Apr 24, 2013

Belize It!

A different kind of culture shock.
Belize is just a few hours south of here. It is a small country in an area initially dismissed by the Spanish for lack of resources, and became for a while a haven for English pirates. It was British Honduras before independence, 1964 and now is the only English speaking country in Latin America. But it feels most unfamiliar.

Having crossed over from Canada to the US and then the US into Mexico many times over our years, we became familiar with elements of culture shock at the borders.
I contend that many visitor’s first impression of Mexico by crossing the northern border with the US miss-represents the country we came to know and love.
Coming in from California, Arizona or Texas into Mexico, you do notice quite a difference. However, the border towns and cities are our least favorite areas of Mexico. They are jumbles of population that are there to work in the cheap labour factories of US corporations. The people there are mostly immigrants, displaced from their home communities and families, and economically forced to live in the war-zone of drug trafficking pipeline to the US. The rest of Mexico is mostly stable, organized, and especially friendly and welcoming.

Crossing into Belize was a stark contrast to what we have become accustomed to here in the Yucatan. It felt like stepping into a real third world. We didn’t tour the whole country, but did cover several hundred miles through the interior. These may be offhand impressions, but we saw a lot of basic survival poverty. Most of houses along the road and in the towns were small and run-down. What traffic there was on the narrow hiways was a mix of mostly old jalopies, trucks and buses. Being used to “topes” it was interesting to see signs that said “Bump”

Our observation was that Belize has a wide racial and cultural mix. My research tells me that like Mexico, the majority of the population is Mestizo (mixture of Spanish and Maya), much of the population are from african descendants of the slave owners and slaves. There are large populations of orientals and many Mennonites, as well.
Unique to Belize is the Kriol language and culture. Kriol language originated with the slaves and is based on English with strong African influences, similar to what we heard in Barbados years ago. A majority of Belize speaks Kriol and you have to be patient to understand even a little of it. The local radio stations play a lot of regge.

We based ourselves in the small city Orange Walk for three days, and took in some sites around the area.  Our hotel sat on the river bank where we caught a boat cruise two hours up river to a magnificent Mayan heritage site,  Lamanai.
Along the way our boat captain/guide paused to point out many animals and birds. At one spot along the river bank, Susan “touched a monkey” as this graceful spider monkey took a piece of cookie out of her hand.

Our guide reported that Lamanai has been populated since 16th century BC. Its prominent time was in the “pre-classical” period of the ancient Mayans from the 4th century BC to the 1st Century CE. Located on a large river, it survived through the arrival of the Spanish who were ejected, and with smaller indigenous populations nearby until the present time.

Another day we drove on to see the Belize Zoo. Very nice! Filled with native animals in carefully planned natural environments. Hard to beat the friendly Keel Billed Toucans. Also the Tapir, Belize’s national animal. We also saw several monkeys, other birds, including a huge stork, as well as the ocelot and the magnificent jaguar.

Returning to Mexico was a pleasant relief, back to the familiar bustling vibrant country. Roads were good and wide with clean, painted houses and shops along the way. Our 3 hour drive north from Chetumal brought us back to our winter home, a welcome sight.

Trippin’ up the Mountains

Having our comfy Dodge Caravan as our transport now, we took a couple of jaunts to see other parts “down south” that we haven’t yet been to in our 12 years in Mexico.

The southern highlands of the State of Chiapas have oft been recommended so we headed out to spend a week in San Cristobal de las Casas. This is about a day and a half drive each way but was worth it to see a region so different from our home here on the coast.

The area was settled by the Spanish in 1528 with the first Catholic church built that year. As San Cristobal grew and became the centre of a diocese, its main cathedral was built in 1721, one of hundreds of mostly Catholic churches in the city today. It is interesting to me as a non-Catholic, that when we these old Mexican cities, we see so many cathedrals, sometimes very near-by to each other. As an outsider, I had thought the Roman Catholics were a homogeneous bunch, all directly connected to the lineage of the one Pope in Rome. However, I have been informed, that through the centuries, religious advocates found ways to form their own interpretations, their own “brands” of what the real, right way to be a good Catholic was. This was quite evident on our tour of San Christobal and some nearby villages and their churches.

These village visits are quite a regular part of the tourist industry there, but it comes with some rules -- there is a toll booth going into the villages, and there were strict prohibitions agains taking photographs inside the churches.

We first visited the small dirt-floored factories where they produced their unique Chiapas textiles. The amazingly bright, hand-woven fabrics from this area are renowned. The native Chiapas women and many men dress in bright floral shawls. We bought a couple of small pieces.

Back to the particular uniqueness of this Catholic church -- imagine a large stone cathedral, with all the statuary, the gold gilt, the coloured windows but with no pews. Instead the whole floor is covered with a thin layer of fresh pine needles, and every day, dozens of people kneeling in prayer. Each supplicant is accompanied by a professional chanter kneeling next to them, who, upon clearing a patch on the floor, places rows of small candles, lights them, and drinking some soda-pop (usually Coke) proceed with their ritualized sing-song chant.
As our guide explained, these religious observances were amazing and bewildering. The soda drink was to encourage burping which encouraged negative spirits to leave you. All this and no pictures, please.

San Cristobal is at 2200 meters (7200 ft) so has a thin dry air, and we were lucky to have been there when the days were all sunny and warm, as it can get cool up there. We did a lot of walking around the various markets, museums and other buildings around the zocalo (city square). Everywhere we walked we were met by vendors, usually women and young girls, usually loaded down with armloads of blankets, clothing, or smaller hand-made items. A polite “no, gracias” and they kept moving on. One afternoon I got to talking with an old man on a break from driving his small tour bus. He had never been to “el Norte” but taught himself good English. He was “new” to San Cristobal, having lived there only 10 years, and thought it was the best place ever. He told me that the people of Chiapas are very self-reliant and several attempts to start factories have failed, because very few are willing to work on assembly lines. The farming around there are almost all small acreages, and the small fabric makers and vendors are happiest as small entrepeneurs.
It did not seem to me that those mountain communities were wealthy by any means, but the people seemed to be busy with purpose and lots of children in good spirits.

Dec 23, 2012

Happy 14th B'ak'tun

Susan & I at Chichen Itza in 2009

Well Friday, Dec 21st came and went. Yesterday the sun rose again and last night we had another beautiful sunset. So much for the doomsday seers of the 2012 apocalypse.
Living down here in these ancient Mayan lands (re-branded as the Mayan Riviera), I have had some interest in this impending event. There were a few special events at some of the historic Mayan sites nearby to mark the date of the end of the 13th B’ak’tun (each B’ak’tun is 144,000 days, approximately 394 solar years). One friend from Paamul joined the more than 20,000 who showed up at the iconic Chichen Itza for “whooping, dancing, drum-beating ceremonies” - a great party it sounds like. According to one report, “The boisterous gathering Friday included Buddhists, pagan nature worshipers, druids and followers of Aztec and Maya religious traditions. Some kneeled in attitudes of prayer, some seated with arms outstretched in positions of meditation, all facing El Castillo, the massive main pyramid.”
Modern Mayans and most scholars hold no credence to this date being apocalyptic other than a reference point on a calendar that evolves into a new era.

Many years ago, anthropologists studying the highly advanced and detailed Mayan calendar noted that it was divided into ‘long count’ eras, and the current era, the 13th B’ak’tun ended on Dec 21, 2012 on our calendar. A book was published and out came the interpretations and misinterpretations.
Doomsday end-of-the-world prophecies and prophets have been around for many centuries. A chart I read this week listed 25 persons and groups, including some well known such as Nostradmus and Charles Manson, but many other ultimate fatalists I wasn’t aware of such as Martin Luther and Isaac Newton. Charismatic religious leaders such as John Wesley, Jean Dixon, up to Pat Robertson have predicted End of Days. The Jehovah’s Witness founders predicted the end of the world as we know it to be 1914, and then revised that date six more times, all of which have passed.

It is amusing and distressing to me that people around the world are so willing to embrace doomsday. What is it in our nature that seeks to give up on life on earth. While the idea of a better after-life may be a comfort to some, I think it lets us off the hook to make the best of it here and now. If we are convinced that the end is nigh, then what motivation is there to be good stewards of the earth and to get along with each other, other communities, other countries?
I’ve always thought that the idea of jurisdictional borders separating people is one of the most arbitrary and senseless concepts. How many battles, military and economic have been fought to subjugate one another? How many wars and deaths have there been through time to dominate our neighbors across these borders?
When I read science and history, I note two major puzzles: One is that from our evolution we are all related. Right across the globe, we share virtually all our genetic make up. As well, over the centuries, a great part of the world’s population have mixed and mingled their heritage. And yet great wars have been fought to claim the dominance of me and mine over you and yours.
The second is that when you look back over the maps of the world though time, borders have been drawn all over the place. These lines on the maps have been established and moved many times by conflict and bloodshed. We have behaved like wild animals fighting for territory and survival. We may be fighting with ‘higher’ rationalizations like my gods (my true path is better than your false path) or my cultural ways (my concept of freedom is superior to yours). These have never been proven. It is always been decided by power, that might is right.
Skulls glyphs at Chichen Itza

Back to the Mayans, and maybe a lesson we can learn from them.
Their great civilizations came and went in several periods, called the Pre-Classic (2000 BC to AD 250), the Classic period (AD 250 to 900) and continued to the Post-Classic period until the arrival of the Spanish. The Spanish destroyed many of their temples to use the same stones to build their own cathedrals. They also burned all the native written works they found.
During the Classic period, the Maya built large and thriving societies, but were always under stress from nature and inter tribal warfare. Their survival was largely dependent on rain to enable them to grow their crops and feed their people. The Maya developed sophisticated farming practices for planting and harvesting their corn from the thin soil under the jungle.
To the extent they could not control the weather, their priests prescribed bizarre rituals of blood sacrifice. To expand their influence they regularly went to war against neighboring communities, but only on times that were deemed auspicious by their priests. The greater cities grew like modern empires. The Classic period witnessed the peak of large-scale construction with grand pyramids, and roads throughout the jungle. This was the time of intellectual and artistic development. The Mayan population grew into the millions, before it collapsed and the major cities abandoned.
The prevailing hypotheses for the Maya collapse include overpopulation, exhaustion of the agriculture and environmental disasters from climate change.
Sound familiar?
No need to say more than Happy New B'ak'tun, Peace and Love.

Dec 18, 2012

Chillin’… and sweatin’...

For any regular readers, you will see I have not posted for over a month...I have been taking it easy this fall. “Chillin” may not sound like the thing to do in the warm tropical weather down here, but it is how I’m feeling.

After the mad scramble of building the casita last year, (and the work of getting the palapa built in the preceding years), it just seemed right to be to be enjoying our Mexican home more and working less. So far this fall, I built one cabinet, and helped Susan with some gardening, and other “to-do’s” will just happen in their own good time.
There is a saying down here: “‘Mañana’ doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow, it just means ‘not today’.”
So I have been embracing the mañana spirit, and it feels good. I have had my feet up a good deal, and have managed to read several books.

Okay, and then there is the gettin’ older and my health thing:
It was December, a year ago, when I bent too far backwards playing beach volleyball and popped something in my lower back. In the weeks and months that followed, I was the walking wounded, with pains through my right hip and down my right leg.
I had some therapy on it and it seemed to be getting better slowly, but I still could not walk or run very far, so sports -- tennis and volleyball were out. Those who I consulted suggested it was a lower back issue, likely a herniated disk. Sometimes these get better on their own, and sometimes they need active procedures.
Fortunately I was not in any discomfort when I was sitting or lying down, so life went on, and I was determined to get it “fixed” when I got back up to Canada.
To make a long story shorter: back in Ontario, doctors, x-rays, an MRI, and specialists advised that there was no simple fix to recommend. It wasn’t critical enough to go the invasive surgery route, and back surgery was not very reliable or predictable. My research overwhelmingly discouraged back surgery, citing “FBSS” -- Failed Back Surgery Syndrome. Yikes!
So I went the physio route with slow and modest results. Basically, I was becoming a sedentary slug. And to be truthful, I was pretty depressed. My passion, tennis, was out of my life. For many years I have defined myself, my schedule of activity around tennis. The previous summer, for example, I played social and competitive tennis doubles about 5 days a week. Tennis was a sport and an exercise that could serve me into my dotage, and it was pulled out of my life.

Physio -- arrghh: have patience, lie on a mat doing stretching exercises and maybe there will be some recovery...boring!
A couple weeks ago our friends from Vancouver, Ken & Shirley came for a visit. Ken, I would say, is a fitness nut. He works in some exercise every day. So on this visit, he decided to find a gym to keep up his regimen. His on-line search recommended a place called Evolve in Playa, and he came back extolling the facility. A couple of days later, I went along, and by golly, I found exercises that I can do, work up a sweat, get my heart beating, and even mimic many of the physio drills I had been prescribed. However, these drills were on shiny machines with variable weights that I could adjust to my needs on and count out reps, “Five more, four more…” to the background tunes of techno-pop music. 
It ain’t tennis, but it’s a good workout, a good sweat, and I am guardedly optimistic that life goes on, and I’m not ready for the glue factory, yet.
And yeah, its not really chillin’ either.

Oct 31, 2012

Sandy - Schmandy…

With the “super-storm” Hurricane Sandy wreaking devastation through the US northeast and into Eastern Canada, I say, “Come on down to the Yucatan -- weather’s great!”
I'm just being silly of course. I know I can't control or influence the weather, in spite of my irreverence.

This pic is of the tropical storms and hurricanes of 2005 -- weird patterns, eh?
Living our winters here on Caribbean coast, the hurricane issue is an annual concern. (Hurricane season is July to October). Before we committed to setting up our winter home here, I checked the hurricane history of this region. Over the last 50 years, there was a serious storm to cross this general area 10 times -- that makes an average of once every 5 years.
In 2005 there were 2 big ones to make landfall along our coast. Emily (July 18 Cat 4) went over Playa del Carmen just 15 km to our north. She stripped the grass roofs off several palapas and cracked a few walls in some older units here in Paamul.
Wilma (Oct 22 Cat 4) settled right over Cancun, busting up several of the cheaper hotels. Those hotels were either poorly built or under funded. Cancun is about 60 kms to the north of us.
2005 was a bad year for tropical storms, including both Katrina and Rita which devastated the US Gulf coast. My actuarial thinking says that with our two hurricanes in 2005, it gives us clear skies for the next 10 years, right? Well 7 years later, we are still just fine...

There is a great resilience in the people and their buildings in this area. Very few buildings are made of lumber. Our palapa has a grass roof, but it is over a concrete building blocks casita. Besides, grass roofs typically have to be replaced every 8 to 10 years.
I think if/when a super-storm hits us we will have some rebuilding but it should be quite simple.
Meanwhile, good luck to all our friends and neighbors to the north.
I think I’ll go for another swim today. Seas are calm...82 degrees...wonderful.

Oct 30, 2012

One Last Drive

We have gone full circle. What started with a mini-van, is now ending with a mini-van.
(The pic, left, is our first day across the border - our first stop for a roadside taco lunch at "Grama's Tacos" - yum!)

We made our first holiday drive to Mexico 12 years ago. We had a Ford Windstar, loaded with two small tents, sleeping bags, and minimal camping gear and supplies (and our new puppy, Pippin). We spent a couple of weeks going down the US west coast, then down the long Mexican Baja, and back. It was enough of a taste of Mexico to bring us back.
A brief evolutionary history:
In 2003, we had acquired a ½ ton truck and small fifth wheel, and that served us for three more winter trips, each outing taking more time exploring the Mexican west coast.
On our way north in the spring of 06, we agreed that our living in Vancouver had run its natural course, and we should look at full retirement, selling the house, and traveling more.
That summer, we successfully pulled the plug, and moved to a new truck and trailer, and our “full-time RVing” life began. That fall, we headed south and spent much of the winter in the west coast town of Lo de Marcos, where we had developed a close community of friends and activities.
However, we weren’t quite ready to settle down. We had been driving through much of the northern Mexican interior, enjoying it all, and knew there was more we wanted to see. We kept hearing about this RV beach community way out on the eastern Caribbean coast of Mexico, called Paamul, and decided next winter, 2007, to head that way.
We were well-smitten by the area, the beach, the facilities and the people. We still considered ourselves “full-time travelers”, but reasoned that if we leased a spot on this Caribbean coast, and built a palapa, we could still be touring with our rv through so much more or the US and Mexico on our annual trips south and north.
Those trips each ran 6000 kilometers (or more), and each year the drive seemed a little longer. Over the next five years, we visited most of the States of Mexico, and most of the United States too. Yes, I’m sure there is more to see, but then, there always will be.
Then we re-evaluated our life as RVers. We still enjoy spending our summers in the 5th wheel at beautiful Guelph Lake Park, but maybe we needn’t  be pulling our big rolling house around. Our wonderful ‘06 Chevy Duramax Silverado had done its job. With 192,000 kms (more than half of those pulling our 5th wheel), we bade it farewell, and it found a new home to be the trailer-puller for another family. For now, we will still be living our summers in our trailer, but now it goes into storage for the winter.

So we are back to a mini-van -- this time an 06 Dodge Grand Caravan. I have to admit, it was more relaxing to drive the long days without the 12,000 lbs of weight behind, though it seems like we had a good deal of that weight loaded into this van. We took the topes (speed bumps) very slowly, scraping our underside a few times. The van was stuffed with a last load of our stuff -- 12 rubbermaid totes, 4 suitcases, two tool boxes, two guitars, an amp, etc, that will be part of our winter life. The Dodge will stay here and be our winter vehicle.
The trip was kind of a last waltz. We drove many familiar roads, commenting to each other that it would likely be our last time passing by: “Goodbye Cincinnati, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Austin, San Antonio, Eagle Pass.
Adios Piedras Negras, Monclova, Matehuala, San Miguel de Allende, Arco Norte, Puebla, Orizaba, Villahermosa, Escarsega.
Hasta Luego (Until we meet again).

Apr 7, 2012

Casita 179

Our season of 2011/12 in Paamul is over and the tools are put away. So what has this winter been about?
Here a little tour of our new casita that replaced the trailer in our palapa.

Looking at the front exterior, the building on the right half is where the trailer used to sit. The landscaping is incomplete as we are planning to add a cactus garden.

The view from inside the palapa -- the casita is now integrated into the design and colours of our palapa. It is essentially the footprint of the trailer that was there before with a living area, a bedroom and a 1/2 bath.  This winter has been very warm and humid, and we enjoyed the cool dry air conditioned space in the casita.

The living room is not finished with some decorating and cabinets and coffee table still in development.
There is also a desk and tall shelf next to where I am standing - my designated “messy area”

The bedroom with my cabinetry. Susan’s wardrobe is to my left and my closet is on my right.

The bathroom with varnished counter and onyx sink.

A Post in Every Room
Each of the interior rooms includes one of the big Zapote posts that hold up the palapa. I find them beautiful and reassuring in their strength.

Mar 22, 2012

Slow and steady...

The casita is coming along slowly with many little things under way, and will not be getting to completion this spring. As I mentioned in an earlier post, after the New Year when the casita shell and floors were done, we have been down to a crew of one. Or perhaps more like 1/2 worker. It seems my age and a chronically sensitive back have caught up with me this winter, and after morning-to-night activity of building, and a little time for my sports, tennis and volleyball, my back and sciatic nerves went on tilt. So I gave up up sports, and I have been taking it slowly on the work site, trying not to lift too much, or bend up, down or sideways too much, and coax my lower spine to get better.
Living in a workshop My finishing was going so slowly, all the little steps haven’t inspired me to be reporting its progress. Along with my sore back, I have caught a case of “mañana”. Thanks to Susan for being patient.
Working down The List: --Install the windows and doors. --Paint and stain --Install the AC. --More lights, plugs and switches. --Shop for living room set couch and chair. --Build the wood furniture, bed, tables, shelves, wardrobes --Walls and doors for ensuite bath and closet. Some details follow... Windows and the sliding door came from stock sizes available at Home Depot. All went in pretty well though there still is some calking to do. Paint for the casita became another finding-just-the-right-colour-paint drill. For our two and a half rooms we tried out about a dozen this time, but the results, like goldilocks’ choice: not too bright, not too dull, but just right. The wood furniture was stained with a custom mix of acrylic red and brown and then urethane.
AC Mini-Split : Maxi-great For readers from the US and Canada who aren’t familiar with the mini-split air conditioner which is widely used down here and some other parts of the world, let me tell you it is a wonderful fixture. One of my main complaints of RV life in warm summers in Canada and warm winters in Mexico is living with the roof mounted AC. So noisy, inside and out. Little better are the options for a typical Canadian home when you want to add an AC to a room, you have to put up with the ugliness and whine from a window mounted AC unit. A mini-split is not those. It is mini -- good for a room or two or three, and it is split two parts. A condenser unit sits outside, on the ground, an outside wall or the roof. We have ours on our new cement roof. The second part is the unit which sits on an inside wall quietly distributing its cooling. It is almost silent except for a gentle cool fan. Mini Split ACs come in a few sizes. Ours is small, a 9k btu that runs on 110 volts. The larger units are 220 volt and have one, two or three cooling units. Homes and buildings down here don’t need central heating, and there are no pipes available to distribute AC either. So I think these ACs are quite efficient at distributing the the cooling where it is needed.
We checked out every furniture store we could find in Playa, and then took a couple of drives to Cancun. To make a long story short, we found what we needed at the Cancun Costco! Wood you, could you? A couple of years ago I designed and built our kitchen cabinets from scratch which was quite satisfying, so for the casita I set out to do all the interior woodwork -- the bed, side tables, bureaus, the closets, a desk, and living room cabinets and shelving -- about 15 items in all. The en-suite bathroom and one closet were framed with metal studs and moisture resistant gyprock. However for the woodwork, this time I thought I would up the challenge and try for a bit more of the “fine woodworking” effect. This meant using better wood, with stains and varnishes rather than paint. I am quite an amateur, but step by step, have been learning what materials are available and the method I can use to get a result I like. Once more I was prowling through the madera (wood) stores in our area. There seems to be a wide choice in laminated wood that is not the plain old G1S (good one side) pine plywood that I was familiar with from the lumber stores back home. They had names like Okume, Fresno, Encino, Sande, Haya, Coaba, some of which translated to Oak, Mahogany and Birch.
For the framing and edging of the cabinets, I found a nice hardwood called Haya which I am told is a birch from Germany. In the many times I have been to lumber yards and building centres in Canada, I never saw quality hardwoods. I remember my choices were very basic 2x4’s and the like. Upscale lumber was either just kiln-dried or perhaps cedar. Here in Playa, there seem to be all kinds of exotic woods. Mahogany of all shapes and sizes. Others had nice piles of clean, knot-free tight grained boards from Mexico as well as Europe and South America. These boards arrive in rough cut various dimensions, with noticeable chainsaw cut marks, from small mills in the jungle.
One huge ramshackle place is sort of a warehouse-workshop where you have to climb over under and around piles of exotic Caribbean woods.
I bought several of these -one a Zapote board approximately 2” x 12” that I used to make a headboard for the bed.
To build the bathroom counter, I found a couple of pieces of a beautifully grained wood called Machiche, one piece that is about 1.5 “ x 16” (x 8’), that I am using for the counter and for a coffee table. At these lumber stores there are saws and planers in order to cut down, straighten and smooth the boards you buy. I had them do one piece through their well worn planer, but it didn’t come out very even. I took the others “as is” and when I got them home, I attacked them with a belt sander.

Jan 16, 2012

Un Desvío...

My faithful readers have been wondering what is happening with the palapa. Well, the work crew has been reduced to basically just me, so things are moving along, but more slowly. Also Christmas happened and all that, and we took a “holiday” which is the posting of this detour...

After a month of having workers here, morning to night, we decided to take a break and spend a few days away. We parked our puppy with our neighbors and drove the three hours to Merida. This was to be pre-Christmas shopping and furniture scouting for the palalpa.
It was also our anniversary (The Big 2-5) and while we didn’t have the time or inclination for a Caribbean cruise or the like, we felt we deserved a treat in a big city. Back when ropes were being made out of sisal and henequen, Merida was one of the grandest in the western hemisphere, and is today a renown cultural and commercial centre.
We chose to stay at a classical old hotel, just 1/2 block off the main square, where we could easily avail ourselves of the vibrant night life. On the weekend, the central plaza comes to full life, with market stalls being set up all around, as well as countless food vendors. In the evenings, they close off several streets to vehicles, including the two blocks in front of our hotel, where the streets became malls of more food and music.

Mexican folk dancing (Ballet Folkorico) is practiced practice throughout Mexico and tours the world representing this country's culture. We checked into an events guide and found that the 10th annual symposium of Folklorico was taking place in a theatre just two blocks away, with groups from around Mexico, including participants from the US and Canada.

We wandered down at the appointed time and found this grand theatre with four levels of boxes. It was the opening night, and after many speeches and thank you’s, and two anthems (Mexico and Yucatan?) we were treated to an evening of music and dance from the host city. Just lovely.

Mostly very stylized and formal, with costumes to knock your eyes out.

Our city visit agenda, included scouting for furniture -- specifically for the couch that will be right for our casita. We had already looked through most of the Muebles (furniture) stores in Playa, so with a few recommendations, headed out (without a city map). There were two stores in particular I felt we should check out. The first we found easily, on a main street not far away. The second, when I called them, told me that they were also not far away. I took instructions over the phone, and set out. Finding our hotel, and that first store had been easy so I was confident. Besides virtually all streets in Merida are numbered -- even-numbered streets run north-south, odd-numbered streets run east-west. What we discovered, was that the corner of 20th and 23 occurs all over the city, as the sequence of numbers changes when you go from neighborhood (colonia) to neighborhood. Yes, “Mr. No Problema -- I can drive anywhere” got to see a fair amount of the city as we drove around in a few circles. In the end, we saw a some furniture we liked, but decided to defer.

On Monday we drove out to Uxmal, one of the great historical sites of the ancient Mayans.

Meanwhile, back in the “Centro” near the hotel, the streets were as crowded with pedestrians as I have ever seen. Fortunately the downtown streets are one-way, so you just mosey along, trying not to run over shoppers who are walking with the traffic because the sidewalks were jammed. With each return to the hotel, we left the truck with the valet at the hotel, and ventured out on foot to mix and mingle.
In brief, we didn’t do much buying, but Merida is beautiful, the people and food are great, and we’ll be back.

Dec 16, 2011

Christmas in the Jungle

Yesterday we celebrated Christmas in a Mayan village about an hour and a half from here. Chumpon was ‘adopted’ a few years ago by people in PaaMul, and is about quite a way off the main roads. This is where we built a school library last year.
For a few years a convoy of Paamulians have brought Santa with presents for all the kids in the village. It started with the school kids but has been expanded to include the pre-school children.

Our rotund white-bearded dive shop master, John, serves as and excellent Santa much to the delight of the more than a hundred children.

Susan and our neighbor Dot, took on the new project of the preschool tots.
Through the summer and fall, Susan shopped for toys, stuffed animals and things like coloring books, for their xmas gift bags. Another woman in the park, Debbie, sewed lovely little bags with straps to hold all the treats.
The preschool teacher, Claudia, got most of her little ones to dress in red and white, and we were quite amazed how patient and well-behaved they were.

First we all had snacks and cake, then they lined up to have a go at the piñata. What a hoot. There is a special song that goes with the piñata attack, and one after another of the little ones had a whack. It resisted quite a while amidst much laughter.

Then the gift bags were given out, completing what for many of the kids might be their first Christmas memory.
It was over in a couple of hours, we were exhausted, and drove home for afternoon naps.

We are floored!

Once we pick our floor, we better be sure as it is what we will be living with.
Walls can be painted, covered with fabric, but ....
The typical floor in this part of the world is ceramic tile. We went through some drama choosing the tiles for our palapa three years ago. (After looking at many, found one we liked, ordered it, the wrong one came, went looking again in a rush, found another tile, drove to the warehouse about an hour away, brought it back in our truck, had it installed, and now are only moderately happy with it -- oh well.)

With another opportunity to choose flooring, we were trying some thinking outside the box. Several friends here have pulled carpets from their rvs and replaced them with laminate. I like laminate. I have installed it several times over many years. As laminate is made with an absorbent base, is not recommended for kitchens and bathrooms. Some of what I read on line, cautioned about its use in humid conditions like new concrete, particularly in this climate.
We looked at solid bamboo flooring, but it was pricey, and meant to be nailed to a subfloor. I couldn’t see how that would work for us.
Then one afternoon, we were in another floor design place and saw these displays of travertine. Wow! This is the stuff that is used in deluxe places like hotels, and up-scale malls, and museums.
It turns our that there is a type of travertine that is mined from a quarry near Puebla (Mx) that had some lovely subtle colors and we thought would be a nice shift from our ‘outside’ palapa area to our ‘inside’ casita.
With our two and a half rooms being only 32 sq. M (345 sq. ft), it was something we decided we could afford.

Like many other aspects of this renovation, once again we were fortunate that it has gone smoothly. They had the material in stock and could start as soon as we were ready. Two guys have been here for the last three days and this morning the floor is going to get final polishing and sealing.
Then paint, then electrical, then furniture, then...

Dec 13, 2011

As the dust settles

At last we brought out the brooms for a proper cleaning. It has been over a month that we have lived in this construction zone. Several times a day, I would grab a broom, shovel or rake in an effort to control the detritus.

Building out of cement involves a lot of grit and dust. Most of the materials - gravel, sand and especially cement are dusty. The same for the stucco, floor adhesive and grout which comes in bags of fine powder. Our hallway at the front entrance has been the storage place for the bags and bags of these powders.
I also created my share of dust, in my role as the electric guy. As the floor, walls and roof went up, I was in there with the diamond blade side grinder to cut all the outlets for the conduits, plugs, plug switches and lighting outlets.
I also was busy with the heavy chisel removing the old floor tiles adhesive and grout along the modified line of the hallway. Pounding a chisel was slow and brutal work, chipping away as though I was working on a rock pile. Still it seemed a bit meditative, swinging away for as long as my hands could take it, resting and going again.
Each pour of cement seemed to include a lot of chipping away where the edges and corners were not quite right. The forms (wood framework for cement pours) are heavily recycled boards of many sizes, and not always a good fit. It seems it is easier / cheaper to chip away the spillover areas than to spend money on good lumber.

Some of the last pieces our albanils installed were glass block windows in the bedroom. Once again Lucio and Gilberto mixed more emulsion of white cement and their part was nearly done.

For the whole month we had some plastic sheets hanging between our kitchen and the work zone to create a little separation between the building area and our living area. These come down yesterday, and today the last bits of cleaning will be done. For now.