“Go Back to Where You Came From”

flower-wall.jpgWell, it’s the holiday season here on Cozumel, and I expect to be writing a few of my “fluff and stuff” blogs in the coming weeks.  I call them that because they are seldom about earth shattering events.  Just pleasant introductions to local businesses, cultural activities, local people, and our many, many fiestas.  I have had great experiences here and enjoy sharing them with everyone.  Oh, and the reason I do this is that I’m not one with lots of money to contribute to my favorite charities, this is my way of giving back to the island I call home.  Well, this and volunteering, but that’s just fun.   However, every once in a while I get an urge to write about topics that might be just a tad controversial.  I can’t help it, that used to be what I did for a living.  As a professor in composition and rhetoric, I chose assignments for my students that were based on inflammatory, topical events and we’d spend weeks discussing said events prior to putting them on paper.  It gave everyone a chance to air their opinions and hear opposing thoughts, all of which then encouraged the writings of well informed compositions.  It was a lot of fun and I miss it.  That said, as an expat I’ve got a bug up my butt about something and, before all the “fluff and stuff” begins, I thought I’d air it out.  I’ve heard all the sides to this argument, now it’s time to write a short, and informed, “composition.”

When I moved to Mexico I was aware that I was entering a different culture bg2.jpgwith different ideals, a different language, and different perspectives.  I think everyone who moves here is aware of that fact.  However, I wasn’t aware that moving to Mexico meant that I was required to become a saint, a zen Buddhist, or just plain numb.  I still get affected by many of the same issues that most humans do.  I don’t like to see animals abused, and, yes, I’m aware that happens everywhere.  I still get affected by teens on a rampage, and, yes, I’m aware that happens everywhere.  In fact, since moving to Mexico I still react badly to petty crime, burglaries, rapes, and murders.  And, yes, I’m aware that those occur everywhere too, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it!    And, finally, I also do not react well to inconveniences such as loud noises late at night, trash that has been torn up by animals just looking for food (both of those ideas bother me actually, so sue me), or drunken neighbors who cause me to feel threatened, or worried about going out of the house.  These are unpleasant circumstances that would bother me no matter where I lived.    My point?   The fact that these circumstances bother me is not because I’m an ungrateful expat who doesn’t know where she lives and needs to be reminded daily.   And, it does not give others, often folks who either don’t live here, or don’t know me,  the license to tell me to move!   Enough already!

cropped-dscf6526.jpgNow, before the opinions begin, yes I have Mexican friends.  Yes, I’ve spent time with them and will continue to do so.  You won’t hear me complaining when the banks are closed for days at a time, or that milk comes in boxes.  I’m okay with having Miracle Whip muled down, and I expect things to take longer.  I’ve lived through dengue, dehydration, and sun poisoning.  I’ve managed to get my residente permanente card, and my plan locale, both of which were great lessons in the fact that this is a different culture with different ways of doing things.  I use lime to get rid of ants, I know to use acido when cleaning my shower, and I throw all my toilet paper in waste baskets.  I will continue to learn Spanish, eat late at night, and attend a mass that I don’t understand much of because it’s the thought that counts.   And that’s what is most important, it’s the thought that counts.  I love this country, as do most of the expats I’ve come in contact with, but, like I’ve mentioned,  I’ve not yet become saintly, or zen. And I’m certainly not numb.  It’s just not going to happen, ever.

16So, to get to the end of this rant.  If I vent on an open page about an unpleasant experience, there is no need to tell me to move.  Why?  Well, first of all, if I was going to move I’d have done so by now, so that suggestion is just not helpful.  That’s the first thing.  But, more importantly, if I’m venting, that probably means that I’d like folks to give me some useful suggestions to help with the situation.  And I’d like those suggestions to be from folks who’ve lived here, have been through it, and know of what they speak.  I know how to move, I’ve done it already.   It’s living here I’d like some help with.  I may not be a saint, or zen, but I do want to live in peace (both online and in real life).  Salud!

An Island Mourns

“Learjet Crashes Off Florida Coast with 4 People Aboard”

We read headlines like this daily.  Whether we watch the evening news, use online networks, or still read newspapers, we are overcome with stories filled with personal tragedies and, since we are beset with such information so frequently,  our survivor skills kick in.  We turn the page, turn our heads, or turn away.  Until it is someone we know, until it’s personal.  Then we often wonder how the world can just keep going when someone we cared about so much is taken from us.  And that is what many on our island feel today.

That headline above was just that, it was personal..  There was no turning away this time.  There were four victims in that crash.  The pilots, Jose Galvan De Leo and Josue Buendia Moreno, and their passengers, Cozumel residents,  Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto and Nurse Mariana Gonzalez Inzunza.  They were on a medical flight that had just dropped off a patient in Florida and was heading back to Cozumel.  Within just a few minutes after takeoff  there was a “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” call from the pilots.  The plane crashed moments later less than a mile from the coast.   Two bodies were discovered shortly after the crash and a search continued for survivors both day and night for two more days.  Unfortunately, no survivors were found and our island mourns their loss.

cheyI did not have the pleasure of meeting Mariana, or either of the pilots, but I did know Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto, or Dr. Chey, as he was affectionately known.  At this time I’d like to share a few of my memories for no other reason other than to show why that headline is so personal, for so many of us.

I’d first heard about Dr. Chey from a friend.  She’d gone to see him for an allergic reaction, which he took care of, but she came back with yet another reaction.  She was absolutely in love with his methods.  Apparently he took quite a bit of time getting to know her, recorded all her information for future reference (not typical here in Mexico), and he was quite ahead of the times due to his knowledge, and use, of technology.  Since my friend is a bit of a techie herself, that impressed her, a lot.  But, there was some icing for the cake.  According to her he was quite the handsome man as well, which is always a silver lining when one is ill.

I didn’t need to see a doctor for some time after that, but I continued to hear such good things that I was almost wondering what I could come up with just to pay him a visit.  But, that wasn’t necessary after all.  Turned out that I started having my nightmares again, something I’d been dealing with for a few years, and it was suggested that I make an appointment.  I got the number, gave him a call, and he set up a time to see me the next morning.

His private office wasn’t particularly impressive.  In fact, it was located on a popular street for locals, but certainly not where the tourists tend to go.  The waiting room was quite small and I sat with a gentleman whose wife was in with the Dr..  I waited for almost an hour, but that turned out to be due to the fact she had been a local, and a  “walk-in,” and it was her first time in his office.  Dr. Chey didn’t rush anyone, he took his time.  But, he did apologize for the wait, gave me a smile, and then turned all his attention towards me.  He asked me what was wrong and he listened.  There was no shuffling of his desk papers, no phone calls, no turning to his computer.  He just listened.  Occasionally he’d ask a question, but he had such a calm, friendly manner that I had no problems answering them.  After about an hour he gave me his diagnosis and made some suggestions.  We talked a bit more, he joked a little, I laughed, and when I left I not only knew he’d be my personal care physician, but felt as if I’d made a friend as well.  And, his diagnosis was correct.  I’ve followed his instructions and haven’t had a nightmare since.

I’d seen him on several occasions after that one.  Two more times in his office where we both just sat back and chatted about the little things until I was comfortable and then we’d get to the business of how things were going.  He was thorough, kind, scary smart, and fun to be around, even when discussing uncomfortable issues.  One thing I have to mention, when speaking about uncomfortable issues, the last time I was in his office I asked him if he’d like to know what his nickname was with some of the ladies.  He said, with some hesitation, “okay.”   When I told him it was “Dr. Yummy,” he blushed, stared for a second, and then burst out laughing.  That’s a memory I’ll cherish.

I also had the opportunity to run into him several times outside of the office.  Always he would give me the island greeting of a kiss on the cheek, ask me how I was doing, and would chat with me a while.  That was just his way.  In fact, when he competed in the last Ironman competition (I was volunteering at the finish line) he still, although he must have been totally exhausted, stopped and gave me a quick island kiss, and asked me how I was.  Like I said, that was just his way.  And I also bragged to my friends that I got a kiss from Dr. Chey while he was dressed in spandex.  We’d laughed.

Now, I’d like to touch, briefly, on his many successes.  Although he was only 33 years old, he’d had many accomplishments both professionally and personally.  Dr. Chey had specialized in hyperbaric oxygen therapy, was going on for another degree in psychiatry, had a second office at the San Miguel Clinic, and had written numerous articles including one we all refer to that pertains to the tropical disease of dengue (ABCDs of Dengue), which is important information for residents of a tropical island.  In his personal life he had been married just over a year and was deeply in love with his wife,  Tichi Joaquin.  In fact, he used as his Facebook profile pic one of their wedding pictures and had another one displayed prominently in his office.  Dr. Chey also had many friends from all stations in life, and was involved in a variety of interests.   This was a man who had it all, but he made sure to give so much back.

But, enough words from me about Dr. Chey.  I’d like to include just a few entries of what has been written on our local Facebook pages over the last two days.  This first quote was written by my  friend, Myrna:

At moments like this, words tend to escape; however, there is so much to be said about a person like Chey, our dear Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto.
Larry and I feel both lucky and blessed for having known him; somehow he was a part of our lives. 
His enthusiasm for life, his passion for medicine, his dedication to his patients and his family, his sense of humor and integrity; his compassion, generosity and the kindness with which he used to treat everyone, equally, earned him the love, respect and admiration from all those that were fortunate to be under his care and/or enjoy his friendship.
Even though he has left an enormous void in our lives we cannot begin to comprehend how his mom, wife, brothers and all his family must feel at this moment.
To them, I say, his brief journey on this Earth was not in vain. His footprints will be engraved forever in our hearts. 
RIP, dear friend. We’ll miss you and remember you as long as we live.

These words were by another friend, Zazzu:

“It has been a shocking and intense day, one that many of us in Cozumel will not forget. The loss we feel hearing that our dear dr Chey was one of the four passengers on the plane that went down last night has rocked my world. Chey embodied so many of the qualities that I think we all aspire to…..he had great compassion, was intensely curious and passionate about his medical practice and completely committed to his patients, he was bright, interesting and interested, he was social, accessible and so very COOL...”

and, finally, when I asked another friend, Laura, what she thought about Dr. Chey her words were simply, “I loved him.”

So many of us did.  We’ve suffered a great loss on our little island.  My heart and prayers go out to the families of Dr. Fernando Senties Nieto, Mariana Gonzalez Inzunza, Jose Galvan De Lao, and Josue Buendia Moreno.  May God give you peace.

“He spoke well who said that graves are the footprints of angels.” ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Ramblings and Room Service

P1020917(1)(1)Many of my posts might give one the impression that all is paradise here on the island of Cozumel.  After all, I live where the palm trees sway, the beaches beckon, and the water is a sparkling clear turquoise.  But, why stop there?  Let’s not forget that the neighbors are friendly, the activities are endless, and the rent is cheap.  Put all these together and I can look someone dead in the eye and say, “yep, I live quite well.”   But, then there’s today.

We’ve had some rain over the past several months.  And, by rain, I’m talking P1020941(1) “end of days” kind of rain that causes streets to flood,  decks to sprout,  and books to curl.  Now, this is the tropics, which means there is supposed to be rain, a lot of it.  But, what I’ve noticed is that when it rains this much I have to make some adjustments.  Let me give you a few examples.

I have four dogs.  Turns out that having a lot of animals isn’t that unusual down here, especially among expats.  One of my gals (they’re all females) is old; 007somewhere between ten and “who knows,” according to her vet.  She is, typically, quite the lazy girl until it storms, like it is doing right now.  The constant moisture causes her old bones problems, which then leads to what I call her “rain walk.”   But, she suddenly becomes quite agile, in spite of her limp, when thunder is added to the mix.  She either rolls around in her bed, heads into the bathroom,  or just anxiously limps around in circles debating her choices.  I am now sitting on the floor with her head in my lap while I type this on a laptop that sits on a footstool.  First problem solved.

Now let’s talk about my doggie towels.  About two days ago we had a brief respite and I decided to take the towels off their beds and hang them outside in the sun.  It’s sort of a natural Febreze thing that works well.   Unfortunately, I didn’t get to them before all the rain started again.  As a result, the towels are soaked and their weight is causing the clothesline to lose it’s intent.  I’ve decided that, if it’s still raining tomorrow, and I have no reason to think otherwise,  I should just mix some detergent in water, pour it on them, and let nature be the rinse cycle.  Another problem solved.  What’s next?

Then there’s the problem with activities.  Accustomed to morning swims and afternoon bike rides I’ve had to come up with some other options.  But, after a while, I 009remembered that a friend had given me a yoga mat before she left the island.  I took it out, dusted it off, and started to stretch out.  However, I became immediately aware that yoga cannot be done with all these pups in the house and none of us were going outside.  So, I’m just going to consider our playtime on the mat, which was quite frantic due to their bottled up boredom, as my aerobic activity for the day.  I’m good with that.

But, after all that activity,  I got hungry.  I don’t have a vehicle so I’ve not been doing a lot of shopping since this all started.  It’s not as if I don’t have an umbrella, and I do live close to several stores, so I don’t really even have an excuse.  Still, that didn’t change the fact there was nothing here to eat.  That was when I remembered a new business that’s been started on the island.  It’s called “Room Service” and, from what I’d heard, they are good.

I looked up their Facebook page, got the number and gave them a call.  I was rehearsing my Spanish in my head while the phone rang.  And, the conversation did indeed begin in Spanish (I think), but the gentleman on the other end fairly quickly switched to English.  That’s not unusual.  Often the person I’m speaking with will switch over, but, at least on the phone I don’t have to see the pain I’m inflicting  while I’m butchering their language.  I do keep trying though.  I digress.

Carlos, the gentleman on the phone, told me that “yes” they would pick up a pizza for me.  He also told me that “yes” they’d pick up a couple of other things for me at Oxxo, which is a sort of 7/11 down here, and “yes,” they could also pick up my laundry while at my home and drop it off at my favorite laundry mat.  It all sounded expensive, but my wants and needs overcame any financial good sense.  I put the phone down and got ready for the long wait while checking to see I had enough cash in the house.  However, it turned out that neither of my assumptions about “Room Service” would be correct.

Not thirty minutes later I heard a honking outside my place.  “Nah, that can’t 016be them yet,” was my first thought.  But, there it was again.  Just to be sure I headed out to my deck and took a peek over the wall.  Sure enough, there was a young man on a moped with a bright yellow box on the back that read “Room Service.”  I waved, grabbed my money and a camera, snapped a pic and went downstairs.  He handed me my pizza, my bag of goodies from Oxxo, and a bill, and all with a smile.  I started smiling too, and for various reasons.  Not only is it nice to have stuff delivered, but by a friendly person, and it was ridiculously cheap.  Savvy businesswoman that I am I asked, “are you sure that’s enough?”  When he smiled and assured me it was I gave him a nice tip. Then he reminded me about my laundry.  Now, that’s service!

So, okay, it’s not quite the vision of paradise one sees in the brochures.  In fact, on a more serious note,  I’m truly hoping it all stops soon since many folks are being thoroughly inconvenienced due to flooding.  But, I just ate a hot pizza, drank a cold coke, and all while watching a movie from the floor surrounded by fur and drools.  Nope, not a picture perfect image, but it’s certainly good enough for me.  So, forget what I said earlier, I do live quite well, even on rainy days like today.  Salud!

p.s. I don’t receive compensation, and I don’t intend to promote, but I do like to pass along good experiences.  Also, thanks to the help from some friends, I now have a new blog page.  Let me know what you think, I welcome the feedback.

Punta Sur (and a perfect day)

011There is so much to do here on the island of Cozumel that it is sometimes difficult to choose an activity.  So, when someone else extends an invitation I am quite content for several reasons.  First of all, I’m happy I don’t have to make a decision and, secondly, I get to spend time with friends.  Yesterday I was invited to join a group of women to go to Punta Sur, which is an eco park on the south tip of the island.  Imagine lush jungles, crystal waters, soft breezes, and lots of laughter.   In fact, it was an absolutely perfect day!  And, since that’s not something I would say easily I’d better get started with the proof.

But, just before I take you to our version of paradise, let me tell you a perk we get when we live here.  As a local, we can apply for a “plan locale” card, which enables us to go to various sites on the island for free, and, yes, you read that right.  Since the powers that be assume we will give much back through our time living here (think food, housing, entertainment etc.) they let us apply for this card.  But, getting that card can be just a bit of a hassle, at least it was for this expat.  So, for those of you who might want to apply, let me make it easier for you.  The office is a large building on calle 30 and is almost next to the Pemex gas station on Benito Juarez.  Assume that, because I didn’t tell you the name of it, I’m not a journalist, but you can ask around.  Once there you will need copies of your Ultra Mar card, your residency card, a utility bill, and your passport.  It took me three trips.  But, I’m not complaining since yesterday was the first time I’d ever used it and the day more than made up for it.

015We rode in two vehicles that we filled with our snorkel gear, towels, a cooler for water, and us.  It’s a long ride to the other end of the island and, seemingly, longer over the bumpy, dusty road that leads back into the park, but the view is spectacular.  The road winds between the water and the foliage where you can see a lot of the local wildlife.  After about twenty minutes, or so, we were stopped at the gated entrance by the security guys who were both bilingual and quite friendly.  The cost for non-residents was 156 pesos, which is about 14 bucks usd and (it’s worth mentioning again) for us locals it was free, but they050 do check our cards carefully.   Once checked in you can head to the beach where Victor and Manuel will grab some hammocks for you so that you can laze under a protective screen while gazing at the waters.  I made a pest of myself with Victor since I wanted to learn how to tie hammocks to just ropes (no hooks here folks) and he laughingly, and patiently, worked with me.  I did, however, have to sit in the hammock I did all by myself, but, thankfully, I had a good teacher.

There are choices for food, drinks, and activities.  They have an “all you can eat” buffet that’s quite reasonable, or you can just grab snacks and drinks at the 107beach bar, which is what I did.  The whole day cost me less than 60 pesos (mostly because Tina wouldn’t let me contribute to gas, but I do want to say thanks again for the lift).   On the beach there is also a nice group of women who set up a canopy and cots for those who want to get a massage with the jungle behind them and the ocean in front.  Or, for those who are a bit more adventurous, there are kayaks available, a lagoon boat ride to see the crocodiles, nature paths that go through the jungle, a very long beach to walk on (in almost total isolation), and, of course, the ocean.  Our group opted for food, drinks, hammocks, walks, and snorkeling.

079The other ladies headed over to the buffet while I grabbed my camera to take some shots.  Off and on, it was a bit of a 039cloudy day, but that made it even better since there wasn’t always the hot sun to worry about.  I strolled along the beach for half an hour and, other than the wildlife, did not hear a single human sound.  I can’t explain how eerie that can be, at first, when realizing that there was no sound of traffic, no dogs barking, no people talking.  In other words, there was no “white noise,” only the sounds of the waves gently slapping the beach and the birds singing their songs in the jungle.  It was quite tranquil.

098Once I was completely serene,  I headed back to the hammocks, which remained my central point all day, to wait for the others.  I wanted to get a group shot while on the beach before we got into the water.  I was able to get that shot, took pics of others, and even got into one of the shots myself (ironically, I’m quite camera shy).  Once we were finished with the cameras we got out our snorkeling gear and headed down to the water.

Now, the picture on the left shows where we first swam to before leisurely floating down along the reef.  In the shot I was trying to capture a flag that was the marker.  086However, there was a bit of wave action and the flag kept going over.  So, to get an idea, if you look for the brightest shade just before getting to the darkest blue on the top of the pic, you’ll see where we went.  But, since I don’t have an underwater camera, these next shots were taken by a new friend, Robin.  She showed me a great little camera that she picked up in the states for about 50-60 bucks.  I’ll be getting one soon, you can believe that, but, in the meanwhile, thanks for these shots, Robin.

As you can see, this group of ladies are quite the enthusiastic bunch.  Whether posing for underwater shots, or maria underwaterjust plain hanging upside down to see something closer, we all made the most of our fish and fanstime.  And, here is where words might fail me.  It was simply beautiful.  Colorful fish, huge lobsters, flowing coral and swaying fans.  There was one scene that just took my breath away when I first saw it.  As luck would have it, the sun peeked back out for a moment and just off in the distance I saw dozens of sea fans gently swaying in the current with the sun highlighting their lacy patterns.  After my frantic call out to Robin to come over with her camera I just stayed in one place taking it all in.  I’ve honestly never seen anything quite that perfect before.

A little while later another friend showed me how to hang upside down so as to look into a small cavern to see a “big crab.”  It took me a couple of tries, but then I saw it.  “Big crab?”   That thing was huge!!  It was about five fishfeet away from me, tucked back into a corner, but when it reached its giant claw out a bit, I let out a scream, realized I was still hanging upside down and sprinted to the surface.  It was a little while before I did it again and, contrary to my friends’ urging, I don’t think I’m diver material, I’m such a woos.  But, of course I did, and the next time was when we got to see a group of very large lobsters.  Most of them were hiding behind one who looked big enough to feed an entire family.  But, I have to admit, I hope no-one ever catches him, he’s been around for a long while and it would be a shame for him to end up on a plate.  Yea, I’m getting soft in my old age.

girl underwater I’m not really sure how long we floated along.  Seemed like quite a while, but then it was time to head back into the beach.  We’d come quite a distance so there was going to be a walk back, but no-one was complaining.  But, I  suddenly turned into a little kid that didn’t want to leave yet.  Thankfully, Joey agreed to hang back with me a while and I took some more of it in.  Then, a bit later,  she spotted a stingray.  It was quite large and so elegant as it glided through the water.  All grace ended, however,  when it went to the bottom and dug for something to eat, the sand exploded around its focal point.  But, then it just hovered on the bottom while the wings rippled with the current so we lingered.  We also saw some rather large conch shells and were happy to note that they were alive and well, and not just discarded shells.  We just drifted along spotting this and that, but, as all things do, it had to come to an end and we headed to the beach.

After that we all walked back to our hammocks and just chatted.  Not everyone knew each other well and it was 109a great way to become friends.  Stories were told and laughter ensued.   For a while it felt like I was back in college and I relished every moment.  Then I wrapped myself up in my hammock and just listened, napped a few moments here and there, and got ready for the day to end.  But, there was one more thing to do.  Maria came over and asked if 115I wanted to get some shots of the Cozumel (pygmy) raccoons that were hanging around the backside of the buffet area.  So, off we went and I was able to grab some quick shots of the little guys.  Now, they weren’t quite in their natural habitat, but the jungle was merely a few feet away.  However, they seemed to prefer the underside of the building for their home.  It does provide shade, safety, and they can get food readily.  But, how I feel about that is a topic for another time. One cute guy came out and “hid” behind some gardening tools.  I think he really believed he was able to just peek an eye while staying hidden.  No matter, it made for a great shot.

Then it really was time to leave.  We packed everything up, loaded it all into the vehicles and took off for one last stop, the lighthouse.  A few of the gals still had enough energy to traipse the steps and get to the top, but most of us just sat, or walked around the area.  I really wanted a photo of the gals up top as they waved until I realized that I left my camera in a car that was locked, and it’s owner was one of those peeking down from the  top, oh well.  Once they were back down, however,  it was time for that one last shot.  This time, however, we handed a camera to someone else so we could all be in it.  And, yes, that includes me, I’m the one on the far right with the silly smile.  group with me smiling

So, yes, it really was quite the perfect day, and one I hope to repeat, at some point, down the road.  But, for now, I’m content to just get in my bed, turn on some music, and reminisce about flowing coral and waving fans.  It’s a good life!  So, with that said, here’s to Cozumel and good friends, may the two always go together.  Salud!

Here’s to Maria, Joey, Bonita, Brenda, Gail, Robin, and Tina for being such a great group to hang with!!