Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Dead Horse Curve (unpleasant subject)

There's a section of highway, at the base of a small mountain between Tzurumutaro and Sanabria (the turn off for Ihuatzio) that is notorious for its blind curves. For reasons incomprehensible to us, it's also an area where livestock, both cattle and horses, freely range unfettered. The result is that there are often the corpses of cattle or caballos.

We had just finished smelling the last of one such rotting carcass when another unfortunate victim was seen lying on the other side of the road, a hundred or so meters closer to Sanabria.

We feel badly for the victims, but we have no solution to the problem. Ni modo. At the very least, we use extreme caution when driving around the curves. When riding in the combi van, we have to adopt the motto, "Fe en Dios y adelante." "Faith in God and forward."
We once had a driver steer with his knees, while texting on his cell phone, on this same stretch of highway.

The last victim's situation was especially asqueroso; after a few days, its head was missing.

Sorry to upset your stomachs. I'll offer a photo of some beautiful, live horses, taken alongside a less trafficked stretch of another highway near here.
Click on photo for full view.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


We have just returned from a 4 night stay in the small, tropical, Pacific coastal city of Zihuatanejo, in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

This trip was out of character, as I especially have not liked beach resorts in the past (I was bored to irritation), and we are both averse to steaming hot locales. (One of the big attractions of the Pátzcuaro area is that it's seldom hot.)

Lately, however, the onset of cold weather here in the Michoacán highlands plus a desire for a change of scene, impelled us into taking this brief trip. I theorized that an air conditioned hotel, in a city with numerous restaurants and shops nearby would appeal to me more than a "chill" beach scene. (Chill beach scene, if I understand that phrase correctly, is a place of hammocks under palapa shape huts, where you lie around, drink coconut water mixed with gin or whatever —neither of us like coconut water—, and I'm good for oh, maybe, 5 minutes chilling in a hammock.)

We decided to travel by bus, an economical and less stressful way than driving. Oddly, no buses go directly from Pátzcuaro to Zihuatanejo; one has to either back track to Morelia or go to Uruapan. Uruapan is the logical choice, as it's 50 miles down the slope and in more or less the right direction. We packed lightly and carried two soft mini-duffel bags and a woven shopping bag. Thus equipped, we walked down our street to the corner, where we waited then caught the combi van to Pátzcuaro.

There's a second class bus stop in lower Pátzcuaro called "La Estacíon", after the long inactive train station nearby. This is a popular transportation hub for buses and combis and taxis. We dared enter the Tortas Pátzcuaro shop, next to the infamous Federal Police Station that got shot up by narcos last year, to buy two tortas (hoagy/sub-like sandwiches) to go. Then we walked a block, waited a few minutes, and got tickets for the Uruapan bus.

The bus is "servicio ordinario", which in other words, means it isn't first class, but it's reasonably comfortable for short trips.
The scenery is beautiful, as the highway winds down the mountain slopes through pine forest and views of extinct cinder cones, then past groves of avocado trees. The outskirts of Uruapan mark the end of the pretty part and the start of the gritty part. It's quite unattractive a place, but the bus station isn't bad. A good thing, as we had over two hours to wait for the next bus. We'd bought our senior discount tickets for the 1:30 p.m. run two days before.

The people watching was above average, and helped while away the time. There's even an operating bakery, where I watched the baker scrape down the dough on the inside of a still whirling dough kneader machine.

From Uruapan, our First Class bus on "La Linea" took us down into the Tierra Caliente of Michoacán and the dramatic mountains around the Presa del Infiernillo reservoir.
Three quite forgettable movies played for our entertainment. (At least, I'm trying to forget the last one, an animated, full-length feature about anthropomorphic eggs, in an Old Mexico desert setting. Although the stark beginning, shaman-haunted and set amongst the buttes and mesas of Real de Catorce was auspicious, it quickly degenerated into mawkish and squawkish silliness.
The autopista disgorged us onto the sunny coast road, which carried us palm thatched huts, cold beer stores and  for about 45 minutes to lovely Zihuatanejo.

The Zihuatanejo bus station has no taxi boleto taquilla where you can buy tickets at a regulated rate. So I was pleasantly surprised when the taxi driver quoted us a rate of $25 MXN to take us to our hotel, Villas Miramar, in Colonia La Madera, a ten minute walk from Centro.

Colonia La Madera is a pleasant, semi residential area, in which most every property is dedicated to the hospitality industry. The principal, east-west-ish street, Calle Adelita, is shady and relatively cooler than the nearby streets across the mostly dry canal that marks its northwestern boundary. There, as in much of touristic Zihuatanejo, English is widely spoken. Prices are often quoted in dollars, but with firmness, you can pay in pesos, which is better for you, the customer.

Villas Miramar was a good choice for us. We are grateful to our friend D.L. Glidden, who told us about it, and gave us many dining tips. The Miramar has two sections, one on either side of Calle Adelita: a "garden view" and a "sea view" section.

We chose the sea view section, which cost us $850 MXN a night (about $66 USD a night, with a 40% discount on the 4th night. It would have been $100 MXN less per night for a garden view room. (These were shoulder season rates, which changes to high season on December 18.)

The room was very spacious and comfortable. There was a small terrace with  a view of the bay and the pool below. There was a small refrigerator; an effective ceiling fan; two double beds, reading lights, an AC unit, a decent bathroom with very ample supplies of hot water, and a telephone, which we never used. The TV had very few channels available, and we had no remote, but TV watching is not among our priorities.

What didn't come with the room was purified drinking water, facial tissues, and instructions for operating the lights. But we bought two liter bottles of water at nearby stores and we eventually figured out the light system.

We were soon into the pool. Not big enough to do laps (like I care?), it was perfect for cool, easy lounging.

I realize that this post is getting long, so I'll leave it here for now and later, describe our quasi-touristic activities and especially, the restaurants, on My Mexican Kitchen.

View Larger Map

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Beam Me Down, Google...

...there's life down there.

I learned on's forums the other day that Google Earth now has Street View for Guadalajara. I have to admit the Guadalajara aspect didn't excite my interest, but I was really thrilled that Google Earth had this feature. The poster helped me out by explaining how to enable Street View in your Google Earth browser. Open the panel on the left side and look under "layers" for "street view", then check the box.
(You can visit Ajijíc and Chapala, if you wish. I haven't tried San Miguel de Allende yet.)

Areas which have been photographed for Street View have little camera icons up and down the street. Mousing over the icon reveals the street name. Corner intersections are indicated with names of both streets.

You can click the camera icons to reveal a small photo, then click the link below to open in Street View. Or, just double click the camera icon to swoop directly down to street level. This is often vertiginous and not for those prone to los mareos. Once at street level, you can drag the image to either right of left and then navigate your way up and down the street. There's some limited zoom in-zoom out capability. To exit, click "exit photo" in the upper right of the screen. This does not return you to your previous, regular view very well. I have to zoom out and correct the North arrow on the navigation tools to reorient myself.

Instead of Guad, I went zooming off at high speed to México, D.F. There I homed in to one of my favorite areas of the city, Colonia Roma. Once I "arrived", I navigated to Avenida Álvaro Obregón, locating various well known landmarks such as Casa Lamm, Hotel Colonia Roma (budget), Hotel Milán (moderate), Hotel Stanza (Executive Class). The latter is located at the corner of Álvaro Obregón and Calle Morelia, with the Jardín Pushkin to the east side. (You can see the street tianguis and food stalls there.) About three blocks up Calle Morelia, at the corner of Calle Colima, I located my favorite hamburger stand. (pictured below) With minimal maneuvering, I was able to get a good Street View, full screen picture and save it.

With a little trial and error maneuvering (the direction you are looking is not always clear.), I then navigated several blocks to the off-center, second floor, shiny chrome and formica restaurant, Las Costillas d' Fuentes, at the corner of Calle Mérida and Calle Durango. Nº 58, to be exact. It's on the first floor up in this modern building, pictured below. It's a slightly odd but pleasant, low priced restaurant specializing in charcoal grilled meats, especially the eponymous rib steaks. Coming soon on My Mexican Kitchen.

This is another great tool enabling us to explore the world and its wonders, thanks to the generous development of the Google Corp.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Don Cuevas' Top 5 Hotel Picks

When we last heard from him, Felipe was concerned that the Cuevas couple was still skimping on pesos and staying in wretched backpacker budget hotels.

Rest your fears, amigo. With two borderline exceptions, we have not stayed in a budget hotel since 2004. Those exceptions were the Posada de La Villa (pretty basic and older),
and the Hotel Casa Galeana, (newer, nicer and noisy) both in Morelia. Neither of which would be on our Top 5 List, however. Since then, we have made it a point to spend the necessary money in order to be comfortable.

These are our top picks.
Mexico, D.F. is where we usually stay in hotels these days, going to and from the Aeropuerto Benito Júarez (MEX).

Hotel Milán, Av. Álvaro Obregón, Colonia Roma Norte. (Map) This is a 3 star hotel which is well located in a pleasant zone of the city, near parks and fountains, restaurants, coffeehouses plus new and used book stores. The rooms are modest in size but nicely renovated. The bathrooms are small but very clean and functional. Sometimes there is free wi-fi in the rooms.*

Hotel Catedral is our choice when staying in el Centro Histórico. It's a couple of blocks north of La Catedral. It has all the amenities but still, despite its increased popularity among Lonely Planet fans, its rates are still affordable. Book by email and save by not opting for the breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Save even more by paying en efectivo.

Also in CH, we have stayed at the
Hotel Gillow, the Catedral's older sister hotel, on Isabel La Católica at Cinco de Mayo, and we didn't think it worth the extra money. The Gillow has great, 1930's Art Deco style in its lobby and public spaces, but the room we had, though large, was quite worn.

Similarly, the cute Hotel Canadá on Cinco de Mayo itself has a pleasant staff but tiny rooms and street noise. The chief advantage of the latter two are their terrific location in the very center of the CH. The wonderful
Jugos Canadá is next door. The Gilipollos chicken restaurant is across Cinco de Mayo. (I confess; we haven't eaten there yet, but the '30s and '40s style Cafe La Blanca is only a block away.)

Back in Colonia Roma, we have recently pampered ourselves at the
Hotel Stanza (used to be called Hotel Parque Ensenada). The rooms are like the Catedral, but a higher notch in amenities and style. The rates are reasonable for the quality and service. We like it because it's a great place to rest while decompressng after a visit to the U.S. It's the closest decent hotel to Hamburguesas a la Parilla, just 3 short blocks north on Calle Morelia.*

*Note that both my Colonia Roma choices are within convenient range of several
Bisquets Obregón restaurants, including the Mother Ship of all Bisquets in Mexico. They are notable for serving decent fare at good prices.Breakfasts, accompanied by café con leche, are a strong point.

Puebla, Puebla.
We have only been in Puebla once, and we chose to stay at the quirky but pleasant
Hotel Imperial. In a way, it's a semi-budget hotel. They offer a geezer discount, if you show an INAPAM card. They also include a Manager's cena, but it's pretty basic. There's a breakfast included, a bit more elaborate. There's wi-fi, and it works. The location is quite central; a few blocks to the Zócalo. The rooms are old, and worn, but we were comfortable. We opted for a Suite Ejecutivo, as the price was so reasonable: $550 less INAPAM discount. In your spare time, you can get in a few holes of mini-miniature golf, while in your bathrobe. (Included in the Suite Ejecutivo price.)

Oaxaca, Oaxaca.

Really, we've only stayed in one hotel in Oaxaca, the
Casa Arnel. We have a great deal of affection for this hotelito and the family and staff that runs it.
On our first stay, in the early '90s, we skimped and took a very minimalist budget room, resembling a barely converted mop closet. Since then, Casa Arnel has renovated and improved so that the rooms are pleasant, although they could not be called luxurious. The attractions, besides the hospitable family, are the green leafy patio and the neighborhood. There is a small restaurant for guests, serving breakfasts, drinks and light meals.

Barrio Jalatlaco

The location is within 7 blocks of the first class bus station, in the picturesque Barrio antiguo Jalatlaco. It's a 20+ minute walk to the Zócalo, but an interesting paseo. A few blocks away is the Parque Júarez, better known as
El Llano, a very relaxing and pleasant place.

Casa Arnel is in a fairly quiet neighborhood, but there is sometimes noise from other guests out in the patio.

For longer stays, they have some basically furnished but pleasant apartments a few doors up the street.

Bonuses: A nice, inexpensive 
Morelia hotel; and a very nice expensive B and B:
1. Hotel Plaza Morelos.

We don't need to stay in
Morelia very often, as we live 45 minutes away. But sometimes there are occasions when we are in the city for some special event, for example the recent Lila Downs concert. We stayed one night at the Hotel Plaza Morelos, just off Avda Acueducto, on the west side of the eponymous plaza. Behind the colonial facade is a modern hotel. They have renovated parts of it, so you have a choice of "nice" and "better" rooms. None of it is luxuriously appointed, but for only $450 pesos (special promotional rate, usually $650), we had a very large room with 2 beds, a large bathroom, an unusually large closet space, free wi-fi, a Continental breakfast. Quibbles: the desk was silly, designed for tiny people with low knees, and there's a good sized outdoor swimming pool, but it didn't attract me because the water looked overdue for a change.

2. Now, if cosmetic defects bother you, such as paint spatters on the walls or unfinished wiring, or that the two sections of the building join in a skewed juncture, pass up the Plaza Morelos and get a reservation instead at the
Posada de San Antonio, nearby on the leafy, tree lined Calzada Fray Antonio de San Miguel, where you'll pay $1200 pesos a night for tranquility and peace and near perfection, plus a full breakfast, attended to by unusually amiable hosts. There are only 3 guest rooms. Some have great bathtubs, and plentiful hot water.

The map. Note Plaza Morelos just east of the Posada San Antonio.

This concludes my hotel picks for now.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Hoteles Mexicanos: Los Buenos, Los Malos y Los Feos Part 3

I'm beginning to realize that these anecdotes of Bad budget hotels could go on for a long, long time. Conversely, what's so interesting about a Good hotel?

I think I'm getting close to wrapping up this theme.

But I must highlight just one more really bad hostelry. It's
hard to choose: the hotel in Huautla de Jiménez, Oaxaca, whose bathrooom window almost fell to the street below when I opened it? The Hotel Lorena, in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, looking like a suite of bare bones dental offices, with the bare electrical wires in the closet?

The room in the Hotel Avenida in Chihuahua that had the concrete support column in the middle of the tiny room, and a good view of the flashing lights of the marquee just below our window? Not to mention the literally piped in central AC that came on and off at the whim of management?

No; the outstandingly bad hostelry was the Casa de Húespedes Bed and Breakfast in San Cristóbal de Las Casas, January, 1993. We were in full backpacker kit and mentality as we drudged up the cobbled streets of SCLC, while light drizzle fell. Our goal was this fantastically cheap hostelry which offered a room with bath PLUS breakfast for the peso equivalent of U.S. $10 a night/dbl.

After a long walk from the bus station, we arrived at the two story Casa de Húespedes, where we were greeted and shown two different rooms. The first was closer to to the main house. We imediately detcted a foul sewer odor upon entering. We quicly noted that the bathroom was separated from the bedroom by a coarse curtain.
We immediately asked to see another room.

That looked and smelled a lot better. By now, our energy reserves were at the point of no return. We needed to stay because we lacked the strength to return to the centro and look for another place. Besides, we really wanted to experience the cheapest lodging deal we'd ever read about.
We took the room.

It was nearly bare: a bed, a few pegs in the wall for clothing and a small card table for a nightstand.
We soon realized that the bed had no mattress but only a boxspring, covered by the bedding. There was one, bare light bulb in the room.

The bathroom was a charmer: a copper pipe snaked into the window, ending in a big showerhead. We were not keen to use the shower, as the bathmat was a filthy car floormat. The bathroom floor was equally unattractive.

We decided to make the best of it and crawled into the bed, between thick woolen blankets, atop our boxsprings.

Lights out.

We were awakened at intervals by the shrill screams of a child. Sleep was difficult, but we somehow survived a restless night.

When we went to the sunny terrace where a breakfast of frijoles negros, tortillas, eggs and excellent coffee was served, we could almost overlook the wretched night we'd experienced. But we knew we couldn't stand another night like that, so after breakfast, we left, lugging our backpacks, and found a nice, clean warm place, with hot water showers, just off centro. It was about U.S. $17 a night, with no breakfast, but it was worth it. La Posada Virginia was cozy and homey, and we snugged right in.

Stay tuned for Don Cuevas' Picks of his favorite Mexican Hotels.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hoteles Mexicanos: Los Buenos, Los Malos y Los Feos, Part 2

In a previous post, I described some of the features of the Hotel Montecarlo, which I would rank among the best budget hotels in México.
Good price, great location, lots of ambience.

Our other hotel experiences were not always so favorable. The first one was a small place in the provincial town of Pánuco, in the Veracruz lowlands, along the winding Río Pánuco, back in '80. I forget its name. We'd had a long, tiring day, of considerable exertion, after climbing up to a cave, and we arrived after dark. Pánuco greeted us with a Hair Raising Vehicle Adventure on a steep street, ending at some posts atop a precipice, from which we'd reversed ourselves, clutch lurching and tires smoking. We'd already seen another hotel, which did not impress us favorably, but the one we selected was not any better.

 (This picture is NOT of our Pánuco hotel. Looks Australian, don't it?)

The room was "only" the equivalent of $8 USD for the 3 of us, with two beds and at least one, large cockroach.

The most striking aspect of the room was the shocking pink paint job, with a sensitive appliqúe of green frog patterns climbing in rows up the wall. Or could have been shocking pink frogs climbing a green wall. It was a long time ago.

The temperature and humidity were uncomfortable, so we opened the massive, sheet iron windows to catch whatever breeze, but catching instead the nocturnal noises of vehicles, crowing roosters and flying insects.

The small bathroom, our first experience with the "all-in-one" design, had a stuffed up commode. There was a conveniently situated vent above the toilet shared with the bathroom of the adjoining room, which also shared earthy sounds and aromas. I don't recall hot water, but because of the heat, cold water was welcome.
After a few hours of fitful sleep, we were glad to get out of there and on the road.
I can't even remember what I had for breakfast, or where.

Stay tuned; there are more hotel tales, and they get worse before they get better.

Hoteles Mexicanos: Los Buenos, Los Malos y Los Feos

A recent post by David Lida, "
It was good enough for D.H. Lawrence", on the venerable Hotel Montecarlo, in the Centro Histórico of México, D.F. brought back memories. Replying under my pseudonym, "Michael Warshauer", I wrote:
¡Viva el Hotel Montecarlo!
I started staying there on my second visit to Mexico City, February 1992. It was the equivalent of U.S. $14 a a night for a single room.

When my wife and I started staying there in ‘93, the peso price had risen but the dollar price had dropped. We last stayed there in February, 2004 for about U.S. $25. At that point, I realized that my aching, aging bones needed more comfort and we started staying elsewhere. The acrobatic antics necessary to enter some of the smaller bathrooms no longer amused me, nor were the infamous “eraser” pillows, with a consistency of firm rubber, still tolerable.
The doorlocks on the rooms were always cantankerous, but fun if you liked puzzles.
I always enjoyed arising early, going the to branch of the Pastelería Ideal across the street, and bringing back fresh pan dulce for us, the old night clerk, Arnulfo, and later, the security guard.
Gracias, David, for reawakening memories of our earlier, more adventurous travels in Mexico.

Night desk clerk Sr. Arnulfo and Doña Cuevas

Felipe Zapata responded that although he'd wanted to stay there, just once, in order to say he'd done it, my description convinced him not to.
In an email to him, I expanded the details, so that he could get the full flavor of the place. Some excerpts, below
In my reply on David Lida's blog, I failed to mention the Pervert Lounge, or whatever it's called, almost directly across the street. The large, high ceilinged front rooms would be the best ones, were it not for the Pervert Lounge disco. On Th, F and Sat, it revs up at about 10 o'clock and blasts away until about 4:00 a.m. The music (?) penetrates even the heavy wooden shutters and curtains. No wonder there're loose plaster fragments in the rooms. (Really, they're from sismos.)
Not all the rooms have acrobats' bathrooms. Some are grand salas, where you may bathe, evacuate and shave all at once, as you like. Be sure to move the toilet paper out of the range of spray before showering.
The newer, smaller but quieter rooms, at the back of the hotel, usually have windows or narrow airshafts, or no window at all, but an overhead ventilator. They felt snug and safe. Those rooms tend to be the ones with acrobatic bathroms.
Taller persons need to take care when descending the grand, curving staircase from the primer piso to the lobby. There's the underside of a marble cornice that can cause head damage if you walk on the wrong side. (There is a small and cranky elevator, capacity 3 persons and a small amount of luggage.) But you can make a grand entrance on the grand staircase, as if anyone cared.
Free local calls, through the ancient switchboard!
Another neat thing was when cars were driven into the lobby and parked in the ground floor garage.
Yes, we have a lot of affection for the old Hotel Montecarlo. It was one of the best budget hotels in which we've stayed during our earlier travels in La República. There have been much worse.

Stay Tuned

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Pole Dancers

It's been scarcely a month since our house underwent the Glorious Rectification of Electrification Project. So it was with considerable astonishment the other day, that I saw a big truck parked in our street, laden with cable, parts and stout new concrete posts.
I knew I hadn't ordered any work.

Neither the trucks nor the uniforms of the somewhat boisterous crew bore the CFE (Comisíon Federal de Electrificacíon) logo. I concluded correctly that they must be contractors.

Using posthole diggers, they excavated new holes close to the previous posts. Next, the trucks placed the new, taller and stouter posts into the sockets. This was accomplished with a large mechanical claw I call "The Grabber". Delicate nuances of positioning were aided by muscle power, through the use of the rope slings. (These slings also are the pole climbing device used by the workmen.)

After the three poles were emplaced, the crew began the changeover of the power lines to to the new poles. This meant that we had to patiently wait a 2 to 3 hour period without power. (We have become proficient at this.) Later, the lines and posts were extended for hundreds of meters farther until they reached a farm gate. The final post has a large lamp above, to light the gate.

Although at first I'd had the impression that the crew was a bunch of uncouth laborers, I gained new respect for their skills as I watched them work. The job is not only a skilled one but a dangerous one. They gracefully climbed the poles, sometimes in pairs, and reset the lines.

Soon after they had restored the power to our house, they set about removing the old post from inside our yard. This was a very delicate maneuver to accomplish without damaging our house or our new electric line-in. It was done successfully and I could let my breath out again.

Later, we met the ranchero who was responsible for not only the gravel extension of our road uphill, beyond the pavement, but also the new electric lines and posts. He's planning to build a house up in what are presently fields. The view is superb from there. He mentioned putting in a sports field for the community, but we gently tried to dissuade him. (As if we have any influence in the matter.)

He also kidded us about developing a Colonia Americana. Maybe the money will run out before that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Sofas, So Good

We recently saw an ad in the Morelia_Connect email bulletin for a sofa, loveseat and a "puff", (Whatever that was. It's what we call a hassock.).

We had been wanting for some time to furnish our living room with more than the
Lifetime brand plastic folding furniture we'd purchased up to now.

We immediately emailed the seller to put a hold on this alluring sofa set and to make an appointment to see it.

When we arrived at their Morelia home, it was something of a surprise that the furniture was not in use in the owner's living room, but rather, jammed upright in a storeroom, and partially hidden by other furniture.

We got a glimpse of the handsome
vinilpiel covering, and a better look at the zippered beige fabric cushions. The price was very reasonable, so without hesitation, we made a partial payment on the furniture. We already had a passing friendly acquaintance with the family, so were willing to purchase the set semi-sight unseen.

Over a week we hauled the pieces back to our country home near Pátzcuaro. Once all the pieces were in the house, we tried various configurations that were both pleasing and practical.

It is not possible in this house to have a both a good view out the window and a pleasing arrangement of the furniture. The many swing-inward windows of the dining room threaten the risk of a blow to the head when comes a gust of wind. Thus, there were some constraints.

When the sofa and love seat were lined up, the room looked like a doctor's waiting room. We tried several configurations over two days, and then hit upon an L shape. (See photo below)

I then decided that the dining room table (not seen, behind and to the right of the sofa in above photo) had to be turned 90º from the previous placement. That freed up more space for the new sofas and gave an aesthetically more pleasing feel to the room. But this new arrangement deprived Doña Cuevas of her accustomed view out of the window. She now has to sit at the narrow end of the table. She is adaptable.

It was quickly apparent that the "new" furniture, although attractive enough, was somewhat stark and needed some color accents. We made a fast search in Costco and Wal-Mart for possible throw cushions So far, nothing ignited our attention.

Fortunately,we have a collection of serapes and rebozos originating in Oaxaca and Michoacán to lend visual interest. Before you know it,
we'll be out browsing local talleres and galerías, looking for artesanías.
(No; never; not us!) But we might paint the stark white interior walls something bright and cheerful, during the dry season ahead.

In the few days since we set up the sofa and love seat, we've so far given them limited use. We have to retrain ourselves to change from our usual lounging spots to take advantage of them.

We'd no idea that buying this sofa set would be such a life-changing experience.

Autumnal Equinox

The Autumnal Equinox has passed. The fields are graced by wildflowers, notably the showy pink cosmos.

The waning days of September are a time for reflection for us.
This is the time when I mark another birthday, when we note that we've lived in México 4 years, and our adopted city, Pátzcuaro, celebrates the anniversary of its founding.

It was in the ugly, pre-dawn hours that we crossed the border at Nuevo Laredo on September 15, 2005. After a strenuous two day journey, hauling a 12 foot cargo trailer, our transmission blew out some 50 miles short of Morelia, We were kindly given refuge for the next two weeks at the home of an expat American lawyer in the heights above the city.

On the night of the 28th of September, 2005, we joined Patzcuarenses in celebrating the Anniversary of the City, with a blast of fireworks at the Plaza Grande.

On the first of October, we moved into a chilly, woodland cabin in the heights above Pátzcuaro. We lasted there six months before the cold and dust got to us. Then we went to house sit for the late Jimmy Blackfeather. His house was sheer luxury after the cabin. I especially enjoyed the lengthy hot showers afforded by the 3 or 4 large hot water heaters.

In June, 2006, we were guided to our present home out in the ranchos by the late Mel O'Hara. This has become our place of contentment.

Over the past three years our house has enjoyed a couple of upgrades, through the kindness of our landlords. First was a new, traditional tiled, techo de tejas, plus a lovely cerulean exterior paint job.

This year they paid for a rewiring of the house so that we now can enjoy safe electricity and fewer trips to the breaker box. We can now operate the toaster oven and microwave at the same time.

There have recently been many changes in our neighborhood. Both of our American neighbors moved away to larger homes on the edge of Pátzcuaro. Although we still will see them, we will miss their congenial proximity out here on the rancho. There are new friends to be made.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Fountains of Flame; Wheels of Fire

A July Fourth reminiscence.

I have great memories of fireworks.
When was a kid, like many my age, I was a budding pyrotechnist. But I'd spend my free time Saturdays at the New Haven Public Library, researching old manuals and "The History of Pyrotechnics". Our basement was a semi-clandestine workshop and lab for my small firework creations.

Once, in the late 1950's, at the North Haven, CT County Fair, we viewed a bucolic or rustic sort of display. It was notable in that two stout posts were sunk into the ground about 100 feet apart. When the Catherine wheels on the posts went off, reciprocating pulses of colorful fire were sent shooting along a wire strung between the two posts.

There were also especially entertaining, "helicopter" type aerial spinners that would spiral up and explode. There were special Japanese mortar shells that after rising to a considerable height, would splinter into thousands of sizzling red scintillating embers, briefly fracturing the night sky.

The Hayseed Rube climax was unforgettable. Over at the right post, there suddenly appeared a firework donkey, outlined in blue fire. It lazily moseyed towards the left post. About midway, it halted, and emitted a forceful stream of golden fire as if it were peeing. The crowd, as it were, ate it up.

After that bit of rural jocularity came the obligatory American Flag set piece; one of the few times when it's o.k. the burn the Flag in public.

I also remember the food concessions area and the huge kettle of lard in which rough dough balls were fried into greasy snacks, covered with powdered sugar and sold still semi raw in the center. I loved it all!

Another Fourth of July, another, more professionally choreographed and spectacular display was at Lighthouse Point, on Long Island Sound, New Haven, CT.

A huge crowd gathered along the shore to watch the elaborate and lengthy show. No money was spared to make it awesome. It was marred only a little by the igniting of the marsh grasses at the time of the stupendous, sky-slashing, thundering finale. Of course the New Haven Fire Department was already present.

I remember the overall excellence of the pieces, and the pacing was superb, but unlike the funky, rural North Haven Fair show, nothing specific stands out in my mind.

A few years later, my family moved to Saint Louis County, MO. As the Independence Day holday approached, I discovered that the neighborhood Unitarian Church was going to have a fireworks display. I ingratiated myself with the amateur team chosen to fire the show. They must have been impressed by my dubious "credentials"; and I was in! Oh, Joy!

That night, the show proceeded well, considering what amateurs we were. We'd drop the pasteboard mortar bombs into the inclined iron pipes, sunk into the ground, pull off the protective end cover from the fuse, light it with a fusee flare and scuttle to the dubious shelter of a low, earthern berm. Whooshh!! BANG!!
It was fun! It was exciting!

When the moment came for the show finale, we opened the large cardboard carton that contained perhaps 6 heavy pasteboard mortars, all intricately fused.

Then, stupidly, we lifted them out of the box and placed them on the ground. When the fuse was lit, Newton's Third Law of Motion came into play. The group of mortars now pointed in nearly every direction, firing unpredictably, more at ground level than up in the air. It was exciting! It was fun! VoooooP! BANG!

We looked forward to a rest with the set piece American Flag. Whomever had set it up had not sunk its posts securely into the ground. When we fired the flag, the framework wobbled, and we were obliged to grasp the posts with our arms to keep it from falling. There were sparks...but actually no significant burns resulted.

The bad part was the next day, when I finally discovered what "chiggers" were. (slightly gross pic behind that link) The grass into which we dove the night before was a chigger haven.

And now, at last, this post's Mexican finale:

Our experiences with Mexican fireworks had been limited. We did watch the burning of a castillo in a parroquia of Colima, Colima, during the 90s. It was fired as a 20 meter tall "castillo" tower of bamboo and whatever. There also were "toritos" or devil chasers, kids and men, wearing leather capes over their shoulders ran about with sparks shooting out of their bull horned heads.

One of the climactic moments was a fire portrait of he founding priest of the church. But he was outranked by a firework portrait of the Virgen de Guadalupe. (This was a long way from North Haven.) It was a nice time, especially the free musical concert and the comida casera for sale of las Señoras de la parroquia.

We once made a nightime visit to a small pueblo between Cuernavaca and Tepoztlán, Morelos, we looked in on the pirotecnos in a bodega of an ancient church, tying the tubes of powder to willow withes, painstakingly constructing the wheels of fire in the traditional way.

Below, a video showing similar methods.

But the last fireworks show came when we moved to Pátzcuaro, September 28, 2005. It was the multi-centennial, 300 years plus anniversary of the founding of the city. It was also my birthday, and our first night living (in a hotel) in Pátzcuaro. So it was that we took a late nap, and wandered down to the Plaza Quiroga (Plaza Grande), and placed ourselves into the midst of the firing range. No one objected, There were no barriers, no police nor fire department tape lines. You could be stupid as you wished if you wished to risk your hair, skin, eyes. No one bothered you. (Try THAT in the U.S.)

Above, the castillo.
Suddenly, the Plaza ignited into a frenetic and noisy illumination. Mortars were firing less than 12 feet from us. Thirty feet away, a castillo was burning, burning, spinning, showering and spitting sparks. Booms, flashes, smoke and cheers.

It was a great welcome to the Ciudad y Municipio de Pátzcuaro.

Below, a Rilly Big Shew of Mexican Fireworks, a very professional one by Eventos Brillantes. (I re-replaced the previous video with the original, for the appreciation of of the true aficionados de la pirotecnia, and because it has better editing and production values.)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tres Años a la Hacienda

                   Photo courtesy of Geni Certain

   (This began as a comment to Felipe, on his blog, The Zapata Tales, and his post, "The Smells of Mexico".)
For me, nothing beats stepping outside the front door in the early morning to turn up the heat on the hot water heater, and inhaling that scent  of new mown hay and the sweet smell of recently born calves.
(Calves are so cute when young, then they grow up to be large, bespattered, klunky kows and pendulous toros.)
                    Photo courtesy of Geni Certain
But, after being out here at the Hacienda nearly 3 years, I don't mind the wet cow plop on the streets and roads. After all, it's 100% organic.
I'm not so keen on the canine road pudding about a kilometer on out toward the crossoads. But, on the other hand, the horse mummy along the base of the big hill on the way to Tzurumútaro is now curing nicely. The smell is hardly noticeable as we drive by.
As the dawn comes, the many birds began their varied musical choruses.
At la Casa Hacienda Cuevas, there is much baking, adding its aromas to the mix. However, my baking schedule is not as regular as that of Felipe's Guapa Señora, who bakes pastries to sell every Saturday under the portales of  La Plaza Grande.
What more could I want? A warm Danish pastry? I already have that before me with a mug of café de Chiapas.
Now, I want to toast the memory of Mel O'Hara, who died 3 years ago in his casita just over the way from our house. It was he that kindly lead us to our new home place. We liked the place right away, but now we love it.
Here's to Mel! I lift my coffee mug to his memory.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A Magic Utility Belt

Sometimes, fantasies come true.

When I was a little kid in Brooklyn, NY of the late 1940's
, I was given a belt, studded with fake "jewels" made of colored glass. In my imagination, they were control buttons that could invoke super powers. A touch of a green jewel, and I could melt into lithe thinness, and slide through the most densely crowded streets.

A touch of the red button would send me soaring at high speed, lightfooted, over the "EL" station stairs , on my way to buy hot dogs for our supper at the garlic fragrant corner deli.

Who could have imagined, that some 60 years later, it's possible, with a few keystrokes, to fly, perspectives constantly shifting, zooming and rotating at will; either from the mountains of Madrid or from the coast of Barcelona, para ver las calles in Street View photographs, then quickly jump to a specific address in San José, CA (Google Earth).

I can locate pizza places in Manchester, CT, or fish 'n chips shops in Manchester, England, complete with reviews and driving directions. Chiropractors in Cairo. (Google Maps); and visit places of color and wonder undreamt of in those earlier generations. I just spent a few minutes looking at my childhood neigborhoods to see what has change (much) and what has not. Google now has refined its maps and Street View once again. Check it out.

Later, as a teenager, I enjoyed spending many Saturdays at the New Haven, CT Public Library, getting books from the stacks on topics such as pyrotechnics and speleology.

Now, a vast and seemingly limitless worldwide library is open to me, both at home and when I'm away. I don't have to look in the card catalog, write out call slips, and hand them to the librarian, who'd give me suspicious looks, and wait very long for the desired info.

Back then, as a young kid, I was also enamored of a special sort of scrapbook/coloring book, which involved making waxed paper transfers of the color comics and such, then scrapbooking it. (Obviously, a dim memory.) Those were my multimedia tools of that era.

Now, after having learned some basic, then more advanced computer skills over the last 15 years, and with the help of tools such as Blogger, I can build a journal of my view of reality (and fantasy). Instead of waxed paper and a flat stick for image transfers, we have Copy, Cut and Paste, as well as Save and Save As.

Best of all, many of these powerful commands are accessible by keyboard shortcuts. I love keyboard shortcuts. Mousing is o.k. at times, but the speed and ease of keyboard navigation is unsurpassed.
(I can make this entire page vanish with the touch of two keys. I can change sites with a few keystrokes.)

My newest Magic Utility Belt is a MacBook Pro laptop. Although its powers are far beyond any childhood dreams, it still could be more portable. An iPhone or iPod Touch, with their amazing apps, accessed by touch screens, come a lot closer. But, ultimately, what I want is a belt in which a touch of a colored jewel or a combination, invokes a heads up, holographic display, and flys me to where I want to go. Meanwhile, I have posted these graphic examples of some other magic utility belts for your entertainment.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Regreso al Nido

We returned to Michoacan last Thursday, after a three week visit to the home of my parents and sister in New Jersey. It might be called a return to the nest, but, truthfully, it wasn't. I had never lived in that house, other than during our annual visits.

This visit was difficult at times. My parents are aging and my father is not well.

I'd left the nest in the 60's, when I went off to a rather irregular college experience. I'd always been the independence seeking one. What could be more independent than to later retire to a small ranching pueblo near Pátzcuaro, Michoacán?

Our Continental Express jet banked over a corner of Morelia, then homed in on the airport, located in the green, rain-refreshed valley northeast of of the city. From the window I glimpsed the broad expanse of Lago Cuitzeo, shining in the late afternoon sun, just over the ridges to the north.

We landed, and after a brief passage through Migracíon and Aduana, we were greeted by Nacho, our driver.
After loading the trunk with with our luggage, we rode off into the glorious sunset. I was animated and energized, until fatigue eventually set in on the hour and a half drive home.

A couple of days later I was cleaning the porch. Long, thin twigs littered the floor.

The mystery was solved when I went to move the barrel grill. There, on the utility shelf of the grill was an abandoned swallows' nest, under the shelter of the tarp. The only evidence of occupancy was a few wispy feathers.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

FAQ: How to get from MEX Airport To Patzcuaro

Over the last few years, I've received more than a few emails asking me how to best get from the Mexico City Airport by bus to Pátzcuaro. While I recognize that there are several ways to accomplish this, with the help of our friend, Big Tex, I have distilled the vital information down to to give the simplest, most hassle free way possible. This applies to travel in the daytime and early nighttime hours. We try not to take buses at night; it's just our personal preference, unrelated to any other issues.

This is a Public Service Announcement, brought to you by Don Cuevas, so don't give me any static. Like, you've heard that the Metro is cheap and fast. So? Go to some other website if you want to get fxxxed up in the Metro, not here.

At the Mexico City Airport, after passing Aduana and Migracíon, be sure to buy your taxi ticket at the official taquilla, or sales window, for example, Sitio 300, not from some tout. This is very important! The fares are calculated by zones. There are regular taxis, which are fine for most people's needs, and they are much cheaper than the large expensive Suburbans. Pay attention to which service you are buying. Once you pay for your taxi ticket at the window, you do not pay the taxi driver anything more, except for a very optional tip, if you had a lot of luggage, or his conversation was especial cool, whatever.

Once at Terminal Poniente, also called Terminal Observatorio, go to the AutoVias ticket counter. There are at least 3 desks, close by each other. It may take a moment to figure out which is the one needed. read the "Salidas" or Departures board. Credit cards are accepted for payment. If paying with cash, check your change. Get a bus direct (Sin Escalas) to Patzcuaro. While it does stop 15 minutes in Morelia, you stay on and do not change buses. Escalas are changes from one bus to anoher. No need, if you follow the easy directions here.

(Certainly, it's easier than taking ETN to Morelia, changing to a Patzcuaro bus once at Morelia for which a change of building is probably necessary as well.) It has to be faster to get an AutoVias bus, with more frequent departures, than the ETN. Though the AutoVias buses are one level down in luxury than ETN, they are quite comfortable. AutoVias has a separate waiting room, with free restrooms and free coffee. They will also check in your larger luggage while you are still at or near the ticket counter. The buses are equipped with passable restrooms. The movies are generally awful.

You get a crappy "ham" and cheese sandwich and a soft drink when boarding. I recommend Boing! a natural fruit drink. You can also buy decent baguette, croissant, or torta sandwiches or pan dulce at Terminal Poniente's restaurant or snack bar, inside. I avoid the outside stands and the inside carnitas places. The main restaurant does a decent breakfast. There's an internet place or two, which are sometimes open and sometimes functioning.

One drawback of AutoVias is that you can't yet book on line.
WAIT! You can now book on line, as long as your trip isn't very far in the future. Go to Grupo HP-Occidente , and fill out the forms and press the digital buttons, as requested. But it should be no problem getting a seat during normal, daytime non-holiday conditions, walking up to the counter and paying for the next available departure.

By the way, anyone who willingly books a seat at the rear of the bus, near the toilets, deserves the experience.

The trip takes 5 hours, more or less. If you follow my directions, hard-earned through personal experience, you will be all right. Once arrived at the Central de Autobuses de Pátzcuaro, you can get a cab, take a combi van if you know what you're doing, or even walk to Centro, if your luggage is light and it's still daylight. But I don't want to explain the last one. My work here is done.
¡Adios, muchachos!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Piso Superior

We are always looking for a better baño when out and about. It used to be that a well maintained sanitario was often hard to find. In that situation, it was often a matter of "breathe through your mouth and squint your eyes." Now, after many years, things have improved.

Click photo to enlarge.

Quiroga was thronged with Easter Saturday visitors, we among them.
We'd been rooting through a medio kilo of well-salted carnitas and washing them down with muchos refrescos and bottled water at the Plaza. The moment came soon enough when we needed a baño pronto. It was best to seek relief there in thoroughly modern Quiroga before setting out for Tzintzuntzan, where the options might be somewhat marginal.

We finished up our nieves at La Michoacana, and walked back a half block to a set of sanitarios set behind a serious double revolving cage door. There was a coin slot for a 2 peso fee and a young woman handing out carefully folded papel higíenico. At that point, our roads forked according to sex. Women to the left, entering on the ground floor. Men had to achieve relief by first ascending a hallway with a steep, concrete paved ramp, inclined at about 30º, to the mingatorías* and excusados* some 10 or more meters up to the piso superior. Handrails and treads cut into the concrete ramp were provided for our safety.

The upper deck was highly functional, (except for the first 3 booths, which were afuera de servicio), attractive and well maintained. At the street side were stained glass windows. I didn't take time to explore in detail, but did my business and then, oh-so-discreetly, took a picture of the ramp.

This was indeed a superior pipí experience up on the piso superior.
I recommend it to visitors. Men should have strong legs.

*Basic bathroom terminology. Another free, educational feature of my blog.

"Sanitario" is a nice term, "excusado" is the porcelain throne itself. "Mingatoria" is a less-seen term for a urinal. Not so polite.

"No pise al pasto", on the other hand, is a sign to "keep off the