“Carnaval” and a backstage pass………….

DSCF1746In March of last year I moved to the island of Cozumel.  It’s a pretty island with a relatively small town on the western shore, lots of jungle growth in the middle, and all surrounded by beautiful beaches where I imagined I’d spend many a tranquil day just enjoying my retirement.   But, since it is also a popular cruise ship destination, for those days I was restless I knew there would be plenty of activities.  However, I had no idea just how much there would be to do here.  Whether one lives to dive, dance, work,  play, justDSCF1779 relax, or volunteer, the choices are many.  And, for me, a writer with the desire to talk about life as an expat, there has been so much to chronicle that I’m afraid that I’ve saturated the market with my tales of  daily activities.  For that reason I’d made the decision to give my readers a chance to catch their breath while I, too,  took a break.  But, I just couldn’t help myself,  folks are gearing up for “Carnaval” and tonight I was given a backstage pass.  So, I hope you’ll bear with me while I share just one more photo-blog during the preliminary festivities.

DSCF1728It started by my walking down Melgar, the main street that runs alongside the ocean.  I wanted to take some pictures of the creative statuary that has just been put up for “Carnaval,” which is Cozumel’s version of Mardis Gras.  Since it would be hard to explain the colors and themes of the artwork,  I thought I’d just take some photos instead.  I’ve included a DSCF1729few examples here so you can see what I mean.  There are several dozen, at least, and I just kept walking along and stopping in front of each to get a shot.  All along the way taxi drivers said hello and the locals that were just strolling along  smiled at my efforts.  But, then I noticed that groups of people were heading south and I’ve learned to follow along when I see that happening.  They led me about six blocks to the Palacio Municipal Park where the evening’s activities were already in full swing.

DSCF1749The park was beyond crowded and I came across the same problem I’d had last week.  There was just no room. The stadium seats were packed, there were kids sitting on shoulders everywhere, folks were squished together, and I couldn’t see a thing.   So, I repeated last week’s efforts and went around to the back of the stage. I climbed the cement steps up to the gate and started to try and zoom in to get a few shots.  Then, to my surprise, one of the staff members came over, opened the gate and waved me in with a smile. I wasn’t sure why, there were a lot of people roaming about with way more impressive cameras than mine.  But, I do believe he was one of the guards from the show last Sunday and I think he recognized me.  Whatever the reason, I didn’t hesitate for a second.

Now, the shots you’ll see here aren’t the standard photographs the professionals will get DSCF1767in the weeks ahead.  And do look for those because, let me tell you, these folks take these festivities very seriously and their costumes reflect theirDSCF1753 efforts.  And, this might be the time to mention that I’d thought I’d taken photos that reflected the colors of Cozumel.  But, I hadn’t even come close.   Everywhere I looked there was an explosion of  bright and shiny hues while families, staff members and the participants themselves were busily preparing for their time on stage.  I kid you not when I say that the energy was almost overwhelming.  One group would be rehearsing, another would be posing, while yet another would just be coming back from their performance and receiving back slaps and yells of encouragement and support.

DSCF1759I happened to glance up at the stairs that led to the stage and saw a man inDSCF1772 red with a headdress that defied gravity.  I watched as he made the sign of the cross and bent his head slightly in prayer.  I waited until he was finished, which shows why I’m not a photojournalist, and grabbed a pic.  Then I looked another direction and caught the eye of a pretty young woman, also in red, who struck a pose so that I could take her picture too.  I focused, clicked and then showed her the picture on the back of my digital.  She gave me a big smile and off she went with, I’m assuming, all her family members in tow.

DSCF1770Then there was the girl that was, again I’m assuming, getting limbered up forDSCF1758 her dance performance.  Next I saw a group of girls dressed in what seemed to be harem costumes.  It was all so vivid that I just didn’t care that none of them were in a pose.  I was having too much fun.  And, I have to admit, I was still feeling giddy about my ability to mingle with everyone.  This was not an opportunity I wanted to waste.

DSCF1776I turned around and saw a group of young men in costumes just pacing and socializing.  They didn’t appear to be dressed to be in the same performance, but obviously knew each other well.  A lotDSCF1768 of nervousness was apparent, but they seemed happy to share their emotions and there was a mixture of laughter and reflection.  Mentally preparing themselves for their big moment is my guess.  After I took their picture I turned and grabbed one of a group of girls who were doing, basically, the same thing.  Talking, laughing, checking each others’ makeup, and generally psyching themselves up to go in front of the crowd.

This all took about an hour, or so, and I was getting close to the end of my evening.  And, frankly, I was getting tired.  But, as I DSCF1775was heading back to the gate I noticed a young woman standing by herself.  I asked if I could take her picture and, as always seems to  be the case, she obliged.DSCF1756 Then there was a couple who were already posing for someone else.  I moved forward and was lucky enough to get a shot of them too.  But, that was to be the last one of the night.  My camera was showing the battery signal that told me I had two choices.  Either find a quiet place and refill, or go home.  I opted for the second choice.  It had already been a great night and it was time to head back and write this little snippet.  I walked home with a smile yet again, glad to have been given the privilege to have felt a part of the festivities, for a little while anyway.  Salud!

My first taste of “carnaval”…………

DSCF1707Well, the official dates have been set for Cozumel Carnaval, 2013.   Apparently, the main festivities are  scheduled for February 6th through the 13th, but, let me assure you, the fun has already begun.  Let me give you an example.  I was taking a casual walk into el centro tonight and was never so glad that I had remembered to bring along both my camera and extra batteries.  The stage was set, literally, the music was loud, and the costumes were elaborate.  And, the best part was that everyone was having fun, whether they were part of the entertainment, or just one of the many guests.  It was time to find a location and start taking some pics.

There was an emcee on the stage all dressed in white and he was shouting enthusiastically.  That seemed like the place to go toclown take some shots, but it became clear, almost immediately, that I had arrived too late. I did try and urge my way through, but there just wasn’t any room for me.   Then I looked around for a ledge, bench, light pole, anything.  I wasn’t picky by that time.   But, there weren’t too many of those either; the place was packed.  While searching for a site I came across a clown bending those crazy balloon hats that the tourists seem to love.  He struck a pose, I got the shot, and off I went to continue my search.

DSCF1710It was hard to ignore the pageantry on the stage, even if it was hard to see around the crowd.   The costumes were incredibly complex and consisted of everything from feathers to metal.  The best way to describe them is that each and every one was a miniature float with a single person somewhere inside.  And thatpreparation person would often be wearing an intricate headdress just in case the point hadn’t been made that this was a celebration of color and detail.  While one such person was performing, with a backdrop of smoke and explosive lighting, it hit me that they had to be getting ready to go on stage somewhere.  These folks were absolutely not getting into these getups by themselves.  So I headed back through the crowd to go behind the stage and it was the best decision I’ve made in quite a while.

There were excited participants everywhere behind the scenes.  Folks getting ready for their moment in the spotlight, being helped with local beautiestheir costumes, posing for shots, colors of carnivalchatting on phones, fixing each others’ makeup,  it was bedlam.  And, for a photographer, even this amateur, it was a dream come true.  I couldn’t click fast enough and was happy to discover that everyone, and I mean everyone,  wanted their picture taken.   I’d take a couple of shots of a group just standing around and, almost immediately would catch the eye of others who’d grab each other and smile for me.   This went on for a while until I was happy to discover that the folks who’d just been on stage would disembark and yet remain in their full stage costumes so that people like me could get another picture.

the poseNow, I’m not a journalist and I don’t know much about Cozumel Carnaval other than it has been celebrated for over a hundred years.  I waitingdo know that my only regret moving here was that I’d missed last year’s events.  But, if tonight is any indication, I’m going to make up for lost time.   After grabbing a shot of a guy who’d just finished performing I saw a group of kids just sitting and waiting for their turn.  I think I caught them a bit by surprise, but no-one seemed to mind.

DSCF1702I heard some excited folks behind me and turned just in time to see a woman all dressed in white with no concern for the fact that the DSCF1655temperature had finally dropped.  Right after her I noticed another group of kids who were  trying to catch my attention.  By this point it seemed that folks had noticed me too and were trying to make sure I took their photos as well.  There was a bit of competition in the air and I was happy to oblige.  It was amusing that one of them, although obviously striking a pose for me, was still unwilling to stop using her phone.  But, that’s just the way it is these days.

mayan goddessFinally, as I walked just a bit further, I saw that one scene that I knew would be the perfect end to my evening.  A beautiful woman who seemed as if she was emerging from a Mayan Pyramid was just standing by herself.  I don’t know if she was next on stage, or had just finished, but her costume, in my opinion, was breathtaking.  I caught her eye, she lifted her hand in greeting and I got my last pic of the night.  After we both exchanged a smile I put my camera back in my bag and headed off to find a taxi.  All I can say is that if this is what it’s like before the actual carnaval even begins, it’s going to be quite a party.  As far as me,  I’m going to need to get some rest, a mug to carry coffee,  and a lot more batteries.   Salud!

Nortes and lemons…………

DSCF1552Retiring to Mexico has been an eye opener for this naive American expat.  Back in 2008, when I’d first planned the move, I absolutely felt that I knew what I was doing.  After all, I’d traveled to many tourist spots over the years, and felt I’d seen the real Mexico, even if most of my time had been spent on the tourist reservations.  So, really, how different could it be?  Sure, I needed to learn more Spanish other than “una mas cervesa, por favor,” and “donde esta el bano?”  This might be the time to point out that, ironically, I no longer drink, so one of those phrases wouldn’t help me now anyway.   But, I was sure I was prepared for the move.  I’d just learn what words I’d really need to “get by,”  do a little writing, and take a few photos.   It was to be a quiet way to ease into my golden years, yes?

My first lesson in reality was simple.  They have milk in boxes, not bottles, boxes, and you won’t find them in the refrigerated section, they are on the shelves along with the cream.   Said milk also doesn’t come in gallons. DSCF1601 America is one of the last three, or four countries, I think, that still doesn’t use the metric system and I’m just old enough to not have been exposed to the concept of  meters, or litres,  in school.   Okay, so I will need to learn the metric system as well.  A small hurdle.  But, my grocery problems had just begun.  Here’s one example.  I grew up spending quite a bit of time in the south and, in the south, we make real lemonade with real lemons.  On a particularly hot day I had a taste for some lemonade and off I went.  But, lemons weren’t to be found, anywhere.  There were limes, huge piles of them, in fact, but no lemons.  I assumed they must have not stocked them yet so off I went to ask a store clerk.  The problem was that my Spanish skills had only grown to where I could order dinner (if there were pictures of the meal on the menu) and ask for directions (if the person was extremely patient and willing to point).   I’m not sure who was more frustrated, the clerk, or me, but I’ve still not made my lemonade.  I’ve lived here for four years.

Next lesson was learned while I lived on the island of Isla Mujeres.  Toilet paper is DSCF1540absolutely not to be flushed, ever.  It is to be placed in the trash can found alongside just about every toilet on that island.   Now, many of the more modern homes and businesses here, on Cozumel, have plumbing that can handle it.  But, if you plan to visit, just look for the trash can first.  If you forget, move away quickly, especially if wearing flip flops.  Since I’m sure you get the idea, enough said about that.  Oh, and take it seriously when they say “don’t drink the water.”  I assumed that I could make coffee with tap water since the water is, basically, boiled.  I lost a couple of pounds after that idea.  Now, I only use the water in the twenty litre bottles that are provided by vendors who drive around the neighborhoods and, lightly, honk their horns.  You learn to identify that horn when in need and thirsty.  Another unexpected skill we develop.

While writing this I’ve noticed that the wind has picked up quite a bit.  We have a “norte,” or north wind blowing (think strong gusts).  And, yes, new terms for weather as well.  I digress. DSCF1594  I’ve decorated my outside deck area with local cloths for shade and color.  I just went outside to try and take them down, but my deck is on the second floor and I was standing, briefly, on a ladder.  While poised with one foot on the ledge and the other on my ladder I happened to look down and made eye contact with a local walking by.  Her expression helped me to make a quick decision.  I’d rather pay 100 pesos for a replacement cloth than get blown over the edge.  So I’m back inside with my two dogs who, apparently, know better than me about what to do in this type of weather.  They are hunkered down on their beds and they aren’t moving.

Ah, my dogs.   I’ve adopted them here and, when they don’t listen to me, I just assume it’s DSCF1588because, once again,  I don’t speak their language.   Can’t get around the fact that this is Mexico and the language is Spanish, period.  Now, for those of you who’ve read my posts before, you know that my lack of language skills have gotten me into way more trouble than just not having obedient dogs.  Telling cab drivers I’m horny, asking for directions to cheap pigs, and ordering coffee along with a blue car are just a few of the many mistakes I’ve made.  I’m happy to say that I can now be understood, and understand, way more than I did  four years ago.  But, I still can’t hold a full conversation because I still have to translate in my head.  I hear what is being said, but, by the time I translate that, and then translate my response, the moment is gone.  Thankfully, the locals are a patient lot, especially when they see that someone is trying (and I need to learn to think in Spanish as well).

Now, there have been many unexpected lessons I’ve not talked about at length, many. playing  The final meal of the day is often served around 8:00; good to know when having folks over for dinner.   The favorite form of transportation is the moped.  Whole families use them, often at the same time.  When you see one, just move on, no need to stop and stare like I did.  Want a hot shower in the summer?  That’s simple.  Just turn on the cold water somewhere around 2:00 in the afternoon.   That repetitive childish tune you hear in the street is the vendor who can replace your gas, the bicycle bell is the guy who will sharpen your knives.  But, and this is important, neither one is the ice cream truck.  I’m still waiting for that.  Oh, and children are welcome everywhere and folks down here still dress for mass.  The list goes on.

Am I complaining?  I certainly hope not, it’s been worth (almost) every moment.  Most significantly, it’s made me realize that I can laugh at myself.  I wish I didn’t have to do that quite so often, but, there it is.  And, this island is just beautiful.  In fact,  all of the pictures posted here I took just while walking around either this morning, or Tuesday night.   Pretty hard to complain when this is where I live in January, and this is what I get to see.

arrivingBut, a bit of  advice to others getting ready to visit, or move here.  Cozumel has forums, newsletters, and Facebook sites run by the folks who’ve already been through it all and are willing to share information.  I so wish I knew about these a few years back, could have saved me a lot of those “special moments.”   Sites like “Cozumel 4 You” and “Cozumel My Cozumel” have been invaluable for many, including me.  Got a question?  Post it.  Someone will answer and, usually, very quickly.  They will also share information such as where to find things not typically available on the island.   In fact, a posting just last week is what made me think of this while inside hiding from the wind.  Apparently there were lemons at Chedraui, a local store, and, because this is a special event,  someone put the word out.  Unfortunately, the word must have spread quickly and I was out of luck again.  I did wait until the next day, not sure what I was thinking.  But, that’s okay, I’ve learned that limeade is pretty tasty too.  It’s all about the acclimation.  Salud!

p.s. if you live in the Corpus Christi area and happen to find colorful cloths lying in the street, they were mine……….by all means, enjoy.  Yes, I’m still learning!

Friends with fins………..

11in the waterAfter ten months of living on the island of Cozumel, I finally did what so many come here to do.  I went snorkeling.  It was a day of laughs, a few mishaps, and a bit too much sun, but it was so much fun that I just had to write about the experience.   It all started a couple of weeks ago when a few friends thought it might be a nice idea to rent a boat together and hit the water.  Joey and Maria created the event on Facebook, sent out the invitations, and then all we had to do2location was wait for the day to arrive.  Oh, and this might also be the time to mention that I find it amusing that folks who live on a tropical island often confirm plans via satellites and social media sites.   But,  that’s a topic for another day.

3waiterWe met at the Blue Angel Resort, which is located on Melgar just south of town.  It’s a pretty hotel right on the ocean with all the amenities including a dive shop on the premises.  Since a few of us had decided to meet early to have some breakfast in their outdoor restaurant, we ate while looking out at the ocean with palm trees framing the deck.  It was 1breakfastcertainly not a bad way to start a day.  Our waiter was friendly, the coffee was great and the conversation just flowed.   The time flew by and, after about an hour, we needed to head out to the dock and meet up with the rest of our friends.  But, not before a pleasant surprise.  It turned out that a member of our little group had chosen the right football team the night before and, as a celebratory gesture, bought us all breakfast.  Just when you think it can’t get any better, yes?

4loading the boatThe name of our boat was The Albatross II.  It wasn’t large, but it looked to be in good shape, had plenty of seating, and a canopy roof.   The captain greeted us on the dock and he and his first mate helped us with our bags and equipment.  Since I haven’t yet purchased any snorkeling gear, I was happy to know that they were well stocked with masks, snorkels, and fins.  Once we’d boarded, Rita, the owner, stood on the dock and explained the details of the trip.  When she was finished she waved a hearty goodbye and off we went.

10the dayAs you can tell from the picture on your left, it was a beautiful day.  The water was that shade of aquamarine that takes your breath away and the sky was a cobalt blue.  There were smiles all around while the captain turned the boat and headed towards our first destination.  That was when Sarah, the first mate, opened a small door that hid a surprise.  Out came a tiny poodle who immediately greeted us all.  Apparently15the mascot she belongs to the captain and is always with him. I could understand why, she is quite the seaworthy companion.  What a little charmer.  I do have to mention a moment, however, that some might find amusing.  I was sitting alone on the center cushion seat and, while gazing out at the sea, suddenly felt part of a body sit down just behind me.  I immediately reached around and, without looking, did a scrunchy little movement with my hand that I do to my dogs.  It only took a moment to realize, however, that there was no fur where I was petting.  It wasn’t the dog, it was the first mate.  I whipped my head around, apologized with a red face, but she just smiled and shrugged her shoulders.  I guess she’s seen it all and she wasn’t fazed a bit.   But, in my case, that was not to be my last “moment.”  I’ll get to the others in a bit.

8gearing upWe had arrived at our first location and everyone started to put on their gear. Some of the group members are quite experienced divers and snorkelers and it didn’t take them long to hit the water.  Wanting to take some pictures of folks getting wet, I figured I’d just get ready and go in the water a few minutes after everyone else.  It6first mate seemed like a good plan at the time.  I got my shots, put away my camera, put on my fins, and then struggled with my mask and snorkel until it was obvious I needed some help.  Sarah, bless her heart, was quite patient with my fumbling, newbie ways and helped me out.  Then over the side I went.

Now, it was a bit choppy, but that wasn’t what caused me problems;  it was my inexperience.  Instead of immediately heading over to where  the others were, I 5captainspotted a colorful fish that I just had to follow.  Next thing I know I’m quite a distance from the boat.  I started to swim towards it, and was able to see that the captain was facing my direction, but that boat sure looked a long way off.  I swam a bit, but the boat was still too far.  I swam a bit more, but it was still too far. This went on until I realized that I wasn’t having any fun anymore (I was just beginning to panic).  So,  I  went vertical, called out, waved my hand and watched as the captain turned the boat to come and pick me up.   And, while treading water,  my mind was busily yelling at me about the buddy system.  Let me tell you, that lesson can now be considered learned.

14more couplesBut, apparently there was one more lesson left and that is to have swimwear that fits.  I’d lost a few pounds and my bathing suit was a bit loose.  You can probably see where this is going.  Once the boat reached me, a friend held out a hand to help me up the ladder.  Still just a bit shaky, I began to climb and that was when I  flashed him, but it certainly wasn’t intentional.  Yea, it was time to just sit down in the shade, drink some coke, and take in a few breaths.  Meanwhile, 13couple timemost of the others were still floating lazily on top of the water, or diving down to take some closer looks at something, or other.  All that did for me was make me determined to learn what I needed to know.  And, to be grateful that I had a sense of humor since my day was turning out to be a comedy of errors.  Oh, and this is where I’ll insert some nice pictures of some of the couples that came along.  Gratefully no-one had a camera during my special moments.  Or, if they did they aren’t talking.

9ready to goOnce everyone was back on board we just rolled lazily with the waves and enjoyed some snacks.  Then off we went to our next destination, el cielo (heaven).  It’s a shallow area that’s dotted with some amazing starfish, the occasional seashell rolling with the current, and these tiny fish that would dive under the sand and didn’t ever seem to come back up.   We’d wait and watch for them, but they refused to pop  back out.  At this place the current was lazy and the water was warm.  Having learned my lesson I stuck with two people who know the ropes and I was able to completely relax in the surroundings.  After lazily floating with the current for quite a while I headed back to the boat and managed to get up the ladder without any further mishaps.

Now, this little excursion had taken about four hours altogether and I won’t speak for 16look outanyone else, but I was ready for a siesta.  I don’t know what it is about the combination of sun and sea, but it always guarantees a good nap once I get home.   The captain started back to the Blue Angel and we all just enjoyed looking at the 12peek a booresorts as they flew by.  Conversation had slowed to that comfortable stage where we’d just catch someone’s eye and smile.  Finally, I  grabbed my camera again and started taking pics of what appeared to be some very satisfied customers.

Once we got back to the Blue Angel and unloaded our stuff,  I asked the group to gather for that final shot that seems to be a requirement after such events.  But, this time the captain asked someone else to use my camera so that I could be in the picture as well.  What the heck, silly hat and all, I agreed.  Now you may not know any of us, but you can probably tell by the looks on our18done on the dock faces that it was, all in all, a very good day.  My only regret?  Writing a piece about snorkeling without any photos of the amazing underwater scenery.  But, I can say this without hesitation.  The next time I go snorkeling I will have a case for my camera and a bathing suit that fits.  I will also look before I pet and  swim with a buddy.  It was an educational day in amazing surroundings.  Yes, it’s good to live in paradise.    Salud!

p.s.  I am never compensated for these little bits, that helps to keep me honest, but I do like to share good experiences!  Also, a big thank you to Joey and Maria for a great idea and a wonderful day!

A mural and more……….

sunset tooLiving on the island of Cozumel has many advantages, even for those of us on a budget.  It’s a lovely island with much to do, but, since I need to live on a teacher’s pension, my primary focus was  finding an affordable apartment before the exploring could begin.  The hunt was on and it turned out to be an experience that was a combination of both good timing and a belief in my creative abilities.  The good timing was due to my landlord’s unfortunate experience with the tenant just prior to me.  Apparently, he’d rented to just one woman, but he ended up with seven people who, as it turned out, liked to party.  When I came along, a single, older woman who didn’t yet know two people, much less seven, it was a match made in heaven for both of us.  The rent was negotiated, and he also, quite bravely, agreed to let me add a few of my own personal touches if I promised to not go too crazy.  Sounded reasonable to me and the making of a home commenced.

The apartment is located in the so-called Corpus Christi neighborhood of San Miguel andcouch is on the second floor, which, along with my two dogs,  helps me to feel safe.   It consists of a living room/dining room combination with a small, galley kitchen, a bath, and one good-sized bedroom.  Since I was starting from scratch (I’d arrived with two carry on bags) I started to get the basics one needs to live.  Working with recamara(1)limited funds can be both frustrating and challenging.   But, I’m not complaining, it’s been fun.  I do want to mention, however, that it’s purely functional, nothing fancy, and the decorating style is what I like to call “hippie chic.”  But, as functional as the inside may be,  what caused me to be so enthusiastic is the fact that my apartment has two decks.  A strictly utilitarian one out the back door for activities such as washing clothes and another,  glorious, ‘L’ shaped deck out front with an arched overhang and a view of a lovely church and a park.  My imagination took over and, once I’d finished furnishing the inside, I knew it was time to get busy with the outside.

The decorating began with greenery.   Back in the states I’d spent my winters teaching and my summers working for a landscaper (a roofer too, but that’s for another time).   I’d 6enjoyed the balance of academia and manual labor, but it also created such a DSCF0472love of foliage that my ex-husband used to call me Georgie (think George of the Jungle).  Now, I may not like him much anymore, but I still enjoy my plants and, since the deck provides lots of sun and shade, I began to fill the corners.  Not only did I get to discover what’s available for tropical weather, but had a lot of fun exploring all the outdoor plant shops, many of which are simply in the yards of people’s homes.  I got to meet some great folks and practice my Spanglish too.

P1030513Now, my landlord provided me with a second-hand couch and coffee table for under the overhang, but I needed more; it’s a big deck.  A table here, a lounge chair over there, a few hanging cloths for shade,  and it was starting to come together.   But, stillDSCF0465 something was missing.  Then, after walking in el centro, and spending a day at Buccanos, I realized what that something was, a mural.  My view, when sitting on my couch, is of the long portion of the deck with walls that desperately needed painting and a center wall that just begged for some artwork.  So,  I put out a request on a local forum, “Cozumel My Cozumel,” and asked if anyone could recommend a good mural artist.  Lots of folks responded with lots of great ideas and my newest search began.  I made some calls and, after meeting with a few, and discussing prices, I decided to work with Mariano Petit de Murat.  I liked his work, his English is flawless, and the price was right.  Now all we had to do was select an image.

Since my surroundings are a bit busy, and I wanted something tranquil, we agreed on a 1photo I’d taken of a sunset ( the pic at the top of this piece is the one used for inspiration).  A day was set and, I’m happy to say, Mariano was right on time.  We spent a bit more time discussing the details and he got started preparing the wall.  The next day was when the painting began and it didn’t take long for me to know that this had been a good decision.   Not only was he doing a great job, but he was fun to talk with, so it was not unusual for me to stand outside with a cup of coffee and chat with him while he worked.   Like someone else had mentioned, I felt like I was not just getting some great art, I was making a friend.

2Within a couple of days the mural was beginning to take shape.  I really liked what he was doing and, after he’d leave, I’d just sit on my couch, look at the work, and pat myself on the back.  Then,3 the next day, the process would continue.  After another day, we agreed that the other walls would need to be painted a complimentary color and off we went to Comex.  Then, once the mural was finished, we both painted the other two walls a buttery yellow, which really helped it all come together.  On the last day, after Mariano put on a few more finishing touches to help seal the work, we just sat and talked.  It was a great experience.

7Naturally, I had to get a few more plants, a couple of decorative plates, and a few pieces of garden statuary.  Then I called Mariano and asked if he could stop by for me to take a final shot of him with his work.   He happily agreed and the shot on your left is the pic I took today.   And, although I hadn’t seen him in a while, we were still able to sit and chat as if we were old friends.  I can’t say enough about how good this experience has been.  But, before I end this little tale, I want to include a pic taken from my bedroom window.  This is the view I now have the first thing in the morning and it’s all due to some great recommendations, and a very talented artist.   Life on a budget can be good after all, yes?    Salud!4  p.s. I never intend to endorse any business, or individual, and I’m never compensated, but I do like to share good experiences.

And, for those new to the island, both tourists and expats alike, if you have any questions let me recommend two informational sites.  “Cozumel My Cozumel” can be found online and is a forum populated by many folks “in the know” who are quite happy to answer questions.  And,  “Cozumel 4 You” has both a Face Book page and an internet newsletter where current, and upcoming, events are covered.  Folks on their FB page are also happy to answer any questions you might have by those with experienced “inside” information.  Happy hunting!

A Trashy Little Group

DSCF1272When I first moved to the island of Cozumel I merely focused on making a home for myself.  Furnishing my apartment, adopting some companions, and generally just getting my bearings.  However, once those needs were met, I began to look around for things to do and there are a lot of choices.  I played the permanent tourist for a few months and discovered the best places to snorkel, eat out, and all while I sampled the nightlife.  Fun activities, I assure you, but I was still looking for something just a bit more substantial.  After all, if you can forgive the analogy, one cannot live on dessert alone.   So I began to dig a little deeper, and, while doing so, I discovered that the expats that live here really care about this island.   They don’t just move here and sit back in their hammocks, they get busy.  Many volunteer for a myriad of organizations that make our way of life even better, if you can believe that, and I wasDSCF1262 anxious to get started.  It didn’t take long.  Today, for example, some of these folks who call themselves “The Trashy Little Group” had a get together on the east side and I was invited to attend.  Their goal?  Help keep the beaches clean so all can enjoy them.  Sounded like a great idea so I packed my bag and off I went.

A small group of us started out by having breakfast at Prima, a terrace restaurant on Melgar that overlooks both the ocean and the town.  They have a menu for locals that was beyond affordable.  I spent fifty-two pesos for a breakfast sandwich that should make McDonald’s hang their heads, and it was accompanied by potatoes with onions, and coffee.   And Prima comes with a view that is nothing less than spectacular.  The first two photos in this piece show just a hint of what can be seen while sharing a meal and some laughs with friends.

Then it was off to the other side of the island to meet up with everyone else at the Rasta Bar.  That was where I was introduced to Kathy Watts, the founder of the group (that’s her and another trashy friend in the pic on the right).  But, it only took a moment for us to realizeDSCF1277 that we’d met before while walking our dogs in the park.  It is a small island after all.  Then, as more arrived, everyone just spent a while saying their hellos, catching up, or meeting new folks.  There was a great feeling of camaraderie.  Once that wound down, Kathy began to talk to the group.   She started off by letting us know where we were heading, what supplies she’d brought, and offered a few tips.  I was delighted to discover that she also hides little surprise gifts on the beach for participants.  Who knows, maybe I’ll find the gift box for a massage?  But, as great as that would be, the nicest part was seeing how many showed up to do their part.   A couple of dozen folks were willing to spend their Sunday morning picking up trash to help restore the beach to its natural beauty.  How great is that?

Once Kathy was finished, we all went back to our cars and drove down to the targeted area.  I put on my sunblock and my hat, grabbed some bags, and off  I went with my trashy partner.  We picked our way down the rocks to the beach and the work began.

DSCF1286I hate to say it, but there was a lot of debris that was brought in by the tides.  To me, the plastic caps were an eyesore and I started to focus on those while my partner was grabbing just about everything else.  We were a good match, each with her own goal.   At first I was worried that she was getting more bags than me, then I relaxed and realized it wasn’t a competition, we all had the same agenda.  Every once in a while I’d either stop and grab my camera to take another picture of all the folks that had come down to work, or just to admire the beauty of the ocean, and the day.

I will tell you it was warm.  Now, it is January and I know that many are fighting  brutally cold temperatures, so I absolutely will not DSCF1294complain.  Still, the ocean breeze was welcomed and the sodas that were provided tasted damn good.  I was grateful that I remembered both my sun block and hat though.  And,  just like back in my office days, after doing some work we stood around the cooler and shared a laugh, or two.

But,  time flew, as it often seems to do down here, and we got ready to leave.  Just before we did, however,  I DSCF1295noticed Kathy hauling a few bags up to the road and had to grab another shot.  This lady doesn’t just have ideas, she puts them into practice.   Then another volunteer agreed to let me take his pic with a bag and he held it up and grinned.  That was so much fun in several ways.  Here was a guy who was not only happy to pose with a bag of garbage, but did so while exclaiming, “I’m going to be famous.”  Now, I don’t DSCF1300know about that, but his joy in the simple things was contagious.

Finally, I grabbed one last shot of a family that had joined us, and brought their kids.  It was great to see such a lesson being taught that I had to snap yet another picture.  But, then it really was time to go.  I climbed into my friend’s jeep, she turned it around, and we headed home.  A bit sunburned, a little tired and yet, as has happened so many times here, it was a great way to start the day.  And, I’m glad you came along.  Salud!

p.s.  to find out how you can help, check out their Face Book page ….”Trashy Little Group”