Let’s go for a walk………….

I live on the island of Cozumel and there is something that I’ve noticed.  The residents are fiercely loyal and the tourists can’t wait to return because something about this place can get under our skin.   Since moving here myself, back in March, I’ve been writing a blog about the ups and downs of life as an expat and readers have been kind.  I often receive comments such as:  “Oh, I’ve been missing the island so much, this was good to read.”  Or, ” I’d forgotten about that park, thanks for reminding me.”  And, one of my favorites, “You help me through my days until I can get back there.”   So, I had a thought.  For those of you who are anxiously waiting to return, let’s go for a walk.

Today I’m going to just stay in my neighborhood, keep it simple, so to speak.  I live in Corpus Christi, which is south of downtown and it is mostly residential and very serene.   Both local families and expats can be found living in pretty pastel homes with the decorative touches that remind us we’re in Mexico.   Tiles, or statues of the Mother Mary can often be seen by the side of the door, grating will be painted brightly, or maybe decorative plates will line the walls.  Lots of faces are included in those and most of them are smiling.

Something else that can’t be missed is the foliage.  I often talk about how lush it is here, but I’m never sure that photos can do this justice.  Houses can seem almost overwhelmed sometimes.  The trees tower,  bouganvillae can be seen just about everywhere, and fences will be brought down by the weight of a simple morning glory that just refused to stop growing.  I stop and snap some pics of an iris that is glowing in the light of the rising sun.  No photoshop techniques will be necessary here, the colors will be hard to believe as it is.  Just a couple more shots and it’s time to head towards the ocean. I like it best just before a full sun can bake away the smell of the salty air and often have my morning coffee just watching the latest cruise ship heading our way.

But, first I hit the park in front of the Palacio Municipal.  At only 6:30 in the morning the park is almost empty with the exception of the men who are busily sweeping and the folks who are getting ready to run.  And, this might be a good time to mention that the photo of the woman at the top of this piece is not me, not even close.  She is one of the runners I saw this morning and I thought it fun how happily she stretched before getting started.


This park is quite large and, in addition to the Palacio Municipal building, there is lots to see and do.  It has an outdoor stage,  a towering modern sculpture with steps to sit on, and lots of pavement and grass for gatherings.  On one end can be found animal sculptures for the kids to play on and on the other there are a variety of ATM machines to help the adults play as well.  I’m not sure of the dimensions, but it could certainly hold quite a crowd.  While walking across I notice a few more people dressed for running and take another shot.  And, I can tell the light is just right for a picture of the men who help keep the park looking great.  I get a pic of them too before I head across the street towards the ocean.

There is a cruise ship way off in the distance heading our way.  I walk across the road and get ready to zoom in, but I notice that a few locals have decided to take a nap close to the shoreline and decide to focus on them instead.  I try to fit both in the same shot, a little contrast for commentary, until I remember that my camera can only do so much.   That’s okay, it’s a great morning and I have better things to do.  In fact,  I don’t think I’ll stop for coffee today after all.  The light is too nice and I haven’t had a chance to take a lot of photos in the sun recently.  We’ve had a lot of rain, and a few noteworthy thunderstorms pass through here lately.  This is partly why there is so much greenery and also, unfortunately, a few too many mosquitoes as well.  Even paradise has it’s problems.

Turning north I start towards Margaritaville and The Barracuda.  A parrot pirate begs to be photographed.  He’s pointing the way inside, but it’s a bit early for that although I do notice that the traffic is beginning to pick up.  He’ll have lots of visitors soon enough. Then I notice another pirate guarding an ATM machine.  Deliberately ironic?  Probably, and just one of the many reasons we love it here, that sense of fun with just a bit of a nudge.

I notice I’m walking directly into the light so I turn around and take a quick shot to include both the walkway and the giant bottle of beer balancing on the roof.  It looks to be quite photogenic and I decide to go a bit further to get another angle.  Only in Mexico have I ever seen beer bottles bigger than me and it’s hard for me to pass one by when I have a camera in my hand.

I cross the street again just in front of the Mega store.  In just a half hour, or so, the streets are getting noticeably busier and I know it’s about time to head home.  I look for that beer bottle angle, take the picture and head back to the park.  I notice that the sky is that perfect blue we get down here and it frames the sculpture nicely.  Time for another pic.

It’s fun being a tourist and I hope I never start to take the sights here for granted.  I don’t want to be like a friend of mine from New York City who once told me,  “You know, I’ve lived here for thirty years and have never been to the Statue of Liberty, or the Rockefeller Center.”    Seems to me that I want to keep going to the places that fascinated me when I was a tourist, helps get me through the day to day stuff like the heat.  And,  speaking of that,  the realities of the summer sun  are starting to hit.   Just a few more blocks, and a couple more shots, and this walk will be complete.

A worker’s bike over here, a bit of wire over there, and a plant between two doors are just a few of the sights I grab a hold of while heading home.   There’s two sides of me when I do something like this, the friend who wants the pictures for her buddies back in the states, and the writer who hopes to catch some artistic images.   Both sides are happy now.

Glancing up I see the top of a building peeking out from the trees.  Very regal looking although I don’t know if it is someone’s home, a business, or a condominium.  But, the child in me sees a castle and I take the shot.  Who knows, I might get inspired, get a short story from the image, it’s happened before.  But, as I wipe the sweat off my face, I know that I’ll wait until I’m inside and enjoying the air before I try and explore the possibilities.

Another great morning here and I’m glad you came along.  I’m thinking the next little outing might be on the beach, but that’s a thought for another day.  In the meanwhile, if you’re counting the days until you return, I hope this helped.   Salud!

After the rain…………

Well, it’s Saturday morning here in Cozumel and everything is still wet from the storm that rolled through here last night.    I’d decided to  sit in my bedroom and watch some television; sometimes it’s a good thing to  just have a lazy day.  But, once this got old, by nine in the a.m., it seemed that I needed to find something else to do in spite of the conditions.

The morning passed quickly when another two hours were taken up by my attempts to return a pair of shoes to Mega.  I’d had “beach feet” the day I bought them so hadn’t tried them on and, not a week later, I realized that they just weren’t going to fit no matter what.  It would be good to just give them back.   However, looking around my apartment I couldn’t find the receipt,   but did manage to find six others so I’d traipsed off to the store with the hope that maybe they’d still let me exchange them.  After all, the many other receipts would demonstrate that I’m a good, loyal customer and they might  bend the rules just this one time.  But, once I returned home, put the unwanted, and nonreturnable, shoes  back in my closet, I decided to grab my camera and head to the park.   The light is all wrong for pics, but, who knows,  I might get lucky.

There weren’t too many people around.  A couple of friends walking their dogs, a single man talking on a cell phone,  and a handful of teenagers doing what teenagers do everywhere.  They sat close, exchanged thoughts, chewed gum and laughed, a lot.   It was good to see kids interacting without technology and, when one smiled at me, I was happy to smile back.  I continued to walk through the park slowly just looking around  to see if anything could be considered photogenic in spite of the absence of light.  That’s when I noticed that there were still pools of water everywhere.   I started to click away trying to capture the reflections the waters held.

A little while later I noticed the horse and buggy tours were in full swing.  They’d stop in front of the Corpus Christi church for a few minutes;  just long enough to let the tourists take a few shots.  It is a pretty church,  painted yellow and white in front, and on the twin towers, but it is a sort of peached salmon color along the sides.  An uneven pastel palette that seems to fit with the quirkiness of this island.  It hit me that I had choices, take a photo of the church itself, but without the help of the sun, or the tourists in the buggies, but I’m not sure how I feel about those poor horses.  I settled for one of the reflections. A church tower with a bit of palm could be seen in the water on the side of the road.  Just maybe if I keep part of the curb yellow in the shot for scale it might be worth a look.

I continued to leisurely walk around.  The birds were in full harmony and there was a pleasant breeze.  Just enough of one to keep the mosquitoes at bay, which is a good thing.  Those insects just love me and I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day scratching.  Heading for one of the white granite benches I sat down and  breathed it all in.   The foliage here is lush, to say the least, and, after a good rain, it becomes a  deep green not seen during our usual sunny days.  It was pleasant and I must have sat in that park for an hour just taking it all in.  Occasionally I’d pick up my camera and focus here and there, but mostly just sat and relaxed.

Once I was about as zen as I could get I started to head back home.  A floating leaf here, a reflected lantern there, and maybe that rusted bolt over there with the fun colors.  A great time was had and I got some shots to help me remember the day.  Nothing so memorable as to try and win a prize, but that wasn’t the point.  I’d wanted to spend a quiet day outside in spite of the lack of weatherly perfection usually found on Cozumel  and I’d accomplished my goal.  Back home to my dogs and a good, strong cup of coffee.  Salud!

p.s. I use a Panasonic Lumix digital camera.  An incredibly affordable little digital for less than 200 bucks usd. that eliminated any excuse I might have had about taking pictures…………

I’m not caliente?

It was a typical morning here on the island of Cozumel.  I woke up to wet noses pressing my face repeatedly  at 5 in the a.m.  This actually made me smile since it was an hour later than my one pup usually lets me sleep in;  I will be buying a crate soon.  Then we all walked in the park after which they enjoyed a breakfast while I had my coffee.  Once these little rituals were finished it was off to the gym for me on a purple bike that no-one seems to want, including me (I don’t even lock it up anymore).  Nothing much was going through my mind other than I was just glad to be living in “paradise.”

The gym I belong to is called EGO and it is located behind the Mega in the Corpus Christi neighborhood of the island.  It is a luxury that I just know I’m worth and I look forward to my time in the air conditioned, machine laden environment.   They have a bit of everything including a juice bar,  locker room, and trainers if I need extra help   They also have the music to help one to stay motivated.  If you are a gym aficionado you are familiar with the musical style that I’m talking about.  Loud, with a strong, steady beat, and lyrics that you can sing along with, or not.

This last part is what prompted me to write this little piece.  There I am, doing my lat pulls, sweating up a storm, and nodding my head to the  beat blasting out of the loudspeakers.  All is going well and I hardly noticed that the  “songstress” has started to cuss.   “F*#k you,” she “sings.”   I just put my head down and smiled.  I was assuming that, since the woman was clearly speaking in English, the staff didn’t know any better and what’s one little cuss word?  But, wait, there she goes again.  “F*#k you,” she repeats herself, and  then again, and then again.  In fact, now she’s shouting it so enthusiastically I’m starting to take it personally.  I’m now looking around for kindred souls of the kind who might also be suitably offended.   I mean,  I consider myself a liberal, but come on; everyone has their limit.

While I’m angling my head around I noticed another English speaking woman  that I’ve just  met recently.  She’d put down her weights and was facing my general direction so I decided to walk  over to her to commiserate.   Sure as heck, she’s noticed it too and even makes a remark about how this could be the subject for one of my blogs.  I just smiled at the idea, exchanged a few opinions with her and went back to my machine.  But, little did she know that she would plant a seed that would absolutely refuse to die.  Between her suggestion, that music, and my unfortunate memories I have spent the last few hours thinking about the power of language, cultural differences, and  my continued lack of efficient Spanish skills, which becomes significant when one lives in Mexico.

I first moved to Mexico in 2008.  I had no Spanish skills at that time, whatsoever, but I must have assumed that I was in a Danielle Steele novel.  I mean, how romantic an idea to move to another country and learn the culture and the language once I’d arrived.  Yes?  And, how important could Spanish actually be, they’d all spoken English when I’d visited the resorts.  Right?   Okay, I wasn’t that naive, but I wasn’t far off either.   After just a few weeks, my first experience with a tropical storm was also my first experience with the difficulties I was about to face.  When I attempted to tell my concerned neighbors how I felt I managed to tell them I was a little sh*tty rather than a little scared.  For those of you who know Spanish, well, there you go and, if you don’t, welcome to my world.

Over the next year, or so, I managed to ask directions to a “dirty pig of a man,”ordered coffee with a side of blue car (azul, actually) and, when asking for an ashtray was apparently asking the waiter to light a cigarette that was already smoking.   Now, I can laugh about these things with no shame other than at my audacity to move here without first taking classes.  But, there is one mistake that still makes me blush and want to avoid any and all taxi stands in Cancun.  I’d like to mention that I’ve written about this before so let me first apologize for repeating myself if you’ve already heard this one.  But, it’s a memory that just keeps popping up and I thought I’d share.

I’m in my late fifties.  The reason I mention this is because I no longer worry about men trying to pick me up on a daily basis  (not that it was ever that much of a problem anyway).  So, imagine my surprise when I suddenly became  quite popular with taxi drivers while living in Cancun.  For months, after a brief chat,  I would be asked if I had a boyfriend, a husband, and, on more than one occasion, if I even liked men.  That last part, I assumed,  was due to the fact I began to wear my hair quite short and makeup still seems superfluous when it’s boiling outside.  It also didn’t occur to me to be insulted, at the time.  Back to the cab drivers. Not sure why it was happening and,  since I was never doing anything other than discussing the weather, I didn’t give it much thought, but I walked with my head a little higher.  It was nice to be appreciated and, yes, I was proud.  That is until the day a friend, who speaks Spanish, was in a cab with me.

“Oh my God,” she choked out.  “Do you know what you just told him?”  Of course I had no idea what could be so funny since all I’d done was tell the cab driver that I was always hot.  I’d explained to the young man, like I always did, that since I was from Ohio and it was much warmer in Mexico, I was always hot.  I patiently repeated that to my friend. “But, caliente doesn’t mean hot,” she responded.  “It means you’re spicy, you know, ready……. well, horny!”    The look on the cab driver’s face confirmed what she was saying since he, apparently, could speak my language way better than I could speak his, and I was mortified.

Yep,  that was the day when I personally learned about the power of language.   Now, this particular memory  is not what popped into my head this morning by the time the tenth obscenity was being “sung.”  But, it is the memory that repeats itself whenever I start to think about the effect of words, and the effect that one word had on me this morning was surprisingly visceral.   I was quite happy that there was another English speaker around to help me  gauge my reaction.  But, I’m still curious about the staff.  Is it me, or isn’t that word fairly recognizable by most?  Maybe it isn’t a language thing, maybe it’s a cultural thing?  Maybe an age thing?  Am I really that old?  Ahh, who knows.   I’m just glad I wasn’t bench pressing.  Salud!

Cozumel, Retirement, and a Teacher’s Pension

I’d been taking a break from writing my blog from Cozumel, but all things must come to an end.  Especially when I read something that sparks my attention, grates my nerves,  and practically begs for a rebuttal with a different perspective.    The article that managed to do all this pertained to “affordable retirement in Bali.”  This particular piece was discovered online and, due to my own retirement experiences, caught my eye.  Bali has many of the amenities that I sought before coming to Cozumel.  Exotic location, tropical foliage, delightful sunsets, and friendly locals surrounded by a welcoming ocean just on the other side of  white, sandy beaches.  So, imagine my surprise when I read further only to discover that the author’s idea of affordable was a mere start-up cost of  a land lease for $50,000 usd and an additional $350,000 usd for building (not including rental fees while waiting for the finished product),  along with a monthly average of another thousand for upkeep, meals not included.

I have to admit, my idea of affordable is quite different.  Of course, my idea of living might be quite different as well.   I’ll give you an example.  The above photo of a pool surrounded by palm trees is, I am happy to admit, not mine.  It belongs to a salmon colored hotel located  on the main drag called the Barracuda.  A lovely place located right on the ocean complete with umbrella tables and a sundeck, and it is a great location for watching the cruise ships pass by.  Both photos were taken by me doing exactly those things since it is where I have often gone for breakfast.  Several times a week I am able to eat some good food at a reasonable rate and then swim in an idyllic setting under said palms, but without the cost, or the hassle, of upkeep.  These are the kinds of “compromises” I have decided I can live with to be here on the island.  Let me give you a few more examples from a life spent searching for bargains.

I rent an apartment.  It is about five blocks from the ocean, in a quiet neighborhood, next to a beautiful church, and catty corner from a park.  It has a large, rooftop deck with an overhang that  includes a couch and table that the landlord left for me.  But, I’ve been happily filling up my deck with some foliage and furniture of my own including the obligatory hammock and a lovely little outdoor set.  So far I have spent about $250 usd for everything including the plants and could, if I wanted to, throw a party for eight comfortably.  But, for now, I just spend many an evening relaxing outside while listening to the songs of devotion that are just loud enough to make for true ambiance.    My biggest concern is whether or not I will paint the cement top, or just throw down an indoor/outdoor rug.  But, I’ll get to that later, or not.

Inside my home one would find a sizeable living room/dining room combination, a small, galley style kitchen, a large bedroom, a bathroom, and another smaller deck out back that I use for laundry purposes.  As a single woman, but with dogs, I don’t need much more space.  I like to think of myself as a bit of a Kerouac who once said, “if you have a rug, you have too much.”  After all, one can only sit in so many places at once, yes?  But, still, it is my home now and I am content with the size and enjoy furnishing it without feeling as if I need to follow  traditional suburban guidelines.  In other words, my comfy chair is a lounge chair with a pillow.  But, what a chair it is!  I can lay back, sit upright, extend my legs, or not, and all without  the fabric that might become hot in the tropics.  The cost?  $560 pesos, or about $40 bucks usd. Put a plant behind it and I have no trouble remembering that I now live on an island.

In the middle of my room I have a hammock stretched across for easy access.  In fact, I went on such a hammock spree that I bought four within the first few weeks so that I would always have one somewhere.  The only problem was that I had less “somewheres” than I had hammocks.  I let that frenzy die off.  But, I digress.  In the dining room area I have another table and chairs for indoor eating.  I found the set at a store called Mega here on the island and it was below a hundred dollars (again, usd), which is, for me, quite affordable although it only seats two.  It was just too lovely to pass up, and, I’d decided,  if the time ever comes when I have more to seat for a dinner,  I’ll buy  another set.  At these prices it isn’t difficult.

The kitchen is small, but it works for me.  A sink, counter, two burner stove, microwave, blender, and coffee pot take up much of the available space.  Food stuff goes underneath, plates go above.  I may not ever need to buy that table for eight since cooking for more than four might be difficult, but I can still make a mean pasta dish and have room left over.  Just another one of those little compromises I’ve learned to accept.

The bathroom is a nice size.  It came complete with high shelves that I immediately filled with plants.  In addition to the commode and sink, it has a large, newly tiled shower that has several windows, which helps the room to be filled with light.  A touch of color here and there and it is all that I’d ever need.  Again, none of these measurements would impress many, but I’m not out to impress and I don’t live in my bathroom.  Give me a clean, and pretty, environment and I’m good.

The bedroom is an important room for me and I don’t like to shortchange myself.  As a writer I like to have an alternate environment in which to work if the weather outside isn’t cooperating.  Since the landlord provided me with a bed, all I needed was some decorative touches and a bit of furniture.   Tables that can be of multiple uses are important and I decided to go with a few footstools.  The table for my television was also important because I wanted it to be able to hold my decorative pillows at night.  Yes, I actually think of stuff like that.   A taxi driver I’d become friends with, Jaime (taxi 11), has been a wondrous informational resource for such things.  When I told him what I was looking for he immediately took me to a friend’s place of business.  I was able to custom order exactly what I needed down to the type of wood, stain, and varnish.  It was ready two days later and cost me just under a hundred dollars.  It is also the nicest piece of furniture I now own.  Throw in some fabric for the windows and, most importantly, a lounge chair cushion for a doggy bed and the room is now complete.

My point to all these details?  Let me ” sum up” my life in pesos, then dollars.  This apartment costs me  $3500 pesos a month, which includes all but electric.  My electric, food, and very minor extras such as my morning breakfasts at the Barracuda then comes to approximately $3,500-4,000 pesos a month.  Add my medical insurance, any vet bills, and an occasional dinner out and I am living reasonably well for about $10,000 pesos……………….that is $719.00 usd monthly with the current exchange rate!   In fact, I live so “reasonably well” that I decided I am worth that gym membership at the EGO for another, outrageous but worth every peso, fee of $700 pesos a month.  All total including a membership at a modern gym with air conditioning?  About $780 usd a month,  again with the current exchange rate, which comfortably fits within my lowly teacher’s pension.  In fact, the $1,200 per person that is required by Mexico to obtain an FM3 is more than enough to live on, if one defines living through ways other than just money.  I guess the biggest factor was realizing that I’m not on permanent vacation, I’m home, and I therefore spend accordingly.

I guess my point is this:  there is the dream and there is the reality.  I don’t live in a fancy home mostly because I cannot afford to, but I can freely walk down to the ocean whenever I want.  The sunsets are the same for me when I stand on the beach, the birds sing just as much for me on my rooftop.   I can also enjoy shopping at an outdoor market that has just about everything, listen to local music for free on a Sunday night, and walk my dogs in a quiet park every morning.  I sip coffee on my deck while listening to church bells and water my plants in the evenings while my pups play.  Yes,  I may not eat steak  every day, but I’m certainly enjoying the local cuisine.

Finally, my “startup” cost was nothing more than an airline ticket and a  month of cheap rent.  Has it all been ideal?  Absolutely not!  I’ve had to pay some dues as those of you who’ve read this in the past know well.  But, it has all been worth it and I look forward to years of bliss, as well as reality, on the island of Cozumel.  Salud!