Sunday, November 30, 2008

Almost 1/3 of a Century

33 years ago Thursday (November 27) my mom who was around 19 days "overdue" pregnant, decided to go bowling with family after Thanksgiving dinner. She fell over, which seemed to have initiated my entry into the world the following morning. To celebrate this 33rd year we invited our new Guadalajara friends to come over for pizza and drink.

Josh and Panzon preparing the pizza dough

Our neighbor Jorge taking a turn whipping the whipped cream.

Octavio's turn.

Avoiding a near dunk of my face into the cake.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Día de Acción de Gracias

Over the past few days we have had our great friends here, Pete and Angie. They flew in on Saturday night and we had a fun time catching up that evening with cerveza, tequila, and tacos. The following day we visited the tianguis (market) and headed to the main plaza to see the CODENI kids painting panels in celebration of the birthday of José Clemente Orozco.

Angie with some of the kids (Angel, Alex and Nacho) from our photo class

Inside the Institute Cultural Cabañas, flanked by Orozco paintings

Later in the day we all went to a Lucha Libre fight in an old arena close to the center. This was a crazy spectacle with various fighters such as El Terrible, and El Shocker and El Veerus , who each entered the ring to theme music and had a specialized mask and uniform. We each gripped onto our 24 ounce beers in anticipation as bodies flew through the air and the fighters smashed into each other. Venders buzzed throughout the arena selling cueritos (unfried pork skin, named after little pieces of leather), jicama, fresh doughnuts, and potato chips soaked in lime juice. At one point a fighter came very close to kicking the tray of doughnuts up into the air as he flew out of the ring and by the vender. In the end, El Blue Panther, the oldest of the fighters, triumphed over all.

On Monday after spending the morning researching our options for a 2-day trip, we decided to rent a car and drive to the coast, just south of Manzanillo. We drove past volcanoes and salt flats and made our way down just west of Colima to the town of Cuyutlán. It was a strange town with a whole lot of hotels and buildings, but nothing was open. We walked out onto the beach and, much like San Blas, hardly anyone was there. The sun was setting and the waves were beautiful but we decided to head south to the next town after an elderly townswoman confirmed that yes, indeed, no hotels or restaurants were open in that town. Paraiso was what we found next. We checked into one of its only hotels that was open and went out in search of fish for dinner. Sitting right next to the ocean we enjoyed Huachinango (Red Snapper) and ceviche (shrimp marinated/ cooked in lime juice). We seemed to be the only customers at the only open kitchen in the very small town. Afterward we went to a small bar and enjoyed beer and tequila with the town's mayor, lifeguard, a fisherman, and a mechanic from Colima. We were out late, and at the end of it all, the fisherman (Cande) invited us to go out fishing with him the following morning. Morning arrived quickly and we were all a bit sore from sleeping on lumpy beds and the aftereffects of too much to drink the prior evening. Despite the aches, this, again, was a simply wonderful experience. We helped the fishermen push their boats out to sea and then hopped in with Cande and two other fisherman.

Cande timed it perfectly and managed to avoid capsizing us in the huge swells that were crashing into the beach.

Once past this danger zone we visited four separate nets and watched as the fishermen pulled in beautiful fish and conch shells. They worked quickly and efficiently and managed to pull in their fruits in less than two hours. Pelicans floated beside us the whole while, waiting for handouts, which they occasionally received. The way back in to shore was just as thrilling and scary as the ride out, as once again the timing had to work perfectly between swells.

After breakfast and a little recovery from sea-sickness, we spent the day on the beach. The waves were huge and a little scary at times and each of us had the experience of getting pummled into the sand after timing entries and exits wrong. We ate lunch with Cande (the fish we caught earlier that day), collected volcanic rocks, and just relaxed.

That evening we went in search of coconuts and drank their juice beside the ocean.

Yesterday we made the drive back to Guadalajara to meet our friends Bety and Adriana (neighbors to Angie and Pete in San Luis Potosi, Mexico in 2007). It was a relaxing day that involved visiting the city center once again, and dinner in a favorite restaurant.

This morning Pete flew back to the states to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family, and Bety and Adriana headed by bus back to SLP. Angie, Josh and I rode up to Cerro del Cuatro to meet with the cooperativa women. It has been such a terrific week enjoying our experience here with friends. Tomorrow we will have one more day to spend with Angie before she flies back to Virginia early Saturday morning.

Friday, November 21, 2008

A beach to ourselves

Josh and I just returned from a three day trip to San Blas, a small town on the Pacific Ocean, about 150 kilometers north of Puerto Vallerta. It was such a great experience. To begin, we made it out of the city safely in a rental car. And we retraced the route that we had gone a few days prior with Annie and the family, through Tequila and westward. I do not think I could ever bore of staring at this landscape... much like southwestern United States, the mountains and canyons are huge and seemingly uninhabited and composed of beautiful-colored rocks, dotted with agave and nopal cacti.
As we neared the coast we dropped in elevation a great deal and the temperature, flora and fauna reflected this change. We nearly missed both a lemur and iguana (exclaiming "Oh my god. Was that a lemur?") as we drove through the jungle (selva) and on to the coast. There were banana plants and mango trees and fields of sugar cane. As we drove through dusty little pueblos it was interesting to see that people were not living off of much, yet there seemed a never-ending supply of produce.
We made it to a small hotel in the early afternoon and began to explore. We did not know this before we arrived, but in October 2002 Hurricane Kenna hit the pueblo with 140 mph winds and a 16 foot high storm surge. 95 % of its buildings were damaged. Though notes that the town has rebuilt, there are still a great deal of abandoned businesses and little houses throughout the town. And when we went to go to the beach we found an enormous stretch of beach with hardly a soul on it. We body surfed the waves until the sun began to set. Then we took a long walk. Sounds like the perfect date, I know. We just could not get over how few people there were, and felt like we had discovered something largely unknown. But this could not have been the case, as there were chairs and chairs and little cabanas lining the upper stretch of the beach. But for three days in a row, we were some of the few people swimming in that stretch of the ocean.

We did find plenty of people in the main plaza of San Blas. They were there to celebrate Mexico's Día de la Revolución with music and dancing and a parade that went on for hours with little kids dressed as soldiers, little girls dressed as indigenous women, trumpeters and drummers, more kids in costumes...

The nearby town of Sauta (that Josh had previously visited for a story two years ago) was also celebrating with a band and rodeo. We watched a few hombres get tossed around on the bulls (I was secretly happy that they got tossed off) and danced a little before returning to the celebration in San Blas.
Earlier that day we went out on a boat with a few other couples and a guide through canals in the jungle. Along the way we saw crocodiles, egrets, turtles, and so many other birds. We swam in a section of this canal that was free of crocodiles, where the water was clear and warm.

On our drive back to Guadalajara we stopped in another small pueblo on the beach called Platanitos where we ate grilled fish on the beach.

It was a weekend to experience being tourists in this country, and I have to admit, I really enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Santa Maria del Oro

It was Josh's birthday yesterday and we loaded into the van with Annie and the family to head west. About 45 minutes outside of Guadalajara is the pueblo Tequila where appropriately, there are fields and fields of agave plants and tiendas selling tequila all over the place. We stopped and tried the part of the agave plant that they ferment (near its roots). It was sweet like molasses. A bit further down the road we had pollo asado, or grilled chicken, at a roadside stand.
The landscape outside of Guadalajara is spectacular... mountainous and volcanic. I couldn't keep my eyes off the view as we climbed up into the Sierra Madres. Eventually we arrived in the pueblo called Santa Maria del Oro, where there is a beautiful lake plopped in the middle of the mountains. Josh and I, not realizing that swimming would be in order for the day, jumped in the water in our skivies and swam around with Panzon and Annie.
Tomorrow Josh and I will be renting a car to drive to San Blas, very close to Sauta where he and Beth did a story two years ago. Thursday the 20th of November is the Día de la Revolución and there should be a festival there for the occasion. I will be back to report more this weekend.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mexican Oddities

I figured it was time to talk about a few things that set México apart from the U.S.
Yesterday Josh and I headed to a hospital for "examinations." Not because we are sick, but rather, this is necessary in order to swim in a nearby pool. We had our weight and height measured (in kilos and centimeters which was interesting). Our pulse and blood pressure were taken. We had blood drawn in order to determine our types, and whether we have diseases. And all of this was done TOGETHER. We even shared the same thermometer (sticking it under the armpit rather than in the mouth). They must have figured that we share our lives together, of course we can share an appointment. I found myself comparing my pulse and blood pressure to his, as though it was a competition. And after it was all said and done, our results were given to us out loud in the waiting room. The most wonderful aspect of this appointment, was that it cost around $36 for both of us. Period.
People here have no qualms about standing very close to each other in lines. And if you don't push right up next to the person in front of you, the next person entering the queu will assume that you are giving them "fronts."
Never, never carry anything larger than a $200 peso note (roughly $18). There is never change. Or even if there is, the cashier will give you such a hard time that you will buckle and hand over the coins you were saving for your next transaction. There have been a number of times where I have even tried to use a $100 peso note and it has lead to a manager being called over to unlock the vault where the change is stored.
Stay posted, I am sure to have more oddities to note in the coming months.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


A little update on my bicycle once again. I finally decided that my lopsided wheel just wouldn't cut it any longer, thus, I brought it in with Josh to have it repaired. It turns out that the tire had been a bit too large, and instead of finding one that fit the wheel, the last owner cut the tire to make it fit. It was only a matter of time before... who knows what.
Sans bike, we had to ride the bus this morning. I am not sure if I have described the buses in much depth, so I feel this might be the time to give the lowdown.
Each bus driver has his own (we have yet to find a female bus driver) decorative elements adorning the inside of the bus. This could include, but is not limited to, an image or two of Jesus, a fuzzy rear view mirror cover, dangling baby shoes, and tinted windows.
Bus drivers here take pride in slamming on the accelerator and punching the clutch, and braking hard and fast at traffic lights and stops. People getting on the bus have to move on as quickly as possible, as the driver steps on it once the last person entering has made it up the first step. No matter if you are elderly, disabled, or with child in tow, the driver shows no discrimination and accelerates before most anyone is seated.
Today was particularly interesting for me as I watched an elderly man in the front seat using nose hair pluckers, trimming his nose hairs as the bus jerked all over the place. It seemed wrong on all accounts.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Yesterday I met a family that Josh has been photographing. Pedro, the father, and Rocio, the mother, wash windshields at a busy intersection from around 9 AM to 5 or 6 PM every day of the week. When the light turns red, and the cars have stopped, Rocio and Pedro run out into the street and begin beckoning to drivers with their water bottles filled with soapy water. They usually have time for one, maybe two windshields before the light turns green. Normally people give 1 to 2 pesos for Rocio and Pedro's services (around 10 to 15 cents) but there are also those who give nothing.
Meanwhile, Rocio and Pedro's two children sit in the median of this busy intersection. Estrella, who will be 3 in December, plays with anything that she can find of interest on the ground. Yesterday she had twenty flakes of confetti, red and silver, and we exchanged them back and forth as regalos (gifts) for quite some time. She comes dangerously close to the edge of the median as cars whiz by, but has managed somehow to stay "safe."
Juan Carlos was lying in the stroller next to us, squacking occasionally. Juan is extrememly malnourished with, perhaps, a few other problems as well. At the age of one, he cannot sit, let alone crawl or stand. His legs and fingers appear abnormally long and skinny, and his belly is enlarged. He lays in the stroller every day for hours at a time with a soiled diaper, sucking on a bottle with a mixture of formula and questionable water. The whole family is dark from hours of exposure to sun, and dirt. The air they breathe is ridden with exhuast.
They spend their days working so that they can make enough to pay for their 70 pesos a night room in a dilapitated apartement complex of sorts. They cannot manage to make enough to get ahead. The whole family sleeps on the floor, while Pedro's mom and 19-year-old niece sleep on a small bed. The apartment is filthy, and roaches crawl everywhere.
I cannot imagine living this life day after day. I was maddened and frustrated by it all as I left the family, knowing that examples such as this exist all over this city and world.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Critical Mass Mexican Style

Tonight Josh and I joined at least 3,000 other cyclists on the city streets of Guadalajara. On the first Thursday of every month riders gather in Plaza Revolución at 9pm and take over the streets- stalling traffic for some time. It felt like it was redemption for all the times we have been cut off and honked at by cars and buses. Another cool aspect of this event is that there is always a new theme... tonight's was Day of the Dead (note poster above, courtesy of There were people in skeleton outfits, leotards, masks, a few wearing frilly black dresses, many had face paint. And there were all forms of wheeled mechanisms, including a man who rode really close to us on a 7-ish foot high bike. The coolest part of the ride was cruising down into a freeway tunnel- fast- sans cars. Everyone was screeching as they made their way through the tunnel, and the echoes made it seem crazier still.

Afterwards Josh and I rode to a great taquería (taco stand) near our friend Annie's place. This is where I need to mention that I have been eating meat after cutting it out of my diet 14 years ago. Shocking, yes. And I do not think that I will continue this habit upon return to living in the states. But the fact that 92.7% of the items on menus and sold at stands in this country center around some form of meat has swayed me. Frankly, it will not be the a great experience if I stick to cheese.
So we ate tacos pastor- once again I must interject. Tacos here are tiny. And always soft shell. And, as mentioned already, they only have meat inside and are garnished with cilantro and onions. People order many of them at once and eat them off of plates covered by plastic bags (easier to clean that way). Josh and I had four each and a cup of horchata, for the equivalent of $5.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ba-rock on Dude!

(Thank you Kim, for the clever title)
We are in bliss in Guadalajara. Here's to the change a comin.'