Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Entry #17

Week of December 11th to 21st

Sunday December 11th
Sunny day--roof top pool at Condo Las Palmas, Calle 26 between La Quinta & Avenida 10.

Monday December 12th
o Thursday December 15th
Beach Days-El Tukan or
Mamitas Beach Club

Friday December 16th to Monday December 19th

When we woke up it was raining, and had been raining all night. There were deep puddles at the corner of Avenida 10 and calle 26. Today we were leaving for three nights at Posada Margherita on the Tulum beach --about 5 km south of the ruins. With any luck, the weather would be different in Tulum. It was about 60 miles away.

We took the 11 am bus from the bus station on 5th & Juarez. The cost for two was 40 pesos! About half way there the sun was breaking through the clouds and we were feeling optimistic about the weather. In Tulum we took a taxi to the hotel which was located on a more isolated stretch of the Boca Paile road.

When Gordon was researching hotels in the area, he had narrowed it down to two: Piedra Escondida and Posada Margherita. Piedra Escondida was one hotel amid a cluster of bars, stores and about ten other small hotels. The beach there was narrower and perhaps rockier. He chose Posada Margherita because the beach was stunning and it was in a quieter location. In addition, it was an eco-resort, with solar-generated electricity for lighting and hot water. If we wanted to go to another restaurant like Zamas' or Piedra Escondida's we could walk there. They were only about 10 minutes away.

Our room at Posada Margherita was on the upper level and it had a large balcony. There was a king size bed in the main room with large French doors to the balcony.
There was a twin bed in an alcove with a large window and I used it at night as a reading corner. There were two hanging light fixtures in the room but no outlets. If we needed to recharge anything it could be done at the office. The room was decorated with original art by a local painter and some other African or Polynesian pieces. At night the grounds were illuminated by large candles--some three feet tall. While we were at dinner, one of the owners lit the candles in our room. It was romantic and relaxing. Everyone there spoke in low voices or whispers. No one smoked.
The music was provided by An iPod connected to a Bose speaker system, and the selection was eclectic, international and always interesting.
The hotel was owned by four Italians who designed and built it about 18 months ago. They were the hosts as well as the chefs. With their Mayan cooks, they were in the kitchen at 6am preparing the day's fresh pastas and foccacia. Fish and shellfish were delivered by fishermen during the morning.
The lunch and dinner menu was simple: fresh pasta, two or three kinds, prepared with any combination of olive oil & garlic, vegetables or seafood; there was fish grilled or steamed in salt water; there was grilled shrimp and lobster. Every meal was preceded by a wooded tray of appetizers: 2 each of the 4 different kinds of
foccacia, a couple slices of hard cheese, a small bowl of spicy black olives and another of pistachios. Three white wines and three reds were available, as well as traditional and national mixed drinks and several brands of beer. Dessert was either "chocolate sausage" with vanilla ice cream or lemon or raspberry tart. The coffee was excellent.

We had sun and generally clear skies every day in Tulum, the last day being the calmest and clearest. The sea was smooth and the waves small. Swimming was easy and we would often be the only ones in the water as far as the eye could see in either direction. One could really relax in a place like this--a world away from the commercialism and frantic crush of Playa del Carmen.

We ate well and were served with subtle attention. Every day around noon, one of the staff, as a courtesy, served us a fresh fruit smoothie or a tray of sliced fruit to enjoy under the palapa. Every aspect of the hotel was agreeable and met our expectations. If only we could afford to stay there for more than three days at low season rates! The day we left, their rates more than doubled for the Christmas-New Year high season.

Monday December 19th and Tuesday December 20th
When we arrived back in Playa del Carmen it was raining heavily off and on. We read, went food shopping, checked email and drank coffee in cafes
. Dinner Monday was at Babes2 and on Tuesday I prepared at home fresh shrimp in garlic. I finished another book--Chronicles: part 1 by Bob Dylan. In Tulum I had finished Magical Thinking by Augusten Burroughs. I am averaging more about 2 books a week---one important measure of a good vacation.

Wednesday December 21
The weather has unexpectedly cleared. It was supposed to be another rainy day but the sun is out and it is only a little cloudy. We will skip the beach today and get the sun up on the roof at the pool. Then it is over to the Internet cafe to download pictures to my Yahoo albums and update this blog.

Entry #16

Week of Dec 5th to 10th
Tuesday, December 6th
I was awake at 645 and decided that it was time to soak my sore feet in salt water. Getting there around 845, I had my pick of El Tukan Beach Club palapas and selected one at the far southern end of their area near the dive shop. There would be fewer people walking past and it had an unobstructed view of the water at the top of a small rise of sand that caught a nice breeze from the ocean. I had everything I needed for the day: a clear, sunny sky, and a good book:
Small Island by Andrea Levy.

Thursday December 8th

Like Tuesday and Wednesday, I was up early and at the beach before 9am. At Mamitas Beach Club adjacent to El Tukan, construction
continued on the new facilities. Mamitas was almost destroyed by Hurricane Wilma, and the new buildings were going to be bigger and nicer than the old ones. Sawing, hammering and drilling went on all day but I didn't mind. At El Tukan, the only thing that eventually did bother me was the lip-syncing mariachi who arrived in the afternoon. That was my signal to leave.
Then I went to Cafe Corazon,
but I could not get a signal at all. I went to another internet cafe--Ah Cacao--a few blocks away and could not connect on their wireless network either, so I tried to adjust my settings. That was a bad idea because I only succeeded in completely messing up my settings and as a result could not connect with Cafe Corazon's network when it was back online. I gave up and decided to try to reach my school's IT expert in the morning. He would surely get me back online.

Friday December 9th
Yesterday my heel felt really sore-must have had some sand in the wound. So today I decided to stick around the condo and
save the beach for Saturday morning. I also wanted to solve the problem with my wireless access, which I messed up last night trying to get on the network at Ah Cacao. From a nearby Internet Cafe I sent our IT expert an email and we went back and forth until the settings were re-established as they were before . I went back to Cafe Corazon to make sure it was ok and spent almost 2 hours sitting there in the Ole bar area working on downloading pictures to my latest blog entry. Then around 1:30 I went back to the condo, put on my bathing suit and went to the roof, had a dip in the pool and then sat in the sun for about an hour. around 3pm I took a walk to the new Wal-Mart and bought sunscreen, lens solution and some other things. On the way back I checked email and called Gordon (50 pesos). I used 15 min out of the 10 hours I bought (9h.45min. remaining).
Back at the condo I watched
Almost Famous not remembering much of it at all. It has a great soundtrack and a good story. Then around 6:30 I went out for dinner. At Sazon I had enchiladas mole(68); they were filled with moist white meat, very tasty- spicy but also chocolatey as it should be. And beer was only 15 pesos. I'll go to Cafe Corazon later to check msn & email.
Sitting at Cafe Corazon, after dinner, I could not get an internet signal. But I watched the lights in the sky just to the south. It looked like two searchlights, but where are they coming from? There was nothing to the north, just in that one part of the sky. Could it just be moonlight behind the shifting clouds? It reminded me of Northern Lights.

Saturday, December 10th
Gordon would be arriving today!
I decided not to go to the beach; instead I went up to the rooftop pool. It was a beautiful day, and I had a comfortable chair and umbrella. The family across the hall was packing up to go home and gave me all their unused food. There were nachos, condiments, limes, cereal, two jars of jam, two large packages of cheese, juices, and even some coconut rum! It was so nice of them! I expected Gordon, whose flight was due to land at 11:45, to arrive after 2pm, and started to get anxious when he hadn't
arrived by 3pm.

He was bringing me a new suitcase since the one I had was damaged in transit to Mexico in October. I am sure it was abused by the baggage handlers in Chicago. The stitching of the zipper was ripped out in three places and I was afraid that the whole bag would burst open on my way to Cancun. I had searched all over San Miguel for duct tape and found some "DUCKED TAPE" in a paper shop in Plaza Civica. I also brought the suitcase to a luggage shop on Calle San Francisco. It was impossible to replace the zipper but the owner stitched the zipper closed so that the lid would only open two-thirds of the way around.
Gordon was bringing two suitcases---one inside the other.
Did his checked luggage get lost? Is that why he was late? I realized that he would have to wait to go through customs. Sometimes that took us an hour in the past! And then he'd have to wait to get the collectivo to Playa del Carmen. On December 3rd I had to wait over a half hour for one when I arrived in Cancun.

At 3:10 I was sitting on our balcony when I heard a familiar whistle--one we used to call the cat at the cottage. "Where was that sound coming from?" I thought. I looked down the street in the direction from which I expected Gordon to come. There was no one there; then I heard the whistle again from the other direction. There he was!

He had worried also that the checked luggage would be lost. He saw a young couple at the airport baggage area looking so forlorn, as they watched the bags go around on the carousel. Where would he even go to report a lost bag in the Cancun Airport? But to his surprise, his bag was first off the plane! That was probably because his Montreal-Toronto flight was late arriving and the departure of the Toronto-Cancun flight was delayed because the pilot waited for late bags to be loaded. Gordon's bag was probably the last bag loaded on the flight. So he was really relieved to arrive without any problem and was happy to see how nicely I had prepared the condo for him.
Now our holiday could really start.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Entry #15

Week of November 28th to December 4th, 2005

Monday November 28
Movie: MUNNA BHAI ... a Bollywood film about a Bombay gangster whose parents think he is a doctor. When the parents make their yearly visit, mobsters become actors playing patients and hospital staff and the gang's headquarters is transformed into a clinic. There is a quaint innocence about Indian films; it's almost as if they were made in the 1950s because of their attitudes about sex and family values. In this film, the very adult (30+) son is devastated to see his disappointed father cry, so much so that he cheats his way into medical school. Many of the situations are silly but other scenes are surprisingly poignant. Oh, the song and dance numbers are very strange too--- like a Bombay Grease. Another thing, American actor Jeffrey Tambour has an identical twin in Dr. Asantha, Munna Bhai's nemesis.

Tuesday November 29
5pm: Documentary film: "EL INMIGRANTE" directed by John and David Eckenrode and John Sheedy who was in attendance to answer questions after the film. The family of murdered immigrant Eusebio de Haro was also in the audience. Viewing the film in public must have been very painful for them. Many audience members expressed their sympathy to the family.
The following is the synopsis from the film's web site:

"EL INMIGRANTE is a documentary film that examines the Mexican and American border crisis by telling the story of Eusebio de Haro a young Mexican migrant who was shot and killed during one of his journeys north. The film presents a distinct humanitarian focus in which story and character take precedent over policy and empiricism. Towards this end “El Inmigrante” examines the perspectives of a diverse cast of players in this border narrative. A cast which includes the de Haro family, the community of Brackettville, Texas–where Eusebio was shot, members of vigilante border militias in Arizona, the horseback border patrol in El Paso, and migrants en route to an uncertain future in the United States."

This was a powerful examination of just one case. There are
hundreds of stories that end tragically for Mexicans who want to work and provide for their families doing the jobs that Americans cannot or will not do. The Mexican government is complicit in these deaths because it abdicates its responsibility to provide the basic necessities to its citizens. It should be providing jobs in Mexico, a country rich in natural resources and people who have a strong work ethic. The campo is in dire need of better irrigation and potable water supplies. There is astounding wealth alongside dire poverty in Mexico. Yet those who can easily afford to pay property taxes do not have a tax bill comparable to anything in Canada or the US. On one property in San Miguel that could be valued easily at 1 million dollars US, the yearly tax bill probably does not even come close to $500. For more information about this film, go to:

Afterwards, I had dinner at Casablanca, Hidalgo 34, with friends.

Wednesday November 30
Today was the final day for Jewelry and Spanish classes.
I confirmed my flights and taxi pick-up.
I went back to Abelardo Gill’s jewelry store on Codo to buy a pair of the Danzantes earrings I saw him make last week. He used a wax cast I think but I also saw him take them out of the dirt container that we used for molten silver. This was @ 530, after I confirmed my taxi reservation—which will be for 6am Saturday.

I walked around and took pictures of the many odd or beautiful things I passed by every day like the ancient gas pump outside a general store across from a church, and the new casa being built on Aldama with the optical-illusion window. Then there are the Tourist police in their pale blue jackets riding their beautiful horses. I heard them every morning coming down Cuesta San Jose and every night returning to their stables which were located higher up the hill near the prison I guess. In an antiques store I found a very weird, giant niche: a life-size Christ in a box surrounded by milagros and other mementos.
There was also a house on my way to the Instituto that had a very odd collection of icons, planters and statuary...much of it religious, but a real odd assortment of things to look at. The photo is attached here too.

Thursay December 1
Overnight, poinsettias have appeared everywhere: in the Jardin, Plaza Civica, and elsewhere. El Groupo Ecologica have been busy in the middle of the night.

I am also sure that when I arrived in October, there were very few street wastebaskets, except for those in the Parks. Now I notice them on street corners everywhere, fixed to lampposts and electric poles.

From the first day I arrived, I was struck by how clean San Miguel is. There is no street litter, and graffiti is rare.
It is so much cleaner than Montreal; it makes me ashamed of Montreal’s condition. It used to be cleaner than NYC; now the reverse is probably true, the result of poor city management.

In the morning shopkeepers wash the sidewalks in front of their stores with soapy water. Although this presents a hazard to some pedestrians who slip on the slick wet stones, it keeps the city clean because this street washing happens everywhere. The sanitation trucks are labelled “Ecologico” which is a more positive name for the job that is done. The workers all wear vests or jackets that read: “Juntos somos fortes” which means: “Together we are strong”.
My impression that San Miguel is cleaner than Montreal is made stronger every day.

There are a lot of old people limping, blind with canes, touching the walls of buildings as they pass by. This is a difficult place to walk if you have a disability or even a sprained ankle. I have seen more pregnant women in one month than I have seen in a few years in Montreal. The newborns or infants are wrapped in blankets and are carried in the street as silent, oblong bundles…not crying, just lying inert. They are so bundled up that you never see the babies' faces hidden behind the blankets.

The beggars all seem to be elderly women who sit or sleep with their palms up…or women with small children or infants. They sit on the street and call out you as you pass. Sometimes they touch your pant leg or skirt…. There is no social welfare in Mexico, only the charity of the church or families. There are about 80 different charities organized and supported by gringos in San Miguel, many of them helping young women to get an education, girl orphans, children in need of dental work, children with developmental disabilities…. There is a group for every interest. That is how the rich gringos pay back this beautiful and hospitable community.

I went to the Jardin @ 10am, had breakfast at Mama Mia’s: "Mexican Breakfast" with chilaquiles & salsa verde, con café, fruta and bread/jam for 54 pesos. The courtyard was pleasant and there were heaters to get rid of the morning chill. There was a table of six Texans, one of whom was talking about his casa and changing all the locks. There were two Mexican businessmen talking to each other, eating, then talking into their cell phones. One of them (maybe both) was talking into TWO cell phones simultaneously! The place seemed to be run /owned by a woman who sat at the back having breakfast and using an adding machine, and her cell phone. Signs of success are everywhere.
Afterwards I walked back to the Jardin, then down Cuna de Allende to look in jewelry stores;
a woman on the other side of the street asked if I spoke English and when I replied she asked if I knew where the massage spa was located. I gave her directions to the place I thought she wanted. We chatted a bit; she was from New Jersey—Westfield actually and knew
Bernardsville…. I was 7 when I was in Westfield last.
Then I walked down to Zacateras looking for Elite Spa Lounge where I was planning to get a pedicure. I did not have to wait although I did not have an appointment. The left foot was done without incident, but the esthetician no sooner started the right foot when I felt a cut on my heel. I pulled away and saw BLOOD, lots of it. My old fear of being cut by the foot scraper was now a reality. The wound was deep but clean. There was no first aid kit and tissues substituted for bandages. One of the women used a cotton pad dipped in purple salon disinfectant on my foot. I was not impressed. There should have been a first aid kit. The owner, Amber, offered to put an onion on it—old local remedy but I asked to see a doctor. She took me in her car to the Hospital de la Fe on the west side of town off the Perifico. I was seen immediately and the worst part was the disinfection and cleaning with a very strong substance that stung then numbed my foot. The doctor bandaged me up and gave Amber a prescription for a healing cream and more bandages, which she purchased at a pharmacy. She paid the hospital bill too.

She drove me back to the salon where Amber painted my toenails herself. I was not in actual pain, although I knew it would hurt to walk. I called Judy and told her I would not be able to meet her because of the injury. We agreed to keep in touch by email and she wished me well. I also called Leslie and left a message. I had met her on the Sierra Gorda trip and said I’d email her some photos, maybe have dinner with her today. Now that was cancelled too. I still have to email her the pics.

 I took a cab home, hobbled up the stairs, and stayed in for the next 24 hours. I was down to the last can of tuna, 5 pieces of bread, some cheese, cereal and some papaya. And 3 eggs.

Friday December 2
Because of my wounded right foot, I stayed in, made my own breakfast—2 eggs, toast, coffee and tomato juice. I packed some more, did some laundry after the sun came out later. When I woke it looked like it might rain! It was very cloudy and humid. But there was no rain, and the wash was on the line around 11am.
When it was all dry I packed up the last items and started to think about the evening. I was invited to drop by to say goodbye to Therese and Jim, so I did that @ 5pm. Jim brought my suitcase down to the front door area, so it would be easy to get it out at 6am. After leaving them I headed down to the Jardin, getting a taxi before I reached Calle Aparicio. I bought the new edition of
Atencion, and saw Harvey. I went to say hello and he introduced me, as was his fashion, to two other people: Jan and Aldo. Aldo was able to tell me where to buy band-aids: at Chello’s pharmacia on Calle Canal just near the corner of Hernandez Macias. Off I went saying that I would see them all later at the photography opening of Carl Lumholtz’s work at Bellas Artes, but I needed to eat dinner first. I ended up at La Grotta, where I ordered a pizza with spinach and fresh tomatoes and a glass of red wine. I really should not have eaten anything since the food at Bellas Artes looked plentiful and good—empanadas, wine, etc. Also, I was headed to Irene’s housewarming party after Bellas Artes. I bought her some flowers. I could only drink water at Irene’s. She had a beautiful spread of food: sliced salmon, dip cheeses, and more. I missed some nice treats that night! I stayed at the party till 940 then walked up Insurgentes a bit before I got a taxi. I was in the door @ 10pm, and on MSN soon after.

Saturday December 3
6:10 am From the living room balcony I saw the van drive up the block but it kept on going past the house and up Cuesta San Jose. I shut the window, turned off the lights and hurried down to the front door. I pulled my bags so that the door would not shut behind me with my bags inside. I stepped down onto the sidewalk but missed the bottom little step and felt my left foot give out beneath me. I crumpled to the street and actually rolled down hill two turns before I got myself up and thought, “What have I done to my ankle!?” The van came back down the street and the driver loaded my two bags into the back. I was rubbing my sore ankle and worrying….”Is it broken? Is it just a sprain? How will I get around today? And my other foot is still sore too!!!!!”

On the ride to Leon Airport I sat up front and massaged my ankle, keeping it as elevated as possible and trying to move it around gently. I am sure that the support socks I had on saved it from being a worse injury. The sock was tight and gave my ankle support when I really needed it. It hurt to move it in certain directions but I could stand on it and walk slowly. As long as it didin't swell up and become more painful, I knew I’d be ok.

There is wireless access in the airport but I would have to get a special Ladatel Movil card. I looked around for a place to buy it but I found nothing.However, I did find a place in the waiting room to lie down. I was the only one there until about thirty minutes before boarding time. I slept off and on. I found a place to get a sandwich and coffee. We boarded on time and took off on time. The one hour flight was perfect. My foot felt swollen but the support sock was holding it together. I took two Advil and hoped it was not broken.

Waiting in the Mexico DF airport seemed long. The departure board was annoying---the flight numbers kept moving up and getting out of sequence with the destinations and carriers. Finally my flight was given a gate and it boarded on time. The two hours were pleasant enough because I had a row to myself. It might have been the only row like it on the whole flight.
In Cancun, I paid for the collectivo—180pesos—and found the GreenLine minivan outside. But we were only four going to Playa del Carmen, so we and our luggage were crammed into a taxi; the trunk was tied with a bunge cord. I removed my pack from the trunk because I saw how the driver was shoving things in to fit. My laptop is too fragile to withstand that treatment! So I put it beside my legs in the backseat and my poor left leg is jammed against that of the person beside me. We could not move an inch for 45 minutes.

I was finally dropped off in front of the condo @ 6pm. Jose the manager greeted me and took me upstairs to the condo. I unpacked and by 7pm I was ready to go to the internet place where I could phone Gordon. We chatted for what seemed like thirty minutes…for 34 pesos (I think). He will call my mother and Zyanna.

Then I went in search of food and drink, ending up at El Oasis where I had three shrimp and one fish taco, and two coronas. I wrote notes on paper napkins and gave a few kids some pesos for serenading me with their Christmas songs.

Sunday December 4
Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Time to sleep in, relax in the sun, swim, read, walk on
flat land. This is the rest after the vacation.
I had my first breakfast at
Sazon close by—actually right beside La Vagabunda. I looked at the menu last night. I had chilaquiles con salsa verde y pollo for 49 pesos.. It came with toast and three different homemade jams: plum, coconut and orange/lemon. The main order was HUGE! and not too spicy either-- creamy with sour cream sauce and grated cheese and chicken—all breast meat-- excellent quality. Black tea (I had had coffee back in the condo earlier) with refill…
My ankle is swollen after walking on it a bit this morning. It looked almost normal when I woke. I had kept it elevated all night. Two Advil relieved any aches. I need to buy an ice pack and use the old bandage to tape it up. I looked up "sprained ankle" on the internet and discovered that the therapy is R.I.C.E= Rest, ice, compression and elevation for the first 48 to 72 hours. I am doing all of that now, although the travel day delayed some of it. I had kept it elevated at the airport while I was waiting for 4 hours. And the sock kept it compressed.
Ice was missing but I used it Saturday night. It could take 4-6 weeks to heal completely—what a bummer. I hope it doesn’t prevent me from swimming or snorkelling.

Back at the condo, I went up to check out the pool. The area for chairs and lounges was larger than I expected and I found a table with an umbrella and a lounge. I soaked my sore ankle in the pool and then elevated it on the table. I started reading My Life as a Fake by Peter Carey and immediately liked it. There are laugh-out-loud passages from chapter one.
Around 5pm I went out to the internet/phone place to call Gordon. I told him about the right foot being injured earlier and maybe the reason I lost my balance on Saturday morning. This call was pricier-78 pesos…I don’t know why…I bought a 20-hour pass for 160 pesos, thinking that wireless hot spots were few in the north end. To my surprise I stopped to look at a sushi menu and saw a woman (the boss) online wirelessly. I ordered sushi and sat down at a table and took out my laptop. Immediately I had 4 choices for connecting!
Babe’s2 is across the street, but closed Sunday. I hope I get a signal there on Monday.
Sushi Maki with shrimp, California roll 49pesos and 2 coronas= 99 pesos +10 pesos tip. Plus FREE INTERNET thanks to Café Corazon.

Monday December 5th
Breakfast #2 at La Vagabunda—Yukatak style…2-3 eggs, on top of chilaquiles with green sauce I think. Yummmm. Includes OJ, coffee and 2 tortillas & 2 pieces of toast with jam and butter. Coffee refill…while I read and took notes…. Breakfast =45pesos.
A trio of musicians played ChinChin from the Ry Cooder album and other songs—I gave them all my change when they passed the hat….maybe 10 pesos at the most +/- .
Sitting near the street I observe some typical gestures: the handshakes men use to greet each other: fists tapping then hand slapping or shoulder (mock) punching.
After breakfast I walk south looking in stores, looking for sunscreen or big bandages…or tequila or wine….looking for stones to use in silver jewelry….nice loose opals at “opal mine” store. I found Alcides Forte's workshop right beside the art shop where I bought the oil painting of the Mayan shaman two years ago. The salesman said Alcides was in Amsterdam now and would be back in a couple of weeks….maybe then I can take some lessons from him.
I kept walking to Avenida Juarez, then turned up. I kept walking and decided eventually to go to Chedraui for groceries… It was a long walk on rough broken streets. The store is big but it does not have everything. Although its alcohol prices are the best I’ve seen. I forgot to check the sunscreen. I did not fine the mole sauce I like. I’ll check my own neighborhood and @30th Ave and calle 30. We will have the PlayaInfo Card to cut costs although we already paid 42 US for it!
I spent 350 pesos at Chedraui and the taxi was another 25pesos.
I put the food away then lay down…The maid Guadaloupe arrived @ 3 pm. She comes three times a week: Mon-Wed-Fri.
Now it’s 5pm and I promised to call Gordon tonight so I better get going.