Paisano Pato's Island Blog and Cozumel News
Updated Almost Daily
Most Articles are from Mexican Newspapers and as such should be taken with mucho grains of margarita salt!
- Carnival's cruise ship, Magic, became the first boat to be denied docking privileges at Cozumel because of the Ebola scare. Two passengers, one of which had been possibly exposed in Dallas, had been in voluntary quarantine in their cabins and were not showing any symptoms of the virus. No one on board was reporting any Ebola symptoms but Cozumel Officials decided that the safety of the island population was most important and advised the Magic to pass on bye and go back to Galveston. This first incident has island officials scrambling to locate infrared sensors or thermal cameras so they have the option of screening passengers before they allow them to mingle with the island population.
- No one seems able to explain how 40 cubic meters of sand dunes on Cozumel's East Side next to Punta Morena vanished overnight. Authorities estimate that 5-7 large dump trucks and earth moving equipment were used in the removal. At this time of year police officers are stationed at both ends of the East side road overnight to protect turtle nests and turtles during the egg laying season. None of the officers can remember seeing any dump trucks coming or going. It is against Environmental Law to disturb sand dunes, especially when they may contain turtle eggs, but on Cozumel sand is a highly prized commodity for beach clubs and hotels on the West side of the island. The last time such a sand theft occurred was 2010 when a fleet of dump trucks illegally hauled tons of sand to the El Cantil condos for their beach area.
- Mexican Better Business Officials, PROFECO, are now on a tear going after island jewelry stores. In the last two weeks more than 12,000 fake baubles have been seized at 21 unnamed stores all along Ave Melgar. Most recently 15 shops at the SSA Mexico International Pier where Royal Caribbean cruises usually dock were sanctioned. The bulk of the bogus bling was earrings, silver chains and bracelets. No mention was made of any fines being involved.
- Apparently it's Renter Beware when dealing with rental car and moto agencies on Cozumel. It is up to the renter, and not Cozumel transport authorities, to make sure stuff works. Basic stuff like brakes, windshield wipers, headlights and steering and that the tires look like they might not go flat as soon as the car leaves the lot. This has all stemmed from an incident last week when the brakes failed on a rental car soon after it left the dealer. The driver wanted his money back and the rental agency said no way and wanted to charge him another 500 pesos for the new dents in the car. The cops got involved and the renter did get his money back and did not have to pay for the damage.
- The Square, El Centro, Juarez Parque whatever name you know it by it is for all intents and purposes gone for now. An 8 foot high wall surrounds the construction site. The wall runs right through Plaza Leza Restaurant and Villas Dorado outdoor dining areas. Plaza Leza is closed for the duration. Dorado hopes to stay open using the indoor dining room. Mosiacoz is a little farther from the wall and they hope to remain open too. We talked to shop owners in Plaza Sol who are pulling out completely and still have to pay rent even though their shop will sit empty for months. It will take deep pockets for restaurants and shops to survive for the next 4-7 months or whenever the work is completed.
- The latest word in the media is that construction on Benito Juarez Park is now set to begin on September 22. As such, the 40 street vendors who work from carts or the street have been given notice to clear out. Some of the vendors have been offered space in the park in front of the Palacio. We are not sure where the rest of the vendors will end up or what will become of the established restaurants and shops that currently line the Park. Instead of the original 7 months mentioned now the work on the Park is only set to take 4
- As we say at the top of this blog, take everything you read in Mexican newspapers with a grain of margarita salt and we recently rediscovered that is indeed the case. We made a special trip to the town square to photograph the devastation caused by the remodeling that was supposedly already in progress. Surprise! Nothing has been done...no piles of dirt or ripped up concrete. There is no sign of any heavy equipment either. The gazebo is still there and the Sunday night concert is still happening. It was poorly attended due to a conflicting show at the Palacio, but for right now Juarez Park is still a nice place to hang out.
- The new lack of parking meters on Ave Melgar is keeping police busy writing parking tickets....more than 15 since the meters were removed. Fines for parking violations range from 319 pesos for just a little infraction all the way up to 1200 pesos if they have to get the tow truck after the offending vehicle. Supposedly the cops will give you 5 minutes to move your car and then the ticketing and tag removing begins. Officials say all this messiness could be avoided if the public would just obey the law.
- Like it or not construction has begun on the 95 million peso remodel of Benito Juarez Park, one of the main social centers on the island. The plan is for the elevated area of the park (most of it) to be lowered to allow better access for wheelchairs and the handicapped. The band stand/gazebo will be removed, more cement benches will be added and supposedly the trees will remain. Some plans show a water fountain in front of the Clock Tower but island builders have never had any luck building, much less keeping, a fountain working. Four construction companies will be responsible for the work which will take at least 7 months, and discourage tourists from visiting the park for all of High Season. Cozumeleños are very mixed on the remodel. City Officials say this remodel will bring new growth and business to the area. Citymar would like to see that kind of money spent on repairing island infrastructure and others point out that officials have been talking about a sandy beach along the Malecon for years and that kind of money could finally make it happen. We are certain there will be more news to follow.
- For months Cozumel Officials have been lobbying to have Playa San Martin certified as a Blue Flag Beach, recognized internationally for its cleanliness, nice bathrooms, life guards and access for the handicapped. While Cozumel does have life guards at San Martin there are no ramps or facilities and the ever present seaweed and trash washed ashore can be impossible to keep up with. Officials may have to put their dreams of having a Blue Beach on hold as they decide if they have the budget to spend to add facilities at Playa San Martin as well as the constant maintenance it will take to keep the beach clean. For now it may have to be enough to have San Martin one of the few beaches in the country that is a No Smoking beach.
- We are stunned and amazed but it seems that as of Monday the dreaded Parking Meters of Melgar will be no more! Details are scarce but a deal seems to have been struck and the city will not have to pay an early termination fee to the owner of the meters, which are reportedly already being removed. The 25 meters will be transferred to a secure location on the island to await their fate. City Officials say that with the meters gone parking chaos will be prevented as it will be illegal to park on the drag (except for certain loading zones) from 9am till 6pm. No word as to who would be enforcing the new parking ordinance.
- The environmental group Citymar has denounced the company that is building the pier extension for Carnival Cruise Lines at Puerto Maya. Citymar is accusing them of damaging Paradise reef that is part of the protected area in the Marine Park. Additionally, the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Conanp) in Cozumel filed a formal complaint with the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) in Quintana Roo for alleged damage to the reef. Some of the specific complaints are that coral colonies near the planned construction were to have been relocated and were not. Also filters to keep sediment from drifting over the reef and killing it are to be used and they are not in place either. Pictures just show construction junk dumped onto the reef. Of course Cozumel's life blood is the cruise industry and Carnival is the biggest player, so it is very doubtful that the pier construction will be stopped or delayed in the slightest.
- The Cozumel City Council has ordered the destruction of 19 bulletproof vests used by the police. The vests are from 3-5 years old and are valued at some 300,000 pesos. One City Official protested the vote saying that at least the vests, which have a life of at least 10 years, could be used for training rather then destroyed. To our knowledge no one has ever shot at an island officer who was wearing a bulletproof vest. Meanwhile the protective gear worn by Cozumel Fire Fighters was all over 20 years old until last week when new gear valued at 300,000 pesos was handed out to the 29 men who serve.
- PROFECO, Mexico's version of the Better Business Bureau only with clout, has been on a tear lately. Two weeks ago they hit the Cancun airport and shut down and fined airlines and car rental agencies for not posting the real rates for flying and renting. Rental agencies in Playa were also cited and closed with seals. Sunday they busted 11 car rental agencies on Cozumel and charged them with not being registered with PROFECO, not posting prices in pesos, not posting the total price and the list went on. This time PROFECO named the rental agencies and while there were several we had not heard of 3 were very familiar...Isis, Alamo and CP Rentals. Some of the Bad Boys in the car rental world that are always getting dissed, did not make the list and appear surprisingly honest in posting rates and providing info to the customer.
- Cozumel's parking meters have struck again and this time a family of Mexican Nationals took the hit. A family of 8 visiting from the Yucatan decided to grab a last meal downtown while they waited for the car ferry. They had vacationed on the island for a wonderful week but they had apparently never parked in town. They asked a security guard if it was alright to park and, after he assured them it was perfectly fine, they left their 2 vehicles on Melgar and went to lunch. The sad ending to their vaca was that the meter police pulled the cars tags, a 447 peso fine had to be paid and the family missed their boat. The Yucatecan family's take was basically this was a terrible way for out of towners to be treated and they do not plan on visiting the Island of Swallows any time soon.
- We are reading reports that the only Bowling Alley on Cozumel has been closed. The article is confusing but it seems that the builder/owner of Caribbean Bol leased the land back in 2001 and spent 14 million pesos building the facility. The Cozumeleno who owns the land says some of the $3000 a month payments have been missed so authorities of the court seized the building for back payment and evicted the occupant. Everyone is now lawyered up but hopefully something can be worked out so the island's only bowling alley can be saved.
- The turtle nest count on Cozumel has taken a big hit so far this season. Last year the number of Loggerhead, Hawksbill and green tortuga nests were over 4,000. So far this year the total stands at less than 1,300. Scientists are not sure why the turtles aren't laying in the usual numbers but guess it might have something to do with the hot dry weather the island is experiencing. But from what we have seen it looks like pretty typical island weather for this time of year.
- Shades of the 1920s, speakeasy's and bath tub gin...well maybe not yet on Cozumel but island T Men are certainly going after illegal sellers of hooch with a vengeance. So far nearly a dozen establishments selling booze have been shut down and authorities say they have their sights on at least 10 more. The majority of these illegal boozarias are located in peoples homes were they sell beer 24 hours a day and really do a thriving business after most legal bars are closed. But the T Men also cleaned up at a local car wash where, we guess, cars would go in dirty and come out clean and loaded with liquor.
- The long awaited Airplane Park has finally been completed and is generating good island buzz among users. The plane was opened for business in May and 588 students and parents used the digital library and other services during the month of June. The project cost over 2 million pesos and took several years to complete. In fact it was doubted that the "biblio-plane" would ever be completed and there was even talk about dumping it in the ocean to make another artificial reef. The park is located in San Gervasio Colonia at 130 Ave and Hidalgo.
- It is not business as usual for prosecutors of the municipal treasury on Cozumel who have been without power in their offices for about a week. No fans, no computers and not any power to charge cell phones or really do their jobs, and all in a small very hot office with only one west facing glass door. City Officials say they have paid the 1000 peso CFE bill and there is just a delay in reconnecting the power but the guys in the hot office say they have heard this before when the power was cut for none payment earlier in the year.
- Island hotels are having their best summer holiday season in 3 years with occupancy rates of over 70 percent as hundreds of Mexican Nationals are flocking to the Island of Swallows. It seems that even the high price of ferry service from the mainland is not putting off travel this year. Some of the visitors were happy to comment on what they thought of Cozumel and what would make it better. On the plus side many nationals were delighted at how friendly everyone was and noted that even though they weren't locals they still received the local discount at many places. Some tourists also thought that prices were not nearly as high as they had been lead to believe. On the down side several visitors thought that the parking meters should be deactivated during the summer holiday season or at the very least have better operating instructions.
- Cozumel Officials are asking that tourists and locals alike stop posting complaints on Facebook and other social media sites but rather report any problems they may experience on the island directly to authorities such as the police. It seems that several police officers, accused of abuse of authority and theft, got a mention on Facebook. The incidents are being looked into but officials say that the correct way to report matters like this is to file a complaint with the City Comptroller or other legitimate authority. But social media is the way of the world now and in many cases seems to work faster and easier then waiting in a little office to fill out a bunch of paperwork that will probably not make a difference anyway.
- We reported some time ago that it is now a violation for overeager salesmen along Ave. Melgar to harass tourists in an effort to get them to come in and spend money in their shops. It looks like officials are taking this very seriously and have arrested a salesman who was half a block from his store and threatening tourists with violence if they did not return to his establishment and buy stuff. Enforcing this regulation might make walking on the shady side of Melgar in the morning a real possibility again.
- Cozumel Cops have decided (again) to take a Zero Tolerance approach to enforcing the mandatory Helmet Law. Everyone on a moto must wear a helmet that is secured on. The helmet must be one designed for a motorcycle operator. A construction helmet, bicycle helmet, or in at least one case a colander, will not pass inspection. This ordinance has been on the books since 2010 so most islanders should be aware of it by now.
- Two people were sent to the hospital after they were attacked by a swarm of bees near Playa Mia. The fire department was called to the scene and blasted the buzzing bees with a fire hose. Firemen have been called out for 168 bee swarms so far this year which is a big drop from the 610 attacks that they responded to in 2013.
- We always enjoy reading the latest news of Cozumel and trying to keep up with all the comings and goings on the island. But we were surprised when we discovered that apparently some of the island papers are following our blog too. One of our blog photographs of Benito Juarez Park was recently featured in a news article concerning the possible remodel of the area. We did not receive a photo credit and there probably won't be a pile of pesos waiting for us the next time we visit the island but hey our work has finally gone international!
- City Officials are all in a dither about what to do when (if) the parking meters on Ave Melgar are ever removed. The Mayor is worried that when (if) the meters go away then Melgar will turn into the parking chaos that it was before the meters came along in 2010. The press noted that back in the day locals loved the convenience of parking close to the ferry pier for free while they hoped the boat to the mainland for a couple of days. The Mayor said that he had a plan in the works to prevent total chaos but chose to not share that with the media. Meanwhile, the parking meters on Ave Melgar are still in place and the company that owns them still have not said they are going to pull them out and leave Cozumel.
- There is a report in the press that Cozumel diamond merchants are very concerned that sales of diamonds and gems on the island are way down. Indeed, worldwide diamond sales are down 40 percent over the past 2 years, so of course the island would be impacted. One of the store owners stated that tourists coming to Cozumel now have very little money left to spend after paying for their all inclusive cruise. The businessman lamented that pretty much the only things tourists are buying these days are items made of silver.
- We are not sure what it takes to get arrested on Cozumel but being caught red handed with the evidence is apparently not one of them. Five fishermen were stopped on suspicion of illegal fishing. They had equipment in their boat just for catching conch and lobster. They denied that they had been fishing for anything. They also had 40 pounds of conch in their boat the possession of which is a federal crime involving fines and prison time. Three hours after they were arrested they were released when Cozumel's Attorney General decided there was not enough evidence to hold them.
- We like the positive spin on this story about the Cozumel Police Department's tow truck which has been out of service for several months. Now the tow truck has been repaired and the good news is that owners of cars wrecked in accidents will no longer have to pay the high prices charged by private wrecker companies that the city was forced to use. With the old tow truck back in service citizens will save pesos whenever the city wrecker is pressed into service. The bad news is that with the city wrecker back in service illegally parked cars are once again being hauled off to the impound yard where the car owners face a ticket for their poor choice in selecting a parking spot.
- Cozumel Cops have been pressing their breathalyzer into service in an effort to rid the road of drunk drivers. To that end they have determined that there are 3 levels of drunkenness that drivers can fall into and the more drunk a driver is the more jail time is involved. Drivers who are just a little drunk will spend 12 hours in the hoosegow. Get a bit more tipsy and you may fall into the second degree drunk category which would entitle the driver to 24 fun filled hours in the Cozumel lock up. But beware of being big time drunk because that entitles the operator of the vehicle to interminable 36 hours behind bars. If underage teens are stopped for drunk driving then we think that their parents get to do the time in jail for them.
- Several of the island rags are reporting that the evil parking meters on Ave. Melgar could possibly, maybe, almost certainly...be gone really, really, really soon. We have reported on these rumors before and then nothing comes of it and the meters stay. But this time city officials say they are only one meeting away from a deal with the owner of the meters and when the meters go away the city will not have to pay a multi-million peso early termination fee. The city is receiving 22,000 pesos a month as it's share of what the parking meters take in and that, at least, is something in the city coffers. We are not going to get our hopes up though that the meters will be gone anytime soon.
- Cozumeleños and ex-pats alike all recognize the sound of the little whining engine and immediately start looking for the distinctive cloud of white smoke that lets them know where the mosquito spraying pickup is heading. When we hear the engine whine we start closing windows and doors to keep the fumes out. Well, with dengue season still ongoing, island officials are advising everyone to NOT close those windows but to let the cloud of chems just float on in and kill whatever skeeters might be lurking behind some piece of furniture or under the bed. We have read that the spray being used is water soluble, non-toxic, and sometimes even invisible, but it is still not something we want inside our casa.
- Cozumel Officials, in a effort to make sure that all tourists are treated with respect, have decided to go after harassing merchants. A memo has been sent out to shops along Ave. Melgar advising merchants to stop trying to strong arm tourists into shopping in their stores. No longer will it be allowed to grab a tourist and pressure them to just take a look. Officials do not want to cause merchants to lose business but rather to make sure tourists feel safe and have a good impression of the island. As a side bar to this it will now be a violation for a shop to display lewd and suggestive statuary and art in store windows. Aprons that offer a surprise when lifted will also not be allowed! To date some thirteen individuals have already been warned and repeat offenders will, supposedly, be fined.
- So many tourists are posting pictures of themselves playing with the starfish at El Cielo that Cozumel Officials have decided to step in and try to halt the practice. The Department of Ecology hopes to raise awareness of the problem through a campaign called No Stars No Heaven. While starfish are not endangered when they are touched or removed from the ocean they can die. Because holding them makes such a good photo tour guides will actually offer to take the picture instead of advising that the creatures not be handled. The head of the Marine Park stated that already 6 fines have been issued against boats and tour guides in the park.
- Federal Police on Cozumel have a new weapon in the war on drugs that they are already using at the international airport. Two Shepard dogs were trained by the US Border Patrol and donated to the Cozumel Feds. As usual, they are very well trained in sniffing out marijuana, cocaine and heroin, etc., but they also have a nose for money! Large amounts of dollars, euros, pounds and pesos are detectable by the pooches. While it is legal to bring amounts over $10,000 per person into Cozumel it is illegal not to report the cash. We guess the sniffer dogs will encourage more disclosure at the airport.
- City Officials are making an effort to crack down on unlicensed vendors selling stuff on the streets of Cozumel. Officials note that by selling without a license the vendor is stealing from legitimate businesses and, of course, the city does not receive any licensing fee either. The biggest offenders seem to be the guys with a truck load of furniture coming over from the mainland and setting up shop in a shady spot off a busy street. Officials are giving fair warning that truck load furniture salesmen will have their wares confiscated if they are caught. The same Officials are also going to crack down on the guys that juggle fire at stop lights or sell candy on the streets.
- For decades it has been a Federal crime in Mexico to harm turtles or their eggs, but that does not deter some people. Miguel Angel Reyes Espinoza has reportedly made a career of dealing in stolen turtle eggs, has been caught several times over the past three years and has always been released, much to the frustration of Cozumel Police. The latest incident was last week when Miguel was caught red handed with 120 turtle eggs in his possession. He some how escaped capture only to be apprehended the next day, on the same beach, with 68 loggerhead eggs in hand. The Island Press reported that once again the alleged turtle egg thief was released from jail without paying a fine or doing any time. Frustrating indeed.
- It seems that the estimate of stray pets on the island grows with every season. The latest article suggests there are more than 20,000 abandoned cats and dogs roaming the streets of Cozumel. Officials warn that stray animals contribute to serious health issues and say that there is not a real way to control the problem short of animal roundups and that just incurs complaints by animal rights advocates. Sterilization of strays and pets is one of the options available to officials so they and the Humane Society are offering free spay and neutering now through June 8th. More than 300 procedures were done the first day the service was offered, but the 15 veterinaries and 40 student assistants hope to do more than 600 daily. Still only a drop in the bucket compared to the total number of stray animals on Cozumel.
- We have come across an odd article regarding a new policy for tourists departing Cozumel via the ferry boats. It seems that Port Authority Officials will now require names and address info for travelers taking the ferry to Playa, just in case of an emergency. This is in response to the ferry sinking in Korea some time ago. Officials say that while they don't expect a ferry boat to sink they are just being prepared in case one does. Sign out desks are supposed to be installed in the Cozumel departure area of the ferry pier. The article did not say whether passengers coming to the island from Playa will also be required to give their contact info.
- In a turnabout from the current policy Cozumel Officials have decided that restaurants and bars serving alcohol will no long be able to extend their hours of operation. Restaurants will only be licensed to serve drinks until 1 am and cantinas only until 7 pm. In the past bars and restaurants could apply for, and usually receive, an extension to sell booze for holidays, special events, long weekends or pretty much anything that might be an excuse for a party. The goal of City Officials is to try and reduce the consumption of alcohol by Cozumeleños and in so doing reduce car accidents and domestic violence on the island.
- The environmental group Sky, Land and Sea (Citymar) has launched a campaign to halt the proposed remodel of Benito Juarez Park on Cozumel. Citymar is concerned about the proposed remodel because no one in the public has seen any of the plans or even knows what the budget is. Citymar would prefer the funds be spent on reforestation, drainage repair and lighting rather than another make over of the park. This sounds like a similar remodel that was proposed in 2010 when the then mayor wanted to rip out the trees and add more concrete to the park.
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- When the new Federal Tax Law went into effect the first of this year there were a lot of predictions of doom and gloom in the island press. Critics of the law said it would result in the end of small Mom and Pop businesses on the island and that may be the case. The latest reports in the press note that some 100 of these neighborhood eateries and shops on the corner have closed for good. All the paperwork involved and the expenses of operating a small business legally are way more then most of these tiny places ever made. Another result of the law is that it is now even harder to start a new business on the island. We will definitely miss some of those colorful and convenient little island shops.
- We always say that things can change fast in Cozumel and this story just confirms that. Two days ago, in a surprise move, one of the ferry companies, Mexico Boats, jacked up prices by 10 percent for people as well as vehicles to and from the mainland. As usual Cozumel's press and social media responded most negatively to this affront. The next day the Governor of the State got involved and apparently pressured the company to NOT raise rates. So the rates have been returned to what they were which still makes the trip the most expensive boat ride in all of Mexico!
- Cozumel's Hard Rock Cafe has been shuttered after 20 years of operation. The managers of the Hard Rock owed more than $250,000 in past due rent and other debt. Court Officials and police seized the property during business hours last Friday and ushered tourists and employee's out the door. They did let employee's take some T-shirts. No word on what the owner of the property's plans are for the old Hard Rock location but reports are that some 50 ex-employees are looking for new jobs.
- Last Friday two American tourists survived a harrowing experience while para-sailing on Cozumel. Reports conflict, but it seems high winds snapped the tow rope and the para-sail, along with it's passengers, flew ashore into a high voltage pole and entangled in the lines. Rescuers cut power to the lines (along with the entire south end of the island) and freed the para-sailors who were taken to hospital for treatment for their injuries. In an interview with the Captain of the Port, Alfonso Rodríguez Loaiza, minimized the accident and said that any water sport can be risky. He added that if the media continued to play up the incident then it could harm the image of the island. In that vein he refused to comment on who owned the boat involved or when it was last inspected for safety.
- From what we are reading it sounds like Ventanas al Mar, the only hotel on the East Side of the island, is building a swimming pool at the property. Unfortunately the owners of the property failed to get permission from the appropriate governmental agency to build the pool. Since the hotel lies in an environmentally protected zone it is doubtful that they would have been granted permission at all. That may be the reason that most of the construction work has, reportedly, been done at night.
- The Mayor of Cozumel says that things won't change much in Juarez Park, the town square, and the sole purpose of the remodel is to bring life back to the area. He stated that no landscaping would be removed and that the distinctive features of the park would remain the same. The park would just be made more "modern." When asked if the public could make suggestions as to the remodel he said that at this point it would be difficult and costly to change things, but that the public should just trust that all would be well in the park.
- Several creatures of the sea were in the island news last week. In the first article islanders reported finding a "poacher" chopping the tail off a sting ray he had captured on the north shore. The people who discovered this were most upset and violence was threatened. Before matters could get physical the poacher fled the scene. The other sea life concern is that starfish are being handled too much by divers, dive masters and tourists and their numbers are in danger of being greatly reduced. Just taking a starfish out of the water for the few seconds it takes to snap a pic can result in the death of the animal. According to the Cozumel Department of Ecology starfish and sting rays are NOT protected species so there is no penalty or fine for killing, maiming or just taking one home in a sack. The Department of Ecology's philosophy of let your conscience be your guide may not always be the best solution.
- City Officials are taking some heat regarding plans to overhaul Juarez Park. Word is that the city plans to tear down the gazebo, where bands play every Sunday night, rip up some trees and make the area a vast promenade. By that we assume an open space paved in concrete. The Mayor plans on holding a meeting to address the concerns of Cozumeleños. We agree there needs to be some concern and that some parts of paradise should be left alone.
- Soriana grocery store has come up with a novel program to relieve shopper's fears of buying rotten meat and fish. They are now allowing customers to open any and all packages and give them the sniff and touch test. If they pass then the customer can buy the product without concern. If there is some question of taint then they just put the item back on the shelf for someone else to deal with. We hope this program does not catch on with other island grocery stores.
- While Soriana does what it will, seemingly with impunity, both Sam's Club and Bodega Aurrera have had their bakery and deli shut down for health violations. The Bodega was selling expired products in the deli while Sam's featured unsanitary conditions in the bakery as well as expired products. Both stores may be fined for their violations.
- Complaints about the popular island grocery store Soriana have surfaced in the press and on Cozumel Facebook pages. Customers have accused the store of selling spoiled food, posting incorrect price labels and having a notable number of cockroaches on the premises. Investigations have also turned up building code violations that have not been corrected. In what is apparently an effort to limit the number of complaints on Facebook Soriana employees are trying to stop shoppers from taking cellphone pictures of questionable products inside the store. As a result many shoppers are taking their business, and their cellphones, to stores where shopping is less of a hassle.
- The price for limes has skyrocketed all across Mexico and is running about 50 pesos a kilo on Cozumel. Because of the high price sales of the tasty fruit are down on the island but limes are still in demand. In what is being called the theft of the century a truck containing 600 crates of limes was hi-jacked in route from Tabasco to the town of Cuitláhuac in Veracruz. Thieves took almost all the limes and left the truck.
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- Much has been made of the new Cozumel Information Booth set up, again, in Playa del Carmen. The booth, which sits on the pier where tourists and locals queue up to wait for the ferry to Cozumel, is supposed to be manned by college students. We are reading that on the weekends, when tourist traffic to the island is highest, the booth sits empty with no one to hand out brochures or tout the advantages of a visit to the lovely isla. Officials have been working on solving this issue for several months but so far have had little luck.
- We read an odd report about a stop light falling into the road at the intersection of Ave. 20th and 15th near the Yellow Church. What is odd is that the stop light has been repaired by using a stick and bailing wire to hold it in place until a more permanent solution can be found. We suggest avoiding island stop lights if at all possible.
- Who can we believe when one news story states that there will be a stronger police presence on Ave Melgar in town to provide more safety for both tourists and locals. Then the same day another article appears detailing that the real reason more cops will be on Melgar is because of the recent failed robbery attempts at the Diamonds International jewelery stores in both Playa and Cancun. Officials want to prevent any similar incidents so cops will now be stationed near the Cozumel DI locations. Safety is always good.
- It's Fat Tuesday and tonight is the last Carnaval parade on the island. Reports are that it has been a great Carnaval season with hotels at 95 percent occupancy. Food vendors are seeing high sales of the usual faves like churros, marquesitas, and mayo smeared corn. On the other side of the coin, police are reporting that they made 144 arrests over the weekend, most of which involved people consuming too much alcohol and creating a disturbance. The Chief of Police suggested that people coming to the last parade should be sure and lock their casas and chain up their motos to avoid tempting thieves.
- Carnaval season is in full swing on Cozumel with all the usual color and pageantry. In our estimation, the best nights to be on the island are those of the big parades up Melgar. The first parade is scheduled for March 1st and the last one is Fat Tuesday. There will be live music in Benito Juarez park and in front of the Palacio those nights too and nobody gets much sleep! You can keep up with all the goings on at the Official Carnaval Website.
- Mexican Tax Reforms have begun to take a toll on Cozumel small businesses. The required costs of complying with the new tax, specifically the hiring of an accountant to do all the paperwork, have proven too much for more than 23 establishments who have closed their doors. The tax increase went into effect January 1 and this closing down of businesses is exactly what was feared by opponents of the tax. Officials say most of the businesses closed were small operations like snack bars and grocery stands frequented by locals, but they all provided a service to the neighborhoods and a small income to the owners. The article also noted that this time last year 77 new businesses had been opened. Compare that to 23 closed so far this year and it does not look good for the Mom's and Pop's of the island.
- Cozumel Marine Park Officials are reporting a significant reduction in the amount of coral bleaching seen on island reefs. That's good news especially since 2012 was a terrible year for reef bleaching but since then the system has come back very well and now it seems the effects were only temporary.
- It's nice to read good news about good cops in Mexico and one of them is on the Cozumel Police Force. The article reports that José Álvarez Cupul found a bag full of cash and documents while he was walking his beat. He tracked down the woman who dropped it and returned it to her. For his honesty he was honored by the Mayor and his fellow officers at a ceremony Tuesday. José stated that he became a police office so he could help people. We say keep up the good work José!
- Cozumel businesses need to have their ducks in a row because the new administration on the island is checking everyone for violations. First we read that Love Cafe had been closed due to liquor violations. Now fines have been levied against Sam's Club and Bodega Aurrerá for the same deal. They were fined 120,000 pesos each. We have heard on the street that it was the past Mayor that allowed the booze sales to continue at the stores.
- Good news for tourists visiting Cozumel and staying in hotels. As of January hotels are reporting that they will NOT raise the room tax to reflect the new 5 percent VAT tax increase. In fact throughout the state of QRoo hotels are planning on keeping rates at last years prices and just absorbing the new tax increase.
- Construction has reportedly been halted on the new jewelery store being built on the corner of the main square and Melgar. This was the old Plaza Syria T-shirt shoppe, sold and torn down to make way for a new, larger, Diamonds International store. Project developers must reduce the planned height of the building to come into line with the Urban Plan for the city. They also can't move forward with building until they hire a new construction expert endorsed by the Association of Architects and Engineers of Cozumel. The "work suspended banners" that are normally placed on halted construction projects are not present at this time because City Officials didn't want to make the area look junky and off put any tourists.
- We have been reading that for some time the number of civil weddings performed on Cozumel have been dropping. The latest reports are that only one in 10 island weddings are civil with the rest being religious or symbolic. Tourists have tired of doing all the blood and paperwork required for a legal wedding in Mexico and indeed even during the ceremony there are so many forms to sign that it seems more like buying a house than getting married. The one island judge who performs the ceremonies says that there are now weeks when he does not perform any weddings at all.
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- We are glad to read that Cozumel Officials are imposing fines on island litter bugs caught in the act. Their latest catch was a building contractor who, over the course of 3 trips, dumped a ton of trash in a vacant lot. He was fined 7650 pesos for littering. His only excuse was that the city dump was closed so he decided that a vacant lot would serve just as well for his garbage.
- Also in the line of fire are island jewelery stores, many of which have been accused by tourists of selling fake silver and gems. It is always bad for the image of the island when tourists notice that there is a problem so the Mayor decided to get involved. He commented that, "in Cozumel we are already taking appropriate measures...in order to put a stop to this problem and also punish or fine those who engage in this situation." This problem is especially upsetting because many of these shops are along the waterfront and in the city center...the main tourist areas.
- Cozumel Firemen were busy as bees in 2013 with bee control being the number one issue on the island...611 hives were dealt with. Second on the list of responses were false alarms at 207. Also on the list were over a hundred responses to clean spilled fuel off the roads. Firemen also dealt with capturing wild animals and 2013 saw the usual assortment of boas, crocs, racoons, lizards, and even a couple of pigeons. The Firemen did have time to respond to more than 300 actual fires.
- Speaking of Crocs, we have come across a warning regarding fake Crocs (the ugly rubber shoe) that are coming across the border from Belize. Doctors are warning that these knock-off Crocs go by the name of Hawaiian sandals. They are made in China and are very cheap but may also cause allergic skin reactions. We always like to know where our Crocs are made before we take them for a test drive.
- We read that lines were long at PEMEX stations with people waiting to fill up with "cheap" gas before rates went up at 12am on January 1st. That was when taxes jumped from 11 percent to 16 percent for just about everything sold in Quintana Roo. A biggy were ferry rates to and from Playa which is already the most expensive boat ride in all Mexico. Apparently there is some confusion among retailers about how much stuff should really cost with the new tax rate. Some shops have changed prices several times in an effort to get them right. Officials think it might not be till February before all the new taxes are actually posted correctly.
- The island press is reporting that in 2014 YELLOW may be the new RED! It seems that in the arcane world of Cozumel lingerie it does matter what color your unmentionables are as you roll into the New Year. Last year red was the color of choice and red means you want love and romance in your life. Yellow or gold means the wearer wants more wealth in their lives. So as 2013 ends more Cozumeleños are looking for mas pesos and yellow under garments may be the top seller for the season.
- Cozumel police are issuing their annual caution to party goers and sun worshipers who want to greet the first sunrise of 2014. They are planning to post 2 booze check points so they can make sure that drivers going to the East Side Beaches are all obeying traffic regulations and no one is texting, talking on a cellphone, drinking or has any alcohol in their vehicles. Police estimate that 1,000 people will greet the dawn on the East Side of Cozumel.
- Officials in Cozumel's Department of Planning and Business Verification have their eyes on 24 establishments that are selling beer without licenses. Apparently these establishments, located all over town, are very good at not being caught in the act of selling spirits and so inspectors have to bide their time and wait for the right moment to strike. When they do catch the shops in the act then owners could face a fine of up to 25,000 pesos. In an effort to prevent sales at these clandestine boozarias the hours of stores that legally sell beer have been extended but so far that has not seemed to make much difference. We guess the illegal beer business is doing well.
- We are not sure why but it seems that every couple of years Cozumel is in need of new street lights...lots of street lights. There are approximately 8000 lights on the island and we understand that currently 2500 need to be replaced, or repaired, asap. The estimated budget for the work is 250,000 pesos and it is hoped that all of these pesos will come from the Feds.
- We were surprised to hear from an island amigo that a Cozumel police officer had given him a visual warning to stop talking on his cell phone and start paying attention to his driving...or else! We guess it's true since a recent news article states that police will be going after cell phone talking scofflaws and start fining them for using the phone while driving. There was no mention of how much the fine might be.
- The big buzz on the island is that the PAMA jewelery store got stuck with a hot check for the sale of 4 wrist watches. The amount of the check was for more than 500,000 pesos! PAMA officials are looking for a cab driver who left the store with the 4 watches to deliver them to Mexico City for the mystery buyer.
- The wooden scenic overlooks and palapas on the East Side beaches were built in 2010 and have since fallen into disrepair. Grass has blown off almost all of the palapas and the wooden platforms with changing rooms are falling apart. A car even smashed into one of them and that damage has not been repaired either. No one could determine who was responsible for the maintenance of these facilities and so nothing has been done. David Viana Martinez, director of Coastal Planning, has announced that as of January or February funds will be designated to fix up the structures and maybe make some of them more handicap friendly. We like it when stuff on the island gets repaired and is not allowed to fall into ruin.
- The Cozumel public park with the airplane is back in the news and the new Mayor, Fredy Marrufo Martin, says the park will be finished under his watch. The original plan was to have a full size 727-200 airplane loaded with stuff for kids to do. Inside the fully airconditioned plane there was to be a library, computers and work and play space. The plane is there but unfortunately funding dried up and the plane has sat empty and rusting, turning into an eyesore. We hope things are really looking up for the park because, if finished, it sounds like a cool place for kids to hang out. But if all goes to heck then there has been a rumor floated in the press that the park plane was going to be hauled to the ocean and sunk as a new underwater dive site.
- In a surprising move City Officials have designated the old coastal road that runs south of the Caleta marina to the El Pres, Money Bar and Fiesta Americana a one way south road. So now all traffic has to continue south to Chankanaab Park before cars can get back to the highway and go back to town. One Way Only signs have been posted but so far they are being routinely ignored by tourists and locals alike. We hear that police will soon be writing tickets to scofflaws.
- Sunday's IronMan event is reportedly a sell out with 2700 athletes from around the world participating. Cozumel restaurants are busy and hotel occupancy is well above the 10-15 percent of recent weeks. City workers trimmed trees, mowed the grass and painted stuff in an effort to put a pretty face on the island. We are hearing from participants that windy, rainy Norte weather may put a damper on the race which is scheduled to begin tomorrow with swimming at 6:40 am at Chankanaab Park. If the water is deemed too rough then that part of the race may be canceled.
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- Direct flights from Miami to Cozumel are set to begin on Thursday of this week. The American Air flight departs MIA at 11:20 am and arrives at 12:20 pm island time. Officials estimate that the five weekly flights will boost tourism about 10 percent for the winter season. As of press time more than 40 seats were still open on the inaugural flight and a mere $800 (mas o menos) can snag you a round trip ticket.
- We read some time ago that the Cozumel Police were going to be using Radar Guns to catch speeders. Now we find out that the six Radar Guns are no longer being used but are locked up in police headquarters. The issue with the guns was that if there was more than one car on the road then the officer using the gun could not determine which car was speeding. So to avoid ticketing the wrong driver the police decided to stop using the Radar Guns. We like that and wish US cops would do the same!
- We are reading that the archeological site of San Gervasio on Cozumel is expanding and adding some "new" ruins that will be open next year. These Mayan ruins, known as "The Ramonal," consist of 3 groups of buildings and were discovered in 1997. Officials at San Gervasio hope to have these new areas open to the public a couple of days a week, but first they need to hire more employees to work in the new area of the park.
- A new state of the art hyperbaric chamber has opened on the island. The new chamber is located at Cozumel Medial Center (CMC) and is large enough to handle 14 people at a time. With this addition, there are now 3 chambers on Cozumel.
- High Season has unofficially begun on Cozumel and as usual businesses are looking to the cruise lines to perk things up around town. This week 18 "floating hotels" carrying some 54,000 passengers are expected to visit the island. Friday, November 8th, should be a crazy scene with 5 ships all jockeying for position at one pier or another. Unfortunately several days of heavy rains have put a big damper on cruisers even leaving the boats, but islanders are hoping for a sunny day tomorrow.
- On our last visit to the island we were happy to discover that there is now a Turtle Conservation display set up on the East Side. While there is not much there...turtle T-shirts, turtle jewelry...the docent speaks English and is happy to answer questions. There is also a holding tank with baby tortugas waiting for release and those releases are usually daily at a different beach each day. If you are on the island check it out soon before the end of turtle season next month but in case you miss it then here are pics of the 2 headed and albino turtles.
- We have never thought that Cozumel was an inexpensive place to live, but many things are still a value compared to US prices. However after the first of the year a massive Federal sales tax increase will take effect and prices for almost everything will go up...way up...to the tune of a 45 percent price hike! The island, and all of Q. Roo, are protesting the changes and state officials are calling on federal officials to rescind the tax and even declare Cozumel a Duty Free Zone. One of the biggest fears is that cruise ship passengers will just stop buying stuff on the island since ports in Honduras and even the Caymans are Duty Free and plan to stay that way. This sales tax is already in effect in Mexico City and other parts of the country so unless something drastic occurs it is a pretty sure bet that come January Cozumeleños will be facing their own island sticker shock.
- Playa San Martin, on the East Side of the island, has been named the first beach on Cozumel, and in all of Mexico, to be Smoke and Snuff free. We have read that smokers will be fined but we are not sure who will be handing out the tickets.
- On our recent trip to the island we noticed that the new highway on the East Side has been completed. The old road that runs along the water is now strictly for use of bicycles and motos, while the new road is for auto traffic. We were surprised to see that the bike road was packed with taxi cabs that, we assume, were giving tourists a better look at the ocean than the new road offers. The new Mayor has instructed the Chief of Police to be more diligent in ticketing cars using the bike lanes.
- If we are reading this correctly then the director in charge of the construction of the new Diamonds International in the square has resigned from the project as of 2 months ago. Diamonds International wants to build a 3 story shop on the corner where the old T-Shirt shop was on Melgar. The City Urban Plan only allows for a 2 story building. So with the building height in disagreement the guy in charge of the construction, who was endorsed by the Association of Architects and Engineers of Cozumel, left the project. The Urban Plan also states that only 65% of the property can be building and the other 35% has to be green space. While the media is not sure who exactly is in charge of the construction we are pretty sure there will soon be a 3 story building on the square with not a millimeter of green space around it.
- Apparently this photo created a big buzz on the Cozumel Face Book page when it appeared. We are pretty sure it is a set up but if not then the ice cream vendor is in a great spot to sell his confections and will most likely be there for a long time!
- Cozumel may be getting a casino...or maybe not. It just depends on what day of the week it is. Apparently a new "entertainment center" is being constructed where the old Chevy dealership was on Ave 30. However the word on the street was that this was really going to be a casino with slot machines and gambling. That was denied by knowledge workers at the job site, but then yesterday a truck load of slot machines arrived and when the island media swarmed to take pictures of the one armed banditos they were yelled at by the workers and all of the unloading stopped. Now City Officials have stepped in and halted all work on the non-casino until fines are paid. There is no official report on who the owners of the possible casino are but the last failed casino, Club 21, had some big name investors and it still failed miserably.
- Cozumel resident Carlos Mena Garcia became the first disabled person to circumnavigate the island under his own power in a conventional wheel chair. He made the 68 Km journey in 13 hours and 20 minutes. Carlos said he made his record setting journey to protest the lack of support he has been shown by state and local authorities in regards to the handicapped on the island.
- The Cozumel Fire Department had a busy day last week when almost all their services were called into play. Firefighters were just doing their jobs when they had to capture a boa constrictor, remove six swarms of killer bees, clean up spilled oil from a car wreck and cut trees that had the potential to cause havoc in the event of high winds. Just another day in paradise!
- It has been raining a lot on Cozumel over the last week and apparently when it rains people like to buy and eat BREAD! The President of the National Chamber of the Baking Industry on the island, Orlando Cahuich Poot, says that sales are up 30 percent over sunny days. Mr Poot adds, "When it's cold or raining, people consume more bread. It's a phenomenon that I always perceive..." When the media toured several island bakeries they only saw the usual demand for baked goods, but bakery managers pointed out that sales are higher later in the day when demand for sweet and savory bread increases. Our take is that rain or shine a fresh loaf is always fine!
- After striking and picketing for nearly 3 weeks Cozumel teachers, and teachers all across Mexico, are supposedly going back to their classrooms today. The strike was a protest over a national education reform bill and even NPR radio failed to say what the real issues were. Cozumel teachers say they had not intended to affect the education of their students and are going to try to make up for all the classroom time lost this semester. Perhaps one of the items on the protest list was the new text books released country wide. Reportedly the books contained so many errors and typos that it was an embarrassment to educators everywhere. Teachers had to correct the texts by hand. There are 235 million elementary text books and all need corrections. One of our fave errors was having the city of Tulum located in the wrong state, the Yucatan, instead of Quintana Roo.
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- Construction has been dragging on the Convention Center remodel and word now is that it might not be ready to host the Iron Man event the first of December, 2013. We have read several articles regarding this project and officials in each report stated that work may be going slow right now but everything is on schedule. Apparently it was not on schedule since it was originally set to open last April. Reasons cited for the delays are foundation problems, weather and the elections. The Convention Center is located at the corner of Calle 17 and Melgar across from the Cozumel Palace.
- As the tourist season slows down on Cozumel and funds get tight then more Cozumeleños turn to the good old Garage Sale as a way to make some extra pesos. The head of the Department of Business and Management Verification on the island says his office is seeing increased numbers of applications for permits to hold a garage sale. Apparently you have to have a permit to hold a sale and you can't sell new clothing still in the box. The article does not say if there is a cost for the permit but it notes that families do have to have some financial difficulties to hold a licensed garage sale.
- The press is reporting what sounds like the story line of a true Mexican Telenovela and the Mayor of Cozumel is being featured as the lead character. Just last week his long time girlfriend gave birth to a healthy baby and congratulations were made all around. Then, a few days later, another girl comes forward and claims she has a 3 year old son by the Mayor and that they were having an affair while he was still married in 2010. She said she was only coming forward now so that the Mayor would claim paternity and pay child support. He is denying the child is his but in an odd twist it turns out that the GF with the son has been on the city payroll since the Mayor was elected and really had no job...just collected a 9000 peso check every two weeks. Maybe we can call this a Cozumela Novela.
- Por Esto, one of the Cozumel island newspapers, printed a scathing article about the Mayor of Cozumel and how little his administration has accomplished during his 3 years in office. The Mayor of Cozumel did not like the article and rather than hold a press conference to give his side of things he just sent out city employees to buy up all the copies of Por Esto they could find. We think it was Por Esto's best selling edition this year.
- Sounds like a fun time was had by all in the Lionfish Tourney last weekend. More than 1500 of the ravenous beasties were taken from Cozumel waters. The 2 winning teams collected some 550 fish between them. There were even games and learning opportunities for the kids.
- We are reading about more financial woes on the island. Now, due to not paying it's bills, the Department of Public Safety only has internet and phone service for about 15 days a month. The Municipal Police have no land line phones available for out going calls and can only receive calls...again for not paying the phone bill. The article goes on to say that it may be a while longer before services are fully restored as the current Administration is looking at celebrating Mexican Independence Day in September and that will cost the better part of 3 million pesos.
- Confusion reigns as the coordinator of the Commission for Protection against Health Risks reports that Laguna Ciega is NOT polluted and there is no presence of sewage in the area. He stated that tests were made over 2 weeks ago and the water is all good. He added that there is No Way that these tests could be faked and the reports are accurate, however monitoring will continue. If this is true than we wonder what all the stink was about in the first place?
- The old Warden of the Cozumel Prison, who was fired for throwing parties for prisoners and taking them to the beach, is now serving time in his old jail. He is being kept out of the prison population just in case. Still avowing he is innocent of any wrong doing, he commented that "authorities should be focused on arresting criminals, not innocent people."
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