May 14, 2012

Where is the Inspiration? Let’s Trade Coconuts…

How many cares one loses when one
Decides not to be something
But to be someone.
Coco Chanel 

Beach found items
Large cities do not inspire me to write much.  We visited the malecón (seawall topped by walkway) in Puerto Vallarta (PV for short) as well as what they call “Zona Romantica”. 

I’m not sure why it is called that other than to attract tourists like us to go visit to find out it’s not that romantic after all, and Isla Cuale, a small island with, thankfully, a few ancient trees left, that must have been very beautiful before it was invaded by tourist shops and restaurants.

Art on PV Malecon
Boy on Seahorse sculpture on boardwalk in PV
Large tree on Cuale Island
PV was founded in 1851, the same year Seattle, Washington, was.  Having visited both cities, it seems like Seattle has much more character, culture and history to its credit.  PV caters too much to tourism to have kept much of its historical heritage.  It has been considered a tourist destination since 1961!  Even the main “Our Lady of Guadalupe” church was built after 1920 and parts of it were redone after a huge earthquake destroyed its famous crown of angels and palms so there isn’t much that is original left to see.  It also seems odd that a church of this stature doesn’t have a front yard nor is facing a park or zocalo (town plaza or square).  It is tightly sandwiched between businesses and residences with not even a tree to help frame it.  This arrangement seems to take away the grandeur these types of buildings usually have.
Our Lady of Guadalupe church
Orange-glow cross on Our Lady of Guadalupe church
To be fair, the malecón is lined with fine sculptures and various artworks.  Sand sculptures are nearby on the beach as well so there is a little art to view however it is quickly overshadowed by loud music of various competing genres, a mixture of ads, street vendors, etc.

We visited some friends at the Grand Luxxe, part of the larger Mayan Resort Complex.  Dogs were not allowed in any of the buildings so our visit was very short.    Security had us leave as soon as they found we had Nikki with us.  We didn’t want to get our kind hosts in trouble so we escaped as quickly as possible.  In general, Mexico has been very dog friendly EXCEPT when we visit areas that are mostly meant for ‘gringos’.  Since we typically do not visit these highly touristic areas, it usually isn’t much of a problem for us but it is sad to see Mexico adopting this to please only a very small portion of the tourist population.
Finally, we visited Nuevo Vallarta and Paradise Village Marinas (again dogs not allowed most places).  It feels much more like being in Las Vegas, not our style by a long stretch.  We countered that by visiting Sayulito, a truly hippie town where you see lots of macramé, beadwork, dreads, surf, etc.  Again due to the influence of gringos, dogs are less and less welcome in this area even though it is quite reminiscent of the 70’s otherwise.  In Paradise Village we met with Doug Jackson on Tortuga, a beautiful 76 foot Nordhavn motor yacht.  Doug and Jack (small Chihuahua) were very gracious hosts and Doug has every reason to be proud of the beautiful interior design he helped put together. 
Mixing old and new in Bucerias

I much prefer Bucerias and La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.  Bucerias (Place of Divers), locally called Pueblito Magico is inhabited by many US and Canadian folks but even though there are tourists visiting and living here, it has kept much more of its charm and character.  There are many nice courtyards, small restaurants, interesting architecture to see in the back streets, while Main Street is kept for businesses catering to the locals.  There are so many people from British Columbia, Canada, here that the locals jokingly call it B.C.Rias… and most bars/pubs show hockey instead of basketball or soccer on TV…
Sun over doorway
They love their frogs - not sure why
Older architecture hotel in Bucerias
Small shrine-like grotto near beach in Bucerias
La Cruz is even smaller and is filled with musicians, very small street restaurants, and although it caters mostly to cruisers, whose money and interest helped build most of it, it still has more of the Mexican flair than a touristic one.  Every Sunday during the high season there is a very good Farmers' Market with many goodies and artwork for purchase.

Huichol man beading animal head (Wikipedia)
Huichol bead work at farmers' market
Beautiful batik
Colorful ceramic and pottery
Making colorful baskets
Back at anchor for a few nights before going up to Arizona to pick up parts for the boat, visit Mike’s mom, and renew our Mexican Tourist Visas, we realize once again just how beautiful and calm the mornings are.  The water is so still we can see a great number of rays gently and slowly floating by as if only carried by the current.  The very tips of their “fin like wings”, wave slightly above water in pairs, as if to say hello.  Dolphins are not as common here as in the Sea of Cortez but they do come by from time to time although we’ve only seen them in the morning.  We noticed as we went back north that what is missing in this area are the beautiful sunsets and sunrises of Mazatlán and further West and North.  Although the days are gorgeous, we are not blessed with colorful sky displays mornings or nights.

A call on the cruiser’s radio net the other morning for someone needing help with her Sailrite sewing machine.  Mike and I went by so I could lend her a hand; give her a quick how-to lesson.  Pay it forward.
On another call a person thanking everyone for taking care of his runaway boat that was at anchor.  Something near the anchor broke; someone noticed and took care of saving the vessel from crashing on the beach.  For days the person who did such a good deed didn’t come forward despite several calls from the owner who wanted to thank him/her.  I don’t know that he/she ever did.  Another pay it forward of a great community.
Since non-Mexican are not allowed to technically sell anything (i.e.: do business) in Mexico, whenever someone has something to 'sell' (as in flea market or trade, etc) they advertise the items with a ‘price’ of coconuts for trade…  Some of the lingo you get to learn as you go.
A couple new boats in the area were heard saying they had ‘just’ returned here after a circumnavigation.  When asked how long they had been gone, one said 27 years, the other 22, the last one 17!  We are absolute babies compare to these folks!
Had a good dinner on Red Witch, a 52 year old ketch of, you guessed it, red color, and met new sailors.  It is always nice to meet like minded folks and a good way to say goodbye to Mexico for nearly a week.
On our way up to Arizona I ponder the two common reactions we get when people find out we do not motor but sail only since we do not have a motor for that sort of activity, only for getting in and out of marinas.  The more common one is that we are crazy and they are very scared for us because they would be scared themselves, the less common one is that they respect what we do even though they do not have the patience to do it themselves – they go as far as calling us ‘real’ sailors.  The first reaction usually comes from people who motor-sail most of the time and/or have little sailing experience, the second reaction mostly comes from experienced sailors and some of them wished they had the wherewithal to do it as well.  

Reading many blogs we follow from fellow cruisers, I am amazed at what the majority of the people crossing the Pacific complained the most about:  Bobbing – in light wind conditions for we are often faced with this and have learned to work with it.  Most people however motor through these zones to more quickly get to their next destination.  Should we ever do the crossing we already have learned many (not all I’m sure) of the lessons light wind conditions can teach us…
As the towns move quickly by: Compostela, Tepic, Mazatlán, Culiacán, Ciudad Obregón, Hermosillo, and Nogales, my mind is still at “home”, our vessel Déjàlà.   That we leave it floating by itself is a little bit harder than usual as we are also leaving behind, although in VERY good hands with Doug and Lynn on Miramar, our little co-captain Nikki.  The way up was uneventful, only broken up by the many usual searches from customs and immigration, a slight mechanical problem on the bus once in the US, and a plugged women’s bathroom… 
Truckload of cut sugar canes in Tepic
We particularly like Tepic and Compostela.  As the capital of Nayarit, Tepic is located in an agricultural valley surrounded by a very tall extinct volcano and mountains.  The valley is perfect for growing sugar cane, citrus, mango, and tobacco.  As we walked around town waiting for our connecting bus we saw several dozens of trucks loaded with cut sugar canes and were able to find a small park with lake, a kind of animal and plant reserve right within the city…  We also found a market of smaller markets where we think most of the very small tienditas (very small corner stores) come and purchase what they are going to sell.  Prices were amazing and regular folks could also shop there.  Compostela seems a little more laid back (if that is possible in Mexico)… the surrounding landscape is very pretty there and I can just imagine what it would be like if it were green, during the soon upcoming wetter season, instead of dusty.
On the way down we make it through customs and immigration in about five minutes including the purchase of our new six-month tourist visa.  Things go really quickly and smoothly.  We didn’t take as fancy a bus on this leg of the trip as the good one would have made it to the border too late to get our visas.  Even though we had many heavy and awkward luggage, we were only charged an extra $10; our estimate had been upwards of $50!  Viva Mexico! Other than the seats being a little smaller and not getting a sack lunch, the trips were quite similar.  This bus stopped at a few more places allowing us to see more of the local scenery.  The bus was stopped only twice to check luggage so the time we spent being searched more than a dozen times on the way up was made up by the few times we were searched on the way down even though we stopped in more towns.  It is actually less nerve wracking to be in a bus when it’s time to deal with searches, toll roads, and following directions since someone else has to handle all the logistics. 
Old adobe wall
The roads were mostly good and many were recently upgraded.  The main difference is in the width of the lanes, they are much narrower than in the US or Canada.  I don’t know if all the side-view mirrors I saw lining the whole wall of a garage were an indication of too-close-for-comfort driving… 
Fixing fishing nets by the farmers' market
We realized we are quite relaxed now that we are back in Mexico.  The time we spent north of the border felt quite hectic even though it wasn’t.  We also realized that being in the US without cell phone, internet connection, and US money or car is much more difficult than facing same conditions in Mexico.  Of course we were able to quickly get American funds and use our credit card to rent a car but in Mexico, it is easier because pay phones still exist in many places, taxis are everywhere and cheap as well as helpful.  In the US, where do you find a pay phone anymore?  Free Wi-Fi is seemingly more prominent in Mexico than the US - believe it or not…

Needless to say we are happy to be home; glad we made this trip, learned from it and know we still want to find out more about Mexico.  Here are a few other tidbits seen along the way:
  • Man dressed like a real cowboy (shirt, hat, chaps, boots, belt, etc) seen bicycling instead of on horse even though he had the demeanor of being on a horse.
  • In more expensive buses street vendors (food, candies, drinks, leather-work, pottery, embroidery, etc) are not allowed to enter the bus so they crowd the doorway yelling what they sell so that if you are interested you can get out of the bus to purchase. 
  • Man seen carrying nearly two dozen bar stools using a ladder balanced on a two-wheel cart crossing the street.  Quite ingenious way of transporting that many at one time.
  • Elections are nearing here too and instead of yard signs seen everywhere on lawns and at intersections, they paint slogans on buildings, fences, blocks, etc…  A lot more work goes into this…
  • So many people sit on 5 gallon buckets that they sell cushions that specifically fit their round tops.  Much more comfortable way to work, wait, etc
  • Someone opens up their small café.  The sidewalk is not large enough for the table to fit so they add blocks under the two front legs of the table to even it out with the two back legs still located on their house’s living room floor.  Got to have that presence on the sidewalk!
  • Our taxi driver from bus station A to bus station B in Tepic offers to take us all the way to our destination (nearly 100 miles away).  He really worked hard to make his case but he couldn’t have beaten the bus price of $11.20 each to get there…
  • Speaking of taxi drivers, friends pay $12.80 to come visit here by taxi.  The taxi driver told them he’d wait for them.  They said they’d be visiting for several hours and his reply why that it would still be worth waiting hours to make the other $12.80 to go home as there is very little work here especially at this time of the year.
  • Whereas small places like Chacala (on the beach) used to have 30-40 buses full of tourists visiting each weekend, they are now down to 3-4 only. 
  • It takes 6-12 years for agave plants to be large and sweet (at least 24% sugar) enough to harvest to make Tequila.  It takes about 20-25 pounds of plant to make 1 liter (about 4 cups) of the sought after beverage.
  • The flowering stalk of agaves is used to make surfboards and didgeridoos as well as being used as stakes.
  • You have to know your buses.  In general, on the larger buses, you pay first and on the smaller buses you pay when you get out.  You figure out as you go but if you pay first on a small bus, you may be asked to pay again when you depart… 
  • Capomo (breadnut) coffee substitute is somewhat the chicory of Mexico, a coffee flavor that is really convincing without a jolt of caffeine.
  • Amazing how many young children on the farms we visited eat cucumber or jicama for snacks.  They ask for them…
  • I ponder that the cost of feeding our small puppy on a weekly basis is perhaps close to what some people here survive on… sad.
  • When asked why they don’t cover their plants at risk of freezing with plastic, their answer is that it is too costly (yet losing plants isn’t?)
  • They save the mesh bags (25 and 50 pounds) that often onions come in to make scrubbies to wash dishes with.
  • To have/leave trash out in a front yard is sign of wealth.  It is a sign you had the money to buy the things that came inside the boxes, jars, covers you leave out for all to see…
  • Sweeping with homemade broom feels completely different than sweeping with plastic one.  So much smoother, softer, less static building, and quieter. 
Oyster fishermen shading themselves with few palm fronds on beach
  • Their sense of design is a little different.  There is pride in their voice when they say their village if very pretty because all the houses are the ‘same’.   They have no problem adding new wood next to antique hand-hewn beams rather than trying to keep the old look or match the woodwork.  That is not important to them.  They often paint something until the paint runs out and that’s good enough to them even though what they were painting is not completely covered.
  • There is a belief that if you add a metal fork inside a pot of boiling water (for pasta, nopales, potatoes, etc) that it will help it not boil over.
  • They have now come up with a way to have paying restrooms without having an attendant there to take your money.  They use revolving (turnstile) doors where you pay 2-5 pesos to open up into a restroom area.
  • When at the farm, we found out the following Saints are the ones for each of our birth dates:
o   San Crescencio, April 19, saint of growth, development (Marie-France)
o   San Ireneo, June 28, saint of peace (Mike)   

In La Cruz - cemetery (pantheon)

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