Island mornings………pt. 2

a friendLiving on the island of Cozumel offers this retiree so many morning options that I simply couldn’t fit them all into one blog.  So, as promised, here are a few more examples of what one can find to do when simply sipping coffee in your kitchen isn’t enough.

Let me start by introducing the little guy on your top left.  He’s an example of the wildlife that can be found on our island.  I’d decided to go to the ruins of San Gervasio one morning and, while walking around, he came up to greet me.  And, that was just one of the many little events of that morning while I wandered through the area. But, first let me give you a little information so you will understand why visiting these ruins is such a good choice for the mornings, or any time of the day.  At onesan gervasio temple time, in what is now called the “Post Classic” period,  the pathwayMaya people had built temples to worship the goddess of Ix Chel.  She represented to their culture a symbol of fertility, medicine, and weaving.  She was also considered the goddess of the moon and the people would make at least one trip during their lifetime to show respect and give offerings.  Eventually, many lived on site and, thankfully, there are now quite a few ruins, temples, ancient roadways, and other examples of their way of life left for us to see.  Now, from what I understand, later in the day there are tours with guides who know much and they are quite inexpensive, from what I’ve been told.  But, being the morning person I am, I did it alone and early.  There was something almost magical about wandering through such a place in the morning light when the sound of the birds and other wildlife is still untainted by modern society.

coffee 1But, maybe wandering ancient ruins isn’t quite the way you imagine spending your mornings.  For those of you who love coffee as much as I do, here are a few pics of just some of the choices.  The first is of a terrace restaurant called “Prima” thatcoffee 2 looks out over the water from quite a distance in the air.  Located on Melgar,  just across from the Palacio Municipal, it is quite the spot for breakfast and has a sensational view.

Another “hot spot” is “Rock n Java” also located on Melgar.  Great coffee and muffins can be had, along with full breakfasts, if you so choose.  They coffee 3are also open for lunch and dinner.  The staff is friendly and you can sit and relax, or get yours to go.  Now, you can stay on Melgar, but go just a bit further north and find the island’s most recognizable location, Starbucks.  Some folks just want the option to be somewhere familiar and, well, here you go.  Finally, and by no means are these even close to all the options, a personal favorite is coffee 4“el coffee” on 3rd street south, which is a small street that runs perpendicular to Melgar close to the center of town.  They have great lattes, yummy pastries and desserts, and are a great option if you are staying in one of the hotels in el centro.

Now, that I’ve covered one of my favorite passions, I want to touch, briefly, on a visit to the mercado, an open air market located on Salas and 25, again close to the center of town.  It is a great way to spend a market 2morning if you enjoy local cuisine, or just want to do some early morning shopping.  Let me warn you though, it can get hectic, but in a good way.  You will find everything from fish to hula hoops, or hammocks to silverware.  They have it all and it consists of  both individual stalls and wide open areas, and the whole thing covers several blocks.  You can get a cup of coffee and just spend hours perusing.  There isn’t much needed that can’t bemarket 1 found, with the possible exception of anything “high end.”  This market is for the locals and tourists alike.  Whether you are renting a luxury condo, or live in a small apartment, like I do, this is where you can come for just about all your needs.  But, it isn’t the place to go if you are looking for that quiet morning.

And I’ll use that as a segue way to what I did this morning since my choice was to have a yoga 1serene start to my day.  I am fortunate to have met a yoga instructor whohotel b 1 has lived on the island for years.  Tammy Cervantes, owner of Cervantes Yoga, has a studio on calle 7 sur on the corner of avenida 65 bis. She also teaches a class on Tuesday and Thursday mornings at the Hotel B, a pretty boutique hotel on the northern end of the island.  Since I’d been searching for things to do to complete “part 2,” I’d asked her if I could tag along with her to the hotel and she was nice enough to say, “of course.”

Now, to be completely honest, I don’t take her class as of yet since I have my own exercise routine, but I have wanted to explore other options.  After yoga 6seeing how fit these folks are, I might just have to change my mind.  But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Tammy picked me up at 7:30 and off we went.  Today was a bit cloudy and I was worried yoga 5about pics, but it did get quite pleasant for a short while and, after all, she teaches the class on a deck overlooking the ocean.  It really doesn’t get any better than that.

She introduced me to her class and asked them if anyone would mind if I took some photographs.  They agreed, she started, and the camera yoga 4came out.  At first I was worried about being disruptive, but, gratefully, my camera is fairly quiet and has a great zoom lens.  As she started to take the group through their movements I began to take some pics of the various positions.  I will mention that taking photos of flexible folks requires some thought and timing.  And, if you can understand this, I was also attempting to grab shots while the sun was out, and not necessarily from certain locations.  For example, “downward yoga 3facing dog” may not be the pose to take a pic of when standing behind the person, if you catch my meaning.  But, not to worry, there were plenty of opportunities and many, many poses.

But, after about twenty minutes I decided to take a bit of a walk hotel b 2around the grounds to give them breathing room for a while. Since  Hotel B is such a lovely hotel, it was a nice opportunity to be able to wander around enjoying the day, and the views.  I noticed that they had a hot tub next to the ocean andhotel b 5 there just happened to be a cruise ship going by. Of course I had to capture that moment. Then I walked a bit further and saw that they had a beach area complete with chairs and those little futon carriages I’ve always enjoyed.  Naturally, there was another cruise ship off in the distance, maybe the same one?

hotel b 4I walked into the lobby area and noticed a sculpture that was nicely back lit.  Just past it was a small deck with colorful chairs arranged for simply taking in the view.  I pulled up a chair and sat for a few moments just feeling  good about how well the morning was going.  Within a few minutes, hotel b 3I noticed that there was a smaller boat heading to the north, so I took another quick photograph, and then just sat for a while longer. I have to admit, it was a very pleasant start to the day.

But, it was about time for the class to be coming to an end and I wanted to see if there yoga 8were going to be any more photo opportunities.  I walked back down to their deck and managed to grab one last shot of a rather interesting pose before yoga 7Tammy had everyone simply lay down on their mats and just take in a few slow breaths to relax.  Then, after a few more quiet moments, the class was over.  As she spoke with various folks I was able to thank others for letting me participate through my lens.  Then, Tammy and I headed back to her car and my morning came to an end.  It was time to go home and write this piece.

Well, all I can do is hope that I’ve touched on enough activities in these two blogs to show just how much there is to do here and that’s just in the mornings.  Whether you are a fitness enthusiast, or a shopper,  a history buff, or simply a coffee afficianado, we have it here on Cozumel.  And, of course, there are the days where you may not want to do much more than watch the ships come in, but you can do that as well.  The choice is yours.  Although there are still a few realities to face here on the island, no-one could argue that we don’t have a variety of ways to help us to start our days with a smile.   Salud!

cruise ship

p.s. I don’t intend to promote, and never receive compensation, but I do enjoy sharing good experiences

Cozumel: fantasies and facts

10the dayAs an American expat living on the island of Cozumel I, typically, write blogs about the idyllic settings and the various activities that are available.   And, although I’ve been writing about such things for a year now, I haven’t come close to running out of subject material.  However, due to recent events, it seemed to me it was time to address a few of the realities of life on the island.  Now, for those of you who have become accustomed to what I consider my “coffee with a little light reading”  blog ( my “fluff and stuff”) about living the dream, this piece may not be for you.   In other words, even in Eden there was a price to pay and Cozumel is no different, so be prepared for some facts.

But, first let me mention that what prompted this piece was an event that occurred to me this past Sunday morning.  I was on my bicycle riding around areas of interest to photograph scenery for what was to be my next blog.  In between shots I would pack my camera back into my bag that I kept in the front basket.  It was secured by straps, thankfully.   As I was riding along, with earphones in my ears listening to classical music, and just blissfully enjoying the beauty of the day, I suddenly realized that a moped had come quite close to me.  In fact, mere inches away.   The rider reached out his hand and attempted to grab my bag, lifting the front end of my bike up a bit in the process.  Unsuccessful, due to the straps, he, and his partner in crime who was on a separate moped, raced off.   Although a bit shook, I was able to ride down to the police station, give the police a description of the men and their actions, and went on with my day unaware of the effect this would have on me.  That same evening I walked to meet with a group of people and I was, as is often the case, alone again.  It was only at that time did I realize just how unsettling that event had become to me.  Every person, car, moped, and cyclist seemed to be a threat and I came home quite upset, very shaken, and resolved to not leave my home unless absolutely necessary.   In fact, agoraphobia was looking like a real option.

Now, that might seem to be an overreaction to a nonviolent attempt to relieve me of my possessions.  So, let me give you a bit of a back story.   I’ve been a victim of a violent mugging before.  It was  four years ago, on the island of Isla Mujeres, and they did relieve me of my possessions, and I had to be hospitalized.  It now seems clear that those scars have remained.   So, both incidents occurred in Mexico, and both to me.  As a result, I was starting to react like a “victim.”   That lasted for about a day and then it seemed a good thing for this former academic to gather some facts to see whether or not it was my location,  me, or, quite possibly, some combination of both that led to these events.   After all, we frequently hear how violent Mexico is, and I wanted to do some research to see if it would be a good idea for this single woman to look into choosing another location to live.   For a “heads up,” if you are not one for statistics, or opinions from experts, let me tell you now that I will remain right where I am.  For the others, I hope these statistics interest you as much as they did me.

First I compared the population of Mexico to my country of birth, the  U.S.  According to Wikipedia,   Mexico has  112, 336, 538  inhabitants vs. 315, 568,000 in the states, so Mexico has, approximately, a third of the amount of people living within its borders compared to the U.S..  Next I looked up crime statistics and, let me assure you, that’s not an easy task.  Many online sites are not reliable, have specific agendas etc., so that took some work, and a bit of preference, on my part.   According to the online site, Nation Master, which didn’t seem to be associated with any particular organization, and has no affiliations with travel whatsoever, car thefts were 8 times more prevalent in the U.S., and gun violence is 92% higher in the U.S. than in Mexico.

Okay, that’s a start, but what about personal crimes such as theft, rape, assault etc.?  I turned to various sites, but decided to use Wikipedia again, although the most recent stats they had were from 2004.  Still, I think they are of interest. ( Please pardon the layout since this site doesn’t allow for tables)   The following numbers are per 100,000 people:

Mexico                                   United States

theft                                                 112                                             2.445

assault                                             186                                               310

rape                                                 14.26                                            32.99

robbery                                          146.57                                        145.87

So, apparently, petty theft is higher, robbery about the same, but personal, violent attacks against folks were far lower in Mexico than in the U.S..  I began to feel better.  Still, I needed more.  So, I looked for the OSAC  site to see what they had to say about crime in Mexico.  Oh, and OSAC stands for “Overseas Security and Advisory Council, ” which is an American governmental site that professionals use to receive information prior to making business decisions.    On their site I found this:  “The Yucatan Peninsula has not suffered the same level of violence seen in other parts of Mexico.  However, the Yucatan Peninsula does remain part of the nation-wide narco-conflict.  There is no evidence to indicate that criminals specifically target American citizens or American interest.  Criminals select victims based on appearance, vulnerability, and inattentiveness.”

Okay, that was all well and good, but what about  that drug cartel violence we all hear about?   Off I went in search of more information.  According to the Huffington Post, 34,612 people have died in four years due to the “war on drugs” that was initiated by then president, Felipe Calderon.  That’s a lot of people and, although we hear about these numbers often, it is important to realize that most of these deaths were directly related to the drug cartels themselves.  Very few, a miniscule amount actually, of those deaths involved tourists.  But, still I needed a comparison.  So I looked on the United States Crime Rates site and added up the amount of deaths that occurred in the states during those same four years.  A staggering 65, 740 homicides took place in the U.S..  Now, it can, and should be argued, that one total is of all homicides while the other involves only drug cartels and their activities.  However, my response would be that I’m not including “death by overdose.”  Since Hillary Clinton, then Secretary of State, said, “90% of the drugs are being filtered into the U.S.,” it would seem that “death by overdose” is a tally that should be considered.  It’s a sad fact that drug use in the states certainly helps fuel the cartel’s greed and adds to the death toll.

So, although mired in facts and stats, once again I began to feel a bit more confident about my decision to live here.  But,  and I hated to admit it, I was beginning to recognize that my personal  “victimology” may be part of the problem.  Still, I was on a mission and I continued.  It occurred to me that since statistics are based on the amount of people in a particular area I wondered just how many people lived on the island.  According to Wikipedia, just over 77,000 people live in, or around, San Miguel. I’ve also seen quotes that vary from 80,000 to 86,000.   But, what about the  cruise ships and passengers that arrive here?   I found  in Cozumel Insider this quote.  “During the high season months of November to April, Cozumel plays host to 20 – 30 cruise ships WEEKLY that bring 70,000 – 80,000 visitors.”   Now, many of us heard that a couple of cruise ship passengers were robbed a few weeks back and we were saddened. It was an incredibly unfortunate occurrence.   However, and in no way do I mean to diminish the emotional impact that event must have had on that family, it seems remarkable to me that we only heard of a single event when considering just how many visitors we had within that same time frame.

So, the facts seem to demonstrate that living on, and visiting, Cozumel is still quite safe.  But, to be thorough, I just had to know what the statistics were from where I had lived before in the U.S.  What was it like?   But, this might also be the time to mention that I hailed from Youngstown, Ohio.  I’d taught at a local university there for many years and was aware of the fact that we were the nation’s number 1 spot for homicides, per population,  two years running.  But, if I returned, how would it be today?  Sadly, or ironically, depending on your point of view, Youngstown is still quite the statistic holder.  In fact, according to U.S. Crime Statistics, “violent crime is 140.87% higher than the national average.”   And, “property crime is 111.01% higher than the national average.”  Well, that helped me to realize that going back there may not be the best personal choice at this time.  Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of good in Y-town, and I loved the people, and the university, but I’m going where the numbers point me at this time.

So, it looked as if it was time to see what I could do to remain safe, no matter where I lived.  It was time to accept some personal responsibility.  The facts are that I am a single woman who often wanders alone.  So what can I do to discourage potential attackers?  I found a site called Crime Doctor, that is headed up by a man by the name of Chris E. McGoey, who is a security expert and consultant.  There are a vast array of videos to watch and, believe me,  I watched many.  Here are some, paraphrased,  tips from the video “Personal Safety”………………..

-remain alert, not distracted

-when exiting the car have all things in hand so as to exit quickly, do not dawdle with an opened door

-it is safer to be under-dressed, avoid expensive clothing, jewelry, flashing cash

-wear your bag across your body, avoid holding by hand, or on the shoulder

-modify your behaviour, appear confident and focused, and have a plan

-avoid traveling alone when possible

-wear comfortable shoes that will allow you to flee if necessary

-the best part of carrying pepper spray in your hand is the fact that it puts you on alert

-self- defense techniques are good for exercise, but, unless studied for years, may not be an effective deterrent other than helping one to be in better shape and improving self-confidence

-if you really need a weapon, you probably shouldn’t be where you are

-your best defense is “between your ears”


So, after watching some of these, was when I realized that  I had to take a look at what I was doing.  To be honest, I must admit that I get angry when I feel a victim is blamed for a crime.  But, at the same time, there are times when good, common sense might have helped said victim to have not been targeted.   So, quite sheepishly, let me paint a picture.  I was alone, which will not change much, but was far from remaining alert.  I had earphones in and, as a result, didn’t hear the mopeds until they were right beside me.  I had stopped often, flashed a camera that, although not that pricey, was obviously of some worth.  And, finally, I was out and about at a very quiet time of the day.  Does any of this mean that I “deserved” to be targeted?  Of course not, but it is a lesson learned and, more importantly, it led me to do what I do best, research.  It was nice to have the facts back me up about my decision to live on this island.  It just plain helped me to feel better about my circumstances.

Finally, due to some other recent events occurring on Cozumel,  there has been the formation of a Neighborhood Watch Program.  Although still in its infancy, it has already proven effective on several occasions.  In my case, I wrote about my event on their Facebook page and immediately folks offered both empathy and assistance.  One person told me she’d pick up a whistle for me that is, apparently, quite loud and quite the show stopper.  Another walked down to my house with a small alarm that I could carry in my hand in the meanwhile.  Still another met me in the park later that day just to check up on how I was doing.  On the FB site, since my posting, conversation has flowed, and ideas are percolating about what techniques would be most effective and they will be addressed at the next meeting.

Bottom line?  It was a smart decision to move here to this island.  I’m not only surrounded by beauty, but by people who care about each other, and look out for each other.  But, it’s also worth taking the time to remove the rose-colored glasses and practice some common sense.  No matter where we live there will be poverty, crime, and drugs.  It’s an unfortunate reality of the 21st century.  But, realizing my responsibilities will help me to sleep better tonight.    And that truly makes all the difference.  Salud!

Island mornings……… 1

DSCF3122As a retiree living on the island of Cozumel, I’m often in search of something to do, especially in the mornings.  With two dogs that DSCF3123have me up by 5:30 insisting on their morning walk, I often find myself wanting more than just a cup of coffee to start my day once we’re back from the park.  So, they get some food, as do the birds who I feed on my deck, and then I get on my bike with a bag packed with nothing much more than my camera and coffee.   Photographic moments are all around me as I head down to the ocean side.  I pedal down Melgar, the main road, and make frequent stops along the way just to grab some shots of the beauty all around me.

DSCF3081I especially like the way the morning light plays with textures down here.  A few DSCF3079days back  I’d stopped at the Blue Angel, a resort just south of town,  and noticed the colors of their doors, entryways, flowers, pots and wood.  I’ve often stopped there for breakfast, and will be heading there again soon to join a group of women who swim several times a week.  But, at that time I just wanted to focus on the little touches they have on the outside.  A clay pot filled with Bougainvillea that wraps itself around natural wood first grabbed my attention. DSCF3083 Then I noticed their entryway door that is bamboo, I think, and I focused on that for a moment.  Of course I had to take a closeup of the flowers, they are just too lush down here to ignore.  And, there is always the need to capture the palm trees reaching up to the sky to really get that true Caribbean feeling.  You can see that pic at the top of this piece.

As I was taking the pics, I needed to watch out for the runners and the walkers.  There are DSCF3088quite a few of those in the early mornings.  And, who can blame them?  What a great way to start any day.  As these folks headed south along the ocean side they could see the cruise ships that DSCF3108were  just coming in and watch the sailboats that were rocking gently in the morning current.   You just can’t beat the views here in the morning and I often wish I had the endurance, and the motivation, to join them.  But, as I’d mentioned, I had been invited to join a group of swimmers and I think I’ll move on to that morning experience.  It, too, came with some great moments.

DSCF3051When I first arrived yesterday I’d noticed that the boats for those who enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving were beginning to pull in.  Since I was already in my bathing suit, and was a bit early, I pointed my camera and got a smile from one of the captains.DSCF3069  Then the other swimmers began to arrive and it was clear that they were well acquainted.  I was introduced and there were smiles all around as everyone welcomed me in between fixing their masks, putting on their fins and, in some cases, “dive skins” for warmth.  And, this might be the time to mention that I had to look that term up, I really am a complete newbie.  In fact, Maria was lending me some of her equipment so that I could see if this was something I’d enjoy before making any type of investment.

DSCF3060Now, to be honest, I was nervous.  If you’ve read me before you’d know that my last snorkeling excursion with a boat in deep water didn’t go that well.  Not accustomed toDSCF3057 fins (I’d only snorkeled off docks and in shallow water before that day) I was reluctant.  But, I’d decided to listen to those who know way more than me and made a compromise to wear them and  just hang out fairly close to the dock area until I was more comfortable.  And, if I did them justice, you’ll notice that these ladies are not only in shape, but quite a bit more comfortable with the concept than I was, at that point.  Still, it was nice to feel included and it was quickly pointed out that it was not a race, just a great way to start the day.

DSCF3059Once I had on the fins, mask, and snorkel I jumped in from the dock.  The water was a bit chilly, but only for a moment.  The others were already heading to the other pier, which, to me, looked like it was a million miles away, but a friend hung back with me and we just swam easily and pointed out interesting fish and coral.  Hanging around the fenced in area for a sting ray exhibit I was able to see the fish that nibble on the coral growing to the fence and marvel at the size of the stingrays that were, thankfully, on the other side.  In fact, I only regretted one thing.   I still don’t have a camera casing to take underwater pics.  After my comedy of errors on the snorkeling excursion I, frankly, wasn’t sure I’d really need one.  However, it’s now been put on my budget list since the experience was wonderful and one I intend to repeat, often.

DSCF3070Once out of the water again I started to take a few photos of the ladies as they came back to shore.  Although they may have DSCF3074been a bit tired, the camaraderie was evident and everyone began to share what they’d seen.  Whether it had been a puffer fish,  a battle between a fish and an eel, or colorful coral, everyone had seen something interesting.  Towels came out, clothes were put on and, still, the conversation flowed.   This was clearly about more than just getting some exercise, these ladies are  friends.

DSCF3133Soon, however, it was time to head home.  Since it had been such a beautiful morning  I’d decided to walk my bike so as to be able to capture a few more shots.  In fact, the one on yourDSCF3138 left is of more than just water, which I didn’t discover until I made it home and loaded it up.  If you look closely you’ll see yet another inhabitant of the island just hanging out taking in the view.  And, the photo on your right was my version of a self-portrait in the early morning light.  A bit silly, yes, but I was having fun.  After that I was happy to put my camera away.

Now, just in case you didn’t notice, the title of this little snippet has a “pt. 1” included.  And, that’s because I’ve been made aware of other morning activities as well, which would have made this piece a bit too long.  Next week I’m going to try a few of them out and hope to have more good experiences to share, along with pics, of course.  But, until then, have a great week.   Salud!DSCF3136

Carnaval comes to an end……..

1floatWell, today is the final day of Carnaval here on the island of Cozumel and I’ve  just returned from the loudest, wildest, and most colorful parade imaginable.   And, the streets were packed with revelers eager to celebrate Fat 21street sceneTuesday before the somber tones of Lent begin.  They’d gathered to watch the multitude of floats and street performers, as well as eat, drink, and be frantic with enthusiasm.    In fact, the party is still in full swing, but I’m just not capable of a single moment more.  It’s been a lot of fun and completely exhausting, but I thought I’d share a few thoughts and pics before going to bed for a very long time.

2egyptianNow, before I begin I want to mention that I’d spent the day online researching the settings for my digital so as to get the best shots.    Accustomed to 35mm SLR cameras means that this is a new world and I wanted to learn the details before the festivities began.20chaos  However, that turned out to be quite the mistake since whatever I’d done had caused some problems.  With that said, let me express my displeasure at the shots I will be including.  Still, it was such a big night that I’ll take the chance and share a few anyway.   They throw such a party down here that words alone would fail me.

A friend of mine had found a great location to view the events and invited me to join her group.  So, we met on the balcony of Bob’s, a restaurant on Melgar next to 11bored princessthe Barracuda Hotel, and settled in an hour before 8more haremthe parade was to start.  It was an ideal location to watch the many folks wander the streets, often in full costumes, wigs, masks, beads, or some combination of all the above.  Even toddlers were dressed for the event.  Me?  Well, I did my part by wearing makeup for the first time in over a year.  Enough said, I’ll get back to the events.  We lined our chairs up and chatted while pointing out some of the more original get-ups.  Our waiter was a young man with an easy smile and he worked hard to keep up with our orders.  But, it wasn’t long before the parade began and everyone who had one grabbed their cameras.

The streets were packed by this time and in between the floats and street performers, little kids would pause underneath 4kidsour balcony and motion for beads, which we happily threw down to them.  Since the parade was heading north on the other side of the street, there were many wanderers, or folks sitting at tables set up curbside enjoying the show.  I kept fiddling with my camera and missed a 10lady with bowlot until it occurred to me that maybe new batteries would help.  But, nope, I’d really messed something up and the surroundings were just too chaotic to focus on dials and menu settings for long.  Determined to see the fun I finally just decided to chalk it up to a lesson learned and set it to automatic and grabbed what I could.

There were floats that were brilliantly lit and filled with folks dressed  14girlsaccording to the theme.  Harem girls would be followed by children dressed in fruit, but if there was a particular order I never did figure it out.   The Sol Girls in their revealing outfits were dancing on a platform lit up by thousands of gold bulbs and then along came The Mario Brothers, which were guys dancing in huge stuffed outfits in spite of the heat.6kids and fruit  This was clearly an event for all ages and I couldn’t stop smiling.  It was an outlandish and highly eclectic gathering of people just wanting to have some fun.

5dancersStreet performers would be dancing to a tune that only they could hear over the noise while  folks on “our side” of the street just kept wandering in and around the numerous portable vendors carts that were loaded with cotton candy, glitter masks, glow tubes, neon wigs, you name it.  Then another friend paused underneath our balcony and waved up17midst of chaos to us.  I had to grab a shot, even though my camera still wasn’t cooperating.  But, in spite of the problems, I liked the pic.  It seems to show her as the calm in the center of the storm.  Besides, she was dressed for the event complete with great boots and makeup and was accompanied by a friend in a stylish hat and a red silk tie.  It just doesn’t get any better than this if you like to escape reality for a while.

3textingBut, as with all good things, it was coming to an end, at least for me.  As I looked around, I managed to photograph a gentleman who was on a float in the middle of the party and, yet, was still texting.  I guess it really is that kind of world now.   After that it was time to throw some more beads down to the newest group of22fireworks kids who were waving up to us and then get ready to head home.  I was just waiting for that final shot and it didn’t take long.  Apparently, as soon as the parade hits the end point on the northern side of the island they shoot off fireworks to let folks know.  And, when that happened, it became my last photo for the night.  I packed my bag, said my goodbyes, and headed home with a smile.  Tomorrow promises to be a quiet day and I, for one, am quite happy with that idea.  Salud!

p.s. someone who is “in the know” just informed me that Carnaval is Not quite over yet.  There is still the burning of Juan Carnaval to occur today, Wednesday…..thanks for the tip, Charles!

9solo dancer

Carnaval, costumes, and full circles

DSCF2186Cozumel’s Carnaval is in full swing and all it took for this island newbie to get into the spirit was a mere walk in the park.  Everywhere I looked there were enthusiastic participants in full costume either performing,  or posing.  Although I knew there would be a parade tonight, complete with floats and music, I still couldn’t pass up the chance to try and capture some of the excitement in the air while the sun was still shining.  Besides, I knew that all the parades would be photographed by the professionals, so I’ve been working around the edges, so to speak.  And, I am so glad I’d decided to do that since this has continued to be an unforgettable experience.

I started my day with a cup of coffee while sitting in front of the computer.  I’ve been frequenting a Facebook page for Cozumel enthusiasts, “Cozumel 4 You,”  and I’ve been able to keep up with most of the events by reading the my angelspostings written by those “in the know.”  This morning, one of those posts mentioned that children would be performing a dance with a Tahitian theme and the author encouraged islanders to show support for  those who’d be taking part.    I took note of the time and location, packed up a bag, patted my dogs, and headed to el centro to see what I could find.  What a good decision since it turned into a three-hour photo extravaganza.  And, yes, I will try to include as many as I can fit into this format.

DSCF2088The posting was correct.  There was indeed a group of girls in Tahitian costumes, although they were much younger than I’d expected.  I pulled out my camera and started to take a photo of one, but then her friend ran over, and then another.  The picture you see on the left DSCF2123was the end result.  Apparently they were quite certain that they wanted a shot of the whole group, and who am I to argue?  Soon afterwards they began to dance and I have to say that they had some surprising moves for such a young group.  But, it was all in good fun and those of us with cameras just kept clicking away.  After the first song ended, they took a break for about three seconds and then another song began.  When all was said and done, these girls danced their hearts out to at least five songs, I think.

DSCF2117Before they were quite finished I noticed more girls, a little older this time, had begun to gather.  They were helping each other with their costumes and headdresses and I went off to capture the moments.  But, that group was just the beginning.  Within about twenty minutes there were, at least, well over fifty participants, male and female,  wearing every neon color imaginable.  DSCF2126They were climbing out of a bus, getting off of mopeds, or just walking into the park with family members.  The park was getting filled and it was becoming apparent that the day had merely just begun.

After a few moments of last-minute costume adjustments, they began to DSCF2196move towards the giant stage set up in the middle of the park.  Not one to miss a shot I went right along with them.  It was sort of like riding a rainbow express, if you can excuse my flight of fancy.  But, at that point I didn’t know quite what their intent was so I just kept on going along.  That was when they all began to gather on the stage.  I was happy to, for once, be right in front and was excited.  But, then my luck got even better.  One of the staff members invited me to join the  other photographers on DSCF2138stage and I dashed around to the stairs on the side.   Once there it became clear that the whole gathering was strictly for photographic purposes and that was when the real fun began.

I’d started to just grab a couple of casual shots while the stage direction DSCF2154took place.  And, let me assure you, those directions became quite a complicated process.   There were groups in coordinated costumes that obviously belonged together.  First those in the bright orange and black ensembles took to the stairs, which, by the way, are painted in a bright, glittery red.  The whole scene was quite the eyeful.  After about five minutes of adjusting by the professional photographer who was obviously the man in charge, the pose was perfected.  Then theDSCF2141 next group came up and it started all over again.

Those dressed in blue came next.  Their headdresses reminded me of the crown worn by the Statue of Liberty, although I doubt that was the intent.  They were carefully arranged, the pics were taken and the next group was called up.

DSCF2163These were all young men, boys really, dressed in neon soldier outfits.  With pride they struck their pose with faces that were fierce with determination.  They were playing their roles to the hilt. Next came the girls in shades of greens, blues, and purples.  No color was to be ignored.  AgainDSCF2174 they were moved, moved again, and the shot was taken.  But, once they were done it became clear that the manager still had a few more ideas.  They started singling out individuals, regardless of the costumes and colors,  and this was when I wished I knew more about their roles.

DSCF2151Following the stage manager’s directions, a group of young men in silver surrounded one woman with an impressive headdress.  They took a DSCF2146protective stance for the shot and then made way for a couple who just looked regal.  I can’t think of any other way to describe them.  The sun was straight overhead by this point and all I could think of was their dedication.  With complicated headdresses, layers of cloth and boots, no less, they had to be sweltering, but they just kept smiling.

After that photo opportunity the stage went from almost isolated to completely overwhelming.  It had been decided that there was to be that one shot of all of them put together.  To be honest, it was almost too good to be true.  No way could I DSCF2183describe, in words, the combination of themes, DSCF2181colors, and determination.  In this case, a picture really would be worth a thousand words, if not many, many more.  And, this, too,  was when I decided I needed to simplify and start focusing on a few of the individuals.  I just knew that if I continued to look at them all together for too much longer a time period I’d start to see spots.  So, as the posing and picture-taking continued I started to zoom in for some closeups.

DSCF2177A girl with jewels on her face, a boy with a star over his eye, a small group of girls in mixed costumes, they became my newest targets.  That was when I started to notice that they were indeed getting tired, DSCF2185hot, exasperated, and who could blame them?  This week is the culmination of months of work and, regardless of the level of enthusiasm, no-one can smile forever, although they certainly tried.  But, in my humble opinion, it seemed like a good idea to focus on the pressure these kids must be feeling.

DSCF2173Once I’d made that decision I started to get some shots that I knew DSCF2216wouldn’t  be the typical images seen in a brochure anywhere.  And, I certainly mean no disrespect.  In fact, just the opposite.  Regardless of how they were feeling they didn’t stop doing what was expected.  Kudos to them!  But, before long the photo shoot for the pros was finished and off they went.

At that point I’d assumed they were finished for the moment, but I was wrong.  Now was when the performance in the lower part of the square began.  A pickup truck with a huge sound system was waiting and the dancing began.   The same kids that had just stood on the stage in the hot sun for an hour DSCF2260were going DSCF2231to go that extra mile.  And, this is when I’d like to mention that there was one individual boy who I just fell in love with while snapping away.  If you look closely you’ll see him targeting me with just a bit of extra enthusiasm.   I swear, he made me smile so much my jaw still hurts.  I couldn’t help myself.  I ended up tracking him for a while just to see if it was my imagination.  But, nope, he stayed true to form.

DSCF2212There was also a young woman who was quite a talented dancer.  Her movements and expressions told a story and she was fascinating to watch. DSCF2208 And she wasn’t the only one.  Another girl, dressed in an elaborate headdress was surrounded by dancers who continued to reach up to her as if she was their queen.  That was yet another moment that made me smile.  Her stance and deportment was clearly well rehearsed, or she was just an incredibly confident young lady.

The dancing continued for close to another half an hour and the sun was merciless.  I DSCF2206know I had to keep wiping my face with a cloth I brought along for just that purpose.   How they kept it up is anyone’s guess and I can only hope they realize how much their efforts are appreciated.  By this time the place was packed with tourists who all seemed to have photographic devices.  I almost started to take pictures of them as they leaned over, reached up, bent around, climbed up, anything to get a shot.  But, finally the dancing came to an end and, frankly, I was exhausted for them.

I packed my camera away and started the walk home.  But, as often happens, there was that one last shot that came my way.  Walking south there was a group of men just hanging around in front of a local hotel and I couldn’t help but noticeDSCF2271 that they were focusing intently on something.  A few steps further and I discovered the source.  Two women, who were clearly dressed for more adult themed carnival activities, were standing in the walkway out of the sun. I took my camera out for the last time and they immediately struck a pose.  As often happens to me here, my day took me full circle.  It started out by taking a picture of a group of young girls and ended up with the shot you see on the right.   I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.  After all, it is Carnaval.  Salud!

p.s. for additional information there are a variety of online sites.  Check out “Cozumel my Cozumel,”  “Cozumel 4 You, or the  carnaval  FB  site  itself…….”Cozumel Carnaval 2013:

Carnaval and kiddie rides

1Since moving to the island of Cozumel I’ve been waiting for today, the first official day of  Carnaval, 2013.   Now, I’d like to point out that there have already been a lot of activities.  For example, young men and women have been vying for the coveted roles of King and Queen for weeks now.  And, in true Cozumel fashion, the folks here don’t settle for just one of each.  It seems as if there are almost as many categories as there are participants.  That being said, let me assure you that the music has been loud, the costumes  spectacular, the dancers enthusiastic, and the spectators appreciative.  But, before the major events and the colorful parades begin, the folks down here have set aside some activities specifically for the kids.  And, since I’m a sucker for details, I thought I’d take a walk in the park to see what they had in mind.

16The rides were set up in the Palacio Municipal park just south of downtown.  I was early enough to be able to8 capture some shots as they waited for their customers.  Something about empty rides seems a bit eerie to me, almost spooky.  In fact, when photographing the giant Sponge Bob Square Pants slide (did I get that right?) I couldn’t help but notice that it almost looked as if it was ready to swallow little kids whole.  Can you tell I usually write fiction?   Still, it was big, bright, and colorful and the kids probably wouldn’t be concerned.  But, I was just glad that mine are all grown up and still in the states.

2Once I got past that area I started to notice some things that would definitely not be found in the U.S.  For example, I wondered3 how many carnivals up north would feature, as prizes, giant stuffed cigarettes complete with brand names.  It’s the little things like this that make me glad I live in Mexico.  There’s still a sense of fun without fear of litigation.  After grabbing a shot of those for my more skeptical friends,  I turned and saw a set of bumper cars.  They were also patiently waiting for the kids and I had a moment where I wished I was one.  Bumper cars have always been a personal favorite.  In fact, if I’d been with some other folks I would have squeezed in and taken one for a spin.

10In between the rides were the games of chance.  One could go to the track and bet on a horse, or toss a ring on a bottle and win a 9doll that looked exactly like a dozen others.  But, it was all in good fun and I was sure that they would have plenty of players once the real party began.  It was only 7:30 by this time and, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the customs down here, the kids will stay up way later than one might expect.

11Still, even though it was quite early, a few folks had started to arrive and I was, once again, given permission to take their13 pictures.  Something that continues to surprise me is how friendly folks down here can be, especially when a stranger asks to take a photograph.  I can honestly say that no-one has yet said, “no.”   Yet another reason to love this island.   I spotted a family that had a little girl working quite hard on coloring a picture.  While she focused intently, she was being watched over by her completely supportive family members.  Of course I asked, and, without hesitation, her mom agreed and they simply went back to doing what they were doing.  It turned out to be one of my favorite shots of the night.  Personally,  I find it reassuring how strong the family structure still is here in Mexico.

12Then I walked over to a food stand where a mom was tickling her baby.  She’d laid him on the counter next to the bananas and was busily entertaining the little guy.  I pointed to my camera, she nodded and I got the shot.  Unfortunately, she’d backed away14 assuming that I only wanted to photograph her child, but that’s okay.  He’s a very cute baby.  Then I noticed that a couple of kids were playing with some glass balls at a game table.  As is often the case,  they just smiled when I pointed to my camera and went back to what they were doing as if they’d forgotten I was there.  That works for me, it makes for better photos anyway.  Afterwards,  I was going to thank them, but they were too engrossed so I just kept going.

7That was when I spotted a kiosk for masks and other necessities for the upcoming events.   Since I’d already been spooked a bit by Sponge Bob I had to take a close-up to keep the theme going.  Now, and this is just my opinion, it looked to me as if some of the masks would work well in a horror movie (think Michael Myers, a Captain Kirk mask, and “Halloween”).  Now,  I can only guess as to what event they’d be worn.  But, since this will be my first Carnaval, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.

By then I’d walked around most of the park and I was getting hungry.  A food stand had some great looking pizza slices and my decision was made easy.  I sat down on a bench to eat and just watched as the place began to fill with folks.  Just as I was eating the last bite, however,  I saw a woman riding the merry-go-round and knew that would be my last 15shot.  I grabbed my camera, turned it on with my, admittedly, greasy fingers, and caught her just as she decided to lean back while gripping the pole.  Perfect.  I waited until she hopped off and I went over to ask her permission.  Gratefully she agreed and I packed my camera away to head home.  On the way  it struck me that I’d only taken one photo of someone riding the kiddie rides, and it wasn’t a kid.  And, I also realized that it was the first day of Carnaval and I hadn’t taken a single photo of anyone in a costume. But, that’s the way it often is down here,  surprising.  Still, it was time to go home, write this little piece, and get some sleep.   There are a lot more  events coming in the days ahead.   Salud!

p.s. for a glimpse of what’s to come, take a peek at my blogs:  “My first taste of Carnaval,” or “Carnaval and a backstage pass.”  Folks down here work all year preparing for this event and it shows!