Chillin’ in Gusmuluk

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For the last few days of our trip, Maggie, Janet, and I are ensconced at the Otel Gumusluk a few feet from the ocean. After arriving Sunday, we had a short walk along the beach to the Club Gumusluk for dinner as the sun set over Rabbit Island and the bay.

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Along the beach the kabak lanterns adorned with pretty patterns and lights were lit as the sun sank lower in the sky to the delight of patrons of the Club’s ringside seats.

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We ordered a modest dinner of cold meze appetisers and were presented with a dessert and a beautiful tray of flowers, lights, chocolate, with a heavily watered-down shot of liqueur gratis by waiter Orhan, a small man about 25 years old, who took a real shine to Maggie.

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The finale to the evening was the beautiful flower blossoms scattered randomly onto the table.

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Our hotel is about one hundred meters from the beach; just in front of us is this empty lot with a beached fishing boat ready and waiting for some dedicated soul to refurbish it.

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Our breakfast feast takes place in this tarp-covered open air dining room.

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The beach here is very pleasant, gently curved and somewhat narrow with coarse grey sand and warm water. Tides here are practically non-existent, only varying by about two feet from high to low.

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Lots of energetic people were out on the water swimming, kayaking, and wind surfing.

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On our second evening we walked along the harbour checking out all the fish restaurants while being importuned by waiters as we passed, whispering the names of fish in our ears.

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Some of the restaurants are beautifully decorated. All have the same menu, variations on the theme of fish.

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We chose the last restaurant on the strip; the food was ok but not great. (In retrospect, it was actually not very good and too much money for what we had. Also, unlike at Club Gumusluk and a few of the other beach spots, it had no soft felt blankets on the backs of chairs for patrons who get cold in the evening … like me). The waiter took the photo below and somehow managed to change the camera setting to sepia – oh well.

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However, I did enjoy the prawns cooked right at our table even though they were a bit tough.

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I really love all the great kabak gourd decorations. Each of them has a design poked out in little holes through which the LED lights inside shine.

Below are a few photos of our hotel; this place is really wonderful, the weather is 30 degrees, blue sky, and sun with a gentle breeze blowing off the sea – heavenly.

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Tuesday, after a long and lazy breakfast at the ranch, Janet and I walked from the Hotel Gumusluk up to the Gumusluk Academy, a wander that took us along the back roads that parallel the sea, past the old Myndos Gate and then up through mandarin fields and houses to the hillside site of the Academy. Just below the Academy property a bunch of new concrete villas are being constructed, slightly obstructing what had been the beautiful view out over the valley I had had from my room five years ago. These beasts were resting in the shade of a mandarin tree as we cruised by.

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After a walk of about 45 minutes we arrived at the Academy, located on a hill above the village with an expansive view laid out in front of us. No one was visible around the place but we did see evidence of new artwork in the form of three clay sculptures which looked like a memorial to the victims of the Soma mine disaster.

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The people I had known from my visit were no longer there but we met the grounds keeper Mehmet and his wife as we walked along one of the driveways; I tried to explain who I was but am not sure he understood. In any case, we were given permission to look around and poked our noses into several of the buildings, none of which seemed to be occupied at the moment.

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The building housing the kitchen and dining room had been refurished and looked great; all the rest were more or less as I remembered them.

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Lots of frogs were jumping in the pond near the theatre and several were floating lazily on top of the water, sunning themselves.

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We headed back down to hill and decided to pop into the Paradise Garden apartments just down the road from the Hotel Gumusluk, checking it out to see if it were a spot that possibly Maggie might want to return to one of these days, since obviously Turkey is the place for her. Although we had just wanted to have a little look around the place, the owner insisted that we come and see inside one of the apartments, seated us in the shade, and brought us water and a coffee. He spoke almost no English so we had an amusing and protracted pseudo-conversation in which I looked up word after word in my little Turkish phrasebook to compose sentences, a process that took so long that I am sure he had forgotten what the first word was by the time I uttered the last. His wife brought out the reservation book and they were ready to sign us up right then and there.

The rest of the afternoon was spent lazing by the pool, with a little lap swimming interspersed with a little glass of wine drinking.

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Another night, another dinner, this time back at the Club Gumusluk, which, unlike the rest of the restaurants on the beach, had lots of patrons. There was no room in the main part of the restaurant so they seated us at a table on the beach, right at the water’s edge. Once again Orhan was super attentive, bringing us, on the house, three different desserts and a tray with chocolates and amaretto shots, all gratis, while he tried to persuade Maggie to go to the Halicarnas discoteque in Bodrum with him. Maggie didn’t bite this evening but we still have two nights left …

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Only one day left here in paradise before I return to the cold cloudiness of Vancouver, apparently not yet in summer. Yesterday the three of us walked up to the Gumusluk Market and emerged laden with bags of goodies, including pots and pans and clothing.

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After a hard few hours bargaining, a stop at the village teahouse was in order.

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This place is so beautiful – I will be very sorry to leave.

Watercolour in Gumusluk

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One of our last painting excursions here at the Stone House was the afternoon trip to Gumusluk for water colour painting of water and reflections to practice the techniques Eljay had discussed in the morning. The fourty minute drive took us along the coast around the peninsula from Yalikavak to the small former fishing village of Gumusluk, in antiquity the Carian city of Myndos, ruled by Mausolus, he of the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus fame.

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Gumusluk is lovely and, because of its heritage status, relatively unspoiled. No mega developments are allowed here and excavations are ongoing. Some of the old city walls and foundations can be seen under the water in the bay and archeologists are excavating Rabbit Island, just over the causeway.

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Maggie, Janet, and I picked a spot at the first beach loungers we saw, and set up our painting gear there with a great view of the headland and the Greek islands beyond. On the beach I was delighted to see several gigantic korek plants painted white festooned with hanging kabak lanterns.

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After a hard afternoon of watercolour painting, we assembled and straggled into the beachside restaurant for a nice fish dinner before rolling back to the ranch satiated.

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Sayulita Snapshots

Sayulita on a sunny day …  We decided to take the bus to explore this small surfing town up the coast from PV after having done research that said it was a one hour trip. Well, the driver who could do that trip in an hour should present himself to the Formula One tracks; our bus took at least two hours, after the 40 minutes it took to get to the North End of town to catch the Sayulita bus across from Coppel.

On the way we passed through the Hotel Zone in which the massive all-inclusive developments reside,  as well as the gigantic condo towers of Marina Vallarta and Nuevo Vallarta. As our taxi driver from the airport noted, these developments are sucking the life out of Centro, since the people who stay here seldom go downtown and the resorts don’t contribute much to the local economy, particularly if they import their own staff rather than hiring locals.

As a result, in the downtown core many businesses have closed, leaving empty storefronts with forlorn Se Renta signs yellowing in their windows. In addition, these places are entirely generic and not at all Mexican. Anyway, we rolled through north Vallarta and several small towns and hamlets on the way, in each of which stopping to take on more passengers.

After a somewhat harrowing brakes-free careen downhill,  bringing back bad flashbacks of crazy drivers in Thailand and Fiji, we arrived on the outskirts of Sayulita. The road into town was hot, dry, and dusty and gave us no reason to stop before arriving at the beach, a conclusion presumably reached by most other visitors given the shuttered storefronts on that side of the river. However, we did see a local cowboy canter into town  accompanied by his dog running in unison, not something you see every day of the week in Vancouver.

A walk through the colourful stores,  bars,  and restaurants brought us down to a gently curved bay with medium-sized surfing waves and a large throng of beach goers watching a surfing competition.

In Puerto Vallarta I had wondered where all the young 20somethings were. Now I know;  they are all in Sayulita surfing or watching surfers.

We stationed ourselves beachside under a shady awning and watched the flow of people come and go and an acrobatic demonstration by one of the surf dudes.

After a couple of cervesas we wandered back through the town,  checking out some of the galleries and jewelry.

Someone had told us that the rich and the hippies have been fighting about the direction the town will take; we saw some evidence of that struggle in the somewhat uneasy coexistence of high end retail and cheap bars.

After watching an artisan paint clay piglets and having purchased a tiny hand painted skull to add to my collection of Memento Mori memorabilia, it was time to hit the road again Jack for the long bus ride home.

One of the interesting aspects of Mexican bus riding is that often local musicians, some of them very good, will jump on for a few stops and serenade the captive audience. The fellow who sang to the accompaniment of his boombox on the way out was good.  The same can’t be said, though, for the guy on the way back, whose three note guitar strumming and very loud singing directly into my ear did not endear him to me. Another facet of Mexican travel is the number of vendors selling stuff on the highway right in the traffic: squeegee guys,  newspaper sellers, performing artists, flower sellers,  and men in cowboy hats thrusting chiclets in the bus windows. We were told the story of one poor fellow who on a bad day sold nothing and on a good sales day was routinely robbed of his day’s take. A difficult way to make a living.

After having jumped off the bus in old town we headed over to the local BBQ joint where we joined a crowd of hungry,  jostling chicken lovers fighting for takeout chicken packets. Having secured our bag of eats without any blood loss,  we made our weary way hillward.

A few other things of interest, at least to me:

Old volkswagons abound here, all red.

Steroids must be legal here; they are advertised in pharmacies.

The other day I purchased a handmade woolen sheep from one of the indigenous vendors downtown. She had a very colourful stand full of woolen animals and wall hangings to which I was drawn like moth to a flame or crow to shiny metal. As I was looking at her wares, she brought out her smartphone and showed me pictures of the family farm in Chiapas where six girls spin the wool of six sheep to make their products.

I was charmed by her but Ty, cynic that he is, reminded me of the time in Merida when I had been taken advantage of by two guys with a story about poor orphanage kids. However, I believed her and, even if it were not true, I don’t care. I love my sheep (although I did feel a moment of buyer’s remorse at how much I paid for it.)

The ceiling of the now shuttered Le Bistro Cafe,  home to multitudes of cats on Isla Cuale, has a ceiling fresco inspired by, and possibly an homage to, the Oculus of the Camera degli Sposi in the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna.

 

Puerto Vallarta Markets and Beaches

Old Town Puerto Vallarta is lucky enough to have two Saturday markets, one at the Paradise Community Centre and the other at Lazaro Cardenas Park, just off the Malecon. We decided to hit them both, since the day was cloudy and a bit too cold for the beach (says she whose home town is only 5 degrees …).

The Paradise Community Centre market was packed with throngs of people and lots of vendors sending vintage clothes, jewellery, kids’ items, art, books, and especially, wonderful food and baked goods.

I sampled an apple square and Ty gobbled down a huge cinnamon bun as we pondered the wares for sale. A local artisan was selling some beautifully-made bracelets and necklaces; we bought one of each.

A few blocks north of Paradise is the Lazaro Cardenas Market, also busy, and I bought three little foot decorations – like earrings for feet – which, hopefully, one of these days when my left foot has healed from whatever is ailing it and I can walk in sandles again, I can wear.

After browsing, feeling some drops of rain hitting the top of our heads, we ducked into the nearby book cafe and had the good fortune of meeting Jay, a fellow from Iowa sitting at the next table with a group of ex-pat friends.

After a delightful chat, and telling him that we were looking around for long-stay accommodation, he told us the story of meeting Lily, their house’s owner, and how he and his wife Ardis came to be staying in an apartment in Conchas Chinas, the next colonia south of Amapas. Jay was kind enough to invite us over to see the place, thinking it might be a possibility for us in the future. (Apropos of nothing … below is another majestic Queen Death figure, this one on the steps of the Hotel Catedral downtown. I love these figures, even thought their implications are sobering …)

Back wandering around the old town again, this time looking for a barbecued chicken, we walked past the vegetable stand which had had few fresh veggies before. This day it was full of great looking fruits and vegetables, obviously just having been replenished by its suppliers. The key is to figure out which day the new shipment of goodies comes in and shop for vegetables on that day. We also saw the closed hulk of a former supermarket, which Jay told us had closed down after people stopped buying there when their fresh produce deteriorated.

Sunday saw a return of the sun and a trip to the beach was in order. We plopped ourselves down on the sun loungers at the Swell Beach Bar and whiled away the afternoon sipping and munching.

Puerto Vallarta is full of pelicans roosting on the fishing boats; they are wonderful animals and I love to see them fishing and diving in the waters here. Coming screaming down out of the skies, they easily scoop up fish in their gigantic beaks.

The picture above shows Los Muertos Beach, “our beach” at the foot of the hills where we’re staying.

Although we are, as usual, on a fairly tight budget here, we want to spread a little of our cash around the place so I indulged in a reflexology foot massage by Rosalie, whose hands were incredibly strong and left my old feet feeling very relaxed.

 

Monday we visited Jay and Ardis, and met Lily, a lovely Mexican woman who rents out the three story hillside house they stay in. She has the ground floor suite, a couple from Edmonton stay on the middle floor, and Jay and Ardis have the top. Their space is incredible, huge, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and an enormous sunny roof-top deck with a view that lasts forever out over the Bay and the Marietas Islands.

While sitting and visiting on the deck, we could see, and hear, the many small green and yellow parrots flitting around in the treetops. Occasionally, when a gigantic frigate bird cruised by, they screeched and squawked up a storm – funny creatures. Many butterflies also fluttered about; one landed on my hand and stayed for quite a while, a very tiny, gentle presence.

Later, we hopped the orange bus to Mismaloya, the next settlement south of PV along the coast, made famous by the film Night of the Iguana, starring Liz and Dick, filmed there in the 60s. The beach there is accessed down a path that runs along the outside of a hotel compound and over a small wooden bridge across the creek.

Many small boats are docked here and pelicans roost on them hopefully. The bay is small, with a few beach bars, and was pretty quiet this day. The place felt a bit desperate and we wondered if the tourist trade here is much diminished because of the weakness of the North American economy. Likely, the tourists who visit Puerto Vallarta are not spending as much as in previous years. We hope that the ill effects of the economic downturn will not damage the economy of this city too much; it really is a beautiful place to be.

Today, back on the road again in Old Town, I headed back to Isla Cuale and the printmaking studio. Lo and behold, it was open and I had a chance to speak to the maestra, Ireri Topete.

She explained how the studio works and told me it would be possible to use the space, either by enrolling in classes or as a visiting artist. It’s a nice space with a good sized etching press and a small litho press not currently in use. Good to know for the future. This day there were about five students working on etchings in this space, and quite a few others in the painting and sculpture studios across the way. This will be a great place to work if we are successful in being able to come here for the winter in the future.

See more pictures here, here, and here.

Walking the labyrinth …

Labyrinth

Labyrinths, portals to transformation, come in many shapes and sizes. The 13th Annual Gathering of the Labyrinth Society recently took place in Parksville, BC, and we were lucky enough to sample some of the labyrinths and related activities. Who knew that there were such a plethora of labyrinths on the Island? Wow – a veritable cornucopia of labyrinthine structures to stroll and contemplate. The picture above documents a heart shaped sand labyrinth that we walked on the beach at Tigh-na-Mara.

This labyrinth painted on what looks like a concrete helicopter landing pad was recently completed beachside in Parksville.

We spent an afternoon exploring about 6 labyrinths in the Parksville-Qualicum area, all quite different. A very interesting one is located in the “Fairy Forest” in Qualicum; since there are no signs identifying it, one has to know where the entrance is in order to access a walk through the forest that, from the air, must be in the shape of a labyrinth. While inside the forest itself, we followed the various paths but couldn’t see the overall logic of the journey, a logic that would be apparent with an aerial view.

Inside this forest are many little surprises, visible if you’re observant, including painted rocks, sculptures in trees, niches with woodland saints, and garden gnomes.

A lovely small labyrinth has been created on the grass at the Oceanside Hospice Society using moss.

Staying at Beach Acres, right on the waterfront next door to Rathtrevor Beach and just down the sand from Tigh-na-Mara, allowed us to sample the gathering’s activities, including two sand labyrinths, a night-time light labyrinth, two indoor masking tape labyrinths,

and quite a few intricate wooden finger labyrinths, allowing one’s fingers to do the walking.

The beach here at Craig Bay is really beautiful and goes out a very long way when the tide is low. Interestingly, the makers of one of the afternoon beach labyrinths arranged to do so when the tide was low, but neglected to remember that it would be washed away later in the afternoon as the tide rose … not from around these watery parts, obviously!

We were lucky enough to have pretty good weather and the sunrises were lovely from our little beachfront cabin.

The photograph below gives you a good idea of the scale of the heart shaped labyrinth, carved by shovels into the sand below Tigh-na-Mara.

Labyrinths come in several different styles, including Classic, Chartres, and Cretan; the one below was drawn into the beach at night with the light of a bonfire.

On a sunny day, this really is a beautiful part of the world.

The Labyrinth Society kindly produced several very useful maps and information about the labyrinths here on the West Coast. You can find the links here.

See more photos here.

Summer in May

It’s summer in May – global climate change, anyone? Seemingly overnight, the temperature here on the rain coast has gone from 9 degrees to 25, and the cloudless skies continue … We decided to hop on the aquabus and head over to Habitat Island for an afternoon exploration of the area around the Olympic Village.

Approaching the area along the south seawall, you can see the highrises of Main Street and Telus Science World in the distance. Habitat Island is the small peninsula directly in front of them.

The bushes and undergrowth along the shoreline here are home to more than one resident; along with a colony of crows whose rookery occupies the higher trees, folks sleep rough here.

The rotting remains of a public art project are still here; this was once a card- and particle-board replica of a caterpillar digger.

From the City of Vancouver website, here is a blurb about this area: “Habitat Island is an urban sanctuary along Southeast False Creek. Deep layers of soil have been added to the area to provide nourishment for new trees to grow. Boulders and logs commonly found along the coastlines in this region of British Columbia provide a home for plants, small animals, insects, crabs, starfish, barnacles and other creatures. Surrounded by water at high tide, the island is also a sanctuary for birds.

More than 200 native trees, as well as shrubs, flowers, and grasses that grow naturally in this region have been planted along the waterfront path and on the island. The island was created as part of the development at Southeast False Creek, site of the 2010 Winter Games Athletes Village. To build Habitat Island, shoreline and inlet, about 60,000 cubic metres of rock, cobble, gravel, sand and boulders were used. The ebb and flow of the tide on the rocky shoreline creates an ideal home for starfish, crabs, fish, shellfish and other creatures.”

The tall leave-less trees jutting up in front of the mountains provide resting places for birds, including bald eagles.

Habitat Island is interconnected with the adjoining wetlands which take in water from the storm drains in the area and rehabilitate it before it enters False Creek. This shoreline restoration has resulted in herring returning to spawn in False Creek; often you can see great blue herons fishing, too. Originally, this peninsula was to be an actual island but the powers that be were afraid that people would be stranded on it at high tide; the small causeway connecting the island with the seawall was raised to prevent that possibility.

These wetlands were also recently home to a young urban beaver; although we hoped to get a glimpse of it, the beast was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he’s moved on to a larger watering hole.

Along with the mysterious beaver, another wild life visitor has captured the hearts of Vancouverites, the juvenile elephant seal currently molting on Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver. Barb and I rode our bikes over to take a look.

As you can see from this photo, the moss on the trees along the stream at Ambleside is incredible, a testament to this area’s status as temperate rain forest, not that you would know it from our current weather.

From the beach we watched as a Turkish freighter came into the port.

The elephant seal occupies a fenced off area on the west end of the beach. Looking decidedly unhappy, this day he was lying mute and stationary near the water, seemingly indifferent to all the curious spectators.

While over there, I took the opportunity to gather some drift wood for an art installation I’m preparing.

Farther down the waterfront a woman was feeding the seabirds and crows near John Lawson Park.

There are quite a few arts spaces along this stretch of water; we stopped in at the Silk Purse Gallery, formerly the home of an eccentric local who donated it to the West Van Arts Council some years ago.

See more photos here.

Cancun: El Meco and Isla Mujeres

We are enjoying our little apartment in downtown Cancun. The neighbourhood is pleasant, with lots of small casita comidas and a gigantic Soriana grocery store. A few blocks away is the bus stop where we can catch a R-2 or R-15 down to the hotel zone beaches for 8.5 pesos each.

Today, since the morning was pleasant, we decided to visit the second set of ruins here, the El Meco, north of Puerto Juarez, where the boats to Isla Mujeres depart. Rather than taking two buses, we elected to splurge and take a taxi. After negotiating a cost of 90 pesos for the trip, we headed out through the downtown traffic, past Puerto Juarez, to the ruin site, a small area just across the road from the ocean. Just as we pulled up a truck was blasting pesticide into the place to take out any fugitive mosquitoes – blechhh.

El Meco is Cancun’s version of Tulum, the waterfront ruin site down the coast from Playa del Carmen, although it’s not nearly as large and not right on the water. “The city is … believed to have been a major commercial port for the Maya and overlooks the beach and docks from across the road at Punta Sam where nearby claims indicate that there’s the last vestiges of the ancient port hidden along the beach line.

The city’s importance to the Maya is thought to have occurred from its proximity across the coast from Isla Mujeres, its location along the coastal trading routes and the area of calm but deeper water for vessels.” Architectural evidence dating back to the early Classic period (300-600 ce) show that El Meco was a small, self-sufficient fishing village dependent upon the larger capital of Coba.

“At the center of the site is the large El Castillo Pyramid surrounded by a dozen or so smaller structures believed to be used for governmental, religious and commercial trading purposes by the Post Classical period Maya starting in the 10th or 11th century AD.

The site previous to this was believed to be home to a small native village going back to the 6th century AD. … Speculation based on artifact finds and architecture places El Meco at the heart of one of the Chichen Itza periods and further speculates that the city was amongst the then extended realms of the rulers of Chichen Itza.” (http://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g150807-d1108603/Cancun:Mexico:El.Meco.Ruins.html).

As has happened lots on this trip, we were the only visitors to the site, enjoying walking through the well-treed ruins and throwing bits of apple to the tiny iguanas.

We were surprised to see only very small, skittish lizards here (except the medium-sized guy below), none of whom were willing to come near enough to get the pieces of apple we placed for them.

Ty speculated that the lizards are not well-treated here and as a consequence those that survive are afraid of humans. Can they be eaten for food, I wonder? If so, this would explain why there are no big iguanas here.

After our visit we walked along the very quiet highway, saw a beachfront chapel, and flagged down a collectivo which dropped us at Puerto Juarez.

We took a look at the old dock where the first passenger ferry to travel between Cancun and Isla Mujeres runs – it’s almost deserted now that the new Ultra Mar catamaran plies the water between the newly-built Gran Puerto dock and the island.

Although we hadn’t planned to visit Isla Mujeres today, since we were there anyway, and the boat left in five minutes, we bought our tickets and hopped aboard for the twenty minute run across the incredible clear blue water.

Arriving on the other side, we walked through downtown Isla M, enjoying the bright colours of the buildings, the wares on display, the graffiti, and the laid back island vibe.

Not bad advice …

After having a dockside beer at the Bally-Hoo Inn, we walked five minutes down the road to Playa Norte, where we stationed ourselves beachside for the rest of the afternoon, swimming in the placid water.

Unlike in Cancun, where the high waves have prevented actual swimming (as opposed to frolicking in the waves), here it is possible to swim laps in the roped off area.

Unfortunately for Ty, his burned stomach meant no sun for him, just relaxation under the ol’ sombrillo. Yesterday, both of us had spent quite a bit of time in the high waves of Gaviota Azul beach and the glare from the water and sand must have been too much for the sunscreen to cope with.

See more pics here.

From Playa to Cancun: Last Stop on the World Tour

One block away from us in Playa Ejido was a very nice small park – La Ceiba – which has colourful sculpture, a cafe with brightly painted furniture, several art studios, some for kids, and a cinema.

We had originally planned to stay in Playa for four weeks; however, by the third week, we’d had enough of the hard sell everywhere and wanted a change of scenery. I was, though, happy to meet world traveller Nikoya, a woman originally from Vancouver now staying in Playa via twenty years in Chang Mai, Thailand.

We spent a nice evening wandering the Fifth Avenue strip the night before Ty and I hit the road. And I was also happy to share my space with the two small frilled lizards that kept us company – here is the tiniest, and most skittish, one.

Our last few days were spent on the beach and the weather was grand, much better than it had been, pretty well clear and getting hotter. Just as in many of the places we’ve visited over this past year, here, too, the beach is eroding. Although people on forums that I’ve read say that beach erosion is a natural phenomenon (and, yes, it is), the kind of erosion we see here and elsewhere has two primary causes – rampant development and global climate change. The building of gigantic hotel and condo developments, and long piers jutting out into the ocean, disturbs and changes the ocean currents, taking sand from one area and depositing it somewhere else. Also, with global climate change, and the melting of glaciers, the sea level is rising. Just as we saw in Thailand, especially on Koh Samui, here, too, the rising water level means that some businesses along the beach are having to pile up sand bags (or sand whales as they’re called here) or put their sun loungers on an artificially raised platform of sand so that the sea doesn’t inundate them.

I think that the entire Mayan Riviera beach is human-made, with millions of cubic meters of sand trucked in from somewhere else (where, I wonder?) to the tune of millions of dollars. The new sand is just dumped on top of the remaining old sand, or onto rocky shores, and, in not very much time, much of it is eroded away again by the ocean. In the meantime, this sand has blanketed the reefs and killed the coral; as well, the water at the moment is a murky, turbid, milky-white (not sure whether this is temporary or the result of the sand trucked in). So, no sea life can be seen near the shore in developed areas except tiny fish.

In the middle of Playa’s main beach, in front of Fusion Restaurant, the beach has almost disappeared, revealing the original rocky shoreline.

One of the last days we were there, after a rain storm, we could smell the sewage that had obviously overflowed the storm sewers and was just gushing out from pipes into the ocean, turning the turquoise water a dull dark brown in places. Since swimming in that water wasn’t very appealing, we walked north, past the new Ultramar pier (one of the culprits for the beach degradation?), to the north beaches. Last time we were here there wasn’t much in this area but has it ever been developed since then. Many large all-inclusives and beach clubs line the wide beach along here, attracting young people and many locals. Right now this is the best beach area in town, from what I can see.

After checking out of the Casa Ejido we took the ADO bus up the highway to Cancun, our final destination on the around the World jaunt, before heading back to Vancouver the end of June, selected for ease of departure and, hopefully, sun and beach.

We’re staying for 2 days at the La Quinta Inn and Suites downtown before moving to an apartment in a local neighbourhood. La Quinta is almost brand new, has a small pool out back, and is nice enough for a brief stay. One really nice feature is a free shuttle bus which has transported us the last couple of days to one of the beaches in the Hotel Zone.

The Hotel Zone here is enormous, about 26 kilometers of peninsula jutting out into the ocean east of the city. And the hotels are also enormous; gigantic monoliths, huge mostly white condo developments, some older run-down and/or abandoned properties, line the beach and the lagoon the entire way.

These, and the biggest and “best” of American or Americanised culture, such as Hooters, Coco Bongo, Senor Frog’s and the like, and crappy little souvenirs shops with the usual junk, comprise the Cancun peninsula.

Unlike Puerto Vallarta, there is no malecon or beach walk here. The hotels have been built right on the beach, preventing access almost everywhere to what is public beach. To allow others who are not staying at these properties to access the beach, there are ten public entrances dotted the length of the zone but, unless you know where these are, they’re not easy to find. Yesterday, after spending a few hours at the Cabana Beach Club (not an optimum experience), we walked down the beach for about 45 minutes and could not find a public access point off the beach.

So, since we were tired and hungry, we decided to walk through a hotel property. Of course, since Ty doesn’t exactly blend into the background, we were accosted and about to be escorted off the premises until we told the security personnel that we wanted to see a man about a room. After being directed to the lobby we exited at full speed stage right and flagged down a bus outside.

Today the weather was wonderful and we rented two sun loungers on the beach at Gaviota Azul, having a lazy day playing in the big surf.

The large, wide beach was full of local families, with kids large and small enjoying the day. Because this area of the beach has a sand bar not too far offshore, a shallow pool of ocean water untouched by the big surf is created so it’s perfect for small children.

At the moment red and yellow flags are up so the water isn’t good for swimming; however, the high waves are a blast. Ty, floating offshore, was just about pounded by a gigantic one but managed to duck under it in time. Several people enjoyed burying one another in the sand, including this little boy who placed small handfull after handfull of sand on his reclining mother.

Below is a picture of what the beach would look like if no sand was brought in to Cancun.

Although Cancun is not at all our scene, if the weather holds, it will be a very pleasant spot to spend some time frolicing in the water before heading back to what sounds like a cold and wet spring at the moment on the west coast.

See more pics here.

 

Playa: Beaches, Ruins, and Beasts

Playa del Carmen is a town divided: one small part, that along the seashore, is a playground for middle-class and wealthy gringos, mostly from the US and Canada but also Europeans; the rest, extending north, south, and west past the Carreterra Federal highway, is Mexican. Never the thwain shall meet.

Coming back from the beach the other day we got on the wrong bus; instead of taking us up Benito Juarez Avenue to 70th, it rolled along parallel to 5th Avenue and then cruised slowly back up past the highway, past the Hospital, and through the newish development of Los Flores, a vast subdivision of small row houses painted in tropical colours, catering to the locals who work in the tourist industry. Some rich dude must have sold his hacienda property to developers who are now erecting thousands of these small structures.

A couple of days ago we jumped aboard another bus, hopped out at the ADO station, walked the length of Fifth Avenue north and from there took a taxi to the Playa Cemetery. Cemetery visits are one of my little idiosyncracies; I enjoy walking through the grave sites and looking at the inscriptions and mementoes.

This cemetery has a lot of young men’s graves – a lot! – and also a section entirely for infants and babies. As I was photographing some of the memorials in the latter, Ty called out to me, saying “It’s time to go”.

Since we’d not been there very long, I was surprised but acquiesced. As we were walking back out, Ty told me that he’d seen a group of about ten young guys drinking around one grave, likely that of a fallen friend, one of whom pulled a pistol out of the back of his shorts. Definitely time to hit the road!

South of the Cozumel ferry terminal are many huge all-inclusive hotels and expensive condo developments. I find this area, known as Playacar, obnoxious. We had gone there to check out the Xaman Ha Mayan ruins and aviary. What remains of the ruins is very small, a few tiny stone house structures and an encircling wall accessed from the beach through the Xaman Ha condominium site that has been erected around them.

Walking past Playacar’s enormous mansions and condo developments to find the aviary was depressing. And when we did come to the small aviary to find that the entrance fee was 300 pesos ($22 American) each, we could not bring ourself to pay it. A total ripoff. In fact, almost any of the “tourist attractions” in this part of the world are ridiculously expensive and completely inauthentic. While all, except the Mummy Museum, of the many really cool museums and haciendas that we saw in Guanajuato were at the most 20 pesos, here it seems that you can’t get in the door anywhere without dropping mega bucks. [Grumble, grumble, grumble .... we interrupt this broadcast for a grumpy old lady grumble].

On the way back to Playa, walking along the Mayan ruin wall, we did see a wild capybara, a gigantic rodent not unlike a huge gerbil. This one was unafraid, munching serenely on grass, and about the size of a small dog.

After our aborted trip to the aviary, we stopped at the upscale shopping centre near the ferry for a coffee at Starbucks (there are no other coffee shops in this area) and had a bit of sushi for lunch, enjoying a break from the humid heat under a large leafy tree. [These two days were cloudy and rainy so the photos are not very good. And, although I've been wearing 50 spf sunscreen the whole time I've been away, I see that I have a tan ...]

At the Casa Ejido there are many small lizards: some are very tiny and black; others are larger, greyish, and have a head frill, looking like miniature dinosaurs. One of the latter (in the picture below) rears up and races on two legs along the edge of the pool almost daily in the morning. I love these guys!

See a few more pics here.

Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Caribbean Coast, Mexico

After a hot and humid time in Merida, we were delighted to get back to the beach, this time in Playa del Carmen, half way down the Mayan Riviera between Cancun and Tulum. We are staying at the B&B Casa Ejido, one of a three residence complex in the Ejido Colonia of Playa. In Mexican system of government, an ejido is an area of communal land used for agriculture, on which community members individually possess and farm a specific parcel. In some cases these ejido lots have been used for houses and hotels and are sometimes sold to foreigners, not always with happy results. Colonia Ejido is a local neighbourhood about fifteen minutes by bus and foot from the main drag and beach of Playa so it’s far away from the constant hassle of Mexican mass tourism, about which I am very glad. Most of the people staying here, and in the apart hotel across the way, are young students of local language schools, mostly glued to their smart phones and laptops who utter the occasional grunt in response to our “Buenos Dias”.

The B&B consists of one very large palapa-roofed house with six separate bedrooms rooms inside and a large communal living room, dining room, and kitchen which everyone can use, and two cabanas, separate small cabins. We were fortunate enough to get the cabana right next to the pool – huzzah!

Unfortunately, while the pool looks pretty, it is pretty dirty and not swimmable at the moment (and maybe never will be). Many of the many birds living here use it as a gigantic bird bath, swooping down from the bushes and trees above to immerse themselves. (And the number and variety of bird song here is incredible, all sorts of tweets, twits, screeches, trills, and shrieks, beginning about 5:30 in the morning).

Although it would be really nice if we could swim in the pool, even if it never comes to pass, we still are really enjoying the dim, cool interior space of our cabana – since the sun never shines directly into our room, it’s always pleasant even on the hottest day. We have access to the communal kitchen and also have a very tiny kitchenette with a one burner hotplate, a small fridge and a toaster.

We borrowed some of the B&B’s rickety bikes the first night here and rode around the area; although we headed off in completely the wrong direction, we eventually found our way down to the beach and back again as the sun was setting. We have spent our first few days here on the beach, first at a hotel with beachfront loungers, then, when that proved to be pricey,

at the Wah Wah Beach Bar. Wah Wah, the closest spot to Juarez Avenue, has free loungers and cheap beer so naturally it is our preferred watering hole. [Now, a week or so later, I can confirm that we really like Wah Wah - the service is good and friendly and they have one of the best locations on the beach].

Playa’s beach is bright white and the water is a gorgeous light green-blue, just as I remember from our last visit here in 2007. Fifth Avenue, the main tourist strip parallel to the beach, is pretty much the same, although some of the stores and restaurants have changed.

Even though it’s low season there are still quite a few tourists here, although not enough to keep all the tour touts and tequila sellers happy. Playa is high pressure sales all the time. “Mister Whiskers, Santa, Pancho Villa, Jesus Christ, John Lennon, Mr Harley” – Ty gets them all, every day – “wanna buy cigars, tequila, tours, rent a car, rent a bike … (more quietly) some smoke …?” I am more or less ignored, except when I’ve got my sarong over my head in which case I’m assailed with “Take off your cape; enjoy the sun, you’re going to die anyway” … nice.

One block off the strip, the place is dead – no tourist enters any of those stores or restaurants. And Benito Juarez, the main street leading back to our place, is where the locals shop; nary a tourist to be seen other than us – weird. 99 percent of the visitors here must never travel further into Playa than Fifth Avenue, a Disneyland of shopping, eating, and drinking that has no Mexican authenticity whatsoever – on Fifth Avenue one could be anywhere.

Yesterday we decided to visit the island of Cozumel, about an hour’s ferry ride offshore. Sunny when we left the cabana, a torrential thunderstorm hit when we were about ten minutes offshore, absolutely drenching Ty and I who were sitting on the back deck of the catamaran ferry.

We arrived at Cozumel’s enormous cement dock and had a walk about downtown, constantly importuned by touts for rental cars and timeshare presentations. Was it ever dead – Sunday on Cozumel is the only day that massive American cruise ships don’t visit (which is the reason we decided to go that day) but I didn’t think that the entire place would have rolled down the metal doors and shut down. Granted, a few restaurants and bars were open around the main square but the place was so void of people that it looked as if a bomb had gone off and vapourised the entire population.

We walked from the Plaza Mayor down along the main street, trying to find someplace – any place – to have a beer, finally stopping at the seaside bar of the Hotel Barracuda, where a big group of Mexico City federales were frolicking in the water and trying to learn how to swim.

It was a bit of a strange sight to see grown men wearing bright orange water wings.

A further bit of walking revealed not much other than a gigantic grocery store and some huge all-inclusive hotel complexes so we flagged down a cab to take us to Paradise Beach, a place we remembered fondly from 2003. Wow, has it ever changed. The last time we visited, there was no cost to enter and no cost to play on their floating plastic iceberg and trampoline.

Now, the place has a gigantic pool and poolside bar and a vast number of loungers and umbrellas set up for the hundreds of cruise ships day-trippers that descend on the place every day but Sundays. We were charged a relatively small fee to use the chairs and pool but were not told that this fee did not allow us to use the giant rubber floating “toys”, now expanded to six in number.

After swimming out to one slide and clambering on, we were informed by a staff person on a kayak that using these would cost an additional $12 US each … we declined the opportunity.

It seems that Paradise Beach is no longer a paradise; it’s been remodelled as an all-inclusive beach club aimed at American cruise ship people and was about as appealing as a trip to Disneyland (with apologies to those of you who like Disneyland, it’s absolutely not my thing). In fact, the entire island seems to have been pimped out for the cruise ships and there was none of what we remembered as a nice Mexican island vibe left – nothing, nada, nichts. Too bad.

See a few more pics here.