Staying in La Gloria provided me with some insight into the rhythms of the people of Isla. It was a totally different experience than when I have immersed myself in the downtown environment.
The first thing I noticed were some flute notes. ??? It meant that a man was coming around to homes with a portable knife sharpening machine. He was even taking on machetes! I wish I had taken the time to watch him work.
Then I started to pay attention to the sounds in the neighborhood. A certain bell meant that the Mayan plant lady was in the area with a varied selection of plants. She also gave advice on which plants fixed in a tincture or eaten might cure an ailment - sort of a homeopathic home visit. Another musical sound meant that tamales were being peddled down the street for any that might want one. I was even offered a liter of honey!
One day a confident-looking man strolled down the street calling out in a big strong voice - WA--JA--CA - QUE--SO - over and over. He was using a large platter on his head to carry cheese for sale! I didn't even need the Wi-Fi internet access in my apartment to shop without leaving home! If fact, periodically, a truck would go around with a speaker on it broadcasting news for the locals also.
However, the day that I heard drums and a trumpet was a total mystery to me. I ran up to the rooftop patio to see what was happening - it sounded like a parade. There were two men and a boy in the street with nothing to sell as far as I could tell. I asked my landlady, Zina, what this meant. She said that is was probably farmers from the mainland that may have had a bad week and were looking for donations.
A short distance away there were little stores in both directions that stocked 10 peso cold beer, inexpensive pop, munchies plus some staples. I don't know how so many small businesses manage to survive. A DVD store was across the street. (I never did get around to watching any DVD's on my television though - too busy.)
I also had food choices that were awesome close by my apartment. The four (white meat) enchilada suizas that were delivered from down the street were as good as El Pueblito's and were bigger. They were only 45 pesos. They were so good that I ate the leftovers for breakfast and lunch a day later and was very happy! Three kinds of pizza were within two blocks and Chinese food was available across the street. A couple of days we took a Tupperware container across the street for homemade food. Isabella had a spotless kitchen and filled the container with the special of the day for 30 pesos. This was a deal and really yummy.
The bakery was a few short blocks away. The fresh bread and the flaky pastry stuffed with cheese or other fillings were fantastic. I couldn't believe that my eyes really weren't bigger than my stomach! I should have had way too much but somehow managed to eat everything I bought (except the bread that we were saving for sandwiches). It was such a treat to have fresh out-of-the-oven pastry.
On Sunday, stands popped up seemingly on almost every corner with cochinita pibil (pulled pork cooked a long time in banana leaves). 30 pesos worth made two magnificent sandwiches with the fresh bread from the bakery. This was absolutely as good as my chicken suizas! I was one happy lady.
And, I can't forget to mention that there was a bigger market two blocks away that had meat, newspapers, shoe repair, fruit, and more. My fresh-squeezed juice came from there although I did see some orange juice being sold on various porches. I was constantly restocking my refrigerator! Chilled, fresh orange juice was a great way to start my mornings. Since one room of my two-room apartment was a full kitchen with blender, coffee maker, microwave, two-burner hot plate, etc., I never made it out for breakfast in the neighborhood. There was a little restaurant very close, and I never even checked the prices.
Zina arranged for Mary Ann to come and give me a massage. I have had massages for years and have been skeptical about the quality I would find on Isla. Zina assured me that "Mary Ann's hands were on loan from God". I have to admit that the massage was so good that I spent a while trying to decide if my budget would stretch for a second one!
Mother's Day (always May 10th in Mexico) was a really big deal on the island. The women were treated to whatever they wanted. A woman told me, "It IS my special day." I saw sons take their moms to the beach and give them their total attention. As one of my Isla friends said, "Time is the most precious gift you can give. If you give money, you can always make more. If you give material things, you can replace them. But, you can never get time back." Roses, kisses, and small presents were distributed all over Isla. It was wonderful to see. I was invited to a pork chuc barbeque at a friend's house in the colonias that was delicious. The men did all the cooking, brought us our food, drinks, and all our refills! What a great day.
Life in the neighborhood did come with the noise of children, dogs, and a rooster or two. However, everyone except the roosters seemed to go to bed at a reasonable hour! The noise of the air conditioner and the fans blurred the occasional sounds during the night.
I took many taxis this time in order to get my daily swim in the beautiful, warm water. Most of the drivers did not talk at all. A few, however, were delightful. They wanted to practice their English. One even took me home the scenic way by the water, because he said it would be more "fresh" for me! While each one had numerous siblings, they only had two or three children themselves, and said "the factory was closed". Most of them rent their taxis for 200 pesos a day, pay their own gas, and pay half of any necessary repairs. They said it was too difficult to support a big family on Isla. Children need uniforms, supplies, and money for snacks at school or transportation if there is no ride available.
Now, I have given you many of the prices of items in La Gloria - they were much lower than what I experienced downtown. We went to Bally Hoo's behind the gas station one night. I loved the atmosphere and the setting. Boats were pulling in right in front of us with their catch. The water was almost at our feet, and we could even see the sunset. And, the food was good also. But, the bill of 420 pesos (about $42) for two salads, two fish dinners, and four drinks seemed steep to me.
At the market near the post office, I really enjoyed the fish veracruz at Tacos Tumbras (fourth little restaurant from the street). I had watermelon juice with it for 62 pesos - a little over $6! Beers were 20 or 25 pesos downtown unless you bought them from one of the little markets, and walked around with them. It was much cheaper to eat and drink in La Gloria
I have seen many questions from new people asking whether they should take ATM cards, travelers' checks or cash to Isla. For twenty years, I have managed very well on the travelers' checks and some cash. I have seen ATM cards not work, machines out of money, heard about cards being stolen and have never chosen to take one. This time I had some old checks that needed to be used, so I took less cash than usual. I got up to the window in the bank, the cashier took my identification, and stamped the checks. When he went to process them, the computer went down. Oh my gosh, no money for me plus stamped, cannot be cashed anywhere else, checks!
I decided that I would visit the King's Pool at the Avalon while I was waiting. Sadly, it really is a shadow of its former glory since Wilma. While I was wandering around admiring the location of the Avalon, I heard my name called! I had met some fellow islaholics a few years back, reconnected with them at the Cinco de Mayo party, and they invited me to join them. It is one of the things that I love most about Isla - friendly people. Life was instantly good again!
Many hours later - still no working computer. I gave up and went back to La Gloria. The next day - no electricity on the block where the bank was located! This was an unreal situation. Thank goodness for the friends who fed me and lent me money. Finally, the day after that, I did get my traveler's checks cashed. I now say - have every monetary backup available to you when you go to Isla.
When I travel by myself, I take a taxi (30 pesos) to the bus terminal and catch the ADO bus (35 pesos) to the airport. I have been experimenting with what to tell the taxi drivers when they ask where I am going. If I say the airport, they absolutely hound me to let them take me there. Then I tried Playa del Carmen, and they still wanted to take me there. But, Merida works as an answer. No taxi driver wants to go that far, and the ride to the terminal is much more peaceful!
If you would like to experience life in the colonias, I would highly recommend Zina's Guest House. firstname.lastname@example.org The price was very reasonable. I know many hate to share their "finds" in case they never get a reservation again. I hope that doesn't happen to me!