Happy Halloween & Dia de los Muertos!
31 October 2016 | Guanajuato, MX
Gosh, have I ever fallen behind on the writing and blogging! In some ways maybe that is a good thing, as our life has been so filled up with our new home, pups turning into big dogs, socializing with new friends, Spanish lessons, lots of visitors, the sudden loss of Ron's mom, trying to sell our boat and getting it delivered from Mazatlán back up to San Diego to put on the market, putting in raised vegetable beds and a brick patio, having our pool remade to be usable (a "6-week job" that has now turned the corner to the 6th month) and finally had it filled a week ago! The solar panels aren't in yet, so the pool remains a frigid 60 degrees (F). I also went to Houston in August to be with my sister Linda as she underwent a stem cell/bone marrow transplant to deal with the two types of leukemia she has been diagnosed with in the past 3+ years. My other sister was the luckily a match to be host/donor, and it looks like the grafting of the cells has been successful. We are still keeping our fingers crossed that there is no major rejection of the host cells. And finally, we went to Italy for approximately 3 weeks and just returned on October 1st.
We continue to be wowed by our experiences in Mexico. People in the grocery stores, eager to help us and practice their English, come up to us to offer assistance in finding something. I can't imagine people in the US doing the same for obviously confused people from Mexico, Latin America or South America. Maybe it happens, but I don't know. Instead we hear people say, "they come to America, they need to speak the language." Well, it takes some time, believe me. We continue to take classes off and on, and more recently we have our teacher coming to the house 2 days a week, for 3 hours each day. Ron and I each get an individual hour and then we have a shared conversation for the last hour. We are getting better, but as they say here, kindly I might add, "poco a poco" (little by little), when we are out and about and struggling. We had the same experiences in Italy, people stopping and asking us if we needed help. Maybe it happens more in other countries because people tend to learn and speak more than one language; it is the norm.
The classes at the Escuela Mexicana (language school) also included visits around the area to various historical places and cathedrals, as well as art museums (Diego Rivera, Diego's home). We went to see an old 16th century hacienda by the name of San Gabriel de Barrera which was owned by a wealthy silver-mining family, as well as the governor at one point. These were the days of the Barons and Baronesses. There was even a room for the priest which was situated between the Baron's bedroom and the Baroness's, and according to the tour guide, they had to get permission from the priest to have carnal visits. Since they were quite young, I imagined them sneaking around at night from chamber to chamber, or meeting elsewhere on this huge estate. There are now 17 formal gardens on the property, representing different countries. It was a fascinating visit and I have included photos of this property.
As I mentioned, lots of work is being done on our place. Both in our studio/pool/garden and a place down below us, we see the same manual labor that they have been doing for centuries, rather than using machinery like we are used to in the U.S. One funny/interesting thing we observed is that our workers delivered long pieces of rebar (40 ft.lengths), and instead of cutting them into smaller lengths or possibly damaging a door to get them into the pool area, they cut a 6 inch hole (!) in the wall to pass them through. Later they repaired the hole and stucco'ed over it. Similarly, we have watched guys building a house down the hill from us. They make holes in the finished walls to attach their scaffolding to the outside, then go back and fill in the holes afterwards. There were very windy conditions a couple of days with these guys working on the roof. They tied a loop of rope around their waists and continued on! It was fascinating watching them construct the boveda ceilings. As I have probably mentioned before, this very exacting and beautiful work with bricks is carried on for generations upon generations as a family skill. The ceilings are the vaulted kind, often with different brick designs, and are created without any forms underneath the bricks. The guys chip away at the new bricks prior to placing them on the structure to make sure they fit properly. No stone cutting fancy electric saw for them. They are much more exacting just chipping away with a trowel. EVERYTHING is done by hand, including mixing cement, sifting the sand and gravel to be used for the cement, hauling it bucket by bucket up a rope to the roof. There are some photos of this process as well in the GALLERY.
We are currently having our pool remade as it was cracked and unusable. The guys chipped away at the old structure, BY HAND, with a bara (bar). When the pool was finally poured, it took 14 guys carrying buckets of cement from the cement mixer in the studio, up the stairs to the pool deck and poured the pool and the surrounding deck in about 6 hours, trudging back and forth, back and forth. We had prepared to have a feast for them afterwards, but they all had other jobs to go to. They were each paid 500 pesos for their day's work (about $26.00 US for 6 hours of HARD labor). Our normal crew also dug out rocks and broke up cement and are building a stone wall out front, as well as a place for us to plant a bamboo screen. We decided we needed to be clearer about where our property line ends and the vecino (neighbor's) property begins as there was a slight problem in the neighborhood. A slightly senile abuelo (grandfather) of the family next door hired a kid to "clean up" the front of their casa, and next thing we knew, the sister of our housecleaner called and asked her to go outside our house. We all went and discovered that the pampas grasses (3-4 ft tall) had been destroyed, dug out, chopped up and put next to the neighborhood dumpster. We went to confront them (they also own a local tienda which we frequent a couple of times a week), and they chalked it up to "error" (roll your "r's!) or mistake. They blamed the neighborhood kid and said he thought it was weeds! The abuelo went to the dumpster, pulled out the grasses and tried to stuff them back into the barren holes, saying essentially, "just watch. They will grow back." Of course, that didn't happen! Anyway, not much to be done, and now we are re-landscaping. We had a stone wall put in, and we are planting bamboo as a border between our properties.
All last spring and this summer we have been spent building raised vegetable and flower beds surrounded by a brick patio, which we have laid by hand. HUGE task, but it has felt good to get physical again - until the aches and pains come along, but we have enjoyed the bounty. We raised strawberries, blackberries, two kinds of tomatoes (heirloom and roma), 4 kinds of beans, including French haricot green beans, and yellow wax beans, peas, carrots, summer and golden squash, and of course, garlic, 2 types of basil, dill, cilantro, and oregano. We have red potatoes in for the winter, and tried cabbage and cucumbers, but no luck yet. We had to smuggle seed packets in, as you can't find some of the seeds (or veggies!) down here. You would think they would sell acorn or butternut squash, but not so. We are re-learning how to garden again, making the usual beginner's mistakes of over-planting and over-crowding! But we've had great success growing lettuces (romaine and red leaf), as well as arugula, spinach and kale. We accidently encouraged a morning glory vine which apparently was a "volunteer" from soil we used. We built a kind of arbor between our boxes and the thing took over. Pretty, but it shaded our tomatoes too much. Again, photos are included.
Fiestas, Food and Fun
We have been meeting lots of people, both local, and other American and Canadian expats. Many people live here 6 months a year and go north during the summer when summers are their favorite times up there, but there are plenty of full-time residents like us. We've also been to two fiestas by locals where we were the only gringos. A couple of people at the parties spoke a little English, but primarily we have to get along with our Spanish. It is a great learning environment for us, and most people help us out. There was one party at the unfinished house behind us. The architect from Mexico City invited us and his family was there from all over the place, all 35 of them. When we arrived the abuela's (grandmothers) were sitting in front of giganto pots on the ground, with one stirring a huge quantity of homemade mole and in the other pot was 7 or 8 whole chickens in a broth over two burners. They also had homemade tortillas, a sheep on the grill, Mexican rice and beans. They loaded up our plates and wanted to heap more on for us to take home for the next day. Neither of us eat sheep, so we tried to politely decline that. Of course, there were all kinds of hot sauces and condiments and wonderful aromas in the air. The tequila was passed around along with cervezas, and the party went on long after we headed back up the hill, hearing laughter and music the rest of the evening. At another party for the aunt of a Mexican family we have gotten to know, we were dropped off on the street and guided up the callejones (alleys/staircases throughout town) by their 13 year-old daughter. We went in to find a couple of the relatives sitting at a loaded-down dining room table in the center of the room. We were invited to sit, then given chopping chores, as we all made guacamole, and condiments for the dinner. More and more people filled the room, and again, as the only gringos, we just learned to accommodate, and try to communicate as best we could. Mounds of food and everyone balancing their paper plates and horchatas (a non-alcoholic traditional beverage made with ground almonds, rice, and flavorings) or Coca-Colas on their laps. I love these gatherings and discovering new foods that I never had in Mexican restaurants in the US!
We also had a beautiful day at a friend's property in an area called Milagros. There was a town there at one point, but now only a lonely restaurant and a few houses. Our friend Gerardo bought property nearby and will build on it one day, but wanted us to go out to see it, and to hike around the area a little. Again photos included! It is a Mexico that you don't normally see, beautiful mountains in the distance, streams and a forest and acres and acres of land. The friend brought 2 other people in his vehicle and we followed him. We drove halfway to San Miguel de Allende and turned off on an unmarked road. The road went for ½ mile, then we started driving out across the land! I was a little shocked as I was driving and I thought, "Where the hell is he taking us?!?" We drove down culverts, through a herd or two of cattle, and finally got to this area under a huge oak tree. He got out and said, "There, isn't that a beautiful tree?? That is why I bought this property. I fell in love with the tree!" Ah Mexico and its people. We hiked through the nearby forest some, then Gerardo pulled the grating from an old grill out from behind a tree, set it on a firepit, and proceeded to bring food out of his car for a chicken fajita feast, along with a couple of bottles of wine, and homemade cookies that I made. A great time was had by all.
There have been numerous expat dinner parties that we have been invited to, an art opening with local music and theatrical performances, and from that gathering we met some musicians. We were then invited to their performances, including one that was cancelled and ended up in someone's house where there was dancing out on the terraces and patios, on three levels. Food from all over the world, since we are in an area of lots of people from all over the world, and multiple languages spoken. Again, it seems we have a more active social life than we have ever had in the past 25 years! We've ended up hosting dinner here, and there always seem to be an additional guest or five! I think part of it is the Mexican culture of many celebrations and everyone being invited, from kids, to cousins, to friends and neighbors, as well as people who have transplanted here, and reaching out a little more to strangers and other expats.
Every day in May is a Day to Celebrate here in Guanajuato: Dia de maestros (Teacher's day), taxistas (taxi drivers), obreros (construction workers), etc., and each group tries to outdo the others with small parades of drums and horns, Virgin de Guadalupe processionals, fake fireworks (only the bang, no lighting up the sky), and church bells with no rhyme or reason that we have come to understand, and believe me, we have asked! I took a writing class offered by a local writer, and one of the tasks was to write about the story behind the bells in GTO. There were some very creative souls in the group and we got quite a laugh out of the exercise. Now we have Halloween (celebrated more and more here in recent years), Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on the 1st, and All Saints Day on the 2nd. Fireworks started up last week for these events, and there will be parades, fiestas in the streets and plazas, the annual Katrina competition, sand paintings on some sidewalks, and a showing of altars, many in people's homes.
We have been busy with our pups/Frida and Charlie. As I have mentioned before, they are street dogs with a little bit of everything in them. Their mother was picked up off the street when she was about to give birth and she had five pups. They would have undoubtedly ended up on the streets if the woman hadn't found homes for them all. The mother was later poisoned by someone who tried to poison several dogs in the area. We also donated 1000 bricks to one of the local organizations that rescue street dogs. Corazon de Animales is a locally-owned non-profit organization run by a teacher after school, and her daughter. They have rescued hundreds of street dogs and keep them alive somehow on their own budget and from the kindness of fellow animal lovers. They also have fundraisers here and there, but the animals are ridiculously overcrowded (70 dogs the last time we went to visit), with 4-5 dogs in each enclosure, dirt floors (mud during rainy season), and no real space to run and play. The organization recently bought some land, but don't have the money to build on it yet. Ron has welded a couple of enclosure doors for them and we are helping in a few other ways, but most people have so little, that to give time or money to help dogs is not a priority. I believe they have a connection with someone in Canada, who helps the dogs find families up there.
And finally, we took a trip to Italy in September, one year after we had originally planned to go. We didn't go as planned as we had just purchased the house, and two weeks prior to leaving, we were robbed with the end result being that they cleaned out our Mexican bank account. Not a huge amount by American standards, but muchos muchos pesos down here. We mainly didn't feel comfortable leaving house/dog sitters at our place, still having furniture delivered and work being done, and we couldn't have enjoyed a trip abroad with all of that going on at home. So, we put it off for one year, and celebrated our 26th anniversary instead on the Amalfi Coast, sitting at the edge of the Mediterranean, eating prawns, mussels, and sipping limoncello after dinner. Our whole trip included Venice, Florence, where we enjoyed a cooking class, the coast, Rome and north of Rome to stay in a country home of friends, near the hilltop town of Greccio (founded in the 10th and 11th centuries) in the Province of Reiti. So we experienced life in the cities, the coast and the country. It was an incredible vacation and one that I will write about next time. I promise it won't be 8 months this time!
Adios and Ciao!
Vanessa & Ron
Happy New Year... a little late?!?
02 February 2016 | Guanajuato, Mexico
Well, it has been WAY TOO LONG since I wrote, which is due to us enjoying our lives here, and being muy ocupado (very busy), working on the house, continuing our Spanish classes, exploring the town and our surrounding neighborhood, and having friends and family visits. I end up writing often, but not posting it here, and then it seems that the news is too old to share. But I decided to sit down and at least get something online today. So I will chronicle my writings with dates.
November 10, 2015
Ron left this morning for a trek back to California and the Bay area. He is going to arrange the shipment of our last worldly goods from our storage unit, down to Guanajuato – not necessarily an easy task. After checking out a few options we decided to trust a moving company, Mexico Moving, to get our last remaining furniture, art, including some of Ron’s pieces that we will FINALLY get to display and enjoy in our own home(!) as well as dishes, and decorative items that we haven’t seen in 20 years. I am here by my lonesome for the next 12 days, reveling in it right now (I can eat all the homemade soups, stir-fried eggplant and other Chinese dishes, as well as poached eggs I want without hearing, “Oooh, yuck.”) Tonight I am making split pea soup and can’t wait to enjoy it! Don’t worry, he gets his time when I am gone, indulging in beef – steaks, burgers, and fast-food.
We have officially been in Mexico a little over two years now! We arrived in the beginning of November 2013. And we are still very happy with our decision to sail down here, although the end result – sailing around the world, or across to the South Pacific, didn’t pan out. Instead, we have settled in a place we never dreamed of settling. Not being in the US has meant many losses of one sort or the other. Not being able to see our friends as frequently as we used to, although that was often due to my friends being my colleagues and we would see each other at work and for lunches or dinners. Not watching American television in two years! Even though I have occasionally been able to stream something or other before being “caught” and informed that since I am not living in the US, I am not allowed to watch their programs – even with the safety of VPN’s (virtual private networks). They still manage to find me! Living without good crackers, sourdough breads, good wines, ground turkey or any turkey unless it is near Thanksgiving and you are in a larger metropolitan area; California farmer’s markets, gourmet foods and restaurants, although we are finding pockets here and there, it still ain’t the same… On the other hand, we have gained so much. The living is definitely at a slower (muy tranquilo) pace, and it is much, much cheaper here (today I walked down to the little neighborhood tienda for some garlic cloves and carrots. I paid 6 pesos for 2 huge fresh garlic bulbs. That is about 3 ½ cents US). I love the energy here, the colors of the houses and cathedrals, the fiestas, the celebration and openness to us joining in on such events. The noise of fireworks and church bells, the sights in open-air markets, and the even the smells in some situations no longer bother me. In some ways I prefer it over the sterile environments of the stores in the US, with everything so packaged and plastic-wrapped that it no longer resembles what the original product was! This area reminds me much more of the small outdoor markets in other countries throughout the world.
We had 13 ½ people here for Thanksgiving dinner. It was a multicultural dinner and I do mean multicultural. Since my annual trips home to Texas for Thanksgiving ended decades ago, I have always appreciated having a number of people share the meal and day together, the more the merrier, with new and old friends alike. And certainly having people you have never met adds a little spice to the mixture. This year our dinner party grew as new expats came to town, as well as visitors of friends from Boston and Washington. We had friends from Great Britain, a couple and their baby from New Zealand, local friends from Guanajuato and expats from Oregon, New Orleans and Vancouver. Our food reflected that diversity, with poblanos in cream sauce (rajas con crema), deviled eggs with an avocado mixture, my southern cornbread dressing in a turkey we roasted, and smoked turkey grilled on the upstairs terrace, stuffed jalapeños, a squash casserole, mashed potatoes, and sweet potato cream cheesecake with a bourbon molasses sauce. I’m sure I’m leaving out numerous items, but great fun was had by all!
January 2, 2016
Christmas came and went with both of us, as well as half the town coming down with a really bad cold, but no flu! We enjoyed watching our Poinsettia trees, yes trees, grow and change into flowering Christmas symbols at this time of year. We celebrated New Year’s Eve out with friends at a French restaurant in town, and in the general reveling in the streets. There was a Mexican band in the main plaza and an organized fireworks display, for the first time in the city’s history, which we enjoyed seeing from the terrace of our house.
Several people have asked us what our days are like here, now that we are no longer living on the boat, but living in an old colonial town, in a part of a neighborhood where we are the only gringos. I wake up in the mornings, and walk across the cool Mexican tiles, and during this season, Ron often already has a fire going in the main fireplace, conveniently located between our living room and dining room. We sit in the dining room, alternatively reading, catching up on email, watching and attending to the fire, and looking out over our view. We often go for a walk further up into the mountains, visiting our tiny “suburb” town of Valenciana, exploring new roads and pathways each day. Other days we attend school for two hours a day, increasing our language skills. We have planted house-warming gifts of papaya and other flowering tropical trees, palms, and succulents, and planning what we are going to do with our yard space.
We have slowly become used to the noises that used to bother us, but now have become faint background noise, mostly (!) including Mexican radio at 7:00 am from Jesús and Rafael and the guys building a stone house, stone by stone, hand over hand clinging to the hillside below us, after assuring us, “no problema, it won’t block your view, (in Español of course). We then begin to hear the large trucks and their airbrakes descending the road in front of our house, carrying ore down from the mines, mixed with the sounds of the burros and goats traversing on the same road making their daily deliveries of wood and dirt in bags, along with the trucks delivering gas, with their loudspeakers blaring the same tune, day after day. A neighbor on one side starts playing music, often American rock and roll, on the few days he is home each month, at 8 or 9 in the mornings – VERY LOUD, but this again, is the norm. It is so seldom that we don’t say anything, instead, choosing to keep the peace with the rest of his family. His wife (?) sets up her outside patio with pots and pans and tubs, selling streetside tacos and tortas.
Going into town for groceries or other errands allows us to practice our Spanish; unfortunately many Mexicans want to practice their English and come over to us to say hello, or where are you from? We end up responding in Spanish to them and they then respond in English. It becomes quite funny, but has been a great way to interact with strangers. I never met so many random people at a grocery store or restaurant in the US. We are continually amazed and charmed by this town.
Late afternoons we finish our homework from class, and then hang out in the yard or courtyard, watering our plants, watching our cats run around and hopping after grasshoppers. Our view of the sun setting in the mountains across the valley from us, the city lights twinkling in the distance, have made me want to not only write more, but to draw or paint – in pastels, or actually trying my hand at painting again. It is so beautiful, and so quiet and peaceful where we are.
We have also found that our neighbors watch out for us, stepping out in the evening and strolling down to watch our pampas grasses being planted, by the same guy who delivers our firewood and bags of planting soil (tierra) by burros. This guy saw Ron trying to dig up the large stones to plant the grasses and offered to help. He would not give us a price, but rather stated that we should give him what we think it is worth. Either he knows gringos pay more, or he wants future work. Last name of “Jardinero” or gardener. He ended up giving us 50 pesos back from what we paid him, saying “oh, no, that is too much.” We met the neighbors and their Chihuahua, the 12 or 13 year-old giggling at my poor Spanish until she could hold it back no more and burst into guffaws. Her little, adorable dark eyed sister, Fernanda and mother Marina speak no English, but communicated that they have lived in their place for many years along with generations of family members. Everyone is of course, shocked that we live in this muy bonita grande casa by ourselves, and it makes us somewhat self-conscious. But they also “own” our place in many ways, sharing their knowledge of its history, and showing pleasure in our plans to live here “forever.” Our house cleaner lives two doors down, her brother and his family next door, and our iron-worker three doors down (who is also related). It is a very family oriented neighborhood and people are protective of the place. Everyone walking by lets us know that what we are planting, pruning, or “improving,” like turning our driveway in to a cement and stone driveway rather than a river of mud when it rains, that they “approve” and it is “muy bonita.”
We finally put out a mailbox, which might seem weird after living in this house for three months, but you have to understand that mail is essentially non-existent. We found out from some friends visiting that there are three #7 houses on our stretch of road. We never know what our real address is, and the only mail that really gets delivered are the water and electricity bills – if you are lucky. The reason I say that is that they are never in an envelope, and the bill is stuck in or under a doorway of someone nearby if the company can’t figure out who it belongs to. We get mail for unknown people, pushed under the doorway to our courtyard, and often laying in a puddle of water by the time we find it. The other weirdness is that you have to go to the neighborhood OXO (like a 7/11 or local corner store in the US) to pay your bill, or to the company itself, not knowing what you owe or when to pay it!
February 2, 2016
I have been making dough from scratch, for muffins, pie crusts, and bread because I like to, but also it can be difficult to find. I hadn’t made pie crust but one or two times in my life. Now I can’t find frozen dough or frozen pie shells easily, so I am back to experimenting (at high altitude mind you), and finding that I actually enjoy the process mostly. I have had several very messy experiences, flinging flour and cookie dough around the kitchen, making dough by hand when I get frustrated with our mixer, but generally ending up with some really good outcomes. Okay, I did have a disaster trying to make some gluten-free peanut butter blossom cookies for a friend of ours. They became little inedible blackened crisp pancakes.
We have planted a small garden and are now harvesting lettuces, spinach, tomatoes and cilantro thus far. Even in January and February. Just wait until we put in our “cajas de verduras” (raised vegetable boxes/beds). We are very excited about this project and trying to find what will be the most cost effective. Wood seems to be more expensive here than stone, and since we are already a stone house, surrounded outside by stone walls, we would like a little softening of our outdoor space.
One of the joys we have found living here is becoming friends with the locals, rather than just hanging out with the expat community, which it seems many Americans and Canadians who have moved here tend to do. We have gone on hikes, out to dinners, lunches, and picnics, and driven around the area with our new friends, and just this weekend we were invited to a birthday party by a friend and his family. We met them down in town, parked our car and transferred to theirs, as parking is quite limited in their area, and climbed up the callejon (alleys, trails, and stairways) to the house of his hermana (sister). She was in her 60’s I would imagine, and when I asked how long she had lived in her house, she said “siempre” (always). Her parents (and likely family for several generations) had owned and then added on to their house, with sisters and brothers now living in houses side by side, as a family compound. It seems that we have found this to be the norm. The houses are attached by common walls, and you can actually walk from rooftop down to the next rooftop and so on, each with their own rooftop dog. The families live simply, in rooms stuffed with religious icons, LARGE nativity scenes occupying a kitchen counter, paintings, plants and lots of pictures of family. The plaster ceiling might be crumbling, the only toilet didn’t work, so there were buckets of water to pour in the tank, and way too many fabric covered chairs and couches filling a room, but the generosity was abundant. We all crowded around an already crowded table, squeezing in where we could, or balancing our plates on our laps, between cousins, aunts and uncles, enjoying the freshly made guacamole, grilled pork in adobo sauce, chicken tinga, roasted potatoes with garlic and hot peppers, rajas (those polanos and corn in cream sauce – heavenly!), hot-off-the-grill tacos, quesadillas, and tortilla chips, and of course, frijoles, rice and the ever-present Coca-cola. We were the only gringos, but were so welcomed by family and friends, and as usual, those who could speak some English wanted to practice with us, while we tried to understand the jokes and innuendos in their rapid Español. I began seeing our lives through their eyes, as the wealthy gringos who were recently able to buy a house here. But we seemed to also be accepted, and were even the brunt of a few shared jokes. They communicated that since we have a “grande” casa, the next fiesta would be at our house. I went along with it and said, “Si, no problema.” The aunt immediately came back with “Cuando?”(When?), and everyone laughed when I responded, “mañana a las dos (tomorrow at 2).” I realized once again, the privileges we take for granted, yet I feel so humbled by our experiences here. People have been so generous and kind, despite their lack of the wealth that we associate with “success,” inviting us into their homes, their families, and their private lives.
Finally, Ron and I are adding to our family. We are adopting some street pups. A woman in the nearby town of Santa Rosa had been watching a very pregnant street dog wandering around their tiny town for days. She could no longer deal with seeing this poor dog and took her in, despite already having 3 rescued dogs. The female had 5 puppies the next day, and we were told about this a few weeks later. We went up to see the pups and fell in love with all of them, but decided on a female and a male. They are only 7 weeks old right now, so we will get them when we return from our trip this week to see Ron’s mom in Colorado. We always had dogs prior to moving on to a boat, and now 20 years later, we have decided it is time to have dogs again. The cats won’t be too happy about it, but I am tired of seeing the many, many rooftop and street dogs, tired of carcasses in the streets. We can at least be a part of the solution. The woman is keeping the mother (and having her spayed!), and now looking for homes for the final three. Anyone need a dog?
Just a reminder to look at the accompanying photos. These are more street scenes of Guanajuato, some from our walks around our “hood” and Valenciana, as well as adventures out in the country. Enjoy, and look for some more in the next couple of weeks!
We Did WHAT?!?
29 September 2015 | Guanajuato, Mexico
So much time has passed and so much has happened. So I will try to make a long story short.
Well the big news is that we fell in love with Guanajuato, as we mentioned. AND we bought a house. We had been in GTO approximately 3 months, and we and the cats realized that we actually like living on land again. We like having toilets that flush without having to do 2-3 procedures (and later having to empty it somewhere), big rooms in which two people can pass each other without getting intimate, and I wanted a garden again. I want to get my hands in soil and smell the earth.
So we ended up looking at a number of places in GTO with the thought that we would split our time between here during the summer and hurricane season, and the coast during the winter months. We ended up not finding that ideal arrangement of a place that people would rent during our time away, but we could also have for our use whenever we need it. So we decided to sell our boat after much deliberation. We realized that we really DO NOT like the overnight passages. Some people do, and can do well and actually look forward to it, but most passages in Mexico up and down the west coast require at least one overnight to get to different areas, at least south of the Sea of Cortez. And the water is not as clear and comfortable as we thought it would be. AND it is unbearably hot on the coast during the summer. Anyway, we couldn’t afford both, and we really want to travel more to places inaccessible by water! It is easier to get people to cat sit/house sit when you are in a house, versus a boat. And we DO want to travel more, both back home, and to other countries. Having a house and boat tends to make you do one or the other and not have the freedom to explore this world more.
So we are good with our decision, particularly when we found “the place.” It is a larger house than we need, certainly, but hey, we have been aboard a 50’ boat for over 17 years! We are ready for a little space. We worked with a great real estate agent who goes above and beyond than anything we have experienced in the US. Of course, we haven’t bought a house in 20+ years, but this agent, Gerardo, has helped us open a bank account in Mexico, which we had been trying to do for over a year. He has helped with translation in numerous situations, and he is the very epitome of integrity. Funny and kind. Anyway, the first deal fell through, thank goodness (for numerous reasons) and the second deal went through. The place was well-priced, so much below what we could buy in the US, especially given our age and the difficulty people have buying a house when they have no employment. The interesting piece to all of this is that the place was built 30+ years ago, out of stone, cement and brick, but no one has lived in it for approximately 15 years, and the last owners cleared it out, I mean ALL lights, appliances, doors, plumbing fixtures, and in some places pipes! The woman who owned it was from San Francisco, and just never moved into it, and put it up for sale 6 months ago. It is a little out of town (about a mile) which is fine for us, but many gringos moving here prefer being in town. So we went to work getting the plumbing up and running, having a large propane gas tank put on the roof which is what people do here. We have had a great contractor and his worker and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have been able to move in yet. It is amazing to see how hard these guys work; to see workmen taking a 150 gallon propane tank up our stairs, then up a ladder to the roof. It was huge, and these guys worked diligently to get it up there. And the ladder they used was put together with pieces of madera (wood) that were likely scraps from everywhere around here. I wouldn’t climb one, but they seem to think nothing of it.
The house is a 3 bedroom, 3 ½ bath place with 15-18 foot tile and beam ceilings, and tiled floors. Lots of use of tiles in the kitchen and bathrooms as well. There are two chimineas, or fireplaces, one in our master suite. The bathtub in our suite is more the size of a pool! We would use half the water in town to fill it, so we are likely going to remodel that space. It already has a 4x5 foot shower in it, again with 15 foot ceilings! Many of the ceilings in the bedrooms are “boveda,” (arched brick ceilings), including the guest bathrooms. The house has lots of character and great views of a forested valley and the town of GTO beyond. We are up in the mountains, essentially. Did I mention it also has a pool? The pool needs some work (resealing it, and I would like to have it tiled). It also has a rooftop terrace that has a covered dining/entertainment area. We finally have a place that friends and family can come visit and not feel cramped. There is a rock wall around the property, so the place has a courtyard in front that also has room for 2-3 cars, and in the detached studio – for Ron – there is a large roll-away steel door that a giant truck could easily fit in. The landscaping is mature with bougainvillea, pine and ironwood trees, pomegranate and limes. I might want to add avocado and mango trees, and put in vegetable and flower gardens. There is a stone room beneath the house for storage for anything from tools to wine. I think of the place as Italian Renaissance, and Mexican with a little contemporary thrown it. I will include some photos of the place, both before and some photos of the transition.
Another synchronistic event was that the day we had our offer accepted, we returned to our rental house in GTO to an email stating that the VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner) we had rented in San Miguel de Allende for the months of August, September and October had been sold and that the new owners would not honor our rental contract. The guy was very apologetic, and offered to help us find a new place quickly – this was in July, mind you. So we had no place to go. The VRBO we were in in GTO ended up being a very negative experience, which is a whole other story, so we found a place to rent until our house was ready to move in. We talked with our real estate agent and he said that we could probably move in, depending on the closing, the first or second week of August. So everything was working out beautifully. I wrote the guy back and congratulated him on selling his home and informed him that we bought our own place! We really found after several trips to San Miguel, that we liked Guanajuato better – less expensive, more culturally interesting to us, the atmosphere of a University town, the fascinating winding streets and callejones, and less gringos!
So we have been on one long fun, but expensive buying expedition. When you move from a boat (with no furniture or appliances) to a place which is need of EVERYTHING, that becomes your job. We have been traveling to other nearby towns for appliances, mattresses, plumbing, hardware, etc. There is a Home Depot in Leon, two great consignment furniture stores and an ironworker in San Miguel de Allende, a wonderful cabinet maker in Dolores Hidalgo, mattresses in Irapuato! Every week we get calls from Spanish-speaking personnel setting up a delivery time. One day they called about delivering a “fundo” which means ranch, farm, or cover, or cover that has a fan or a fan, depending on who you consult - a neighbor, gringo or online dictionary. Anyway, we didn’t know what to expect. Turns out it was a cover for our outdoor grill – who knew?! Deliveries have been either spot-on on time, or even early. We haven’t experienced the stories of people never showing up or coming hours late. Well, okay, the carpenter for our doors was a few days late, but other than that…. Additionally we have had some time pressure to get the house ready. We have had an anniversary trip planned for a while to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary in Italy in September. Ron has never been and I have really wanted him to experience it, and cat/house sitters have been planning to come, even if we were staying in a VRBO, which was the original plan. We moved in Saturday, August 29th. The first night was a full moon, and the next night it rained and we lit a fire in the two-sided fireplace between the dining room and living room/open space. It was very beautiful and felt so peaceful and warm. We are very happy with the house and the way it is coming along. We like Guanajuato, and the people around us. We’ve met the neighbors, and the owners of a good restaurant about 4 doors down; past the “House of Laments!” A little bizarre. Everyone has been kind and helpful. One neighbor cleans houses and is helping us with this one. She has been wonderful and works so hard. It took us a while to come to a price, as I have never had anyone clean my house before, and she wanted me to tell her a price. She speaks no English, nor do any of the workers, so we are learning more every day. She finally gave me a quote for 5 hours of work, but ends up staying about 8 hours one day a week. I have tried to pay her more, particularly since we have had guests and the house hadn’t really been cleaned in years, but she absolutely refuses any propina (tip). For those of you in the US who have house cleaners, you would be amazed at the prices here. It is very difficult for me to know how little I pay her, and how hard she works, but I also know that this is the norm here.
WE'VE BEEN ROBBED!
Anyway, that is all the good news! Now for the not-so-good, sucky news. We were on the way to Home Depot, yet again, driving through a town between GTO and Leon. Ron wanted us to pull over and grab a quick breakfast sandwich at McDonald’s. We were the only people in the place and the only car in the parking lot, on a very busy highway. This was 9:00 am on Friday, August 28th. We had just ordered and the cleaning woman started talking to us rapidly in Spanish. Well, our Spanish still isn’t that good yet, and we didn’t understand until she pointed out at our car. We saw another car beside it, and a guy had apparently smashed in our window, reached in and stole Ron’s backpack. Well, he hit a gold mine! Ron had our banking info in it, which he had been meaning to leave at the house, but sometimes it is so hard to cash our own checks here – even in the Mexican bank where we have an account (!), that we carry that info in case we are in another branch of the bank in another town. That info has our signatures in it, and they also got our check book, so they immediately cashed about 8 or 9 checks, totaling $100,000 pesos. That is about $6000 in US dollars. They also got some loose keys to our house, a MAP with a photo of the house on it (!), which we have been giving out to these furniture delivery guys. And if that wasn’t enough, they got an extra key to our car! As well as about 5,000 pesos (around US $300). And Ron’s Kindle. A few other odds and ends. That is the bad part. The good part is that they did not get my purse, which they appeared to have missed. I had locked the car, and had the keys in my hand, but didn’t think we would be in there long enough for something like that to happen. My purse had my visa, all my identification, credit cards, cash, phone, etc., so that was a good thing. They also missed my iPad. We were so in shock that we didn’t call the bank immediately, plus we didn’t think they could cash our checks without verification from our bank manager. So we don’t know if someone in the bank was in on the deal or not. The police are investigating it, I guess. The employees at McDonald’s said this kind of thing has been happening frequently to them and the hotel next door. There were employees and guests outside the hotel when this happened. The employees said it is always the same car and method of smash and grab, and that the police haven’t done anything. But the police say the McD’s employees always claim nothing happened. So who knows? Maybe they feel threatened.
We have been to the police three times now, and to the bank a couple of times. The bank said the checks shouldn’t have been cashed without ID and my signature card on file. But they were. So they should reimburse us, it just hasn’t happened yet. Anyway, we have postponed our trip to Italy. Waaah. We just felt too stressed to do it, and needed to do so much to get the house ready for our catsitters.
FRIENDS & FAMILY - YEA!
The really positive side of our canceled trip to Italy was that we got to spend three weeks with friends from San Francisco, and then my sister and her husband, and their very funny and fully bilingual friends from Roatan, Honduras. The house is big enough for everyone, and we were able to continue to work on it as we enjoyed company and some sight-seeing. We have a restaurant a few doors down, and we are only a mile out of town, so we made lots of trips down to explore, eat out, and take side trips to San Miguel. The countryside is beautiful right now, with the record amount of rain that this area has gotten, so everywhere there are varying shades of green, wild flowers and flowering trees. It is stunning, and we are in mountain country at 7200 ft. altitude. Beautiful sunsets and skies which remind me of New Mexico. Pine trees and flowering cactus!
We have been in the house for about 4 weeks now. The original move-in date didn’t work so we rented a place for another month, and moved in the last few days of August. We couldn’t move in earlier as we had no appliances, doors on any rooms except our bathroom, faucet handles or shower heads, or lighting. We have since added a solar hot water system, added additional bars to the wrought iron fences to keep the cats in, installed two electric fences, added fencing to the upper outside terrace to keep the cats from getting to the electric fence or to the neighbors’ rooftops, outfitted three bedrooms, the living room, the sun room/office/media area, dining room and kitchen. And we have started adding plants to the courtyard and backyard. Hopefully the photos in the photo gallery will show some of the changes.
RENEWAL OF OUR VOWS
Ron suggested that since we weren’t going to Italy, and my sister Barbara and brother-in-law Dave were going to be here, that we should renew our marriage vows. Dave presided over our marriage 25 years ago, so we thought this would be fitting. We invited our real-estate agent and his girlfriend (who speaks no English), as we have become friends with them. He actually dropped all that he was doing when we were robbed and went to the police with us to help translate, then went to the bank with us to help with them as well. We also invited an American friend of ours who is from Taos, and a mutual friend from here in GTO. So the vows were repeated in Spanish, and we had lots of good food and wine and even danced a little. We haven’t had room to dance in a long time! It turned into a very magical evening, and we are glad that we stayed here rather than go to Italy, and that we got married in our new house, with some new and old friends and family. I’m also including some photos from that evening.
So that’s it for now. Like I said, the house is large, and there is always room for visitors - hint, hint. And I have been wondering about whether to keep up the blog, since it is the “Tale of Two Shadows,” and we are no longer sailing. I will let you know…
Abrazos and bezos (hugs and kisses),
Vanessa & Ron
Getting To Know Guanajuato
29 June 2015 | Guanajuato, Mexico
Hi there! We have been in Guanajuato for two months now, and been busier than we could have imagined on most days, between exploring the town (on foot), and Spanish classes and meeting people, I haven’t had much time to write. Today we returned from a walk to the little tiendas nearby, one for fruit and vegies, one for tortillas, and one for some newspapers to help start a fire in the fireplace. It has been rather cool and rainy lately, more days than not for the past two weeks, as the rainy season has begun. The tortillas are for tacos we are making tonight, and were freshly made and warm. A half-kilo (1 lb) cost 6 pesos, or about 3-4 cents U.S. For a pound! We actually spent 14 pesos and got a cup full of their homemade salsa to go with our tacos; so a whopping 9 cents. We are continually amazed by the prices here in the central part of Mexico, not so in the coastal resort towns.
We have also found ourselves adapting to the local hours of comida; hours of eating. Breakfast is usually light and before our Spanish classes (10-1:00). Then we walk around a little in town, run errands, and find a place for our main meal of the day (Comida). That is often eaten between 2-4pm and is usually large, including a soup or salad, main plate, and a light dessert. Ron and I have found that we can still easily split this meal, which is often under $9-10 dollars US. Then we have a lighter dinner at around 7 or 8, if we eat at all at night. The other night we picked up two small chicken tacos, and two small cheese enchiladas from a neighbor who sets up a stand outside her door on the weekend evenings. They were snack size for dinner and cost us a total of 20 pesos (they were actually 15, but I tipped her 5 pesos), which comes to $1.30 US. That was our dinner!
The Spanish school has been great here. Escuela Mexicana, is in an old colonial building in the historic area of Guanajuato. We get to choose our class schedule and they are quite good at placing you in the right level for your skills. They also plan at least three additional classes outside the school each week, expanding our cultural knowledge and experience. One day we went to a coffee shop, ordered our drinks and played a board game, all in español. We have also taken cooking classes at the school, one day making chili relleños, another Pozole Verde soup. Both were delicioso and we have made the pozole on our own. I had never eaten it until we shared a meal after the class. We also took an all-day Saturday trip to a prehispanic Mesoamerican archaeological site by the name of Peralta, which was fascinating, as well as visiting a tequila fabrica (factory). The site was settled around 100 A.D., and still contains 2-3 pyramids. The tequila factory was the Tequilera Corralejo factory. It is actually an old hacienda and the birthplace of Father Miguel Hidalgo, the main leader in the Spanish Revolution against Spain in 1810. The grounds and buildings were beautifully restored with colorful old tiles, and lots of trees and flowering shrubs on the property. The owner of the tequila hacienda is a collector of EVERYTHING, including antique typewriters, sewing machines, movie posters, radios, wines and liqueurs, canned drink and juice cans from around the world. That in itself was worth the visit. I have included photos of this fascinating day. You will see that old bottles were used in the walls and ceilings to make patterns and allow natural light to flow into the interior spaces. That is one thing I so appreciate about Mexico: the appreciation, attention, and creativity put into most buildings, casas, sidewalks, pathways, and stone walls. We have been told by many people that the masons are given permission to use their own creativity in their work, so that each “piece,” house, etc., becomes a work of art. They even give out free paint to the owners of buildings or houses in the Historic Centro areas of Guanajuato, so that they will continue the theme of colorful houses that attract the tourists.
One of the best parts of that day is that a student didn’t show up even though he had signed up and paid, so the “chofer” (driver) had only Ron and me in his car. As we were driving through town he pulled over and picked up a woman and young girl (13 yr-old). He didn’t say anything about it, and we were both silently wondering what the deal was, but he finally said that we were dropping off the young girl at her gymnasium (again, all in Spanish), and that she was his daughter. His wife stayed in the car and we finally communicated enough to understand that she was going with us on the tour. This is one of those things that would NEVER happen in the U.S. She had never seen these ruins and wanted to go, and it turns out the driver, Hector, had never been there either, even though he indicated he had. (See # 3 in Lessons Learned). We really enjoyed the two of them and stopped for lunch at a buffet restaurant, buying their lunch and ours for approximately $5.50 U.S., and this was a huge buffet! Anyway, Hector and Patricia have become friends of ours and we have shared other meals with them since, having them and their daughter, Amber, a budding gymnast and veterinarian, to dinner at our place. Hector speaks some English – probably more than he lets on, but encourages us to speak Spanish, “NO! Tell me in Spanish!” His wife and daughter really don’t speak English at all, but we all get along well. We seem to run into them in town all the time, greeting each other with hugs and cheek kisses, the norm here in Mexico. We have also met a group of expats, sharing a dinner or lunch here and there, and look forward to meeting more people in general.
I think I mentioned the callejónes (steeply slanted alley/stairway) that we walk to get into down. I counted one day, and there are 300 steps down AND UP, not including 10 - 12 ramps with at least a 30% slant. We have both lost weight, just from walking around this town, and feel our legs getting stronger every day. We don’t climb back up the steps every day, as they start getting to my new knee, and the other one from trying to compensate, and the taxi is only 40-45 pesos ($2.50 – 2.90). We have really fallen in love with this town, especially now, after finding a genuine French bakery, health food stores, a lavanderia which will wash, dry and fold our clothes for less than $7.00, and a tailor, who is also very reasonable.
Never leave the wheelbarrow on the callejóne parallel to the slope with anything heavy in it. Ron picked up two 5-gallon bottles of water (used for drinking as the municipal water is not potable/drinkable). He parked the wheelbarrow outside our gate, and picked up one jug to bring in. At that moment the wheelbarrow tipped over, the other 5-gallon jug rolled out and began its cavorting, bouncing, rolling and bumping journey down the callejone, like a giant bowling ball, searching out people-sized pins to knock down and children to flatten. Ron tossed the other jug to me, and took off after the bowling ball jug. Three little viceno (neighbor) girls and boys burst out in laughter and giggles to see the gringo spectacle. Luckily no one was hit, and the jug finally bounced up against a stone wall and busted, water gushing out until it was depleted. Ron came back up the alley with his head down, and cursing slightly. I glanced over at the children with their wide brown eyes and I said, “muy divertida, sí?” (Very funny, yes?) but they just stared at me, knowing that he was not happy. I tried to get them to smile, but I think they knew better than to do that. They are really adorable kids, who find great fun playing with a plastic bowl, and plastic step turned upside down on their heads, which they use as the bull in their games of chase. These kids have nothing, but their parents are very loving with them, very attentive, and braid their beautiful thick black hair in the most intricate patterns imaginable. They are always smiling… except when the gringos are upset.
Ask when you rent an Airbnb or a VRBO whether they have a door on the bathroom, or water features inside the house when it rains, at least here in Mexico. I actually think the house we rented is not the norm, but no, we don’t have a door, we have a curtain across the bathroom doorway, making for little privacy, particularly when we have company. And the dining room develops 5-6 rainspouts during heavy rains, which we discovered happen daily in the rainy season here. We don’t mind the rains, but we do mind having to move the dining table out of the room every evening. However, I must say, the thunderstorms with their accompanying lightning have been spectacular. Not nearly as scary as when we are on the boat, with two big aluminum lightning rods (also called masts) sticking up in the air!
It is not uncommon for Mexicans to avoid telling you “negative” things. We had read this in a book by an American recently (a great book by the name of “This is Mexico: Tales of Culture and Other Complications,”) and we have since found this out on our own. It is not common for them to criticize each other or you, particularly if they are working for you or hold you in a position of authority in some way. When we asked the driver of our tour (to the ruins) whether he had been there before, he enthusiastically said, “Oh, sí!,” but when we actually found the place after he had to ask a few people on the streets for directions, he said he had never been there before. That is just one example of us experiencing this phenomenon. Sometimes we just get very vague responses. We are so used to being straight with others, I’m sure we seem a little confrontational or harsh at times. We are learning, and that is what this life is about, huh?
Relationships are relationships are relationships. There is less of a fine line between “business” relationships and friendships. Maybe this is more common in the smaller towns and cities, and not so in Mexico City; I don’t know. But I do know that asking about family, giving and receiving hugs from a doctor, or a teacher, and others is the norm. it is something that I used to hear from my Spanish-speaking colleagues, about therapy being a little different with people from Mexico, and other Latin-American and South American countries, and here (as in Mazatlán), I have experienced this on my own. You don’t just jump in immediately and address the business at hand, you get to know the person on a different level. And I really like that.
Well, I think that is it for now. The cats are continuing to enjoy their life “in the wilds” of the courtyard. Jackson climbed a tree for the first time in his life, then panicked as he had no idea how to get down. They have also become fond of butterflies, moths, and a hammock. We tossed them in it one day, and they seemed to enjoy it, and now we find then jumping up on it various time of the day, and hanging out there.
I hope to add another post soon, with another important event in our lives, but we are on hold about that right now. I will let you know!
Con mucho amor,
Vanessa Y Ron
Adding Two New Galleries
16 May 2015 | Guanajuato, Mexico
Just a quick note to let you know that I added two new photo galleries. One is From Mazatlán to Guanajuato, which has a few shots of iguanas, and our packing and drive to Guanajuato. The other includes Street Scenes from the interestingly beautiful town of Guanajuato.
Changes in Altitude, Changes in Attitude
05 May 2015 | Guanajuato, Mexico
Lots has been happening for us, thus the lack of a blog entry. Too busy living life down here! Since my last entry in which I mentioned that Ron and I both survived our hospitalizations, I had yet another birthday, Ron went to Colorado for his Aunt's funeral, and I had several weeks of physical therapy on my knee and am still healing. We have also now been in Guanajuato for three days in a VRBO that we rented for 3 months. It is our way to further explore Mexico, but additionally to escape the heat of the coastal summers down here. The trip was interesting to say the least, as was getting the boat ready for storing it "on the hard" in a boatyard for 6 months. I will fill you in on all that later in this entry.
We experienced a very frightening episode with Ron when we ended up hospitalizing him. As I mentioned before, we both periodically had gastrointestinal ordeals, which seems to happen more regularly down here. Even though we try to take precautions, as we have discovered, you can only do your best. We have continued eating out in restaurants, and occasionally eating some of the street food (at taco stands), but the sanitary conditions just aren't the same as the U.S. That means if you bathe, brush your teeth, and eat salads, or uncooked ingredients, then you inadvertently expose yourself to bacterial infections. We have probably gained some immunity in the 1 ½ years we have been here, but still.... So what we understand is that Ron never came out of the fatigue, diarrhea, nausea, shakiness, and lack of appetite that he had in his last gastrointestinal bout during the holidays. He went to 2-3 doctors and was given antibiotics and Vermox (kills parasites), but they had only run stool sample tests and really didn't find anything wrong. He would not feel like eating, wanted a morning nap and an afternoon nap, and the only thing that ever sounded good was ice cream and a drink or wine in the evening. Well, his liver became inflamed, which we didn't know, and couldn't process the sugar anymore. He became lethargic and confused, and I kept saying "something is WRONG! This isn't like you." But he thought he just hadn't gotten "over" the gastrointestinal stuff. Finally, as I mentioned, he was to fly to Colorado to see his Aunt Rita in her last few days, but two days prior, I said that I didn't care what he thought, I was taking him to the hospital. I packed a few clothes, and dragged him to the car. On the way to the hospital, he asked me if "they have turned on the sirens yet?" That really freaked me out, as I clearly knew he was in a delusional state at that point. To make a long story short, he went directly into the emergency room, and they admitted him. His blood pressure was a little elevated, and the rest of his vitals seemed okay, but the ER doc knew pretty quickly that his liver was not doing well. Tests confirmed it. His triglycerides were at 1770, when they should be no more than 150 or so. He was off the charts and had peanut butter for blood; it was that thick and sludgy. Turns out he had Acute Hepatitis, but not the viral kind (A, B, or C). His liver had just become inflamed because of poor eating habits and too much sugar. They kept him 2 ½ days and pumped him full of good vitamins and antibiotics. Four days after his release his blood pressure was low, and his triglycerides were at 83. The doc said he was a "miracle," to have gotten better so quickly. We have him on a better diet, well, us both, and no alcohol for a month. He has a little wine now, but overall, no processed foods and keeping away from the sugar. More veggies and fruits is the key, and minimal amounts of protein, at least for now. You know, basically eating the way we all should!
One little story about my drive home from visiting Ron one day in the hospital. I was heading to our boat in La Cruz, and within one 5-minute period of time, I came upon a campesino (a peasant farmer, the ones with the big straw hats) on a horse, guiding another horse down the side of the road, as well as "Juan de Semilla de Tomate"(Johnny Tomato-Seed). The highway is the main thoroughfare (4 lanes, divided with a median that is planted with palm trees from PV to La Cruz). "Juan de Semilla de Tomate" was this guy in the back of an old open produce pick-up truck, and as we were making our way across a long bridge over a river and low lands, he would occasionally toss a tomato from one of the many crates he was sitting on, over the side of the bridge. He had the biggest grin on his face. I'm not sure why or what he was doing, except spreading his little tomato seeds throughout the river valley. Thus the name I gave him. I continue to be astounded and pleasantly surprised by the sights I see down here.
Back North to Mazatlán
In mid-April we returned to El Cid marina in Mazatlán, having a successful motor sail up the coast. Ron returned from Colorado the last day in March, missing my birthday, but making up for it when he returned. Anytime one of us, or friends and relatives, come back from the U.S., we/they load their bags up with items that we can't get here (dozens of bags of cat treats, cough syrup, Advil PM), with the priorities being boat parts (!), but he also bought some delicious loaves of banana bread and chocolate chip cookies that his mom always makes for us. (They both make the passages a little more enjoyable!). He also brought me two pairs of shoes, one pair that I knew about, and a pair of Keens as a birthday (BD) gift, as well as new Mac laptops for each of us! His computer had died completely right before he left. Mine was a complete BD surprise! Ron has rarely been able to surprise me, but he certainly did this time. He was a little nervous that they might stop him at customs for bringing over electronics to sell, since we as temporary residents, are not allowed to make money in Mexico, but no problema!
Anyway, once he was home, we did last minutes provisioning, picking up pizzas, snack bars, fruit; all easy items to eat underway. I finished up my physical therapy, and we picked out a weather window to leave. We headed out first to an anchorage two hours away, mainly to get in motion again, so that we and the cats could start getting our sea legs. They got sick of course, and stayed sick for a lot of this trip, including during the overnight part of it. We did a one day sail, to an anchorage near San Blas, which we have stayed in before, and then left there for an overnight (26 hours) sail into Mazatlán, arriving unfortunately before daylight which meant we had to slow down, and meander a little before we could enter the channel, and finally into El Cid marina, exhausted from not enough sleep, and rolly big seas (6' rollers parallel to the boat, which makes you go side-to-side for hours). But it was great getting there as several friends we had met previously on our other two times there, came out to grab our lines and to greet us, saying "Welcome home." That felt good. Also, be sure to look at the photos of the iguanas (once I post them!) They hang out at the pool area at the marina/resort, entertaining the guests by stealing their food when they aren't looking, climbing on to the lounge chairs poolside.
Ron's brother Tom, sent us an email not long after we arrived and had been reading a book by Yvonne Chouinard, a famous mountaineer, philanthropist, and founder of Patagonia (clothing and gear manufacturer). The book is 180 Degrees South: Conquerors of the Useless. In recreating his first trip to Patagonia, one of his partners signed on to help a sailing ship/crew in exchange for a ride south from Ventura, CA to the southern end of South America. There was "passage about a passage," and Tom forwarded it to share with us. (He is considering coming down to help us with a crossing/passage at some point). I think this so aptly describes our experience at times:
Crossings are like jail time, only prettier. They alternate between extremely boring and absolutely terrifying. In some ways they are worse than jail: fewer people to talk to, less space to move around in, and your world is in constant movement, 24/7. It never stops: not while you pee, brush your teeth, eat lunch, fix dinner, or shuffle from one small area of the boat to another. Bouncing, rolling, lurching, slamming, rocking - it never stops. You can only tell or listen to so many stories, read so many books, watch so many videos, listen to so many songs. Eventually you just sit there and stare at the same things you've been staring at for how many days you care not to remember. But you do know, down to the hour, when you think you will hit land. And all you can think about is that day: the day you get out.
I remember at one point on this passage when I thought, "I can't stand this one more moment!" It was quite hot, with 85 percent humidity, temps in the 90's. Our breeze was coming from behind, meaning, it felt like no wind, still as can be. The sun was beaming down on us, at such an angle, that our overhead bimini was doing no good, and the four of us were squeezing ourselves into the only square foot of shade we had, making us sweaty AND hairy!
Another segment from that book is the following, also very true to our experience:
Then again, there are those moments, the reasons I subject myself to such abuse. The nights alone at the helm, sitting under the stars, thinking about life, the world, the universe. Or, after having endured the crossing, you set foot on foreign land and have earned it, much more than if you had taken a commercial flight to get there. You see things you never would have seen had you not sailed there.
Leaving Our Home of 16 Years for a Summer in the Mountains!
I previously mentioned some of the details of what needs to be done to put the boat on the hard. We had two weeks to do that work before our "haul out" date on April 29th. We had reservations for the place in Guanajuato for May 1st, so we needed to haul out and have at least one day in the boatyard to finish up some of the things that can't be done when you are in the water. Like putting stuffing in all of the thru-hull openings (where the sinks drain out into the water, pumps and the engine discharge water, etc.). Any opening like that has to be stuffed with something that will not allow dirt-dobbers, bees, wasps, or birds to build nests. You also have to cover any openings above on decks for the same reasons, so we have aluminum foil and tape over all of the winches and other openings. Additionally, we had to buy material to cover the dorades, to keep birds from flying down inside the boat. We had a vague address for a fabric store, but couldn't find it. I parked on a street and Ron went to a mini-bed, bath and beyond (similar to such a store in the US, but not part of the chain, and very tiny), and he looked in the window to see if it was the fabric store. Nope, but the woman came running out to ask him what he needed and then to describe to him where the store with material was. He went in and found he didn't have the Spanish to ask for a netting of some sort. Actually you have to buy bridal veil to be able to allow air to go into the boat. I guess he engaged several customers and they finally figured it out. I was outside in the car with the cats, as we had just taken them to the vet for yearly shots. The fabric ended up costing $0.80 (US equivalent) for several yards, enough to cover all of our openings.
We also had to prepare the car for the trip. I meant to take photos of the final load, but we had probably 6 medium and large bins filled with food, vitamins, medications, clothing, cat supplies, office supplies, as well as several large bags and luggage, a cooler with cold refrigerated food, a cat litter box, two folding carts, bottled waters, car repair tools, space for the cats so they would not have to be in their carriers for the 9+ hour drive from Mazatlan to Guanajuato, which is northeast of Mexico City, at an elevation of close to 7000 ft. The car was LOADED, and Ron only had a little space for his feet. I drove, as I am a terrible back seat driver, and sometimes a control freak! Shocked, right?
A day or so before we hauled the boat I met the couple renting us their house, Rachel and Adam, from Guanajuato as they happened to be traveling through town in their 1969 VW van on their way over to the Baja peninsula (by ferry) and on back up to the States and to Canada, where they stay during the summer. They are a lovely couple and we had a pleasant visit while having breakfast outdoors on the Plaza Machado in Mazatlan, after having some difficulty finding a time to meet. They don't carry cell phones, so all communication was online, which to me seems even more complicated in this day and age. Anyway, they gave me keys and drew me a map of how to get to their house, as Guanajuato is a VERY complicated town in which to maneuver, built in and up the sides of a canyon. The roads go under the town in places, are very tiny in other places, and only wide enough for one car, or just a burro. They are cobblestone or brick, and some abruptly end in stairs! So a map was essential.
After meeting Rachel and Adam, I walked a couple of streets over to catch the bus back to the marina. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I always write about these positive experiences we have had here in Mexico, dealing with locals who have been so helpful and friendly. Well, I had an experience that informed me, rather painfully (!) that I need Spanish classes again, and that I can't always depend on the friendliness of strangers. I found the bus stop at the mercado, leaned into one of the "verde" buses, and asked the driver whether they were going to "El Cid Marina." The night before we had been out and we had taken a different bus from our usual one, and Ron told me that he had taken this other one before, and it took us to our marina as well. Well, this was clearly NOT the same bus, although the driver nodded yes, twice when I inquired twice, that he was going to be going there. Well, it seemed like a circuitous route, but I thought, oh, well, I'm seeing some different sites and streets.... how interesting. Finally, it got to the last drop off and the driver turned around and "lectured" me in español, most of which was too fast for me to understand. He then proceeded to the end of the line, parked alongside 4-5 other buses in a dirt parking lot 1+ miles down an undeveloped road past the big mall here. I told him I was sorry, that I thought he had agreed that he was going past El Cid, and then he said, this is El Cid calle (street). I said, "You mean I have to walk, because there are no taxis out here." (in Spanish). He nodded, shrugged his shoulders and sat there. I tried to show him my new knee scar, to no avail (!) so I then got off the bus and trudged down the road! I heard some laughing behind me from the other bus drivers. I was quite bummed and pissed off that my Spanish wasn't any better. Never really felt in danger, but this was SO different from my usual experience down here. I wanted enough Spanish to be able to say, "This was wrong of you, Señor!" But then again, I am the visitor here.
So we got the boat hauled just fine, although it was a scary process as the current and winds were against us, and we had to throw our lines up to workers on the sides along where the travel lift runs. That means throwing the lines up from the boat to about 10 feet above us while a dinghy or two were helping push the bow of the boat into proper position. We had some friends onboard to help, and survived. I then had to stay on the boat to keep the cats calm as the boat was lifted into the air, all 22 tons of it, and driven to a spot for storage. It was very loud down below, with the boat creaking and the cats freaking. Then for the next two days there was the climb up and down a 12 -14 foot shaky ladder to go to the showers or bathroom, and sometimes in the dark!
The Boring, yet Harrowing Drive to Guanajuato
We left fairly early from the boat on May 1st to drive the 9 hours to Guanajuato. This was my first time to drive the highways and toll roads inland in Mexico. The roads were in much better condition than we thought, and we began climbing fairly soon out of Mazatlán through high country scrublands, covered with cacti, cattle, and small towns with campesinos walking about. Before or after many towns, people would be out waving us over to buy dried or barbequed shrimp, fresh mangoes (tons of mango groves), pineapples, and other fruits. I can't imagine standing in the sun along a highway all day long, waving people down. Very hard work. We continued to climb in altitude and began seeing fields of blue agave plants - similar to an aloe vera plant to me, if you have never seen them, although they are apparently related to the lily and amaryllis. They grow in cactus-like environments, but are not cactus. The blue agave has a life-span of 7-15 years, stands 4-5 ft. tall, and has a diameter of 3-4 ft. They were in abundance as we passed the town of Tequila, surprise, surprise, as that is why this plant is harvested. Ron saw a worker out with a small bundle of the "pups" which resemble pineapples. This is what they make the tequila from, and the workers work out in the hot sun, collecting hundreds of these per day, without damaging the mother plant. Much of these are grown in the Mexican state of Jalisco, which brings me to the other thing that Jalisco is famous for - the large drug cartel operating in the area.
Around 1:30 pm that day we had passed through the town of Tepic, and driven for about 10 minutes, when we saw another line of cars ahead, but really long for a regular toll booth. (BTW, our total cost for tolls from Mazatlán to Guanajuato was 1271 pesos ($82 US equivalent), which seemed like a lot to me. Every toll booth charged different prices, some as low as $5, and some up to $20, without much rhyme or reason to our understanding of things.) We couldn't see around the jumble of vehicles to figure out what was going on, but we finally made it past the long line of standing buses and trucks, passing people squatting in the shade cast by their trucks, eating their lunches or just chatting, or under the few shade trees scattered about. We then began seeing a large number of federales and military vehicles and trucks. Every car was pulled over and asked where they were going. We told the officer "Guanajuato" which meant passing through Guadalajara, and he just shook his head and told us "No passa." Which I guess was his way of saying "You can't pass" in his broken English. We were then told in Spanish, that there was a shoot-out up ahead, and that the highway was closed in both directions, and that we couldn't go through until "posiblemente en una hora, o en un dÍa," which is possibly in one hour or one day!
We turned around and decided we would return to Tepic, rather than wait in the heat with the cats, and with our air conditioning not exactly working up to speed. We found a place called the "Paraiso" motel, after passing up a few motels that were highly questionable, meaning, they rent them by the hour. With cats, we couldn't go to a Hotel, nor could we find one easily with our GPS or Yelp, so imagine a 50's motor court motel with a pool in the middle. Unfortunately our room also came with the additional challenge of problematic air conditioning, even in our "deluxe" room. Deluxe in this case translates to the room having a fan AND an air conditioner, however, I sat in the car and watched Ron through the door of the room directing the remote at the air conditioner on the ceiling, pointing this way and that, with no luck. He then had to enlist the help of the woman back at the office to come help him. She and he stood in our deluxe room, looking up, pointing again to no avail. They then left, returning with one of the maids, who saved the day with a "bucketa," a bucket that she overturned and stood on. She asked if we wanted to keep the bucketa in case we needed it. Ron and I then made the executive decision that we wanted a different room. We finally settled into a room with construction going on next door, however that ended by 7:00pm. I will include some photos of the room. Some of the wiring was a little scary and I refused to use the funky shower. There was a cement half wall in the middle of the room, for some reason, and a cement bench along one wall. Not the most comfy spot, but it worked for one night.
I tried to find out something about the "gun battle" but had no luck with the TV or wifi in our room. We ended the evening going to the motel restaurant, which was the first restaurant that I think we have been to where there is no menu, but they tell you what you can have out of 3 or 4 choices. They had chicken on the grill right in the open air seating area and were making fresh tortillas. So we got half of a chicken each, rice, salad and fresh tortillas, as well as a drink each for a total of US $17.00, or 8.50 each, including tip. Not bad! We were getting into cheaper food prices, which we have heard about since coming down to Mexico, but not always experienced in some of the more touristy areas.
The next day we left early and passed through where the roadblock area. We got a call while on the road from a British friend of ours who had heard on the BBC news about the violence the day before in Jalisco. Apparently a "New Generation" cartel is wanting to show its muscle and began burning cars, gas stations and banks in an area from near Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta, even shooting down a military helicopter! Apparently the military were putting up roadblocks throughout Jalisco state, and that is what we got caught up in. At least we weren't stopped by one of the cartel road blocks, which we have also heard about. We saw no other signs of problems on our way to Guadalajara, but saw many many military vehicles carrying armed men with machine guns. I even saw two camouflaged container trucks! That was a first for me. Obviously the camouflage didn't work!
So we made it in to Guanajuato by 1:45 in the afternoon, and were again stopped at the entrance to town by the militia. They were pulling over random cars this time, and we were one of those. We thought for sure we were going to be searched, and I began the conversation telling him that I could only open the window (ventana) so far because of the gatos! Samantha was trying madly to get in to the front seat to say hello, and to sniff his nose, which is her way to greet others. The guy spoke no English, so he called someone else over, who was as smiley and friendly as could be! He asked where we were going, and when we showed him our little hand drawn map, he told us it was very complicado, and gave us a tourist map and directed us how to get to the right area of town. He then asked for a little "propina" (tip) for the map, and wished us a good visit. Very kind and helpful and had a good sense of humor.
We made it up to the house in about 10 minutes from there, and I will include photos of the skinny drive toward the end. This is NOT the driveway to the house, but the street we had to drive in on, surrounded by 15-20 foot stucco or concrete and stone walls, with the side mirrors on the truck folded in, and maybe 6-10 inches clearance on each side of the car. Ron got out and directed me, particularly when I had to make a 90 degree turn in to the parking space behind a big metal gate that hinged open. Our view up here is incredible, as you can see from the photo, but we are at approximately 7000 ft., and we all initially experienced a little altitude reaction, particularly coming from 16 years living at sea level!
We have now been here for three days, and much to our surprise, the cats have adjusted marvelously.
There are 4 levels to the house, and the cats think they are on a really big boat, getting to run up and down stairs, as well as enjoying the cool tile floors, and the outdoors! Temps at night are great, down to upper 50's, lower 60's. We wear sweaters and socks in the mornings when we get up, but have shed them by 10 or 11. Today Ron put on jeans for the first time since we have been in Mexico I think. It was strange seeing him in long pants again! Days warm up into the mid-80's, and May is supposed to be the driest month here. Boy, our skin has dried up! The next couple of months are to see a little more moisture, but similar temps.
The first night we arrived we were greeted with fireworks until 9:00 am the next morning! Throughout the night! This of course started all the dogs barking and howling, rounding out our nighttime cacophony of sounds. The celebration was apparently due to a 3 or 4-day celebration of May Day and Cinco de Mayo. Today is the official day, but we haven't heard any fireworks or music as of yet. On the positive side, there has been great music flowing through the house. We are at an elevation that overlooks the town and we keep windows and doors open for the breeze, and of course, the music during this celebratory time for Mexico. At times it has been quite loud, but it is part of the experience, part of this adventure, and you just have to accept it and enjoy. We really love the variety of instruments we can hear, and how much live music there is. This is also the town where the University students have occasional "party" parades up and down the alleyways, playing music, singing and partying away. We have yet to see that.
As I've said before, Guanajuato is a really old colonial town, with a large university population, tons of old churches, and even a Mummy museum. We plan to explore a lot, as soon as we get our high-altitude legs working. We went down the mountainside that we are on the 2nd day we were here, using one of the many alleyways composed of uneven and sometimes crumbling stairs to get to the historic centro district. It is easy to get lost in this maze of small streets and callejónes (alleys). Our only mistake was accidently walking into someone's private courtyard and casa when I thought it was part of the alleyway! They quickly informed us "No, No," with a shake of their fingers, and then got a good laugh at our embarrassment! We profusely apologized, and that we are just confused gringos! They were setting up for a party and had made their place quite festive with balloons and streamers. We then explored a little and went to a restaurant. My legs were shaking by the time I got down to town on the hundreds of steps, and we had to taxi back up. The taxi driver drove at break-neck speed through the tunnels and skinny windy streets, scaring the you-know-what out of us!
Then yesterday we stayed in our barrio (neighborhood), and walked around to see what we can buy in terms of food or other items nearby. We managed to get some boneless chicken breasts from a little butcher shop, and then went into a tienda for 2 beautiful mangoes, 2 yummy avocados, a package of paper towels, a big bag of fresh strawberries, and 4 containers of yogurt, all for less than $4.50 US, and then had lunch at a little mom and pop "restaurant" which was in their patio area with two plastic tables and chairs. There Ron had 3 pork tacos "al pastor" and I got a chicken breast, rice, beans, salad, and fresh tortillas, all for $4.05 U.S. equivalent. They were delicious and we had no gastrointestinal reactions at all! This, as I said, was all within a block or two. There is also a small pharmacy although I doubt they have much, a couple of small fruit and vegetable stores, and a chicken roasting place. The place we are staying at has an organic garden, full of baby arugula right now, which made a great salad last night with what we had bought. They also have fruit trees, including fig, orange, avocado, mango (not quite ripe yet), guava, and something else, that I've forgotten at this point. Obviously, it is time for me to put this blog entry to bed. I hope to include a few more stories from this fascinating town, before we move on to San Miguel de Allende for three months in August. We will return to the boat the fifth of November. Of course, it might just be Ron and I, after the cats have been enjoying yards and their outside freedom for the first time in their lives. Having places with walled courtyards makes that possible, and I can just imagine a cat-revolt as we try to repack the car to head back to the boat.
Adios, and Féliz Cinco de mayo!
Vanessa y Ron