Long Overdue Blog
March 2, 2010

There are going to be some changes in the format of the blog. One of which is to make photos smaller but also make them "clickable" to see the full size photo. First some updates from previous blogs.

I have often put in photos of bugs that I don't know and looked for identification. I finally found someone that could answer my questions. This caterpiller is called a horn worm because of the hornlike projection on the end of the tail.

The next "bug" is the Black Witch Moth (an owlet moth) (Ascalaph odorata). This moth is harmless and only eats the nectar from flowers. It is also found throughout Latin American and parts of the Caribbean and south Texas. It has even been spotted in Colorado.

There are many superstitions that follow this large moth. It has been known in Mexico since the Indians of the Aztec times as "mariposa de la muerte" (butterfly of death). The belief was (is) that if this moth enters the house of a sick person, they will die. In south Texas a variation of this is that the death occurs only if the moth flies in and visits all four corners of the house.

People joke in some parts of Mexico that if this moth flies over your head, you will lose your hair. And still another myth: if you see one, someone has put a curse on you!

In other parts of the world, the moth is more welcome news. In Hawaii it is still associated with death, but is believed to be the embodiment of the person's soul saying aloha to you.

On Cat Island, Bahamas, they are known as money moths or moneybats and if they land on you, you will win the lottery.

In South Texas if a Black Witch lands above your door and stays for a time, you will win the lottery. I am down for this belief!

Congratulations are in order for Martin. He was mentioned in blog 10 for his work with the baby turtles on the east side of the island. Well, he was recognized for his work during an awards ceremony at the end of the turtle season. This is especially sweet because Martin worked only as a volunteer for many years. Recognizing very early on the need to conserve these endangered marine mammals. He finally was hired to do what he had sacrificed his time doing for so many years and is now and is getting recognition for his efforts. I have great admiration for Martin and the other men and woman that took on this task over 20 years ago. This was in a time when turtle eggs were considered a delicacy and it was perfectly acceptable for people to take the eggs during the season.

There is a program now in the turtle season that educates the public on the need for helping the turtles. It is held at the Cozumel Museum.

Consider visiting the island in August and September if you would like to personally see the awesome release of the baby turtles first-hand. I was moved to tears by the experience as were many of my friends. The island is visited by four different species of turtles; the green, loggerhead, leatherback and hawks bill.

 

Two years ago I had a photo of Ruby at her wedding just before Hurricane Dean was to arrive on the island. Well she and Julio had a baby in November. Could not resist adding his precious photo.



Now on to the new.

So much has happened since the Ironman blog that it is hard to cover it all. I had intended to put one out sooner, but I had lots of relatives visiting me during the month of February. I spent way too much time having a great time with them to put a blog out that month.

First, a fish. A baby trunkfish. I also took some video of this tiny fish. They are painfully cute at this age. They swim really funny. They have their tails wrapped around their bodies. They can unwrap them, but seem to keep them tucked for some reason.

A friend of mine, Nacho Gil, is a international award-winning underwater photographer (plus an independent dive master). He has a wonderful photo of a baby trunk fish about this same size inside of a red sponge. He is an amazing photographer and the photo I mentioned and some of his best work is being featured in the lobby of the Hotel Presidente on the island right now. If you are on the island, stop in to see it. Just tell the guard you are going to see Nacho Gil's exhibit and they will let you right in. Also in the same lobby are photos by Robert Cudney. His are mostly of Cozumel water birds.

One of the prettiest fish in the local waters is the queen angelfish. Even prettier is the juvenile queen angelfish. The adult angels eat sponges, jellyfish, coral and algae. But these youngsters are cleaner fish. They eat parasites off the bodies of other fish. I have never seen them doing this. I have only seen these beauties on a couple of occasions. I always love to find cleaning stations where fish come to been cleaned by the smaller fish. They always looks so happy. Queen angelfish can live up to 15 years.

The waters around Cozumel have been invaded by the lionfish. These fish have no natural enemies here and are chowing down on the reef fish. It is believed that they escaped from an aquarium breeder in Florida during Hurricane Andrew. They have spread up and down the east coast, the Bahamas, Mexcio and Central America. The first one was spotted in the Cozumel waters a year ago. This past Sunday there was a lionfish tournament here and 259 were caught. One boat brought in 115. This was during a five hour period. Nacho Gil brought in 24 and was going to take them home for cooking. Yes, they are edible once the spines have been neutralized. I hear they are good, but I haven't seen them appear on local menus. They are being spotted by snorkelers now although I have not seen one yet. They are beautiful but can ruin an ecosystem not to mention poisonous if you get touched by a spine. A few dive masters have been stung here. The red cross had an ambulance and medics standing by during the tournament. Fortunately, they were not needed.

Cozumel continues to be a island of contrasts. We are moving into the first world poco a poco. Some of this I welcome. Having pretty speedy dsl and decent television available is great. Having the great new store, Mega where I can buy sharp cheddar cheese and fresh milk (when they have them in stock) really makes me happy. This year we got a drive thru Burger King. While the idea of it repels me, I will admit that I have driven thru a few times (my bad). But again, the contrasts. The photo is of a home right across the street from the shiny new Burger King contrasting the new and the old, the "rich" and the poor.

Right along with moves in the right direction is the law put in effect by our last mayor requiring that helmets be worn on all motos. We see many variations of this law. Often you see people on motos racing down the street with their helmet straps flapping in the breeze. Here is an all too common sight, whole families on one moto. I guess this many on a moto classifies it as mass transit.

It is pretty scary on the island right now (March 2) because the tourists are here riding around in motos and rental cars. Every day we see them going the wrong way on one ways, or dumping their bikes. There is just no getting around it, motor scooters are not safe, period. Even if you know what you are doing, it is a very busy little island and people are seriously hurt and killed often here. It just isn't worth the little you save from renting a car. One of the less expensive places to rent cars is Isis. Isis has a reputation for keeping their equipment in excellent condition and having reasonable prices.

It is also a scary time of year for the purple sea fans and other corals. They get stepped on by people that don't really know how to snorkel and try doing it by walking around on the bottom and not swimming around. You step on the coral and you kill it. Same with the sea fans. Probably not many people realize that coral is a living animal and very delicate.

To the left is elkhorn coral that has regenerated since Hurricane Wilma 4 years ago. Having seen the damage to these corals after the storm, it is really hard seeing people step on them now. Before the hurricane these were the size of volkswagons right off the shore. It made for really great snorkeling.

Had an interesting encounter with a southern stingray recently. The current was strong so I was able to nearly catch up with it and get some video which is better than the photo. Here is a link to the youtube video

This was a big ray. They can be 6 feet across, wingtip to wingtip. They live in tropical and subtropical waters. They are non-aggressive and would rather leave than fight. But I wouldn't think of getting too close to one of these intentionally as the barbed tail is toxic and they will use it to protect themselves. They are a live-bearing fish in that they retain their eggs until they are ready to hatch and thus have live births. They eat small fish and crustaceans and you can find them flapping" their wings in the sand and stirring it up to find their food.

Travel advisories about Mexico. You have heard them and they scare you. But, just like I said during last May's faux flu scare, we don't have problems here in Cozumel. At least very few crimes of violence. Robberies, that is another story. The woman that took care of my house for a couple of months 2 years ago, Chrissy, has been traveling throughout Mexico with absolutely no problem. She travels by herself and stays in inexpensive places, not the big secure hotels, but hostels and small hotels and motels. She is currently traveling throughout Central America and at the moment is in Honduras. Chrissy is from England originally, but, she has spent a lot of time in Cozumel. She plans to return to England after this current jaunt. Here is Chrissy's blog from her travels in Mexico. www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/ccchrissie/1/tpod.html -- It is quite interesting and her photography shows the diverse beauty of this country. I continue to be delighted by the beauty of Mexico.

There is no question that the fear of violence is keeping tourists away from Cozumel. Plus the US economy is a factor. It is a terrific time to visit the island. The peso is almost 13:1 on the dollar and even now in high season, it isn't that crowded.

A new addition to the blog. I am adding bios and information on people on the island that I think are interesting (this should give me plenty to write about).

First is Sheila McIntyre, in her own words.

I began coming to Cozumel in 1982 and later, when I owned Innerspace Divers Inc. in the Cleveland area. I brought many groups of divers here because of the friendly nature of the residents and, of course, that includes the fish.  As I began to grow up, I lived in Ohio and was a middle school teacher for 31 years.  During that span of time, I managed to “solo” raise 4 children, of course with a little help from the village and started my own scuba business.  Yes, they do dive in Ohio, in the cold quarries with 16C/61F degrees of shiver, usually with about 2 feet of visibility.  That is why you meet many Ohio/Michigan/Pennsylvania/Indiana/New York divers here that never wipe the grins off their face.

When my kids were small, we would pop the tent in the old family station wagon and set out every year in a new direction across the US; we’d travel until I was down to our last $50.00 and then would return home.  So one day, a friend of mine here suggested that I should move here and work for her, and I thought, hmmm, shovel snow or walk in the sand? Besides, I had seen most of the US and Canada, so it was time to move on.   Not a hard decision, as by this time, I had retired from teaching and was putting in 16 hour days with my scuba business.  So, it was time to see the rest of the world!  I worked for her dive operation for 3 years and then decided it was time to retire again.

Many changes are quite evident since I first came here, drinkable water, thousands of motos, jewelry stores, traffic lights.  Best of all, it’s the things that did not change – the sweet nature of the people, the family values, Cozumel is an “attitude” that should be replicated around the world.  Right now, I love being where I am.  I miss the kids and family stuff back in the states, but then again, I don’t miss it.  After dealing with 140 teenagers daily for 31 years, it is time for me to be me for a while.  That is part of growing up.  I have moved past being mom/chauffer/cook/bottle washer/diaper changer to being a star gazer/reader/beach walker/siesta taker.  And I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!

Thank you Sheila for this. It doesn'tt show in the photo of Sheila, but she has dayglow orange finger nails. She started wearing this color when diving the dark quarries up north. Her nails were a beacon to the divers she was guiding. Sheila is an adventurous traveler and has taken trips to Africa and Nicaragua in the last few years. Her fascinating narrative for Nicaragua can be found by clicking here.

Carlos Vega

Carlos is a life long resident of Cozumel. He and his wife, Andrea, have become good friends of mine. Because of his fishing contacts, they have provided me with many fish meals prepared by Andrea better than any restaurant I have ever visited. Carlos' grandfather and father were the first lighthouse keepers on the island in the 1930's. He comes from many generations of fishermen and so fishing runs very deep in his blood. After World War II, the island was isolated unheard of as a tourist spot. He helped support his family by fishing and diving for black coral. Black coral was a major export in the 1950's and often required divers to dive depths of over 180 feet! Aqua Safari and Adventuras Cozumel were a couple of the dive shops that were on the island at that time. Carlos got his dive equipment from them. Adventuras is gone, but Aqua Safari is still here.

As his expertise in diving grew, so did the reputation of Cozumel as a diver's paradise. As divers began to arrive he worked as a dive master for 5 years, guiding other master divers through the famous reefs and walls of palancar to depths of 150 feet. His first love has always been fishing. As a youngster he began hand line fishing. One day an America friend taught him how to spin fish and he was "hooked". He left guiding tourist under the ocean and began guiding them to the secret places of his ancestral Cozumel and Cancun waters. He began Aquarius Travel Fishing Representatives in 1975 as a deep sea fishing outfitter.

But his real passion was for flats fishing the mangrove lagoons for bonefish, permit, tarpon and snook, and from there evolved his flats fishing business. 25 years ago his good friend, Capt. Papo Lopez invited him to come to Ascention Bay for fishing. Ascention Bay is north of Cancun. Papo needed a fishing buddy and kept telling Carlos how great the flats fishing was there. Ascenstion Bay is famous for Yucatan mangroves and sandy flats area. So Carlos started visiting Papo and learned the art of fly fishing from Papo and some of the American fishermen that came to the bay in those days. Eventually he added Ascention Bay to his outfitter business. He was one of the first Cozumelaneans to learn fly fishing and shared his knowledge freely. When he started his business in 1975 there were only around 25,000 on the island. There were only a few hotels here. As the island grew and the reputation for being a fishermen's paradise, his business grew. There are now a number of bone fishing outfits on the island, but Carlos is still the most popular.

I have been fishing with Carlos and watched him skillfully cast to the bonefish. They are a fish that is easily frightened away by sounds, so when I went with him, there was no talking allowed. Can you imagine how hard that was for me. Carlos would read the signs in the water that bone fish were there. He could see signs of fins just above the surface -- called "tailing" -- and would cast to that spot. Really amazing to watch. He would almost always get his fish to hit. Of course, fish are always released immediately after the good fight. The trip alone up to the northern lagoons is beautiful. In the lagoons I was able to see many variety of birds, a Mayan sakbe (the Mayan roads which always run precisely north - south or east - west), and some Mayan ruins.

The month with my Buffalo relatives

3 of my cousins stayed on the island for the month of February. We had a ball. Linda stayed with me and when my sister, Rita, was in town we had a small party. We barbequed chicken on my new grill using the local charcoal. That didn't work so great, so I am in the market for a gas grill. But Linda had taken a Mexican cooking class from Josefina and prepared some Mexican dishes. It was fun watching her shop at the mercado (the municipal market) for the ingredients. She made the tortillas (actually sopas) from dough she bought there. She also despined cactus and prepared that for inclusion a rice salad. This way of preparing cactus is so much better than buying it in cans or in brine. They are crisp and crunchy. You can also get cactus with the spines removed sometimes at the mercado. I tried this on my own and while the cactus was really good, the spines in my fingers, not so much.

The mercado is always an interesting place to visit. I have learned that making soup from chicken with the feet still on is way better. The mercado has also had a face lift recently and is pleasing not only to the eye, but the nose. Here are a few photos taken there while Linda and I shopped last month.


My cousin, Linda, has a son-in-law that is from Ethiopia (Dawit), now living in New Orleans. They all visited the island in February. It was fun spending time with him and talking about comparisons of living in his country and Mexico. I took him to some of the less affluent areas of the island and he told me that the homes were very similar to the rural areas of Ethiopia. He saw lots of other similarities. He had never been in the ocean before and took a diving "resort course" from Eduardo of Sea Robin Diving. He and his wife, Alex, were very pleased and confident with Eduardo. They also snorkeled quite a few times and they were thrilled by all that he saw below the surface. Since Ethiopia is land-locked, this was quite an experience for Dawit. Also very different from the area around New Orleans. It was surprising to me to see they way he took to the water, a natural.

Dawit is shown to the right doing a "titantic" moment at Mirador on the east side while having another tourists snap his photo.

During their visit we had an evening at my house and our friends, Catherine and Eddie were there. Catherine brought her guitar and sang for us in my living room. It was a magical evening. One on of her last nights on the island she sang at the new old No Name Bar across from the International Pier. I video taped it and put it on youtube. Here is the link

My cousins and my sister, Rita, were all here for Carnival. It was the first time for all of them and they were very excited by it all. My sister, Mary, was unable to come due to an injury, but promises to come at another time. I have created a web page just for Carnival, but here are a few photos from this year.

To the right is Adrian, a well known figure on the island, but not usually with this figure. He makes me look like Twiggy here. Adrian owns Especias Restaurant (one of my favorites) and also a kite boarding supply business AND he is the ecology czar for the island now. He is trying got get recycling back in force on the island.

These men dance every year. I just love them. They always wear the same style suit and hat, but with different colors every year. They are dancing fools.

One of the really great things about carnival is the energy level of the crowd and the parade participants. If you attempt to engage the people in the parade, they respond usually with a lot of energy. You can't usually achieve this exchange from a balcony, you usually have to be right down on ground level. But when you make the connection,voila! These folks have been parading for hours and days and are tired, but with a little stimulus from you, they come back to life big time.

This drummer, for instance, made contact with me when he was on the return loop of the parade. We ended up dancing together in the street while there was a pause in the parade. Great fun! None of my family got the photo to prove how silly I can be.

While there is an obvious sexuality with the costumes and dancing, the Cozumel carnival parade is still very much a family affair. This year's parade was complicated by a couple of things. First night it started about 2 hours late. It seems the truck that was to pull the queen's float broke down and had to be repaired before they could go on. The last night of the parade one of the floats was spraying some form of fireworks and caught the palapa of Senior Frogs on fire. It was nothing short of miraculous that nobody was hurt. Here is a youtube video of the fast spreading fire. Video. You will be amazed to know that everything was quickly cleaned up and the parade continued in about 30 minutes. I am told that Senior Frog's reopened that night. More photos from Carnival 2010 can be seen here.

Mexican parties from a gringa's perspective

As an older expat, I like to be in bed pretty early. If I have been invited to a party at the home of one of my Mexican national friends, I know that won't be happening. Most of the parties don't start before 9 pm and if you come then, you will probably be the only person to arrive that soon, except for maybe other expats. The party doesn't get into full swing until 11 to 12 pm and can go most of the night. Usually there is music either live, or canned. Sometimes there is even a mariachi band. Oh, and be prepared for some dancing! The conclusion I have come to over the years is that Mexican's really know how to party. So, I try to go when I am invited. I take a nap early in the evening and arrive after it has started. Always plan on eating pretty late. To the left are Jose & Chepita. They manage my landlord's property. To the right is their granddaughter, Sammy dancing in traditional dress. The occasion was Jose's birthday.

 

Nortes

While you have been gettling slammed with snowstorms in the north, we have been getting slammed with "nortes" here in Cozumel. A norte is when the winds come from the north and it gets very cold by our standards (mid-50s sometimes) Okay, don't scoff at me. We are acclimated to the tropical weather here and when it gets that cold, we suffer. Very few of folks from north of the border would sit in their homes without the furnace on when it gets down to 55oF. But at least there is an option to turn on the heat. Our cement houses are not insulated and there are no furnaces. So we can be pretty miserable. I was so disappointed for my cousins that it was so cold here for the month of February. They laughed since they are from Buffalo so they know cold and they were perfectly happy with the weather. We have had MANY nortes this winter and the port has been closed to small boats often. That means no income for the dive businesses and the fishing businesses.

The boat behind me is grounded in the sand. The owners of this boat are still stinging from the mess they got into when they stopped in Cozumel to get supplies or something. They left broke, without the engine for the little boat they used to get to the big boat, having been grounded twice and nearly getting run over by a cruise ship they cut in front of. When they came ashore in their little boat to get things in town, they didn't secure their engine and it was gone when they got back. They had no way to get to their boat and the norte hit and they couldn't stop the boat from grounding! I was told that they grounded twice. They were sure glad to leave Cozumel.

I will say my perspect changed when I learned from cousin Linda that she had to use a sled to get her kitty up to her house when she returned to Western New York. She had to struggle inch by inch in deep snow to get to the house where her snowshoes were to get the rest of her things from the car. Okay, I will stop whining now!

This week Freckles, my wonderful dog, was barking his "this is serious" bark beside the house. I went out to investigate and found that he had discovered a large green iguana in the yard and was really worried about it. This explains all the flowers that have been getting eaten. But I believe it is one of the most beautiful iguanas I have ever seen. Be sure to click on the image to see the larger version.

Iguanas are diurnal and arboreal. This means they are active in the daytime and sleep at night and that they mainly live in trees. They are total herbivores. I have been annoyed because I believe this one has been eating my plants and flowers, including my orchid. Although they are called green iguanas they can come in a variety of colors depending on the region of the world. For instance, I have seen lavendar in Bonaire. In Cozumel you often can see bright orange iguanas, especially at Chankanaab Park on the island. They can also come in blue, red and pink but often lose their color as they get older. That is why I think this one is special. I don't usually see them this size be so rich a green color. You can note that the spines are starting to get orange, so this one may well turn orange in the future.

Better than a dog park...

Pet update for those of you that have been asking. Freckles has a new buddy, Magoo, a feral kitten that got separated from his mother way too young. I trapped him and tamed him and now can't part with him. The Abyssinian cats have been just trying to stay warm on these cold nights and trying to fend off Magoo's wild kitten behavior (he is really obnoxious).

Friends Myrna and Tisha found a spot to run the dogs that is better than a dog park and formed what they call a "walkie-talkie" group of friends and dogs that walk together early on Saturdays.

Above left are Myrna with her dog Smoky and Freckles. In the middle are Smoky, Max (DeLea's dog) and Bones (Tisha's dog). To the right Myrna giving them dog treats at the end of the run. Myrna has created a very interesting and well written blog in Spanish and English. Read the latest here.

Ru -10 years old and still full of kittenish behavior.

Tuffy, Ru's son. Abys can be so elegant.

Magoo, getting more handsome every day. Still a very obnoxious kitten!

Tippy, feral cat that I feed. Took me 2 years to be able to touch him.

Freckles and Magoo, buddies.

Freckles new trick!

The last thing I want to mention is the gift giving by Ninos Limpio Cozumel. I have participated in this for quite a few years. This group consists of Cozumel children and a loosly-knit group of expats, Canadians, and locals who collect gifts and supplies year round to give out in the poorer areas of Cozumel on King's Day (the traditional gift-giving day in Mexico). People visiting from the states bring shoes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, toys, and many useful things down with them and then we distribute them. Why toothbrushes you ask. Well these impoverished people often have to share one toothbrush per family.

This year we passed out over 100 shoes, 300 gifts and toiletries and this year 200 bundles of food. Also distributed 500 toothbrushes and toothepaste. It is always an very satisfying experience. If you are interested in participating by donating items, please contact me at cozumelcarol@gmail.com

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