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5 Days in Mexico City December 6, 2008

Filed under: Travel/adventure,Uncategorized — tracyverdugo @ 11:28 pm
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13th October, 2008

There are no traffic rules in Mexico City, at least none that I can make out. From the airport we weave our way through the city streets. Our driver darts in and out of lanes with expert abandon. I focus on the sights and try to ignore every close call. Color is everywhere. Mechanics shops are painted in pinks and yellows; young women in tight black pants direct traffic, their arms gesturing wildly, whistles blowing incessantly. At traffic lights hawkers dodge the cars, selling trinkets. We drive by a city park where hundreds of protesters dance naked on a platform stage, banners proclaiming their cause. We ask the taxi driver what they are doing and he tells us they have been dancing every day for 3 months to protest the unfair sale of their land in Veracruz. I contemplated the headline in our local paper back home should the community decide to adopt naked dancing to promote sensible development.

Casa Gonzales-our hotel in <mex city

Casa Gonzales-our hotel in

We arrive at Casa Gonzales in the Zona Rosa and settle in before heading out to check out our neighbourhood.. Most of the restaurants in our budget are closed by the time we head out at 7pm so we cruise into Papa Bills Saloon, a wild west style restaurant/sports bar and feast for around $10.00 each. Marco has an amazing dish of pan fried chicken pounded thinly and stuffed with huitlacoche (an aztec delicacy of black fungus which grows on corn), nopales(cactus) and squash flowers and avocado. Delicious!

Fresh juice for breakfast

Fresh juice for breakfast

Next day we walk the ten blocks or so to Chapultepec Park stopping for breakfast at a busy taco stand. Breakfast is muy sabroso, tacos de pollo and papas ( chicken and potatos) with an array of fresh salsas, lime and chiles to spice it up. We stuff ourselves for around $6.00 total including fresh orange and guayaba juice and then spend the the next few hours exploring the National Museum of Anthropology. Outside the musuem we are treated to a traditional Dance of the Eagleflyers, the girls buy some beaded jewellery from a Huichol woman and we head back to the hotel along Reforma.

Huichol woman at Chapultapec

Huichol woman at Chapultapec

Day 3 we are off to Frida Kahlos house, a highlight for me. We breakfast at several stands along the way to Insurgentes.. Vendors sell plastic tumblers of chopped, fresh papaya and melon topped with chile and lime and we all munch happily as we head to the metro station.
The metro is an experience not to be missed. Five million commuters a day ride this highly organised series of underground lines. For 20 cents a ticket you can ride all day in one direction. Vendors, performers and beggars jump on and off at each stop moving from carriage to carriage to try their luck. First up a crippled guitarist sits on the floor amongst the crowd singing plaintively. When the train pulls up the next stop he shuffles along the ground dragging his useless legs behind.

Me at Frida´s house

Me at Frida´s house

Frida Kahlos garden

Frida Kahlos garden

After being transported back to the fifties at Frida Kahlos we jump in a taxi to Xochimilco, the site of ancient Aztec gardens and spend the afternoon lazily floating along the canals. Highly decorated boats filled with celebrating Mexican familes and mariachis pass by.
We stop for lunch at a designated restaurant, the prices seem reasonable but when we go to order drinks the boat driver suggests we buy from the two women who have pulled up beside us in their canoe. We forget the #1 rule of  agreeing on a price before we buy and order 2 chilena beers and a couple of sodas for the girls. The Chilena beer is a traditional concoction where a tall bottle of beer is poured into a large cup precoated with chile and lime; an interesting blend but not one I’ll try again.

Chilena beer...flat, warm with chile & lime

Chilena beer...flat, warm with chile & lime

on the boat at Xochimilco

on the boat at Xochimilco

We finished our lunch and drinks and asked how much…the drinks alone were 210 pesos ( around $30.00 Aussie dollars!) This was no ordinary gringo rip off..it was waterway robbery! Marco spent the next 15 minutes arguing and the boat driver faked outrage and attempted to act as a mediator but in reality they were probably all in cahoots. We finally bargained down a price which was still unrealistic but at least better than the starting point.

Cathedral-Mexico city

Cathedral-Mexico city

Day 4- We jumped on the metro again and headed to the downtown historic district, touring the main cathedral and meeting up with our My Space friend Rocco who was just as lovely, gentle and kind in real life as on the Internet.
We visited la Ciudadela ( the largest art and craft market) and had lunch together at a great little hole in the wall café. The serves were so large we had to take half of our food with us. Later we fed our leftovers to a clan of cats living on ledges at the Insurgentes Metro station. They werent like any ferals we had ever seen, a couple of Birmans and Siamese, they all looked healthy and strong and we sat and watched them for some time.
A young man in black jeans eyed us menacingly and simultaneously we all had the feeling we were being marked. About a dozen exits branch of from this circular plaza and we tried several of them before finding the one which led back to our hotel.     We walked home quickly. It was several blocks before we lost the uneasy feeling.

Teotihuacan-on top of the Temple of the Sun

Teotihuacan-on top of the Temple of the Sun

Basilica de Guadalupe

Basilica de Guadalupe

Our last day and we had arranged a tour to Teotihuacan and the Basilica de Guadalupe. The bus picked us up at 9am and we joined the International crowd of visitors from Chile, Brazil and Hungary. The clouds threatened rain but the skies held out as we climbed the Pyramid of the Sun and dodged the vendors selling obsidian aztec statues, wooden drums and jewellery.

Ana Lorena, Pepe & I

Ana Lorena, Pepe & I

We arrived back at the hotel for a quick rest and shower before a scheduled jam session in the downstairs lobby with our friends Rocco, Kike, Priscila, Ana Lorena and Pepe. We spent a fantastic few hours playing music with and to each other not stopping until an exhausted traveller upstairs poked her head out of her room and politely asked us if we could please finish up as she was trying to get to sleep.

Marco, Rocco and I jamming together

Marco, Rocco and I jamming together

 

Santa Catarina de Juquila and beyond. February 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — tracyverdugo @ 9:28 am

Okay, so now most of you know that we have made it safely back to the land of Oz, but are still way behind in our blogs, so without further ado, we will catch up and continue on.

Though Tracy has been queen of the blogs I decided that I should write a line or two about our adventures. And I can tell you, it has been a great adventure so far.
I always am amazed by the kindness of strangers. Reaching across the gaps of culture, a worker who was painting the walls of our little villa got to talking. I told him of our latest plans, to visit a mountain village where pilgrims from all over Mexico travel to seek help from a patron saint, the Virgin de Juquila. The tiny puebla of Juquila is set about three and a half hours away from where we have been for the last six weeks. When I tell him about us catching a cab to the bus station, and then climbing aboard a daily mini van he looks at me and says, “Why don’t you take my truck? It’s very reliable and it will be more convenient. You’ll be able to experience more of what the village has to offer”  I am slightly stunned. I have only had maybe two short conversations with this man. Yet he insists. How can I refuse such generosity?
p1050678 We set out early the following day, the girls riding in the back of the truck, something they have never done before as it is quite illegal in Australia. But we are in Mexico and there are few rules to the road. The mountain begins almost immediately out of town and the climb is steep. The roads are full of potholes and I deftly try to maneuver around them but invariably drive into them with bone shaking regularity. The vegetation gives way to pine trees the higher we climb. Along the way pilgrims are headed to the village, some on foot, some on bicycles, some in buses. The climb on a bike takes four days from the coast. We don’t have that kind of energy. The windy road switches back and forth enough to make Tracy sick, so she heads into the back of the truck to get some fresh air and I am left alone with my thoughts as we climb.
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When we finally see the picturesque village in the distance, the road narrows  and I attempt to  navigate streets that are slimmer than my driveway with traffic veering right at me. A river bends in and out around the outskirts of the village. The girls are in the back oblivious to my stress as they snap away photo after  photo. Meanwhile, I give way to loaded donkeys, (no they have not been drinking, they are merrily burdened with firewood).  I can see the church on another hillside and try to make my way in that direction guided only by the fact the village is small enough that I will eventually find it. Yet it gets harder as the road narrows yet again as we get closer to our destination. Soon we can travel no further as the streets have  become a market place which continues to grow throughout the day. I wonder how I am going to get back out. If we don’t  move in the next two hours we will be stuck in the newly formed market for several days as the festivities begin. Lucky for us an hospedaje is just down the street and it has parking. It’s  nothing more than a concrete bunker with two beds and a black and white tv, but it has parking. We didn’t  come here for a comfy room though, we came to see the Virgin de Juquila.
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It is said that about 400 hundred years ago the Virgin Mary appeared here to several local Indians, a race of people known as the Chatinos. I had never heard of  them, and I was fascinated  to learn more about these people. They inhabit  this region only, as they have for a thousand years. Because this apparition has appeared many times the Catholic Church deemed it a miracle.  So a friar brought over an effigy of the Virgin from the Philippines made of wood  and a shrine was constructed to house her. Pilgrims began arriving and soon the village expanded as miracles begin to take place and word got out. Then disaster struck and the whole village burned to the ground, including the shrine. But by another miracle, the only thing that survived the fire was the statue of the Virgin, only now her fair color was darkened to the same likeness of the Chatino people. They now had a saint of their own that resembled them.
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Tracy and I can both attest  to such incidents of miracles happening. About 17 years ago we were in a fishing  villagein Colima when the worst rain storm in 75 years took place. The rising waters began to rapidly swallow the restaurants and shacks lining the river.. Meanwhile, the volcano which was about an hours drive away began to erupt. There was chaos as we scrambled around trying to salvage what we could of peoples belongings before being swept out to sea. The river mouth which was about 100 meters across in normal conditions was now well over a kilometer. And growing. Half way down the stretch of land where all the buildings were was a shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe where candles were placed daily for the protection of the fishermen. By the time the  storm had finished and the water washed everything away, including whole islands of vegetation with standing palm trees complete with swarming birds, the only thing that remained was a tiny little island, and in the center of that little island was the shrine of the Virgin. In Mexico miracles exist.
People come to Juquila for a purpose, and that is to make one wish or request to the Virgin. They say that only one wish can be asked for, and that wish will come true. One who is seeking that wish will make an effigy. Perhaps it is a delivery truck, or maybe a fruit and vegetable stand, or a child they wish to conceive. These effigies are made at a place called the Pedimiento, which means “the asking place”,and is a short drive back up the mountain from the village. The offerings are made from clay taken from the hillside, then planted in the area. There are thousands and thousands of different forms and shapes beneath the trees that cover the hills. Most of the clay objects melt back into the land over time, leaving room for new seekers when they come to make their offerings and request.
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That afternoon we stroll the market place and have a meal of delicious stuffed chiles and beans with basket after basket of  fresh corn tortillas. This is my comfort food and all I want to do after that is have a siesta. But there is too much to see. We head into the church to see the Virgin, and she is placed high on an altar encased in glass. She is much more beautiful than I had ever anticipated. She is radiant in her gown and jeweled crown, and she is dark like the Chatinos. People stare and pray and the line of pilgrims never ceases, just an endless flow of  worshippers coming and going. We then head around to the rear of the church where there is another door that leads to the back of the shrine. From here we are able to catch a closer look at the Virgencita from behind, through a thin layer of gauze fabric. We were lucky to go at that time because later the lines were long and viewing times were short.
That evening we wandered through the narrow lanes looking at all the different regional foods and wares, as well as the kind of mass produced trinkets one would find in markets throughout the world. We purchased a few things for friends and family and went back to our room where we watched a Mexican novela for about half an hour before falling asleep.
At 4:30 am the next morning we were awoken to the sounds of music over a loudspeaker. The dogs followed suit, and then the roosters, and after the roosters the sound of 15 young pilgrims that were staying in our hospedaje  preparing for their time before the Virgin. There is no chance of sleeping in here in this village.  The pious are up early. Mass is at 6:00 and most people are there early to get in. We lie around and wait for the light of dawn, which eventually comes around 6:30. By seven we are out on our balcony witnessing the glories of this beautiful village that is now surrounded by small patches of fog and woodsmoke. The sun peers over the mountain tops after eight and we set out to find something to eat, which is always exciting in a new environment. The girls don’t complain too much about their choices of food as we find a stall where the Chatino woman makes us fresh picadillos, which are  small thick corn tortillas with black beans and cheese covered in both green and red salsa. I ask her if she has any fresh chilies, and she hands me these tiny little bombs called “tutse”chilies. She is so impressed that I down a few with my meal that she offers me a gift of a bag of them when we leave. Her generosity moves me and Tracy asks to take her photo for our memories.
Our day continues on like the day before and when the afternoon comes we load up the truck and head out. I am not looking forward to the exit as I can’t remember how I found my way into the village center, and the narrow roads look as daunting as the day before. I ask directions from a passerby and he shows me a quick exit over the river to the only main road, (one that I missed earlier) and we easily make our way out passed the hundreds of buses, taxis and cars. As a testament to my aversion to these narrow roads, even the taxidrivers opt for a three wheeled bemo type scooter that should only hold two people and the driver, but in usual Mexican form takes four or five passengers. This is the only place in all of Mexico that I have seen such a vehicle used as a taxi.
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img_2782sm img_2786sm Our last stop before heading back down the mountain is the Pedimiento where we go and make our offerings as well as a few clay effigies of our own. An auspicious sign emerges as we leave the altar, an eagle hovers over us for a few moments before heading off to find a thermal. It is the only eagle we have seen in Mexico.
As if the trip isn’t special enough, when we near the bottom of the mountain a strange and wonderful bird flies past us and into a tree. It is the rare and incredible quetzal bird with its colorful three foot tail feathers  floating gently behind in one fluid motion. These feathers were once reserved only for royalty. Now even a  simple sighting is an  uncommon event. We can hardly believe that we saw it, an apparition would be hardly more of a surprise.
This side trip concluded when we arrived back safely in Puerto Escondido and I noticed that the surf was thumping yet again. I paddled out with only two others in the water and treated myself to another round of  good waves and a beating or two for good  measure. Call it the yin and yang of surfing, heaven and hell where the distance in between is measured in fractions of a second.
Until next time.

Marco

 

More Puerto Escondido adventures….. December 29, 2008

Filed under: Travel/adventure — tracyverdugo @ 11:01 pm
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an uncrowded colectivo

an uncrowded colectivo

 

 

By far our favourite mode of transport in Puerto Escondido is the ubiquitous blue colectivo. Essentially a single or double cab flatbed truck the vehicle has been modified to include a bench seat along each side and an arched structure of steel framework covered by a cobalt blue tarp to provide shade for passengers in the back. The local colectivo travels between Barra and El Mercado, a trip of around 15-25 minutes depending on the traffic and pick up stops and seems to cost 4 pesos(around 40cents) no matter where you get on.

view from a colectivo

view from a colectivo

 

 

Casa de la Lily- our home for 2 months

Casa de la Lily- our home for 2 months

From our rented home “ Casa de la Lily” we walk up the dusty street towards the highway, past the mangy brown dog lying on the road with his tongue lolling in the dirt and the handsome turkey who puffs and displays his beautiful plumage for us, oblivious to the unavoidable fact that Christmas is fast approaching.

A handsome Christmas turkey

A handsome Christmas turkey

 

 

 

We stroll past the roadworkers labouring under the blistering sun and wait outside the grocery store-slash-carwash where at any time of the day several men in jeans and open shirts slump lethargically around the plastic table in front downing Coronas or Pacificos.

It is never a long wait. A couple of minutes at most between colectivos; a flash of headlights, a nod of the head and we are on. Each new passenger acknowledges the other occupants with a ‘buenos dias” or “buenas tardes” depending on the hour- if possible those already seated squish along to make room for others. Others stand, holding onto a metal bar overhead. A sturdy rope is strung from the back and Marcos’ favourite place to ride is there, standing on the bumper, precariously perched just centimetres from the asphalt below, holding tight across the jolts and bumps of neverending roadworks and relentless topes( speedbumps). Mexicans here are more overt in their curiosity and much less precious about personal space. One day a middle-aged man and woman climb on board, hoisting several large bags of dried beans onto the floor then clambering over them to try and find space on the already crowded vehicle. The womans pink polyester shrouded armpit ends up in direct alignment with my nose and having nowhere else to turn I am very grateful that the smell of soft floral deoderant is far stronger than the slight hint of tropical BO. Another time a young gangly man, tall and atypically lean for this area tries his luck at wedging into the last 10 cms left on the bench. The two strangers seated beneath him have no room to move but noone seems to mind as he spends a good 10 seconds wiggling his butt against their legs trying to manifest a spot. After a while he gives up, chuckles to himself and rides the rest of the way standing. I tackle my claustrophic tendencies by counting the number of passengers ( 23 being the record for the trip), wondering about their lives and staying as close as possible to the opening in back.

Always they stare at us, openly, unselfconsciously, and after the first couple of rides I decide to follow suit, discarding my sunnies and inspecting the other passengers as they inspect me; honey-skinned toddlers, their wide round eyes like deep pools of chocolate, check out my speckled pale skin and yellow hair with wonder (or alarm?). Young mothers doze between stops, their babies pudgy fingers wrapped protectively around  thick brown locks; Weary older men with half- formed cataracts carry machetes on their hips after a hard days work in the sun.

Downtown Puerto Escondido- the hard way to haul furniture!

Downtown Puerto Escondido- the hard way to haul furniture!

 

 

Sometimes we take the Colectivo to Super Che, the new Mega supermarket in town, to do our weekly shop. In the bakery section we take tongs and a silver platter and cruise the aisles of fresh delicious goodies. We pile our platter high with donuts, pastries, muffins and donuts, filling a large paper bag for less than a couple of dollars. Schoolchildren in their uniforms bag the groceries at the check out- some look as young as Sienna. One day I am shopping with Marcos mum who is visiting for several weeks. I go through first with my shopping cart and she is following behind; some confusion ensues when the two schoolgirl workers seemingly refuse to let her put the last of her groceries in my cart. “Its Ok “, I tell them, “We’re together”.” No, no” they protest, taking the last 2 bags out again and putting them back into the other cart. We go back and forth a couple more times between carts, me not understanding their Spanish and them not understanding mine until suddenly it dawns on me, they don’t even work there! They’re behind us in line..the next customers with their own shopping cart. They’ve been trying to explain me the last two bags belong to them and I’ve been happily smiling and attempting to steal their groceries! I apologise profusely and they walk off with their bags, giggling and shaking their heads at the stupid gringas.

El Mercado

El Mercado

El Mercado- Day of the dead

El Mercado- Day of the dead

 

 

Flowers for Day of the Dead

Flowers for Day of the Dead

Sometimes we take the colectivo all the way to the last stop; El mercado, the central  marketplace which spans a city block between Calles 9 & 10. The array of fresh fruit and veg is wonderful here; papayas, limones, radish and mandarins, pineapples and peaches, magenta potatoes and delicate squash flowers. We avoid the meat section where smelly strips of dull brown flesh hang from hooks and a flayed bloody cow head has pride of place at the front counter of one stall. Every part of the animals is on display and for sale and flies buzz hungrily around alighting wherever they damn well please. There is very little refrigeration here so we steer clear ( no pun intended) of the meat, poultry and seafood sections and focus our culinary attention on fruit, veg, dairy, herbs and breads. Usually there are too many bags to take the colectivo home so we catch a taxi, an extravagance at 25 pesos and return home to cook up a storm in our Casa de la lily kitchen.

 

An extra bonus included in our rental is the wonderful presence of Marcella and Cruz who come every day except Sunday to clean and chat, even cooking for us when we ask.

Cruz in the kitchen...making Lime Pie

Cruz in the kitchen...making Lime Pie

We enjoy delicious traditional frijoles, chile rellenos and the scrumptious tamales Oaxaquenos of Cruz’ mother. I am definately picking up some new ideas to practice in my kitchen back home!

 

 

 

A trip to Barra

A trip to Barra

Marco & Sienna in the Rio Colotepec

Marco & Sienna in the Rio Colotepec

Santana by the Rio Colotopec

Santana by the Rio Colotopec

 

 

 

(Footnote* 29th Dec-We are now back in California with only a few weeks to go until we return home…however i still have more to blog about Mexico and our Christmas here in the snow so keep your eye on your mailbox!)

From the tropics to the snow...Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

From the tropics to the snow...Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

 

 

 

Pedestrians in Paradise December 22, 2008

Filed under: Travel/adventure — tracyverdugo @ 4:50 pm
Marco's favourite hang out

Marco's favourite hang out

Puerto Escondido
18th Oct onwards…….

Sunset on Zicatela Beach

Sunset on Zicatela Beach

 

For two months we explore this sleepy tropical outpost. We are in Oaxaca,  the Southern most state of the Pacific Coast of Mexico. A few more hours and you end up in Guatemala.
Puerto Escondido hangs on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. It has been sixteen years since we last visited; then, no children, no mortgage, no responsibilities. Things have changed for us but in a good way and the changes we see in Puerto are also positive. Tourism has grown but the charm of a sleepy laid back coastal town is still there. There are more beachside palapa restaurants, more backpacker surf hostels, more gringos building beachside places to rent out, more bodyboarders, more international injection with sushi bars and pizza places popping up, but in the end the flavour is the same. There will be no highrise here, no 5 star luxury hotels, no $200.00 a day golf courses or high end fishing trips.

Playa Manzanillo

Playa Manzanillo

Santana feeding Isabel the Iguana

Santana feeding Isabel the Iguana

The mood is sleepy, laid back, lazy dogs, beer on the beach at perfect sunset after perfect sunset, rice and beans on fresh corn tortillas, palm trees and humming birds, sharing papaya with our resident iguana…get the picture? Decisions are tough to make…another swim or a siesta? Sudoku or a book?
Is it time to eat? I don’t know, are you hungry? Life is cruisey here and without a vehicle we explore on foot, colectivo or by taxi.

Relaxing at Carazilillo

Relaxing at Carazilillo

Mostly we walk.
Along the wet sand from Zicatela to the Point, watching schools of manta rays fly through the air, synchronising their dance above the sun sparkled water. Or in the opposite direction from Zicatela towards Playa Marinero where a sculpture of two hands  rise out of the rocks open palmed, a symbolic offering of thanks against the perfect sky or perhaps an acknowledgment of receipt and gratitude. There are many gifts to be had here.

Beach sculpture (photo by Sienna)

Beach sculpture (photo by Sienna)

Zicatela barrel

Zicatela barrel

The waves on Zicatela are powerful, ranked amongst the best in the World and swimming here is not recommended. Lifeguards rescue unknowing tourists daily from the treacherous undercurrents which the surfers use to their advantage to get out into the line up quickly.
Marco heads out to surf almost daily while the girls and I content ourselves with wallowing in the whitewash.
Some days we walk to Playa Principal, where the fishermen haul in their daily catch in brightly coloured lanchas. Here, in the afternoon, Mexican families come down in their hundreds for the Puesta del sol(sunset) and bathe fully clothed in the calmer waters, letting the gentle waves flop them around like overgrown rag dolls. Restaurants line the beach and women carry trays of fruit salad and fried bananas to customers on the waters edge.

Playa Principal

Playa Principal

From Playa Principal we walk the Cliff walk, a series of concrete paths, steps and bridges, cut into and built around the natural cliff faces. This leads us up to Manzanillo reef where Marcos mum joins us for several weeks in November. From her Oceanfront condo we walk the neighbourhood streets together, past a tiny store where the owner and family sit outside watching soap operas under the shade of a giant tree, past the parrot who says “hola ” and surprises us one day with an entire verse of a plaintive Mexican folk song, down the cobblestoned street where we peer through open doors to catch a glimpse of other lives, past the old man in the wheel chair who always smiles and wishes us “buenos tardes”, down the stairway and past a series of stone archways which would be beautiful were it not for the rubbish and overgrown weeds, past the military barracks where teenaged soldiers stand guard with loaded M16s, onto the adoquin lined with restaurants and souvenir shops and tables and blankets filled with craft from surrounding villages.
Sometimes we have company on our walks. Two dogs from the neighbourhood, Muneca and Duke adopt us and follow us out in the morning and afternoons, declining our company in the heat of the day, preferring then to lie in the shade like any sensible creature would.

Santana and Duke

Santana and Duke

Muneca

Muneca

They follow us to the Language school where we have enrolled the girls in Spanish Classes. Muneca is wonderful; a smiling, talking, tail wagging hound blend. Duke is a cool dude, king of the neighbourhood, lovable but a little on the goofy side; we cringe when he chases motorbikes and cars, inadvertently starts fights, makes a quick detour into a hotel swimming pool for a dip, or runs across the highway in front of oncoming traffic because a horse on the other side has sparked his interest. They follow us to the Hotel Santa Fe one night where Sharon is treating us to dinner and despite our urgings, sneak in and hide under the table. “They’re not our dogs” we say to the waiter apologetically. He smiles and gently shoos them out with sprinkles of water from a silver bowl. After dinner we find Duke in the street still waiting faithfully to escort us home in the dark. One day he pees on one of the hundred of lounge chairs laced along the beach. The owner of the chairs throws the bottom of a beach umbrella spike at him whacking him across the face and then proceeds to threaten Marco with the sharp metal end, cursing in Spanish and waving his arms at these ^$#@#^&* perros pissing everywhere    “He’s not our dog   ” Marco repeats again and again..this becomes a common refrain in the weeks to come until one day the neighbour tells us that Duke has been sent off to a friends ranch after another neighbours complaint. We think a ranch will probably suit the big oaf just fine. Lonely Muneca visits us in our casa but doesnt venture out as much without Duke. Within days however another neighbourhood duo has filled their place as our trusty companions.

Dinner with grammy at Las tugas

Dinner with grammy at Las tugas

Sienna has her hair braided

Sienna has her hair braided

Grammy and the girls sketching

Grammy and the girls sketching

Hamaca lady

Hamaca lady

Watercolour sketch of the girls walking

Watercolour sketch of the girls walking

In the evenings we stroll the short block down to the beach, watch another sunset and think about how lucky we are to be here……

zicatela wave

zicatela wave

lunch at Manzanillo Beach

lunch at Manzanillo Beach

 

Flying South for the Winter October 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — tracyverdugo @ 9:38 pm
swimming near shasta...brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!

swimming near shasta...brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!

With every available inch of the car crammed with stuff we headed South on the I5, bound for Roseburg, 4 hours away, where we would spend the night with Marco’s cousin Brad, wife Kristy and kids Malaeni and Garrett. We knew it would be a mind bender as we hadn’t seen each others kids in 9 years. Brad & Kristy hadn’t changed at all but the kids had grown into whole new people…Malaeni, talkative & expressive dressed for the homecoming dance that night in a gorgeous blue halterneck and graffitied blue converse sneakers. She still has the same big beautiful eyes I remember as a baby. Garrett at 15, going through his uncertain stage, quiet and friendly but taking it all in. We ordered Chinese for dinner, shared it with Kristy’s lovely parents who now live with them and hit the sack for an early night and an early start.
Next stop was to be Willows, a small speck on the I5 which I had chosen only because it was the midway point between Roseburg and Yosemite. Five hours to Willows and then 5 the next day would see us into Yosemite.
We bunked at the Willows Motel 6 for the night which was luckily right next door to a great family run, very authentic Mexican restaurant. The weather had warmed considerably and we had now switched out of our warm Portland gear and back into our California shorts and singlets. Of course Marco had never swapped his shorts and T-shirts being immuned to the changes of weather.
Continuing South the next day we passed miles and miles of farmlands and fruit orchards. This was the heartland of California’s agricultural belt, suppling food for millions. Semi trailers roared past, filled to overflowing with ripe Roma tomatoes ready to be made into sauce. Dilapidated farmhouses appeared sporadically, yards filled with ancient relics; old tractors, rundown cars and parts, bathtubs, discarded campers, junkyards of every possible treasure.
We stopped at Madera for camping supplies and I felt transported into another world. The supermarket was huge, laden with fresh, luscious produce and unmistakeably Latino. Most of the farming communities are Hispanic and we were surrounded by every conceivable chile and tortilla, sopes and quesos oaxaquenos ( our favourite cheese from Oaxaca).

awe inspiring Yosemite!

awe inspiring Yosemite!

We stocked up ( trying to be sensible) and headed West to Yosemite, out of the flatlands and into the hill country, barren and  dotted with boulders. Slowly up into the Sierras we overlooked striking canyons and gorges until once again we were amongst the Pines. At the entry to the National Park we stopped to check our reservations and get directions. Marco spoke to a man in his sixties who was resting beside his bicycle. He had taken 2 days to reach this point from Sacramento and would probably take another 2 days to reach his destination of Tualime Valley. I shook my head, thinking about the road we had just come up and tried to imagine doing it on a bike..inconceivable!

Breathtaking Yosemite

Breathtaking Yosemite

Yosemite is beyond words. As we rounded a corner and got a glimpse into the valley it took our breathe away and like everyone else we had to pull off the road to take some photos.
We drove down into the valley until we reached our camping site at Upper Pines. Checking in we carefully read the multiple signs instructing us how to stay safe and keep the bears away.
At each campsite there was a sturdy metal bear locker equipped with an ingenious closing device that the bears had not yet managed to figure out. All food and anything with a scent (hmm does that mean us?   ) Had to be securely stowed away each night. Beside a photo of a car with its back door mangled and half ripped off was the warning not to leave anything in the car ( even crumbs) as this would encourage the bears to try and get into the vehicle. Santana decided she had serious bear phobia and all of us tried to limit our fluid intake so we wouldn’t have to leave the safety of our little tent to pee in the night. As it turned out I spent half the night awake and needing to go, aware of every little twig and stone beneath my sleeping bag, until finally around 4am I had to get up the courage to get out of the tent and find a tree..there was no way I was walking all the way to the toilets  The girls were up soon after and sprinted together up to the bathrooms and back.

camping at Upper Pines & watching out for bears!

camping at Upper Pines & watching out for bears!

Awake and thankfully alive we planned our day our breakfast. Around 10 we hopped onto one of the free buses that circle the valley floor every few minutes and rode to one stop to begin the hike up to Vernal Falls. The walk began nicely, meandering through the shady overhang beside a bubbling creek but soon began to climb. Marco and Santana forged ahead and Sienna and I plodded on feeling the breathlessness that a change in altitude always brings. I kept encouraging her to keep going but at every steep descent she was getting more and more upset. We stopped for another rest and I called to Marco to come back and give her a puff of ventolin. By the time he arrived she was in tears, beside herself. She described her head pounding and her throat closing which had me worrying as well. We rested a while and a kind Indian woman who was also taking her time gave her gentle advice; “Breath slowly, look at the beauty around you, just take your time…..” she told Marco she was taking it slowly too as she only had one lung. I think this made Sienna feel a little better and she agreed to keep going after we rested for a while. About another 15 minutes along a tall Indian man came walking towards us from the direction of the falls. “ My wife sent me back to tell you its just around the corner…keep going..you can make it” he encouraged Sienna. Around the corner and there we were at the footbridge at the base of the falls with a perfect view up. The Indian woman was there with her 2 daughters sitting on a rock sketching..turns out she was an artist as well. I took Sienna over and we thanked her for her kindness. Marco and Santana continued for the second part of the hike which took them up to the top of the falls but Sienna and I decided that leisurely stroll downhill was in order.
Over the course of two days we visited many of the sights. Possibly most amazing was watching the climbers at El Capitan, tiny specks way up there on sheer, almost vertical cliffs, working their way slowly towards the top. One has to be a little insane to actually attempt such a thing, although our friends Rick and Darryl probably wouldn’t agree, partial as they are to hanging precariously off the sides of Point Perpindicular back home in Jervis Bay.
Begrudgingly we left Yosemite after 2 days wishing we had allocated more time bu excited to get to Fresno to visit Nikki, my crazy(in a good way ) Internet friend that I had met through My Space almost 2 years before. A prolific blogger, Nikki spills the beans on almost every aspect of her life, good and bad…open hearted ( in both a spiritual and literal sense having been through 2 open heart surgeries in her young life) we were all looking forward to meeting Aunt Nik and her cubs Makena & Jake. Fresno is not usually a destination of choice in a travel itinerary and so far everyone we had outlined our plans to had looked at us strangely when we got to that part; “Fresno? Why on Earth are you going to Fresno?  It’s the armpit of California ”
“We’re going to meet Nik ”
Fresno is a flat, sprawled out city of 3 million. Our first impression was that the main industry must be health. Everywhere we looked there were hospitals and dentists, Gastro specialists and allergy centres, orthodontists and periodontists…every conceivable specialist.

Nik came out to greet us and burst into tears, her tiny frame giving me one giant bear hug. It has been a tough few months for her and hopefully our stay was a bit of a cheer up for her.  We walked to dinner at a local Italian restaurant, sat by the pool for some girl time, hung out with the kids and generally chilled out together….Marco got to wrestle with 5 year old Jake the Quake (the girls wanted us to adopt a little boy for him when they saw how much fun he could have.

We said goodbye to Nik with promises to meet up somewhere in january and began the next leg of the trip to Ventura to visit the Farrys again.

Santana, Brinsley & Sienna

Santana, Brinsley & SiennaPaul, Marco & Dara

 Santana had been hanging out to see Brinsley again and had an even better time this time than last meeting all of Brins friends and having 2 nights this time instead of one. When we left she told us she wanted to come live with them as an exchange student for 6 months and go to school with Brins. we had a fabulous stay as we always do when we get together with Paul & Dara and hopefully we’ll see them in the snow at Christmas.

The last leg of the trip took us back to Marcel & Julies in Carlsbad with a quick stop to drop off our borrowed camping gear at Mark & Christines. They were keen for us to stay for dinner but we were exhausted and knew that we would be getting together for Marks 50th the following week so back in the car we jumped and onwards to Carlsbad.

Mikela greeted us with big hugs and her new skill of putting several words together in a sentence.

 

Two months in Portland

Filed under: Uncategorized — tracyverdugo @ 9:06 pm

Oct 23rd, 2008

Grammys beautiful garden & gorgeous Charlotte!

Grammys beautiful garden & gorgeous Charlotte!

Hello from the tropics..Part 1
Soooooooo..its catch up time again. Amazing how I have so much time now yet my time management skills are obviously on vacation along with the rest of me. I’m sitting here in the tropics in one of my favourite places on the planet- Puerto Escondido. The name means hidden port and although things have changed in the 16 years since we last visited, in many ways it is still a secret destination. Before I go any further on our current destination I need to fill in the blanks since I last wrote….
We arrived back in Portland mid August and enjoyed a few weeks of magic late Summer on the lake with Rick & Sharon. Easy days swimming and walking and long evening dinners outside overlooking the water. One evening we all went along to a Hot August nights Party put on by the Lake Oswego Board. We were lucky enough to be right where the action was on the back deck of the Barmans’ beautiful home right next door to the large stage that had been erected for the much anticipated Beach Boys cover band,  Papa Do Run Run.. Hundreds of boats filled the water as  the US’ best Beach Boys cover band filled the night with the sounds of the 60’s and 70’s….the food and wine flowed and we all danced under the sunset…good vibrations indeed
Funnily Marco realised immediately that this band had actually performed at his highschool dance in 1976  The line up had changed a little but some of the original members had been performing together since 1965  After the gig we met up with Jimmy, the original member and bass player and Marco had a good chat to him about the original line up and stunned him with his memory of the instruments used for that performance.

Hot August night party

Hot August night party

It was around this time that the girls and I finally set up a schedule for school…winging it was just not working out so we set aside the mornings and made up a roster for what they would study each day. Amazingly both of them got right to work once they had something tangible to work to.
Sharon kindly let us take over her dining room and turn it into a creative space and workroom for our art and scrapbooking endeavours and Sienna went into production mode making beautiful origami peace crane earrings. We secured a one time spot at the busy Lake Oswego Farmers markets and set up a stall with some of my paintings, some pendants I had been making and Siennas earrings. She worked day in and day out leading up to the market day and successfully sold more than a dozen pairs…she was thrilled but to date I haven’t been able to persuade her to make anymore..maybe she just needs a break.

Our market stall

Our market stall

girls at Multnomah Falls

girls at Multnomah Falls

Originally we had planned to leave Portland around the first week of Sept to head South but we were also relying on some work to come through to finance the next portion of the trip. Marco spent a couple of weeks renovating his moms floor which turned into a full office renovation with spectacular results and then at the beginning of Sept when we were beginning to wonder if we should head back to California to look for work, the anticipated job came through. In Chinese astrology Marco was born in the year of the Ox and its times like these that his stamina, determination and single mindedness shine through. For 3 weeks including weekends  he rose at 4am and came home around 5pm slogging it out in order for us to be able to pay our bills at home and make the next part of the trip a reality. The girls and I worked on school and explored some of the other sights of Portland….the malls, the Zoo and the op shops….actually Santana wanted nothing to do with the Op shops ( thrift stores in the US), but Sienna and I discovered the Milwaukie Goodwill..a giant warehouse where nothing is sorted..everything is dumped into giant bins and sold at $1.39 a pound. The thrill is in diving into the bins and sifting through the rubbish to find some treasures. Santana thought the whole idea was thoroughly disgusting but Sienna and I had fun on several occasions..each to his/her own right?
The long Summer evenings began to shorten in Sept and the weather turned decidedly cooler. In the evenings we sat in Ricks Den with a glass of red wine and watched the political gymnastics in the lead up to the Elections. All of us cheering on Obama, Sharons outraged commentary at the Palin/McCain antics were almost as hysterical as the TV itself
Staying a little longer also allowed us to catch up with friends we had not seen for a long time..we enjoyed wonderful dinners with Kip and Carl , Mason & Linda  and Doug & Teresa & Keith & Julie.
Marco and I also did a gig at Café Airplay in downtown Portland and went out a few times to watch other local musicians.
Towards the end Sienna a

Airplay Cafe gig

Airplay Cafe gig

nd I embarked on a “Get into bikini shape routine” and diligently did sit ups and leg exercises and went for long works in the beautiful forests of Tryon State Park….Santana swanned around while we sweated, having been blessed with the metabolism I used to have pre entering my 40’s
On Sept 27th we loaded up Minerva once again (leaving several boxes of stuff to be mailed that would not fit in ), said our tearful goodbyes to Grandpa Rick, Grammy, Gracie, Griffen and Charlotte and hit the road again. This time we would not be heading down the coast road but would take the I5 for most of the way spending time with friends and camping in Yosemite along the way.

 

Cruising through British Columbia September 13, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — tracyverdugo @ 12:11 am

The weather had cooled significantly as we headed out to catch the ferry from Twaasen. We were to cross over from the mainland to Vancouver Island to meet our hosts for the next 6 days, Keith & Julie Thompson.

Kids busking at ganges markets

Kids busking at ganges markets

With our trusty GPS, Gloria guiding us we drove seamlessly off the ferry and over to the Marina in Sidney where Keith and Julie kept their beautiful boat Highlander II.

We were welcomed warmly and made to feel at home; given the obligatory tour of the boat and its workings, 3 second flushes and 3 minute showers were highly recommended.

Keith gave Marco lessons on taking the helm as we cruised out of Sidney and in no time he was confidently sailing us into unchartered waters ( well, uncharted by us at least!)

Santana, Kira & Sienna on the Higlander II

Santana, Kira & Sienna on the Higlander II

Harbour seals bobbed in the water, basking, flipping and disappearing. Pine forested islands surrounded us in a deep steel blue ocean and we breathed in the unfamiliar surroundings, totally different to any island settings we had ever seen.

First port of call was Ganges on Salt Spring island. A beautiful harbour and a village of art, craft, music and vibrancy. In some ways it felt like Huskisson had been transported into the Northwest and I did think a little about the prosperity that a marina could bring to the businesses of such a small town- not that I’m suggesting we desecrate our beautiful Husky beach in such a way. We spent a fantastic 2 days here and thoroughly enjoyed the Saturday market, festive and Summery, abundant with fresh produce, handmade soaps, delicious breads and buskers.

The beautiful HighlanderII

The beautiful HighlanderII

One such perfomer was a wiry and muscular African with an enormous grin who thrilled the crowds for half an hour with such feats as spinning four large metal bowls at one time on the end of wooden bowls; one balanced in each hand, one in his mouth and the other tucked securely in his pants. His was a strange mix of choreoraphy, a skilled juggler and gymnast, he would occasionally lapse into a series of exploitative dance moves, grinning wildly while he gyrated. Some parents squirmed uncomfortably while their kids giggled nervously. If the directors of Manpower were there he would have been hired on the spot.

Our last night we dined at a beautiful restaurant, a short walk up the hill. Amazing food and equally wonderful company!

Chemainus mural

The next stop was the hideaway Telegraph harbour. A beautiful marina tucked away in a long narrow cove it had a feeling of wild isolation and beauty. Keith had bought the girls a game of Monopoly in Ganges and the played it in just about every spot on the boat.

Our second day we walked the fifteen minutes to take the ferry across to Chemainus, a town renowned for its murals. Along the we noticed single wooden chairs on the side of the road. They had been placed there as a local courtesy for travellers to rest as needed. On a bench overlooking the harbour we found a diary open to any passerby to enter their details, impressions and origins..the girls had fun adding Australia to the long list of other visitors from many parts of the World. We walked around Chemainus for a couple of hours intrigued by the concept of reviving a flagging tourism industry by inviting artists to paint historic scenes on every bare building wall. In an antique store Marco and I found a beautiful print by an Indigenous Canadian artist and snapped it up. Sharon loved it so much she said the trip to Chemainus was worth it just for the find of gorgeous art!

Keith and Julie in Chemainus

Kira, Sienna, Santana in Chemainus

Kira, Sienna, Santana in Chemainus

Marco in Chemainus

Marco in Chemainus

The girls raced around the town striking various poses in front of murals, keen to get to a computer a post them on their My Space and Facebook sites.

family in Chemainus; me, Marco,Santana, Kira, Sienna & grammy

family in Chemainus; me, Marco,Santana, Kira, Sienna & grammy

First nation boy fishing in Chemainus

First Nation boy fishing in Chemainus

signing the roadside travellers journal at telegraph harbour

signing the roadside travellers journal at telegraph harbour

Our last night was spent at Otter Bay, kowing that the next day we would say goodbye,regretfully feeling like we could stay for weeks on this beautiful boat with such wonderful and generous hosts and knowing that we would all treasure the memories of a very special experience.

One more beautiful sunset...

One more beautiful sunset...

 

 
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