Friday, October 31, 2014

day of the dread

A week has passed since Darrel and Christy arrived at the Manzanillo airport -- a bit shocked at how hot and humid late October can be around here.

Darrel, of course, has always been fond of this area.  He was ready to move down here when he stayed with me on the beach for the month of May back in 2009.  His periodic subsequent visits have not cooled his ardor.

And, even though Christy is not quite as enamored with the place, she has become fond of it.  It has "grown on her," as she said the other day.  Her only major complaint has been the amount of plastic that is burnt around here.

Overall, it has been a very successful visit for them.  When I bundle them off to the airport tomorrow, I expect to have the pleasure of their company soon.  There certainly will be a room waiting for them whenever they want.

Both of them have helped me work through a series of house projects.  Replacing broken toilet seats.  Coming up with methods to take the shower over-splash off of tiled bathroom floors. 

Getting my internet up and running.  Raising my patio umbrella to its optimum height. 

Repairing my Escape tire.  Schlepping my rather ratty internet table into my bedroom until a suitably-decorative substitute can be found. 

Installing new high-
security locks on the garage doors.  Restoring as much of my lost computer data as could be expected under the circumstances.  And letting Mexican Immigration know I have a new address.

I may have accomplished all of that on my own -- even though I doubt it.  But it was far more interesting being a problem-solver in conjunction with family members.  It will be good to have them here more often.

Our wrap-up day was a day of eating and relaxing.  Starting with an incredibly creative breakfast.  We drove over to the Grand Bay Hotel to experience what I have been told is one of the best breakfasts in town.

Certainly, the view is as good as it gets.  And that was a bit worrisome.  But my good view-mediocre food rule found an exception.  All of our breakfasts were excellent.

I must admit, though, it paled in comparison with our dinner.  We drove over to La Mazanilla to help Alex and her business partner Leia celebrate with the ongoing opening of their new restaurant -- Magnolia.

It was a perfect night.  The service was efficient and cordial.  Alex and Leia are perfect hosts.  The new courtyard restaurant has a perfect balance of intimacy and casual elegance.

And the food?  It could not have been better.  The description (dinner salad, pork chops, meatloaf) do not do justice to what the kitchen can do (and does) with food that is simple and good, and, thus, simply good.

I believe the two of them have a hit on their hands.  Or, more appropriately, a home run.

When Darrel and Christy return, I know where one of our first stops will be.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

adventure comes knocking

Any day the hook for an essay comes knocking on my door, I count it lucky.

Last night, the three of us talked about striking out in the morning to see the coffee plantation at
Cuzalapa during a drive to Villa Purificación.  You know both sites -- having joined me on several previous trips (ticking me off; purity of sacrifice; putting the sore into sorry).  I thought Christy should be introduced to a bit of colonial Mexico.

Because we are all in vacation mode, our morning was a bit slow.  A nice breakfast whipped up in my fancy new kitchen.  And a lazy float in the pool.

That is when our visitor arrived.  I heard frantic scratching on the screen to the living room.  While cleaning the house, I had discovered some mysterious spoor in that room.  I had my theories.  Now, I knew.

It was an iguana.  What appeared to be a young one changing its skin color.  The markings were almost serpentine.  And it was so intent on getting beyond the screen, it allowed all of us to get quite close to it.  Before it dashed off under the garage door.

Talk about symbolic.  Adventure had come to us to let us know it was time to get moving.  So, move we did.

Darrel and Christy are mountain people.  So, I knew that a trip up through the foothills of the Sierra Madre would be a perfect fit for them.

Like most coastal areas of Pacific Mexico, there is a steady climb through stunning views back toward the coast until travelers reach a broad flat valley hemmed in by a series of mountains.  In our case, the valley starts at La Huerta.

Cuzalapa is located in the hills of that valley.  The coffee roasting center was closed when we arrived, but that did not stop us from hiking through the coffee trees.  I had hoped to see them in flower this year, but we missed that.  The green berries were just setting.

On my last trip to Cuzalapa, I was surprised to find fields of strewn boulders.  Huge boulders.  In this particular case, there was no possibility of clearing this portion of a field.  So, the corn is planted around the rocks.

I have a theory why they are there.  Up north, they would have been deposited by glaciers.  But the Ice Age did not approach Mexico.

To me, they look like volcano bombs.  The type of rocks that volcanoes throw out in eruptions.  The Wicked Witch of the East could probably fully brief us on their dangers.

Our drive was also enlivened by wild flowers.  They are not as showy as the flowers around San Miguel de Allende and
Pátzcuaro, but they were beautiful -- nonetheless.

And Villa Purificación?  We never made it there.  Christy will have to wait for another visit to see our bit of colonial Mexico in this part of Jalisco.

But we did stop in
Cuautitlán de García Barragán.  The town is best known for its prize bulls.  We now know it for its taco stand that served up what were most likely very ordinary tacos, but they tasted like ambrosia to three travelers.

All in all, it was a day filled with enough adventure for now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

mouthing the words

The pull date on my promises seems to be approximately nine hours -- if today's experience is any measure.

Yesterday I swore I would try to see Melaque through the eyes of a first-time visitor.  And I did.  But not quite the way I had originally imagined.

Christy was interested in buying a Mexican sun dress.  She looked through the local tourist shops, and found nothing.  Worry not, several expatriates told her.  You can always find what you need at the tianguis -- our weekly traveling flea market.

I kept my mouth shut.  My experience is that the tianguis is nothing more than a garage sale with egalitarian pretensions.  In my six years of living here, I cannot recall buying anything of value there.

But I had a promise to keep.  To see my world through new eyes.

It didn't work.  Even though, I tried.  I chatted up the vendors.  I fingered the merchandise.  I even tried on a rayon Hawaiian shirt.  But it was the same garage sale experience that has left me cold in the past.

Fortunately, Christy saved the day for me.  She was disappointed with the whole experience.  It was not the market experience she had anticipated.  I suspect she had Oaxaca in mind. 

Other than talking with a silver jewelry salesman, she picked up nothing to examine.  A sure sign of a disinterested shopper.

But, we also agreed that feeling disappointed was fine.  Not all travel experiences are equal, and I managed to end up in the same place she did.

All was resurrected with a new adventure for me.  I had never taken the lancha -- water taxi -- across Barra's lagoon to

Isla de Navidad is home to our local area's only luxury hotel, the Grand Bay, and to the far less-luxurious village of Colimilla -- famous for its seafood restaurants.

We ate at Mary's.  Said by some to be the best of the village's lot.  Its food was good.  But probably no better than seafood in most of the seafood eateries in Barra and Melaque.

What was superb was the view.  I have a theory that excellent food and outstanding views simply do not exist.  Nowhere in the world.  And the view here was great.  It was absolutely traquil to be sitting on the edge of my dinner's former home.

Even though I would not make Colimilla a habit, that trip across the water is something to save for future visitors.  Of which, I hope there will be many more.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

touring with new eyes

Now and then, it is good to let a little humility into one's life.  Especially, if that one is me.

Somewhere along the way of living here in Mexico, my view of my personal role morphed from tourist to resident.  I cannot tell you when.  But it did.  And I have been recurringly guilty of turning into one of those expatriates who put on fancy airs and look aghast when someone delights in calling me a "tourist."

There is another essay embedded in that sentence -- one about what it means to be an expatriate.  And I will get around to writing it one of these days.  But today's essay is a bit more limited in its scope.

I realized just how much joy I miss with my snootiness whenever I am in the presence of someone who finds everything in Melaque to be intriguing.  Today, that was my sister-in-law, Christy.

This is her first visit to this area of Mexico.  Most of her prior Mexican experiences have played out at the series of resorts we could all tick off.  So, the life here is entirely new to her.

Tuesday was the first day that we have gone 100% tourist.  Or almost.

We started the day not in tourist mode.  I took Darrel and Christy to what I have previously referred to as my secret breakfast spot for huevos rancheros.  The best I have ever tasted.  And both Darrel and Christy concur with my rating.

But this was not really a tourist stop.  We were the only people in the little restaurant whose first language was not Spanish.  Special spots like this often make me wonder how people who refuse to learn any Spanish can fully enjoy the offerings of our little beach villages.

Unfortunately, my restaurant could not meet all of the needs of my guests.  They have been both jonesing for a cup of good coffee.  Nescafe was on offer, and Christy tried it.  But it was not what she needed.

So, off we went to La Taza Negra -- an excellent coffee shop run by two friends of mine.  Darrel has spent some time with Ben and Alexa on prior visits.  Whatever it is that they put in their coffees, it got Darrel and Christy off to a great start.  And me?  Well, "coffee" starts with a "c," doesn't it?

Duly fueled, we headed northwest to La Manzanilla -- the little village that first drew me to this part of Mexico.  Tenacatita Bay has to be one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world with its wide mouth and sandy beaches.  "Tropical paradise" quickly rolls off the tongue of even sardonic observers like Mexpatriate.

As nice as the beach is, my reason for taking guests to La Manzanilla is easy to guess -- the crocodiles.  When I first went there, the crocodiles were free to (and did) wander the streets and beaches near their mangrove swamp home.

They are now fenced in.  But guys this size are still intimidating to watch, knowing that what separates his jaw from my right foot is a slat of wood no thicker than what once kept oranges from spilling out in the back of a truck.

I realized just how much I miss my nightly strolls behind my old house to inventory the life of crocodiles.

And what is a day at the beach without spending a day at the beach?  Having met our reptile quota, we drove up the highway to Boca de Iguanas to visit a bed and breakfast where Darrel and I stopped for lunch with the Moodies on his last visit earlier this year -- when I was looking at buying a completely different house.

Chantli Mare is one of those boutique hotels that could easily host a tropical thriller about midnight mayhem and murder.  The "bed" portion of the operation is exquisitely outfitted.  But it is the beach that draws the trade. 

For walks on the beach with the owner's energetic dog, Rusty.  Sitting in a lounge chair.  Enjoying a drink on the patio.  Or lunching on some of the best food in the area.

We did all of that.  And were happier for it.

I am not certain the Chantli Mare experience qualifies as a tourist day.  Our fellow diners and sunners were local businesspeople and permanent residents.  It gave the place far more of an insider feel than a visitors' refuge.

No matter how I label the day, Christy and Darrel had a great time.  And I learned to see many things with new eyes -- things I have taken for granted.

I guess it is not a bad thing to be a tourist from time to time.  Even travelers do that.


Monday, October 27, 2014

back in the swim again

Mexpatriate is up and running.

And it feels great.  With the exception of the late publication date.  But we have been a busy family the past two days.

On Sunday, we found an open shop to repair the Escape's flat tire.  That was our first priority. 

Even though my neighbors feel comfortable driving around on a spare, I am not quite that sanguine.  And I have a lot of Mexico to show Darrel and Christy before they head back to the Land of Work and Cold.

Today was a buying trip to Manzanillo.  We came up with a list of things we needed to buy to make their stay a bit easier -- and to make the house a bit homier.  Like new toilet seats.  Two of the six needed immediate attention.

Darrel and I also worked on the internet.  It is up and running. 

Last night, I conjured up a method to restore a few of the files that disappeared with my computer.  With the exception of the photographs I shot in Washington and Oregon before I headed back here earlier in the month, I have managed to resurrect seven years of my work.

That will now free us up to see some of the treasures of the area.  La Manzanilla tomorrow.  I think.  Unless a better alternative presents itself.

As soon as I get settled, I will start sharing shots from my replacement camera.  You can see the first at the top of this piece.

It is fresh out of my camera.  And when I hit the publish button, my body will join the rest of the family in that inviting pool.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

don't tread on me

I moved to Mexico primarily because I wanted to awaken every morning and not have the slightest idea how I was going to get through the day.  I have said it before -- and I am saying it today:  Mexico has lived up to its end of the bargain.  In spades.

Yesterday was a perfect example.  I had one big item on my agenda -- to drive out to the Manzanillo airport to pick up my brother and our special guest star for the week.  The house was in perfect order to show off its lines.

If you have not already guessed, our special guest star is Darrel's wife, my sister-in-law, Christy.  It turns out their adventure began a little earlier than they anticipated.

They had gone to bed early on Friday night to be ready to catch a pre-dawn flight from Bend.  Around midnight, they received a text message that their flight to Portland had been canceled due to fog.  And that was the only flight that would allow them to catch the once-a-week flight to Manzanillo.

So, they jumped into their car and drove the multi-hour trip to Portland to catch the flight.  And catch it they did, arriving in Manzanillo right on time. 

With greetings all around, we piled into the Escape.  I was telling Darrel I thought I had a malfunction in one of my dashboard lights.  The low tire pressure was on, but all of the tires seemed to have adequate pressure.

We were passing a Pemex station as I said that.  I am glad I stopped.  The front left tire was well on its way to being flat.  The reason was immediately obvious.  There was a hole in the tread that looked as if Kojak had shot it out.  I suspect I had picked up a nail and the head had finally snapped off.

Being the take-charge guy that he is, Darrel changed the tire.  But it was late Saturday, and there was no hope of finding a repair shop -- or to order a new tire, which is probably my option.

That didn't bother me because I knew the day's centerpiece would be Darrel and Christy getting their first glimpse of the house.  I threw the door open -- and immediately in front of them was my swimming pool doing a St. Patrick's Day impression.  When I left it was clear.  It was now an interesting shade of pond scum.

The fact that the house internet has not been working for a couple of days seemed like an afterthought.

So, here we are at Rooster's having breakfast.  My brother has handed over my new computer (the platform for this essay), camera, and Kindle.  Within a couple of days, all of the circumstances of Saturday will be grist for tales.

What matters is that my brother and his wife are here to investigate what I hope will be part of their retirement plans.

And, as soon as I buy a memory card for the camera (something Sony does not seem to provide any longer), I will have some shots of the coming week.

After all, I need to start sharing the house with you.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

knocking out the stuffing

Some of you think I went to finishing school on a pirate ship.

But you would be wrong.  My finishing school was the United States Air Force.

I learned a lot of useful skills.  Comradeship.  Loyalty.  Orderliness.  Sewing.  The same skill set other young men learn in prison.

The sewing skill could have come in handy the other night.  Last week, I bought two large pillows at Sam's Club for my new bed.  When I woke up after my first night in the new place earlier this week, I was startled to find the bed was strewn with stuffing.

Not the type that comes out of a turkey at Thanksgiving and gives each member of the family an equal opportunity of losing the food poisoning lottery.

This was some sort of pillow stuffing.  Cleverly called "down artificial fill."  My brand new pillow had made an offer I could not refuse.  But it was better than waking up with a severed horse head in my bed.

Today I needed to drive to Manzanillo to complete a couple of tasks before Darrel arrives.  I have had several "returned merchandise" events in Mexico -- with mixed results.

So, I gathered up my unstuffed pillow and my all-important receipt, and rolled on down the road to Sam's Club.

With all of that build-up, you might think the clerk suggested I could simply sew up the seam that came undone.  If I had had no other reason to go to Manzanillo, I probably would have pulled out my sewing kit to do just that. repaired pillow.

But the young lady I talked with immediately saw the problem, took my receipt and club card, and asked me to retrieve a new packet of pillows.  Just like Salem.  But, in Spanish.  Even though I am not even certain there is a Sam's Club in Salem.

My shopping is going far better than my internet access.  After working for a couple of days, the connection has decided it has no interest in carrying my words to you.  So, I will let it be churlish until the arrival of my sainted brother -- who can fix anything.

Maybe, tomorrow.