Winter 2011

Cozumel, Mexico is a United Nations named Island of Peace.

Almost all photos can be clicked on to see the larger version. They will open in a separate window which you can just close to get back to the main photoblog.

The big move. Well, I have made the move back to the United States of America and I must admit I am still feeling the culture shock after 6 years of laid back Caribbean living. The pace is faster, the prices on everything higher and I am not greeted daily with those wonderful Cozumel smiles. My last blog entry was the Ironman 2010, which I put out very late because of moving and resettling. Ironman was on Sunday and I flew on the first leg of my trip on Tuesday, November 30th.

I had a great deal of help from friends in Cozumel to prepare for and execute this trip. A huge helping hand came from Ivan Cocom. He accompanied me from my house to the ferry and on to the airport in Cancun with a huge pile of luggage and the precious Freckles. It went pretty smoothly except when I tried to board the airport bus in Playa with my dog. A very officious bus employee refused to let me board. So we ended up taking a taxi (that took some of the goodbye gift monies I had been given). But it was a lot more comfortable and faster. Going through customs in NY was a bit crazy and time-consuming. I got to take Freckles out for a walk and he got his first taste of cold weather (and so did I). But he got some needed relief and we went back through security to board the flight to Buffalo at the last minute.



The Plan. The plan was to meet up with my friend, Bryan Chapman, who drove in from Michigan with some of my "stuff" including a 6-foot "cat tree". We planned to pack up Bryan's van and my car the next morning and hit the road as soon as possible to get as far south as possible hoping to avoid the infamous Buffalo winter storms. My sister, Rita, picked me up at the airport and said that I was "in luck" because it was raining and should continue raining tomorrow, not the best driving, but no snow. Well like many weather predictions in the Buffalo area, that proved wrong. As my nephew, Nathan, was loading the car and van, 4 inches of heavy wet snow fell in about an hour. It continued to snow over 18 inches. Not huge by Buffalo standards, but bad enough to delay departure for 2 days. The "400" which would normally take me to the interstate was closed and the NYS Thruway had people stranded for over 12 hours. So our prudence was in order. I took the "opportunity" to buy gloves, boots, scarves and a new cell phone since I had lost mine in one of the airports. It was good times with my family and some fun photo opportunities. Freckles first experience with the snow was pretty amusing. Below he is looking for his toy ball -- those of you that know Freckles know this is a strong motivation to get out in the snow.

Here is a link to the Youtube video I took of him. Such a game little guy, really tried to find the ball in the snow.

Much as I hate snow, I had to admit that it was really beautiful those two days in East Aurora, NY

 

 

 

 

The NEW Plan. Well, by Friday morning the weather was enough improved that we took off, trusty Garmin pointing south. Since the 400 (main route to the NYS Thruway) was still closed, we had to take an alternate route and headed south towards Pennsylvania and we were off in a cloud of snow. It was kinda slow going the first day, but just normal wintry weather. The 2nd day we got hit by another storm in the mountains of West Virginia and Virginia. While it wasn't nearly as bad as the Buffalo storm, it was quite icy and cars were sliding off the roads. I opted to stop very early and lost more time. Sunday things improved and we hit sunny Florida. Monday afternoon we got to Cape Coral, and I knew I couldn't get unpacked, repacked and board the plane back to Cozumel at 6:30 the next morning, so I changed my ticket to leave 2 days later. Very costly, but I thought the travel insurance I took out would cover me. I was wrong.

For furniture I had nothing but air mattresses and one stool to sit and sleep on. So I looked at Craigs list and found a terrific buy. For $250 I got a large entertainment center, couch, 2 chairs, TV and wicker dresser. That helped a lot. I had hit an estate sale on my trip to the Cape in August so I had some dishes, lamps and mirrors I had kept in a inexpensive storage place. When I started moving to Cozumel there were hardly any restrictions on luggage, now it is ridiculous. To get my cats and dog and "stuff" back to the states took 2 flights, with extra charges for pets, baggage and anything the airlines could think of. It was a lot more fun moving TO Cozumel.

IS THERE A CASSANOVA IN YOUR LIFE?

The Bio. Fernando and Romi Cassanova  were two of my earliest friends in Cozumel. I was introduced to them by their long time friend  Nelda Harris. Fernando and Romi are wonderful  people and were immensely helpful throughout my time on the island.

Fernado, who was was born in the small village of Dzemul, Yucatan, grew up in hard conditions. He started working in the agave fields at age seven. Beginning work at 4 AM taught him the value of a strong work ethic and also gave him the desire to have a better life. His father (to the right) was demanding but instilled a respect for  people, hard work and honesty into his young son. He says that his life was hard but lots of fun. At the age of 18, Fernando sought a better life and  moved to Cozumel in 1978. He was hired by the Barbachano family who owned the Hotel Club Cozumel Caribe and was employed there for 25 years. Fernando spoke fluent Maya and Spanish but lacked the English skills needed to work with the tourist sector.

During his time at the Cozumel Caribe, he met Francis Brennen, a travel agent from England who recognized his ambition and potential and taught him English. He became a bellboy and to this day, tourists/friends that he met through the hotel still call and come to visit him and his family.

He sometimes takes trips with friends that he made at the Caribe. When Hurricane Wilma devastated the island, he had the misfortune of being in Cuba. Worried about his family in Cozumel, he tried for days to return to the island and was told by one person on the mainland  that “Cozumel and everyone in Cozumel is gone.” When he did arrive, he found his family safe and although the island was beaten and battered, he said he fell to his knees, thanked God, and wept tears of gratitude.

Today Fernando is self-employed and continues to help those in need. His religion and his family take precedence in his life. He and Romi have two sons and two daughters. Fernando Jr., Julian, Suzana and Ebilene. Tragically, Fernando Jr. passed away at the young age of 27. With grandchildren who dote on their “Abuelo”, Fernando is always busy. He and Romi, who have been married for 33 years, are widely known on the island and it’s unusual to travel down the street with Fernando without hearing the familiar cry of “Nando”. EVERYONE knows Fernando. Known, loved and respected by all, the love that Fernando and Romi have for people so evident to those of us that know them.

The Big Sale Susan McGuffin spent a week helping me price the sale items and kept a fire under me to keep me moving and pulling out all my priceless junk from all my hiding places. I absolutely could not have made this move without her help and guidance. The day of the sale was amazing. We had put posters up all over town and we had a ton of people there. We had to keep the gate locked until the start of the sale and when we opened it...well I have a video that shows the first moments.

 



 

 

 

 

 

The Spiritual Cozumel.    Cozumel draws people from all over the world who have great diversity in their spiritual and religious beliefs. It seems to me that the island has a special spirit that draws spiritual seeking people of all beliefs. You will find here Bhuddists, Jews, Cathlolics, Muslims, Seventh Day Adventus and many, many other beliefs. And you can partake in many activities to expand on your own spiritual experience. Yoga, group meditations, and much more is available here for the open-minded explorer. One of the activities that I engaged in while on the island was group meditation. There were at least two women that lead guided meditations, Sandra and Sally.

Sally led a full moon mediation with a medicine wheel on the east side of the island when the full moon rose at sunset a few months ago. Many of you know Sally as "barefoot Sally" who does the phenomenal barefoot massage - here is her link. We met on an empty beach close to sunset to set things up. For this meditation we created a large medicine wheel and used natural items to create the color points of the wheel. To the right, chilis create the color for south and also to the right, Federico is placing the candle in the east point of the wheel. Our intentions were for a profound spiritual meditation as we have experienced with Sally and Sandra before. For the most part that is what we got, but there was a glitch. Sand fleas! The setting was quite beautiful and the weather, perfect, but the bites, not so much. So we are evolving and learning and have concluded that maybe outdoor mediations on the beach at sunset are not such a great idea although I am sure the sand fleas loved it.

 

 

The jellyfish to the left is pretty common in the waters around Cozumel. I have been around them many times, pretty close at times, and have never been stung by them. It has also been hard to see if they have any long tentacles, which is how you normally would receive a sting. My research identifies these as Moon Jellyfish. They bear a strong resemblance to the extremely toxic Box Jellyfish from the South Pacific. But seem to be benign by comparison. These critters eat plankton and drift with the currents. They are certainly not the only species of jellyfish in the Cozumel area, but one that I see often.

 

The Bar Jack pictured to the right (on top), is engaging in a cooperative fishing technique called "shadow feeding". They "hide" from their prey by staying right on top of another fish and then zip out and grab them from the cover of the other fish. They move in unison with the other fish and I puzzled over this behavior until I found it referred to in the book, "Reef Fish Behavior" by Ned Deloach. That explained a lot of what I had been observing. They can often be spotted doing this with Southern Sting Rays and Spanish Hog Fish. But I have seen them doing this with Barracuda and with people. That's right, with snorkelers. I was delighted when it happened to both Juen and I with the same baby Bar Jack and puzzled for a long time to figure out what they were doing. Now I know. The darling little Jack was hanging with us, not because it liked us, but was grabbing bits of food as we swam along.

 

 

 

The Waterfront.    One of the things I miss most about my life in Cozumel is the early walks on the malecon with Freckles. There never was a day that I wasn't enchanted or amazed by what I would see there. Such as the child here discovering what there is to see in the water.

I was very uncomfortable taking the photo from the most touching scene I have ever witnessed on the waterfront. Out of respect, I have blurred the image. A Cozumelanian pushed a man in a wheelchair, probably his father, down to the beach. He carefully lifted him out of the chair and carried him to a little pool in the water. He placed him in the water and gently washed sea water over him for a time. Then he just let him stay in the warm waters for as long as he wanted before taking him back to the chair. The memory still chokes me up, the kindness of giving the gift of the healing sea waters to this invalid man sums up the true island spirit for me.

But I would be remiss if I didn't share one of the lovely moments of "eye candy" that I witnessed in the days leading up to the Ironman 2010 event. Every so healthy and fit men and women striding beautifully along the waterfront. For many more moments of visual delight, see my photoblog from Ironman 2010

 

Back to Cape Coral

Pileated woodpeckers seem to be abundant in the trees at the dog park. They are a large bird and their red head makes them stand out. They bore large rectangular holes in trees to find the insects that make up most of their diet. Those holes sometimes are so large that they can break the tree in half. They prefer to nest in the tallest tree they can find. This has turned out to be a poor survival plan because those are the trees that often get hit by lightning. They only use a nest for one brood. Then they abandon the nest which is often recycled by other types of woodpeckers. Pileated couples stay together year round and are very territorial except in the winter.

 

 

 

Pictured left is an immature Wood Stork.  It is an endangered bird in the United States.  When I first started visiting Florida in the 70's it was a real treat to see these birds, they were so rare.  Now that I am back, I see them frequently so I know they have a more stable population.    They feed on fish, frogs and insects. 

The Wood Stork’s presence in North America predates the ice age and they sure do look like something prehistoric.  They are credited with saving the small, rural town of Colquitt, Georgia.  Because of their endangered status, the GA highway department was not able to build a planned bridge through their habitat. Had they built the bridge, the road would have bypassed Colquitt.  Colquitt would probably have become a “ghost town” but instead it hosts Georgia's Folk Life Play, Swamp Gravy, a theatrical production which brings in audience members from across the country. The old movie theater on the town square is currently being renovated to be a conference and concert hall, named The Woodstork Center. So the Wood Stork has contributed the our culture and the lives of these fortunate Georgians.

I am really loving seeing the big birds here in SW Flroida. There are photo opportunities everywhere if you have a camera nearby or in your hand. The one I missed recently was the American Eagle and Osprey fighting over a fish while I sat and had lunch on the waterfront at Bert's in Matlacha. They flew very close over my head and put on a show of snapping beaks and sharp talons. It was over before I could get my camera focused, but the thrill is still with me. One of my new friends, Rosalie, took me to an area with lots of birds and I got the shot below of an Egret in flight. But the big birds can have unpleasant unintended consequences. I am grateful that it was spared a direct hit on me.

The Dog Park.    Maybe I am crazy but when looking for a place to live, it had to be within 15 minutes of a dog park. I lucked out and got within 5 minutes of the one in Cape Coral. I am loving the dogs and the people I meet there. Always very entertaining. Here are a few of the wonderful dogs.

Freckles has continued his obsession with chasing balls Buster Brown, always good for a cuddle The soulful Pugsley The high-energy Skipper taking a rest Amber, well, what can I say

While I plan to continue bringing photos from Cozumel, in the future much more will be from Southwest Florida and the Gulf of Mexico islands that I love.

It has been very gratifying to receive your kind comments on my photography over the years of this photoblog. I have included many photographs in Fine Art's web site and am adding more every day. You can visit at this link carol mccutcheon art. If you are interested in ordering prints of my work, it makes it very easy to do so. If you care to leave a comment, I would really appreciate it, or even just recommending it by hitting the "recommend button". I will soon be including some of my watercolor art. And now, Zazzle! More ways you can enjoy photographs of the islands.

make custom gifts at Zazzle 

 

I usually put out this blog quarterly. It seems to be a pace that I can handle and still have time to photograph, paint, play with the dog and cats and live my life in a non-stressful way. If you find that you are not getting enough news from the island at my pace, please partake of the wonderful resources that bring you news and information monthly and weekly from Cozumel. Monthly and "under new management" is The Cozumel Islander (http://www.thecozumelislander.com/index.php) which was started by Sue and Will Seifert, but is now being published by Myrna and Larry Cleghorn and Kevin and Kathleen Geyer. Myrna is an award-winning writer and the publication is chock full of articles by Myrna, and many other writers from the island and even a couple of Canadians! Laura Wilkinson's weekly webletter and website is another delightful way to stay connected and it comes out weekly. If you go to the Cozumel4You website you can join the chat or find all the archival issues of the webletter. Now that I am off the island as soon as these publications come out, I sit down and drink in the island for a little while.

Once again, thank you Juen for editing and for your storehouse of island trivia. Special thanks to Nelda Harris for providing the photos and some of the history of Nando and Romi. And thank you, Nelda, for introducing me to this extraordinary couple. Below, Cape Coral dawn.


Home