Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The hard work is over!

.... this morning I presented my last lesson for the course.

Although I may have some rewriting to do on my last assignment (which I turned in yesterday), all I have to do between now and Friday is show up and be alert. Or look alert. Either one.

In celebration, below is the mass Thriller dance performed in Mexico City on 29 August 2009 for a Guinness World Record:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Playa del Carmen, Mexico: Inside my place

Here is the interior of my home-for-a-month:

My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

My temporary home, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Homework, massage, and all that jazz

Finally finished an interminable written assignment. Good news! It's the last one!

Before she left, Pam gave me a gift certificate for two massages at Veronica's Massage. I rewarded myself with one of the massages this evening. Holy moly. One of the best massages I've ever received. Thank you, Pam!

En route to my appointment, I walked under the trees filled with bats. They swooped over and around me as they passed from one tree to another. Just so's you know, Playa bats are bigger than Missouri bats.

During the massage, I had the thought: Along with the misery and mayhem we humans can render unto each other, there also exists the gift of one human giving another a massage, that therapeutic power of touch. Later, I had the thought: Yieeee! Hey, that hurts!

After the massage, I walked over to the beach to the last night of the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival. Somehow I ended up right in front of the stage. Not sure how that happened, but cool.

The audience loved Eugenia Leon, singing along to many of her songs. It was fun to be part of that intimacy between audience and performer.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

No need for holiday glamour

From New York Times today:

A party planner offered ideas for bringing glamour to your home this holiday season.

For the briefest of moments, I felt a guilty weight touch my shoulders. Oh. I should be bringing something, if not glamour, to my home for this holiday season.

But then I remembered! I don't have a home! I don't have to bring anything to it for the holiday season!

Whoosh - what a relief. I can simply take pleasure in what other people bring to their homes.

Matt and Carol se fueron

Matt and Carol just left for the airport after a lazy Saturday morning drinking coffee, eating breakfast, watching the CBS news on TV, chatting, showering, etc.

Last night we had dinner at La Cueva del Chango. We sat in the corner of the garden, felt a cooling breeze, and looked up every once in awhile at the sparkle of a star. I had fresh guava juice that I mixed with mineral water. Carol tasted it; said it tasted like grass. Yes, it did, and it was nice. She had a delicious margarita. I had a terrific tuna in a sesame crisp; Matt had an even better dish with grouper. Carol's chicken was [shrug] fine.

After dinner, we walked down to the beach. On the way, we passed a cave -- actually the cave after which the restaurant is named. There was also a gigantic, man-eater of a plant, like a nuclear hosta, complete with one big flower, as yet unopened.

We walked by a restaurant where a very good singer serenaded the customers with a beautiful ballad. The restaurant was at the end of a hotel that, on first impression, elicited "wows" from all of us. The columns are, like the plant below, of massive proportions. The entrance doors are so huge as to have been designed for a community of giants from the time of fairy tales.   

A little closer to the beach is a resort with architecture that reverts to human proportions. Room 3, with its tropical green walls, drew my attention.  

After taking in the stars beachside, we returned home and finished off the evening with a coffee and kahlua.

Friday, November 26, 2010

On being a book slut

Before my reformation, I was a book slut, reading whatever happened to come my way.This resulted in many sordid encounters with literary trash.

One day, more than a year ago, I decided to be more intentional about my reading, so I spidered through the various "best books" recommendations put forth by NPR, the New York Times, and the Christian Science Monitor. Then I matched those that interested me with our local library's inventory (sometimes requesting that the library purchase a book that sounded particularly good).

It was very satisfying.

Now that I'm rootless, I am back to my undiscriminating, promiscuous ways, reliant on the books in the condo "library." Which means I've wasted an absurd amount of time trying to establish a relationship with this dreck:

  • The Last Victim. How I managed to get past 100 before I finally tossed it in disgust, I don't know. Maybe I do know - it was a case of the devil you know versus the devil (the next bad book) you don't. 
  • Fortunately, I didn't give the equally bad (but in an entirely different way) Suite 606 more than about 20 pages before it got re-shelved. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving in Playa

It wasn't Thanksgiving in Playa, so I had class as usual today. Matt and Carol explored towns Valladolid and Chemax, and one of Matt's favorite cenotes from his numerous trips to the area in the past, Cenote Calavera (skull).

Over my lunch break, I connected via Skype with the Thanksgiving gathering at Brother4's house, talking with my daughter and her family, my sister, brothers, and various young'ns. The family was still at Brother4's house when Matt and Carol returned from their adventures, and daughter skyped us so they, too, could connect with home base.

Matt and I later walked up 5th Avenue to Ah Cacao for a leisurely, people-watching coffee, then continued on to Calle 28 and then to the beach to join the International Jazz Festival. Mike Stern and Dave Weckl were playing. A jazzy rock sound. Loved it!

Below is a mellower tune:

So --> terrific music, a gorgeous orange moon that hung from a cloud, a starry sky, fresh breezes, warm sand, and an appreciative crowd.

A good way to spend a Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Unloading more stuff

Getting rid of stuff still gives me pleasure.

I felt good today because I was able to release a little clear-plastic case one uses to hold the travel-size boxes of Q-tips. I offered it to Matt and Carol; neither wanted it, so it is now in the blue trash barrel out front. I have another one, which still holds some Q-tips; this will be released, too, when I've emptied it. I'll probably forbear a post on it, however. 

An old travel tip is to pack and wear old clothes that are on their last threads, then toss them instead of laundering them. I'd brought a pretty, white cotton nightgown that is perfect for a tropical place. But it was barely holding together, so it, too, has now gone the way of the blue barrel.

Also leaving behind two Heinlein books:
  • Podkayne of Mars
  • Revolt in 2100

Really, Pam left behind Podkayne of Mars - I'm so happy she enjoyed it. Written in 1962, it has a girl as its central figure - a very strong girl, in fact - which was unusual back then.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Today was a tough day school-wise. Glad it's over. Glad it wasn't as disastrous as it felt at the time. So moving on from there ...

Chantal, one of my colleagues, introduced us to the Dutch word gezellig. It's pronounced like this, though I like Chantal's pronunciation better. 

There's no translation to English. As I understand it, gezellig perhaps captures a period of time, maybe a few moments or an hour or hours or a day or days, where you're in a house or maybe another place, and its ambiance is just right. And you're with friends or family, maybe some wine or coffee, and you just feel good together in that space and time.

Here is a group of people feeling the gezellig:

Makes me feel gezellig every time I look at it. I like the woman kicking up her heels.

Monday, November 22, 2010

System failure

Ah, the cascade effect.

This morning I had a lesson to teach. I don't have a printer at the condo, so I must print documents at the school. We are not supposed to connect our laptops to the school printer. So I email my documents to a web-based email account, access that at the school on a school PC, then print the documents.

So this morning I arrived at school, accessed my email account, retrieved my two-part lesson plan, and discovered that where I thought I'd attached Lesson Plan A and Lesson Plan B, I'd attached duplicate copies of Lesson Plan A.

Uh and oh.

No problem. I'll just pull out my laptop, send it to myself again, and I'll be good. No. I didn't think I'd need my laptop, so I'd left it at the condo.

No problem. I'll just go online with the school PC and access my web-based backup files (which I hated to do since I really don't trust the school PCs' security). So I pull up the website, enter my login and then my password, only to find I'd entered the wrong password. Hmmm, don't want to re-enter the wrong password, because I don't want to be locked out of that account altogether (like I'd been locked out of a gmail account the week before - more on that later).
No problem. I'll just go to another account and retrieve that ol' password (which I hated to do because I don't trust the school PCs' security). Oh damn it. My password for that other account is such that it includes some keys that are very different from those in the U.S., and I could not figure out how the heck to get to certain symbols, which was the cause of my lockout last week with an entirely different web-based account.

Result: I walk back to the condo, fire up my laptop, send myself Lesson Plan B, pack the laptop in my bag, and trudge back to school. All making for a very poor start to my day.

Important lessons learned:

  • ALWAYS have at least one accessible Plan B in my pocket (i.e. I should have taken my laptop with me), even when it's kind of a pain in the ass; and
  • Select passwords that are strong, but which don't undermine you when you encounter foreign keyboards.

You might ask - hey, why don't you just take your flash drive with you and insert that into the school PC? That would be much more portable, to be sure. The problem is I don't trust the PCs and I ain't gonna do it if I don't have to. In another scenario, I may have to do that with a strange PC, but I don't have to do that now. 

A note on the email account I got locked out of last week. Super annoying and still unresolved. Thank God it wasn't a critical email account for me. In response, I set up a brand-new email account with three features: 1) It has a good password that's easy for me to remember, 2) which doesn't use symbols that require advanced study of the foreign keyboard, and 3) which has as its sole purpose homework stuff. It's what I call my "stupid" account. If it were to get compromised, there's nothing lost. I wish I would have thought of doing this earlier.

Carol and Matt arrive

Matt and Carol arrived last night about 9:30. They rented a car at the airport and rolled in without drama. I had waited at the corner so I could direct them to the right place. This worked out well.

Matt had also arranged to have Mexican phone access on his iphone, so we communicated via the cell I have here or via skype on my laptop. Worked beautifully.

Matt related that he lost Carol in the Mexico City Airport when she was whisked away in a wheelchair. Some anxiety ensued.

Both were exhausted upon arrival; it'd been a very long travel day. 

Carol is intent on going to Walmart this morning to get provisions for shrimp dip and a coconut cream pie. She and Matt will cruise around Playa today in the rental car to get the big-picture view of town.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Street scenes

Looking down Calle 10 bis to Avenida 10

Fallen flowers on Calle 14 bis

Purifying water

I wanted to boil some vegetables and I wanted to use the water from the tap to do it.

How long did I need to boil the water for the water to be purified for cooking the vegs?

I was thinking 10 minutes, but here is what I found on the web. HEY! Before you click that link, what is your guess?

Playans, Playan traffic, and the street grid

I have yet to meet a native Playan, though I'm sure they do exist.

The other day I dropped off laundry at the launderia around the corner. When I picked it up later that day, the three staff and I chatted. Two of the three have lived in Playa for about a month; the third has been here for about three months.

Usually I hear a range between one and six years. People I've talked to came from:
  • Mexico City
  • Chiapas
  • Queretaro
  • Guadalajara
  • Sinoloa
  • Brazil
According to one source I read, Playa del Carmen is one of the fastest-growing (or was til recently) places in the world. For a time, about 100 families moved to Playa every month. This is a drop in the bucket for a city that is already large, but for a town the size of Playa, that is huge.  

From 1990 to 1997, Playa's population grew from 2,000 to 20,000!

Newcomers like the lack of congestion and other problems that come with large populations.

But speaking of congestion -- Although 5th Avenue is a pedestrian street, cars reign supreme on parallel streets 10th and 15th. Fortunately, these are both one-way streets so you only have to look in one direction before risking your life to cross the road. Occasionally, a driver will slow down for you to cross.

10th Avenue has a cycle path (or, as I misheard my British tutor say: There is a psychopath on 10th Avenue) that pedestrians and cyclists share, sometimes with disconcerting results. 

In theory, Playa's street grid is logical and easy to follow. But this only holds true after you also learn that avenidas ("avenues") run parallel to the beach and calles ("roads") run perpendicular to the beach. Plus, you must learn about the "half streets" designated with bis, as in Calle 10 bis.

Furthermore, the avenidas (which run parallel to the beach, remember) go by 5s, so there's Avenida 5, then Avenida 10, then Avenida 15, etc.

Calles, on the other hand (which run perpendicular to the beach) go by 2s, so there's Calle 2, Calle 4, Calle 6, etc. Oh, except for the calles bis. These are tucked in between the Calles 2, 4, 6, 8, etc.They are not alleys so much as they are streets that don't go the length of the city as the "full" calles do ... OK, never mind.

So until you know the concept about the calles versus the avenidas and about the bis streets, the idea that you seek Calle 10 bis, which is between 10th and 15th Avenues, is a straight road to getting-lost hell.

Now I can go directly to the intersection of Calle 10 bis and Avenida 10 and know that I have not, in fact, slipped into a weird parallel universe.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Outside the classroom 2

In the International House courtyard, the palm and coconut trees:

Are coconut trees a kind of palm? Yes, I guess so.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Plaza Ayuntamiento

Drummers drumming, welder welding, and Christmas-tree-installer installing in the Plaza Ayuntamiento today.

Repairing a palapa roof

On the way home for lunch, I saw these men repairing a palapa roof on Calle 10bis in Playa del Carmen.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Portable speakers for MP3 player

The other day, some of us observed an experienced teacher, Dena, as she taught an intermediate-level English class.  Dena played music at several points, and I could hardly wait til the end of the class to find out where she'd bought the MP3 player speaker system she used.

Here it is:

An HDMX portable speaker case. It's a great little cool thing ... runs on two AA batteries, comes with the jack for the MP3 player, and you can even carry your player around in the zippered speaker case.

I don't know where I'll be teaching, thus I don't know what sort of technical apparatus will be available, so this is perfect for me - it's small in size and weight. Oh, did I forget to say I went out to the Playa Walmart this afternoon and bought one for myself?

Oddly, the Walmart had no AA batteries, so I picked some up at OXO.


Paige, another fellow student, is from Darwin, Australia.

She doesn't have a travel blog, but she does have a story, which she told while the group of us students watched a downpour from the balcony outside our classroom.

Paige's story is one of drama. Of beauty. Of epic sound. Of unavoidable tragedy.

Hers is the story of Darwin frogs.

frog from at home
Photo by Dragonoletra

*The above is not a photo of Paige. 

When it rains in Darwin, the frogs come out en masse. Their chorus is so loud it is impossible to talk on the phone. You find them everywhere. Even the toilet.

Paige reports great debates as to whether or not to flush the frogs or to retrieve them for release outside. It doesn't really matter, she says, because regardless of your choice, the next time you visit the toilet, you'll see a frog's smiling face.

And this report from Australia's Froggy News:

It seems that cane toads are quite the trouble makers. Australia has long been battling with issues of toad invasion. Their introduction to these territories lead to a population explosion which has begun to threaten a lot of the local native wildlife and has been deemed one of the nation's "biggest mistakes". It's become a huge issue, with Vietnam Vets now enlisting in the war against the toads.. There are now reports that crocodile populations will go up as the cane toads provide them with plenty of prey. And even weirder, it seems that cane toads are still dangerous even after they are dead. Evidently, a fertilizer made from pulverised cane toads is now under recall because the stuff starts to explode when it ferments. And now all the neighboring areas that still aren't overrun by the croaking intruders have even added toad sniffing dogs to their border patrols. And they're not joking around either - folks caught importing cane toads into presently unravaged areas such as Victoria face enormous fines for the offense.
10:52 PM - Report Froggy News

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jackie and Pam se fueron

As of today, both Jackie and Pam are gone. Jackie left Monday super-early in the morning; Pam left this afternoon.

Next up: Matt and Carol.

Pam and Jackie replenished my supply of guavas before they left. The guavas' fragrance wafts over me as I work at my laptop. It is the stuff of cliches - "heady" and "intoxicating." I don't know of any other fruit that has the same effect. Maybe a freshly-cut lime. But where a lime's scent is sharp and energizing, the guava's is a silky perfume that makes you inhale slowly and deeply. Why don't we have guava-based perfume?

White staircase

The staircase in the courtyard of the Aqualuna Hotel grabs my attention every time I walk by. So today I walked inside and asked permission to photograph it. The hotel is on 10th Avenue.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Palm fruit

There are palm trees in the IH school courtyard. I've never seen palm fruit before. Luscious. Bats like them.

When Jackie, Pam, and I went out the other night, bats swooped in and about our heads, from one tree to another.


Another fellow student of mine is Nathan, originally from Wales.

Like Estelle, he's been around the block a few times. You can read his trip-around-the-world travel blog, the Ramblings of a Pragmatist, aka Around the World in G&Ts (gin & tonics).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Lobster on 5th Avenue

Pam and I had dinner at Rolandi's.

A fellow diner enjoyed lobster.

On the way, we passed a little restaurant on 10th Avenue with colorful lanterns. 


I've been watching the play of light through the black-mullioned window of our classroom for a week now. Today, I captured it.


Estelle is one of my fellow students here at the International House school in Playa.

You can read about her solo backpacking trip in her blog, Around the World in 180 Days.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Spending the day with Jackie and Pam

Jackie and I started the day with a massage at Kristine's, me with a one-hour, deep-tissue massage, and Jackie with a 1/2 hour upper-body massage, plus a facial. Pam read a book in a cafe across the street in the meantime.

Feeling very relaxed after our massages, we strolled toward the beach. We encountered a wedding party on the way.

... then we had lunch at a forgettable (but absurdly expensive) beachside place. We saw: a clacking crow seeking scraps from the restaurant; musicians in white cotton, carrying their instruments along the beach; a line of happy tourists, be-hatted with balloons, zigzagging on the sand toward some unknown destination; a cruise ship in the distance.

After lunch, Pam veered off for a sweet vacation nap at the condo, while Jackie and I continued on the beach, before walking up to 5th Avenue for shopping. She sought gifts for friends, family, and colleagues; I wanted a pair of pants. We accomplished our mission over the course of a couple of hours, then headed home.

We love the decor of many of the restaurants and lounges -- very modern, chic, fun.

Occasionally, there is a miss, as at the gelato place Jackie and I stopped at; the chairs looked so invitingly comfortable, but we each felt like Lily Tomlin's little-girl character in a giant chair.The only way we could sit in these chairs without having our legs stick out in front of us was to perch on the edge of the seats. We chose to move instead.

In the evening, we took a long walk to enjoy dinner at La Cueva del Chango. Lush secret-garden setting, beautifully-presented food, soft sounds of water and background music surrounded us. Charming owner and staff. Loved it.


After dinner, we enjoyed coffee at Ah Cacao. I had a cafe americano; Jackie a mocha; and Pam a cappachino. On the way back home, we caught the vestiges of the artists' alley off of 5th Avenue, and looked in the windows of the romantic Byblos Restaurant.