The guys, the sea, and me……..

IMG_0011As an expat now living on the island of Cozumel I never tire of sharing my good experiences.  And, as many of you know, there have been many.  Today, for example, I got to spend a morning on the ocean with a group of guys who love the water even more than me.  In other words, they take their passion for the sea to depths I can only imagine since, so far, I have remained topside.  But, that didn’t stop them from inviting me along and I’m so glad they did.  But, before I go into the details, let me give you a little history.

This experience actually started close to a year ago.  I’ve been sharing my day to day events through this blog and one of my readers, Dan, had been nice enough to comment on a few.  This started a dialogue and we became friends, of a sort, through our words since we both share a love of this island.  Then, about a month ago, he dropped me a line to say that he, along with family and friends,  would be visiting in June and suggested we get together.  Sounded like a good idea to me and today was the day.  The fact that they dive, and I don’t, wasn’t a problem and, besides,  far be it from me to say “no” to a day on the water.  The bag was packed, the dogs were fed and I sat outside my apartment sipping some coffee until their car pulled up.

What a nice group of guys!  Dan and his son, Tim, had been joined on their week-long trip to the island by Jay and his son, Edward.  Two old friends and their boys, which could’ve caused me to feel like an outsider, but that wasn’t the case.  Within minutes we were the makumbaheading to the marina chatting like we’d known each other for years.  I just love when that happens.  Then, as we were driving down Melgar,  Dan explained that we’d be spending the morning on a boat called The Makumba, and diving with Pancho Diving Adventures with Pancho himself and his assistant, Julio.   In fact, I was told they were diving all week with the same crew.  We got into a conversation about why they had such loyalty to Pancho and, as it turned out, they’d all become friends both on the ocean and off due to such good experiences over the years.

jay, tim, panchoOnce on the boat we headed out to the open water and then ran south.  Although it was a cloudy day the water was still that lovely turquoise shade we have down here.  As we were going along we continued to talk as if we were all old friends, which was quite pleasant.  At some point I found out that it was to be Edward’s first open water dive after his certification.  I asked him if he was nervous, but he just shrugged his shoulders and assured me he was looking forward to the experience.  I made a mental note to take a couple of extra shots of him so he’d have a chronicle of the event.  In fact, on the left you can see just a peek of him with his dad, Jay, along with Tim all talking with Pancho about the upcoming dive location.  A better shot will come later.

Soon we got to their first spot, the Palancar Reef.  Pancho spent some time explaining the details of the dive, much of which I didn’t really understand, and then they suited up and over they went.  Julio stayed up top withjulio me and watched for their bubbles so he’d know their location.  Meanwhile, I spent about twenty minutes trying to spot the bubbles myself with absolutely no luck.  I finally gave up and asked him to show me and, with a grin, he pointed.  To be honest, I still didn’t see them and am just happy that watching out for the guys wasn’t my job. But, to feel like I was doing something I asked him to pose.  That’s him in the pic on the right.

After that I thought it might be nice to take a quick dip.  The water was a bit choppy, but warm, and I had edwardfun just paddling alongside the boat.  Then, soon after I got back on board, Edward was back and, after Julio helped him with his equipment, I was able to grab a shot.  I’m thinking, from the looks of his smile, that his first official dive was a success.  Then we got to spend some time talking and I found out that we shared a love of all that is the theatre and film.  It made for some fun conversation while we waited for the others.

Within half an hour the rest were back and they all got busy talking about what they’d seen.  This is where I’llIMG_0144 include another underwater shot just to help with the mood, but they were, obviously, not taken by me.  Dan was nice enough to let me download some shots he’d taken so I could include them.  I have to admit, when I see the beauty of the underside I get tempted to take up the sport.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, one of these days, I’ll be announcing that I’m getting certified.  The more time I spend here the more I realize that I may not be enjoying one of the real perks of living on this island.  But, that’s a thought for another day.

danDan (that’s him on the left) started to show me his camera and how easily it could be used.  He mentioned that he would leave it topside for the next location if I wanted to try it out.  But, after I gave it some thought, I knew that I wouldn’t want to risk it.  I don’t know about him, but my camera is another appendage at this point and I’d hate to dopancho something stupid, which I’ve been known to do from time to time.  Then, while we were talking, I noticed that Pancho was sitting in some good light.  The sun was so intermittent that I couldn’t pass up the chance.  You can see that shot on your right.  I assured him it was my “beefcake” shot of the day.  I’m not sure he understood, but he just grinned some more.

After some fresh cantaloupe and mango, along with icy cold water, was handed around we headed off to their next location, Chankanaab.  As we sped along I noticed that we were not alone.  In fact, there were probably a dozen, or more, boats in our general area.  I asked them if they’d seen any other divers while below and they alldan in water told me they had.  But, it’s a big ocean and they seemed happy to share the experience.  In another ten minutes, or so, we’d arrived at Chankanaab and they all suited up again.  Their enthusiasm was contagious.  Pancho, once again, talked to them about the details of the dive and, in a flash, over the side they went.

the neighborsSoon after they’d disappeared I watched as a rather large boat started to get fairly close.  Of course I grabbed my camera and, I’m happy to say, as they passed us by they struck a pose.   There are some friendly folks down here, which helps make my “job” easier.  But, once they were gone, it got so quiet that all I could hear was the water lapping against the side of the boat.   Although Julio and I had been talking quite a bit, at that point neither one of us said a word.  I think we were both just enjoying the serenity.  But, as the sun peeked out, it was getting time to take another dip while waiting for the guys.  So, over the side I went.

Fairly soon after I’d climbed back on board the others starting popping back up.  And, once again, gear wastim's handstand handed up, towels came out, and everyone started comparing notes.  This went on for a while and then, suddenly, Tim decided to practice some of his gymnastic skills.  I’d heard he’d been quite the champ in his high school days so I wasn’t surprised when he easily did a flip off of the boat.  Unfortunately, my skills with a camera aren’t quite at the same level.  Still, I was able to catch the last half second before he was fully submerged.   Applause and laughter was all around and then it was time to head back to the marina.  It had been a good day.

Once we were all back in the car Dan extended an invitation for me to join his group for dinner on Thursday night.  I happily accepted and, soon after that, I was climbing the stairs to my apartment.  As always, the sun and sea had done their thing and I was ready to take a nap.  The knowledge that I had nothing more pressing to do just made me smile.  Yes, life on this island is a good thing and all the better when new friends have been made.  Thanks guys.    Salud!

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p.s.  all underwater shots by Dan Burns…………..and, I don’t intend to promote, and never receive compensation, but I was a guest of a gracious host ( have to stay honest ) 🙂

Art & Champagne: a gallery opening

DSCF5044Living on the island of Cozumel has continued to be an experience worth documenting.  Seldom a day goes by without a new and unexpected event and tonight was yet another example of all that can be found here in paradise.  I had the opportunity to be a part of something exciting, opening night at the Bliss Art Gallery.

I was invited by Mariano Petit De Murat, a local artist and muralist who also happens to be a friend.  Some months past I’d asked him to paint a large mural for me on my outside deck.  Not only did he do a wonderful job, but, while busily working (and covered in paint spatters),  we’d also had the opportunity to chat about life, the arts, and the tribulations of the heart.  He was someone who I was immediately comfortable with so, when he and his lovely lady stopped by to give me an invitation to an opening, I didn’t hesitate to say, “yes.”   I called a few friends to join me, set aside the night, threw on some of my nicer togs and off we went.

DSCF5022The gallery is located on the second floor of  the Forum Shops on the corner of Rafael DSCF5006Melgar and 10 norte.  But, before the official opening ceremonies began, there was a reception held in the D / Lounge, which has a lovely view overlooking the ocean.  Now, this is where I should mention that this was not a casual affair, no.  Very pretty people wearing very impressive ensembles were everywhere I looked.   Champagne was served, along with hors d’oeuvre, and the conversation was lively.  As I began to walk around and look at the art that was displayed in the lounge area I was happy to discover that I recognized quite a few of the other attendees.  So, hugs and kisses all around, it looked to be a good evening.

DSCF5018Now, I do want to mention that, although I will have some photos of just a few of the pieces on display,  I often will not include the frames.    That was just a personal choice on my part.  That said, there wasDSCF5019 quite an impressive display of work.  Much of it would be considered, by today’s definition, contemporary art  and included works in metal, watercolor, and acrylic along with digital designs, and lithographs.  All will continue to be on sale and all by local artists.  For informational purposes here are the names of the artists whose work will be available at the Bliss: Jose Luis Cuevas, José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Dr. Atl, Fernando Andriachi, Carlos Mérida, Francisco Corsas, Fidel Corpus, Minerva Marí, Laura Hoyo, Addy Bacelis, Eddy Escalante, Lucio Frias, Greg Dietrich, and Mariano Petit De Murat.

DSCF4994The reception lasted for about an hour and, I have to admit, it was a delightful change from my usual fare of flip-flop activities.  As a former academic, and a woman who was raised by a fatherDSCF5013 who enthusiastically supported the arts, I’ll be the first to say, I soaked it all in like a sponge.   I just walked around with my camera taking photos of folks who also seemed to relish the opportunity to dress a bit more elegantly, talk to friends, and all while sipping their chilled champagne under the light of the setting sun.  Yes, I wax poetic, but, bear with me,  it was just that lovely.  However, after a few moments more, Mariano let me know that we needed to meander across the hall to the gallery itself since it was time for the official ceremony to begin.

DSCF5046At this point there were dozens of people gathered to help the artists celebrate.   Some ofDSCF5053 the history of how the idea began was shared, the individual artists were introduced to the crowd, and then the ribbon was cut.  Applause broke out, cameras flashed, and the gallery was officially opened.

I maneuvered my way around to take a few more shots of different pieces.  I have to say, there is some serious talent on this island.  I don’t mean to sound surprised, I’ve seen many examples of DSCF5061creative thinking since I’ve moved here, but this was the first time I saw so much in one place.  The gallery itself is not large, but it is tastefully decorated with leather seating, strategic track lighting, and all surrounded by quite a diverse collection.  I can only hope that my little camera does them justice, but this is where I’ll suggest that folks go themselves to really see the works as they are meant to be seen, and appreciated.

Now, while I had been busily wandering around, I realized that I had abandoned my friends.  IDSCF5049 went to look for them and we agreed that it had been quite the night, but it was time to start for home.  I turned back to the gallery for another quick shot, held my camera up high and clicked.  Walking over to Mariano to say goodbye I saw DSCF5064that he was quite busy with other guests.  Catching his eye I waved ‘goodnight’ and began to go down the stairs.  Once out in the street I saw that it was yet another lovely evening on our little island.  And, as we headed down Melgar to get to my friends’ vehicle, I saw what would be my last shot of the night.  I can’t help myself, there’s just something about the ocean at dusk that assures me that moving to Cozumel was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  Whether it be a snorkel trip, traipsing through ruins, or attending a cultural event, this island continues to assure me that I’ll never be bored.  Salud!

p.s. here are just a few more shots of the night, it really was a lot of fun

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Residente Permanente, or how I got my green card

sunset chairsWell, it’s official.  I am now a permanent resident of the beautiful country of Mexico, and I have the card to prove it.  No longer will I have to make the annual trek to the immigration office with my passport in hand and my copies of copies.  No more sitting for tiny photos that make me look like I need to be holding up a card with a series of numbers.  No more fees to budget for, and no more fears that they just might change their minds this time and send me away.  I can now just sit back and relax.   But, before I go and do just that, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with the legal side of living in Mexico.  Who knows?  It could be helpful, or at least good for a laugh since I’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way.

I first moved to Mexico back in 2008.  I’d originally thought that Isla Mujeres would be the place for me.  It wasn’t, but that was purely a personal choice.  That island is lovely.  But, I was a single woman, traveling alone, and such a newbie that I think I wore a neon sign that read “please scam me.”  And let me tell you why I say that.  I’d been in the country for about four months, and my tourist visa was only going to be good for another two, so I needed to get started on the process of obtaining what was then called the FM3.  Just around that time I was sitting at a cafe one morning and met a lovely couple who began to talk with me.  Somehow the subject of applying for the FM3 came up and they suggested a guy they knew who did all the work for a great fee.  According to them he was wonderful and made the application process seem like a “walk in the park.”

Well, that certainly sounded good to me and I agreed to meet with him a few days later.  He was a lovely, well-spoken man.  Fluent in both English and Spanish, he proceeded to tell me all that I would need.  It sounded a tiny bit complicated, but he certainly seemed to know what he was talking about.  A few days later we met again and I had all the paperwork he’d asked for, and his fee.  I never saw that man again.  Nowadays, with all the technology of Blackberries etc. at our disposal, and all the information sites where one can ask questions, I don’t think that scam would work quite as well.  That is, unless you are anything like I was at that time,  naive, uninformed, and eager to please.

After that experience I looked around for someone who was recommended by a variety of folks from different DSCF4560areas on the island.  Once I met someone who’d been recommended by quite a few people, I then accompanied her to the immigration office in Cancun, checked to see how well she was known, and only after all that did I agree to make an appointment with her.  But, due to my former experience, and subsequent hesitations, the time had come to renew my tourist visa since it was about to expire.  So, once again listening to the well intended, off to Belize I went with just enough money to stay for a few days, get another stamp, and then return to Mexico.  I was savvy now, not to be messed with, and figured that if I didn’t have much money on me, then I couldn’t lose much.

So, I took the ADO bus to the border, grabbed a cab into Belize and, as soon as we crossed the border, I saw a hotel with a casino attached.  What luck!  I love to play the slots and, since I had to stay for two days anyway, it looked like a match made in heaven.  In my best, broken Spanglish I, once again, asked the taxi driver if I was, indeed, in Belize, he assured me I was, so I ate, drank, and gambled a bit until it was time to head back to the border two days later.  So, two days later, there I stood at the immigration checkpoint.  I hand them my passport only to discover, after much confusion due to my lack of language skills,  that I’d not actually been to Belize.  What?  No, I’d only been in the so-called “free zone,” which meant I hadn’t actually fulfilled the requirements.  I hadn’t gotten the necessary stamp.  Problem was, the new savvy me hadn’t brought enough cash to do anything about it.   I was out of options.   And that was when it all hit me.  My inability to communicate, my complete lack of street smarts, my total ineptitude caused me to do something I don’t like to do, ever.  I started to cry.  And, not just a couple of tears.  Nope, there I stood, holding up a long line of folks with their passports in hand, sobbing like the world was coming to an end.  The immigration officer just looked at me for a moment, grabbed my passport and stamped it, hard.  I got renewed for 180 days.  I’m thinking he would have given me longer if only to guarantee he wouldn’t have to see me again, ever.

Once back on the island of Isla Mujeres I gathered up the paperwork asked of me, gave my new representative half of her fee, and waited.  Over the course of the next six weeks I had to appear at immigration four times for questions, fingerprints, and various other requests that I’d thought I’d paid the rep for, but, finally, I was approved and received my little booklet.   Oh, and if it sounds like I’m complaining about a simple trip to a convenient location, let me mention that going to the office in Cancun took two hours of walking, taxis, and ferry rides one way just to stand among a crowd of people herded like so much cattle through a maze of lines. I swear it felt like I’d spent more time in their office than I’d spent in high school.  But, you see, they don’t have an office on Isla Mujeres, not enough traffic.  And, the total cost of everything, including the scam artist, the trip to the free zone, the rep, and my FM3?  $24,000 pesos.   It was a learning experience.  Sort of a trial by fire, if you will.

Now, if you are reading this and considering moving here, please note that the process has not only changed, it can be much easier and way less expensive.  First of all,  in those days you could simply come on a tourist visa, remain in the country, and then apply for the FM3 while still here.  And, that was great for the young girls who came, fell in love with the scuba master, and decided to chuck it all and never go back  (I’ve met a few of them, it happens).  However,  now, if you want to live here and have never done so,  you need to apply while still in your country of origin.  Let me repeat that.  Folks now need to apply in their country of origin for a “residente temporal” card before they can live here.  People visiting  still get a tourist visa, often good for 180 days, but then, if they want to live here,  they first have to go home to apply (so much for that spur of the moment decision).   Secondly, to save a lot of money, please get information and recommendations from reliable sources before spending a dime, or, in this case, a peso.  Let me recommend a few sites and a wonderful representative.   “Cozumel My Cozumel” is an online forum packed with information by the people who’ve seen it all and are DSCF4987willing to share their experiences.    “Cozumel 4 You” is a Facebook site that can be invaluable for any and all questions you might have that are, again, answered by those who know what they are talking about.  And, finally, Monica Sauza, that’s her on the left,  is the woman I worked with to obtain my permanent residency and she actually did make the process “a walk in the park.”     I’d learned about her on the forum, “Cozumel My Cozumel,” and I couldn’t be happier with the recommendation.  Here’s how easily the process went along, when working with someone who knows what they are doing, that is.

First Monica made me aware of the fact that the laws pertaining to expats and residency requirements had changed.  As of November 9, 2012, the old system of FM3 and FM2 cards had been abolished. Then she told me that it would be best if I applied for the permanent residency status since I had been here the required five years and had complied with all the old laws pertaining to my FM3.  For example, I had never filed for my renewal late so I had a “clean record” as far as immigration was concerned.  Next she explained that I needed to show that I was able to comply with the income requirements, although there are still a few gray areas, but that meant that I had to show six months of bank statements that proved I had the required income, or investments.  In addition to those  items I also needed  a letter from my landlord to verify my residency, a utility bill, passport sized photos, and the fees, which were $1,000 mx for the application, $3,815 mx for the card if approved, and her fee.  Add those items to copies of my passport and I was good to go.  Sounds like a lot, but it only took me a day, or so, to get it all together.

That was when we met at her house and chatted a bit.   What fun!  She’s a nice woman with a wealth of knowledge and a great sense of humor and she made me feel comfortable at once.  We sifted through my stuff, she made a few copies, I signed my letter of application, we talked some more and then she explained that it would take at least a couple of  weeks before I’d know if I was approved.  If so, then I would need to go to the immigration office so they could take my fingerprints.  Monica also made a point of  explaining to me that, if I needed to travel during the process, I had to let her know and I could not leave the country for more than 55 days.  It wouldn’t matter what the reason might be, if I was gone longer than 55 days they would rip up my paperwork and the process would have to start from scratch.  And that meant I would have to leave the country, go back to the U.S. and apply for a “residente temporal” card.  I assured her I wasn’t going anywhere, we talked a bit longer, and then I came back home.

DSCF4561About four weeks later Monica emailed me and told me the good news.  I’d been approved and all I needed to do was go to the immigration office for fingerprinting and then, about a week DSCF4563later, my card would be ready for pickup.  Off I went to the office, smudged my fingers, took some pics of the girls who helped me while there, and came back home.  Just like she said, about a  week later my card was ready for pickup.  Now, that was when it was raining here, and raining hard.  But, with an umbrella in hand I headed down to the office, wading in some water up to my ankles in a few places.  I wasn’t taking any chances that someone, somewhere, might change his mind.  Oh, and when I got the card I had to giggle.  Sure as heck, it’s green.  Being from the US, where the term “green card” has many implications, I’m thinking somebody has a sense of humor.

So, now it’s time to just sit back and relax.  I am  a permanent resident of this beautiful country and I couldn’t be happier.  To think just eighteen years ago is when I first set foot on the island of Cozumel for a vacation.  A lot has changed, but one thing certainly has not.  I still think this is one of the prettiest places I’ve ever seen, and now I can call it home for as long as I would like.  It just doesn’t get much better than that.  Salud!

p.s. I never receive compensation, but I do like to share good experiences.  Also, this is not meant to be an informational piece, only my experience.  If you have questions pertaining to immigration, please talk with an expert in Mexican Immigration, or check out an informational page online.