Monday, December 27, 2010

Da Blues and Blogger Guilt

Meh. Pft. Whatever. My mood has been pretty low of late, I keep thinking "I must blog!" but my depressed mind says "Who cares? Nobody, that's who, nobody wants to hear your blah blah blah". And so I sit and stew and toss and turn at night and write blogs in my brain that never hit the keyboard. I really do have lots to say and not all of it negative (though admittedly a good majority of my "brain posts" are on the downer side of the blog scale of happiness).

I had a lot of adventures this year, some of them really fantastic, out of this world even! The whale shark experience of 2010 was phenomenal, I loved my day at Xplor and the unique day in Cozumel scuba diving with dolphins. I did the "Day of the Dead Festival" at Xcaret, snorkeled many cenotes and Xel Ha, climbed Coba, camped on the beach, discovered "El Meco" and Sian Kaan, watched a mama turtle lay eggs and later watched a different nest of turtles hatching. But I have found that over the last few months I have been pretty house-bound, not interested in picking up the camera or doing much of anything. I put on a happy face for Max, manage to play with him and keep his spirits up, but at the end of the day I am just a big giant pile of "meh".

I'd love to happily scream "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!" to you all, but it would probably come across as pretty darned fake. It's not that I wish anyone an Unmerry Christmas or a Crappy New Year, but I am just not in the holiday spirit. I miss my family. A lot. My parents are on a cruise so I haven't spoken to them, my brother is on a different schedule and time zone so no phone call with him either. We had a nice Xmas dinner with some friends, low key but lovely, but I still wanted to be with family.

Max and I investigated going to Canada for these weeks, but we just couldn't afford the tickets. Perhaps that is why I am so blue, got myself excited about a visit to Canada only to let myself down. My last trip back was more than six years ago. I was pregnant with Max, he's never been to the land of blizzards and black ice. While I have not vocalized my depression or how much I am missing the family, Max HAS, crawling into my lap with tears in his eyes saying he misses his grandma and grandpa and his uncles and cousins etc.. It is not easy living in Cancun with no family around. Good friends are few and far between, at least ones you can trust and be yourself with, those kind of friends I can count on one hand.

And thus, I hibernate and hide, not wanting to be the "bummer" in the group, not wanting to be the whiner or the party pooper, I just keep my mouth shut and keep it all to myself. I put on the smily face that I have so much practice using, my old shrinks used to call it my "Little Mary Sunshine" face, the one that convinces everyone that my life is freaking fantabulous and that I am a ray of light in the world. I desperately try to look on the bright side of life (yes, there always is one), keep moving forward and enjoy all that Max brings me everyday. I honestly don't know where I would be without him, he keeps my head above water (unless we're snorkeling, haha), makes me feel like there is at least one thing in my life that I have done right. Yeah, he makes me crazy too, but gawd he's a spot of joy.

So, there you have it, my happy holiday post (snicker). Don't mean to bring you down and I'm not looking for sympathy or advice or anything, really just trying to get a blog post done so the night-time niggling of guilt in my stomach eases up while still being honest. I'll try to come up with some lovely, light-filled Happy Happy things to say soon, I promise. Maybe it's time to dust off the camera and just go play outside and start snapping. Too darned cold to go to the beach but if we bundle up a walk in the park might not be so bad. Saludos a todos, hopefully I won't be gone so long next time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level

Steven Roll is passionate about Latin America, his blog Travel Ojos shares tales and experiences throughout the region with joy and a love for the culture. I've enjoyed his blog immensely since it began and I was thrilled when he invited me to participate in his "Celebrating Latin America at Ground Level" e-book project. With contributions from 29 locals and ex-pats from a variety of countries, the book covers everything from food to culture to language and life, a fascinating look at the wonderful region we call home. I've loved reading all the stories and tales, some truly talented writers make this a "must download" for anyone with a love of all things Latin American. Please take a moment to download the FREE e-book and enjoy a peek at life south of the border from some talented bloggers. Big thanks to Steven for putting it all together and inviting me to be a part of this terrific project!

Here's a list of the participants and their blogs, show them a little love!

Margaret Snook (Cachando Chile) Chile
Laura Quinn (Lonely Girl Travels ) Travel
Ernest White (Fly Brother) Travel
David Miller (Matador, Operating on Stoke) Patagonia
Conner Gorry (Here is Havana) Cuba
Eileen Smith (Bearshapedsphere), Chile & Travel in general
Ayngelina Brogan (Bacon is Magic) Latin America
Nicholas Gill (New World Review) Travel
Carlo Alcos (Matador, Vagabonderz) Travel
Steven Roll (Travel Ojos ) Mexico
Jim Johnston (Mexico City DF and Live on Arrival) Mexico
Rebecca Smith Hurd (All About Puebla) Mexico
Mark Francis (Guate Living) Guatemala
Katie Alley (Seashells & Sunflowers) Argentina
Ben Box (South American Handbook)
Abby Tegnelia (The Jungle Princess) Costa Rica
Vicky Baker (Going Local Travel) Argentina
David Lee (Medellin Living) Colombia
Holly Elizabeth Worton (Ecohotelology) Sustainability, Travel, Latin America
Nora Walsh (Travel Ojos contributor) Latin America
Genny Ross-Barons (Roatan Vortex) Honduras
Leigh Shulman (The Future is Red) Travel
Margaret Snook (Cachando Chile) Chile
Cathy Brown (Expat Daily News in Central and South America)
Tracy L. Barnett (The Road Less Traveled) Travel
Jessie Kwak (Unpaved South America) South America
Mark Chesnut (Latin Flyer), Travel
Julie Schwietert Collazo (Matador, Collazo Projects) Americas
Jill Greenberg (First World White Girl )

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dot Your T's and Cross Your Eyes

Bureaucracy. A vile truth in every country, though I am starting to believe that Mexico should hold the title for "Biggest Pile of Bureaucratic BS in the Whole Wide World". Getting anything accomplished here is a bit of a nightmare. I've written in the past about the flaming hoops we must jump through for our immigration papers, but that really is just the beginning of the nonsense. I'm starting to believe that people add extra hoops and extra gas to the flames just to see you dance.

Por ejemplo....With the idea in mind that I would take Max to visit Canada this winter, we got to work putting everything together for his Mexican passport. Check, double check, print off the list from SRE, extra photocopies of everything they asked for, pre-pay at the bank. We made our appointment for this morning, showed up early and expected to turn over the papers they requested on their website and be on our way. What were we thinking? Of COURSE it can't be that easy. They had to take a magnifying glass to all our documents and inform us that they weren't exactly right.

The "original stamped birth certificate" and copy for Max needed to be "original stamped COPY of birth certificate", meaning, the original plus an original stamped copy so we have to take a couple of hours extra and go to "registro civil" to get a damned stamped official copy.

Next magnifying glass issue, Max's official ID from the school board. We solicited this from the school specifically for his passport, the director went to the SRE to check that what she was giving us was acceptable, got the documents from the school board and we thought we were golden. But oh no, of course not. Mr. Picky said that the official stamp from the official board on the official ID was not clear enough and that the ID had a date of issue (Nov. 2010) but without an expiry date he couldn't know that it was a valid and "vigente" card. This is an official, government-issued document, but he would not accept it. At this point I was getting ready to leap over the counter and shove his official ID up his nose.

Thirdly (yes, this goes on), Hubby had his IFE (official government issued voter card, considered the most important piece of ID for a Mexican). Mr. Picky-ID-Up-His-Nose told Hubby that he needed to go online to verify that the ID was "vigente", print a copy and bring it in. So, the valid official card was not enough, he needed a print out to prove that the valid card was valid.

So, though we realized we had to have everything in order and did everything as instructed by the directions of the almighty SRE, we still got slammed into a wall by a pendejo who felt like being a dick this morning. We both lost time for work and now have to lose more time out of the office. Max missed time at school. And I am one step closer to that red-tape ulcer. Dot your t's and cross your eyes, welcome to Mexico!

(This is just one example, I think I could write a whole series of "South of the Border BS", you should hear what crap I am going through just to get a cel phone plan.....)

And....rant over.....

For now....

Friday, November 5, 2010

Macho, Macho Man

ma·cho / ˈmächō/ • adj. showing aggressive pride in one's masculinity: the big macho tough guy. • n. (pl. -chos) a man who is aggressively proud of his masculinity. machismo.

Machismo, one my biggest turn-offs. When I hear the word I think of hairy chests and men grabbing their crotch while ordering their women to get them another damned beer. Mexico (and other Latin countries) has a reputation for being a society dominated by macho men, and while I hate to stereotype, I would have to say that it is somewhat true. Women are evolving here, but the culture of man being dominant certainly still exists. Chauvinism is alive and well, evident in cultural events such as lucha libre (wrestling), cock fights, bull fights, domestic abuse and the cantinas packed with men seeing who can drink the most tequila or eat the hottest salsa while ogling the waitresses. I must be clear, this is certainly not ALL men in Mexico, and it's not just a Mexican problem, but it is more widely accepted here than it should be. Many women do not report abuse and they may not even realize that they are being abused emotionally, verbally and psychologically. Their mamas will tell them to do all that they can not to anger their spouse and to not discuss their issues outside the home.

Lately Max has picked up on the word "macho" and I am perturbed. "Remember mommy, I have to be macho?" I'm pretty sure I threw up a little in my mouth when he came out with that gem. I wish I could be a fly on the wall of the kindergarten to see exactly what these five year olds are talking about amongst themselves, though I think I would be pretty devastated to discover the truth. In my five years as mommy, I have done my best to show Max a world that is free of gender bias, but I am fighting against a huge outside wave. "Ewww, I don't want that mommy, it's for girls!" is popping up more and more in conversation. I use it as an opportunity to speak to him about a world free of gender, telling him that he can choose whichever toy or game or activity he wants, regardless of what the world around him thinks.

A couple of months ago we were out with some friends and Max and I were talking about how much he loves his gymnastics classes. One of the men turned to me and said "You know that he's a boy right? He should be doing manly things, he should be playing soccer, not doing girly gymnastics". HUH? WHAT?? Have you SEEN professional male gymnasts? Rock hard bodies, rippling muscles, strength and physical abilities beyond what any soccer player can offer! Why is gymnastics not "manly"? And really, who cares if it is? Raising a "manly" or "macho" son is not a priority at all. In fact, it's at the bottom of my list, something I will try to avoid at all costs.

I have always made up little life lesson songs for Max, easy to remember and repeat whenever we face a difficulty or problemita. The "Do it Again" song has helped us through the last couple of years, if Max's plasticine figure falls apart or his Lego tower collapses we sing "We do it again, we do it again, we do it, we do it again, it's fun!" With the latest issues of machismo popping up, we have a new song. Actually, it's more like a cheerleader routine. While clapping our hands and marching, we sing "Respect and compassion, are always in fashion, respect and compassion, are always in fashion". Rinse, repeat. He seems to have embraced it, I just hope the message is sinking in and he's not just digging the rhythm and rhyme.

Raising a kid is like fighting a war. There are skirmishes and battles, wins and losses, dissention in the ranks. "The Battle of the Machos" might be a long, hard haul, but I hope that with the right ammunition, respect and compassion will come out on top and machismo will be banished from our world. Would anyone like to join our army of love?

(I find it very amusing that the macho Muppets are the pigs....)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hurricane Paula a Bust in Cancun, But I Got a Bonus!

I feel like I need a cold shower, I got all worked up just to be let down by the latest hurricane tease Miss Laura. She came out of nowhere, threatened to hit us directly as a category two then poof, gone, headed over to Cuba with her nasty business. Yes yes, I should be relieved and I am, it's just all the excitement of a potential hurricane gets me all giddy inside! I love chasing the storm, reading all the meteorology geek sites, following the funky spaghetti models and contemplating the possibilities. After surviving Hurricane Wilma, all other hurricanes are going to seem like a light breeze and a drizzle, no biggie. Yes, we'll get wet and yes, perhaps some damage will be done but in the end I know that it will all be ok. The thrill of the storm is really in the chase, but if at the end of the pursuit you find out you've been chasing nothing, it feels like that necking session in the car that got interrupted by dad.

Anywho, I went out to the hotel zone of Cancun this morning to see if there were some good waves or any beach erosion as a result of Paula's brush-by. A few waves, nothing major and surprisingly I didn't note any loss of sand, yay! After the millions spent (twice) to rebuild the beach, I'd hate to see it all washed away by one little almost storm.

I stopped at three different beaches and on the third visit my friend Leon and Max stayed in the car. They were good sports, I mean I had dragged them out on a rainy morning and asked them to trek through wet sand, I suppose it was ok if they didn't hit the third beach. I was just going to grab a couple of shots and get back to the boys, when a man approached me on the beach. I was a bit nervous at first, there was really no one else out there and he had a big ole black eye and stitches in his head (I automatically assumed drunken brawl,though I suppose it could have been from a fall trying to rescue a kitten from a tree, my bad). He asked if I wanted to see some baby turtles and of course I said "Si!!". We started walking down the beach and I was relieved to see we were headed towards an obvious turtle nest enclosure. There were a couple of guys helping the wittle teeny tiny babies out of their hole in the sand, hundreds of them! They invited me in to help but I knew I had to run back for the boys for this special treat. I got Max and Leon, we all ran back and proceeded to oooooh and aaaaaah over this amazing spectacle. We've seen babies before at organized events, but have never seen them actually hatching out of their shells!

So, the hurricane was a bust, but I got a total bonus and am thrilled. This year I saw a mama turtle laying her eggs in Tulum, snorkeled with a juvenile turtle and now have witnessed the birth of hundreds. Full turtle circle, it's been a fine year.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

7 Things in 7 Years

Today, October 10th, 2010 marks my seventh anniversary of coming to Mexico. I boarded the plane in Toronto, waved goodbye and set off for my "divorce recovery vacation". Well, recover I did but the vacation has turned into a life. Seven years living in a foreign country has taught me a million things, but since seven is a lucky number, I'm going to share with you seven things I have learned (it's also a lot more concise than trying to make a million point list).

1. Living in a first world country it's easy to forget just how good you've got it. Obviously I still keep in touch with Canadian and American friends and family and I have noticed something big. The "gripes" of those living my old life are small, really, really small yet for those who don't know any better they seem huge. People bitch and moan about not having enough money, thoughts they share from their iPhone, sitting in their climate controlled house, while the kids play Xbox and flip through 300 channels of HD TV on the plasma. They complain about paying taxes but don't understand that they actually get something in return, health care, decent schools, clean streets. If I lived in the US or Canada I would NEVER complain about taxes or a lack of anything material, you are all blessed and need to appreciate all that you have. Living in Mexico where a huge portion of the population lacks drinkable water and any kind of government services gives me perspective. There is no such thing as "poor" NOB (north of the border), even the homeless and jobless have resources that make them rich in comparison to the people living in poverty in other countries.

2. Learning a language ain't easy, but the benefits are endless. After seven years my Spanish is far from perfect, but I am now able to function and communicate and even work in a foreign language. It's broadened my perspective of just how difficult it is for anyone making a change, the refugees and immigrants to Canada and the US have to make huge sacrifices and an incredible amount of effort to learn English, give them a break. The next time I read "Learn English or go home" in the comment section of a news article, I might just go postal. I believe that everyone should have a second (or third or fourth) language, it opens up the world and opens your mind (and studies show it prevents Alzheimer's and increases abilities in science and math).

3. Tacos taste good. Enough said.

4. The ocean is a healer. I know that I NEED the ocean, it's not just a "want" or a "desire", it's a necessity. If I go more than a couple of weeks without swimming in the sea, my mental and physical health deteriorates. The moment I am in the ocean everything gets better, my back feels loose, my nasal passages clear and the stress of day to day life melts away. I truly believe that without the ocean nearby I might just shrivel up and die.

5. Patience is a virtue. (I stole that from somewhere). Coming from big city life where everything was "Go, go, go, now, now, yesterday!", it was a big adjustment getting used to "Mexican time". A two hour wait in the bank or a three week wait for a repairman is the norm. Showing up to a party "on time" means one or two hours after the designated start time. I still don't really like it, but I've learned to not pull my hair out over it. Just say "Ni modo" and don't get your knickers in a knot, you'll just make yourself nuts if you don't relax.

6. Politics are the same everywhere. Right wing, left wing, it truly doesn't matter (though I am still a lefty lefty liberal to the bone). Politicians make promises they can't keep, lie through their teeth and don't give a crap about anyone except themselves. Watching from the outside as the Canadian and US governments "work" leaves me laughing, they're really no different than the famously corrupt Mexican counterparts, they just hide it better and have better public relations people and orthodontists.

7. Life is what you make it (another stolen gem). We all make choices, sometimes without even realizing it. We choose our paths, our friends, our way of life. No matter where you live you can be happy, you just have to find your happiness in that place. If you "hate" a place, you just haven't focused on the positive, there is something good about every city, every country and every person in this world. If we continually look at the negative, we're going to be pretty miserable. Yes, there are bad things about Cancun, there are also bad things about Toronto and Timbuktu. Surround yourself with good people, seek out the positive, eliminate the negative influences that are within your control and appreciate all that you have. Life is too short to spend your days complaining when we all have so much to be grateful for. Look at the poorest of the poor, the people living in rundown palapas with no running water, no electricity, barely enough food and you will still find smiles on their faces, laughing children and love. You've got to accentuate the positive or what's the point?

Well, hm, that post turned out a bit differently than I anticipated, the path it took was not what was planned but I am gong to leave it as is. I think perhaps because today is Canadian Thanksgiving my mind wandered to gratitude. And really, I suspect that is the most important lesson I have learned. Be grateful for all that you have, be grateful for the opportunities that present themselves, be grateful for the problems in life as they give you perspective on the good things, be grateful for the fresh water you have to drink, not everyone has it, be grateful for the food on your plate and most importantly, be grateful for the people around you who love you and whom you love in return.

I am grateful for all of these things and more and I really don't know if I would be if I hadn't made the move south. I too was caught up in the "me, me, me, more, more, more" NOB life. I hope the coming years bring more learning experiences and chances to grow, thanks for the lessons Mexico, one day perhaps I'll be able to return the favour.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It Ain't All Sunshine and Cenotes

I know that usually I put on a happy face for the blog and other internet outlets, but I have to be honest, life isn't always easy. That's true for everyone I am sure, unless you're a pampered lap dog living in luxury, eating doggie cookies out of carefully manicured fingers. My doggie cookies are hard-earned and come from fingers worn down to nubs from the overuse of a keyboard.

I don't talk about it often, but I have a long history with clinical depression. Clinical depression that led to years of high doses of anti-depressants and hundreds of hours on the psychiatrist's couch. Since living in Mexico, I have overcome much of the disease and am med-free, but that doesn't mean that the depression doesn't raise its ugly head now and again. The sunshine helps, a LOT, if you've never experienced a dark and dreary winter you may mock the idea of SAD (seasonal affective disorder), but it's a proven fact that a lack of sun can lead to serious depression. I also think having a child has helped, perhaps a change in hormones combined with the pride in being a mommy to a pretty special kid. Since moving to Mexico (and becoming mommy), I eat better, I drink FAR less alcohol and am living a healthier life.
Whatever the reason for the change, I am grateful, I no longer feel empty and hopeless, at least not on a daily basis.

And then the dark days come. I don't mean the weather (though now that I think about it it HAS been raining a lot). I feel down. Listless. Zero energy. My get up and go has got up and went. Feeling this way leads to guilt, guilt that I am not being the best mommy I can be or the best employee or the best housewife (or the best blogger). I'd rather sit on the couch with the laptop playing Mafia Wars than venture outside to kick a ball around. Or write a blog post. Ahem. The guilt leads to further depression and blah blah blah, the circle goes round. Issues with my relationship with Hubby certainly play a role, I'm not going to get into that here but suffice it to say that "it ain't easy".

So here I am. Feeling depressed and feeling guilty about feeling depressed. I don't expect sympathy, seriously, I live in paradise and am able to see and do things that others only dream about. I have a great job and an amazing kid and the best parents and brother in the world. But that is not enough to overcome the "dark days". Talking about depression is tough, particularly to folks who don't understand the disease. If I hear "Chin up little buckaroo", I will scream. "Cheer up, it will all be ok" is another phrase that can make someone who suffers from depression want to bang their head against the wall. On behalf of depressed folks everywhere, I beg of you not to give advice, not to offer platitudes, just simply listen and be there for your friends. Visit them, even if they say they don't want visitors. Drag them out of the house to do something, even to just go for a walk in the sun for ten minutes. Offer to take their kids for an hour or two to lighten their load. If you have a friend who is truly in the pits of hell, take them to get professional help, they might resent you at first but will thank you later (depends on how close you are I suppose). Reach out, don't let them push you away, it's not easy being friends with a "depresso", I know that, but friends are often exactly what they (we) need.

I apologize for the downer of a post, no cenotes, no great adventures, just an honest statement of my current life. It doesn't suck, but it's no box of bon bons right now either. Back to our regularly scheduled "Sunshine and Light" posts soon....

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Work, Work, Work (or what I did on my summer non-cation)

"Oh man, next weekend I have to go to Cozumel on Friday, Xplor on Saturday, Tulum Music Fest at night, I'm going to be exhausted!"

"Um Canucka? Shut up! Wah wah wah, I have to live a life of adventure, wah wah wah."

And thus a close friend reminded me that I live a pretty sweet life and have a pretty cool job. The irony is I truly was thinking about how tired I was going to be rather than all the fun I was going to have. I appreciated the kick and quickly turned my frown upside down. I also got to thinking about the adventures I've had over the last couple of months and thought I would make a list.

Max teaching Grandpa how to snorkel the reef

1. Vacation with da folks- My parents were here in April and we managed to get a weekend on Isla Mujeres and a few days in Tulum, in addition to various trips to beaches and snorkeling in Puerto Morelos. Max loooooved having his grandparents here and was eager to show them how to live the life in paradise.

Looking down from the top of Coba

2. Tulum/Coba/Gran Cenote- In June we took a little jaunt down to Casa de las Olas in Tulum to visit dear Heather and had ourselves a totally fun-filled weekend. Visiting the Coba ruins was definitely a highlight, it's the last pyramid still open for climbing and I managed to get these old legs all the way to the top. I'm so pleased that Max was able to do it too, they will be closing the pyramid and I want him to one day recognize how lucky he was to be able to climb. Gran Cenote was fantastic, a beautiful spot to refresh. Casa de las Olas was a treat in itself, right on the boundary to the Sian Kaan biosphere, it was like having a totally private, serene beach all to ourselves.

Swimming with the biggest fish in the sea

3. Whale sharks- Every time I think about my experience swimming with the whale sharks, I get all "bah gah zah" and lack the words to fully describe the day. Phrases like "best day of my life", "out of this world", "totally surreal" and "unfreakingbelievable" come to mind. I'm still amazed, still all glowy and googley-eyed, this is a serious MUST DO for anyone with a little adventurous blood.

The night show at Xcaret. Truly stunning!

4. Xcaret- The eco-park Xcaret is one of the more "touristy" spots we visited this summer. We'd been once before when Max was tiny and thought it was time to do it again. We swam the underground rivers, snorkeled, went for a ride in the observation tower, fed turtles, investigated the aquarium, perused the butterfly pavilion and watched the jaguars. After all was said and done, we asked Max what his favourite part of the day was and he responded "Los viejitos!", referring to the night show which featured folkloric dance, including "La Danza de los Viejitos" from the state of Michoacan. I guess "adventure" is old hat to this kid, I LOVE that he felt the show full of history and culture was the best part of his day.

Lucky shot in Cenote Cristalino

5. More cenotes, more beaches- Hitting the beach is an almost weekly event for us (sometimes more than once a week if we're lucky!) We decided to introduce our "cenote virgin" friend to Cenote Cristalino and Xpu Ha beach. Cristalino is a really great spot, crystal clear waters (hence the name), a very cool cave and a "cliff" for diving into the 6 meter deep water. It was our first time to that particular cenote and I think we'll be back (after we explore all the hundreds of cenotes we haven't seen yet, haha!) Xpu Ha beach was divine as always, live salsa music, cold drinks and some decent waves for the boogie board.

Zip lining at Xplor

6. Xplor! This past weekend I finally got to visit this groovy adventure park in the Riviera Maya. Max was not a happy camper that he couldn't go with me (minimum age is 6), but after a fun-filled day of zip lines, underground rivers and amphibious vehicles, I have decided that Xplor will be the destination of choice to celebrate Max's birthday next year. It's really quite an amazing place, totally safe (which takes away part of the fun, haha), clean and never a dull moment.

That's really just a small sampling of what we've done. I watched a mama turtle lay her eggs in Tulum, admired the kiteboarders in various locations, toured hotels, snorkeled plenty, visited too many beaches to count, boogie boarded, visited Garrafon park, swam with dolphins and overall, enjoyed myself immensely. Some of this was work, even though all of it was play! Life may not always be perfect or exciting, but these moments of adventure make all the rest of it totally worthwhile. I hope one day Max looks back at all our photos (and this blog!) and is grateful for all that we've been able to share with him. Might be a long time before that happens, but I can wait.....

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Whale Shark Adventure

Dramamine? Check. Biodegradable sunblock? Check. Underwater camera? Check. Ready to rock, ready to get in the water with the biggest, most gigantic, most incredible creatures of the sea. Some of you may remember my attempt to swim with whale sharks from last year, a day full of seasickness and near disappointment. This year I was much better prepared for the adventure, took anti-seasick pills the night before and the morning of, got to bed super early, ate bananas, took vitamins, drank ginger tea, following every recommendation I could find to avoid being seasick. (Last year was the one and only time in my life I had EVER been seasick and I was not going to have a repeat). I was up and out the door early, glad to see clear blue skies and no wind.

I'd been following the whale shark reports closely this year, anxiously awaiting the day I would be paying them a visit. The sharks had come a little late, but when they arrived, they arrived in great numbers and much closer to shore than in past years. I was almost panting with excitement when the day came for me to hit the sea, I'd read reports of hundreds of sharks congregating together! When we arrived at the Punta Sam docks, I was happy to see a calm, almost glass-like ocean, hurrah! We sat through our orientation (no touching the sharks, only two swimmers at a time, don't get whacked by a tail) and made our way to the small boat.

There were only eight people in our group, plus our expert guide and crew. The guide was as excited as we were, he told us it had been a spectacular year for the adventure and he was looking forward to a great day. We sailed along, going out past Isla Mujeres, the captain chattering on the radio. He got a big smile on his face, other captains had found the pod and it was very close by! About 45 minutes after leaving the dock we saw a group of boats gathered, we had arrived. (After last year's 2 1/2 hours to find a couple of sharks, this was indeed a treat).

We saw our first shark and squealed and oohed and aahed, this gentle spotted creature was huge! Then another, and another, and another! Even the guide was impressed, he guesstimated in a quick count that we were in the midst of 150 to 200 whale sharks! It was time to get in the water and we were more than ready. I made my jump, adjusted my mask and snorkel and came face to face with my first shark. I think I got a mouthful of seawater as I gasped with joy. We swam alongside her, admiring her beauty (don't know why but I assign the female gender to all the sharks). The guide tapped my shoulder and there was another one coming up to our right. Tap tap, another one to the left. Tap tap, another one behind, all on the first jump! Back in the boat to give the next couple their turn. We were trying to find words to describe the moment, but all anyone could come up with was slack jawed "gah gah gah, ugh, oh, AMAZING". I lost count of how many jumps we had, there were so many sharks that we had unlimited opportunities to share time with them. Compared to last year's "one and done", this was a truly surreal experience. If I didn't know better, I would have suspected that Disney had set the whole thing up and these were actually animatronic creatures, it was just that perfect.

After countless jumps, everyone had had their fill and it was time to go. The captain had a hard time manoeuvring the boat out of the area, everywhere we turned there was a whale shark. We eventually got out, made our way to Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, dropped anchor and enjoyed a swim and some fresh ceviche made by the crew. It was refreshing and I was able to get most of the fish eggs out of my hair (the reason the sharks were so close to Isla is that the "bonito" fish were spawning so the water was full of their eggs, as was my bikini and scalp). I chatted with the tourists that were on our boat, they all agreed that this was one of the best days of their life. I turned to the guide and said "This was better than sex!". Being male, he had to disagree at first, then he looked pensive for a moment before saying "Hmm, on a day like today, you just might be right".

(See my whole set of whale shark photos and you can also book your own swim with whale shark adventure!)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

He's Lucky He's Cute

I've been looking at old baby pics of Max recently, fondly remembering the days when he hadn't yet begun to talk. Pining for those days actually. Yearning. Clicking my heels together and closing my eyes and chanting, wishing for a time machine to go back to the days of relative silence. Oh sure, babies cry, but that's easy compared to what we're dealing with now. I'll take a full-on baby screaming, crying, trying everything-but don't-know-what-to-do day over the CONSTANT questions, chatter, demands, complaints, tantrums and Michael Jackson songs that we're experiencing now. In two languages no less, sometimes three.

"Remember mommy? In English we say "blue", in Spanish we say "azul' and in French it's "bleu". How do you say "blue" in Maya? In Chinese? In Italian? I have a friend, remember? His name is Raoul, he's teaching me Italian. I don't know Chinese but I think you say "buh". Remember? I like Chinese food. Can we get a whale shark in the house? I'd feed it! Grandpa got bit by a crab, remember? I love you mommy. I'm not your friend EVER mommy. Leave me alone! Come here NOW! Mooooommmmmmmy, can I have some milk please? I SAID I WANT MILK! Where's my shoe? How come? Why? How come? Why? I don't want to eat more, I am full, but can I have some ice cream? My tummy hurts, I don't want to go to school, can we go to a cenote? My tummy doesn't hurt in cenotes. Remember when I was four and my tummy hurt and I died? And there was blood everywhere! Can I have more salsa, I want it hotter. That's too hot, you burned my tongue with the salsa on purpose! FINE, just forget it, just forget about it mommy, just forget it."

And that was just one morning before school. The kid can TALK. And talk and talk and talk. Everything he says to me in English he repeats for his daddy in Spanish so we get double the chatter, double the fun. Or, he'll say something rude to his father in Spanish and I will reprimand him and he'll turn like a fury with "I wasn't talking to YOU, I was talking in Spanish, don't listen!" I picked him up from his summer course the other day and the teacher said "Max es muy lindo, muy, muy, muy lindo., TREMENDO, un pingo, puede hablar y hablar y hablar" (Max is very cute, very, very, very cute. But, oy, TREMENDOUS, a mischief maker, he can talk and talk and talk.) The teachers complain about his behaviour, he has a strong will to do his own thing, but then they pat him on the head, give him a kiss and say "Ay, pero es mi Maxito, mi Maxie precioso" (Ah, but he's my Maxito, my precious Maxie). This is going to cause us no end of trouble I am sure! Dennis the Menace got away with a lot and he wasn't even close to being as (deceptively) charming as Max.

Now don't get me wrong, I love the kid more than anything on the planet, but it's exhausting to be his mom! He'll be getting ready for bed, blathering on and on and on, lay down, still talking, pull the sheet up, still talking and he'll continue talking for the first few minutes of sleep. Heck, he talks IN his sleep! At this point a moment of silence means that something is seriously wrong. He's got the scissors and is cutting his hair in the bathroom. He's putting clothes on the cat. He's putting on eyeliner so he can be like Michael. He's "fixing" the toilet. As much as the chatter can grate, it's the silence that brings the fear.

I find myself apologizing to people at times for his behaviour, but they always say, "Ahhh, no te preocupes, es un niño! Y tiene mucha energia y salud, gracias a dios." ("Ah, don't you worry, he's a boy! And he has a lot of energy and health, thank god".) And this is so very true. So every time I am at the point of pulling out my hair I think of all the children who are not healthy, those who do not have boundless energy because they lack food and water, those who do not chatter incessantly about the world as they have had little to no education. And I think of parents who have lost their children (I don't think I can even imagine their pain). And I am grateful. And my exasperation fades away. And I give Max a big ole hug and a kiss and tell him that I am the luckiest woman in the world. And he responds "Yeah, I know, now leave me alone, you're squishing me and you're sweaty!".....He's lucky he's cute.....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Where the Boys Aren't: Girls' Beach Getaway

Mission: ESCAPE to the beach in Tulum

Work, kid, house, work, kid, house, work, kid, house. Everybody knows that story and everybody needs a getaway sometimes. I had the chance to get outta Dodge last weekend with my dear friend Lisa to visit Heather down in Tulum at the Casa de las Olas and I jumped at the opportunity. Don't get me wrong, I love my kid and my life, but sometimes a girl just needs some girl time and the chances don't come along very often.

My first boogie board attempt. Wave got me goooood.

Lisa and I hit the road on Friday night in her multi-coloured convertible bocho (Volkswagen bug) and toodled down the highway screaming over the wind and the ole car's engine. I started to lose my voice as we approached Tulum, cold chelas were definitely in order! We stopped at the supermarket, stocked up on some noms and beverages and got in line to check out. The people in front of us seemed to take forever, no biggie, we're on vacation. Until it became a BIGGIE. As we got our goods in front of the cashier, something beeped on her terminal and she said "It's 9:00, you can't buy alcohol anymore". But but but....we were in line! It's only 9! Lisa argued for a while and got nowhere until a young bagger told us there was still one place open where we could get some beer. We scooted off, found the one and only store that sells booze after 9, stocked up on beer and tequila and made our way down to the house of the waves.

We settled in for a few drinks, a few laughs and caught up with Heather. She told us that there were 6 turtle nests on the property so we set out in the dark to see what we could see. We brought Vinnie the super beach dog with us but as soon as we were on the beach she took off barking. Heather ran to grab her and behold!!!! A gigantic mama turtle was RIGHT THERE laying her eggs!! Super awe, jaw on the sandy floor, ga ga girls, we oohed and aaahed and watched her do her thing (Vinnie safely back in the house by now). Turtle patrol came along and took her measurements and clamped a tracking device on her flipper. Her shell was 106 cms by 96 cms, big girl! We got hit by some flying sand when she started to try to get out of her hole, her powerful flippers making loud THWACK sounds as she dug her way out. We left her in peace to make her way back to sea.

Turtle tracks

"Our" turtle's nest in the morning

The next morning we made our way back to the beach and saw not only her nest, but another new one too! The tracks in the sand look like ATV tracks, quite incredible to see the journey up the beach and the journey back down. We went for a walk and saw tonnes of nests, a joy to say the least, particularly if you've been watching the depressing news from the oil spill. Eight beautiful nests on the property alone and we lost count of the rest we saw on the beach going south through Sian Kaan.

Cancun Canuck catching a wave

Kiteboarder catching some air

We spent the rest of the weekend relaxing, reading, walking on the beach, marveling at the kiteboarders, drinking, eating and boogie boarding. I kicked some Scrabble butt, I don't think I'll be invited to the next tournament (sorry girls!). We slept like babies with the sounds of the crashing waves, napped when we felt like it and we didn't take a shower all weekend! Saving water, you know, environmentally friendly (and no boys to make that "you stink" face). The tension of life ebbed away and Lisa and I returned to the city refreshed and ready to take on the daily grind again, leaving Heather alone in paradise. Can't wait to do it again, thanks so much ladies!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Odds and Ends

Summertime and the living is easy. Easy-ish. I like the longer days and the heat (yeah, call me crazy) and seeing friends in Canada and the US wearing shorts and having BBQs in their Facebook albums. School for Max finished on Friday, now it's strictly play time for him. I was tempted to teach him the "No more teachers, no more books" rhyme, but after the "Punch buggy" debacle (broken record chatter from the back seat!), I'll just keep it to myself. While we've been having some behaviour issues with Max, he ACED his final exams, receiving "excelente" in Spanish, Math, French and English (well, "excelente plus" in English). His grade in culture was only "bien" as he decided that Christopher Robin discovered America along with Pooh and Tigger. Smart kid, too smart, he knows what he can get away with and he pushes all our buttons. He's lucky he's cute. He started in gymnastics about a month ago and is rocking the gym, learning some discipline and burning off some energy. I'm thrilled with the gymnastics thing, great facility, great coaches, makes me wish I were young and lithe again, sigh....

Last weekend the weather was lousy as Hurricane Alex passed over the peninsula, the rain has been spoiling all my lovely plans. I really hope to get away this weekend, we need some cenotes and snorkeling action, summer is my favourite time to slip down to the Riviera Maya. The word "Holbox" has been tossed around the house a lot, maybe it's time for a trip to my lovely island paradise to catch up with the whale sharks. Our last trip out was the weekend in Tulum which was fantastic, I wouldn't mind a repeat of that adventure. I'm also itching to check out Xplor, but it's really a "grown ups" place, Max is too young, finding someone to babysit Max while we zip line and drive amphibious vehicles is going to be a toughy.

Mostly we've just been working, going to school, staying cool and trying not to think about military school options for my little monster. Last week I had some freelance work that got me excited, I was working for "Us Magazine" investigating the celebrities that were in Cancun for a promotional tour. Hit a bunch of road blocks, security was insane so didn't get much, but the ride was fun while it lasted. I'll take a bit more freelance work like that please! It got me thinking about all the interesting jobs I've had in my life, I think there is a post brewing in the ole brain about that, stay tuned!

So, hanging in, hanging out, laying low and keeping on keeping on. Such is life in Cancun. Happy belated Canada Day, Independence Day and Gay Pride Day everyone, hope all is good wherever you may be!

P.S., This is the last week for votes in the Riviera Maya photo contest, PLEASE, give me a click and spread the word to your friends! Thanks thanks thanks!

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