Cozumel Christmas Walkabout pt. 2

Well, we’re almost there!  And, it’s time for this expat to put down her blog and start wrapping a few presents.  But, before I do that, here are some last minute shots I took today while walking around our lovely island.   Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which is when most Mexicans celebrate Christmas, and it should be quite the party here on Cozumel for both the children and the adults.  Hopefully these pics will show you why.  It promises to be a merry little island  (oh, and the colorful hangings are piñatas for the kids to swing at, and the tin can mountain is Kloster beer). As for me?  Well, this expat will be offline until after January 1st.  Until then, may you and all your loved ones, have a safe and joyous holiday season.  See you next year!!   Salud!

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Tis’ the Season: precious gifts………….

IMG_3162 (2)Cozumel has so much to offer at any time, but this season is when it gets even better.  Just an hour ago I had the privilege, and honor, to meet some wonderful people  who seem to take their inspiration from the “Three Kings” themselves.  Nineteen folks who followed their hearts and their strong, faith-based convictions all the way from Texas to our little island to spend the holiday season.  And, while here,  they give the best gift of all, themselves.  But, before the photos begin, let me explain a bit more.

In the middle of the jungle there is an area called Las Fincas.  Although lovely, this is certainly not a IMG_3131 (2)tourist spot, you won’t find any resorts here, but you will find a house called La Esperanza.  A half-way house for recovering alcoholics and addicts.  But, I am using the term “house” quite loosely.  It is a plot of donated land with a sprinkling of cement structures, the insides of which are kept immaculately clean, by the way.  Here they live with tarps for windows, tin for roofs, and buckets for water.  It is in this place, however, that you will meet the nicest folks.  A couple by the names of Ken and BJ come to Cozumel annually and they give of their time, money, and labor to do mission work over the holidays.  This year they gathered seventeen more like-minded folk to pursue one of those missions, which is to help the folks at La Esperanza have a well for their water needs and a room with a floor.  If that doesn’t sound significant, well, wait until you see the rest of the photos below.

IMG_3106 (2)Now, after these few words of mine you will see photos of their land, structures, the volunteers (including locals), their lunch, and the abandoned dogs that these folks in recovery have decided could also use a bit of assistance.   Whole families are helping out the residents, as is a local architect (who is also volunteering for this cause), a local yoga instructor who donates the proceeds from some of her classes, and a local Christian gentleman who gives his all, all the time.  So, before I get to my next blog that will have lots of festive pics let me show you another side of Christmas,  maybe the best side there is, the giving of oneself.  Oh, and if you’d like to contribute to this cause yourself, please comment and I’ll let you know who you can contact.  Salud!

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Cozumel Christmas Walkabout pt. 1

IMG_2913 (2)There’s lots going on here on the island of Cozumel.  It is the Christmas week and there are so many things to see and do that it’s hard to pick a subject to talk about.  So, I’m just going to post some photos from last night with only a brief introduction so I can let the photos do most of the talking this time.   Last night I had the opportunity to see lots of kids, which always makes for a good season.  They were either dancing, skateboarding, playing in a street band, or in a high school orchestra, riding trikes, or holding daddy’s hand.  And, believe it or not,  it was all going on almost at the same time.  These shots were all within an hour of each other and could be enjoyed merely by walking from the Palacio park to el centro.  About six blocks of fun spent with some great folks.  Thanks for joining me, Kandy and Chuck, hope we can do that again!  In between all of that I thought maybe I should get a few pics of the holiday lights, but more will be in part 2.  So, Merry Christmas (pt. 1) from  the island of Cozumel.  Salud!

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Kelley’s Christmas for the Kids

IMG_2774Although Christmas is said to be celebrated on just one day a year, whoever said it had never been to Cozumel.  Yes, the parties are IMG_2874going, the libations are flowing, but, between you and me,  it’s the smiles of the children that really make this season memorable.  And that’s what I got to see yesterday, a whole lot of kids, who don’t normally have a lot to be happy about, spend their afternoon first eating and then smiling and then laughing with joy.  It was a lot of fun and I thought I’d share some moments with you.

Kelley’s Sports Bar and Grille, on calle 10, isn’t normally a place for the kiddies IMG_2880to hang out, but yesterday was certainly an exception.  A friend of mine had suggested we go down and watch folks hand out gifts to the underprivileged and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the day.  I was told that this is the eighth year that these folksIMG_2786 have done this.  As far as how it works, well, I only have a bit of information, but let me share what I do know.  It seems that names of island families that are impoverished are gathered from a variety of sources.  Then the children of those families are asked what they’d like for Christmas.  They get to pick one thing and then that list is given to the supporters of this cause, often patrons of Kelley’s, and the gifts are purchased.  Somewhere along the line it was suggested to keep the cost down to around 250 pesos, but I don’t think anyone listened to that suggestion.  Oh, and the host of this gig, Gene Kelley himself, can be seen in the pic on the right.  Kudos to you, Gene, for giving the kids, and their families, a nice meal and a day they won’t soon forget.

IMG_2830Santa was there, of course, as was his Cozumel side-kick, Candy Cane Corki.  Both are expats on the island and they give their all every Christmas by traveling around, distributing gifts and candy canes, and making children IMG_2799happy.  Once everyone had finished eating, Santa and Corki  sat in front of the Christmas tree and the list of names was called out one by one.  As the child’s name was called, he, or she, would come up, sit in Santa’s lap, receive some candy and their gift, and then everyone applauded.  Then the next child was called.  Considering the amount of children and requested gifts, it was remarkably well organized in spite of the happy chaos that ensued.

IMG_2822This expat was playing with a new camera (thanks to a IMG_2855sweet friend who agreed to let me purchase it and still eat, think payments), so I was just about as happy as most of the kiddies.  In fact, there was so much to photograph that I went through an entire 4 gig memory card in less than an hour.  How do you not take a picture of every single one as they sat, happily, most of the time, on Santa’s lap and received the very present they’d asked for?  The looks on their faces were priceless and I couldn’t stop smiling the rest of the day.   And, to point out a bit of a difference in cultures, although the children were flying everywhere,  their parents remained remarkably calm at all times.  This was not the kind of party I’ve photographed in the past, let me assure you of that.

IMG_2792As I’d mentioned, one by one they came up, with their mom, or dad, waiting patiently on the sidelines.  Candy Cane Corki would hand them some candy, Santa would pose for a pic for their family, and then one of the many volunteers would go and get their gifts.  Oh, almost forgot to mention, they all received a new pair of shoes as well.  And, yes, that was a necessary gift for these kids and was often appreciated as much as the IMG_2848IMG_2838barbie, or tricycle, or dollhouse.  The children would climb back down clutching their packages and grinning ear to ear.  What a way to remember the holiday.  Something else I noticed, although I didn’t take pictures of that, was that many of the volunteers would tear up during the exchange.  We’ve all seen how many of these families live and it is heartbreaking.  To see the joy on their faces was quite emotional for all involved.

IMG_2769For well over an hour the kids kept getting closer and closer to the front as they waited for their name to be called.  All around there were kids opening and playing IMG_2850with their toys, showing them to others, or patiently waiting in the group of empty chairs up front.  Kids were riding tricycles, dressing barbies, trying on shoes, it was a happy chaos.  And, yes, I find myself using that word “chaos” frequently as I write this, but, believe me, it fits, although in a very good way.  Due to that ongoing energy I don’t think any of them had problems getting to sleep last night.  They had to be exhausted, but happily so.  Well fed, a day out, a prized toy.  Yes, I think they all slept just fine.

IMG_2866A bit later I heard Gene, the host, tell a story.  He’d been riding his moped around on the pathways through the jungle, one day, and he’d noticed a ramshackle house with a blanket IMG_2833being used as a door.  Outside the house kids were playing in rags and bare feet.  He’d stopped his moped and waited until the mother would come out of the house.  It took a while, but when she did he spoke with her.  He invited her and her family to join him for some festivities.  The family has come back every year since and now each of the kids just wants to give him a hug whenever they see him.  I could see the emotion in his face as well, and that story helped me see why he continues to throw this special party.

IMG_2885After a few hours, though, families had left, and it was time for us to go as well.  My friend, Nelda, a participant since the beginning of this tradition, asked for her annual pic with Santa.  I obliged, of course.  After that I IMG_2887took a pic of Gene, his wife, Alma, and Santa.  It was a great way to end the afternoon.  We walked out to the parking lot,  still smiling, and headed back to Corpus Christi.  It was a day I won’t soon forget  either and was a wonderful way to remember the spirit of giving, especially to those who really need it.  After all, Christmas should be about two things, the birth of Jesus Christ, and the smiles of little children.  It may not be Christmas Day just yet, but I’m certainly in the spirit.  Salud!

p.s. I will be going out and about for pics of the Christmas lights at night, stay tuned to see how Cozumel does it up for the holiday season!  Happy Holidays!

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It’s beginning to look a lot like………….

037The holiday season has officially arrived on our island of Cozumel.  And, just like a kid, I’m getting excited.  We really do it up 046down here.  Cozumel puts up giant trees, street banner lights, nativity scenes, you name, we probably have it.  Not to mention some of the folks who really get into the season by decorating their homes with some super creativity.  Soon I hope to roam the streets taking pics of all the colorful displays, which, of course, I’ll share.  But, to kick things off, I thought I’d take you along with me to a great little party thrown by wonderful folks in their lovely home.  The view was spectacular, the food was quite tasty, and the friendships were abundantly clear.

Beverly and Peter were our hosts.  They have a great condo with a view of the ocean on one side, and the thick jungle on the022 other.  From their balcony you can see cruise ships and sailboats as well as all the activities that are happening on the main drag, which is Melgar.  The party was thrown for the 081mermaids, a group of us women who like to start off our days by swimming close to a mile in the ocean.  We start at the Blue Angel and swim in depths of 10 to 30 feet to a dock, chat a moment, then swim back.  Trust me, if you’re looking for a way to get your day going, it’s way better than coffee.  But, I still bring my mug along and sit for a bit after we get back.  This shared activity has led us to form some great friendships and we now find ourselves doing all sorts of things together.  This party was a great way to kick off the season.

Many of the mermaids also brought their men along, which made for a good-sized gathering.  Beverly had laid out quite a spread that 047041included three types of quiche, fruit, veggies, sweet rolls, candies.  It was a feast.  Peter made sure the coffee was brewing, mimosas were handy, and the good times began.  I just started to walk around with my camera capturing the moments.  At this point, people are familiar with my tactics and they all played along.  Yes, we have a few hams in the crowd, and certainly no-one seems shy.

After eating some food, talking with friends, exchanging some laughter, it was071 time to participate in what was called a “Chinese Gift Exchange.”  Now, I don’t know where the name came from, and I’m not going to worry about it, because it was nothing but hilarious.  Here’s the concept.  Those who participated brought a gift, a monetary limit was suggested so all who wanted could participate. 068 The gifts all went into a pile and everyone was given a number.  When your number was called you had the opportunity to either pick from the pile, or “steal” a gift someone else had already opened.  And that was when it got fun.  There were some great gifts, holiday coffee mugs, movie cards, a bracelet, an exotic cloth wrap, well, you get the idea.  And, they were all so nice that they all kept getting stolen.  You’d see someone clutching their gift because they didn’t want to lose it, but they’d lose it anyway.  One poor 054woman, who is the newest member of our group, had her gifts stolen five different times.  She was a great sport about it too, but that didn’t stop the laughter.  Oh, and the men who didn’t participate, just lined up along the walls and laughed along with us.  We provided great entertainment!

056After that it was time for pics and then goodbyes.  Everyone lined up for me, but I get bored with traditional shots.  I060 tend to start coaxing people to “do something, anything.”  I’m making odd gestures, and wiggling my body, and then they started getting silly too.  You would have thought we were a bunch of college girls, and that was the best part.  What a joy to be with good friends where you can act silly, let your hair down, and just have fun.  Between you and me?  I had tears, what fun!

029As all things do, however, we had to start saying our goodbyes.  And, for those of you who are familiar with the island ways, you just know that folks everywhere started kissing cheeks and giving hugs.  All offers to help Beverly put her home back together were refused so off we went with gifts in hand and last-minute conversational tidbits.  It was an even better way to start the day than swimming, who knew?  Still, once the weather clears up we’ll all be back in the waters again.

If you’ve never been to Cozumel over the holidays, let me suggest that you try to do it sometime.  In my humble opinion, I think it should be on everyone’s bucket list.  The sun is warm, the beaches are beautiful so it might not seem to be the traditional way to spend the holidays.  But, what we lack in snow, we more than make up for in so many, many other ways. Thanks again, Beverly and Peter, for helping us to get this season started.  Salud!

p.s. I’ll be getting some pics of a great little holiday tradition with Candy Cane Corki, Santa, and a bunch of happy kiddies, as well as some shots of our festive displays.  Hope to see you soon.  Happy Holidays!

Our Community, Our Family

girl underwaterI’ve not written in a while due to being ill.  And, yes, I’m sick again.  It appears I’m to become the poster child for tropical diseases.  So far, this year,  I’ve had dengue, sun poisoning, and now parasites. Got worms?  But, this little piece is not going to be a “blow by blow” description of my current status.  Believe me, nobody wants that!  Instead, it is going to be about the community that we have here on Cozumel.  A community like no other I’ve ever come across, or even knew could still exist in these often harsh times.  Let me give you a few examples.  Oh, and I’ll be digging in the archives for some photos of our island to go along with this since I’ve not had the opportunity to take any lately.  But, I’ll have some fresh ones for you soon, that’s a promise.  Okay, back to the examples.

I’ve lived here for almost two years now and in just that short a time period 115I’ve had the opportunity to get involved with some nice folks.  Whether it be swimming, having coffee, riding bikes, eating dinner, or volunteering, I’ve been able to make some great friends.  But, it wasn’t until I got sick again that I realized just how special the people here are, even when the chips are down.

In the last two weeks my mailbox has been flooded.  Folks want to know where I’ve been, if I’m alright, or if there is anything they 039can do.  People have offered to walk my dogs, get me food, pick up meds, you name it.  I’ve been given phone numbers of doctors, names and prices of alternative medications, and have been offered rides more times than I have fingers to count.  Now, I could imagine this happening if I was a celebrity of some sort, but, I’m not.  I could imagine folks offering help if there was something they’d want in return. But, they don’t.  In more ways than I can tell you, the people on this island have helped me through these last few weeks.  And they all did it with a smile and a request that I contact them if I needed “anything.”

Now, I’ve had the opportunity to sit and try to figure this out.  In fact, I’ve 097been in bed so long I think my butt has changed shape.  Is it because we’re an island and remote?  But, nope, we’re not that remote, at least not these days.  Or, maybe it’s because there is a special bond between people who move to another country?  But, again, no, the locals who were born here do the same things. Is it something in the water, perhaps?  Well, there might be something in the tap water, but I don’t think it causes folks to have big hearts.  In other words,   no matter what my writer’s imagination comes up with, I keep going back to the thought that it’s because we aren’t just a community, we’re a family.

DSCF6352So, with that in mind I started watching the messages that go back and forth on our local, online sites.  Someone asked about a place to eat.  Suggestions poured in.  Someone else had a refrigerator that needed to be fixed.  Numbers of local repairmen were offered and ideas were exchanged.  A woman was looking for a photographer, a man was looking for a home, and both of them got answers.  Someone lost their dog and many shared the pic of that dog on their own pages.  The dog was found.  The examples of good people wanting to do good things can be seen here daily.  Whether it’s through volunteering, helping a sick friend, or just plain listening, the folks here make themselves available.

Now,  just like a family, we have our squabbles too.  We don’t all share the DSCF4617same world views, not by a long shot.  Our politics, tastes, and interests vary, sometimes drastically.  If you ever wonder about that, again let me suggest you  take a peek at our online sites.  We’ve got some strong personalities here, and that’s a good thing.  Life could get very boring otherwise.  But, when all is said and done, I haven’t met a person yet who wouldn’t  try to help out another.  In spite of all my world weary practice, my cynicism is melting.

view-ba-2.jpgSo, here I sit, almost finished with my latest disease, and I can’t wait to get out and about.  There’s so much to do. You see, it’s the holiday season and all the lights are up, all the parties are planned, and I have a very big family to visit.  Salud!

p.s.  The painting of the boy in the hammock is called “Teodoro” by Sarah Pritchett, and she has other great pieces on display at El Coffee on calle 3, between Melgar and 5th.  The photo on top of this piece of the woman underwater was taken by Robin Fore Fite.  Thanks ladies!

And, finally, I’ll be bringing some of the holiday highlights to you soon!  Hope to see you here!