Friday, October 31, 2008

Our American View of Mexican Life

October 28, 2008

Photo right: Mexicans in general work seven days per week.

The Mexicans in general live close to the land. They grow and eat their local vegetables and fruit, which is always fresh, their chickens are free-range (they catch them in their yard), they farm their own pigs, milk their goats and cattle, and use local products to build their homes. They are conservationist due to necessity. Many don’t have cars and use public transportation which is far more advanced than the US, and very inexpensive. (Europeans have told us they are impressed with their public transportation.) All the hotels we’ve stayed use the energy saving light bulbs, hot water may only be available in the morning and evening, and it’s a sin to leave a light on if you’re not in the room. Bottles, cans, and any redeemable refuse is recycled.
Photo left: Painting in celebration of Dia de Muerte.

Many areas in Mexico is like stepping back in time. The hotels (at least the ones we've stayed) don’t use computers but ledgers, only hand write receipts, don’t take credit cards and are very clean and organized. We've yet to see a cluttered desk. The personnel are friendly and cordial, formal in address and in attire. Mexicans appear to be conservative in daily life. They wear long pants (very rarely shorts-maybe coastal dwellers), females don’t show their midriff or wear miniskirts. However, we’ve seen the busty gals revealing their assets up top, but not too often. They don’t have tattoos, this is considered association with gangs (a big negative), don’t have multiple piercings, with the exception of earrings, and the Goth-style never took off here. Young boys drive motorcycles don’t hot rod, do wheelies or dare-devil stunts, they need their bike for transportation. However, risks are taken while driving through tight traffic.

It is typical to see mother and daughter walking arm-in-arm in the zocolo regardless of age; child with young mother, teenager with middle-aged mother, adult daughter with elderly mother. In San Luis Potosi three teenagers helped Bruce and I find a hotel by directly walking us there. They were on their Sunday walk through the zocolo with their aunt (warms my heart). Family closeness and affection is seen everywhere.

Photo above: Textile market, these crafts seem to be completely done by organic means. Left: La Plaza de la Danza.
We are often approached to buy items and when we kindly refuse they are very respectful. We almost bought bananas that were not ripe and the vendor told us if we were going to eat them immediately don't buy them (from her) go to another vendor. Once the waiter of a restaurant did not have enough change for us to leave a tip and he told us "it's okay". In some ways, they look out for us. If they know a little English they practice it, if we speak in Spanish they help us.

Left: Students playing classical guitar putting on concert.
Here in Oaxaca, they are very dependent on tourists hence many great deals to be found. Their handicrafts are time consuming to make and all organic. Some artisans use organic substances to dye their wool they use for rugs. We visited one place with our Spanish class and were educated on the whole process. Had we a home we'd bought several of these well made rugs for wall hangings (they are too precious for the floor). In all their daily processes there is no waste. We are finding Mexicans in general are earthy, simple in thought, common sensical in action and spiritual in nature.

Left: Pancho's first day of Spanish class.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Oaxaca, Oaxaca

October 25-27, 2008

We’ve heard only good things about Oaxaca, which we have found true. The main thing we’ve not heard is how busy this town is. Bruce describes it, as other busy Mexican cities, like an anthill. Everyone is selling, working, making, servicing, repairing and has a task of some sort. The Mexicans work very hard 7 days a week and you don’t see or hear them complaining; it’s just a way of life. They appear to be content.

Photo right: There is always music in Mexico! Below: Yucca plants in front of Santa Domingo Iglesia.

The city extends from the large and beautiful heavily treed zocolo (el centro) and has the nearby typical old churches, each with their own story and time of construction. All the buildings are spectacular in their own right. We stayed in the NE part of town the first night, but moved to the busier part of town (SW) the last few days. The former was a bit pricier and the latter reasonable and had better accommodations. The only downside is we have to walk through the sidewalk vendors to get to the zocolo. It’s like walking through a busy flea market every time we leave hotel.

Photos left and below: Grasshoppers, I think fried, are a tasty snack...I do not have the intestinal fortitude to try them. Flowers, food wrapped in leaves and stuffed chicken at the market.

We’ve adapted the habits of the Mexicans; light breakfast, large lunch around 1-2pm and a light dinner. The rest of the time we walk around the city admiring the sites and homemade products the vendors sell. Their textiles, chocolate and mole, hand painted pottery, painting, cooking and weaving is perfected from hundreds of years of practice. If you visit Oaxaca bring an empty suitcase and spending money, you’ll find great deals.

Photo right: While in the zocolo Bruce made fast friends with these students (ages 13-14) who approached him and practiced their English. L>R Roy, Concepcion, Elizabeth and Pancho.

A golden lizard basks in the sun at Monte Alban.

Sunday we went to the nearby archeological site called Monte Alban. It is believed this was started 500 BC by the Olmecs and later occupied by the Zapotecs. The location is on a hill that transects three valleys. We were amazed at how much manpower it must have taken to move the earth for the higher platforms and haul the stones for building the temples, residents, etc. Few parts are left as originally found which we appreciate as this was how it looked prior to “discovery”.

To improve our Spanish we decided to stay the week in Oaxaca and take a Spanish class. We found a school (Oaxaca International) that will accommodate Bruce’s schedule (2 hours/day) and my schedule (4 hours/day – only because they don’t have an 8 hour/day course). The remaining time will be spent eating, drinking the varieties of fruit juice, walking and studying Espanol.

Oaxaca's zocolo in the morning.

Mexican Highway 175 to Oaxaca City

October 24, 2008

Sometimes there are reasons why there are roads less traveled… sickness is one reason. Pat had a tough time handling the twists and turns of this “highway”. Not unlike her first day out on a sailboat. Seasickness.

We had read where Hwy 175 is one of the better roads from the Pacific Coast to Oaxaca but it was the windiest road we’ve ever driven on…and that’s saying something since we drove all those roads in the Yukon and Alaska. There were literally 4-5 turns every minute and we knew it was going to be a long day when it took 3 hours to cover 60 miles. The complete 145 mile route took 6 hours. The road straightened out the last half of this journey. We went from sea level to 9,000 feet then back down to the Oaxaca City elevation of 5,000 feet. At the very top of the climb was a beautiful city built on the side of the mountain.

Photo: Finally the road straightens out.

Prepared not to get lost, like we usually do when arriving in a large city, we had our two main resources on the computer ready to guide us: Garmin Laptop GPS and Garmin Map Source. I don’t’ think we could get by without these but it never fails that we get lost for several reasons: the cities street signs are posted on the sides of buildings, often not clearly posted or not posted at all, if posted the street signs are obscured with dirt, paint, lack of maintenence, grafitti or vandalism, and our GPS and Mapsource do not tell us which roads are one way.
After the first 5 or so cities we find this is the norm and we have found a way to maneuver our “coche” through the Mexican city streets. My driving has taken on a new edge and margins of misses are about an inch. Pat just closes her eyes and trusts me completely. Many times the streets are so narrow that we have to pull in the side mirrors just to squeeze through. I find it challenging and exciting. For protection we bought a Virgin de Guadalupe medal and hung it from our mirror.

Photos right: The reward of Oaxacan food and Mexican bread!

Early morning empty streets, by 10am the venders line the sidewalks and autotraffic fills the streets.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Mex Hwy 200 San Marcos to Pochutla

October 23, 2008

From San Marcos to Pochutla we high-tailed the whole way: 245 miles in a brisk 7 hours. The typical road work, winding roads, thick humidity and those mountainous topes did not deter our speed….we were on a roll in and out of the mountains with an intermittent view of the aptly named Pacific Ocean.
Photo left: Many Mexicans approach Bruce for one of two reasons; ask for money or practice their English. This gentleman brought along his words for the day and Bruce helped him with he can say "nationalized" just like G. Dubya.
Photo right: Three young men hand wash our "coche" for 40 pesos. They did such a good job, Bruce paid them 70.

For lunch we stopped in Puerto Escondido, aka the Mexican Pipeline, this city is well known for it's excellent surfing. As the other coastal towns we visited, this one was busy with activity and humid, we were ready to keep moving.

Before we ended our day at the excellent San Pedro hotel in Pochutla we visited the nearby coastal town of Puerto Angel (4 miles from Pochutla). It looked interesting and we hoped we’d find another Gambusino-gem-like hotel. We quickly turned around as soon as we saw several police in trucks, a drunken man staggering and the central pier packed with hundreds of ppl. As we drove back to Pochutla we saw a helicopter that just landed. It turns out the governor of the State of Oaxaca was visiting Puerto Angel. We didn't want to stick around to find out whether they were welcoming him or protesting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Troncones to San Marcos Mex Hwy 200

October 22, 2008

Heading further down the coast to get to the east side of Acapulco by late afternoon was our goal. Turns out we made good headway and drove passed Acapulco to San Marcos on Hwy 200; 300km (180 miles) in ~6 hours…..

It seems the further south we travel the more poverty we saw. The coast is lush, humid and the salty air seems to deteriorate everything. No matter how well one may try to maintain property, cars, or roads it’s never enough. It is hard to imagine how the Mexican citizens eek out a living here along the small coastal towns. There are numerous aesthetically pleasing restaurants (all seem empty), everyone seems busy and they don’t seem to be starving or begging for money. There are many fruit stands, vendors selling the local candies, bread and produce and they wait patiently for their patrons.

We drove through the edge of Acapulco which must have been the poorest part of town.

Hwy 200 to San Marcos was undergoing a lot of road repair and expansion so it was slow going. For some reason there were a variety of sizes of topes (speed bumps) with no forewarning. We bottomed out once, jumped twice, and screeched on the brakes a few times.

Photo right: Note small car making it over this large speed bump...we guessed ppl don't obey the speed limit so these will slow you down.

We found a Clint Eastwood style hotel in San Marcos, a bustling town, had dinner at the local hamberguesa joint and walked through the local market to the cathedral. We finished our day watching the original Nikita (French version) in Spanish subtitles at the hotel...and stayed up late enough to see 007 in Espanol.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Somewhere along Mexican Hwy 200 Pacific Coast

October 18-20, 2008

Bruce aka Pancho writing here: Sunday morning we gladly left Melaque and continued south down the west coast of the Mexican mainland. After initially thinking we would explore Barra de Navidad, we decided to continue on and make it a long day of driving. We actually drove 7 hours but only made 220 miles. Averaged 30 miles per hour! Highway was very "sinuous" as the signs say and the going was slow with many twists and turns. Along the way we encountered our first search by the military. We were ready for the extreme interrogations and possibly thumbscrews but after a very courteous 10 minute search all the officer asked was what was in a long green bag. "Telescope?" he asked, I said "No, la silla". Just a carrying case for our folding green chair. We were on our way dealing with more sinuosity.

Later in the day we happened upon a hotel sign on the highway that looked promising. Hotel Gambusino in La Mira, Jalisco was a true gem. Built on a cliff overlooking the ocean it was definitely a 4-star establishment...and for $58. It only has 9 rooms and we were the only guests. Our king-sized bed looked out through sliding glass doors to the sea. Dinner at their restaurant was a little high but we have been so spoiled with our meal prices in the interior that we need to cut the coastal retaurants some slack. A narrow bridge led from the hotel out to a palapa built on a rocky outcropping where Pat and I watched the waves roll in and sipped our Coronas.

Monday morning we continued our drive south with Zihuatanejo being our loose goal. We happened upon a topes ( large speed bump) where a group of Mexicans were holding signs and had a rope pulled across the road, forcing us to stop. Turns out they were asking for donations for their school. We gladly obliged and then bought some sweet bread (pan dulce) from a little boy for 5 pesos.

Our drive would take us by Trocones where a year and a half ago we took my 2 intelligent and beautiful nieces from Montana for vacation. We decided to stop and check out hotels. We settled on Hotel Troncones where Dave welcomed us. We liked him immediately and he was originally from Washington state.

Before choosing Hotel Troncones we drove down the dirt road strip of hotels of this rustic beach community cking other hotel prices and all were empty. We were told that "this was the slowest slow season ever" by one hotel owner. All dropped their prices for us but Hotel Troncones just felt right. For any of you out there wanting to hang out by a beach please come to Troncones, there are plenty of rooms, the price is right and this is a beautiful beach. The hotels we liked are: Los Suenos, Casa Blanca and of course Hotel Troncones

Dave told us about several fatal shark attacks that have happened close. One was pretty close to our hotel and the guy bled to death. The wave sets coming in are heavy also so if the pscado grandes don' get you the beach break will.

Well it's my time for the hammock now so I'll close so I can wake up Pat. Hasta Luego.

Melaque, Jalisco Mex Hwy 80

October 18, 2008

Bruce has read positive information about Melaque (San Patricio) and Barra de Navidad, our destination after Ajijic via Mexican Hwy 80. This was a manageable curvy road with few straight segments to give the driver a respite. It dead-ended into Melaque…how convenient.

Once over the sloping west side of the mountains it was so hot and muggy we could hardly stand it. All of Mexico has rec’d a lot of rain and even the high desert is lush. Hence, the west sloping side of the mountains is lush and humid. Even the street signs are overgrown with plants like Planet of the Apes. Melaque looked like it had some bad weather recently and repairs were underway. The main street had vendors and a few restaurants and the currently typical empty hotels. This hopefully will change once the season starts Nov.1st. At first it was nice, but now it’s getting a bit scary.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

James Explains the Mexican Ropes

Bruce writing here: Long story, short. 5 years ago I met James online, it's not what you think, when we both owned the same stock(Healthsouth). Well, unlike me, James made all the money in the world and moved to Ajijic, Mexico which is next to Chapala. We met for breakfast in Ajijic Saturday morning at his regular weekend, outdoor breakfast spot. James, thanks for breakfast. We had never met in person but he was exactly what I expected. A down to earth character with a lot of horse sense.

After curing all the ills of the stock market and the economy the discussion turned to living in Mexico. Basically he told Pat and I that he would go back to the states in an urn. He answered all of our questions and much more. He showed us his casa and also a friend of his. Both beautiful houses. It was an eye-opening visit.

We left Ajijic and headed for the coast ending up in Melaque. What a beautiful drive through the mountains. The 2-lane road was a little nerve racking in that we never knew when ,around the next sharp curve, someone would be coming at us in our lane while passing a bus. Pat finally just started closing her eyes. Seventy miles of curva peligrosa!

Photo right: Caballejos in Ajijic.

It was very, very humid in Melaque. An American ex-pat living there told us that this is the most uncomfortable part of the year and would pass in 3 to 6 weeks. We are out of here tomorrow!