Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Grado to Gibraltar Update

John Kretschmer and I had a good talk over the phone last Thursday night. Due to work demands, it's not going to work out for me to help him with delivering his sailboat Quetzal from Grado, Italy to Gibraltar, Spain. He still has a crew of four, counting himself, so he thinks he'll be able to manage just fine.

John told me that the new mast has been delivered from the Selden Company to the boatyard in Grado. He and Bob Pingel, who is a good friend of John and owns a boat rigging outfit in Wisconsin, were supposed to fly out this past Monday to step the mast and finish up preparations for a November 1 departure.

Perhaps to make me feel better, John told me the trip was not going to be much fun: almost 2000 nautical miles with only two planned stops, one in Messina, Sicily and another in Mallorca, Spain. He was hoping to make it to Gibraltar by November 15 in order to return home for a week before his scheduled November 22 trans-Atlantic departure, but he wasn't too optimistic about that.

I shouldn't be too disappointed. There will be other sailing opportunities. Nan and I already have plans for next year. Details to follow.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Lighthouse on Isla MujeresNan and I spent the first eleven days of October on Isla Mujeres, our fifth trip to the island in ten years. We stayed at Color de Verano, just like we did during our last trip in May 2005, except that this time we rented the penthouse instead of one of the apartments below. The views alone were worth the rate difference. The first photo shows the view from our balcony looking south along Avenida Rueda Medina, including the lighthouse and beyond it Bahía de Isla Mujeres and the ferry docks. (Click the photos for full-size views.)

Playa Norte on Isla MujeresThe second photo shows the view to the west, across the five miles of the Caribbean that separate Isla Mujeres from Cancun. Since most of the sand on Playa Norte was scoured away by Hurricane Wilma in October 2005, especially near the Hotel Na Balam, where we stayed during our first two trips and where we would normally use the beach, we found ourselves using the beach you see in the photo instead. With the almost-white sand, the sun is too intense to stay out in for long, so we set up our apartment's folding beach chairs in the shade under the palm trees for afternoon sessions of power reading and frequent dips in the ocean. The ship you see in the distance is the Punta Sam car ferry, which makes five runs a day.

Nan with Juan Gomez Chan, his wife Paola, his son Manolo and his daughter, PaolinaOn Thursday, our first full day, we did a morning walk around the beach to the Hotel Na Balam to see if our friend Juan Gomez Chan was still working there. We had tried to email him to let him know we were coming, but his addresses were no longer valid. He was surprised but thrilled to see us when we entered the hotel's waterfront restaurant, as were our other Na Balam friends, Victor and Mario. After smiles and hugs, we made plans with Juan to meet for dinner on his next night off. That Monday evening, Juan's wife Paola, his son Manolo and his daughter Paolina met us at our apartment. They were familiar with the building but had never been inside, so we gave them a quick tour. Juan told us he was building a new house and wanted to get some design ideas. Color de Verano was designed and built by Louis Joliot and his wife Teresa. The café on the ground floor and the apartments above are filled with furniture designed and created at Louis's furniture factory in Cancun. Much of it is teak and incorporates a nautical sensibility which is well suited to island life. Juan and his family were suitably impressed. As we walked down Avenida Hidalgo to Rolandi's for pizza, Juan talked about his building project and invited us to see it.

Front of Juan Gomez Chan's under-construction house on Isla MujeresWe met Juan at his home in the Colonia Salina Grande on Wednesday afternoon. The kids were home from school and the house was bustling with activity. Juan introduced us to his two frisky Chihuahuas and his parrot as we sat in the living room drinking beers. Juan had wanted me to look at a problem he was having with his laptop computer, but his oldest son, Juan, Jr., had taken it to school in Cancun that day. When we finished our beers, Juan said we should walk over to look at his new house. It was about a half-mile away along a walkway that bordered the Salina Grande, the large saltwater lake located right in the center of the island. When we reached the end of the walkway, we turned right, walked to the top of a hill, and there it was. Juan's house project was much further along than we had thought it would be. Because of the frequent hurricanes, everything is built out of heavy cinderblocks and cement, and all of the walls, floors and ceilings were already in place. Juan's English is much better than our Spanish, so we can usually find a middle ground to make ourselves understood, but not always.

Back of Juan Gomez Chan's under-construction house on Isla MujeresNan and I had been led to expect a vacant lot with maybe some trenches dug for the foundations, but this was considerably more than that. Maybe Juan was just being modest. We walked up a spiral staircase to the second floor and admired the views of Salina Grande to the east and the Laguna Macax to the west. Juan explained that we were actually in his wife's sister's half of the house. His family's half was on the other side. Just as they shared a duplex in their current living situation, they were building the new house as a duplex they would also share. Juan envisioned turning the front part of his side into a small neighborhood restaurant, where Paola would cook her wonderful food and he would serve the customers. With that, he said it was time to go back and try Paola's pollo mole. It was superb, made using chiles that gave the taste of chocolate without the need for adding real chocolate of any kind. We told Paola she needed to be sure to put the dish on the menu at her new restaurant. She beamed.

Statue of the Fishermen on Isla MujeresWe had neglected to take a camera with us to Juan's house, so we returned the next day in a rented golf cart in the rain to take some pictures. According to Juan, the small arch at the back of the house is situated over a working well which was already on the property and which he plans to continue using.

While we were motoring around in the golf cart, we stopped by Louis and Teresa's latest project, a new three-unit apartment building located on the Laguna Macax. Teresa had invited us to see it when we ran into her earlier in the week, and we're glad we did. It was beautifully done, with many unique touches, like an air-conditioned, glass-enclosed bedroom overlooking a main living area featuring a tiled pool with an arched wooden footbridge. It got us to thinking about what it would be like to spend an extended time on the island.

Color de Verano, Jax and Lighthouse on Isla MujeresAll the while we were on Isla Mujeres, crews were working on the statue situated at the intersection of Avenida Rueda Medina and Avenida Adolfo Lopez Mateos, directly below our balcony. On Thursday we found out why. The statue commemorates the fishermen and their wives who resettled the island after it was abandoned by the ancient Mayans. October 9 is the local "El día del pescador," the day of the fisherman, so there was a rededication cermony that day, with flowers, dignataries and speeches.

Brisas Grill on Isla MujeresAfter taking photos of the statue, it occurred to me that we didn't have any photos of our apartment, so I crossed the street and snapped some shots of it to put everything into perspective. The penthouse is at the top of the yellow building on the left. We spent a fair amount of time at Jax, the sports bar right next door, in the center of the photo, that is run by American expatriots, Michael and Jackie. That's Nan on one of the blue bar stools.

On our last night, we stopped by the Brisas Grill, which overlooks the dock that accommodates the Isla Contoy tour boats. Juan had told us that Ventura, one of our old friends from the Hotel Na Balam, was working there. He was, and we chatted with him about the good old days and what everybody we had known was up to now. We drank wine as we watched the sun set for the final time and had our photo taken by a nice couple from Indianapolis who were celebrating their second honeymoon. Then it was off to Jax for a final dinner of excellent seafood before catching the ferry back to reality the next morning.

Nan and John at Brisas Grill on Isla Mujeres, with Ballyhoo in backgroundOn the long trip home, our talk returned to the idea of spending an extended time on Isla Mujeres. We have both wanted to get better at Spanish, so we could use the time to take daily lessons and immerse ourselves in the language. I can do my job from anywhere I can get a high-speed Internet connection, so I could work enough to keep some income coming in. But what about Scout? Nan emailed Teresa when we got home to ask if she would consider renting the penthouse to us and our well-behaved dog for a month. Being a dog lover herself, she said yes. So next September, we are going to drive down to Cancun by way of Santa Fe, San Antonio (Hello, Shepherds!), Tampico and Campeche, and catch the Punta Sam car ferry over to the island for our first experience with what would essentially be living abroad. ¡Debe ser una aventura!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Tom Bodett

Nan and I just got back from our fifth visit in ten years to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. There will be more on that, including photos, in my next blog post, but I wanted to share something in the meantime, an email exchange I just had with Tom Bodett:

On Oct 14, 2008, at 10:11 PM, John Lichty wrote:


I have enjoyed your work for years, from the Motel 6 ads to Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me, including being in the audience for the taping of the show in Aspen a few years ago, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I had no idea you were also a writer.

My wife and I just returned from renting an apartment for a couple weeks on Isla Mujeres. It’s located across from Cancun and is a great place to vacation if you ever get the chance. Anyway, there was a book exchange shelf in the lobby and on it I found a hardcover copy of The Free Fall of Webster Cummings. Wow, I thought, an actual Tom Bodett book! Who knew? I picked it up and started reading immediately. By the time I got to "snap-on crab bait," I was laughing out loud and completely hooked. What a great story, full of unique characters and warm humor. I can’t wait to see what happens to Norman Tuttle in your new book.

Thank you for all you do. Keep up the good work!

—John Lichty
Grand Junction, Colorado


His reply from this morning:

From: Tom Bodett []
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2008 5:30 AM
To: John Lichty
Cc: Tom Bodett
Subject: Re: "Free Fall"

Thanks for the note, John. I'm glad to hear these old books of mine are still finding their way to folks like you.

My best,



How cool is that? If you're interested, here's a link to Tom's website: