Everyone needs clean clothes – especially in a hot and humid climate. Driving around the island on a sunny day you may notice many houses have a clothesline strung across the front, festooned with brightly coloured clothing snapping in the Caribbean breeze. There is nothing like the fresh, clean smell of sunshine-dried clothing!
But sometimes doing your own laundry isn’t an option. On Isla Mujeres the average house tends to be quite small, about the size of a one-bedroom apartment with no room inside for a washing machine. The machines are costly, and the repairs can be never-ending with the high humidity and salt content of the ocean air. Even if an islander has the space for a washing machine buying one on credit is not a good option. In Mexico interest rates for credit cards are prohibitive, ranging three to four times higher than the USA or Canada. Forbes Magazine listed a sample of the rates in an article published April 2012: American Express 42%, HSBC 48%, BanCoppel 88% and the Azteca Bank/Electra Centers higher still, but unwilling to disclose their actual rates. Electra is one of the many companies in Mexico that specialize in selling appliances – as small as a toaster and as large as a refrigerator, or motorbike – with extremely low monthly payments that bring the final purchase price to three or four times the original cost.
So what do people do? Improvise!
There are a few commercially run businesses on the island that for ten pesos per kilo (about fifty cents per pound) will wash and dry your laundry, folding it neatly into plastic bags – ready for pick-up the following day. A number of our Canadian and American friends use these services, wisely preferring to spend their time enjoying the island than dealing with smelly clothes. And there are a number of local ladies who are fortunate enough to own a washing machine, and will take in washing for friends and neighbours for a similar fee. But the greater number of people on the island hand-wash, and hang-to-dry on a daily basis, decorating houses, fences, and yards with clothing and bedding. It adds a bit of local colour to the island. (Just ask any photo-nut, like myself, how many photographs he or she has of colourful clotheslines on Isla!)
In Canada, and many other countries the solution is commercial businesses offering coin-operated laundries or laundro-mats as we call them. They are generally located in every city or town near where apartment dwellers have easy access to the facility. A number of the coin-operated businesses offer assistance, for a fee, allowing the customer to leave their washing with the attendant, retrieving it after work or after shopping.
When we first moved to Isla, a few years ago, I was entranced by the idea of line-drying our sheets and towels. I asked Patricio to install a roof-top line for me. Then for the next six months I trundled up to the roof, carting my freshly washed linens, carefully pinning them to the line. Ah, fresh clean sheets! An hour later I would return to remove the fresh, clean sheets ….to find them wrapped like large white sausages around the line, over and over and over again. Still wet. The Caribbean breezes had been playing games. Eventually after fighting the wind and rusty clothes pegs that left non-removal marks on everything white or light coloured – I gave up.
I now use our propane-fired dryer. I don’t mind doing the laundry. I can do it when I please, stuffing a load into the washer while I wander around in the morning with my first cup of coffee.
The folks who do use a clothesline learn to keep an experienced eye on the weather. A sudden squall off of the ocean can ruin a day’s work in a few minutes – soaking the clothes, delaying the drying time, or shutting down the operation for the entire day if the rain settles in for a few hours.
Hopefully the colourful clotheslines won’t disappear entirely.
They are so much a part of Isla’s character.