A distinctive flavor of island living are the much loved locals. Their basic approach to life has me sometimes carefully considering my own. These wonderful islenos (locals born on the island or those whom have come to be an integral part of this environment), have one basic trait in common…they work to live; they don’t live to work. Some have layers of history to reveal, some can effortlessly make you laugh, but all are filled with a robust island spirit that makes you want to know more. These Local Legends have spans of time on isla for up to thirty years, while one family can trace it’s roots back one hundred and fifty years!
Chuy walks the tranquil setting of this island every afternoon and evening. Clearly, he has seen the rigors of daily life.. I suppose that can be said about many of us. But Chuy is an ultimate example of living life with great delight and of being truly authentic in his approach to life itself. Born in Guanajuato, Chuy has lived on Isla for forty years. Sporting a top notch cowboy hat, bearing a half opened backpack containing background music possibilities, Chuy strolls in and out of the beachfront restaurants embracing his much loved, time worn and well- cared for accordion. His approach is subtle and effortless. Then it happens… he flashes this gigantic warm smile right at you and your heart jumps at his charm. A few samples of his unique musical style and in perfect English, Chuy politely asked what you would like to hear. With his magnetic smile and his innate charm, you fumble through the Mexican songs you can remember. And then you realize that he can play just about anything!! A Local Legend is he!!
Then Paulino Pech casually rounds the corner of the tiny palapas on the beach, with the turquoise sea gleaming behind him, in traditional, black mariachi costume (minus the heavy jacket), detailed with studded gala buttons, typical of the formal attire. He is the real deal. Yes, the ultimate example of old school style… he wouldn’t have it any other way. His cautious approach to visitors is simply his own personal style, perhaps respect for other's space. His greeting is a simple grin and a dramatic strum on his well-loved guitar. Simple approach transforms into lively entertainment. He loves his fans, he loves their smiles and he gets great delight in making music, his way, in this treasured setting. They don’t make ‘em like Paulino anymore!
A few generational families remain on the island and the Velazquez family is one of them. The name has been synonymous with the island for one hundred and fifty years. You know isla, then you’ve heard of the Velazquez family. Beachfront restaurant owners for many years, the ever popular establishment shut its doors to food service only last year. Today the restaurant houses a collection of souvenir booths, with matriarch, Gloria and son, Gilberto under a white canvas tarp, to protect them from the sun-drenched entrance. Gloria and her daughters meticulously hand weave utilitarian bags from Yucatan enaben string, made for them on the mainland. These light weight bags are my go to for frequent mercado excursions. Gilberto takes advantage of the finds of the local fisherman, as he describes to me in perfect English how he artfully cuts, shines and creates jewelry and serving pieces from the iconic conch shell. His pride in his work is contagious and one is sure to leave with a few exquisite designs. Gilberto also takes pride that he works closely with the Yucatan government with respect to responsible environmental issues. These are Local Legends at their best…making a living today and being concerned about tomorrow.
Only four of our many Local Legends on this island and all four extraordinary in their own way. Their hearts are big, their incomes are adequate and their respect for the people that live on or visit Isla is legendary. Family is the primary unifying factor for each of them, as is the case for most local families that I call my friends. Laughter is key and kindness is a priority. The rhythm of daily life here and the people that move to the beat of that rhythm …well that’s how legends are made. -E