Street we lived on

Daily Living in Isla Mujeres

Daily Living in Isla Mujeres


We stayed on Isla Mujeres for a month, mostly during November. While it did rain some nights and there were a couple of storms, the weather was mainly around 30 degrees celsius during the day. Fortunately we had a place that had air-conditioning. My favourite part of living on Isla Mujeres was our neighbourhood and the lovely people in it.


After a month of hopping from place to place we decided to settle in one location for a month so that we could catch up on some schooling. Most of our days were spent using the workbooks I’d picked up in Auckland before leaving. For any of the science topics that required practical experiments we made use of equipment at home or used youtube and Khan Academy to support their learning.

It was hard entertaining the two little ones in such a small environment without distracting 14yo who has a heightened sense of responsibility and tends to step in when he sees the need. So some topics could only be covered while the younger two were napping or had gone to bed.

Grocery Shopping

We had many shops conveniently close by. The supermarket was a five minute walk in one direction and the chemist, known as the Farmacia, was five minutes in the other direction. This was great because we had no vehicle and had to carry all our groceries home, including the big 5L bottles of water. It wasn’t much of a problem except if we had to carry a little one in the heat of the day.  We would end up spending on average around 500 pesos per day on all our groceries because we were not buying any junk. That worked out to under NZD35.

We soon found that for only 4 pesos more we could buy a 5L bottle at the dairy next door. That became our go-to for water. There were a few nights early on where we ran out of water so we started buying four bottles at a time to ensure we had plenty of water all through the night and enough for our morning coffee.

There was a local tortillaria where we could buy fresh calientitas for breakfast or lunch. I wold pick up ten for 5 pesos, that’s like 30cents. They are basically flat unleavened bread that is a bit bigger than the palm of your hand. The shop was only a block away (four houses down) which meant I would have them super hot. After having these, any calientita that gets served in a restaurant has been disappointing because they are often stored in a fridge and then heated up.

The local supermarket was more like a four square in NZ. It had a lot but not a huge selection. So our fruit and veg purchases were limited. The funniest part was the number of flies and fruit flies that would be hovering around the fruits, which was right next to the butchery department. We very quickly got used to “hygiene” situation.

Staff at most outlets were not friendly but polite. Only once I became a regular did the business owners of the lavanderia and the calientita place greet us with warm smiles and farewell us with Hasta Luego (see you later).



Being home most days we would cook at home, and by we, I mean hubby. He enjoys cooking and I much prefer doing the cleanup. The space in this place was quite cramped but hubby worked his magic as he always does. He often prepared a feast of guacamole, fresh salsa, refried beans, cheese tortillas or calientitas, and some type of habanero which is a spicy sauce. Other times it was toasties or eggs or fruit platters.


The place we stayed in didn’t have it’s own washing machine nor did it have a clothes line or any area to dry things outside so we relied on the local laundromat most of the time. In Isla Mujeres, you drop off your clothes to a lavanderia, they weigh it and charge you based on the weight. Unfortunately their minimum weight was 3.5kg which is a lot to try and fill given we only packed three sets of clothes each max. The hardest part was when I had to swap over the little ones clothing. They needed more frequent changing due to their activities, where as we could where clothes for two or three days. But their clothes are so little it definitely didn’t meet the minimum 3.5kg mark. For their clothes I often had to hand wash them and dry them with the help of the air conditioner.


Apart from keeping the kitchen in a functional state, there was not much cleaning to do because cleaners came every week and changed the linen. The floor often got gritty and dusty so we had to sweep the place out each day. The bins were little so we emptied those regularly. Interestingly, the rubbish collectors would empty the bins every day including weekends.


Out and About

Eating Out

We tried a few different places to eat out. Some were tourist places that charged about 100 pesos for a dish where others were local eating places that charged about 50 pesos. Common eateries were taquerias where they served tacos, tortillas and drinks. One of our favourite drinks to have was a cold limonada which was simply freshly squeezed lime and water with a bit of sugar. And we often ordered guacamole which would come with tortadas which in NZ we would call corn chips. We quickly found out that nachos is corn chips with melted cheese on top.

There were some great burrito places and burger places too.

The Streets

The streets where we stayed were very clean except for dog poo. Every morning street cleaners would come with their broom and shovel and sweep up all debris including leaves, rubbish and dog poo. Then they would leave bags of rubbish for the rubbish trucks to collect. The rubbish trucks came by every day. It was much like Auckland rubbish picks ups when I was a kid. There would be guys without gloves who would collect all the rubbish and chuck it into the back of the truck.

Playgrounds were also kept very clean as well as the board walks. However, the materials that are used to construct the pavements or bridges or playgrounds are often poor quality and so they don’t last long. There was a boardwalk where the boards had rotted but locals still used it in spite of signage saying not to. The playground was falling apart but had been opened in 2016. And the waterfront walkway had originally had a railway to prevent people from going to far over the cliff but most of it was broken. In spite of that, these were beautiful spaces for locals and tourists to enjoy.

The People

Our neighbourhood was very sweet. As I walked about the neighbourhood people would often greet me with a Buenos Dias or Buenas Tardes (good morning or good afternoon). Sometimes as we sat by the laguna watching birds, locals would converse with me in Spanish. Using hand motions we were able to understand the general gist of the conversation. Being in this neighbourhood was probably my favourite part of experiencing Islau Mujeres.

Conflicts of Interest

After having booked our Airbnb for Isla Mujeres I found out why Airbnb can be detrimental to town or city. The place we were staying in is probably one such example of this. We stayed amongst a local community so our accomodation was relatively cheap compared to the tourist areas. However, this means the landlord would have preferred earning a higher income from tourists staying there rather than having locals paying a much cheaper rate. Our place was far more luxurious than what our neighbours were living in, and in my posts you would’ve seen how much I was complaining about the tight spaces.

Our neighbours did not have air conditioning but some had fans. Many of them did not have furniture but had a hammock in the middle of the lounge. Most had TVs and at least one bedroom but many used a curtain to divide the sleeping area from the lounge. Some of our neighbours lived in structures that looked like they were crumbling. In fact, our neighbour had scraps of wood for one of it’s walls. I’m guessing they were cleaners because they often arrived home with their vacuums and cleaning equipment. I realise now I need to be more diligent when booking our accommodation to ensure we aren’t increasing the price of living for the locals just because of tourist requirements.

Our Glimpse of Isla Mujeres


Cuban Español – Spanish Immersion

Cuban Español – Spanish Immersion


Learning Spanish in Cuba

We did not expect to learn Spanish so rapidly from just a few days in La Habana. Very few people spoke even a little Inglés (English) so we found ourselves learning a language through immersion rather than through any app or book. We fumbled our way at sprinting pace inspite of no wifi.

When we arrived it was clear that none of the workers at the airport spoke English and this set the precedent for the rest of our Cuban holiday. 14yo told me to take photos of signs which were bilingual at the airport. That was great advise! Later on I was able to ask for toilets, currency exchange, a bag and shops.

To make conversation on the drive from the airport, I asked our driver how to say a few things and recorded it. His English was as bad as my Spanish so we used hand motion and my 14yo’s year 10 español to communicate. We managed to record on my phone “hows the weather?”, “it’s cold”, “it’s sunny”, “what’s your name?” And “my name is…”

The Cuban accent seems very different to what 14yo was using and his teacher had said he had great pronunciation. I’m assuming we’ll have to change our accent in Mexico too.

The first thing we needed was food so the owner of our casa particular had walked hubby to a local restaurant that was “poquito, poquito”. This was the word I’d learnt from her when I’d been asking her to reduce the price. I assumed it meant “cheap” I still don’t know what it means because google translate says it refers to “a little man” lol. And I still keep using it!

Everywhere we went we learnt the Spanish name for items we needed huevo (eggs), pampid (nappies), sin carne (without meat), etc. We also learnt that a tortilla is not a flat bread but flat food so you can order “una huevo tortilla sin sal” which is scrambled eggs flattened like a pancake without salt.

If people were friendly we asked “Commo es dis” which is “how do you say..” and then point to the item. If they spoke a little English we would ask for sentence structures like “cuanto es…” “how much…”. We played with the housekeeper’s two year old granddaughter. She loved soccer and together with our two little ones they kicked about the mini basketball. We learnt words as her dad told Isabela what we were telling our 2yo. “Pass the ball”, “Their turn”, “Well done”. We also learnt “choko” which was a way of saying hi-five that only her kindy used. If you want to learn a language immersion is definitely the fastest way. Having said that, we could’ve toured Cuba not learning any Spanish but surviving on other people’s broken English. We put ourselves out there and asked a lot and practiced pronunciations over and over. It helped to have a translation app for times when we couldn’t communicate plus we had our 14yo and 12yo’s little spanish for proper pronunciation. Probably the most important words to learn are: por favor- please, perdon- sorry, gracias- thank you, permiso- excuse me. In any language those words will take you a long way. When we reach Mexico I’ll be practicing counting, colours, directions, greetings and farewells and shopping. I found these to be the topics I functionally needed most. I would’ve loved to ask more political and religious questions but that’s probably when I’m at an advanced level.

Our Glimpse of Havana