Welcome to the Adventure

Living in Mexico is often indescribable...you just have to live here. I have been journaling experiences for a while, and I hope you can get a feel for stupid-ass gringos trying to get it. But I am still here, and that says a lot for those of us sticking it out, as the payback is what makes life so good here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Can’t be sure what happened to the days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but here we are, Christmas is closing in way too fast. The weather has been incredible. The days are no warmer than mid 80’s, and the nights have been all they way down to 69 or 70. This year we have received the gift of mild weather for the month of December. Snowbird friends have started to arrive, and we have been busy catching up with old friends, and making new ones. Had a few ex pat friends over for a belated Thanksgiving dinner; an invitation to a couple of friends turned into a party of more than a few people. This is typical. Some friends recently got caught in an 1-1/2 hour traffic jam up in Oaxaca. Being anxious gringoes, they just wanted out of there. Not the Mexicans. Car doors opened. Food and drink suddenly appeared, people mingled, vendors (how is it they always show up at the exact right time) showed up, turned the traffic jam into a party...so Mexican. We laughed, and said “you know you are in Mexico when.....”

It is fun to watch the process of friends acclimating to Mexican life. There is a struggle the first few days, and then total surrender to Mexico’s sweet, easy, delicious, culture. The Christmas season is in full swing here beginning with the Day of the Virgin of Guadeloupe. The parades, processions, music, and food mark the start of the season. It is Mexico’s holiest day, and biggest party of the year. We also hear talk of how many tamales one has made, as this is the biggest tamale making season. We are even planing a little tamale making when Caryn and Micah come. That will probably happen between sunbathing at the beach, snorkeling in the ocean, and pool time here.

It has been very quiet for the beginning of the season. Between the bad publicity of the border issues, and Mexicana going bankrupt, Huatulco and the rest of Mexico has taken a serious hit in tourism. We have heard, though, that all charters and flights for January and February, at least through Continental and Apple Express, have been sold out coming down to Mexico, so maybe it will pick up here. It is a shame that the border issues caused the rest of Mexico to suffer from bad publicity. It is so far from the truth of this country, it is a shame people do not come and see that in fact it is peaceful.

(The LA Times keeps a statistic on violent crimes to date, today reporting 17,790 violent crimes, in city of Los Angeles. Outside of the border statistics, you are hard pressed to match this number for the entire country of Mexico. And yet the perception is so opposite. Very sad. We even had people in Costa Rica asking us about the violence here. It’s not here. It is not near here. I’m still saying the US needs to examen it’s in own role in the violence at the border. And yet Mexico continues to reap the bad publicity, economic consequences, and the war on drugs in the US is fought on Mexican soil at the expense of many innocent people.)

Our fabulous white plastic Christmas tree is up. Larry has decked out the place in lights everywhere possible, and is eyeing the coconut tree now. As we caught bits and pieces of football games in the States this weekend we caught the Chicago Bears game, OMG, and said to ourselves aren’t we glad we are here. Bill and Michelle, friends from Indiana, pulled in Saturday, after driving down, and described their trip in terms of temperature, starting from a snow blizzard and below 0 degrees, to our Mid 80s here. They are not missing Indiana to say the least. Nor are our Canadian, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan friends either. We are eating our roast turkey by the pool....

And so it goes, later.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Ron's 65th Birthday Tour

The Pacific coast side of Costa Rica is in the throes of development along the beaches. There are also a few very upscale eco-tourist lodge type places, that one guide suggested to us was for those richer than God. We did stay in Jaco for a few days, and explored the national parks here. Carara and Manual Antonio were both amazing and different. Mauricio, an angel of a guide, swooped us up early one morning and the Larry, Ron, Helen, Doreen tour truly began. We hooked up with him at an ungodly hour of the morning to first catch the birds. Worth every moment of lost sleep. We chased down the elusive nesting Macaws, hitting back roads, pockets of forest, and empty beaches, to view the cashew trees that host the nest. Macaws love the cashew.

This journey led us into the face of some significant damage as massive floods occurred a week before we came to Costa Rica. The rain overwhelmed the rivers in this area, and many little towns were severely hit by flood waters. Twenty-seven people died in this storm and the clean up has only just begun, as it is still raining in Costa Rica. Mauricio, our guide from Tour Heaven, of course knows everyone. When our little group trooped over a deeply, deeply rutted muddy road, there was always someone there, with a gleam in their eye, telling is there was a Macaw nest right over there, and sure enough, there they were.

Mauricio also showed off the crocodiles. Lovely, prehistoric creatures. So many. Laying on the sandbars of rivers, swimming close into shore, catching a few sun rays. Scary suckers. Lots of “trailing hands in the water” stories during this viewing. Mauricio also took us into the national park for a tour that showed us those lovely poison dart frogs, plump ground birds, and the usual creatures hanging around rainforests. Mauricio was awesome. He is an educated biologist, with a true love of his country’s assets. It would be foolish not to have a guide into the forests, and he was exceptional. He showed us a splendid day.

Larry and Ron hit the zip line on Ron’s birthday, first thing in the morning. Helen and I stumbled through the morning catching up, drinking the rich Costa Rican coffee, and just hanging at the condo looking for Macaws. The looks on Larry’s and Ron’s faces when they returned from their adventure told everything. They had a blast. It is an amazing experience apparently. Up on the tops of trees, zipping through the canopy, chasing the Macaws. The pictures were incredible!

Manual Antonio town and park is a hilly village area to the south in Costa Rica. This is the national park with all the monkeys and sloths you can see, as well as caiman (a relative to those lovely crocs). Ron, Helen and Larry took the guided tour through the jungle to see this spectacular scenery and animals. This area was actually still mostly closed due to the flooding. Rubber boots would have definitely been an asset. I took a pass on that tour and hung with a few 4 and 5 year old kids, whose fathers were tour guides. Helen, Ron and Larry are the troopers, wading into mangrove swamps, crossing rivers in questionable boats, but they came back with spectacular photos and a good story. The kids filled me in on Tico life, and introduced me to their mothers and grandmothers and aunts.

After exhausting the Jaco and south area, and all it’s Mexican/Asian fusion restaurants, and internet cafes, we headed over to the Caribbean side, passing through San Jose. This is a city I would probably skip, only because with no street names, and addresses, it is a hell of a city to get through. Best to get to the highest point and check landmarks kind of city. With the help of a bus driver, and a police officer who stopped us for driving in San Jose on the wrong day, according to our license plate, we found the road to Puerto Viejo. Costa Ricans control their pollution by keeping cars off the road certain days of the week, according to your license plate number. Gee that sounds familiar. Anything to cut down the traffic would be helpful here, trust me. Once the officer got us on our way, we went through the largest rain forest I could have imagined, like Jurassic Park awesome, and ended up on the Caribbean.

This side is still relatively unspoiled, except for Puerto Limon. It was highly recommended by locals, when they heard we were heading to the Caribbean side, to by-pass that city. It is a major port in Central America, and has everything you can imagine from those 1940s labor movies; this side has it’s issues. Settled by mainly Jamaicans when United Fruit decided to decimate the rainforest and plant bananas, they were brought in to work the crop. It has a decidedly Jamaican feel, with the reggae, roots, and ska music, and the wonderfully delicious Caribbean cooking. (What is with all the Tex-Mex-Thai on the Pacific side?). English, not Spanish is the language on this side, although all the schools now teach Spanish. The English is typically Caribbean, and we had a struggle at first getting it. But if all else failed, we would switch to Spanish and it was fine. We stayed in Puerto Viejo (once called Old Harbor when the banana was king), a sweet little village in the southern part of CR, close to the Panama border. We stayed at an amazing eco-lodge, Cashew Hill, and were immediately immersed in the jungle world of monkeys, sloths, and exotic birds once again.

Helen and I laughed so hard when we first saw the cabina we stayed in. It was a surprise. Mostly for it’s rusticness. Kind of like a tent cabin in Yosemite, but a little damper, and a whole lot more exotic in the sound effects department. The new owners of Cashew Hill, Andrew and his mom and family, have been renovating and begun renting these fabulous rustic eco-everything cabinas. It was unreal. We shouldn’t have laughed. These were the “high” end of accommodations as we noticed later. This place is for anyone who wants a truly wonderland type experience. The setting, the people and the little cabinas are all sweet. Andrew and his girlfriend Elly were fabulous. The road was so bad, they hauled us up and down to the village in their massive four wheel drive everyday so we could go see and do stuff. Well actually it was me they were hauling... Everyone else walked..which was an easy stroll, I’m getting there.... Being at the cabina wasn’t so bad either, as you are in the heart of the rainforest, and the Toucans, monkeys, sloths, and Macaws are still everywhere. Our night sounds could be used in a movie soundtrack. It rained everyday and night. But it is gloriously beautiful, much more “natural” in that the tourist dollar has not turned this into a nightmare of hotels and events.

Tourists are from all over the world here, and it has a much more laid back, slow moving, rhythm reflected in the lifestyle of those who live here. We ate local food at Sodas (little restaurants serving traditional food), and splurged one night at an asian-fusion place run by a German. We also found a great breakfast/lunch place, Bread and Chocolate, whose owner, while running the best breakfast place almost anywhere in the world, is also a chocolatier of amazing skill. We ate everything, including his chocolates. Fabulous. Tom the owner, is from Baltimore and has been in Puerto Viejo going on 6 years. I can see how that happens.

Cannot say enough about how great it was traveling with Ron and Helen on the Birthday Tour. They are fun, adventurous, and willing to try everything. It was Ron’s 65th birthday, and every day seemed a celebration of that milestone with them. They muddled through the cabinas with us with their sense of humor still attached. We laughed a lot, just from the sheer joy of sharing something new and loving it!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Costa Rica

Our morning wake up call.

We came home the other night to crickets, frogs and ocean waves under a starry, warm night. As we settled down for a nice cold beer, a 4.7 earthquake double whammed us just to let us know, we are home.

Costa Rica was a lot of fun. We hung out in Alajuela or a couple of days and had baptism by fire. Costa Rican's don’t put numbers on their homes or business, and they don’t name streets. Oh, there are names and numbers on maps, bless them, but it isn’t public, so to speak. Directions were ALWAYS “go down two blocks past the soccer field, turn left at the Rollo Pollo and stop across from the Chinese Restaurant and you are there". Aaagh! But we did find our way to the casino down the street from where we stayed. You have no idea what country you are in when in a casino. We heard every language. Disco. Hamburgers and Buffalo wings, and cheap mojitos, and more disco. It was weird though, weird vibes. But this is a country with legalized prostitution (and on the Jaco side, it is slightly less than obvious), so who is to judge what is weird, I suppose.

The Caribbean side is far different (with one exception to the whole country, Puerto Limon, which appears to have earned it’s arm pit of Central America reputation, it’s pretty bad there, but it is a major Central American port, soooo). It’s a long very political/racist/United Fruit type story, how this Costa Rica came to be. But really, there are two countries in one, and listening to feedback from people who live there, I don’t think they’d care to change that too much. But everyone must go to the Caribbean for what might have been, because it is slated soon to start being developed. All the more to go while you can.

Anyway, we headed out to Jaco side of the country on that first Friday after hitting the only “non Ron and Helen event”, the Butterfly farm. Seemingly thousands of colorful, other worldly, butterflies flew around us, and as we were the only two on the 3 PM tour it was awesome. Our tour guide graduated in Tourism, (what else, even in Costa Rica), and loved her job. We are now experts on the life of a butterfly. Who knew they live up to a year or more. Well that Monarch thing should have tipped me off.

We went through coffee plantations, much different from our coffee plants; it is harvest right now there. We hung out at the Ramada time share for a couple of days crusin’ the “town” supermarkets, because they get a lot of US food items that we hadn’t seen in a long time. Helen and Ron asked what we had seen when they showed up on Sunday, and we laughed and described all local food markets in depth. Obviously we have no life, but we saw other stuff too, including the beach. We found a store that was like going to Nob Hill in the city. I swear to G**. They had Butterball turkeys, Ocean Spray Fresh Cranberries, Thai Kitchen, and Snickers. This will give you a clue as to who hangs in Costa Rica for the “season”, due to start end of December. And they aren't poor. We sunk to the lowest level, of course, and scored some brats (Johnsonville!!!). It’s genetic. Retirement does affect brain cells.

Ron and Helen showed up just in time, Larry had already lined up a guide tour for Monday. We were going, no matter what. It was so great to see Ron and Helen, helping them celebrate Ron’s 65th birthday. They had just come off their week building a Habit for Humanity home in Grano de Oro, Cartago. They will write their own accounts of that experience, but the stories they told us were moving, funny, and hopeful. They obviously get so much more out of it than they think they give. But the best thing was just to travel the same road for while, and it was so much fun. We had some great laughs, and adventures!

to be cont.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ramona, Beezus and Keith Richards

It is probably sacrilegious to mention Ramona, Beezus and Keith Richards in the same sentence, but these are the books that are taking up a bit of my time this week. Keith Richard’s Life is addicting, just like his heroin habit. Can’t put it down, except when my student and I read Beezus and Ramona, the first of a still funny series of books, even after having read them countless times when I taught elementary school. That Ramona. And in a lot of ways she is at some levels an early Keith Richards (whose antics and insights will make you laugh as well as shake your head and make you wonder how he survived). Humor.

Actually, Life is the first “rock and roll” - type book I have ever read. It is a fascinating look at the cultural history of the 60’s through to the 2000’s. The Stones, for a lot of us, was the sound track of our youth. The first time I saw the Stones in ’65... as an impressionable 18 year old, my friends and I drove down to San Jose Civic Auditorium, from Berkeley, to see Mick and Keith and the rest of them blow through and stun our sensibilities. Richards talks a lot of music in his book as well, making me wish I had paid more attention during my “I want to be a folk singer with my cheap-ass guitar phase” around this time. Especially the chords and riff stuff. It is heartening to read how much respect Richards had for other, musicians, including Ry Cooder (a favorite, and Gram Parsons) and how much they taught him.

Beezus and Ramona, by Beverly Cleary, takes me way, way back to a kinder, gentler, time in the United States. For kids here, they can readily identify with a Ramona and Beezus of 50+ years ago, as they see themselves in these books. It is very strange to be reading this book with my student. I am home-schooling a 5th grader this year, and we had just finished Sign of the Beaver, and she wanted to read a “fun” book before we go on to tackle Sing Down the Moon, and Number the Stars. Can’t wait to read The Giver again though. One of my former students is teaching in China this year, and commented on how does anyone teach the same lesson 15 times and not go nuts. I had to laugh, because in actuality it is 15 different experiences. But I am sympathetic. I had a student once, Dillon, who came to me in the 4th grade, and begged me not to read anymore dead dog books. I’ve kept that promise. And there are books I do not ever want to teach much less read again, including Lord of the Flies ; after the first two or three times I taught that book, I still can’t stand it! That Beezus and Ramona still strikes the fancy of a 10 year old girl is endearing. Ramona would definitely grow up and be a Stones’ fan, I’m sure.

I am having fun though. I have said before once a teacher, always a teacher, even when you retire. This time though, it is a load of fun. And one to one ratio definitely tilts the odds in my direction...classroom management is a breeze. In the case of our English class, though, we let it rip, and have a blast every week. Maybe they would like a dose of Beezus and Ramona, although Miguel, our musician student, would be more likely to enjoy Keith Richard’s Life, I’m thinking.

We are off to Costa Rica next week, need a vacation from retirement. Is that even possible? Later.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


View from living room...yesterday

It’s been a busy week here. Had dinner down at beach last night, Bocana, a favorite spot. This is where the Copalita River empties into the Pacific. It’s a beach that changes by the hour it seems, but it is one of the more popular surfing beaches, and the waves were awesome yesterday. In the past, this beach was also famous for it’s mud-baths, as at the river edge a lovely mud is deposited. Literally bus loads of people would go down to the beach for the mud, then jump into the river to clean it off, or head to the ocean and take a swim to wash it away. The Copalita River has been handling a large volume of water lately, though, and the mud-baths have gone to the wayside for a while. The river is also a great white-water rafting spot, especially now. Bocana is in the throes of development, and it isn’t the lovely, quiet, charming little hamlet these days. I suppose we have to take the “progress” with the good. Great little restaurant down there though. Lucy, the owner, makes the most delicious traditional food. Sat back with locals and new friends, and talked and sucked up seemingly a lot of beer, watching the waves in the moonlight, stars blinking, and children playing in the street long after they should be in bed. It was one of those nights.

I’m glad to have a computer again. Our friend Pam kindly risked a bit of trouble to bring it in. Mexico only allows one computer in per person. She travels with hers, and slipped my new Mac into her carry-on with hers. No one batted an eye in customs. You just never know what goes by customs and what doesn’t. We asked our niece to bring some veggie and herb seeds down when she and her husband come, and I told them to scatter the packages between the suitcases and carry-ons just in case. We are always plotting it seems. Mexico frowns on seeds of any sort coming in from another country. A friend of ours lost peppercorns recently, because even though it is an herb, it’s a seed. Aagh.

We keep up with movies with the computer. Thank Steve Jobs for Itunes I suppose. We just watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and loved the film version. I knew the next one was coming, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and hated to think we’d be off to Costa Rica, before we could see it. The books were wonderful by the way, if you haven’t caught up to the frenzy, read them.

We are heading out to Costa Rica in a couple of weeks. The eco-tourist capital of Latin America, Larry wanted to take a look at how Costa Rica handles it’s rich environment compared to Mexico. Southern Mexico is awfully close to what Central America is like, but they do have animal life not found here. We get Tejons (which are large, about the size of a small goat, alien-like creatures with the tail of a monkey, which our little beach is named after), and the usual big cats, including jaguars, but not those beautiful Macaws or the monkeys. Chiapas, just a few miles south of us, benefits more from it’s logistics to Central America, and has more of a variety of birds and monkeys. Hard to believe, but we shall see. Larry’s brother Ron, and his truly significant other, Helen, are working on a Habitat for Humanity project outside of San Jose.

Snowbirds are starting to trickle in, and Fonatur (the local government agency that guides our lives here) is busily repairing streets, and shoring up landslides. Must be the dry season. Changes are even happening on our favorite street in town. Our friend Ulysses has opened up a bar/antijito place across the street from Mama Mia!, our local Italian hang-out, and a delightful breakfast-lunch place that used to be in Santa Cruz, has moved next door to Ulysses. Max, the owner of the breakfast place, makes cinnamon rolls like no other, and serves them with a espresso that reminds me of Italy. Hemingway's Cafe is on the corner, and you can find great music, food and drinks, in mellow surroundings for a laid back evening. We teach English on this street, and on the days we are down there, it takes us forever to get back home. The people, food and drink are vastly superior on this particular street. It even has the best little comida corrida place we have ever eaten at.

And so it goes. Weather has been a steady 85ish, and the nights still incredible. I am up walking more, and am now using just the walking canes. Finally. I thought I would never get off crutches or the wheelchair. Just in time. We are looking forward to the Day of the Dead here, such a lovely, moving experience. Wish you all could be here at this time, it is magical.....

Monday, October 18, 2010

Birds, autumn in Mexico, and street food

The parrots are in full force here this week in the neighborhood. They hang out for a while and then move on to better places to eat, but when they are here, they let us know it. They are loud and chatty and fun to watch. In June and July, there was a flock of about 20, now with the babies and new recruits I'd say there were about 100. They take over entire trees and talk, talk, talk. They talk while they are flying, they talk while they are resting. Loud. I told Larry it feels like we live in an aviary sometimes, between the parrots and the chatty cockatiel behind us. This morning we woke to the cocatiel imitating, we think, a long lost dog friend. The bark sounds like one of those little dogs that bark all the time. Guests always ask where's the dog, we laugh. Then it moves on to a crying baby, whistles a little tune that is a fragment of some sailor-type song, and then on to imitating all the other birds around here, and especially the parrots. The cockatiel loves when the birds come.....

It is already turning orange and brown, but the flowers are blooming. Two weeks without rain and Mexico moves into instant autumn, or I should say summer. Really only two seasons here. Leaves are already starting to drop. But the flowers are blooming like crazy, and the colors are brilliant!

But the weather is still perfect. Had friends for dinner last night. We sat out on the patio watching the sunset, listening to the birds (parrots) quieting down, and the frog/cricket population picking it up a notch. Miss Maggy (our guest cat) snagged a bat, and chased down a toad..our usual evenings. Change of weather funny enough lead to a conversation about food. Street food to be specific, as our guests being from the Isthmus, filled us in on the how some of our favorites are made.

One of the truly great treats on the street are the coconut tortillas. They are amazing. Crunchy, slightly sweet, coconut flavor, so good with coffee. Claudio explained that they are cooked underground, like in a tandoori oven for those of you who know Indian food. They slap the tortillas on the wall of a ceramic oven, in the ground, and are cooked until crisp and slightly browned. Naturally as we were talking about them, we had to have one, even after a grilled steak dinner, with pear tart for dessert, out came the tortillas...that good. Then we switched to moletes.....

Moletes here are amazing. They are prepared by mashing plantains, cooking them, forming them into a sort of meatball shape, and stuffed either with a salty cheese (our favorite) or meat/salsa, then deep fried. We buy them off the women on the streets, still hot, and oh so delicious. Claudio's wife, Adriana, is an excellent cook, and has promised to lead me to the proper method of cooking them perfectly. But that first bite, slightly sweet, slightly salty, is unbelievable.

And speaking of seasons, it is elote (corn) season now. For fans of corn on a stick, dipped in mayonnaise, sprinkled with local cheese, and chile, it is heaven. I held out for two years on this street food before I would eat it. The mayonnaise ingredient had me worried. But last Day of the Dead, up at the pantheon, a vendor was selling them, and I gave in, had to try it, illness be damned. Oh my G!!! It is soooo good. Larry still refuses to go there. He waited for me to get sick after I ate it, and nothing happened. Everybody eats them though. Whole streets of people walking around with corn on a stick, glee in their faces.

We sometimes buy our cheese on the street here as well. The local Oaxacan cheese is a bit like mozzarella cheese, sold in a big ball, and pulls apart like string cheese. Mild, slightly salty, it is so good in quesadillas and tlayudas (another street food treat, a large tortilla, piled with beans, cheese, and other things depending on the vendor). Friends here are doing cooking/food classes for the tourists who come on the cruise ships, and one of their classes is local cheeses paired with local mezcals. Now there's a class. Pairing cheese and mezcal. Sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it (for those of you in wine country). Mezcal is a story unto itself, and we have tasted a lot... When Will and Dan were here at beginning of summer, we did a bit of tasting and found another mezcal called Tobola...still made from maguey (different from Tequila and usual mezcal cactus, but a maguey), that now has turned into a favorite. Everyone has a favorite mezcal though, and like wineries, there are 100's of versions (as I have written before, the mezcal road to Oaxaca is full of “tasting” rooms).

At any rate, we have come to appreciate the street food a lot more than restaurant food here. I don't think there is a bad cook to be found in Oaxaca, from tasting various vendor's food and accepting any invitation for dinner from a local. When we say this, locals laugh, and agree. Then they will tell us of another vendor who does tacos like you have never tasted.... and we are off to another foody moment....

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The jungle has taken over!

It has been so beautiful here this week, I hate to even mention it. The mornings have been cool, in the low 70s, and the afternoons have been in the mid 80's, and the nights breathtaking. This is January weather in October. We have been sitting out watching the sunsets (spectacular), counting the stars and smelling the sweetness of evening scented flowers, and watching fireflies filling the trees as if it was Christmas Eve, with sparkling displays of flashing lights. We have begun to dry out, and the local wildlife is coming out of the jungle shaking off wings, basking in the sunny afternoon warmth, and coming around to see what we might have to eat. A new iquana has moved in with us, a lovely large, dark green female. She has been sunning on our solar panels (for the waterfall in the pool), and generally hanging around the kitchen, keeping an eye on us.

We have a guest cat staying with us (Miss Maggie), who can't seem to get enough of all the wild life she can chase. Centa (who is not even acknowledging Miss Maggie), has been chasing a few frogs and lizards herself. Can't keep an eye on them all the time, but I swear they both seem to be always eating something these days. The dark side of cats I suppose.

Larry ready for the dead.
You know it is October here, not just by the change of weather, but I see the days leading up to the Day of the Dead already starting (the special bread has come into the markets). For Oaxaca, Day of the Dead (actually 2 days), is a big deal. I have written about Day of the Dead before, this being a major holiday in the lives of Mexicans, similar to Halloween, but far more spiritual and beautiful here. There is anticipation in the air. Everyone goes to the pantheons/cemetaries, bringing gigantic boquets of marigold flowers, and food, to share with the ancestors. It is two days of food, music, prayer, all on top of the graves in the cemetary. In the evenings most of the graves are lighted by candles, that lends an otherwordliness to the cemetary. The city of Oaxaca is jammed with people during this time, as no one seems to do it better than the Oaxaqueños.

We are now also seeing the gearing up for "the season". The cruise ships have already started to come in, and a few early snowbirds have been sneaking down as well. In another month we will once again turn into a tourist destination, as the hotels and restaurants are in the throes of improvements, revamping, and just plain getting ready. For our snowbird friends, well we can't wait to see you too!

We'll be heading to Costa Rica next month to hook up with Ron and Helen (in laws and outlaws), for a couple of weeks, ending up back in Oaxaca City for a few days with friends. We are flying in and out of Oaxaca right now, as the airline thing (Mexicana went bust, Continental/United, or whatever it will call itself, isn't coming in here until Dec we hear), and it costs a bloody fortune to fly out of here to Mexico City right now. Like we're suffering.

Good time to come if anyone wants to see a beautiful place, without tourists though. The beaches are empty, the water looks good, lots of surfers are coming in we hear. The flowers are blooming; the blue morning glories have taken over everything in sight, lovely.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Ode to our Cactus

The beloved cactus The dying section

We have just gone through some intense rainy weeks here in Huatulco, giving new meaning to tropical storms. Today the sun is out though, and we are starting to dry out, and the jungle surrounding us has never seemed so lush. Which brings me to a rather narrow topic on this blog...our cactus. In Mexico, there is an anomaly, cactus seem to grow in the heart of a tropical rain forest, and do just fine. We live in what is called a dry tropical forest, because we only get rain during the summer months, and nary a drop the rest of the year. In way, a lot like California, a green season, then a brown season. But hot. The cactus, in front of our house, is about 150 years old, and has thrived until this rainy season.

Our cactus is a landmark in the neighborhood. It stands right in front of our house, and is easily 16+ meters (around 40 ft) tall. It is a work of art, and the home to countless birds, lizards, and other critters throughout the year. This week, our whistling ducks pair had their second family of the season in our cactus. Twelve little fluffy, black and yellowish stripped chicks, that look nothing like their elegant, lovely parents, were unceremoniously dropped out of the nest by mama duck, a 10-15 ft drop. They land on their little bellies (like one of those egg drop experiments all schools seem to demand of their students) and waddled off behind the father. When mama gets them all out, they march off to the jungle, in a line that always reminds me of that "Make Way for Ducklings" story.

Showing off the babies

The last one out

Moving next door (to the jungle)

Hector, our iguana, lived in the cactus until recently, when I think his size began to inhibit the long climb up to a nice branch to sun on. He has since moved across the street to a bigger jungle. We do have a couple of smaller females living in the cactus right now, and we see them when the sun is out.

Hector on a sunny day

Our cactus had a lovely fruit season this year, bearing so many "pears" we were astounded at the number, as well as the variety of birds they attracted. Oaxaca, for bird watchers, is like the mother lode of bird counts/sightings. You could have done a week's bird watching from our patio, and exceeded your expectations. The cardinals and orioles came first. Loud, flashy colors, messy eaters. They were followed by the various woodpeckers and parrots one might see in a remote jungle setting. The wood ducks (whistling ducks) have been coming for a couple of years, always a pair, but this year was the first time we saw ducklings. In June, there were nine of them, and with these 12, the parents seemed much more together and organized than the first time out.... anyway....

As soon as the fruit filled the cactus, we noticed a sudden change on the right side of the cactus, it started to turn black. The wood peckers were eating more of their meals on this dark side, and as the rain started to really come on, the cactus started to peal away and drop its skin, and arms, what have you. Just the right side. We freaked. We had gone to great lengths to save this cactus, and had pointedly built our house around the cactus. Most people thought we were nuts, but it was so old, beautiful, and full of life, we couldn't cut it down. Now (we dread) we are loosing it, because we have never lived with a 150 year-old cactus before, we don't know what is happening, but surely not death.

We've been watching and studying the cactus for any signs of positive change, feeling very pessimistic. There was lots of evidence that this cactus has shed parts of itself in past years. Large scars, looking like redwood burls, are in various locations on the cactus. But today, we noticed little knobs coming out. Little green knobs. Do we dare to hope....of course we do. This cactus cannot die over a bad rainy season, it must have had dozens of other years of bad rains. We see hope in those little buds, that it will continue on, providing homes for the wildlife, food for them, and a place for the whistling ducks to return to every season to build their nest for the next crop of ducklings.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The last of California for a while....

Larry is part of the Woelfel clan. It is an amazing family, parents Linus and Rosemary, 89 this year, eight other brothers and sisters, and some of their families, brothers, sisters, cousins galore came to California for Jon and Kerri's wedding. Linus and Rosemary created a family that is most enviable. They should be very proud of how all their children turned out. Everyone of them have amazing, interesting, rich lives, that they bring together, with all their vast differences and experiences and lifestyles (in these uncertain, changing lifetimes), and a family is reborn.

They would so fit into Mexico. Family in Mexico is everything. Nothing gets in the way of family. We know a few large families here, who struggled, succeeded, survived, and they have these same family moments. They all show up for weddings, anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, just for fun days, and party down, just like the Woelfels. Larry's brothers and sisters are as diverse as you can get, and still have a good time at a party. They all bring their rich and interesting lives into ours briefly, and it is amazingly reassuring that you know you are loved by so many people. For us "out-laws", our self-dubbed support group, being in the middle of it can be overwhelming. The love is the glue though. Lots of love.

After almost 20 years, I am just as amazed as the first time. This world doesn't have enough truly good people, but I can say this about Larry's family. They are genuinely good people. And they get down. You have to train to party with them. Either they are slowing down or I am finally catching up to them, but it takes a lot of energy to keep up. They loved the wine country, the brew pubs, the camaraderie of daily changing configurations, (so you can catch up, cause it's harder when you travel in packs of 20), and of course being together. It was fun.

What's Mexican about Californians...

Our go-to friends Karen and Ed, cheerfully picked us up at Carol and Doug's, and chauffeured us to Santa Rosa. We shamelessly take advantage of them, because we never get enough time with them...they drive us so we can have intense catch-up time, and they give us such comfort, thank God for them! (PS why did we not take pictures of you guys)

Susan and Howard (friends from Santa Rosa) arranged a house for us behind theirs. This was a gift from the heavens. We profusely thank Howard and Susan for this house. We gave them Jon and Kerri when we moved to Mexico, as we couldn't loose them in our life.

Teresita, my dear friend/sister, from 16+ years ago, came into my life when she was a teacher with me (before someone unwisely let her go), arrived with her family, Will (husband), and four boys including Andre, Dante (God child), Julian, & Trevian. Because I am a co-madre with Teresita, it is a whole other level of relationship. Teresita teaches in Chico now. She and her family accompanied us to our home in Mexico (and that's a road trip to tell about), in a memorable experience for all of us. We have had truly bonding experiences, gorilla glue experiences. Her family cheerfully shared time with our friends Javier and Julia and their boys Diego and Mateo, because we all just wanted to be together. Not many of us have these friends. I miss them all a bunch, and still am the biggest baby when I have to say goodbye.

We had a chance to see other friends, briefly, and said we would be back...or get your asses down to Mexico, it's not that hard, and "livin' is easy". We said good-byes, and Karen and Ed came and got us and we went back to Oakland. I had an attack of vertigo, and wanted to delay out by a couple of days, and really hang with Karen and Ed more, because we didn't have enough time with them. Mexicana goes bankrupt. No extra days, we had to go out the following night, or chance being cancelled... We all agreed to meet up in Mexico City next year. We find ways.

So when you go home, it is about the family and friends, a characteristic shared by Mexicans. Often during this time it didn't occur to me whether I was in Mexico or the United States (although the cold was a big clue), I felt comfortable in both places, it's not so different as you would think.

Monday, August 16, 2010

California Dreamin' ...Since You Went Away

I am a Californian. I was born and raised in Berkeley, spent 20+ years in Calistoga, and have never lived more than an hour from the Pacific Ocean. I continue to live on the Pacific coast, although now it is Mexico's coast, but the California girl is still there, as I found out. What was the give away? The crusty sourdough bread that kept disappearing off any plate put in front of me. There are PhD theses on San Francisco sourdough bread. There's a reason! But aside from the bread, it was my family and friends who once again reminded me of how special California is for me.

The Sister -The road trip - and there is no such thing as a coincidence....

Carol and Doug were going to be in Glacier the last half of our trip, so the no-brainer, and because they know how to ease us into California, they've done it enough now, we spent our first week with them, on a road trip, to Cambria. Ostensibly it was to see Hearst Castle (the only state park in California to make a profit), and have some fun with Carol and Doug. It was a great trip. That fact that one old friend (Teresita from later in the Blog) had called me a week before from Cambria area on vacation, and then we talked to Larry's brother Ron and his better half, Helen (really Ron, she's rare), and they told us they were coming from Arizona to Cambria for a couple of days before "the wedding", well, it was meant to be. The central Coast of California is a truly beautiful. I really had not explored this area before, except to pass through, and I was astounded at it's offerings and still not be so overrun by tourists to make it seem impossible to enjoy it. See film Sideways (or Men Behaving Badly, my title) for reference.

Old school California always thought Paso Robles was a hick, pass-through town, of farmers. It probably was, but not anymore. OMG, it's turned into WINE COUNTRY.
We had some great wine, fabulous dinners, wildlife galore to watch (even some not so native), and did I mention great wine - and company. Carol planned the whole thing. This is a sister who takes care of her older sister, especially when she needs it. Loved every second. Hearst Castle was a trip. Those of us with "special needs" has the opportunity for a tour of a life time. The four of us had a private tour, given by a working comedian (Hearst is his day job). I hadn't been there in 40 years. Hadn't really changed a bit, but I had. I still think Hearst was mad, but unbelievable, unbelievable. So thanks to Doug and Carol, we had a memorable time, and still can taste the wine.

Cousin Phoebe

Well blank my blank, but who do we all hook up with, but cousin Phoebe. This was a greatly anticipated event, that elicited phone calls and emails days leading up to and following by members of the family. Phoebe met us for dinner in Berkeley with two of her incredibly beautiful, in all ways daughters Alana and Marianna (a third not so near as to make it for dinner, Tayeisha was missed). Phoebe, our cousin of passion, and life- changing-events-Phoebe, was found. What a dinner! We neared epic proportion as the evening moved on, and oh it was fun. We all laughed a lot, even the young'uns. I don't think I had seen Phoebe in 40 years - a life time and a half at least - and we shared stories, 40 years of them. So for those of you out there who might hesitate to reunite with other family members after a long-ass period of time, (we had already had that pleasure earlier, when Carol hooked us up with relatives even she hadn't seen before), well just do it. We need go-to siblings sometimes. And so Phoebe (and the Warbles, and the Dodds) and her family are back in our lives, and we are the richer for it......

To be continued...again

Sunday, August 15, 2010

..and back to Mexico

Just returned from a "way-too-fast" visit with our families and friends, first spending time down in Cambria with my sister and brother-in-law (great trip, more about that later), then up to Santa Rosa to attend our nephew's wedding to his exquisitely beautiful bride. The wedding was lovely, the couple so in love, and the music awesome, it was perfect. The weather was awful though. What can you say. The usual, summer in SF is the coldest winter I have ever been in, is about as truthful as can be this year. The wedding warmed us all with love and happiness, as they should.

It was the trip back, I think, that made us glad we live here for now. The ocean, the mountains, our afternoon breezes, the low 80's weather, with more than a dash of tropical rain bursts, all still very compelling reasons to be here, aside from cheap.


OMG! I missed everyone (and sour dough, and Zinfindel and Pinot). It was way so overwhelming. And that was just with friends. Then 40+ members of Larry's side of the family descended into Sonoma County en masse. Jon is the nephew who married his beloved, Kerri. All the families attending were a deeply moving and meaningful presence for Jon and Kerri. There were memories made this summer.

Kerri and Jon brought together whole generations of family, tons of them, and it was such fun watching all these "in-laws" checking each other out. Thank God every relative on both sides are damn charming people. It was thoughtful as well, as we pondered our aging, and how is it that Larry's parents, near 90, are still running circles around the rest of us. As for the bride's side of the family, they were wonderful. Southern women have their charm, indeed, and we loved Jamie, her mom, and the rest of the crew. They got down with the best of them, and we all want southern accents, please.

And Then...

Larry and I wanted to stay of bit longer, as I had an uncomfortable attack of vertigo. Still hadn't seen all the people we had promised to see, and thought a couple of more days would be a good break. Too bad Mexicana went bankrupt just when we were having this conversation. We didn't really have a choice and we reluctantly, and with relief, got on the plane, after we had been told flights were being canceled. Friend Richard was on plane as well, and we laughed at the dilemma, because you have to. SFO, I'm thinking, wasn't even fueling the plane, because we stopped at Tijuana Airport for gas.

Americans and Canadians, when coming back here, bring way too much stuff. Like we can't live without pickle relish or See's candy, or a hammer drill. We took advantage of Mexicana's dilemma and loaded three suitcases full of stuff, well over weight limits, way over. They did not bat an eye as we checked in. They knew. Even pilots were carrying things, for home, in bags as they boarded the plane. Of course, upon arrival to Huatulco, we knew Peter may be paying Paul. Customs! The bane of all gringos in Mexico, trying to slip in those cat treats, cigars, wine. Those custom guys, who may only get one or two foreigners a week off-season, opened two of the three suitcases. They questioned, charmingly, about whether I could bring in 3 year old cheddar, when one of them spotted the loot for our friend Brook's dog. Those chews. We argued, benignly, that they were really as far removed from a cow, as chews can be. Mad Cow and all, still. They edged them to the confiscated pile ever so slowly, when Larry looked over the label, and found in fact that they were made in Mexico. They handed them back to us, all of us chagrined, all of us. Good laugh though. It's funny how all of us play that "let's see what we can get through customs" game. Don't ask.

So now I have just watched the sun set over the mountains and the Pacific; the waves are pounding the rocks, and Centa is in bed already waiting for us. Nothing like being home. More on California and wedding in next blog or so.....

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Passages with Food

Just when life was getting comfy, a paradigm shift occurs and things change. Fast. Often the best reasons for living here are the same as the worst reasons for living here. It's a small town. We listen to the stories, we see people move on, friendships change, but through all of these wonderful people, we have met an amazing array of new people. And weren't we glad we got to share the road with some of you, that we don't see so much anymore, or not at all, except by SKYPE, which you all have on your computers, right!!

Elia (sister), Claudia (chef), and Mama, Adriana Jordan

Many of you who have moved to new communities, when you retired, have certainly shared our experiences. You feel your way. You connect with people, and then you don't. Larry and I have been fortunate in making friends, but it ain't easy, as many of you have experienced. Through friends though, like an ever widening ripple, people are added to the circle. And sometimes total strangers, you met in a Cafe, or people staying across the street from you, turn out to be friends in the making.

Through friends we have met four remarkable young people that have inspired us, Claudia, Ulysses, Franco, and Monica. They have all just started new businesses here (restaurants, like the hardest business of all), or have, in Claudia's case, taken over a business. Not so easy in Huatulco, Mexico, which is a seasonal resort, for businesses to make it here. We have met many young people here with dreams that have gone towards a nightmare, sadly. Business here is sometimes akin to watching the last episode of "As the World Turns", you hope for the best, because it looks like a happy ending. (They all have assured me I can write about them and hopefully next year, or better yet five years from now, I will be celebrating their success.)

To be fair, we did know Claudia first, and she is really, what can I say, a breath of fresh air when all else seems in chaos. She was waiting tables at La Crema 5-6 years ago, summers, going to University in Chiapas the rest of the year. As they say, it was love at first sight! Her English was stunningly idiomatic, if not yet fluent. I asked, like a dumb-ass gringo, where she picked up her English. She looked at me dead on and said "Sex and the City". How could you not love her????? Fast forward. She is now here full time, and is still a breath of fresh air.

Claudia took on the unenviable task of taking over a fairly popular North American style breakfast and lunch place; a nice place to have a four hour breakfast.. The Crazy Kraut Cafe, was Marion's baby. When Marion returned to Canada, she was going to let it go, sell off stuff, etc. A business colleague stepped forward and suggested an alternative, his daughter Claudia. Our Claudia. She has actually been busy developing a hostel business for the backpackers who think they can't afford shit anywhere near here. This is to be the last hostel between here and Salina Cruz or Guatemala for that matter. Anyway, she took on the Crazy Kraut.

She did good Marion! You would be so proud of those Eggs Benedict, girl. The french toast, crepes, and a daily special, all good (BBQ ribs on Saturday). She did go to cooking school. Finally, she gets to do what she wants until the hostel business gets on its feet. Good for us too. She is funny, warm, and will not forget a customer, and she's doing the cooking right now. She'll need help, but she's off to a great start! And the four hour breakfast tradition continues, we can attest to this, with friends and strangers who joined us for coffee, then a beer (where else?) and conversation. She's nervous, eager and fabulous, and fortunately this is prime Mexican vacation time, so she's getting customers from locals and the visitors alike.

On the other side of the Hotel Michelle entrance, (Crazy Kraut is to the left of the Hotel), is a new restaurant, with a name I wouldn't have picked, but Mamma Mia... lets all of us know it is Italian. Franco and Monica, the proprietors, were introduced to us by a friend, who told us about a little gelato place in town. Well, it was really the only one, but ooooh so good. Franco and Monica are young, ambitious, and eager to succeed in the restaurant business. An opportunity came up to open a restaurant a couple of blocks from their gelato shop, and they took it. His lasagna is fabulous! They are making their own homemade Italian sausage.

Mamma Mia...
To be Continued - maybe from California (another road trip....., we're retired ☺)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Elections in Oaxaca

"The showing against the PRI in Oaxaca, a heavily indigenous state where the party was in power for eight decades, was highly symbolic. A five-month uprising erupted in 2006 over allegations that outgoing Gov. Ulises Ruiz, who was not seeking re-election, stole his election victory. Critics accused Ruiz of strong-arm politics that exemplified the coercion and corruption that the PRI used to govern Mexico for seven decades.
"These are historic victories," National Action president Cesar Nava said in an interview with The Associated Press. "Sinaloa has a fundamental significance when it comes to Mexico's security. In Puebla and Oaxaca, the victory means a significant break with entrenched strongman politics."

The official count had alliance candidate Gabino Cue leading with 50 percent of the votes, compared with 42 percent for PRI candidate Eviel Perez, with 17 percent of the vote counted early Monday." AP July 5, 2010

Elections in Mexico are not so different from the the United States, unless you count the 4 bodies hanging from a bridge, and assasination of a governor candidate, and armed military presence at most major polling places as slightly irregular, then not so different. For world watchers, most get that Mexico is an emerging democracy. It is being born as we watch and live here. For Oaxacans, a change was in the wind. The PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party ) the ruling party here for over 70 years, and the ruling party in Mexico until Vicente Fox and Felipe Calderon won presidential elections, is seemingly in a fight for their strangle-hold on Mexico to continue. Enough so, that even here in Huatulco there were rumors of voter fraud, with the PRI buying votes.

Gabino Cue, the most likely winner here in Oaxaca for governor, represented a coalition of various political groups, including leftist, centrists and rightist in a strategy that seemed to have worked. Teachers have taken over the Zocalo in Oaxaca, in protest to the PRI and the present governor, Ulises Ruiz, who for these teachers represented the worst of the government when they went on strike in 2006, and have been protesting his governance since. With their strong voice, they have provided an impetus for change here. The city of Oaxaca was held hostage for a significant number of months, due to violence, from both sides (government and teachers and others) in the protests of 2006. That experience still lingers in Oaxaca as demonstrated by both the strike in the zocalo, the number of groups we saw on the streeets protesting, and not least of all the graffiti that is still prevalent in Oaxaca.

For all of us, citizens and expats, in Mexico, it has been an agonizing election year. The narcotraffickers have instilled so much fear in parts of Mexico, that as the gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre in Tamaulipas was assassinated, many of the voters from this state stayed away from the polls in fear for their lives. Can you imagine how that must feel? To vote could be a death warrant here, with ample evidence with the four hanging bodies on a bridge, in modern times, were we all expect some semblance of an orderly democratic process. Instead the candidates are wearing bullet proof vests, and are guarded by the federal police. It is hard to imagine, say an election in San Francisco, bodies hanging from the Golden Gate Bridge, to warn us we better not vote if we value our lives. It is a scary time for many citizens, especially in the northern part of Mexico.

The PRI is undoubtedly still the party of the times though, and has maintained significant power in most other elections in Mexico. But the election of an alliance candidate in Oaxaca is huge. The country itself had been controlled for many years by the PRI, and the elections were forgone conclusions, at least for 70+ years. The PRI controlled the country. But there are inroads to this one party rule, and alliances of other political parties seems effective, at least in the case of Gabino Cue.

For me, it has been a real learning curve, regarding politics of Mexico. The country is in the throes of celebrating 2010, two hundred years of independence, 100 years since THE revolution. We all received Viaje Por La Historia de Mexico, a book of Mexico's revolutionary history in the mail last week, detailing first the struggles for independence, and then the revolution which changed everything in Mexico: giving land back to poor people, setting up a "democracy-like" government system, and dragging Mexico into "modern" times are some of the reforms. Well known heroes like Zapata, Villa, Molina and Carranza worked hard to reform the government, help the poor of this country with agricultural reform, and create a constitutional government. But for the most part, up until maybe 15 years ago, Mexico was no democracy. It is turning though, towards something nearing a democracy.

We gringos keep our opinions to ourselves. For good reason. We haven't experienced anything like the politics of Mexico, and to express an opinion to Mexicans almost seems sacrilegious. We haven't walked in their shoes. Voting here July 4, there were long lines of people waiting to vote. In a country where a significant number of the population cannot read, they still check voters by photos, and a thumbprint, as their signature. They know the initials of political parties, and certainly have some knowledge of political positions. But the campaigning is akin to a high school class president election. Lots of visual clues, pictures, initials, music, airplanes with banners over the communidades, and party representatives, walking dirt roads, into impossibly located villages, to spread the word. But as I sit here now, I hear the radios of the workers, turned to election results, and hear the cheers, chants and shouts of the people of Oaxaca, and they have changed the course of history here, and they know it.

We are fortunate to live in the peaceful part of Mexico. Here among the mainly indigenous population, the bottom line is still "will the government change our lives for the better?" This does not mean one may be able afford a bigger house, a second or third car, or a trip every year to Europe. Change here is about basic human needs and rights. Change here is a school in their area...at least to 4th grade, if not 8th. Change is a road into their communities; electricity into their communities, water, food. I think about all we have in the US, and take for granted, basic things, that are not even a whisper of possibility here in Oaxaca yet.

This is not the sly, sniding, snipping politics of the US. These people are not whining like the teapartiers of the north who are more worried about changing demographics in their neighborhood than basic human rights. But here in Mexico voting is about the dignity of life itself, a chance to come into the modern world, to honestly change people's lives for the better. It has been an eye-opening experience, and has made me much more aware of the gifts one receives by just being born in the USA (thanks Bruce Springsteen for reminding me again of how special that is still).

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The boys from Dover (a quote for those of a certain age ought to remember)

My nephew Will and his friend Daniel took off this morning for home, where-ever that might be after graduating from college two weeks ago. It is refreshing to hang out with 22+ year-olds for a few days. Gives you a completely different perspective on the world. They wanted their own blog, dedicated to them, and so it goes. They deserve a blog.

One of the first things they noticed was the heat....humm, really the humidity (we did warn them). But they were good sports about it. After all, they have lived in Oregon for the last four+ years, and have no idea about heat, anyway. They did fall asleep in the pool while I was fixing dinner the second night they were here, and they unfortunately got a little sunburned. Will is the sensitive one, all that white skin, blond hair. It was my fault. It was quiet, I was cooking, who pays attention to time when it's good. Reminded me of when Will was a little guy, and we promised my sister we would keep him away from the poison oak, and sure as shit, the poison oak found him every time he stayed with us. We aloed them to death, but they did suffer. My friend Lupe offered to take the shirt off Will, which left us laughing, for those of you who know our friend Lupe, well you can imagine.

Going up to Oaxaca city last Monday, I reminded the guys to bring their cameras. This was when Will let it be known he didn't bring one. Didn't need it. Daniel had a camera, that was enough. Really. Turns out we all need a Daniel in our lives, and thank God he had the camera. We went up mezcal road, the easy route. Stopped in El Cameron for lunch and a World Cup fix at a great restaurant owned by Eugene, a mechanic who worked in the states for a while, and now runs the restaurant, with the auto repair shop out back. He covers all the bases. Going into Oaxaca, we stopped at a boutique mezcal place, Perla Blanca. One mezcal they make uses tobala cactus, that purports to be the smoothest. It was good, and smooth. All of you that know Daniel need to ask for a shot. He bought a bottle going into and out of Oaxaca by the way, as the one he first bought broke in his backpack, and well, the smell of mezcal permeated our lives for a day or so.

Both Will and Daniel were anxious to visit Mt. Alban. Daniel was an anthropology major, and had studied this area of Mexico, and Mt. Alban. Will was a history major, and he was very interested in seeing what he studied as well. This Zapotecan archeological site is remarkable for what has been preserved. They are still digging it out, and it is fascinating. Rene, our host, arranged for a guide up there, and they had a terrific tour.

Mt. Alban

I would say it was a big hit, and Daniel took lots of pictures (Will!) The next day, we dragged them off to the market in Etla. Will kept saying he felt like a big white giant compared to the others in the market place. Oaxacan people are short. I am taller than the average Oaxacan, man or woman. He did kind of stick out. He was getting the looks from the girls, I tell ya... and Daniel as well. The guys tried to deny it, but it was everywhere we went, we noticed. Being tall is a desirable attribute here, and young guys get a lot of looks, just because they are tall.

Dinner at Los Danzantes, Oaxaca
The adobe wall behind them is beautiful, unusual!

Will was a big hit with our cook, Paula, at the Casa de los Milagros. She set the table every night before she left, and always folded that napkins a different way. Will got into the napkin folding big time. Every time he sat down to breakfast, he would figure out the fold and repeat it. Except for the last breakfast. Paula pulled out the toughest one yet, a napkin with four squares of different colors, folded into four peaks. I came in early, and she gave me the look to check out the napkins. I laughed and said no way would he figure this one out. Will came down to eat, looked at the napkin, and Paula, and made a superhuman effort to duplicate her perfection. She laughingly had to show him how to do it, and I think after the demonstration it was Daniel that had the edge on the fold over Will. Paula loved it!!!

Squash blossoms and eggs Typical breakfast at La Casa

While Will and I hung out at the Casa our final night, Daniel and Larry took a walk down to the zocalo. The teachers are on strike and occupying the zocalo once again. The elections are July 4 here, and the teachers here are no friend to Ulysses Ruiz our current governor. They are protesting him for the last time I think, but have effectively shut down the zocalo. The teachers are living in the zocalo, with their families. They have requested observers to come from the federal government to observe the elections. As the zocalo is the major tourist center in Oaxaca, the tourists and vendors just moved up to Santo Domingo plaza and continued the party. It was good for Daniel to see the political side of Mexico, and he found the experience eye-opening. For those of us who grew up in Berkeley or San Francisco in the 60's, it felt very familiar.

Home again finally, the staff at La Finca (a BBQ place at Playa Bocana) did ply them with mezcal.. It was a party there, as it always is, but the free, all you can drink mezcal, at the end of the meal, guarantees the good time, and sometimes a bad hangover. Daniel paid for it the next day, but we were all dragging, slightly. But they jumped into the pool when we returned to the house, and all was well and then some that evening as they had just one more shot of Jack before retiring.

I think the biggest hit was our English class. They went to almost all of them with us, and jumped right in and took their turn at teaching English. Our students loved them. There was a lot of laughing during class. Daniel checked papers, clarified words for them; Will talked to everyone, and corrected pronunciations and learned a few Spanish words himself, I think. They had chocolate cake Friday, to practice the eating verbs and vocabulary. Big Hit!

Will and Daniel are good friends, and we were fortunate to have time with them together. Both are getting on with their lives, Daniel to Kansas to continue studies in grad school, and Will to his beloved football team, and job possibilities in Oregon. We feel very fortunate they took time out of their lives, to hang with us for the few days. Aunts and Uncles have enviable positions in families in that we get to have young nephews and nieces visit us without the "parent hassle" factor. We probe, but not too deep. We listen. Little advice is offered, but we've got stories that illustrate all the things they are experiencing, and remind them that it's the journey. We don't care when they get there, just enjoy the journey. And so for a few short days, we got to walk along with Will and Daniel on their just begun journey. We will miss those guys, and look forward to watching the paths they take.

Across from Casa de Los Milagros; Will and Larry near Santo Domingo; Ball court - Mt. Alban

Daniel at Mt. Alban; Mt. Alban

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oaxaca Days

Adriana, Rene, Renecito, Diego - Casa de los Milagros

Preface: The next blog will be exclusively about Will and Daniel, because they wanted to be the only topic of a blog..sooner the better. So few words are about them here. They deserve a blog entry unto themselves.

I am hanging out at the Casa de Los Milagros, our last evening in Oaxaca city. We have had a wonderful time here as usual. Rene, Adriana and family, the Casa inn keepers. have become great friends, and in fact visited us in Huatulco last week. Renecito and Diego, their two sons, are five years old, and 18 months old. They make this place feel like a home away from home, and we always have a great experience when we stay with them.

Before we let Will and Daniel go off to Monte Alban yesterday, they were subjected to breakfast at the Casa. Let's put it this way, Rick Bayless used the Casa last year because of it's kitchen, and he's coming back this year, in September. If you don't know who he is, look him up. Their kitchen is pictured in design books, and it is my dream kitchen (and everyone else who has stayed here and cooks wants this kitchen). Paula, our breakfast cook, makes traditional Oaxacano breakfasts, along with the local pan dulce, Veracruz coffee (even though Oaxacan coffee is plenty gourmet), and fresh squeezed juice, and fresh fruit.

Will and Daniel did get up to Monte Alban yesterday, and apparently had a fantastic tour of the site. They both came back full of information, and pictures (Daniel took all the pictures, Will didn't bring a camera, he had Daniel), of this ancient Zapotecan site. It is situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Oaxaca and the valley.. As soon as I get some pictures from Daniel, I'll post a few.

Today we went out to Etla to find a glassblower. Rene turned us on to a glass blower from the states, who has opened up a glassblowing business here. We had a goblet that needed repairing (you know the Waterford Crystal thing), and heard he was a talented artisan. Checked out his shop, left the glass, and yes indeed he his quite good. His team was working on making 175 handblown mezcal bottles (can you imagine). Etla is a valley north of Oaxaca, and their market day is on Friday, so we had to stop. Market Day varies here in the Oaxaca area, and each community market has distinctive attributes. But we are always on the lookout for artisan goods, and honey. Honey here is the food of the Gods. Mountain honey is amazing. We bought two liters for $120 pesos (maybe $8, US), along with some herbs, and an apron I had to have; we did well.

Tonight we tried a new restaurant here in Oaxaca, Los Danzantes. Amazing. Black tempura fish meatballs, roast duck on a bed of mole and rice. Will had a steak with stuffed chilles, Daniel the tortilla soup. Empanadas with quava and cream cheese in a mezcal sauce, flourless chocolate cake, a lot of good Mexican wine. Will and Daniel are getting a taste of the famous Oaxacan cooking.

Casa's Kitchen, where I could spend my entire life cooking...

We had a rare time in Oaxaca this week, and it went by too fast; we still didn't get to all the places we planned to visit. Nor did I get to shop as much as I love to here. But as I sit in the courtyard, and wind down from this trip, I appreciate that the Casa de Los Milagros gives us refuge at the end of the day, and already I am looking forward to our return in August. Larry and Daniel have headed out to the Zocalo this evening, to check on the occupation of striking teachers there (this is the most political region in Mexico, and elections are July 4). Will has gone off to bed, and I am writing my blog........ buenas noches.

Courtyard of Casa..lovely all the time

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soccer, rain and food

Well, we are in the throes of the World Cup here. I just came back from my physical therapist, he is an Italian via Switzerland, and a big fan of team Italy. We promised to cheer for them. We went to the Super Che and picked up a couple of World Cup artifacts..like the beer mugs. Had to have them! Mexico was literally shut down when Mexico played South Africa. Not a sound in Huatulco except for the cheers and yells in the appropriate places. We heard there was no traffic to speak of in Mexico City, (it is usually a nightmare beyond belief) as no one went to work until after the game. Schools allowed students to watch the game as well. Mexico doesn't play until Friday, against (France), and there is rampant speculation about that game already.

Mexicans are rooting for the US team too. They love the rivalry between the two countries, and they have that gleam in their eye when saying they have hopes of a match between the two teams. Big fun. Meanwhile I am studying up on soccer once again. Trying to figure out the point system for placement in future rounds. I am even keeping a score card. I'm nuts.

The concert, the night before the game, was a revelation . This country loves Shakira, and she was fabulosa. Alicia Keyes was great too, but no one knows who she is here. Too sad, I'm working on that. When I am reincarnated Aretha Franklin in my next life, I'll be sure to get my ass to Mexico and show them some soul. Social life, appointments, shopping, are suddenly all revolving around soccer games. My soccer Spanish is improving by the minute as I watch the games. At least I can throw out a few words that make me sound like I know what I'm talking about in Spanish.

Soccer gives us an excuse to just hang out too, as the rains have come big time. We can sit and watch the games without feeling guilty. We are getting very wet storms and everything is greening up. We went out last night, in the pouring rain, to a local Japanese restaurant. Love to eat outside when it is raining and not get wet (partial roof). Great stuff. We met friends, and had a lovely time talking about the environmental movement here in Mexico, and food, and places we must visit, and food.

Speaking of food, Konichiwa, our local Japanese restaurant (I know, Japanese food in Huatulco, who would have thought), has an interesting/fantastic take on sushi. They wrap the rolls in mango. Oh my God! Paper thin slices, that hold the rice, fish, and spices so perfectly, I am hooked. I love this about Mexico. They use local ingredients in new (for us), creative ways, and we have a meal of a lifetime. Life is grand! But today we are back to soccer, and want to see the Italians roll over the Paraguay team, like Germany steamrolled Australia. Can't wait until Friday.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Copa Mundial

Unless you are living in a vacuum, in outer, outer space, the Copa Mundial (World Cup) is about to happen. Friday, first game out, is Mexico vs South Africa. The prestige this has bestowed upon Mexico is immeasurable. And I know shit about futbol (soccer). I can't even eat a potato chip without being reminded that the "big show" is about to happen. We have been bombarded with Copa Mundial 2010 SudaAfrica for two years now. The team has been preparing for much longer, I am sure, because if there is one sport that captures Mexico's heart, it is futbol. Oh my God! And I mean it.

There are eighteen teams in the leagues in Mexico. Almost every region has a team, and their fans are rabid. Cruz Azul, Jaguares, Monterrey, Morelia, America, to Tigres, are but a few of these teams that I kinda heard of. Team Mexico draws from these teams, and players who play in other countries, including Carlos Vela -Arsenal, Rafael Marquez - Barcelona. When there is a home team game on TV, it is on in every store, restaurant, bar, gas station, ice cream stand, taco stand, etc. All playoff games, and Championship games draw more TV watchers than any other event in Mexico. Mexico produces a significant world class team, and is well-respected.

How well respected? When in Bali (in the middle of nowhere, really) last year, and cruising the market place, we were asked by a young man, where were we from. We said we lived in Mexico, and before I could say anymore, like "but I'm from California in the US", he was asking us about soccer players here in Mexico. It was scary. The dude knew everyone. I thought about it for a while though, and thought, in fact this is how Mexico is viewed in a comparable third world country. It is viewed with respect, as they have soccer stars here that are world renown. There is great soccer in Mexico. Soccer is a way of life, everywhere apparently, except for the US.

At 7:00 am, I will be watching, along with everyone else in this country. There surely has to be a holiday on Friday, as no one will be working until that game is over with. The US plays England Saturday, at 1:30 PM our time, and I'll be watching that game too. It is a unifying experience to follow a soccer team, especially in a country that breathes soccer even on a hot, hot day. It would be great to see the US and Mexican teams advance. It will be so much fun here, if they do.