What does an alarm clock in Mexico sound like?

Depends.

On what time you came home last night or early this morning…

Here’s some examples-

27 year old bicycle horns honking incessantly as a vendor strolling or pedaling some sort of rusted out 2, perhaps, 3 wheeled contraption selling anything from “Queso!” to “Cacahuates!” to anything else that will bring in a few pesos.

Then, the redundant, but melodical radio announcers voice shreaking over a beat up loudspeaker mounted on top of the “Agua! Agua! Agua!” cart.

Each of these brings some initial confusion, as they begin in the distance, then become increasingly louder with each step or rotation of the sprocket until they stop right in front of your building, until they fade away as they continue their morning journey.

Finally, old reliable…92 roosters all over the neighborhood competing for first up.

It’s slightly cloudy over the Caribbean this morning, and I’m going to take my chances on Playa Norte for a beach day…hey, my skinny, white ass has been sunburned on cloudy days as well, so, what the hell…

My landlord is a totally rad guy…generations of his family live on Isla…his nickname is “Beto”.

After sharing some stories, I hop on the cruiser to leave mid-island and head through town. I’ll make a quick stop and visit my friend Sid Morris to say hello…

Here are a couple of pics of Isla I’ve never before seen. I’m never here this late in the year, so I’m catching a little of the hurricane season. But, what I’ve noticed, and quickly adapted to is that, rain is part of the lifestyle on Isla and no matter who it is, or what they’re commuting on, or how they’re dressed, they press on as if it was a beautiful, bright day. After all, they realize they, live in paradise.

 

After a few hours practicing being a bum, I’m hungry, and since there was no talent on the beach to occupy my time, it’s off to engage in a lunchtime feast…I saw my amigo Polo yesterday on my run, and told him I would stop by and eat today, so I chose his wildly popular, Mango Café.

His menu is simple, Caribbean/Mexican infused, and always fresh. You can tell freshness and uniqueness; all one needs to do is look at the faces of the diners when their choice is delivered and tasted, so, order it all over the course of your visit. Here’s mine…

Polo’s a young guy, newlywed, new father, who is dialed and gets it. He realizes where he is and sells THAT to the visitor. Rain or shine, his beaming bright smile warms the entire room making all who enter feel the warmth that is Isla.

His location is across the street from one of the islands most beautiful churches I have ever seen…and that church rests on a plot of tierra overlooking the Caribbean sea…if that doesn’t coax you to a Sunday mass or two, then you’ll prolly never attend…prolly.

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon and by the quietness, it must be siesta time. The wind has brought in a strong rain and I mount my cruiser to take a leisurely roll along the highway I affectionately refer to as, “PCH”. (For my non-West Coasties, that stands for Pacific Coast Highway) It’s a short ride but I’m sitting straight up all the while being covered by God’s tears… He knows I need them.

Once the day ends, if I’m very lucky, my GPS will text about what we should do when night falls over Isla on this Friday.

For now, I’ll throw the iPod on the Bose and let Old Blue Eyes lull me into a well-deserved siesta while I smile at the sounds of laughter coming from one window and the crashing waves from the other…yes, this is paradise.

High-speed wobbles aren’t just for 30 year old broken down Isuzu’s…

Time.

I can’t get my head wrapped around it here…my phone displays two different zones…my HOME zone, then, for some odd reason, Eastern time.

So, when I look at those times, and I ask someone what time it is, the answer is NEITHER OF THEM!

I’m told Isla is 2 hours ahead of my home zone, and 1 earlier than Easter time zone…but the BEST answer?

“Does it matter.”

You’re hungry, eat.

Tired. Sleep.

Got it.

At some point this morning, my phone chirps. It’s my GPS Penny…she’s my equivalent to “Siri”.

I clear my eyes and read it.

“Good Morning. I’m hungover. Good job Louie.”

“Hahahaha”…I reply. “I just stood up and realized…Whoa, I ‘ve got a high-speed wobble.”

Today was cloudy and punctuated by mild sunshine. A good day for a run.

Then a cerveza…some food…and a nap.

Which I did.

Later in the afternoon, I’m awakened from my nap by the laughter of children. As a parent, there is NOTHING more soothing than to hear a child laughing. It means, at that precise moment in time, all is wonderful in that child’s life. Now, if we can only figure out a way to make sure that’s an everyday occurrence in every child’s life all over the world…

I shuffle over to the kitchen window and slide it open. Children on a blacktop playground playing some sort of “deportes” with a soccer ball.

See, the place I’m staying at for the month, amazingly is right behind the same school Jill and I volunteered at last year! I had no idea about that until this very moment and it’s going to be way convenient for me to walk over and give them the care package I prepared for them…pencils…erasers…sharpeners. Dollar stores in the US are the perfect place to fill those kinds of orders.

Penny texts again…”Staying in tonight.”

So, I’m on my own and since the night air is cool like Southern California and not muggy like it can be on Isla, it’s a perfect night to take a ride through La Gloria and find a great place to feed my face.

A few blocks away I find myself right in front of a popular place I’ve read about, but didn’t know exactly where it was – “Bastos”.

 

Seated at an outside table is my “neighbor” Kris. He’s a teacher originally from Maine, who sells adventure tours in season, in Alaska, and currently teaching at the school behind us.

He waves me over. Just yesterday he commented about how much he loves the food here, so, he offers me a seat, I order a beer, the night’s special and settle in for some conversation.

He’s a lot like my wandering friend, Kyle in that he’s worldly, well-traveled and full of experiences to share.

The sun has set and this sleepy little neighborhood comes to life. Across the street is a “Piano Bar”, which, when I peer in, looks like a typical locals social club. A dozen or so round plastic tables clad in red red tablecloths circled by four color-matched plastic chairs.

Don’t worry…the dog is just hungover, not dead.

A few locals sit steeped in texting conversations, while others, still wearing their moto helmets, laugh over a couple of Sol’s. See? They’re no different from anyone else.

The music pumps and this neighborhood is just now beginning to feel its pulse. People are out, socializing in the street, on their front porches, very young mothers push their babies in strollers, you hear the short “honk, honk, honk” from a bicycle horn from a street vendor while  a few boys holler at each other during an impromptu game of street futbol .

Our meal eaten, our beers consumed, it’s time to venture out into the night and see what else the island and her guests are up to on this small slice of paradise affectionately known as, “Isla.”

All in a day in…Cancun?

I know, right?

Fly across the US to stay on a tiny Caribbean island, then go to Cancun…

I usually begin writing my posts before I begin cocktail hour…but. ..most days find me reconnecting with old friends and meeting new ones…and so the party begins…therefore, my typical day ends with me writing blog entries after my brain has been sufficiently assaulted with perfectly paced, but oh too many alcoholic beverages.

I’ve been here two days and already I’ve shoved a week’s worth of experiences and activities in such a small space…it’s what can happen when you make friends and enjoy their company…so kiddos, today’s lesson…travel…smile…and make  as many friends as you can as this is the essence of life.

It’s morning…on a Wednesday and the rain  has let up. It was a restless night…the winds and rain coming off the Caribbean were brutal and a multitude of unsecured items swirled and flapped outside.

Grey daylight peeks through the windows…I could sure use some sunshine to get started on my annual tan, but until that happens I’ll occupy myself with other activities…my phone chirps…it’s a text from Penny. “Wake up! Let’s  go to Cancun.”

She and Ryan, (Her solo guitarist who relocated here two years ago from SoCal and plays at her locations) decided to spend the day shopping for new ambiance and entertainment trinkets for the new “El patio” grand opening in a week…wait. ..a week? Look at these pics…do you see a restaurant opening? In a week?

Yeah. Me neither…but then again I helped Penny open El patio 2 years ago…and the same thing happened…this woman flat out gets shit done.

Isla is slowly “falling victim” to progress. The previous ferry terminal was original, small and germane to Isla. The new one is, well, gawdy, monolithic, cold and feels like Cancun.

We started the day with a nice ferry ride over under a cool cloudy sky…and, well, since it IS Mexico, it’s time for the obligatory death race in a Mexican cab. Right after acquiring the required amount of liquid courage of course.

Our next stop was “Electronica Gonzalez”. This place is a musicians and DJ’s wet dream. High end toys for beats that satisfy.

Here are a few of the items I thought Penny should consider adding to her restaurants and lounges…

She did not share my excitement for them.

Once this task was completed, the brain trust was hungry. I have an amigo, David Wanamaker, whom I met on Isla at the grand opening of Isla 33 a few years ago. He teaches people how to “SUP”.

No, not as in, “Sup dude?”

Stand Up Paddleboarding.

He lives and owns a shop in Cancun and I had seen him post some pics on Facebook of him eating some outrageous food at a place next door to him called, “The Surfin’ Burrito”.

Our Mexican NASCAR driver knew the place.

On a drive in which I can only describe as “Mad Max-ish”, we arrive, intact.

The food here is awesome. Ordering is similar to how you order sushi at a sushi restaurant. You are handed a sheet of paper and then ”build” your burrito from an array of choices to stuff into it…including the type of tortilla you want!

Here lies one of the great perks of traveling…the food, the people and the experiences you create, are for a lifetime.

We entertained the owners of the Surfin’ Burrito and four guests who decided to try it as well. Two traveling ladies from New York City, AND P Diddy! (Well, maybe just a similar facsimile thereof.)

A while later, David shows up with his girlfriend, sits down with a bucket of iced down Corona’s and well, now it’s a party.

For some difficult reason, this pic does not want to line up correctly…fail.

 

Ryan, P, and, Yours truly…

 

David’s shop…right next to the Surfin’ Burrito…

So, what next?

Penny wants to see a movie…Ryan needs to get back Isla to let his dog out…I get it.

Penny hands him some cab fare pesos, and we get out at the mall in seek of a movie…in a theater that serves crafted food and…liquor!

It’s Halloween season, so I want to be scared; even more than the days cab rides, but nope. Penny ain’t having ANY of that. No matter how I bribe, plead or cajole, it’s not happening.

So, she takes me to a place I thought, was a bar. It was. Sort of. It was actually more of a casino. A rather dull one at that.

She wants to have a few cocktails and try her luck.

I’m not much, hell, I’m not ANY kind of a gambler in a casino, but, cheap cocktails and another shot at some good food? What the hell, I’m in.

She plays a bit, but the love isn’t paying her back, so it’s off to another. Apparently there are four casinos here, and we’re going to visit at least two of them tonight.

This one is much better to her…although I can’t fully describe her gaming style as she claims it’s a “trade secret”…what I can tell you, is that it’s very entertaining to watch.

She’s on a roll…she LOVES the video gambling games…casinos in Cancun contain a lot of the games Penny likes in glassed enclosures, sort of like a human fish bowl, mostly to accommodate smokers. I retreated to a cozy table outside the cancer filled, money-sucking circus and instructed our server “Eduardo” to keep me happy with Cuba Libre’s and miss Penny, with wine…he’s an excellent employee worthy of a bonus tonight.

Think about it…wherever you are…wouldn’t it be way more fun to be gambling with an unlimited supply of cocktails in a casino in Cancun? Hell, I’m from Vegas and I like that bet.

Amply buzzed after losing count of how many cold sparkling adult beverages passed my lips and Penny making some cashola, it’s time to get ourselves to Puerto Juarez to catch the last ferry for the night…as I exit the cab trying to remember how to get into the house, I can hear Penny laughing as they drive away.

Tomorrow is another day and on Isla, I’m sure loaded with new adventures. G’night peeps.

Seeking out “The Joint”.

No. Not the “Cheech and Chong” variety – the actual bar named, “The Joint”.

My friend Penny Deming owns it. As past readers of this blog may recall, I met Penny at its grand opening a few years back.

Perfect opportunity to test out the new bike.

After 24 hours of travel and partying, I was the beneficiary of a not often found solid night of sleep. I peel open the sun-blocking curtains and Hmmmm…looks like it rained last night. My brand new bike’s gonna get all wet.

I’m renting a cool pad mid-island,offering all the comforts of home complete with an unobstructed view of the Caribbean.

It’s cloudy looking out towards Cuba. But it looks like it will hold off for my ride.

GPS. Wish I had it now.

When reaching a fork in the road, as sometimes in life, we are often faced with two choices. You’ve got a 50/50 shot of making the right choice in order for you to arrive at your final destination. Get it right, and it can be smooth sailing; get it wrong and, well, a TON of shit can happen.

Today, I got each choice…wrong. Turned right when I should have turned left. Turned left when I should have turned right. Went too far, but not far enough. “How far do I go?” “Was it this way, or that way?” “Do I turn around? Or continue on?” “What’s THAT road to?”

I hear thunder. Not like, “Out there. Waaay out there over the ocean.”

Over my head.

Following my every wrong move.

Taunting me…”Louie…..we’re so full of rain up here we just can’t hold it a second longer.”

Then…Boom.

It comes.

Oh, but we can’t have just rain…we’ve got to have some more fun.

How about… a 40 mph side draft…

And some man hole sized pot holes filled with rain…and speeding taxis…and, and, wait for it…on the entire island, there are only a few places where these exist, and of course, today, I get to learn of this fact…STEEP INCLINES.

I brought my Samsung S4 phone with me this trip as it’s unlocked and I have an unlimited, international texting plan on it.

I texted my GPS.

I call her, “Penny”.

After she finished “text laughing” at me, she cheerfully guided me…

“No. Too far.”

“Nope. Not far enough.”

“Uh uh. Wrong road.”

“Want me to come get you Louie?”

With each puff of oxygen I ingest, I tell myself, “Ponce De Leon? Columbus? Pedro de Alvarado?”

These were great Spanish conquistadors who sailed across the sea on nothing but guts, a compass and dysentery.

I’ve got a brand new bike, a 4G LTE cell phone, and I’m sure some sort of intestinal fun is in the works, and I can’t even navigate around a small island which, at its’ widest point, doesn’t even span a mile!

After trying to dodge the rain, (Yeah, right), at some point, you just give in to all the obstacles and distractions, the locals laughing at the once again passing gringo, and just roll with it. It’s just rain.

I finally arrive to a chuckling Penny who invites me in and makes me a nice hot cup of fresh coffee…

Thank you Penny.

For not laughing too loudly at me.

Life is sometimes like that.

You have a great plan for achieving your goals.

You start out on a nice clear day, then “It” happens.

You are now faced with some choices. Which ones you choose will determine how and when you reach your goal.

Learn to deal with the obstacles thrown at you and realize, the universe it doing “it”.

Your commitment to your goals is being tested.

You can choose to give in to the obstacles, or you can choose to get past them.

Either way. It’s your choice.

Arrival in Cancun.

I have to say this…customs and immigration in Cancun is always a downer. The immigration agents have a little bit of power, what with their “entry approval” stamp slamming loudly on your passport. I think they all watched the Seinfeld episode about “The Soup Nazi”.

But, this time, it was different. Pleasant is the word I choose to describe my agent, “Elena”. Thirty seconds at most and I was off to collect my luggage then labor in the line for customs.

Ah customs. In Mexico. This is where it gets, funny?

You drag your luggage from the carousel, get in line with everyone from your flight and any others that just landed, then walk up to the 16 year old agent who asks you where you were born and if you have anything to declare.

Simple.

Now it becomes a game show.

If you were not born in the US, you get waved off into “secondary”, where you get to unpack your luggage in front of a customs agent and everyone passing by, for inspection.

However, if you WERE born in the US, you get to stay, and when the agent instructs you, push a little red button on a panel next to him…(I didn’t test taking a photo of it because, well, you know, my luck with authority and all.)

It’s at this point where, for some reason, people nearly wet themselves because they’re freaking out about the result of pushing “el botón”. Almost as if it were that turban wearing Sultan in the glass box at a carnival who can guess your future.

Once pushed, you either get a “green” or “red” light.

As we all know what those two universal colors mean…so, step up and “Push that button!”

You get red and you get to “Step on over here and let’s see whatcha got in there.”

I push. I get green. I get my paperwork back and he waves me off.

I have a favorite driver who works in Cancun. My friend Sid Morris introduced me to him many years ago and, like everyone who knows him, becomes his amigo. He’s nails.

This, is William. He’s a Mexican “Magyver”…and mi amigo.

This year, I’ve decided to do something a little different with regards to transportation on the island. Beach bike. My own.

No. I’m not schlepping one across the USA. I’m buying one at the WalMart in Cancun, then, schlepping it, my carry on, my laptop bag and my over-weight limit suitcase on the ferry to Isla. It’ll be perfect for daytime, non-rainy day transportation to Playa Norte, Centro and just about anywhere else great food and copious amounts of liquor can be found. At night, well, taxi’s are plentiful and I suspect a lot safer.

Once my trip is concluded, I’ve located a deserving recipient to give it to.

This will be my first time crossing the Caribbean Sea under the cloak of darkness. By the time I arrived at the ferry terminal, I was minutes away from the 8:30 departure.

By the way, missing your departure is no longer such a bummer as there is a new bar named “Baja” that will be happy to entertain and relieve you of your new-found pesos until the next one arrives.

 

It’s beginning to rain. I’m debating upper or lower deck for the ride over.

Hell. It’s only water.

Only two of us brave the rain-soaked webbed seats.

This is where a little “life reflection” enters.

Ordinarily, the ride over can be incredibly romantic and fun as you begin to feel the vibe of where you are. The open sea, cool salt air, warm rays of sunshine preparing you for an awesome stay…it’s romantic if you’re with the right person to share it with.

Under the night, it’s even more so. Ultra Mar has installed cobalt blue accent lights on each of her sides which cast a cascade of light accenting up the clearness and shallow depth of the water.

Seeing little Isla in the distance puts her size into perspective. The island lights twinkle punctuated by the blinking lighthouse beacon.

Soon, you will be arriving at the port and disembark onto a piece of earth which will captivate and hold you in her care.

To do this with someone you care for and love, is perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can ever share.

Share it wisely.

Flying to Mexico…Part Dos…

OK…so the TSA peeps have like, ZERO sense of humor I’ve learned. I shall forever refer to them as, “BuzzKills”.

“How much have you had to drink, sir.” (Say it sarcastically like Jerry Seinfeld would.)

A kind-hearted supervisor asks me few “qualifying” questions which I promptly answer and I’m granted access to the terminal…as for the bean pole agent who delayed me…as I departed his station, it was clear he could read lips.

Now safely on board in my seat, the oddest person was seated next to me with his wife. They’re both Mexicans returning from a holiday in Miami and seemed friendly enough. Here’s where it gets, or at least looks odd…the husband is about 70ish, balding, spectacled and tall. As we begin our taxi down the runway, he straightens himself out in the seat as much as he can, then puts each hand in a pocket, then sits.

He sees me looking at him, then that awkward moment of silence where time. Just. Stops.

Before takeoff, I should have snapped a photo, but not knowing how he’d react, with my luck lately, my new –found TSA buddy would be the one to arrive to “assess the situation” possibly succeeding in preventing me from continuing my journey.

Saying not a word, each of us settles in for the ride. An hour later on the landing, he reverses the process. As do I. Time. Just. Stops.

Michael Weston or Anthony Bourdain?

Well, if you want to pretend you’re an ex-spy dumped in Miami, you’ve arrived…however, if you want to have your senses, all of them, assaulted, I’d go with Tony.

After riding the red eye from Vegas, I arrived a little weary as the snoring slob seated next to me decided that over the course of a 4 hour flight, it was “acceptable” to hog the arm rest and occasionally befall his weary head against my shoulder …to quote most of the women and my daughter reading this…”ewww”.

After de-planing and a heavy use of copious amounts of sanitizer like a surgeon scrubbing up, I arrive at the car rental counter, scoop up my ride for the day and I’m off.

I’ve got 8 hours…the goal is to shove as much of SoBe, Lincoln  Road and sparkling adult beverages into myself as possible…I figure by the time I re-board, my buzz should be sweet enough to enjoy, but not enough to prevent boarding…I figure anyway…

A short 20 minute navigation enhanced drive later, I’m feeling like Don Johnson- without the threads …the bitchen car …or shades …or….hair.

My stomach aches for nourishment so off with the sneakers and hello flip flops…

Ocean Avenue is exactly what you’ve ever seen or thought it was. Art deco boutique hotels…a gauntlet of restaurants serving a world-wide array of culinary choices all hawked at you like a San Francisco fisherman’s wharf fish monger.

Colorful botique hotels line the  boulevard with eclectic names like “the Bentley”, “Fritz”, and “Congress”. Seeing this place during the day is like seeing Vegas during the day – it just doesn’t  do it justice.

The architecture of all the hotels is classic…

Built with beautiful colors and lines…

They just make you want to get a room and make great use of it…

If, you know what I mean…

Strolling through the canopy that is ocean avenue eateries, so many options make it difficult…until…I hear “Sir…free cocktails with your meal”. Could it be? Did I already pass through Miami and went straight through to Mexico?

I rub my weary eyes and ask…Yes. I heard correctly. Menu? I don’t need no steenking menu. Just  keep those mimosas coming…

The “Prime time cafe” at Miami’s  Waldorf Towers across from  South Beach gets the nod…full American  style breakfast with mimosas? $11.00 including tip? With a cool ocean breeze and with mildly humid temp…what’s not to like? Did I mention, this is South Beach? The sights you’ve ever heard about are indeed…true.

My ears pleasantly ringing and my smile broadening as I slurp down the last of my uncountable mimosas, I can hear the lunch time festivities cranking up as each establishment begins a club-like competition that would rival any EDC  WEEK, the flavor sounds like, no, it’s definitely Cuban influenced. It’s absolutely amazing what the perfect combination of champagne and hot salsa music can do for your soul…alas, the humidity and temperature is rising and I must say “adios” to make my way back to a stark, TSA laden airport to, hey! Wait a minute! To make my way to a plethora of partying for a solid month. A place where I actually  KNOW people to party with!

Adios Miami beach…until we meet again. And trust me…we WILL meet again.

Día de Muertos…

The Day of the Dead festival is traditionally a time when Mexicans gather together to remember family members who have died. The belief is that at midnight on October 31st, the gates of heaven open, and the spirits of the deceased return to earth to visit their loved ones. The first day of November, is known as Dia de los Angelitos, when the spirits of dead infants and children are honored, while November 2nd, Dia de los Muertos, is when adult spirits are remembered.

If you’ve not caught the hint…there’s a costume sitting in my den awaiting its trip to somewhere soon to sport it…

Stay tuned…

To stay or to STAY…that is the question….

GREAT question.

What I mean is, as an American, sometimes, because we have so many choices of places to stay on vacation, we forget why we’re GOING on vacation. True, for some of us it’s to stay in the most opulent accommodations we can possibly find. Because either we’re truly spoiled and feel we deserve it and want the bragging rights that go with it or, because its’ the type of accommodation we like.

I can go either way.

However, what I DO prefer is the simple accommodation which allows me to spend more of my vacation funds for all the other stuff. The stuff that, to me, make the vacation the experience I want.

I want to immerse myself in the culture of the location. To do that, you cannot stay in the five star resorts. Locals work in them, they don’t live in them. I know I’ll be noticed as a foreigner, but I’d like not to be put at “arm’s length” because of it. Spending money in the community with a smile on my face puts locals at ease.

Returning when goods and services are worthy and spending more money and actually engaging in a conversation about themselves, their lives, their work, etc., builds friendships. And for me, that is what the experience is all about.

Which brings me full circle back to Isla…Why?

With the entire world out there waiting to be experienced, why do SO MANY return to Isla? I’ve heard, “She’s magic.” ~ “She has healing powers on a supernatural level.”

I like to think part of the reason so many return is kind of like finding the “perfect for me” mate. Once you do, you can relax and feel safe and secure knowing you can stop searching. For you have found what makes you happy. And isn’t that what life is all about?

I’m planning my next excursion to Isla on…

Knowledge can be very entertaining…

I’ve been conducting some interaction with the Cancun Convention & Visitor’s Bureau and discovered some great information regarding Cancun. My desire would be to inform travelers and readers of the fun available in Cancun, then tease them enough to take the trip to Isla…the rest, she will do all by herself.