Woman riding dolphin

Catamarans, Snorkeling and Dolphins [in the coral reefs]

UPDATE:

April 2020

Since I wrote this article, it has since been made abundantly clear that dolphins and other water animals are not treated as well as we might think.

After this article came out, an acquaintance asked me if I would please share the plight of dolphins in a video, and to bring it to the attention of others. I was happy to do so. I do not condone cruelty to any animal or person. I cannot change the fact that I took part in this but I can give you more information so that you can make your own decisions.

I love catamaran cruises and so far have been on four, one in the Dominican, two in Costa Rica, and one here in Mexico. While they were all fun and different, I really liked the last one – we got to meet and swim with Dolphins and do a bit of snorkeling.

We booked our tour, Delphinus Puerto Morelos, through our good friend Samuel Gonzalez who looked around for the best deal for our party of four.

Our day started out early (I was up at 5:30!) and our taxi picked up our friends and us about 7:45 a.m. We made our way to El Cid Resort in Puerto Morelos (part of the world’s second-largest barrier reef) where we would board our boat in a marina bay inside the resort. Waiting for the boat to arrive gave us an opportunity to relax, enjoy coffee/drinks, have bio breaks, and just take in the view and snap a few pictures.

 

El Cid Resort Marina

Marina, El Cid Resort, Mexico

Getting Started

Soon our boat arrived and we climbed aboard. We were directed to the front of the boat and asked to take a seat. Our group was a mix of a couple of families and us.

 

Catamaran, Puerto Morelos

Catamaran – Puerto Morelos, Mexico

We started off with an orientation by ‘Danny’ who was very passionate about the ocean and couldn’t stress enough the importance of taking care of it, especially by not throwing plastic bottles in the water.

Did you know… that every day an estimated 8 million pieces of plastic pollution ends up into the oceans. In 2016, a world population of 7 billion people, produced more than 320 million tons of plastic! Every year, marine plastic pollution kills one hundred thousand mammals and turtles and one million sea birds!

Early this year, 50 marine mammals washed up on U.K. shores, all containing plastic in their stomachs. A lot of these animals included dolphins. While the dolphin is an extremely intelligent animal and not likely to eat plastic, they are susceptible to contamination through other animals that have ingested plastic products.

We learned Danny had left his home in Mexico for seven years to go to Brazil to become a Marine Biologist. You could feel his passion and dedication as he talked.

I know you want to hear about the snorkeling and dolphins and you will, but I think it is important to understand the importance of taking care of our dolphins and other species as well as our oceans.

Two Mandatory Rules

To go snorkeling there were two mandatory rules.

  1. NO SUNSCREEN – Danny was emphatic about this and practically begged everyone not to wear sunscreen; if they already had it on, he asked them to please remove it.

Swimming with sunscreen causes chemicals such as oxybenzone to seep into the water; the corals then absorb it which then causes a disruption in the reproduction and growth cycles.

And, chemicals that are released while swimming or showering (travel through sewage systems) are considered bigger than climate change is causing coral reef damage.

  1. RESPECT THE CORAL – There were some valid reasons for this.

Touching them can cause damage to the reef itself but because it is sharp, it can cause injury to you such as scrapes, cuts, and other injuries.

Another very big reason is that we are in danger of losing our coral reefs. In fact, it is predicted that coral reefs could be gone in 30 years! Besides snorkelers and divers causing damage to the coral reefs, there are natural occurrences that can destroy the coral.

Coral reefs off the coast of Quintana Roo Mexico are under threat from sargassum which has been an ongoing problem for a few years, and an aggressive bleaching situation which causes them to turn completely white.

According to the Director of the Puerto Morelos National Reef Park – Maria dell Carmen Garcia Rivas – 30% of coral colonies died during a four-month period due to coral bleaching which is caused when the water is too warm.

To put in perspective how serious this is, the Director states an entire coral colony off the coast of Quintana Roo, which has taken thousands of years to form, can be killed in a single month due to this bleaching.

As he was wrapping up the orientation, Danny asked if everyone who was going snorkeling knew how to swim outside of a swimming pool and everyone eagerly nodded yes. However, we learned later that one of the young women did not swim very well, never swam in the ocean, and couldn’t see her hand in front of her face without her glasses. I marveled that she was still keen ongoing in spite of this. It later turned out she did very well and had no issues.

Relaxing

After we anchored, our group divided into two – those who wanted to snorkel and those who just wanted to stay behind and relax.

Woman on boat, lifejacket

Our Friend – Stacey – Getting Ready to go Snorkeling

The group that stayed behind included one young girl, my husband and myself, our friend Kent from Nicaragua who was visiting us for a month (his wife Stacey decided to go snorkeling) and Noel, one of the boat crew. Noel had a long conversation with Kent; it turns out his family nominated him to always be Santa because of his name, even though he was born in May.

The snorkeling group, led by Danny and “Captain Banana,” put on their masks, lifejackets and climbed into another boat, carrying their fins, ready for their adventure.

The day was a beautiful clear sunny day, temperatures in the high 20’s (80’s + Fahrenheit). Those of us who stayed behind were quite content to just relax, drink some water (and other beverages) and just soak up the sun. It was a beautiful, peaceful time.

Man on boat, a drink

Hubby Relaxing on Catamaran

All too soon, the snorkeling group arrived back, smiling and a bit tired from their excursion but happy.

We had some lunch, snacks, and drinks, listened to music, and made our way to the Dolphins.

Riding with the Dolphins

My husband chose to stay behind and to keep an eye on things so the three of us made our way to the pier.

I am not a swimmer and even though we were told everyone would be wearing life jackets, I was still very nervous and wasn’t convinced I wanted to do this. However, when I saw the dolphins, I changed my mind. I did have one scary moment in the water when I couldn’t get my feet to do ‘down’ and was starting to panic.

The guide was very calm and asked me my name. Then he said, “Look at me, Mary Ann, and just do what I tell you.” In no time I was in the ready position and two dolphins swam up to me and placed their fins in my hand. That moment was incredible! I think the pictures paint a better picture than what I could tell you, judging by the smile on my face.

woman riding dolphin

Me with the Dolphins

 

Woman riding dolphin

Woman patting a dolphin

man patting dolphin

My Friend Kent

man and womenn with dolphin

                                      Getting Splashed by the Dolphin                                   Me & my Friends Petting the Dolphin

Speaking of photos, I read many reviews about people saying how expensive they are and, they are right. I was very lucky that my good friends Stacey and Kent decided to buy them and share it with me. They did not even want me to pay for my portion. Thanks, guys!

Iguanas

Iguana among the rocks

Just as we were leaving, we saw some iguanas in amongst the rocks. Notice how they are camouflaged – we almost missed them! This one looked like he was posing for me.

LOTS TO DO!

Xcaret offers you 10% off booking online for their optional activities at Cancun and Riviera Maya such as snorkeling. If this isn’t your thing, they will be offering their Christmas packages soon – relaxing massages, exploring nature, interacting with sharks, gourmet dinners, kids adventures, fast boating on the Adrenalin, or parachuting – fun for everyone!

Final Thoughts

It was an awesome day and trip all around with some wonderful memories, riding on the catamaran with the wind in my hair, and smiling the whole time. More importantly, it stressed to me the importance of taking care of our reefs and oceans.

Now, if I could just muster enough courage to go snorkeling!!

Have you had the opportunity to swim with the dolphins? What did you think?  Would you recommend it to others? Let us know in the comments below.

 

A Tribute to the ‘Boys’ – Caesar and Winston

Although it was not unexpected to hear, we knew the day would come when there would be an update in the form of a text message, email or phone call about the passing of a family member.

But, it was shocking to hear that one of  the ‘Boys’ had departed. The ‘boys’ were our eldest daughter’s & son-in-law’s family pets, affectionately known as Winston, a 9-year-old Saint Bernard and Caesar, a 12-year-old Rottweiler; both died within a week of each other. My wife and I expected and were prepared for the Rottweiler going first as he was older, arthritic, with failing internal organs, but we weren’t prepared for Winston’s sudden and premature departure due to an undetectable stomach disorder characteristic of the breed.

A Rottweiler and St. Bernard

Fitting the Boys into our Lives

Our lifestyle has us on the road for the six months we’re in Canada house and pet sitting, working, while the other six months are spent in Mexico, so we get back to visit the family maybe three or four times a year, for a week at a time to be with our kids, grandchildren & the ‘boys.’

Fortunately, our schedule enabled us to be around in late July to see the gang before we headed back to Ottawa to complete a sit, and as usual on our departure, Winston was sprawled out the on inside porch/mudroom floor in front of the door, with his head between his paws, looking up at us as though it was the worst thing happening to him with those ‘You’re going? How could you do this to me?’ sad dog eyes….Caesar was sprawled out at his post on the kitchen floor keeping an eye on things. I made sure to spend an extra few moments with each before heading out… which was one of my best decisions.

Unexpected Passing and a new Birth

We’d been back in Ottawa for a week when my wife read me the text message about Winston and then when we found out about Caesar passing away; all the memories about the boys returned like a tsunami. Oh yes!, did I mention that during the same window of time that the dogs passed away, our daughter was due to go into labour anytime with our third grandchild which turned out great, and there’s now a second grandson book-ending a granddaughter.

Now back to The Boys…

We first met Winston and Caesar ten years ago, one summer while at our house in Milton, as my wife’s daughter and then boyfriend were attending a wedding nearby, so we offered to look after them for the weekend. Both my wife and I had large dogs from our past marriages, so we had an idea of what to expect as far as them being around the house and backyard. My daughter was residing with us at the time, and my son stopped by to see them. They were both quite comfortable with the big dogs, as they grew up with a female Malamute Husky for 11 years.

Winston was affectionately referred to as Mr Personality, and Caesar was the stoic, quiet older gentleman of the pair.

The backyard was huge, well-designed with patio, hot tub, landscaped garden and a huge oak tree, for which both dogs had fun running around in and laying at the foot of to keep a family of raccoons up in it the whole time they were on patrol. Winston decided to lay in the big patch of Hibiscus plants to cool off and ambushed the raccoons when they descended the oak tree… he didn’t catch any of them, but once they left they did not return!

A St. Bernard and a Rottweiler playing

The first walk around our neighborhood took about 90 minutes and was a ‘SMELLAPALOOZA’ with at least 75 stops along the way to find out firsthand what was what and where they might want to …. you know! They’re big dogs, both about 100 plus pounds, and their piles of poop were bigger than some dogs; I walked them both on a sidewalk and when other dog owners saw us approaching they quickly crossed the street to not meet them. I don’t know why they did this as the dogs were friendly and would not hurt another dog unless perturbed.

Tolerating the Cat

A year later had us house and dog sitting with the boys, which meant daily walks along the local beaches in Kincardine and Sauble Beach. Winston the Saint Bernard thought he was a fish, as he would run and swim in the water for hours,  then when done he’d shake, shake, shake the water off, smile and then roll around in the sand… Caesar would frolic along the shoreline, as he didn’t like to get wet as it reminded him of getting a bath.

a Grey and White Cat sitting in the grass

Their constant companion for walks was an adopted barn cat named Hunter who’d follow them, but from an appreciable distance, as he was a cat and did not officially go for walks. Hunter was always safe with them; they did not chase or terrorize them. Hunter tolerated the boys and they respected him. As the story goes Hunter swatted both of them really hard when they were puppies and set the rules and tone for their futures; they got the message loud & clear.

The Things I Miss:

  • I’ll really miss the post dinner plate clean ups – you know the thing that happens before the plates go in the dishwasher!

  • Whining in my ear at 6:30 am that it’s time to go out for a pee, especially when they were at the farmstead, as I’d pee off of the back porch while they were draining their systems as well.

  • Their dedicated bedside company for Jennifer when she was recuperating from her automobile accident, as the boys slept near her, she in her hospital bed, and kissed her good morning and good night.

  • Being greeted with slobbery kisses and wagging tails.

  • Going for long walks around the farmstead with them.

  • Hearing them drink water out of their bowls.

  • Pushing their heads into my lap for attention.

  • Meeting the grand kids at the bus stop in the afternoon.

  • Dressing the dogs up in Halloween outfits.

  • Taking them for car rides to DQ, each with their own side to stick their heads out of the windows.

  • Chasing the neighbour’s cats off the property.

  • Climbing onto the bed during the night while we slept…we felt them on it, but would not boot them off unless they were snoring really badly.

  • Being general PITAs and getting in the way.

  • Protecting the grandchildren.

  • Eating shoes, slippers, and just about anything else they could get their mouths on.

New Life in the Midst of Sadness

The Boys are buried beside each other on the family homestead, and later this fall we’ll plant two trees that’ll become a reminder of them. The farmhouse was eerily quiet until three new boys came into the mix – a two-day-old grandson named Quinn, a six-month-old male barn cat, and a three and half month old Saint Bernard puppy named HOMER! ….yes HOMER!

Homer is his own man – different personality, terrorizes the three cats and is not afraid of Hunter’s swats and hisses directed towards him, as his paws are as big as the top of my hand from wrist to knuckle. Homer’s father is 220 lbs of solid muscle, has a great disposition, so Homer will be a big body guard for the grand kids, and is already the talk of the school bus occupants.

A Final Goodbye

Lastly, the night that I first took Homer for a walk around the farmstead, he stopped and lay down at the foot of “The Boys” final resting places, sniffed, pawed the ground a bit, whined a bit, then sat up, barked, then proceeded to chase/guide the hens and turkeys back into their shed for the night.

Yes, Homer has a big wet nose and hogs the bed…but we wouldn’t want it any other way!

RIP Caesar and Winston. We loved you, and we miss you!

 

Mayan Ruins Mexico: Tulum and Coba

 

We recently took an opportunity to visit the Mayan Ruins in Mexico –  Tulum, and Coba. I want to share some things we learned on this trip and how our journey in life has some parallels.

While many people visit the ruins on their own, we decided that since we had friends visiting for a short time we should take a guided tour. The cost was $55 US per person and included a buffet lunch.

Our day started out around 8:30 in the morning in Puerto Morelos where we met the driver and one other person. We had our backpacks with suggested items – sunscreen, bathing suits, sturdy shoes, hats, water, and of course our sunglasses which we were already wearing. There were six of us altogether – the driver, a young woman named Kathy from Hungary, and our party of four. The sun was shining and everyone was in a carefree happy mood. Our driver was friendly, our vehicle comfy and air-conditioned, and the time passed quickly.

TULUM

Our Arrival

With one stop on the way to take a bio break and pick up some coffees/water, we arrived about two hours later at the beginning of our journey. (That’s hubby and I by the sign to the entrance.) It is about a 10-minute walk to the entrance to the ruins; if that sounds tiring, there is a tourist train available.

This would also be the time to take advantage of the washrooms before heading to the ruins.

Entrance way to Tulum Ruins

Location of the Ruins

Tulum (original name Zama which means ‘place of the drawing sun’) is a resort town on Mexico’s Caribbean, approximately 130 km south of Cancun and 65 km south from Playa del Carmen. The word Tulum means ‘wall.’ Taking you back to the 13th century, the archaeological site at Tulum overlooks the sea on 39-foot cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It survived about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico. Diseases brought by the Spanish settlers caused high fatalities resulting in the abandonment of the city.

It is believed that Tulum was an important site for worshipping the Diving or Descending God. Three main structures of interest are El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes and the Temple of the Descending God.

El Castillo

El Castillo was built on another building that was colonnaded with a beam and mortar roof. Serpent motifs are carved into the lintels (structural horizontal blocks that span the space or opening between two vertical supports) of the upper rooms. It has also been called the lighthouse.

It is suggested that El Castillo was built in stages. A small shrine appears to have been used as a beacon to guide incoming canoes. This may also have been why Tulum became a prominent trading port.

El Castillo, Tulum

(PHOTO CREDIT: Sverzel – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3993280)

The Temple of the Frescoes

The Temple of the Frescoes contained a lower gallery and a smaller second story gallery and was used as an observatory for tracking the sun. The temple is decorated with ‘diving god’ or Venus deity figurines. The ‘diving god’ is positioned above the entrance to the western wall and is stil preserved. There is a mural on the eastern wall called Mixteca-Puebla but visitors are no longer allowed entry.

The Temple of the Descending God

The temple of the Descending God consists of a single room with a door facing the west and a narrow staircase built on top of another temple and was used as its base. Above the door is a sculpture that can be found throughout Tulum. It has wings, a headdress, and is holding an object. He is shown as being upside down. Tulum isn’t the only place this figure is found – it is also found in Coba on a small temple on top of the Grand Pyramid. It is also associated with Venus which in turn was associated with war and fighting.

Tulum is one of the best-preserved Mayan sites and is very popular among tourists. They are the third most- visited archaeological sites in Mexico after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza, with over 2.2 million visitors in 2017.

Spectacular Views

 

spectacular views from the ruins

Iguana at the Tulum Ruins

IGUANAS WERE EVERYWHERE IN ALL SIZES

Before we headed on to Coba, we stopped and had a delicious buffet lunch which was included in the cost. This lake was across the road from the restaurant. According to our guide, it is supposed to have lots of crocodiles but we didn’t see any. Not sure if this was true but we certainly kept our distance.

Lake of Crocodiles, Coba

COBA

Our next stop was Coba (which means “waters stirred by wind”) and I must say I found this ruin even more interesting than the Tulum ruins. Our guide pointed out that we should take photos of the Temple (Nohoch Mul), the Observatory and the “Ballgame” court.

The site covers about 30 square miles with the ruins covering four miles. You can explore by foot but it will take several hours. We all took advantage of the chauffeured tricycles (125 pesos round trip for two) to get us between the buildings, otherwise, we would have had a long walk.

Chauferred on a Tricycle at Tulum Ruins

The Mayan site of Coba was set up with multiple residential areas that consisted of around 15 houses in clusters connected by elevated walkways (sacbeobs). Most of its construction was between 500 and 900 AD.

At its peak of civilization, Coba is estimated to have had some 50,000 inhabitants; today, there is approximately 1500 inhabitants on the outskirts of Coba.

Nohoch Mul

The Temple or great pyramid, Nohoch Mul, is the highlight of the Coba Ruins and one of the most significant and popular of the Mayan sites. It is a challenge for those who want to climb and reach the top but once there you will see a panoramic view of the surrounding jungle.

Group of friends in front of Nohoch Mul

Nohoch Mul which means ‘mound’ is 137 feet tall; it is the tallest Mayan pyramid on the Yucatan peninsula and the second tallest Mayan pyramid in the world (the largest pyramid known to exist in the world today is the Great Pyramid of Choula located in Choula, Pueblo, Mexico).

If this is something you would like to do, you will have to take care as the steps are worn and slippery in places; there is a rope to assist you.

Out of our group, Kathy was the only one who ventured this climb (and she made it all the way – 120 steps!). My friend and I only went up about 10 steps so we could stop and have our photos taken.

Climbing the Temple in Coba

As Kathy climbed to the top, we were all encouraging her and cheering her on. This reminds me of our journey in life, where we are faced with challenges and obstacles. How good it feels when we are fortunate enough to have someone in our corner willing to cheer us on and encourage us to reach our goals. Kathy’s goal was to reach the top and she succeeded. It was another of life’s lessons and came at an unexpected moment.

La Iglesia

La Iglasia

(PHOTO CREDIT: Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us(personal website of photographer), Public Domain)

La Iglesia church is the second tallest building in Coba, standing at 74 feet. This is where religious ceremonies were held. It is believed that it was built during the Late Classic Period which was 500 to 900 AD.

The Observatory

Although not much is written about the Observatory, it appears this building was to keep track of the movements of the sun, moon and stars as well as synchronizing the calendars. It had a circular base instead of a rectangle like the pyramids.

The Observatory, Mayan Ruins

Mayan Ball Courts

Another interesting area is the ball court which was used mostly for ceremonial games. The Coba ball courts have inclined walls. Only certain parts of the body were allowed to be used – hips, shoulders, knees, and elbows but not the feet, hands or head. A heavy ball was used weighing about 6 to 8 pounds and put through a stone hoop or goal, similar to basketball.

Our guide told us that the winner was sacrificed and there was “death in winning” but some experts believe that it was the loser instead who was the sacrifice and had his head cut off.

Coba Stelae

An important feature of the Coba Ruins is the engraved and sculpted Stelae – inscriptions and hieroglyphics in limestone used to decipher the ceremonial life and important events of the Mayan culture during the Late Classic Period (AD 500-900). Women are the figures of authority in many of the scenes on the stelae. Unfortunately, today, they cannot be deciphered because of natural erosion.

The Cenote

After the ruins, we went for a refreshing swim in one of the cenotes in Coba. On our way to the Cenote, we passed many stores laden with handcrafted items. If you have a car, it might be fun to check them out.

A cenote is a natural sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Especially symbolic of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, cenotes were sometimes used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.

Cenote in Coba

Unfortunately, I didn’t take the opportunity to explore the Cenote (being a non-swimmer has its drawbacks) but look how beautiful the water is!

A Tequila Tasting

The last part of our trip ended up with a tequila tasting in Playa Del Carmen. Although I am not normally a tequila drinker, I have had my fair share here in Mexico. One of my favourites was one that was coffee-based, smooth and creamy.

After spending some time tasting and wandering around looking at the various souvenirs on offer, it was finally time to call it a day and head back to Puerto Morelos.


How to Get to Tulum and Coba

Our guide told us the best days to visit the ruins are a Monday or Tuesday as the crowds would not be as thick. The ruins themselves are about 3 km from the centre of the Town of Tulum.

For us, hiring a tour guide was the easiest way to go. However, there are other options which I will briefly touch on here.

Travelling by Car

There are lots of places to rent a car for the day. Follow the 307 highway from Cancun which will take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes or from Playa del Carmen which is approximately 45 minutes. Parking costs are inexpensive.

Travelling by Bus

The ADO bus travels from Playa del Carmen to the ruins and will cost you about 80 pesos which is approximately $4 US and $5.50 Canadian, one way. It will drop you off near the ruins or you can go into town and take a taxi from there. These are big, comfortable, air-conditioned buses.

Travelling by Collectivo

The Collectivo is like a small bus and probably the cheapest way to go. You can ask the driver to drop you off at the ruins on the highway. You will have a little walk ahead of you but for the price of the Collectivo you can’t beat it.

Travelling by Taxi

You have the option to take a taxi which is a bit more expensive and will cost you approximately 600 pesos ($30 US or $42 Canadian). While most taxis charge the same, there will be the occasional one that charges more – sometimes you can haggle with them, but don’t be unreasonable.

Travelling With a Guide

If you choose to do this, there are several companies that offer this service and the prices vary as do what is included and not included in the tours. A couple of these are: We Love Puerto Morelos Tours and Cancun Adventure Tours.

Map to Tulum Ruins

Getting to Coba is easier if you are part of a Tour group (our tour to the Tulum Ruins included the Coba Ruins) or you could drive. From Tulum it is approximately 45 minutes.

Final Thoughts

Although not as famous as Chichen Itza, Tulum is one of the best-preserved Mayan sites and is very popular among tourists. They are the third most- visited archaeological sites in Mexico after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza, with over 2.2 million visitors in 2017.

Coba had over 702,749 visitors in 2017. Part of this attraction is Nohoch Mul which can still be climbed today, unlike Chicken Itza.

This was a great way to travel back through time to the 13th and 14th centuries and learn a bit about the Mayan Ruins in Mexico, the people, culture and what their beliefs were. If you decide to visit, I am sure you won’t be disappointed.

Note: If you have the travelling bug but not the dollars and want to see such wonders as the Mayan Ruins in Mexico, then house sitting might be the way to go. My husband and I are house sitters and have house sat extensively but are thinking about travelling to and house sitting in other countries. This is a fun way to see places and experience adventures. Go to our website to read about some of our sits. We love it! Check it out. You might too!!

Have you experienced the Mayan ruins? We would love to hear about your adventures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black Tarantula

Mexican Tarantula

When I told my friends my husband and I was visiting Costa Rica the first time, we got lots of warnings about the deadly snakes and “why would we go there?”

Well, two winters in, we did not see so much as a scary bug let alone any snakes.

When we decided to go to Mexico, it was “aren’t you worried about the crime? What about the snakes, spiders, and tarantulas?”

Well, I am happy to say we have not had any dealings with crime…nor snakes…however, we had a creepy-crawly visitor.

Visit from a Tarantula

We had new neighbours move in next door to us and I decided to go and say hello. My husband had gone out to ride his bike and do some errands. Our neighbours had invited him to join us when he came home and I sent him a message telling him where I was.

When he arrived, he hollered through the door, I just need to take care of this tarantula and then have a shower. WHAT?!

The size of a tarantula can vary, ranging anywhere from 4.5 inches to 11 inches, from the front right leg to the rear left leg, and can weigh 1 to 3 ounces. In light of that, this might have been a very young one but I’m not so sure my husband thought so when he took the photo.

Of course, we all had to have a look. It was between our two doors, just sitting there. Ugh! All I could think about was, boy, am I glad I wasn’t the one who found it.

Rescue

We scurried back to the ‘safety’ of our neighbour’s home and let my husband take care of it. He got our long-handled dustpan and scooped “ Terrance the Tarantula” (yes, he named the darn thing!) into it. He let it go by the side of the street and we watched it cross to the other side. I have to admit it was quite impressive looking as he meandered across the road. (I think we were in too much awe to get another photo!)

Some Hairy Facts

So, are Tarantulas native to Mexico and are they dangerous?

I could never understand the fascination with these 8 legged critters. I know people get them from pet shops. So here is what I learned.

  • Are they native to Mexico

It turns out that Mexico holds the second-place spot in the world for the number of tarantula species and it could very well be number one as only a few people have taken a big interest in them (well, that doesn’t surprise me!).

At last count, there were 66 species in Mexico, with the most common being the Brachypelma genus and the Aphonopelma.

  • How did the Tarantula get its name

The name tarantula is associated with a myth in a small town of Taranto on the southern coast of Italy. Though unrelated to what we call the tarantula now, it was named after the town and called tarantola. Legend has it that this spider caused a disease called ‘tarantismo” and melancholy and death were a result of its bite. To avoid this death, it was believed one had to dance a crazy, uncontrolled dance set to music, called the ‘tarantella.”

The question remains though if these spiders were unrelated to the tarantula of today, how did the name come to be in other areas like Mexico? A lot of the settlers in this area came from southern Spain and Italy and most likely came across big hairy spiders and associated them with their large spiders, the tarantola, back home.

  • Are tarantulas poisonous or dangerous

Despite their big size and hairy bodies, they are not poisonous but can inflict a nasty bite. All tarantulas are venomous, not to be confused with poisonous. Bites can cause serious discomfort that might persist for some time. Some bites are severe enough to cause spasms which can recur over several days.

The bite of the African tarantula can cause strong hallucinations. Should you be the unfortunate recipient of a bite from any tarantula, it is wise to seek medical attention. Allergic reactions can occur in some cases because proteins are present in the toxins. Just for the record, they really don’t like to be handled!

  • What can threaten a tarantula

Are tarantulas immune to other predators? Apparently not! A pregnant parasitic Pepsis wasp will paralyze an unsuspecting tarantula with its sting and lay eggs on its body. When the eggs hatch, the tarantula is eaten alive by the wasp larvae.

In the wild, tarantulas can live up to 30 years. The male has a much shorter life span than the female.

  • What do tarantulas eat

Tarantulas are burrowers and typically live in the ground. They are carnivores and nocturnal. Their diet consists mainly of insects (such as crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, and other spiders). Bigger game includes mice, frogs, toads, snakes, and lizards; some species can eat small birds.

They grab with their legs and then inject a venom, paralyzing their unfortunate prey before eating. They secrete digestive enzymes that liquefy the bodies of their victims making it easier to suck them up through their small mouth openings. A good meal can last a tarantula for a month!

  • Mating and reproduction

Contrary to what you might think, the main use of the tarantula’s web isn’t to catch unsuspecting prey but to signal to the female he is ready to mate. He leaves his sperm on the web which his mate will spin into a cocoon with her eggs. A male who has hung around too long may find himself her next meal!

According to National Geographic, it is not uncommon for a single egg sac to contain 500 to 1,000 babies. That’s a very large family.

Other Interesting Facts

. Scientific Name

The scientific name of the tarantula is Theraphosidae.

. Tarantulas are a Delicacy

Certain cultures in Venezuela and Cambodia consider tarantulas a delicacy. They remove the hairs (which can cause an itch or skin irritation in humans) by roasting over an open fire and then they are eaten.

. They Molt

Tarantulas shed their external skeletons. During this process, they also replace internal organs such as stomach lining, or female genitalia. They can even regrow lost appendages. Generally, a one to 3 years old will molt two-three times, young adults once a year and a mature adult about every two years.

And for those of you who are still with me, here is an incredible video showing a tarantula’s egg sac being opened. My thoughts on watching this was “that’s a very large bunch of baby tarantulas!”

FINAL THOUGHTS

So, you are probably wondering “Do I like them any BETTER now?” Sorry, but that is still a resounding no! They are right up there with snakes.

Do I respect them? Definitely! I know they have a purpose and are important to the ecosystem as they eliminate insect plagues and they are more likely scared of me than I am of them!

How about you? Do you like or own a tarantula?

Cozumel beach in Mexico

Cozumel – A Day of Fun!

A good friend of ours who is a comedian with the Carnival cruises was coming in on the Horizon just after Christmas and we decided to meet up with him and join him for lunch. We had not made it to Cozumel yet and thought this would be the perfect opportunity.

Turned out to be a fun day!

The Ferry Ride Over

We caught the Collectivo bus (local bus service) in Puerto Morelos to Playa Del Carmen and then caught the ferry from there. You have your choice of two ferries to take you between Playa del Carmen and Cozumel – the Winjet and Ultramar with Winjet being the less expensive of the two. We chose the Winjet and the crossing took us about 35 minutes and was a fairly smooth ride. We prepaid and booked online at a cost of $44 round trip for two which turned out to be a very smart thing to do. The line-ups were long and people were rushing to buy tickets.

The ferry is large and can handle up to approximately 400 hundred passengers. Bar and snack services are available. The schedule is very good, arriving and leaving almost on the hour. We felt it was safe and reliable.

If you decide to take the kids you will be pleased to know that if they are between the ages of 5 and 12, they are charged 50% of the adult fare.

Docking of the Ships

Cozumel is the leading cruise ship arrival destination in the country of Mexico. As our ferry was pulling in, we saw 3 cruise ships with the Carnival line. Our friend was coming in on the Horizon, one of Carnival’s newest ships, and was docking a bit further down from us at another pier. It is hard to believe how huge these ships are when you see them in the distance but up close and personal, they are very impressive.

Cruise ships docking in Cozumel

 

I later checked out a few facts about the Horizon since this was the cruise ship our friend was on:

  • It debuted in the spring of 2018
  • Its capacity is 5,000 passengers
  • Has three pools and an adults-only Serenity Retreat
  • A host of activities which include Water Works park, a Sky-Ride, mini-golf, Dive-in-Movies at the Beach Pool, a piano bar, sports bar, free games, karaoke, deck parties
  • And of course, the Punchliner Comedy Club
  • Lots of food (drinks are extra except for lemonade, iced tea, and water)
  • Craft beer is brewed onboard

Cozumel

Cozumel is the largest inhabited island in Mexico and municipality in the Caribbean Sea off the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and opposite Playa del Carmen. The municipality is part of the state of Quintana Roo (source Wikipedia).

Tourism drives the economy of Cozumel with visitors enjoying scuba diving and snorkeling. In fact, it has a reputation for being one of the best places in the world for these two activities. Cozumel is located on the second-longest barrier reef in the world (known as the Belize Barrier Reef) and is home to marine species such as rays, turtles and multicolored fish.

Snorkeling off the Belize Barrier Reef

The main town, San Miguel de Cozumel, is a bustling place. In fact, as we were trying to make our way to the meeting point with our friends, we were constantly accosted by business staff trying to entice us into their stores. They actually succeeded on one occasion and my husband thought I had disappeared on him!

One particular young fellow stopped me and said: “what do you use for your skincare” and proceeded to literally pull me into his shop to give me a ‘free’ eye treatment (to remove my signs of aging, I guess). Five minutes later, I had beautifully tightened skin under one eye with a promise of looking like this every time I used the product. It also came with a price tag of almost $300 Canadian but he assured me I would pay much more than that in Canada (turns out he was right).

After assuring him I would think about it, we escaped only to be accosted a few doors down by another young fellow who asked the same question! When I told him I just had a ‘treatment’ he said, ‘Why didn’t he do both eyes? Come, I will do the other one for you!” At the risk of looking silly with one eye done and the other not, we bade him a hasty goodbye, telling him we had to meet someone.

Whew!

Chalo’s at Villablanca Hotel

Our lunch destination, Chalos Antojitos Mexicanos at the Villablanca Hotel, was a 10-minute taxi ride away. When we arrived, we found our friend waiting for us at a table near the pool.

He regaled us with hilarious stories of his time onboard the ships where he has been entertaining passengers for 8 years and is considered one of the top comedians on the Carnival cruises. He certainly kept us in stitches.

Our friend, Jason, is the one in the front on the left and that’s my husband and I directly behind him.

A bunch of comedians having lunch at Charos in Cozumel

Eventually, his other friends arrived – in total there were ten of us, including 5 other comedians. They were completely relaxed and there was much laughter and drinks during lunch. My husband, who is also a comedian, really enjoyed spending time with these guys!

The service was amazing – the comedians are well known there and are treated royally. I had this amazing chicken dish with a creamy sauce. Yum! Before we left, we had two rounds of tequila shots sent over to our tables by the staff. Sweet! It’s not hard to see why they consistently get 5-Star reviews. If you like authentic Mexican food and are in the area, it is definitely worth eating there.

Time to Leave

All too soon, it was time to say goodbye. Our friend and new friends had to get back to their ships as a few of them were performing that night and we had a ferry to catch back to Puerto Morelos where we are staying.

It was an amazing day and a wonderful experience. I can’t wait to get back to Cozumel and check it out properly. There are so many shops to go to, as long as I remember to stay away from the beauty salons (!) as well as an organic coffee place, Coz Coffee, I want to visit. Even though I have given up coffee for now, there is always a strong possibility I may start again; I think organic is the way to go.

And I definitely want to have lunch again at the Charos restaurant!!

Have you ever been to Cozumel? What was your favourite experience?

The stage set up for the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival

The Riviera Maya Jazz Festival 2018

A performance to remember, the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival 2018 brought together a collection of the finest voices, musicians and performers here in Playa del Carmen, Mexico for three jazz fun filled nights – November 30, December 1st and 2nd, playing to huge crowds from all ages. This festival has been going on since 2003 and is FREE.

The lineup this year included:

November 30th – Bebel Gilberto, Lori Williams & Bob Baldwin, Kike Pat, un maya en el Jazz
December 1st – Norah Jones, Paca Rosas & PK BAND, Christina Morrison, Drew Tucker & The New Standard
December 2nd – Bobby McFerrin, Lalah Hathaway, Pepe Hernandez

If you were fortunate enough to have attended all three nights, then you were in for a musical delight. For those of us (myself included) who couldn’t make all three nights, this is what we missed.

BEBEL GILBERTO

With her solo debut release in 1986, Bebel Gilberto continues to wow her audiences worldwide. The Brazilian American singer/songwriter has won many Grammy awards. Her breakout album Tanto which positioned her as one of the top Brazilian artists in years was followed by other albums such as Abel Gilberto in 2004, Momento (Six Degrees 2007), All in One (Verve) which brought her a Grammy nomination, and Tudo, released in 2015. She also performed a live concert on the beaches of Rio in 2014.

LORI WILLIAMS & BOB BALDWIN

Williams hails from Washington DC and is a vocalist with show appearances in Western Europe, Austria, Russia, and Germany. Her latest disc called “Out of the Box” is produced by Bob Baldwin.

Bob Baldwin is a New York Pianist/Arranger, has recorded on 5 continents, and is celebrating 30 years. Abbey Road and the Beatles is Bob’s brand new disc featuring Lori on vocals.

It is said that together they create ‘magic.’

KIKE PAT – UN MAYAN EN EL JAZZ (A Mayan in the Jazz)

In this performance Kike Pat, pianist and composer, will be playing with his Mexican band of 3 great musicians (born in the heart of the Mayan Riviera)  and sharing the stage with a string section headed by Ukraine Sofia Lych; Jorge Brauet (Cuba) will be heading the section of metals.

NORAH JONES

Norah Jones, an American singer, songwriter, and pianist, has sold over 50 million records worldwide and is a 9-time Grammy winner. She made her debut in 2002 with “Come Away With Me.” Included amongst her solo albums are: 2004 – Feels Like Home; 2007 – Not Too Late; 2009 – The Fall; and 2012 – Little Broken Hearts. Her album in 2016 – Day Breaks features her back at the piano. Her music has been described as a blend of country, folk, rock, soul and jazz.

PACOS ROSAS AND PK BAND

This band is comprised of Paco Rosas who plays guitar, Ivan Barrera on Bass, Ricardo Erdos on drums, Tomas Krumm on the keyboard and Felix Betauncourt on the Saxophone. Their music embraces a mixture of Blues, Fok and Progressive Rock.

CHRISTINA MORRISON

Hailing from Miami and currently residing in New York, Christina is an actress, singer/songwriter, and producer. Her accomplishments include: graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts; Founder and Executive-Director of El Socavon de Guapulo Thetre Foundation in Quito Ecuador; a double nominee for Best Vocal Jazz Album and Best Vocal Jazz Song for her second album ‘Baronesa.’

Part of the proceeds of her albums supports ‘Arteducarte’ which is an educational program through the arts in public schools in Isabela Island, Galapagos.

DREW TUCKER AND THE NEW STANDARD

This Florida based group features the uncommon vibraphone (a percussion instrument with a double row of tuned metal bars, each above a tubular resonator which contains a motor-driven rotating vane, causing a vibrato effect), and the tuba as the instruments to capture their audiences. The vibraphone has been described as an instrument that blends together soul, funk, jazz, and hip-hop. Drew is the incentive behind the development of the Arts Garage in Delray Beach, the Bailey and Ali Cultural Arts Center, and Old School Square.

Bill Muter has been described as “the tuba player that can beatbox to any hip song” and has played in venues as a Tubavisionary. His book, “A Practical Approach: Brass Pedagogy Book” is a best seller.

Claude Louis is the Saxophonist in the group and will be releasing his first album in 2018. Some of his performances have included FIU, Jacksonville Jazz, and Ground UP. Using music as a means of education, he is the coordinator of the Miami Music Project, empowering children in the Little Haiti area of Miami.

Rounding out the group is drummer Marcus Grant, who hails from West Chester Pennsylvania and now living in Miami. He has shared the stage with Nicole Henry, Nestor Torres, and Shelly Berg.

BOBBY MCFERRIN

This ten-time Grammy winner icon has been entertaining for years. His style is between pop music and fine art and he has been known to play barefoot in some of the best concert halls around the world. You probably know Bobby from his Cappella hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” What you may not know is that he grew up with music – his dad was a Metropolitan Opera Baritone (Robert McFerrin) and was the singing voice for Sydney Poitier in Porgy and Bess; mom was a soprano soloist and voice teacher.

As a child, he learned the clarinet and the piano at age 14 which was the start of his pianist career. Doing his own ‘thing,’ Bobby has improvised on national television, sang songs without words, and impulsively invented parts for 60,000 choral singers in a stadium in Germany.

His latest album “spirityouall” is bluesy and embraces his rock, folk and blues influences.

Quote my Bobby McFerrin after latest album

LALA HATHAWAY

She is a songwriter, artist, producer, and DJ and has won 5 Grammy awards since 2014. In 2017, she won the Artist and Producer award for Best R & B Album, Lalah Hathaway Live. She has been invited to the stage by Stevie Wonder, Prince, Mary J. Blige, Herbie Hancock, and Anita Baker to name a few. Her voice has been described as ‘irrepressible and boundary-defying.’ Lala’s latest album is called Honestly and is available now.

PEPE HERNANDEZ

Hailing from Acapulco, Pepe Hernandez has recorded over 500 albums, six of them as a soloist artist, and has shared the spotlight with top popular artists spanning 35 years. He is touted as one of the most recorded bass players in Mexico. His music is a mixture of funk and Latin jazz beats that will have you swaying along to the beat.

The Venue – Mamitas Beach Club

The venue and sponsor for the performances was Mamitas Beach Club in Playa del Carmen. In addition to this festival, they have also held musical, fashion and sports events including the Beach Soccer Worldwide Riviera Maya Cup, Winter Beach, DJ Fest, Corona Sunsets Music Festival as well as notable figures such as Paul Van Dyke, David Guetta, Tiesto, and Avicii.

We missed the first two nights but decided to go on Sunday.

We took the Collectivo bus and a taxi, arriving at 6:30. Making our way to the area, I was amazed at the number of people already seated – the show didn’t start until 7:30. Since we are renting here, we didn’t have any lawn chairs but brought a blanket with us. We were greeted at the gate and in respect of the environment, we were handed a small plastic garbage bag each.

Finding our ‘spot’ of sand, we settled in. By the time 7:30 rolled around, there must have been 2000 people or more sitting on the sand, like us, in our immediate area. It is estimated that somewhere between 9,000 and 15,000 people attend the event nightly (which includes all the people standing up at the back and the VIP section).

Beer vendors would come by continuously selling beer (but you could ask for Tequila or rum or whatever and they would provide it). Off to the left of us were food vendors selling pizzas, tacos and other delectable dishes. Thank goodness my husband went and got us something to eat while I ‘guarded’ our patch of sand. By the time the performers came on, you literally were stuck. I don’t know how people got to the bathroom. My husband got up at one point and was back within a minute, saying “not happening.”

We met a few nice people, three ladies to our right who were in from Florida and a young fella in front of us who bought a bottle of tequila and showed us the ‘worm’ inside. Yuck!

It was very orderly; people were there just to have fun and listen to awesome music.

The Stage

The stage was awesome; no other way to describe it – huge, and the lighting was out of this world. It was specifically designed for this festival. While we were waiting for the show to start, we were entertained by beautiful images and music playing on a gigantic screen.

During the performance, there was even a drone filming the show and the surrounding people on the sand.

What We Missed

We didn’t see the advertising for this festival until the last day. Even though we saw the opening act with Pepe Hernandez, we missed Bobby McFarrin who was on later that night and Nora Jones who I would love to have seen (on Saturday night). If we come back next year, I will definitely make it a plan to see all three shows. If you love jazz, hype, excitement, and great food and drinks, this is the place!

Have you ever been to the Riviera Maya Jazz Festival? If so, what did you think of it?

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