northern beaches are for swimmers because they’re in bays.

We are going to language school at a language/surf combo called Oasis. We are learning the Spanish language, but there is definitely a surfing language. 

They talk a lot about the Mexi Pipe Warrior (the ultimate surfer, or Roger the owner of Oasis), the olas (waves), the kook (doesn’t know the surf rules), the snake (wave thief), and wave hog (tries to take every wave without waiting in the line-up). Joe starts surf school Monday :)

We walked all the way to the locals market. What a crazy scene! I couldn’t buy anything… I was too overwhelmed. Buckets or birdlegs, crickets, tongue, and things I’ve never seen before. Joe bought some peanuts. The noise alone was enough to make me run out with my tail between my legs. I guess I prefer the beach, where you can watch the fisherman prepare the fish right there and then they cook it for you. I haven’t been able to convince myself to try the octopus yet. Ironically the locals cringe in disgust when you mention eating turtles, like they are some sort of household pet, but see nothing amiss with chowing on some poor octopus!

There’s a park near our home. It’s almost entirely cement, which is a treat in the jungle. At dusk it’s pretty crowded. Right now it has a carnival being set up to celebrate the day of the dead. We were cutting across this park the other day, and I was once again thrilled with the way Mexicans do family. Maybe they can’t afford video games, or don’t have good enough reception for TV in their houses, or maybe the house is just too blazing hot, but in the evening they are outside… together. As we entered the park (I wish I’d taken photos for you) a group of about ten teens were practicing a traditional folk dance. The girls had their big-long skirts on, the boys were in surfer shorts. The center had three families, including mom, playing soccer amongst themselves. One group even had a whistle. We kept moving. On the far end was a group of five young men taking turns break-dancing! We stood there and watched for about twenty minutes. Really, they were very good. One guy could even spin on his head! And then we rounded the corner and found a random shrine,

We made it to Zicatela for Joe’s (known here as Pepe) birthday. We wondered around for half the day until we were bored and came back to our part of town. The Rinconada just feels better to us. That side of town seems more touristy. The beach is absolutely enormous! The huge waves break right on the sand, so it’s super dangerous with a strong undertow. The surfing is done at the southern end of the beach at an area called La Punta. We took a taxi straight back to Puerto Angelito to avoid the hike :)

While sitting on the beach we noticed a boat loaded with passengers drifting towards the rocks. The captain kept starting the out-board motor and going forward about twenty feet, only to have the engine die again. Back they would drift. The attention on the beach grew. Locals began to walk towards that end of the beach. Twenty feet forward, twenty-five feet back. Tension mounted as we were sure we would be witnessing a boat wreck against the sharp rocks. The passengers huddled together with their life-jackets clutched close. It is a strange thing to watch a tragedy about to happen, and be helpless to intervene. Finally the captain got the motor running and off they went on their tour of the cliffs nearby. I would’ve jumped ship and swam ashore!

I’m a little surprised by how many international restaurants they have here. Italians are the leading group of immigrants here, followed by the Spaniards. An excellent little restaurant near us is called Relish. The owners are from a small city near Venice. They are so nice and the food is yummy… except they have a habit of turning a sandwich into crunchy bruschetta on both sides. Too crunchy. I just eat the inside, which is very good.

The ultimate dining experience is at the cliff-side restaurant, Espadin. The view is incomparable and the food is delicious. We splurged and ordered separate plates. I got the Mole Negro (chicken with the famous mole sauce), and Joe got a hamburger (it’s hard to say why he does this-but that’s Joe). He had 2 Bohemias (delicious dark beer), and I had an Argentinean Malbec… all for under 30 bucks. If you’re here, you must try this restaurant. If nothing else, you can enjoy a cocktail and watch the sunset.