Sunday, September 30, 2012

Republicans in Aspen

The Maroon Bells, located near Aspen. Photo taken by Nan early on Saturday, September 29, 2012After living there for twenty years, Nan and I moved away from Aspen a little over seven years ago. We still get back there a few times a year to ski and visit friends, and we notice changes that we might not if we still lived there. This was especially true this past weekend when we made a quick overnight trip to visit a good friend.

On our way into Aspen, we passed the old Poppies restaurant building. The business closed a few years ago and the Victorian-era building has been sitting empty, but it is now serving as the local Republican Party headquarters. There was a sign to that effect above the door and signs promoting Republican candidates plastered all over the wrought iron fence out front. Nan and I both expressed surprise, and I reminded her of an Independence Day several years ago, when some local Republicans marched in the annual parade carrying a banner announcing themselves. I had made the comment: "There they go, all four of them."

Bumper sticker: "Drill here. Drill now. Pay less." Note the Texas license plate.Times seem to have changed. We saw Romney bumper stickers and yard signs all over town. Aspen used to pride itself on being a tiny island of Democrats in the sea of Colorado Republicans. It also prided itself on what was called "messy vitality," a kind of small-town funkiness arising from the co-existence of folks spanning the entire economic spectrum. Those points of pride are less in evidence these days, and the reasons are obvious. 

In Aspen, the Great Recession hit late, but it hit hard. During the depths, the all-important tourist dollars dwindled to the point where many businesses, especially the mom-and-pop ones, closed permanently. The businesses that survived were the ones that catered to the uber-wealthy, the people least affected by the economic downturn. Surrounded by empty retail spaces, businesses selling thousand-dollar cashmere scarves and five-figure handbags continued to flourish. During this period, downtown felt like it used to feel during off-season, when all the locals cleared out of town, except that it was now year round. 

Republican booth at Saturday morning farmers market. Note the lack of foot traffic.What we noticed as we walked around town yesterday is that those empty retail spaces, in the wake of modest economic recovery, are filling in with even more stores peddling super-expensive wares. Rather than becoming more affordable as a result of the recession, Aspen appears to have become less so. It has always had the reputation of being the playground of the rich and famous, but now it seems to be the exclusive domain of the "one percenters." And with that cachet comes the Republican mindset that was so much in evidence all around town.

The good news is that President Obama is ahead in the polls in Colorado and will probably take both the state and the election again on November 6. If he does, I hope that the signs and stickers will come down and that people will leave their divisions behind for another four years to let Aspen return to its funky self.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More from Isla Mujeres, Mexico

As I said in my previous post, our last two full days in Isla Mujeres were action packed. Here are some photo highlights (click for full-size views):

On Friday afternoon, we took a boat trip with our friend Ariel and his wife Rosi aboard their boat Sol Zorro. They picked us up at the Ballyhoo pier and motored us around the bay and lagoon for an hour to check out possible anchorages for next spring when we sail Whispering Jesse down from Savannah. Here we are approaching the new house at Sac Bajo, where there is a cut between the bay islands and the sea. The old house was destroyed by Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Nan, Ariel and Rosi cruising through the bay toward Sac Bajo. The bay anchorage is in the background. The sailboat visible in the distance is in a perfect location, anchored between the shallow central area of the bay and one of the mangrove-flanked bay islands. The snorkeling there would be very good.
Our friend Wbeymar, the owner of Brisas Grill, motored past aboard his new boat Lizardo while we were in Laguna Macax. He was on his way to the Villa Vera fuel dock after chartering a morning whale shark trip.
A water-side view of El Milagro marina, showing the pier, the beach and the palapa-covered office/bar. There are no finger piers, so most of the boats are slipped stern-to. This would be a minor disadvantage for us since we have a solid stern pulpit with gates on either beam at the forward edge of the cockpit. I might be able to figure out a long gangplank that we could mount at an angle so we wouldn't need to climb over the pulpit--easier for us and easier for Scout.
A water-side view of Brisas Grill, where our friend Juan Gomez works as a waiter. The restaurant is wide open in front and back, allowing cool breezes, as the name "Brisas" implies, to blow through. The outdoor seating is a great place to sip a drink and watch the sun go down.
A street-side view of El Milagro marina, taken from the island's main drag, Rueda Medina. It doesn't look like much from this angle but there are all kinds of nice amenities between the large, hangar-like building and the pier. Nan and I appreciate that there is a security gate, and also a small tienda, located on the other side of the Coke truck, for quick food and beverage purchases if we don't want to take the easy walk or bike ride to downtown.
Erika and Mike took a day from their vacation in Playa del Carmen to visit us on Saturday, before we left the following day. We rented a golf cart and showed them Isla Mujeres's many sights. Here they are at Punta Sur, the island's southernmost point, looking east across the turquoise Caribbean Sea. Mike will be my first mate when we sail down from Savannah next spring.

Our final sunset of the trip, taken from the balcony of our Color de Verano penthouse apartment. The turnaround at the end of Rueda Medina and the fishermen's memorial statue are visible below. Our favorite beach is located right across the street. Nan and I enjoyed our trip so much that we're already thinking of trying to squeeze in another quick week before the sailing trip next spring. Dream on!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Back in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Bahía Tortuga in Isla Mujeres - photo by owner Rhonda
Nan and I are back in Isla Mujeres, our tenth trip here in fourteen years. We arrived last Saturday and return home this coming Sunday. It is off-season here and there are few tourists. Many of the shops and restaurants are closed, but we appreciate the mostly empty beaches and the quiet streets. We have reconnected with our many friends here, both local people and expatriates, and have engaged them all in talk, sometimes in halting Spanish with much gesticulating, about what it is like to live here. Because we are planning to join them.

Starting next spring, Nan and I, along with some friends, plan to sail Whispering Jesse down here from Savannah and live on the boat for an indefinite period at one of the local marinas. We have spent time this week checking out all of the island's marinas and believe we have found the best one for our needs, El Milagro ( It is pet friendly, so Scout will be welcomed, and there are many nice amenities: a community kitchen, a movie theater, a small beach and a dipping pool. And it is easy walking distance to downtown. It is located on the bay instead of in the lagoon, so it is cooler and less buggy. But it is also more exposed, which means it would be necessary to move the boat to the safety of the lagoon in the event of a hurricane.

With Juan and Paula at their home in Miraflores, Isla MujeresIn addition to finding answers to our long list of questions, we have spent time exploring new places. On Sunday, we went to the newly opened Bahía Tortuga bar and restaurant, where our favorite Isla band, La Banda sin Nombre, was playing. Many of the patrons were expatriates we knew from past visits, including Doug Dorn, whom we met when we sailed to Isla from Panama with John Kretschmer in 2010 and stayed at Marina Paraiso in an adjacent slip. It was good to catch up with him as he was full of useful information about boating and bureaucracy.

We spent Tuesday afternoon with our friend Juan Gomez and his family at their home in the Miraflores colonia. We brought along dinner from the local pollo asado place and walked over to the local tienda with Juan to pick up some bottles of Sol beer. We ate and talked into the evening, and I was thankful I had my pocket English-Spanish dictionary to aid the communication. Juan's English is fairly good from his many years working with tourists, but his wife's is not so good and the kids are too shy to use the English they learn in school. By the time we left, I had agreed to tutor the kids in English and Nan had agreed to form an exercise group when we return next spring.

Baby sea turtles released in Isla Mujeres on September 5, 2012
On Wednesday evening, we joined over a thousand local people on Playa la Media Luna for the release of over six thousand baby sea turtles. It was an amazing sight to see them all instinctively flap across the sand toward the water to begin their new lives. We helped flip over some upside down turtles and turned around a few who were going the wrong way. Eventually, they were all in the water, their little heads popping up and looking around as if to ask, Now what? It was a heartwarming experience.

Last night, we invited Roger and Garnette over for dinner. They are American expatriates, whom we met about five years ago after they moved here from the Denver area. Nan made a delicious chicken salad and served it with cantaloupe, croissants and salad. We ate dinner and talked for hours out on the patio of our Color de Verano penthouse apartment, watching the sun set and listening to a band playing across the street. Roger and Garnette have already been through all the experiences that we would anticipate in getting settled here, everything from upgraded visas and health insurance to medical treatment and theft prevention. They are a valuable resource and we expect they will become close friends.

Baby sea turtles released on Playa la Media Luna
Our last two full days here will be action-packed. Nan and I are going on a boat trip with our friend Ariel this afternoon to investigate possible anchorages out in the bay, with the idea of saving money by anchoring out during high seasons when the marina rates go way up. Tomorrow, our friends Mike and Erika from back home are scheduled to make a side trip here from their vacation in Playa del Carmen. Mike will be joining us on the sailing trip next spring and I want to see what he thinks of the place where we'll be making our final landfall. More later...