Friday, May 29, 2009

Too many things to do in Cancun!

Last Friday the phone rang in the middle of the afternoon. It was my mom, which at first led me to the "What's wrong????" question as usually the parents don't call until evening. Luckily it was good news, great news in fact, my parents had booked their flight to Cancun for a visit! I was so excited and we started discussing all the things we could do. And this is where things get tough. There are TOO many things in Cancun and Quintana Roo, too many options, what's a girl to do??

I've lost count of the number of visits my parents have made, but we always manage to show them something new. They've been to Isla Mujeres, Isla Blanca, Cancun of course, Puerto Morelos, Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum and Merida. This year I am torn, not sure where we should take them. I think I've settled on a place and I change my mind, then change it back again, the options are limitless and I can't seem to focus. Here are some of the places I've been considering.....

Taxi on Isla Holbox

1. Isla Holbox- I cannot even begin to tell you how much I love this island off the north end of Quintana Roo. We went for the first time last year and were enamored. It's isolated and far from overdeveloped, just a few palapa style hotels, no huge resorts. Everyone travels by golf cart, even the taxis are golf carts, the feeling is very laid back and the beach is absolutely stunning. I'm desperate to return to this little piece of paradise, particularly as it's whale shark season and that's one of my "Must Do Before I Die" things, I NEED to swim with the whale sharks. There are no banks on the island, not much of anything really, a perfect place to get away from it all and surround yourself with the beautiful things in life. I think my parents would love it, thus, top of my list.

Laguna Bacalar photo courtesy of Rivergirl

2. Laguna Bacalar- We have never visited Bacalar, but it is a really intriguing prospect. The "lagoon of seven colours" is located just north of the state capital Chetumal, about three hours south of Cancun. It's fairly undiscovered by tourists but the photos I've seen are spectacular. Hotels are small bed and breakfast type affairs and are very reasonably priced (I've seen a few for less than $50 USD a night). There is an old fort in Bacalar and there are several Mayan ruin sites nearby. Canoeing, kayaking and snorkeling are popular activities and it just looks like a nice, tranquil place to hang out. It's one of the places that I haven't seen in Quintana Roo and I think it would be fun to discover all it has to offer with my parents.

The Cathedral in Valladolid
photo courtesy of Yucatan Living

3. Valladolid- Leaving Quintana Roo and entering the neighbouring state of Yucatan, Valladolid takes you back in time. The colonial architecture and historical buildings, combined with nearby ruins and cenotes make this a very appealing destination. It's yet another place that we have not had a chance to see. My parents loved Merida, so I think they would defintely enjoy Valladolid. My big concern is that it's summer time, July, and the temperatures will be soaring. I'm keeping this on the list, but I think it might be best to leave it for a trip when the weather won't melt us.

Those are probably the top three (at this moment in time), though I've considered several other places. As much as I like adventure and "roughing" it a little, there's a little piece of me that thinks it might be nice to just hang out at some all inclusive hotel in the Riviera Maya, eating and drinking to our hearts' content while Max plays in the kid's club. I haven't shut that option down yet, even though it's not normally my style, it's got a lot of appeal in these hot months! Who can argue against a cute waiter serving me cold cold drinks in a pineapple and bringing me fresh towels?

So, what's your vote? Where would you take the whole fam damily?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hurricane Season 2009 has Begun!

Well well well, looky here, the first Atlantic "tropical depression"of the year. It's nowhere near Cancun (closer to Canada actually), but living where we do, we monitor the Atlantic activity throughout the months of June to November (and here we are May, early to the party Mr. Depression Number One). I know this may sound odd, but I get excited about these events. I know that we are not in physical danger and I must say there is nothing quite so exhilarating as a tropical storm when you know you are safe. I also figure that we survived Wilma, we can survive anything. She was the biggest, baddest of them all, nothing could be worse than that and we were fine (physically anyway). Cancun took a big wallop, but showed its resilience and ability to get back to business in a short time. I think the swine flu "infodemic" might be causing more damage than a hurricane. I am not making light of a very serious event, I understand that hurricanes are responsible for a huge loss of life and property every year, but I do get a surge of adrenaline that I just can't explain.

So, I guess it's that time of year again, see my post from last year about hurricane preparedness to see what kind of fun we get up to. Welcome to the danger zone!

Just for fun, here's the list of names for the storms this year (names are not applied until the weather system reaches tropical storm level, depressions are just numbered).....

2009 Atlantic storm names

Ana, Bill, Claudette, Danny, Erika, Fred, Grace, Henri, Ida, Joaquin, Kate, Larry, Mindy, Nicholas, Odette, Peter, Rose, Sam, Teresa, Victor, Wanda

They all sound pretty harmless, right? Like Auntie Ida could ever do anyone any harm.....Or Larry? Larry can't even lift the water bottle onto the cooler, what damage could a Hurricane Larry inflict? (I suppose I should be knocking on wood here, I don't want to come back in a few months and say that Ida kicked our butts....)

Stay tuned.......

Monday, May 25, 2009

Swim With Dolphins Cancun!

We had a such a lovely treat this weekend! We were lucky and got some passes to Delphinus at Dreams Cancun, a chance to kiss a dolphin is always good for me, fish breath and all. (The dolphin of course, no fishy breath for Canuck!)

We arrived at Dreams at about 2:30 and were greeted and checked in by the kindly Sergio. Our swim was scheduled for 3:00 and we didn't have to wait long before our hostess Mariana came to bring us to the holding area and give us our life jackets. I'm always impressed by the relaxed good nature of the employees and their ability to switch easily from English to Spanish while talking to the variety of guests. Mariana gave us information about the animals and the program and instructions for each of the activities we were going to do with the dolphins. No touching their face or blow holes, take off all jewelry in order not to scratch their skin, be gentle with their fins, etc, etc.. We had a very small group, only six adults and Max, a mix of Mexican locals, a New "Yawker" and his Argentinian wife and us. Spanglish abounded! Our trainer Carlos came to greet us and got us right into the enclosure.

Max was a little freaked out at first, but quickly became enamored with the beautiful creatures swimming around him. I was so pleased to see him following the instructions, he reminded me several times not to touch the dolphins face and he was ever so gentle with them. We sang and danced with the dolphins, stroked their lovely pink bellies, had them jump over our heads, give us a kiss (and yes, we kissed them back!), got a hug and best of all we got to do the "foot push". Such a unique feeling! Each person goes to the center of the pool, lays on their belly with their legs apart. Suddenly two little dolphin noses are pushing the bottoms of your feet, forcing your forward, flying through the water, arms up, head held high! I love that moment (and I'll admit to being a show off, all my dance training got me RIGHT UP out of the water and in a backbend, oh how I wish you could see the video!) Ok, enough bragging, teehee. Max did it all, except he told me that he was too small to do the foot push and that he would do it "next time when I'm bigger". Cool beans kid, not going to force you to do it and good for you for recognizing your limits!

The swim lasts about 50 minutes, lots of time for interaction with the dolphins and lots of laughs and smiles all around. The trainers quite obviously love their animals, they are treated very well, almost like babies! In all my years living here I have met many dolphin trainers and they are all very similar. They are truly devoted to caring for these animals and making sure they are loved. I noticed that one of the dolphins didn't want to play and he simply swam away, there was no force involved, he wanted a break, he took a break, that made me happy. I remember speaking to a trainer right after Hurricane Wilma and asking them about their experience. They had spent the entire storm with the dolphins, trying to calm them, ensuring they didn't get injured and putting the animals' needs before their own. While I know that not every facility in the world has such fine care, I have only witnessed love and respect from the trainers in Quintana Roo.

If you've got a trip coming up and are interested in swimming with the dolphins in Cancun or the Riviera Maya, check out Delphinus, they're offering discounts and free transportation. They have several facilities throughout the region, Dreams Cancun, Xelha, Xcaret, Riviera Maya and Costa Maya. Combine your eco park adventure with an unforgettable experience with these magnificent creatures!

Swimming with dolphins makes us goofy

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What's it like to live in Cancun?

I'm quite sure I am not the only Mexican blogger to get emails asking what it's like to live here. Some of the emails have legitimate and logical questions, while others are just jam packed full of fantasies of days floating on the sea with cabana boys and piƱa coladas. The general questions are the hardest to answer, "What's it like? How does it feel? Is it hard to adjust?". Those kinds of questions would be answered differently by any ex-pat that lives here. Everyone's circumstances are different, the reason for living in Mexico, age, economic status, marital status, parental status and mental health status add up to a wide range of experiences. What might be great for me is hell on earth for someone else. Sometimes the things that my friends cannot tolerate don't bother me at all and the things that make me pull out my hair are just fine by my friends.

I find it amusing when people ask me what they should do to plan to come here. Me? You're asking me? I came on vacation with a back pack and just didn't catch my flight home, what do I know about planning? I'm not the most organized woman on the planet, I don't overthink things (heck, sometimes I don't think at all!) and if I had sat down and thought about moving here, it probably never would have happened. Don't ask me about financial planning, it's not part of my vocabulary. Big money purchases like a house or a business? Not my area of expertise. Ask me how to pack the car for a last minute road trip to a new beach, I'm your girl. Ask about immigration, I've got lots to say about that. But boy oh boy, ask me if you'll like it or how to micromanage the move and I'll redirect you to someone more qualified than I.

Some things to ask yourself before you decide to move to Mexico....

1. Am I running away from something or towards something?
2. Do I have the ability to erase all expectations and be happy with what comes?
3. Do I have the patience of a saint?
4. Do I have the ability to learn a new language? (I think this is essential to living in another country)
5. Will I ever be able to stop speaking with the words "us" and "them" in reference to the people of Mexico?
6. Am I picky about the products that I buy? Will I be happy to use the products and brands that are available and not cry over not being able to find my deodorant?
7. Will I be able to deal with the difficulties in getting seemingly simple tasks accomplished in a place where these simple tasks are done differently and in another language? Can I order a pizza/internet/prescription/haircut in Spanish?

Knowing that you want to reside "somewhere else" is one thing. It's easy to see the great things about living in Quintana Roo, it's a beautiful place, a paradise visited by millions every year. Recognizing that living here is a totally different thing than vacationing here is a whole other matter. It's not necessarily easy breezy all the day long. Ex-pats who have been here a long time have seen the bright eyed newbies come and go. These newbies usually last about six months, proclaiming they're here forever, saying they understand the differences and that things might be tough but that they've studied and read everything and have their lists so they're ready. They've got their plan and they're sticking to it. Most plans don't work out as well as intended, people are either too rigid to go with the flow of change or can't get past the frustration stage of expatriation. Those who last longer than six months may be very different in many ways, but it seems that common factors to success in living in Mexico are open minds, patience and the love of a challenge. Doesn't mean that we don't bitch and moan about some things, but at the end of the day we say "ni modo" and carry on.

So, you up for the challenge? Would you consider living in Mexico or another country? If you already live here, is there anything you'd like to add? Love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Andalucia Parillada Domingo

We are always on the lookout for something new and different to see in Cancun so I was happy to take the suggestion of my boss to check out the Andalucia Parillada.  Andalucia is an equestrian club in Cancun, where the rich folk jump horses and play polo and where tourists can take horseback rides through the jungle.  Recently they've started to invite the public to join them on Sundays for a "parillada" (barbecue).  Always eager to see how the other half live, we drove out to Bonfil (a "suburb" of Cancun) in search of the "horsies store" as Max decided to call it.  

From the moment we walked in we were treated exceptionally well by the staff.  We were warmly welcomed and had cold drinks in our hand in no time.  There is a charge of 150 pesos per person (kids under 6 are free) and that includes the use of the facilities (pool, beautiful gardens, incredible palapa, kids climbing toys and pony rides) and a delicious meal.  Well, delicious if you are a carnivore, thank goodness I love meat, the plate was filled with arrachera, ribs, chicken, chorizo and nopales, all done on the grill.  We couldn't eat all of it, it was just too much!  Drinks are not included in the price, but we were very pleasantly surprised at how inexpensive the bar was, with three cheladas and three sodas/refrescos/pops the bill was only 110 pesos.  I splurged an extra 50 pesos to go for a ride on a lovely horse named "Estrellita", I was a happy girl.  The facilities were gorgeous, the food was good but the fantastic service is what will bring us back again.  Next time, we'll bring friends, it's a great place to have a party!

Andalucia gardens and palapa

Very clean and pretty pool

Kids play area and a PONY!  (I want a pony!)

Canuck and Estrellita

Brave Max making the BIG jump

Hubby enjoyed the place so much he's decided it's where he wants his 40th birthday party (which isn't for another year and a half, but who says you can't plan ahead?).  We want to go back in a couple of weeks (after the next pay period, haha) and invite a few friends along to enjoy Andalucia with us.  Max enjoyed it so much that he was kicking and screaming when we it was time to go home, he said that he wanted to live in the pool!  The only way to get him out without tying him up was to promise that we would return with his friends Evan and Dani (hint hint parents of said children, wanna play in a couple of weeks?)

Overall, a good time was had by all and I definitely recommend the place for a Sunday afternoon of diversion for Cancunenses.  Maybe we'll see you there!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mexico Travel Alerts Lifted

The best news we've had in a while, both the CDC in the United States and the FCO in Great Britain have lifted their travel warnings that have been restricting travel to Mexico since the swine flu/H1N1 crisis. Both organizations have downgraded their warnings to "precautions" and are no longer limiting citizens to essential travel. In addition, Carnival Cruise Lines are set to resume their Mexican ports of call.

Even more good news, local authorities have lifted the restrictions places on bars and restaurants, all facilities are now allowed to operate at 100% in Cancun and Quintana Roo. The only places that are closed are some hotels due to the lack of tourists visiting right now. Hopefully with the travel alerts being lifted the hotels will re-open very soon and the area can start to try to recuperate its losses.

It's a great time to book a trip down to the Mexican Caribbean, some great deals and great weather, if you love Mexico, get cracking on those reservations!

For those of you who live down here, be sure to keep an eye out for some fabulous local discounts as well. Many hotels are offering good day pass prices and Dolphin Discovery is offering packages for 350 pesos for adults to swim with dolphins, go to Garrafon or take the Lobster dinner cruise. Great deals if you've still got a job that is. Must have identification that proves you are Quintanarooense of course.

Glad to have some good news to share on this happy Friday. (Oh, it's "Teacher's Day" today, so happy day to all the maestros out there!)

Have a great weekend all.

(this is now ooooold news folks, here's the link for the latest updates on H1N1)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reading with a Bilingual Kid

My four year old Max has been working hard in school this year, learning to say and write the alphabet and numbers. Some days are great, he's begging me to do more homework, other days he's four years old and prefers to play "Incredible Hulk Ambulance Driver" dragging the cat around in a box, but we're getting there. The learn to read process is a bit complicated though, as he is doing it in two languages. In school he's being taught the pronunciation of the vowels in Spanish and with me at home we do it in English. For a while we would have arguments where he would scream "But that's not what Miss Cynthia says!!!" but we've got it worked out and he knows that the two languages have different pronunciations and most of the time he can identify the letters correctly depending on whether he's asked "What letter is this?" or "Que letra es?"

Story time is becoming more complicated as he learns to read. Well, not more complicated, just more of a challenge for Mom! He has books in both English and Spanish and until now, it didn't matter if I was reading the words on the page or not. I always would with English books and point out the words to him, but Spanish books I would just tell the story in a rough translation for him. Now that I want him to identify written language, I want to show him that the words on the page have significance. He asked for one of his Spanish books and I started to read it in Spanish and run my fingers under the words. He said, "No mommy, in English". I explained to him that the book was in Spanish but he said "Not for you, for you it's in English". I pointed at the word "casa", repeated it for him and asked him what the word was (in Spanish). He said "It doesn't say casa it says house!". We're working on it.

Yesterday I decided to play a game with him, writing several words on paper and hiding them in the living room. He had to "onyourmarkgetsetgofind" a word of my choice. He did great. I said "Find Mommy", he looked at a few slips of paper and came running back with the right one. We played this for a while, I was jumping up and down I was so excited for him! It got interesting when Hubby got home and we decided to show off. Hubby held up the word "cat" and asked Max, "What does this say?". "Gato" Max replied. So he read the word and immediately translated it for Daddy/Papa. Same when Hubby held up "Mama" (though strangely instead of saying "Mommy" he said "Kelly", hmmm). Hubby holds up "dog", he says "perro". I hold up "Papa", he says "Daddy". This kid is going to run circles around both us and his teachers I think.

I think his learning is helping mine as well. Now that his books are becoming more advanced, my reading skills in Spanish are put to the test. We've got a big book of great stories in Spanish, but as I am doing "on the fly" translations for the most part, my head starts to whirl after a few minutes! Instant translations of in depth stories are much harder than "The Cat Sat on a Mat". He's caught me making mistakes too, I'll misunderstand a phrase and turn the whole story upside down simply by missing a negative or a future tense. He knows the stories so well that one little mistake and mommy doesn't get a star on her forehead and he puts a sad face on my homework.

This journey of raising a bilingual kid gets better and better. I'm so grateful that my son has this opportunity, I'm jealous too, I wish learning languages got easier with age instead of harder! I figure in a year or two I'll have Max helping me with my Spanish, oh what a joy it will be to have a hyper munchkin correcting my grammar.

Next year, we add ze French.....Au revoir!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Should I Go to Cancun? -Swine Flu Mexico

The answer should simply be "YES", but I'll give you a little more than that today. While things are looking very grim for the tourism industry in Cancun and Quintana Roo, that could mean good tidings for tourists. The forums devoted to Cancun and the Riviera Maya are starting to buzz with great deals to be found, most notably on Orbitz though I am sure there are others out there with big discounts. Great package deals are popping up, if you don't have a trip planned, now would be a great time. With so few people in the area at the moment, you won't have to fight for a lounge chair, wait in line at the buffets or feel crowded on the beach, it's almost like a private vacation. The service staff will go out of their way to ensure that the few guests they currently have are well attended to and wanting for nothing. People are being upgraded to more luxurious resorts or rooms and being made to feel like kings. Now is a great time to come.

Several resorts in Mexico have started a "Flu Free Guarantee", a campaign that promises three years of free vacations if you contract H1N1 while in their hotels. I think that expresses a great deal of confidence that it is indeed safe to travel to Mexico. The tourism boards and travel service companies are working diligently to ensure that visitors start to return to Mexico, to a safe and healthy environment for all to enjoy.

My favourite Spanish language Cancun blog posted a video this morning that I would like to share with you. The video was shot on Friday May 1st so some of the information is old (restaurants are open and there were 11 cases reported here), but these tourists aren't fearful at all. Have a look, if you are still afraid of the flu in Cancun, this should ease your mind.

Every day I hear another student or friend tell me that they lost their job or had their wages cut or are living on absolutely nothing.
Most people are hopeful and can see a brighter future ahead, but it doesn't make it any easier to survive right now. If you love Mexico, do what you can to support the tourism sector, if you can't make it down, spread the love to your friends and family!

(old news now folks, here's the link for the latest updates on H1N1)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Back to School in Cancun For (Almost) Everyone

All the parents in Mexico were rejoicing on Sunday night, anxiously awaiting their children's return to school on Monday morning. Two weeks of forced Swine Flu "vacation" had people scrambling to find child care or losing precious work hours to stay home and take care of the kids. Kids who had just had two weeks off for Semana Santa (Easter Break), kids who desperately need the structure and discipline that school provides. I was one of those mommies, ever so gleeful that my hyper son would be back to his routine and out of my make-up bag (that's a whole other story).

Cut to Monday morning, Canucka back in her classroom and rolling on a grammar lesson. The cel phone rings, I ignore it (bad manners to answer in class). Phone beeps with a message. Phone rings again, better answer it as it must be an emergency. Hubby is on the phone telling me that the school is sending Max home because he's sick. Sick? No way guey, he was fine this morning, what could have happened? Apparently the school had brought in a doctor to check all the kids out on their return from "flucation". This doctor said that Max had a fever, a red throat and a cough and would not be allowed to stay in school. Hmmm, we'll see about that. Hubby had to run to the school to pick up Max, bring him by my place of work and run back to his office. I was half way through my class when Monster,er, Max arrived and my boss tried her best to keep him occupied and out of my hair, alas, he is not a kid that sits still on command and he caused a bit of a disruption. I had to get another teacher to come in and cover for me (more lost $) and get Max to his pediatrician in order to find out what was up and to get a letter of health to allow him to return to school.

Our pediatrician checked him out and said he was A OK, no fever, no cough, no nothing. How could the doctor at the school be so wrong? Was he just being protective or was he paranoid? Did he use the old "hand on the forehead" fever test instead of a digital thermometer? So 550 pesos later plus my lost time, we have a letter saying that Max is in good health and could return to school. A lovely waste of time and money.

Max was not the only kid sent home. I watched a news report on TV last night that many parents were in the same predicament, almost all of them with healthy children. One kindergarten in Cancun sent home ALL the students that did not have surgical masks, an infuriating act as there is NO rule or regulation stating that masks are necessary (or even useful). That left them with about three kids in attendance as no one here is using masks and no one had been told that the school was making them a requirement. The parents were understandably furious, after so long away from school (and likely work), having the kids sent home again was extremely disruptive for everyone involved. More bored kids, more lost wages and money uselessly spent on doctor's notes that were unnecessary.

The total number of reported cases of flu in Quintana Roo is still at 11 (last I heard anyway). Is this kind of over the top "precaution" necessary? Where were all the precautions a couple of weeks ago when more than 5000 children in Cancun were infected with chicken pox? Why did I read about the chicken pox epidemic in the newspaper and not from the ministry of education or the school? While I am glad that the schools are making an effort to sniff out the sick children, I'm not happy abou the number of healthy children that have been sent home in the "panic". It's time for things to really get back to normal, where reading, writing and 'rithmetic are the words of the day instead of infection, sanitization and pandemic.

Ok, off my ranty soap box and on to Max's homework.....thanks for reading along!

(this is old news now folks, here's the link for the latest updates on H1N1 in Cancun)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day with Sharks and Dolphins in Cancun

Happy Mother's Day, Feliz dia de las Mamas! It's one of those odd years where the Mexican Mother's Day falls on the same day as the Canadian/American Mother's Day, so congrats to all North American mommies out there. Mother's Day is always May 10th in Mexico, doesn't matter what day of the week it is, it's always the 10th, but I really like that it's on a Sunday this year, celebrating on a Tuesday just doesn't feel the same.

A big thank you and lots of love to my own mother, she does so much for me and my family, I hope she's having a terrific day up there in Canada. My mom being as cool as she is offered to treat us to a restaurant meal today (whoohoo!) so we headed out to the hotel zone for a special breakfast. I wanted to go to Captain's Cove, but when we pulled up the line was out the door. It's a popular breakfast spot for locals as well as tourists and I guess everyone had the same Mother's Day idea. As I was STARVING, I said forget it, let's go get some eggs benedict at Jugo de Limon instead.

If you are not familiar with Jugo de Limon, it's a little restaurant in Plaza la Isla that overlooks the lagoon. Not only is the lagoon view great, but the open air facility sits atop the Interactive Aquarium so you can watch the dolphins play and feel the cool stare of the sharks swimming by in the observation windows. Strangely, the restaurant was out of ham (what restaurant runs out of ham?) so I didn't get my eggs benedict, but we enjoyed our omelettes and fresh squeezed orange juice. The breakfast deal is pretty good, 99 pesos for your choice of breakfast plus coffee and orange juice (I don't normally like OJ, but this was GOOOOOOOOOD). We ate, we chatted, we chased Max and watched the sharks and dolphins, overall an absolutely lovely Mother's Day breakfast. I think the highlight was when Max said "Mommy, you look like a model, you're pretty, I love you, Happy Muvvers Day". Kid, you sure know how to hit the soft spots and I love you too, being a mom is the best thing that has ever happened to me and I am glad you're my son. Now, say that line about the model again.......

This baby dolphin was leaping and flying and
playing ball with its mama, he seemed to be having
a grand old time

Jugo de Limon (not just for breakfast!)

The aquarium offers a "Feed the Sharks" experience,
enter the glass cage and get lowered into the shark tank
(The most obnoxious tourist becomes lunch I think)


I love sharks, but am glad to have the glass
barrier, not sure if I want to meet him while snorkeling

The rarest animal of all in Cancun right now.....tourists!!

Hey, I've got a great mother's day gift idea and it's not too late. Book a trip to Cancun or the Riviera Maya for your momma, a present she'll never forget and you'll be rewarding all the moms in Quintana Roo too! Let's get Mexico tourism back on its feet, there are so many great things to see and do here, this was just breakfast and look at all the excitement we found!

Felicidades Mamas!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Swine Flu/H1N1- Cancun Trying to Return to "Normal"

A quick update for today, Thursday May 7, 2009 on swine flu/H1N1 in Cancun and the Riviera Maya....

1. Archaelogical zones reopened yesterday, all ruins in the area are open, though some with restricted hours due to lack of visitors (no evening or night hours for example).

2. Bars and restaurants are reopening, under the condition that they function at a 50% level to try to restrict the amount of contact between people. For example, I took my son to McDonald's yesterday in an effort to entertain him (he's out of his mind with boredom). Every other table had a "closed" sign on it and the play area was closed (much to our dismay). In cinemas they are trying to enforce an "every other seat" rule to ensure that there is no close contact between patrons.

3. Hotels are consolidating their guests. Several large hotel chains that are suffering from extremely low occupancy have closed the doors to some of their resorts and placing all their guests in one location. Funjet has a list of hotels that are closing and where they are transferring their guests, please click here.

4. The media is backing off the whole H1N1 story, acknowledging that they may have overreacted and caused a frenzy (and a lot of xenophobia). Mexico is doing its utmost to reassure travelers that it is safe to visit in an effort to rebuild the tourism industry that at this moment has practically been destroyed. The Pan American Health Organization says that it is safe to travel to Mexico and authorities are seeking official word from the World Health Organization to certify that the country is taking all necessary sanitary precautions. Officials in Quintana Roo are stating that the situation is "stable", with 11 confirmed cases and several more awaiting test results.

5. The financial situation for Cancunenses and Quintanrooenses is dire. The people of this area live and die by the "occupancy" numbers, we all know that if the numbers are low, that people are suffering. Currently the occupancy (number of filled hotel rooms) is hovering around 20%, a dangerously low number that is forcing employers to lay off thousands of employees, cut hours of others to less than fifty percent or simply cut wages or fire people outright. With lost jobs and wages, we're sure to see a rise in crime, alcoholism and suicide in the region.

On a personal note, this crisis is certainly affecting our family as well as thousands of others. My pay for the last couple of weeks will be dramatically less than normal and Hubby's company has cut his salary by 30% for at least a month. Our future is uncertain, there is no guarantee that I will have as many hours of teaching in the coming months and we do not know when Hubby's full salary will be reinstated. And yet, everything still costs the same, rent is the same, electricity, food, school costs, we really don't know how we can make ends meet. Our belts are already tight, we live pay cheque to pay cheque, so we are definitely concerned about how we will meet all our obligations. We're trying to remain upbeat and positive, we survived Hurricane Wilma, but some days it's just too much to think about. Having my son stuck at home for the last two weeks has taken its toll as well, we are suffering from cabin fever and his behaviour has been, well, "out of character" (that's putting it nicely, he's been a whole handful of trouble the last couple of days).

To those of you who have sent emails with questions, I hope some of them have been answered in this post. I must apologize for not being able to respond to you all, I'm just one woman and I've got hundreds of emails in my box, I need an assistant! For all of you looking for restaurant or hotel advice, I'm really not the best person to ask as we don't get out very often and we rarely visit the hotels. I would like to direct you to the Cancun forums at CancunCare and TripAdvisor where tourists who actually have experienced the establishments can give you first hand accounts and advice about where to eat and stay. I'm definitely more of an "off the beaten track" kind of girl, taco stands with no names and bargain rooms in hotels I can never find again if we do stay out of town, I would hate to claim to be an expert in what tourists are enjoying in terms of accommodations and food. Yes, I'm passing the buck, but I would hate to steer you wrong, just being honest! My friend Steve who runs the CancunCare forum also has some really great Cancun information pages, check them out for general ideas of things to do and see in the area.

And on that note, I'm off to the beach, must get out of the house!

(this is old news now folks, here's the link for the latest updates on H1N1 in Cancun)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Help Cancun Recover from Flu Mess

First thing I want to say is "THANK YOU". To all who have read, left comments and sent emails, 99% of you are determined not to let the swine flu/H1N1 ruin your upcoming trips to this area and your positivity is overwhelming. Sadly, some of you had your plans changed for you with canceled flights and travel restrictions and I understand your frustrations. I think while the closures and restrictions within Mexico were strict, they were a bold and necessary precaution which apparently has worked to stop the spread of infection. As the restrictions are being lifted and things are set to get back to normal, I hope that we will soon be seeing tourists flooding the region again.

I have been very hesitant to say "come" or "don't come". While most of the mail I received was very positive, I did have my detractors as well. As hard as I tried to stick to reporting the facts of the matter, I was accused of being "criminal" for recommending people keep their vacations (I didn't tell anyone what to do) and was told in a few emails that the lost jobs in Cancun would be on my head forever for telling people what was going on. One nasty email from a local Cancun business owner told me to "take down the site" and suggested that I was proud of destroying lives. I don't believe that I was putting either tourists or locals in danger by relaying the facts, but it shows how emotional people can get about these things. Stick to the middle and get it from both sides, a girl can't win!

And on that note, I think I can safely say "Come on down". Reports from around the world indicate that the virus is not nearly as bad as first suspected and that infections are on the decline. Businesses that were forced to close are being reopened this week and children will be returning to classes. People are being asked to remain alert for symptoms and to continue using sanitary precautions such as frequent hand washing, but it seems the worst has passed. There is speculation that the virus could resurface, but no one (not the WHO nor the CDC) can say for sure if this will happen and certainly not when.

Cancun and the Riviera Maya need your support. Thousands of people in Quintana Roo are currently without work or working for half pay, myself and Hubby included, we're going to be suffering for a while. The area relies almost 100% on tourism, no tourists, no pay, no pay, no food for the family. If you've got a trip planned, come on down and enjoy all the incredible things the area has to offer. If you don't have a trip booked, get cracking and buy yourself a ticket, there might be some incredible deals coming up!

Now how about a little more temptation for you? A sampling of photos from the region I love so much, enjoy! (all photos are property of "A Canuck in Cancun" as per the Creative Commons License)

Sunrise in Puerto Morelos

Isla Mujeres

Isla Blanca

Isla Holbox
(*still my favourite escape and it's almost whale shark time!)

Sea Turtle
Seen While Snorkeling in Akumal's Half Moon Bay

Protected Turtle Area at Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins from the Ocean

Sunset in Cancun

That was just a tease for you, check my archives for thousands of great photos and tales of our adventures in the region. I can't wait til I am feeling one hundred percent and we can resume our explorations of the amazing place we are lucky enough to call home. Perhaps we'll see you on the beach, come on down, the water's fine!

**Please note that I recognize the fact that the flu may resurface, if that indeed happens, I will certainly keep you updated. At the moment, all looks good for anyone with upcoming plans to the area.

(this is now old news, here's a link for the latest updates on swine flu in Cancun)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Swine Flu Cancun- Monday May 4th Update

I'm still not feeling very well but I did want to update you on what we know about the situation in Cancun and Quintana Roo. Please check the links, I can only share what is in the news and trust my sources to be as accurate as possible. Don't shoot the messenger.

1. Three Confirmed Cases of AH1N1 in Quintana Roo- The governor of Quintana Roo confirmed that there are three cases of flu in the state, one in Chetumal, one in Felipe Carrillo Puerto and one in Cancun. The patients are all recovering and are out of danger.

2. Tourism is in grave danger- While the risk of infection will pass quickly, it may take up to six months for the economy of Cancun and the Riviera Maya to recover. Airline cancellations and travel alerts have tourists heading to Dominican Republic and other Caribbean destinations and leaving their dreams of a Cancun vacation behind, putting at risk the livelihood of tourism industry workers in the area. The World Health Organization insists that there is no rationale behind the travel restrictions being implemented by many countries around the world..

3. Businesses set to re-open May 7 in Mexico City- Authorities are suggesting that barring any impediments, businesses in Mexico City that have been closed will be allowed to re-open on Thursday May 7. One can assume that this order will extend to the rest of the country as well, though the only mention in the media is regarding Mexico City.

3. Return to school tentatively set May 7- Governments are working together to decide if children and teachers will return to classes on May 6. They are currently asking education workers to go into the schools for cleansing and disinfecting in the hopes that classes can resume quickly. While a decision has not yet been made, there is talk of extending the closures until Monday May 11th, though Quintana Roo schools apparently will be back on Thursday.

4. Outbreak may not be as bad as feared- The New York Times states that the H1N1 virus has taken less of a toll on Mexican citizens than originally feared. While the numbers being reported last week seemed high, on closer inspection and on receipt of definitive test results, the actual number of cases is lower than originally suspected. Mexican President Felipe Calderon stated that his government has effectively controlled the spread of the virus and is hopeful that the worst is over.

Meanwhile, on the streets of Cancun.....

While the tourists may have fled, the locals were out enjoying the beaches over the weekend, grateful for a chance to escape the house and to let the kids run free. We've heard that some hotel chains are consolidating their guests, transfering some tourists to sister hotels in order to serve them more efficiently (no, I do not have the names of the hotels, only rumours which I prefer not to post). Most businesses are still operating, though indoor, enclosed nightclubs with large capacities are closed down. Restaurants and bars that accomodate fewer than 80 people are being allowed to remain open, though running shorter hours or reduced capacity. Tours are still operating, with the exception of trips to the Mayan ruins which remain closed across the nation. Xcaret and Xelha (the beautiful eco-parks in the Riviera Maya) continue to remain open. Public transportation is still functioning, ferries to the islands of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres are still operational and marinas are open.

Regardless of today's news of confirmed cases in Quintana Roo, I ask you to please continue to watch the news before cancelling any upcoming trips to the area. Things should be back to normal in no time, at least that is what the authorities are telling us. There are controls in place to minimize the spread of disease, the airport is still taking precautions to prevent anyone with a high fever from entering or leaving Cancun and area businesses are making great efforts at keeping everything as sanitary as possible. I'm not saying "Come on down!" nor "Don't come!", I can't honestly take either side, I am simply saying wait as long as you are comfortable before changing your plans, if all goes well you'll be sipping margaritas on the beach as planned. I can't make anyone's decision for them, nor can I speculate about what is going to happen in the coming weeks, I am not an expert on infectious disease and am uncomfortable saying that "we are out of danger" OR "we're all going to die", I can only report what is in the Mexican media today which seems to suggest that things are improving, even with the cases in Quintana Roo being made public.

(Sources are from Monday May 4th at 9:30 am CST and are as accurate as I can ascertain at this moment in time. Please note that things can change fast, be sure you are reading the most up to date information)

(this is old news now folks, here's a link for the latest updates on h1n1 in Cancun)

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Taking a Sick Leave

I know many people are waiting for the latest update on swine flu in Cancun, but alas, it won't be coming from me today. I've just returned from the hospital (no, NOT the swine flu) and have been diagnosed with pharyngitis and conjunctivitis. Very sore throat, cough, headache, and my eyes are, well, disgusting. I can barely see so trying to read all the news today is just not in the plan. I'm going to bed, kicking Hubby and kid out of the house and am going to try to get some rest. With all the meds I'm taking, hopefully I'll be feeling much better very soon and will have some news about what's going on. In the meantime, please check in with Dangers, he's got a great blog and has been keeping people well up to date on all the info he can lay his hands on.

Just a note on the hospital experience. I went to the emergency room at Amerimed, a private hospital in downtown Cancun. When we arrived there was one person in the waiting room. I filled out a couple of forms and within two minutes I was talking to the doctor in the consultation room. There was no one else in the ER. I asked the staff if it had been that calm all week and they said no, they had seen their fair share of people who were worried about having swine flu (H1N1 as we are supposed to call it now) but of course they were all psychosomatic or just cases of the plain old flu. It was kind of spooky it was so calm, I expected to see a swarm of people there. When we returned to the waiting room, it was completely empty, that's kind of odd even in normal times. Perhaps the beautiful sunny day had people going to Dr. Beach instead of the hospital.

Empty E.R. Waiting Room in Cancun

So I am off to bed. I apologize for a lack of information today, as soon as I'm feeling better (and seeing more clearly), I'll start to dig through the news for anything relevant to the situation in Cancun and Quintana Roo. Thanks for your understanding!

(this is old news now folks, here's a link for the latest updates on swine flu in Cancun)

Friday, May 1, 2009

What to do with the swine flu?

I'm receiving an overwhelming amount of email and comments lately and there is a consistent theme to almost all of them. "What should I do about my upcoming vacation?" The good thing is, most of the mail I have received is from people who do not want to cancel their trips, they want to come down to enjoy all that the area has to offer and to give support to the economy of Cancun and the Riviera Maya. While most want to keep their plans, the majority of the mail tells me that people are being discouraged from coming down, friends and family that have fallen prey to the media mess, unaware of the true situation at hand are warning that it's too dangerous to come here. I'm also receiving mail from people who have had their vacations forcibly canceled by their airlines or tour providers and I am reading a fair bit of anger about that. Very few people are voluntarily canceling plans, they are not being reactionary and are waiting for more information.

Now, what would the Canucka do? Easy, I would wait. I wouldn't cancel plans until more information is known. Currently there are still zero reported cases of the swine flu in Cancun or the whole state of Quintana Roo and the same can be said for neighbouring Yucatan state. Every effort is being made to keep the area free of the flu, heat sensors in the airports, a shut down of non-essential businesses and an order for people to stay home until Tuesday. I know most people are not concerned about getting sick here, I certainly am not, but you are concerned about services and establishments being open when you arrive. Currently, there are no hotel closures (though yes, there are rumours that it could happen, RUMOURS, I have no confirmation that it is going to happen). Tour operators are still open for business, though the archaelogical ruins are temporarily closed. The large, enclosed nightclubs are closed temporarily (Coco Bongo, Dady'O, Dady Rock, The City and the Bulldog), but the open air terrace bars are still operating. My hubby went out to the hotel zone last night to check out the lay of the land and reported that the terrace bars were still busy and he had a great time partying with the tourists and locals alike.

So, for those of you with plans to travel to the area in the next few weeks, hold on, don't stress, wait for more information to surface before changing your itinerary. I am not a scientist or an expert in infectious disease so I refuse to speculate about what is going to happen in the coming days, but I suggest you hold off on canceling until more is known about what is going to happen here. I have no way of knowing what is going to be open or closed over the next few weeks either, but will keep you posted when information comes forth from reliable sources. Hopefully the uproar will pass soon and we can warmly welcome you to one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world. The people of Quintana Roo and Cancun will need all the support they can get, I hope you come down and have a fantastic trip when all this craziness subsides.

p.s. I hope this answers a lot of your email questions, I know that I just can't reply to all of your queries, I apologize for that and hope that this post suffices in place of a personal response. Perhaps it's not as nice as hearing from me personally, but I am just one woman who must share the house computer with her hubby! :)

(this is old news now, here's a link for the latest updates on swine flu in Cancun)

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