Happy Holidays from Cozumel
here is my December '08 contribution

The Jolly fellow to the left and above is a Goldentail Moray. I didn't ask him to come out so I could actually see the tail to see if it is, in fact, golden. None of the photos I found on the web show the tail. So we will just have to guess. Morays have a second set of jaws called pharyngeal jaws in their throat, which also possess teeth. These eels come in a variety of colors, some very light golden colored but this one is much darker. It is actually rather striking looking as the spots are bright.

There are a variety of eels in the Caribbean. Below is a photo of a partly hidden Spotted Eel that I found in the same general area as the Goldentail.

I get to see many different fish at various stages of development. I find them fascinating. It is hard to capture in a photo the size, especially compared to the adults. But some are really cute. To the right is a baby Queen Triggerfish. Below is a photo of what the adult looks like.

These fish are egg laying and will stay with the clutch and protect them until they are born in a very few days.

Of course I had to include an recent photo of Freckles. Here he is with my friend, Juen, on an east side beach. Freckles loves the beach. I don't get over there often enough. It is really beautiful. Normally there are big waves crashing on the shore, but this was a pretty calm day. It is the windward side of the island. The leaward side, the west side is where I snorkel and where the town is. The prevailing wind is from the east, but sometimes we get "nortes" -- winds from the north northwest. This makes the West side the windward side and the port often closes to small boats during a norte. These storms usually last 3 days. But we have been getting one right after another all through November. We are havng one now.

During a "norte" the sky is usually clear and there is no rain. The water takes on a different color. Much more intense color. I think that is the only good thing about a norte. They usually start barrelling in here in November, right about the time that the diving tourism begins to pick up. The port gets closed to small boats because it is so rough. So the hungry dive masters finally have divers but they can't take them out!

Here is the Mexican flag. This is the big one right downtown in Cozumel. It tells the story on the weather, pretty much. We like to see it blowing off shore, which indicates the wind is out of the East (as it should be in my opinion). But here it is out of the North and that means that it will probably be too rough and probably too cold to snorkel. But when it is blowing out of the East Northeast the kite boarders go nuts. Perfect conditions for them to safely kite on this side of the island. Perfect that is unless it gets too windy.

A cause for concern when I am snorkeling is jellyfish. We don't usually get the portuguese man of war jellies here. But we can get some strange ones. A couple of years ago there was a type of jelly similar to the portuguese man of war and I didn't like the looks of them and got out of the water. Later I learned that a couple of dive masters had run-ins with them and ended up in the hospital. When we have vegetation floating like in the photo, it seems we get a lot of jellies. There were a lot in the water on this day, but I didn't get stung. I do get stung by something invisible nearly evey time I snorkel. Some of my friends have the same experience and we never see what it is that stings us. It is not as intense as a bee sting and it goes away quite quickly.

Needlefish or the larger Houndfish are very common in the area. I see them very often and they seem to be following me, sometimes they swim right in front of me as the fellow in the photo to the left Some can get up to around 5 feet long. I have been startled by them, but have never seen them act aggressively. The one below "followed" me for a long ways. I am guessing that it was thinking I was a bigger preditor and if it stuck around, it might get leftovers. I read recently that they can be dangerous but I really doubt that. I certainly have never seen anything that would indicate that -- unless of course you are a small fish. They swim near the surface and I have seen them take fish, they can be very fast.

The Pufferfish to the right is cute and clumsy. Apparently I made him nervous and he swam off as fast as he could, which wasn't very fast. Silly guy went right into a area where there was a school of Baracuda. When really frightened they will "puff" themselves up much larger. They can ingest copious amounts of water into their elastic stomachs. But if a fish does manage to grab him before he puffs up, it could be fatal as these little puppies are poisonous.

I love the Spotted Trunkfish. They are so cute. Those darling triangular bodies and funny little fins. They get their mouths all pouty looking and blow into the sand looking for plant and animal matter. There is a Smooth Trunkfish also. I have seen a school of these fish following a school of Permit, apparently feeding on the leftovers. It was funny watching these little guys swimming for all they are worth trying to keep up with the Permit

Speaking of Permit. Here is a small school. I see them often at Corona Beach. These fish can be quite large, although the picture is of a group of smaller ones. They can be found from Massachusetts to Brazil in the western Atlantic and Caribbean. That is a Parrotfish following them here. This is yet another example of cooperative feeding. The Permit is considered a game fish. They live close to shore and can even be found in brackish water lagoons. There are some lagoons near this area, so I expect that is why I see them so often at this beach.

I believe that this particular French Angelfish is very curious about me and my camera. It seems when I am in the same area when I swim at Dzul Ha (where I swim almost every day) this mature French Angel comes right up to me and checks me out. He will swim a little ways away and turn right back and come close to me again. It might be that the men that lead the snorkel trips are feeding them and making them fearless, but it makes for nice photo ops.

Every Wednesday morning a group of women meet at a local restaurant and have breakfast and catch up on the local chizma (gossip). They are a diverse and very interesting group, mostly from the USA but some from other contries and occasionally Mexican woman. In a later blog I am going to do little bios on a bunch of local woman. How they got here and how they live here is often quite an amazing story.

Here are the owners of the place where we had breakfast this morning. The woman's name is Vilma and the name of the restaurant is Miss Dollar. It is frequented mainly by locals, but a few Americans come here. The food is good and reasonable and it is always very clean. They don't speak much English, but we get our point across and we are both learning. It is a fun place, lots of laughter as we struggle to get our points across and sometimes really mess up our words.

Here is the Miss Dollar menu for the "luncheon special". For 45 pesos (around $4 usd) you get a beverage, a choice of 5 entres (some days there are more). Today's entrees include: beef with vegetables, chicken roasted, 2 entrees I don't understand but one is pork, bistel isn't translatable and finally, pazole. You also have the choice of 2 different soups, cream of corn and pasta. The pazole is a type of pork soup/stew which you add fresh veggies, usually cilantro and radishes. The pazole is quite popular here. There are many restaurants that serve a daily special, very similar in that they include beverage, entrees, and soup for reasonable prices. The price here is a bit lower than other places and the food is excellent.

From Miss Dollar's it is a short walk to the mercado (local market) where I was headed in search of hammock ties. Outside the main mercado are the corn tortilla makers. Tortillas are a main staple here. They sell them by the kilo or half kilo. Here they are made by hand. There are also machines that make tortillas in many of the larger stores. The price of tortillas has gone up a little in the past 2 years and it was quite upsetting because a peso or two for the poor may be a backbreaker. Notice the painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is definitely the most popular religious image in the Americas. The Guadalupe Feast Day is December 12, coming up soon. More on that in a later blog.

You can purchase fresh fish at the mercado. One can buy the whole fish, or a filet. There are also people that sell fish right on the waterfront and recently a man has started delivering very fresh fish right to your door. I saw something new to me today, a dried fish tail, you can see it hanging up. I didn't ask what it was used for and maybe I didn't want to know.

Here is Manual who sells beef products. He has had this stall for many years. He also makes cochinita pibil once a week at his home. This is a Yucatan speciality, a slow roasted suckling pig that is often cooked under ground wrapped in banana leaves. It is marinated in a special sauce and is to die for. He sells it out of his house on Sunday mornings starting at 6:30 am and when the economy was better, you had to be there before 9 am or it was gone. I have reserved a few kilos and had cochinita parties on Sunday afternoons. One time when a good sized group of us were eating cochinta tortas outside, vultures circled and landed on my fence and on the roof of the house waiting, just in case there was any left.

Manual befriended a friend of mine that was visiting the island and spent a lot of time with him. He took him to local horse races and to his ranch out in the boonies. He is a kind and interesting man. He speaks very good English and has helped me a lot when I come to the mercado.

You can buy fresh chicken at the mercado and you can buy the whole chicken if you like. If I am making a chicken soup I like to buy them with the feet on them, but I pass on the head. The feet are cleaned and when you boil the pollo the soup ends up thicker and very tasty. For a time the chicken here was all free-range. But that is changing and they now have factory farms on the mainland. But so far the chcken is much better tasting than in the States (in my opinion).

Oh yes, you can buy veggies here, and fresh fruit. In the front are radishes, cactus, some type of squash and jimaca (the roundish brown things) which are a veggie that inside is white, crisp and pretty tasteless, but good in some dishes and great on salad and for dipping stuff.

This is a little stand sells spices and fresh herbs. You better know the Spanish name of the spice you are looking for or you are out of luck. I have purchased fresh mint (menta) here and canela (cinnamon).

This part of the mercado is like a rabbit warren. Many tiny shops with quite a variety of things from hammock ties (upper right), dresses, jewelry all squeezed into tiny spaces. I have a hammock tie now, but it is getting frayed and one of these days I could end up crashing to the floor, so I needed new ones. These ropes tie the hammock to the sturdy hook on the wall. The photo below shows how it works. I have "gone native" and mainly sleep in the hammock. Unless it is too cold, then I head for the bed.

This woman is wearing the traditional Yucatan dress -- pretty common here. The ones she sells have all hand embroidering. She told me the price was 900 pesos (that would be around $90 usd) and I wonder if that was the gringa price. The bottom of the dress looks like your slip is showing, it has an underlayer of what looks like crocheted material. It looks like it would be very cool in the summer. In the winter you see pretty scarves wrapped around shoulders. The older Cozumelanian ladies dress up to go out, but the younger women don't jeans and a T-shirt are common.

One last photo of Freckles with Juen on the eastside beach. Juen was co-madre with me initially, but after spending a week with him while I was in the states she threw up her hands and said, I can't do this. He was a real pain to train. But they still love each other and he gets so excited when he sees her.