Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FOOD FOR THOUGHT . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

No Pictures, no fanfare, just some thoughtful words in this blog.

I have a friend, a retired teacher, from Turin, Italy who spends about 4 or 5 months every year here in Merida. He speaks only Italian and Spanish. Although I am of Italian descent, I only know a very few words in Italian and most of those are swear words and a few obscene hand gestures! And, my Spanish really needs some help, but my “Spanglish” is perfect!

My Italian friend had a houseguest from Turin, a chemist, who was a former student of his! This guy was traveling alone to check out Mexico and left his wife and kids at home in Italy. He naturally spoke Italian, but only a few words in Spanish and a few words in English!

I was invited to his farewell party, and readily accepted the invitation to go and have the opportunity to say “chow”. At the party, there were a total of 15 people or so. Some spoke Mayan, some spoke Spanish, some spoke Italian, and only two spoke English! There was a very nice older couple who were artists of sorts in that she had painted 65 different Cathedrals here in the Yucatan, and he never left home without his guitar. Together, they were an awesome duo as she sang and he strummed out the tunes on the guitar. Some songs were in Italian, some in Mayan, and some in Spanish.

Now if you have the picture, we were a gathering of 15 people and we did not have a common language. However, communication wasn’t really a problem and everyone accepted each other’s language and customs without reserve. We all got along just beautifully and everyone was smiling, laughing, singing along, and we all had a great time.

Here’s the food for thought: What would it be like if the entire world could get along and accept others for what they are and not what we want them to be as we 15 did at this little gathering? Can you just imagine it? Wow – it would be awesome! What would the news networks talk about? Wouldn’t it be incredible to see that happen in our life time? I think so.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Diversion Excursion: Tixkokob, Yucatan, Mexico

Here in the Yucatan, our temperatures reach “hell-hot” in the summer months and air conditioning for most of us Gringos is a necessity, not a luxury. The locals, on the other hand, fight the heat in different ways. For example, we Gringos prefer sleeping in a bed, while the locals, from the poorest to the richest, usually prefer sleeping in a hammock!

The hammock hawkers roam the streets of downtown Merida where the tourists frequent and sell their wares. Hammocks make great souvenirs and are easy to pack in a suitcase – no worries about breakage!

There is a little pueblo, Tixkokob, less than one hour from Merida that is well-known for its hammocks, all of which are hand made! Quality varies as do prices. We decided to take a trip there to buy some hammocks and look around to see if we could get into any trouble!

We found plenty of hammocks to buy, but not too much trouble. Because it was on the warmer side, we decided to stop in to a cantina and have a few cold beers to freshen us up! We got freshened! We enjoyed some ice cold beer and snacked on prepared pigs ears! Sounds a bit gross, but they are good when prepared properly. They’re especially good when you wash them down with a cold one! (or two!)

But buying hammocks was the most fun! They vary in quality from the very fine (about $50.00 US), to the “serviceable” (about $20.00 US). They have hammocks to sleep in, sit in, rest your feet on, and the color schemes are endless. Some are nylon, others are cotton, and still others are made from various synthetic fibers. Nylon usually lasts the longest, is easier to clean, and holds its color better than cotton. However, some people say that the nylon hammocks are a bit warmer than the cotton ones. I guess it all boils down to personal choice, but most folks swear that it is cooler to sleep in a hammock than a bed because of the way the hammock is made with the open-weave designs.

Personally, I have a fear of falling out of one of the damn things so I sleep in a bed in an air conditioned bedroom with a ceiling fan and a floor fan (when needed)! No hammocks for me, but I know that I am in the absolute smallest of minorities here in the Yucatan!

There are several interesting shops to visit, and one store even sells all the supplies you would ever need to make your very own hammock! Lots of luck! It's easier to buy one already made and your chances of survival are greatly increased!
A nice little trip, interesting shops, great prices for quality handmade merchandise, and the beer was ice cold! Life is good!!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Diversion Excursion: The Mexican Caribbean – Costa Maya and Mahahual, in the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico

I’ve been to Cancun, Cozumel, Isla Mujeres, and Tulum, but never further south down the coast. So, when my friends asked me to tag along on their adventure to scout out some ocean front property, I accepted before they could finish the sentence. Off we went for 4 days and three nights!

Mahahual is approximately 500 kilometers (300 miles) from Merida. There’s not much to see along the way, but I always enjoyed the Mexican countryside. We were in no hurry to get there as we already had confirmed reservations at a nice hotel so we stopped several times for food, gas, and leg stretching.

The hotel was only 10 months old and was quite comfortable and reasonable, as we managed to talk the desk clerk into giving us some very nice discounts! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very cooperative during our entire stay. It was quite cool, windy, overcast, windy, even a bit of precipitation one day, and oh, did I mention the wind?

Undoubtedly, the waters of the Caribbean are delightful and a sight to behold. Even though we didn’t get much sunshine, you could surely appreciate the clear blue waters and the breaking waves over the reef. Regretfully, it was just a bit too cool and windy for me to go swimming in the Caribbean or in the hotel pool for that matter! Some dive shop activities, snorkeling, jet skiing, and banana boat rides were also cancelled due to the inclement weather conditions. Even heard rumors some cruise ships couldn’t dock because of the rough seas and high winds.

Our time was spent viewing ocean front lots and playing tourist. The devastation of Hurricane Dean, a category 5 storm that made landfall in August of 2007, was still quite visible. The mangroves were really hit hard and there were still lots of homes and businesses that had been abandoned and not repaired/rebuilt. This was a disturbing sight to me having been through a hurricane and having lost quite a bit myself at one time. I guess you could say bad memories linger longest and fade the slowest.

Huge cruise ships dock at Mahahual and the malecon (boardwalk) is full of restaurants and vendors who cater to the arriving, unsuspecting tourists. While there, two very large cruise ships docked and a torment of tourists flooded the beaches and malecon. One ship had the capacity for 4,500 persons, the other about 3,000. That equates to lots of Gringo dollars for the Mexican economy and the vendors and the restaurateurs are right there with their hands out. The unsuspecting tourist is also right there with wallets wide open and “eyes wide shut”!. For the vendors and restaurateurs, this is a match made in heaven!

Time to talk a bit about discrimination. Not being the “new kid on the malecon”, so to speak, I quickly learned that the vendors have two prices and most restaurants have two menus! And they all readily admit to it!! One price for the locals, while the other is for the unsuspecting Gringo tourists off the boats! The Gringo prices are inflated as much as 400%! I don’t mind a person working for a living and making a buck, but to me, this is equivalent to date rape! I held fast and refused to pay the prices for the few things I wanted from the vendors, and I managed to pay what I consider to be the normal price. If you go on a cruise, anywhere, not just Mexico, it would definitely pay you to do a little homework regarding prices and this sort of thing.

On a much brighter note, we did manage to find a new little place on the malecon that was selling 16 ounce draft beers for only $1.00 US, and shots of tequila from a barrel no less, for the same price. Yes, I partook (is that a good word?), but did not over indulge (too much). So, I was dancing on the malecon to old disco songs – so what! Everyone enjoyed it! My dance partner and I had a great time as her husband doesn’t do much dancing.

The Mexican Caribbean is a beautiful place to spend some time, so if you get a chance, go. But my dear Gringo friends, be forewarned about the discrimination in pricing!

Caveat emptor!

The waters of the Caribbean are quite nice, but when it gets windy and cool, the tourists, and even the locals, disappear!

The hotel was quite comfortable, the pool quite inviting, the weather quite uncooperative!

All said and done though, the Mexican Caribbean is a delightful place to behold. The crystal clear blue waters are quite different than the waters we see on the other side of the Yucatan Peninsula where I live. Our beaches are still exceptionally nice and the waters are also crystal clear, but the waters are green! Not with algae, but that's just how Mother Nature painted it!

You pay dearly for "blue" vs. "green", that's for sure! But, don't miss the opportunity to go if you are fortunate enough to have the chance to do so.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

¡Picasso en Merida!

Pablo Ruiz Picasso, the father of “cubism”, was born in Malaga, Spain on October 25, 1881. He had a long and fruitful life, passing away on April 8, 1973, in Mougins, France. His legacy will undoubtedly survive the ravishes of time in the form of his highly acclaimed cubist sketches and paintings.

Here in Merida, we are fortunate to have several fine art galleries and museums. One of those museums, the Olimpio, managed to book the traveling exhibition from the Picasso Museum in Malaga, Spain, which included some 66 Picasso sketches and paintings for exhibition.

I have been fortunate to see many great works of art, but never a Picasso! Admission was free, so off I went. There were strict security measures to enter the exhibit, which was anticipated. Several police stood guard with AK 47’s, and various other weapons should the need arise!

The exhibit was presented well, but unfortunately, I thought the lighting could have been much better. Lots of folks were squinting to see the sketches and read the write-ups about them. I didn’t bring my glasses, so I was pretty much at a loss!

After viewing the exhibit, I came to the conclusion that I am not a fan of cubism (even if I were able to read the write-ups)! However, I was fortunate to see this Master’s work, but can think of several other artists I would much prefer to view.

It was “OK”, and I’m really glad it was free!