Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Mexico Travel Update

We are still here in Patzcuaro, enjoying the people and culture immensely. I have an internet connection that is better than what I have had recently, but this is not home and broadband apparently has a different meaning down here. I wanted to download the latest update to my Garmin and it would take 4 hours!!! I also wanted to get the Garmin map for Mexico, but I wouldn't have enough time for that either. OK, back to the trip, and this goes back awhile. Please be patient with me.

Going back to Hacienda Contreras over a week ago, a bunch of us went to San Jose, a nearby pueblo where we got to see some stone carvings by the local artist.

This is one example of the work done by this man.

Here are some more examples. The sun carving in the middle will be sitting near our pool in Florida.

Back at the Hacienda, the farmers were gathered to sow chick peas.

Here Sal, Ed, and Pete are discussing the planting progress, maintaining the tractor and tiller and generally warming the air.

Sal sowing the chick peas by hand. He casually tosses the seeds along the surface. Then he ran the roto-tiller over it once more to get the seeds in the ground. It surprised me, but the chickpeas are so big that they will push up from deep in the earth.

Then it was off to Patzcuaro. Of course this is Paul and I have a reputation to uphold, so an easy days travel was filled with unexpected turns and I got lost again, twice! Given the choice at a fork in the road, I will invariable choose the wrong road. It's especially sad because I had explicit directions from Brian, which I forgot about. Eventually we got to Rancho La Mesa and parked beside Brian and Sue.

This is Pazcuaro from our campsite and it really doesn't do the city justice. The city is really beautiful with numerous churches and basilicas, shops and restaurants galore. But more of that in a later blog. I'm only going to catch up a little today.

Here you can see a meeting of the dog walkers, Brian, Tilly, Sue, Sandy, and Helen, that's left to right. Plenty of area for the dogs, but with horses and steers walking free, we really couldn't play much with them.

Coming down from Once Patios (more later) we came across some of the revelry connected with this week of celebration. A lot of the "entertainment" involves a "Toro" of one design or another.

Here you can see a performance of one group of "Toritos". These are very young children and they are reenacting a bull fight. Bullfights are still a part of Mexican culture, but Helen and I will npot be sampling that bit of culture.

A cute little girl in costume.

Here's another cute little devil!

The little boy in the horse and rider costume played one of the parts in the bullfight play.

Another group of "Toritos".

Now for a lesson in Mexican driving. In the picture above you will see the green arrow on the right side of the lights. This means that you have to stay to the RIGHT if you want to make a LEFT turn. Seems simple enough, but it's not always that way. Sometimes you make a left turn from the left lane.

This is the sign you have to look for. It means "get in the right line to make a left turn. But this is Mexico and with or without the sign and lights, some drivers will make a right turn from any lane and left turns for any lanes at all. Also, red lights are a matter of judgement. Some drivers stop, some don't. Drivers in Mexico...BE WARNED!

This is a chick I picked up at the Rancho La Mesa Restaurant. She was very quiet and I bet she wouldn't complain about my driving.

The view from our table at the restaurant, where3 I just happen to be writing this blog.

More characters at festival time.

Just one of many beautiful churches in the city.

A gringo caught trying on a sombrero. Another street character.

OK. Thjis brings us up to about a week ago. I'll try to catch up a bit later. Please be patient. I'm immersing myself in the Mexican culture. Get used to it! I'm bringing the "mañana" mentality back to Inverness, Florida

My two mottoes: Bad decisions make the best stories and Mañana


Saturday, February 25, 2012

Wi Fi Deprived

Helen and I are doing very well here in the beautiful Patzcuaro, Mexico. The dogs are OK also except that Jodie is having a problem with her front right paw and we can't see what's in there.

I have enough pictures and information for several blogs, but the wifi at Ranch La Mesa is off and on. Lately it's been mostly off. This is Mexico. The wifi at the first campground never materialized and we were told to but a "Stick" to get internet service. I did, and while I'll admit that it's better than nothing, it's not MUCH better than nothing. I'm currently running at 9 kilobits per second.

Somewhere we will cross a spot with great wifi and I'll have to blog like a mad man to catch up.

Just wanted you to know why you haven't heard from us.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Life at the Hacienda

It has been a week since we returned to Hacienda Contreras and the weather has not cooperated one day. WE got in last Thursday afternoon in time for a Spanish lesson. When the lesson was over and we headed back to our camper we felt the first rain drops. Some of the campers who have been coming to Mexico for the winter for 17 years remarked about how unusual it was to have any rain at all this time of year. There would be a half day of rain on rare occasions, but that was all. This odd situation we are in has been called an early season tropical storm system. This is akin to having a hurricane forming around Florida. Very, very rare in February

This picture show the weather pattern a couple of days ago, but today's picture is almost the same.

This picture is not as good, but it does show our spot in Mexico and how we seem to stay in the middle of things.

Dark clouds coming over the mountains. The day gets lighter and darker as the different clouds pass over, but it's not the cloudless blue skies that we have enjoyed since November 15th.

I guess it's the same story all over, odd weather patterns. Most of our fellow campers are from Canada, and most of them are from British Columbia. The story they are getting from home is that there have been periods of unusual cold and unusual warm, but almost no snow at all. How unusual! I confess that I check the weather for Inverness every day and compare it to what we have here. There were a few days when Inverness was better, but those 27 and 29 degree mornings do not occur here. having said all that, we are not hiding in the camper vegetating. Barbara, the campground hostess and activity director organized a hike to the waterfalls on the other side of Mazamitla. She is the one in orange in the middle of the next picture. I didn't go because I was waiting for a much needed delivery of propane. Helen will comment from here on.

This is our group just heading out on our hike. Sal (in the center)
provided everyone who wanted them with walking sticks.

Here we are at journey's end, at the base of the Falls.

Due to the heavy rains of the last several days, the water carries the
red pigmented sediments from the surrounding mountains.

The water fall..............our prize at the end of the trail.

Passed some beautiful gardens along the way. Couldn't resist
this shot of a Calla Lilly in it's prime.

Stopped at "Charo's" in Mazamitla after our hike. Of course we had
to replace the calories we just worked so hard to lose!!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Les Miserables

A few days ago we left Punta Perula for Hacienda Contreras, giving up the warmth of the beach for the cooler dryer air in the mountains. It was a pleasant drive with no ugly detours through town plazas and no police escorts. We got back to the Hacienda around 4 PM. In plenty of time for a Spanish lesson. Barbara had arranged for a woman to teach us some very basic Spanish, as used in Mexico. Later on Brian and Sue asked us to join them at a restaurant that they had been to earlier . It sure didn't look like much from the street and there was much construction in progress, but Brian led us into the restaurant and deeper and deeper into the inner courtyard.

Sue, Brian , and Me ready for service.

The restaurant was AMAZING!! We ordered drinks and meals, but they kept bringing us one appetizer after another and Brian insists that they treat you the same way even if you only order a beer. A young man was constantly at our table with one plate or another. He was so eager to please and had such a winning personality that he should go a long way in life.

We were surprised by the rain that got to Valle de Jaurez shortly after we did. This is, indeed, the DRY season and rain is almost unheard of. More than that it was COLD!!!

This is a picture of a volcano north of Colima which Helen took as we drove north. Later we were surprised to see pictures of the same volcano covered with SNOW. There is a large mass of moisture that extends well south west of Mexico and extends all the way to the Northeast and Canada. Cold temperatures and constant rain has been the condition for the last three days. As dismal as this my sound, Helen and I got lucky again because this weather pattern also extends to the coast where we had been. Here we have a place to gather, play games, eat, and have our Spanish lessons. Back at Perula everything is in the open so they can't gather for Happy Hour unless they are well covered with rain gear.

Mother Barbara, always thinking of her campers made a big pot of lentil soup. It was a big pot and the soup was DELICIOUS!!! Helen now has the recipe. Again, a lot of us gathered around and that took the edge off the rain.

As an extra added attraction, Barbara arranged for Spanish lessons for those who were interested.

From Back to Hacienda
Unfortunately, Helen took this picture with the maestra turned to the blackboard. From left to right it's Me, Brian, Mayra's behind, Sue, and Mike. It was interesting and informative and gave us all a much better understanding of the Spanish language as it is spoken in Mexico'

Later on last night, Helen and I joined Barb and Sal, and Pete and Madeline in a couple of games of Sequence. Barb supplied chips and dip. We had a good time and it did pass the time.

Helen and I learned a lot about travel south of Mexico from Pete and Madeline and agreed that it is not for us, though they must have had some extraordinary experiences.

Through all this time, Helen and I were blessed with three energetic Labs who had needs that had to be attended to. Sometimes we would both take them out and sometimes one would take them out and the other would be on "Towel duty" as the dogs came back.

Oh, we did get an email from Punta Perula mentioning the mud hole that comes when too much rain falls on dirt roads. I would guess that no one will be able to leave Perula for a while after the rain stops.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Diving Punta Perula

A few days ago we heard that the best place to get a REAL hamburger is at the Dive Shop. Now Dive shop could be the name of any kind of business, but it really is a dive shop, and a burger cafe, and a Jazz cafe on Friday evenings. We tried for burgers Friday, but didn't have reservations for a special Jazz and menu night. On Saturday evening we went back again for burgers and while we waited I took a look at the dive shop portion of the business and was pleasantly surprised to see the quality of the equipment they use.

Sunday morning, Helen and I walked back (it's about 100 feet from our camper in a straight line) and talked to Gil about a possible dive. Time is a problem because we're moving on Thursday. Gil was not impressed with our dive credentials as we have not actually done a dive in 4 or 5 years and he insisted on a PADI refresher course. This surprised us as we thought that Mexican dive shops tended to be lax. Since time was limited, he offered a refresher course Sunday afternoon at a hotel pool not far away. He already had another diver getting the same course.

The pool water was COLD!!!! Even the two women who claimed that it was very comfortable we're shivering with cold after a while. I felt that I knew all there was to know about diving and only took the course as an absolute requirement to the dive. I was mistaken! Gil was able to show me a few things that are done differently than they were when we were certified in 1992. I admit that having the chance to hone a few old skills was not wasted time. We all did well.

Monday morning at 8:30 we met at the dive shop and got our gear. Gil was there early and had all our equipment waiting. The tanks and equipment was on his truck and all the wet suits, in the appropriate size for each of us, was waiting to be donned. And we were off. The universal boat here is the Panga. See below.

This picture is not too sharp because I've gotten lazy about photo technique, relying on the image stabilization of new cameras. However this is a Panga, and there must be almost 100 just on the shores of Perula.

The boat was well away from the water and all the equipment was stowed. I wondered who was going to push the boat into the water. No hay problema! The owners wife driving an expensive 4X4 drove down to the beach and the captain hooked a rope to the stern of the boat, which was facing away from the water. She wasted no time giving it the gas and heading for the water and I wondered just how far in the water she was going to go! Driving with great expertise, she drove toward the water and turned at last, swinging the boat into the water. I WAS IMPRESSED!!!

We got the boat all the way in the water and got aboard. Being heftier than the others, I went to the bow of the boat so as to get the stern and engine further out of the sand. The motor started and off we were. Of course I forgot about having to pass through the breakers. The first one cam and we got splashed. The second one came and washed over the deck, drenching my carry-on bag with my towel and Helen's as well. Now that I was wet, with my wet suit down to my waist, the cool breeze on my back was........well...uncomfortable. Other than that the ride out was uneventful and we stopped in the lee of one of the islands.

From right to left are Gil, our dive master, then Marlon and Manual.

Our captain with his little boy. Perula Beach is in the background.

Here Gil is getting Helen ready to dive. When all her equipment is ready, she will fall backward into the water.

And here's Helen underwater and buoyancy balanced.

This puffer or porcupine fish is content to lie in the rock rather than blow up to defend himself.

One of many, many rays we saw. Harmless I think..........but why risk another trip to the hospital?

This lovely creature on the palm of the dive master is a flowering urchin. Instead of a heavy load of spines, it decorates it's shell with odd things found on the ocean floor.

Helen snapped this pretty blue something and it was quite a catch. They are so fast at getting out of the way that they are very hard to capture on film. This is from the top looking down. The side shape is more like a pumpkinseed.

Here's a puffer or porcupine fish in the hands of the dive master. It offered no resistance and quietly swam away, deflating as he went.

Cohabitation in the rocks. A typical sea urchin and an unusual (to me) starfish.

This is why I have such a hard time getting close to a fish for a picture!

Helen and I saw several species that we have never seen before since we have been strictly Atlantic divers before this. We saw a burrowing Pacific snake/eel. There were a number of fish that I never saw on the reefs of the Keys or Caribbean. The last thing that I THINK I saw was a pacific sea snake, a very venomous fish, but completely docile and no danger to divers unless the diver is foolish enough to grab him.

The water was murky and the temperature on my regulator said 78. That is WAY too cold for me. All in all it was a very good dive. The dive shop and Gil were professional in every respect. I saw no area where he was lax and he tended to everyone. My only regret is that we didn't go for that hamburger the first week, when the water was warmer. If we come here next year, I'd like to try the diving (and dorado fishing) in November.