Friday, September 28, 2012

Training the Gringos

With the slight lift of her lip the tan and white dog sneered at the bowl of dog food placed before her: “Is this the best you can do? Dog Food?” She flicked her tail and trotted out of the gate, turning to stare commandingly back at the white male dog. Are you coming?” He sighed, looking in dismay at a dish of half-eaten food, hoping to finish it after he had placated Her Highness.

Missy and Odd, or whatever name you know them by have been living on strip of the beach across from the Bachilleres school for most of their lives. Missy(a name we gave her due to her condescending attitude) was originally part of a five-dog pack. 

They mooched at the vacation houses that were being built in the area between what is now the Mango Café, and the Bachilleres College.  Delfino remembers spaying her before he started to use ear tattoos – so that would make her currently around ten years old.  Two or three of the other dogs in the pack were eventually adopted by Americans.  That left Missy, and her new friend who we call Odd, on the beach scavenging for their survival.

Odd is very distinctive looking.  He has one blue eye, and one brown eye.  A friend of mine suggested we name him Od-eye-see.  Due to laziness on my part the name has now been shortened to just plain Odd.  We have been told that Odd was originally owned by a man who has a pack of fighting dogs, and Odd wouldn’t fight so he was chased away from the house.  We think he is around seven years old, but that’s just a guess.

Out of necessity Missy has perfected her mooching act.  She sidles up to a new prospect, with her adorable Border-Collie-type ears perked up and the tip of her tail softly thumping: “Aren’t I the cutest thing you have ever seen in your life?”  The reaction is predictable.  Out comes the food: scraps of meat, pieces of cheese, anything a dog might eat.  If she is hungry or if the offerings are up to her standards she will eat.  Otherwise the next act in her repertoire includes ears tucked in, shoulders slumped and a very sad look in her eyes.  However, if Missy and Odd are treated to a tasty bit of leftovers - she will perform her Happy Dance, akin to a Dog Salsa. In the winter months they are pampered, for a week or two, and sometimes for a month or six weeks, by various sets of returning visitors.  The dogs have learned to recognize their favourites, quickly re-establishing the friendship until the vacation time is over once again.

As servants to two demanding cats, we had no intention of feeding beach dogs, especially after watching how many sets of vacationers fussed over them.  And then came the summer of 2009, with the Swine Flu scare, and few if any tourists on the island.  The two dogs were starving.  We couldn’t stand it and started to feed them, offering them food and fresh water twice a day. 


I eventually asked Patricio to build a shelter for the dogs in our carport.  That caused a lot of giggles amongst the crew.  “A dog house.  Seriously?”  We now have a nice cozy place, complete with a padded bed from Costco, for Odd and Missy to curl up on during the inclement weather.

Food.  Water.  A safe place to sleep.  Vaccinations.  Monthly flea and tick treatments.  Medications for various illnesses and injuries when required.  You would think that these two dogs would be steadfast and loyal.  No! 
They have been loved and left many times during their lives.  They have learned to adapt.  When they see an old friend they disappear in a puff of dog hair, running flat-out down the beach - greeting their long lost pals.
And us, well we are just their fallback plan.  Fortunately, our neighbours Ronda and Bruce have now taken on a shared responsibility for the two lovable scam artists.

We are now well-trained gringos – feeding two beach dogs as well as our two cats, a dozen or so free roaming iguanas and about two hundred hermit crabs. 



Friday, September 21, 2012

Our skewed perspective of Mexico

Lawrie - wearing standard island clothes
We wear shorts, t-shirts and sandals 360 days a year.  The other 5 days when the weather is chilly we wear jeans, t-shirts and sandals. 

Gone are my designer label business suits, stiletto heels and nylons.  Lawrie still has one pair of expensive Italian dress shoes, tucked into a storage bin, slowly turning to mounds of fuzzy grey mold. 

When we departed from Canada Lawrie gave away dozens of expensive ties, suits, and dress shirts.  We now live in a small fishing community - Isla Mujeres - not far from Cancun.  Resort style clothing is the norm. 

Island living has skewed our perspective. 

Back in the day when we still worked!
Our recent jaunt to Guadalajara and Morelia reminded us of the more traditional Mexico.  The residents dressed in business clothes – long pants, shirts and well-polished shoes for the men; dresses and high heels for the women.  Shoeshine stands were plentiful in both cities. 

Here on Isla almost everyone wears sandals, or flip-flops; no shoe polish required.  Many island residents wear t-shirts advertising a political candidate in either an upcoming election, or a previous election.  It’s a free shirt; given out by the thousands during the months before an election.  It doesn’t matter if you support the candidate or not, a free shirt is still a free shirt.

Customers dressed for breakfast in Morelia
In Guadalajara and Morelia we heard English spoken twice during the week.  We struggled to communicate with hotel staff, restaurant servers, and the Ford service department. 

Isla Mujeres, on the other hand, is primarily a resort community with hundreds of expats living here, so the necessity to learn Spanish is not so pressing.  At least six months of the year, we speak English. 

Many English speaking friends on Isla.
During the other six months when our expat friends have returned to Canada or the US, we speak Spanglish, brutally massacring the beautiful language.  We try to speak correctly but our brains just don’t retain the words.  Falling asleep at night allows most of our newly acquired words to leak out of our brains – evaporating quickly into the night air.  It’s hell getting older.


Casual Fridays - everyday on Isla
The Spanish spoken here on Isla is different, heavily flavoured with informal island slang and many Mayan words, as most of the inhabitants are of Maya descent.   The Spanish we heard spoken in Guadalajara and Morelia was similar to the Rosetta Stone computer language program.  

I practiced long and hard to say antes-ojos de sol for sunglasses.  Here on Isla, my local friends bust out laughing.  They say: lens. 

The Rosetta Stone program taught us to say carro for an automobile.  On Isla the common word is camioneta for any vehicle: truck, car or van.  But then, this shouldn’t surprise me.  Like Mexico, Canada is a large country stretching 5000 kilometers from coast to coast.  Years ago when Lawrie and I visited the maritime province of Prince Edward Island we discovered that whatever language the islanders were speaking it sure as heck wasn’t English. At least not any form of English that we could understand. 

A few years ago - Puerto Vallarta
Every adventure in Mexico is interesting, fun, and a learning experience. 

We enjoy the diversity. 

Travel helps straighten out our skewed perspective.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Morelia - an unexpected detour

Dormant volcano being used for gravel
Cruising along two hundred kilometers south of Guadalajara, on the #15 multi-lane toll highway, the surrounding land is fertile, richly coloured. 

Numerous dormant volcanic mountains tower in the distance, their peaks obscured by low clouds.  The earth resembles grated cinnamon, un-sweetened dark chocolate, and freshly ground coffee. 

And the air smells of burning oil.  That can’t be good.

We turn off the road at a highway service area into the PeMex station, and shut off the truck.  Burning oil; dripping from an engine gasket onto the hot exhaust pipe.  The gas jockeys gather around the truck offering suggestions in Spanish and pointing.  Lawrie has a pretty good idea of the problem.  We add a litre of oil, and buy two more as a backup.  We decide to turn back, at least as far as the previous highway exit, to a place called Morelia.

Morelia Centro
Our first turn-back opportunity is at a toll booth populated with a dozen or so State Police.  I’m driving.  I power down the window, and sputter a few words hopefully explaining that the truck is broken.  Camioneta roto.  Regreso a Morelia.” 

It works.  They laugh.  Smile.  And let us do a U-turn on the highway, picking up the traffic cones, waving us through – joking about the smoke pouring out from under the truck.  

Not the usual reaction we have had with Mexican State Police in our home state of Quintana Roo.   (Perhaps I mistakenly said that his stilettos were pretty?  Or that he had peanut butter stuck to his eyebrow?”)

Service Manager David and Lawrie discussing Sport Trac
We make our way to Morelia and ask the local police how to find the Ford Dealership.  More smiles.  Shoulder shrugs.  And then a passerby helps out.  “Straight ahead, through town, and it’s on the left.”  Easy!  Sure.

Morelia is a big beautiful city of around four million inhabitants and that day the main street was closed due to an accident.  

Morelia Centro on Saturday night
We spent the next hour trying to find our way around the various hilly side-streets, following first one taxi then another.  I pulled over at a little vehicle repair shop and asked for help; more directions in Spanish, and a hand-drawn map. 

As I got back into the truck the shop owner’s son pulled up beside me on his motorcycle.  “Follow me!”  He zipped along back streets, one-way streets, and tight corners and then we were there.   He waved off our offer of a tip for his efforts.  Just smiled and waved.  Gone.

We are now completely captivated by the City of Morelia.  Beautiful - and friendly. 

David, the Ford Dealership Service Department manager was very helpful – but it was Saturday, and they had already closed the service department for the day.  All the mechanics had finished work at two in the afternoon, and were done until nine in the morning on Monday.  There was nothing for us to do but find a decent hotel for a couple of nights and explore the city.  David handed our taxi driver a Ford Service Department coupon for a complimentary taxi ride to a hotel.  He suggested the Alameda Hotel, near from the gorgeous cathedral in Centro.  It was an interesting hotel, compiled of three old hacienda-style buildings.  The sturdy stone walls made the hotel rooms extremely quiet and cool.

Musicians in Morelia Centro Saturday night
Saturday night the Centro was buzzing with people.  People gathered in the cathedral square to watch entertainers, chat with friends, or enjoy a drink in a sidewalk café.   It was fascinating.  We spent the next two days exploring the city, on foot and by tour bus. 

Originally settled in the 7th century, the city was later settled by the Spanish in 1525 and re-named as Valladolid in 1541.  The name was later changed to Morelia in 1828, to honor a local hero, José Maria Morelos Y Pavón for his part in the War of Independence from Spain.

Sunday morning mayhem in Centro Morelia
Sunday morning we stepped outside of our hotel to be confronted by an odd sight; dozens of people riding bicycles, children on plastic pedal cars, teenagers on roller blades with dogs running along beside.  Not a car in sight.  We wandered snapping photographs and exploring side-streets. 

By Monday we were anxious to make a decision on the truck – repair, or not.  We returned to the Ford Service Department.  A part was required, but it could take two or more weeks.  David said we could drive the vehicle as long as we checked the oil frequently.   Lawrie asked them to balance the front tires, and said we would be back in the morning to get the truck.

One of dozens of shoe shine stands in Centro
Lawrie made a phone call to the company in California that supplied, and imported the Sport Trac for us.  They apologized profusely.  They suggested we could either leave it in Morelia, or if we wanted we could drive it back to Guadalajara and leave it with their representative there.  They would find us another better vehicle, quickly. 

In the meantime, on our last night in Morelia, Lawrie happened upon a nearby restaurant that had great reviews on the internet: Casa Grande.  We decided to treat ourselves to a good dinner.  It wasn’t just good, it was fabulous! 

Appetizers, rack of lamb, dessert, and wine the total bill was around $80.00 dollars.  It was our tastiest dinner out in four years, including our recent trip to France and Italy. 

Roof top view at Casa Grande Restaurante in Morelia
Leaving Morelia on Tuesday morning we had an interesting drive through the scenic secondary roads back to Guadalajara, and back to our original hotel.  We flew home to Isla on Wednesday.

We’ll continue our cross country adventure at a later date, including a one-night return to the lovely City of Morelia. 

It was an unexpected delightful detour.

Yipee!  Our Canadian passports arrive

Friday, September 7, 2012

Guadalajara, a shopping mecca

Guadalajara is the second largest city in Mexico.  It's huge! 

It’s a busy, thriving area with many types of industry nearby including glass blowing. Nearly every drinking-glass, bowl, chandelier, or vase that you have seen in other parts of Mexico was made here in Guadalajara. 

Any silly me – I didn’t buy any of it! 
Got off the plane - headed straight to Krispy Kreme!
We spent three nights in Guadalajara.  We were on a mission to take possession of an Explorer Sport Trac being imported from California into Mexico for us.  Bringing a used vehicle into Mexico is a whole other story that Lawrie will write about in a subsequent blog. 

Since we were waiting to be sure the vehicle had actually arrived in the city we didn’t buy a lot of things – just in case we had to return to Isla Mujeres via airplane instead of driving home. 

In the meantime we window-shopped.  On our first day we took a taxi ride out to Tlaquepaque in the suburbs.  It’s a fabulous area. 

Think of Murano glass from Italy – on steroids; chandeliers that required a house with twenty-foot ceilings, glassware in every colour, size, pattern and description.  Antiques from all over Mexico.  Pottery.  Furniture.  Designer studios and rustic furnishing.  I was in heaven looking at it all.  And in Hell because I couldn’t buy anything!

Drove twenty miles past our turn off!
The second day we took another taxi ride to nearby Tonala, a suburban area specializing in more traditional Mexican handicrafts.  This driver was a hundred times more entertaining than the one we had the day before. 

Our first clue should have been when he hollered across the street to a friend, asking how much he should charge for the fare to Tonala. 

Tonala Centro
As we ricocheted along the streets of Guadalajara our driver never quite seemed to be in control of the vehicle.  Finally we were on the very busy multi-laned Highway 15.  We passed the first turnoff of Tonala, but we weren’t concerned.  There is usually another exit a few kilometers along.   Then the second turnoff zipped past.  By now our driver was waving his hands around, muttering a lot in Spanish. 

We got the gist of his problem.  There were no more turnoffs.  Okay then.  Mexico City here we come!

As we rocketed along the highway for another twenty kilometers, he finally spotted an exit for another suburban community. He zipped off, tried a few different roads, and then noticed an under-the-highway drainage culvert, wide enough for the car. And that became our turn-back road. Finally arriving in the Centro of Tonala, we exited the taxi, giggling wildly at our adventure.

Entertainment is where you find it.  
Lawrie shopping in Tonala
We spent the remainder of the day meandering up and down the many side streets in Tonala, looking at the various displays of pottery, furniture, and yet more glassware. 

Nope.  Still not buying.

Returning to the Hotel Morelos, a lovely old colonial hacienda located in the centre of old Guadalajara, we decided a cold drink was next on the agenda.  Luckily for us the first week of September is celebrated in Guadalajara as the Day of the Mariachis. 

We had the pleasure of listening to live music in our hotel lobby, across the street in the square, and near the gorgeous 160 year-old Guadalajara Cathedral located in the heart of the historic centre of the city. 

One of the Mariachi bands participating in festival
Friday night, our last night, we wandered around the historic district, snapping photos of the many locals enjoying the start of the weekend. 

When I downloaded my photos to our laptop computer I thought that I must have held the camera at a slight angle as one of the spires of the cathedral had a decided lean to it. 

It turns out the cathedral was damaged in several earthquakes spanning from 1932 to 2003.  There is a slight tilt to the north tower, and structural damage to the dome.  The cathedral is still in daily use.  I’d being saying my prayers with my fingers crossed.

Guadalajara Cathedral in Centre - damaged by earthquakes
As for the shopping – we did take delivery of the white Sport Trac, and we are on our way towards Puebla – another shopping mecca. 

No worries.  We can still fill the truck with good stuff.