It was definitely an interesting week here on Isla. Of course, I suspect this is the kind of place where every week has some sort of strange goings-on. Not to hack an over-used, crystal-rubber term… but a convergence zone where the odd and sublime are every day occurences.
In our case, the oddity took the form of a power outage.
Diane and I were sitting in the apartment, doing some of the things that make it possible to hang out in this lovely tropical paradise (aka work), when the lights – and even worse, the air conditioner – blinked out.
I like to think of Mexico as this quaint 3rd world country where things like consistent electrical power can’t be taken for granted. We laughed and waited, thinking that at some point, the guy who tripped over the proverbial power cord would realize his mistake and plug the damn thing back in. No joy. The heat built literally and emotionally as we sat watching our computers suck down the last bits of electrons that kept us tied to the ‘real world’. One-by-one, our electrical connections to the outside world failed.
It was a sobering thought to think of how connected we are these days – even on Isla. At first, I was a little upset that I had woven my life into so many electrical-dependent addictions. Then it dawned on me that it was entirely BECAUSE of these little electrical connections that we were allowed to detach and come down here for extended periods of time. I stopped grumbling – at least about that.
We decided to walk next door to the ‘Tienda’ to see how long these outages usually took. Don Schepe (aka, the man of the Tienda) looked puzzled when he saw us marveling over the fact that his drink coolers were on. As it became apparent to us that our little 3rd world power outage was limited to our house, he came next door to help us track down the source of the outage. He showed us where the power came in, the breakers on the outside and asked me if I had flipped the ones on the inside. As he and I were trying to determine the root cause of the problem, the lady from down the street walked by, made the slicing-at-the-neck-you’re-dead motion and said something to the Don.
There are times when reality comes back at you and you realize that your prejudices and pre-conceived ideas are just wrong. This was one of those moments. Turns out, our property manager had not paid the power bill.
Believe it or not, the tropics got a little hotter at that very moment.
As I walked back into our steamy apartment, I watched my laptop’s power supply dwindle to nothing. My cell phone also chose that very moment to make it death noise and blink my life out of the 21st century.
The property manager went down to the CFE – the national power company – and paid the bill. They promised him that the power would be returned within 2 hours. They must have written it on a slip of paper and forgotten to write the 4 after the 2.
After a steamy, fanless, air condition-less, laptop-less evening, we chose to decamp to the Hotel Belmar in centro. I am sure that the CFE wondered why they suffered a huge draw at the moment we checked in. We plugged our world, our lives, back in. Slowly we came back into the 21st century. Slowly the air conditioning took a little edge of the tropical heat – inside and out.
Wait for it.. Wait for it..
This is when the magic happens. Had it not been for our property manager forgetting to pay the power bill… Had it not been for our breakfast with a nice woman from Canada we met the morning before… Had we not HAD to have connectivity for a conference call I had to take… Had we not… fill in the blanks with all of the coincidences that had to have happened to get us walking down Hidalgo Street at that very moment….We would not have been walking toward a man who looked like… John Crowe. I turned to Diane and said the words, “Funny, that guy looks just.. like… John…” which was precisely the moment when John Crowe smiled and said hello.
Being from a little town in the middle of the high desert of Arizona, along the tumuluous border, out on the edge of reality, you learn to expect that Bisbee will find you.. no matter where you are. Right there on Hidalgo Street, I realized that I could never escape Bisbee. Bisbee will find you.
We sat and had lunch with our friend from Arizona. The amazing nature of our coincidental meeting still boucing around in my head. Half-way to the equator, on a little island in the tropics, we met a guy who lives down the street from us back home.
I love this world. Truth is way stranger than ficton.
Diane and I rented a golf cart today to get our bearings on the island. Somehow, 4.3 miles seems a lot bigger when you are actually traveling it in a golf cart (though I venture to say I could ride the island, from stem to stern, on a bicycle in about 30 – 45 minutes).
We started off the day meeting a lady from Vancouver, whom we had met yesterday at our first Isla bar experience, for breakfast. She had been traveling the Yucatan, searching for pyramids – and found quite a few in the last two weeks (not that they had not been discovered before.. at least not by her). She spun stories of her travels, as we enjoyed chiliqulies and fruit. Good stuff.
Jo, our Canadian friend, had rented a golf cart previously and walked us to the place where she rented it. Enter the one thing I am not loving about Isla life – the con. I knew she had rented her cart for $450 pesos (about $32 USD), but the guy wanted to charge me $60 USD. I balked and he immediately came to $55 – still way more than I knew we could get it for.
At this point, let me clarify two points: I know that it is typical to barter in some parts of Mexico and I also know that amounts of money that make little difference to me can make worlds of difference to most people in Mexico… just not this guy. There is an undercurrent of scamming tourists that really rubs me the wrong way. In Mazatlan, we had cabbies (Pulmonia drivers) take us across Mazatlan for $100 pesos (I tipped him another $100 pesos for the enjoyable ride) and in San Miguel de Allende, you can get a cab ride across town (or down the street) for $30 pesos. I was never charged more than that ANYWHERE in SMdA. I always matched the fare with a 100% tip. Again, I realze that it is not a big dent for me, and it means the world to some. That being said, I know that I could rent the cart for essentially half the price the guy asked… I also know he is located across from the ferry landing and would get that amount time and time again today. I opted for a place down the street.. where I got our cart – at a no haggle price – for $550 pesos (about $39 USD).
Okay enough bitching about the scamming of tourists… except for the exceptional cab driver last night who charged us double what every other cabbie had charged us for a trip from Centro to the Casa. Argh!
Our cart gave us the ability to cover the entire island in a reasonable amount of time, so we could see the ‘in’s and out’s” of the places that Diane had read about prior to our trip to the island. We saw what I call the “Three Islas”: 1. Posh Isla, where white-gloved attendents see to your need in a very European style. 2. The Middle Class White Isla (where we live) which is full of beer, seafood and trinket shops and 3. The Mexican Isla where those that work in the other two worlds live. The nice part about Casa Laguna is that is a very Middle Class Isla dwelling on the edge of Mexican Isla.
More on this later.. let’s just cut to the Iguanas!
Not even 24 hours in Cancun and I am getting my Caribbean “groove” on.
The mad dash through the Cancun airport was not exactly the most welcoming way to start our island adventure, but it did give me a little glimpse into the free-for-all that must happen here in the REAL tourist season. I am used to being hawked condos, cabs and tours at Mexican airports, but this one was the worst so far. “Señor, what hotel are you going to?” “Señor, can I give you a lift?” I was expecting a bit of craziness, but this was pretty intense. Nowhere were the familiar green and white taxis that you see all over the rest of Mexico.
I’m guessing that there are strict “airport only” cabs and shuttles that get to fix rates where they want them… and keep that competition down to the loud roar that it is.
We finally found a shuttle that would cram us, along with a van-load of other tourists and their baggage, in for the ride to the hotel zone. My ears were a little clogged from the flight, and I thought the guy wanted to charge us $600 pesos (around $58 dollars) per person to take us to the Hyatt. I am glad Diane, though her ears were clogged as well, heard him correctly to say $16 Dollars… or else we might still be standing there.
Through this ordeal, serendipity happens. In the shuttle, I was squeezed in next to a guy named Greg. He works for a government contractor and had to burn his vacation before the end of the fiscal year, so on a plane he was… headed for Mexico. We ended up spending this morning talking to him about all things running from Haitian politics to Buffalo Soldiers and even swung around to dissect Obama’s job policies. Absolutely fantastic! (Turns out he is even a Lotus Notes administrator, so the man is a glutton for punishment.)
The Hyatt Regency has all the amenities of a typical Mexican resort hotel – and the wonderful staff to go along with that. We were checked in by our private host in the Regency Lounge, carved off from the rest of the herd at the regular counter. I felt kind of bad since I said something to Greg right as we were walking in, then turned around and was whisked to the top floor check in. I guess he wondered where I had gone…
Once we had gotten our bearings, Diane and I made our first dip together in the Caribbean. It was magical. The water a turquoise blue that is unbelievable even when you are standing there.
It did not take long to know.. we were home.
I had a last minute, screaming across the country trip to Huntsville, Alabama on Tuesday. Flying out of Tucson is always a challenge – you never know what Marana living, Mexican hating yuppie you are going to sit next to for two hours.
As it turned out, I sat next to the former head of DHS for the southern Arizona region. This immediately made me wince, but upon further discussion, it turned out that he confirmed all of my suspicions about the level of activity in the Tucson sector, the overt politics at play in dolling out resources and… basically everything else I think about life on the border. Finally, here was a man who actually knew what he was talking about, had the position to truly know what the real story is… and he agreed with me.
More than the vindication of my beliefs, it was good to hear that – while things are horrible in the “pretend” world, the real world is not that bad. His recomended solutions were the same as mine… and Diane’s. This points to two things, Diane and I are pretty smart… and it is the reason that he is the FORMER head of DHS in Tucson.
Good to know that there is hope that not EVERY American is a total automoton spewing out knee-jerk, media fed responses.
Last evening, Diane and I made our first attempt at shooting images from somewhere above ground-level and below the clouds. We hoisted a GoPro Hero camera over our friend Jeff’s place in the desert, just to see how viable this method really is. The results were horrible, but the concept was proven sound. We can do this. The next time will be better.
Thinking ahead, this is going to put an entirely new perspective on our photography of the islands. Our rig will consist of a Brooxes mount, with our Canon G-10 lofting into the blue Caribbean sky. Yep, it is going to be wonderful.
These are the things that keep me going while we wait to head south. In the midst of all of the turmoil, I can take my mind out of the chaos and let it float over the waves, dangling from a kite… and relax.
Climbed on a plane to once again head for Dallas. This is getting to be a habit for me.
Hopped on the early flight, to get in before it is too late… sat next to a guy who swore that Mexico was dangerous. Fascinating. I sat and listened to his twisted logic explaining why it was “safe” to go to Cozumel to dive, Belieze.. where he and his wife went diving…. but Mexico? Cancun? Nope.. too dangerous!
Stunned, I pressed further… this was a totally mind blowing walk down a path that had been sown with so many agendas it was bewildering…
We talked about cyber terrorism, and the US response. He was a consultant to a large department of defense contractor…. As it turns out, it was Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who were “limp wristed” in their pursuit of cyber attacks. I asked if he had ever heard of the joint command at Ft. Belvoir that was tasked with doing just what he was demanding be done… of course, that was “tactical”.. what was really wrong was that the State Department and President didn’t have the “guts” to prosecute a real response. I asked if he thought that the folks in Bentonville, Arkansas who profit to the tune of billions of dollars off of the Chinese might have some say in the lackluster response… again.. no.. just Hillary and Obama.. not getting the job done.
Mr Clubb, if you are reading this.. I am sure that there are a few folks at Ft. Belvoir who might want to show you that they are not just.. “tactical”.
If ever there was a reason to leave the good ol’ US of A, it was this guy. He was educated and worldly, yet when faced with the actual facts, could not admit that his worldview may be skewed. The man equated expats with quasi-spying protestors in Iran. He agreed that Cozumel was “safe”, but Cancun was “dangerous”. Guess being on an island makes you safe? Guess again.. Isla Mujeres is a “dangerous” place…
It is not too soon to get my tickets south.
On the plus side, the clouds were beautiful on the climb out.. over Ft. Huachuca.. where.. you know.. the Army Cyber Command has major operations… that to this guy’s opinion are useless in the face of Hillary and Obama…
No.. must.. stop.. thinking.. about.. the stupidity!.. Must.. think.. beach.. sand.. water… ceviche… Topo Chico…
Ahhhhh… much better now….
Bored in Bisbee
The little corner of the world that is Bisbee can be a great place, if you are invested in being here. Having spent the last 5+ years in constant motion, Diane and I are just restless to get out. The “sameness” has begun to creep into our lives in its insidious ways. Saturday night brings the two of us together, looking at each other over the dinner table.. wondering what to do next. Changing the scenery is a must. The investment in settling down is just too great. We are mortgaging our lives to the road.
This strategy leaves us with a couple of nagging problems, the ones that stare you in the face and won’t let you forget: The Garden. It sits out the kitchen window, unkept and overgrown with the weeds of monsoon. Every time you get a cup of coffee, the garden reminds you that you either have to be here – or not. To the rest of the world, it looks like a 20 x 40 foot square of concrete bounded by a crumbling fence and knee-deep in weeds. To us, it is potential. Wasted potential that could focus our time and energy, producing bushels of tomatoes, green beans and squash… filling our lives on multiple fronts.
Get Out or Get In
Struggling to find something interesting to talk about over dinner, Diane and I realized that we just didn’t have anything. The creeping “sameness” had festered.
In the past, when our lives were a little more sedentary, we would be tending the garden, working in the shop, cooking dinner and just generally “being here”. Now, after these years on the road, we just can’t do it. It isn’t that tending the garden is bad.. it just let’s you know that this is “it”. This is your life. Here. In Bisbee. Nothing More.
That was acceptable then. The phase of our lives where I had a sit-down job at Ft. Huachuca, Diane made soap… all was well. We had it straight. We had goats. We had investment. Local investment.
I got a job as a 100% travel consultant and all of that changed. No longer was our investment local, it was global. We spent years on the road in places as diverse as Oklahoma City and Dijon, France. Nothing stayed still. Nothing was the “same”. Our investment was in each other and our lifestyle. We explored and wandered. It was a whole world open for experiences and we drank in as many as possible. I didn’t take a day of “vacation” in 5 years because our life was a de facto vacation every day.
Rather than the garden, we had random farmer’s markets and local grocery stores. The view out the window always changed. Nothing reminded you of home and the investment you left to fall into disrepair.
My job has changed. No longer am I traveling to distant places and spending weeks working a client. Today, my travel schedule is generally fixed only days before I am expected at a customer site. I only fly in and out for a day… and it is generally the same place.. over and over.
This leaves Diane in Bisbee. Bored in Bisbee. I cut out for a day or so, but it isn’t enough to satisfy my wanderlust. We have to go. We have to get in or get out. We choose to get out.
September should hold a trip to Portland to get our Jeep. The drive back down California, through the sage… reawakening the dreams. October and November, we have a house on Isla Mujeres rented. The Road. The Beach. Our life. Our investment that pays dividends of a wonderful marriage, fantastic memories and experiences far from the norm.