Community cleanup effort

It’s always heartening to watch a community come together to make their corner of the world a little bit better.  We had the pleasure of joining our neighbors in Chan Chemuyil for the rather daunting task of cleaning out years’ worth of trash from a small road which houses several cenotes frequented by locals as swimming holes.  Spearheaded and organized by the Vive Chemuyil (Live Chemuyil) program, volunteers gathered to clear out and sort trash and recyclables for collection by city trucks arranged for by the committee.  Rounding out the group were local recruits, students, and 2 divers, “Nemo” and his son who removed debris from deep inside of the cenotes.   The group was absolutely amazing; many of them part time residents and homeowners, all passionate about the area and willing to work hard and get dirty to restore the ecological balance of the area.

trash2

 

 

 

 

trashdive

 

 

 

 

 

The overall beautification programs, which are ongoing, also include reforestation of recreational areas in Chemuyil and educational programs to instill the importance of proper trash disposal and environmental awareness to the community.

trash1

In the end, over 2 tons of trash was collected and the 4 cenotes “baptized” with Mayan names chosen by the local schoolchildren. Names and rough translations:

UH JA”AIL JAL BEH – water by the road

KA’ AXAL TUN – water from stone

SU TUUL HA – water that swirls

TA AKBI HA – hidden water

Pitaya, or “Dragonfruit”

Something about curious-looking fruit in the market just screams for a sampling; this colorful oddity looked more like a centerpiece than something edible, so I couldn’t wait to try it.  A little searching told me what it was and how on earth to eat it.

 

 

 

Pitaya, or Dragonfruit is a vine-like member of the cactus family native to Mexico, Central, and South America, but also cultivated in East and Southeast Asian countries.  There are three varieties bearing white, red, and yellow fleshed fruit; of these I have only seen the white variety in my local markets.  Naturally, the flowers bloom only overnight, so the plant relies on nocturnal cross-pollinators such as bats and moths.  Like other cacti, a healthy piece of stem can be broken off and rooted to form a new plant.

The leathery flesh of the fruit is inedible; the easiest way to enjoy one is to cut it in half and scoop out the crisp flesh.  The taste is very mild, reminiscent of a bland melon or kiwi; the tiny kiwi-like seeds are rich in lipids when chewed, indigestible otherwise.  The fruit also yields juice which can is used in wine or to flavor other beverages.  The flowers can be steeped into tea.  The delicate flesh is rich in fiber, minerals, and antioxidants.  Certainly not my most flavorful discovery, but still quite refreshing and cold, straight from the refrigerator!

Salud!

 

ViDAS

It becomes clear while traveling in Mexico that animal overpopulation is a prominent problem.  Feral cats and stray and unwanted dogs wander the streets, the victims of starvation, abuse, and neglect.  Disease, parasites, and lack of medical attention only add to the problem.

In August, I had the opportunity to volunteer with a wonderful group called ViDAS (Veterinarios Internacionales Dedicados a Animales Sanos), which organizes spay and neuter clinics in several cities here.  They are a non-profit organization comprised of volunteer veterinarians, technicians, veterinary students and other animal lovers who give their time and energy to work towards alleviating this problem.

While the focus of the clinics is the spay/neuter program, the outreach goes well beyond this; they treat other apparent health problems and hold educational programs to teach locals about safe animal handling, disease, and general animal health care.  Not limited to the clinics, this community outreach continues throughout the year with the help of other local organizations and volunteers.

 

This year’s clinic in Playa del Carmen set a ViDAS record; 1130 cats and dogs were safely sterilized in 6 days!  It was truly an amazing experience to see so many pet owners lining up for the veterinary care otherwise unaffordable to them.  It was clear that, despite the neglect seen in the streets, there are people who care about their animals and want to do their best to care for them; many of them had adopted street dogs near their homes that faced abuse.  I am delighted to have been  a small part of this tremendous work.

Anyone interested in helping can find out more about the organization and how you can donate on the ViDAS website.  I would encourage anyone traveling to Mexico to check out their wish list and consider bringing a few sorely needed items with them.  We here at Dos Ojos Lodge would be happy to be collect any items and be sure they make it to their destination.

Thank you for reading, cheers!

 

Art showing in Tulum

I recently had the pleasure of attending an art showing and promotion for my friend and neighbor, Elena Stepanenko.  Elena was born in Mexico City and carries on a rich artistic heritage.  Her grandfather, who hailed from the Ukraine, was a musician and instrument maker, crafting and playing the stringed Balalaika.  Her father is an architect, painter, and jewelry designer, and her mother a traditional Mexican singer and cook.  Elena herself returned to her native country after 10 years in B.C. Canada, and now makes her home and art in Quintana Roo, just around the corner from Dos Ojos Lodge.  She loves working with fabric, creating beautiful, richly colored batik and embroidered pieces.  She also enjoys paper mache, from which she crafts whimsical puppets, dolls, and maracas.

While the art showing was a display of her works, its larger purpose was to promote her new project, the Tulum Community Art School.  Working with groups of 5-7 students grouped by age and interest, she seeks to develop artistic appreciation by incorporating diverse media to create handicrafts, paintings, music, and sculpture.  She focuses on recycling materials, Mayan art and music, and the exploration of other art cultures.  She encourages students to develop imagination, awareness, and self assurance through art.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We wish Elena success in her new endeavor, and in sharing her love of arts and culture, cheers!

Cinco de Mayo

Dos Ojos Lodge wishes everyone a happy Cinco de Mayo!

Widely celebrated in the US, Cinco de Mayo is not, as commonly believed, Mexican Independence Day.  Rather, it is the celebration of an unlikely victory of the Mexican militia over a much larger and trained French army in the battle of Puebla in 1862. Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday, but is still celebrated locally throughout Mexico, particularly in the town of Puebla, where re-enactments of the battle highlight the day. 

True “independence day” is celebrated on September 16, which marks the beginning of a decade-long struggle beginning in 1810 for freedom from Spanish rule for the Mexican people. 

Cinco de Mayo, however, has become popularized in the US as a celebration of Mexican-American heritage, beginning in border cities and those with large Mexican population and spreading widely.  It now celebrats a culture of food, music, and drink enjoyed throughout the US.  Here in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo celebrations typically end with cries of ¡Viva Mexico!

Cinco de Mayo DOL style

Here, we celebrate in true style with a fine cerveza in a tropical climate, and look forward to the next holiday!     

Cheers!

It’s banana season!

Bananas are in season here in Quintana Roo, and while I love the leafy banana “trees” along the edge of our pool, I had never actually followed the process of their flowering and bearing fruit. 

            Technically, a banana “tree” is the largest flowering plant; each plant bears only one bunch of bananas during its lifespan.  The plant typically dies after fruiting, but produces offshoots near the roots.  Once the fruit has been harvested, it is best to cut the old tree down so that the new shoot can grow in its place.  In season, a flower sprouts straight up from the stem, then drops down as it matures to hang among the leaves in a teardrop shape.  The dark red bracts, or “petals” gradually open upward then fall off, revealing what looks like a row of small tubular flowers.  These tubes will eventually develop into the sweet banana fruit. 

Flower

 

 

 

new bananas

 

 

As the petals lift, more rows of these “flowers” grow, eventually forming the banana bunch.  The fruit is harvested while still green, but with a yellow tinge, then ripens hanging on the stem.  Curiously, they do not seem to ripen in any sort of order, but in a random fashion; once they turn yellow and soft, they are ready to eat.   

ripening fruit

            In traditional Yucatan cooking, the broad green leaves are also used as wrappers for tamales and, according to my mechanic Roberto, to wrap meat and fish with for the grill or fire pit.  He claims that the leaves impart a wonderful flavor and aroma, so I can’t wait to try it. 

            In the meantime, I am looking forward to a summer full of fresh bananas, banana bread, and smoothies! 

Cheers!

Cerveza, cenotes, and circles

We just enjoyed a long weekend here with some good friends visiting from back home.  Dan and I managed to keep on track with an ongoing project (drop back soon for details and pictures) while they enjoyed some ruins and beach time of their own.  Afternoons, we all kicked back for some much needed R&R.

            Weekend fun included a group “hash” run which, for those who are not familiar, is a noncompetitive group trail run which ends when you find beer.  We indulged in a wonderful homebrewed Belgian tripel compliments of Frank; what a treat after a steady diet of good, but light-bodied Mexican cerveza.  We had a great time exploring the “dry cave” section of our cenote, systema del tercer ojo, with a very excited Australian shepherd in tow.  A dash of tequila tasting was added in for good measure. 

hash run

           

 

 

 

Spelunking

 

 

 

The highlight of the weekend for me, though, was the hula-hoop making session with Theresa, hooper extraordinaire.  I did not just want a hula-hoop, I was determined to learn how to make them.  She arrived fully armed with supplies, so we spent a fun evening fashioning several hoops. I won’t pretend to approach her style, but hula-hooping is just so much fun; my new favorite around the lodge? 

 

Hula queen!

 

Hula break! 

Cheers all!

Jump in, the water’s fine!

pool

We are thrilled to finally have opened the plunge pool! Thanks to a new pump and filter system, along with a little TLC, our pool is finally ready for a refreshing dip under the banana trees. It may not be big, but it’s wonderful to take a cool dip on a hot day. The shaded deck surrounding the pool makes for a great lounge area, perfect for reading or just hanging out.

Check back for more on the banana trees, sprouting lots of new bananas, and jump in, the water’s fine!

swim under the banana treespool deckpool deck

“Stuff”

With our immigration papers firmly in place, we were finally permitted to import the remainder of our possessions. Our original caravan included the VW pop-top fully loaded with anything we would need right away (including dog, cat, and “necessary” kitchen appliances), and our VW GTI hauling a small trailer. The car and trailer were then left behind with Dan’s brother while the pop-top finished the journey to Dos Ojos; now Dan was able to fly back to the states for the second part of the moving process.

Dan made it home from the states well before my birthday, and unpacking felt a bit like Christmas, particularly when he brought out a nice selection of really good microbrews! Very thoughtful!

Birthday beer!

Birthday beer!

As we unpacked, I decided that our “stuff” fell fairly well into three categories:

  1. Things we knew were packed that we eagerly anticipated.
  2. Stuff we nearly forgot we had packed and were overjoyed to see.
  3. What the devil were we thinking?

In the first category fell items such as our good ladders, Dan’s brewing equipment, and my good baking pans and serving platters. In the second category, items of sentimental value; wall hangings, pictures, a comfy dog bed, and miscellaneous items and gifts from loved ones accumulated over the years. The final category took the prize, though, including snowshoes and a bamboo dumpling steamer (my dear, what were you thinking?). I realized during this process that while we had pared down significantly before leaving NJ, we still had more “stuff” than we really needed; if we didn’t miss it in four months, did we really need it? Even my dear, packrat husband agreed that in hindsight, we would have gotten rid of more “stuff”. Regardless, we are enjoying the treasures that we uncovered and a good laugh over the rest. Our “stuff” is now home.

Candles and an elephant

Candles and an elephant

Snowshoes in Mexico

Snowshoes?

Cheers!

Our first Christmas at Dos Ojos Lodge

Mexican culture loves a good fiesta, and Christmas is certainly reason for merriment in Tulum.  In the weeks before Christmas, the town had been decked out along the main road, and a huge tree adorned the town square; in the evenings leading up to Christmas, the square came to life with handicraft and food vendors, live music, and families sharing holiday cheer.  Colorful Piñatasfor the children lined the ceilings of markets everywhere, along with an abundance of ham and holiday cakes.

Christmas tree in the town square

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pinatas in a downtown market

 

At Dos Ojos Lodge, we chose to celebrate nochebuena (holy evening) by chilling at home, Skyping with family, and enjoying some very good cerveza from our newest discovery in the world of Mexican breweries, Calavera.  Christmas day involved an amazing jungle hike into nearby Chemuyil with our dog, the discovery of two little known cenotes, followed by more good beer and barbecued ham over an open fire.  A very merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve tripel from Calavera brewing!

 

A New Sign and a New Year

Dos Ojos Lodge is very happy to finally have our “official” sign out front to start the holiday season!

Our new sign!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are also drinking a very special toast tonight to both Dan’s birthday and to Suzan’s mom’s 75th birthday… best wishes and many happy more to both of you!

A birthday toast to Mom and Dan

 

My Introduction to Mamey Fruit

Bins of fresh mamey at the market

I first saw mamey (mah-mey’), a large, avocado shaped brown fruit, on a roadside stand outside of Tulum; several had been cut into a sawtooth pattern, revealing a deep orange flesh. Of course I had to stop to check it out, and my friendly vendor was eager to offer up a sample and tell me the name of my new discovery. The taste was extremely sweet, reminiscent of sweet potato and banana, but much softer and sweeter. It was absolutely delicious. Once home, of course I couldn’t wait to slice through the skin, revealing a shiny black pit surrounded by the orange flesh, the consistency a bit like a soft pumpkin.

Freshly cut mamey

After some reading, I discovered that the fruit is commonly used to flavor ice cream and milkshakes. Given the texture, I was sure it would work well in baked goods, so I decided to try in a variation of pumpkin bread. As luck would have it, my friend Rita had recently sent me a few recipes, among them her blue ribbon-winning pumpkin bread. I cut the sugar a bit, kept the spices, and the result was moist, fragrant, and deemed a great success from Dan. Many thanks to Rita, this will become a Dos Ojos Lodge seasonal breakfast bread staple!

mamey bread

The finished product, spiced mamey bread!