December 29, 2009

A Mexican Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is a time when Mexican families gather from afar at the homes of parents, aunts and uncles or grandparents to await Christmas day. The parties often last into the wee hours.

We decide to take a walk, to enjoy a "Mexican Christmas". Central “Joco” is about 7 or 8 blocks square, interspersed with angles and lanes. Most properties are long and narrow, surrounded by high walls; some have gated patio areas in front. At Joco’s heart is the central plaza. Six of us, a gringo crowd, straggle off from Marilyn’s house, west of the plaza. The cobblestone streets are quiet. It’s dark, we watch our footing. Sidewalks are uneven and narrow; it’s easier to walk in the stony street, there's little traffic.

In the square, things are bustling! Overnight, two days ago, traveling vendors set up blue and black plastic sheeting into a maze of booths selling every conceivable plastic toy, shoes, cosmetics, candies, clothes and more.

We wander and browse with the crowd. Parents lead children clutching balls and dolls; teens peruse clothes, bootleg music and each other; vendors sell pizza, hot peanuts, churros, ice cream, tacos.

After dining on pork/pineapple tacos al pastor, we watch the boys ring the Cathedral bells for evening service.

Walking back along Degollado Street we see lighted nacimientos (nativity scenes) in front of several houses, and peer into open doors to see the Christmas trees.

Two middle-aged men sit on the curb in front of a dark doorway with a bottle. The frame and warp of a large floor loom is just visible behind them. Marilyn starts a conversation, and suddenly we are walking a dirt path past a primitive open kitchen to the bodega (storeroom), where a weaving cooperative keeps their finished work in high stacks. The artist picks up and rapidly displays wall hangings and rugs with richly colored figures and patterns. Scott purchases two 3x3’ hangings for 100 pesos each! Marilyn buys one, too. We can’t make up our mind, so promise to return, and we all walk on.

Families are gathering behind small barbeques or fires. Everyone waves, "Feliz Navidades!!" Men lift their drinks in a toast, offering a beer as we pass…and some are extremely joyful! 

Along the way, a formal table is set for a late dinner. Nearby, a modest house has a BBQ waiting.

Our last street is closed off with two trucks, and a large family sits on chairs circling a bonfire. The parties will go on very late. We say adios, and jump into the truck to head for the campground at 10:00.

Christmas day we spend at home...that is, with six of our campground family: Ken & Kris (California), Sonia & Dave (Vancouver Island, BC) , and Russ & Ruth Ann (Ontario, Canada). Here is a picture of our fine dinner!

Christmas Season Events

Gigi was fortunate to be invited to attend the Ajijic Los Cantantes del Lago Christmas choral concert with friends. It was wonderful! A huge amount of talent can be found among the American and Canadian residents of Ajijic.

On the 23rd, Marilyn, Kathi & I (Gigi) drove to Guadalajara to see the Christmas Mercado.

We were a little late – the market was breaking down on its last day! The remaining booths sold gifts and handmade clay figures for the nacimientos (nativity scenes) people set up in their homes .... say, is that really a devil on a flying tortilla??
We had lunch in the Plaza Corona market: chicken breasts al pastor: thin slices stacked tightly on a steel rod over coals, then shaved off, chopped, and served on 3” soft corn tortillas with onions, cilantro and condiments. Three for 9 pesos. The guys were delighted when I asked for photos! Isn't the dishwasher a cutie!

We finished off with a cup of flan from the pastry ladies – 8 pesos. A filling lunch for under two dollars. Today the U.S. dollar = 12.8 pesos. This sure beats McDonalds!

It was a very fun day.

December 17, 2009

Blog Launch with Holiday Wishes

Hello, everybody! Today we are wishing you the very best holiday celebrations ever, from Jocotepec, Mexico!

Our new C & G CHRONICLES blog is being published TODAY as our surprise to you. Our hope is that it will entertain, and will help us to stay in better touch across the miles. We'll talk about the present, and tell a few stories of our sailing days. Throughout the year, if you should have the fleeting thought...”I wonder where Chuck & Gigi are?” or “What are those nuts doing, anyway?” you may stop by to take a peek and find out! The blog starts with a few background entries. We’d be delighted if you would also like to leave us a note or make a comment (just click the purple comment link)!

The Christmas season has recently begun, with a tree in the plaza, in front of the Jocotepec Municipal building, and crèche in the Cathedral plaza.    
Did you see the Devil watching in the background?


Until the 15th, everyone was busy with a 12-day celebration honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is central to the history of the Mexican Catholic Church, and a symbol of Mexican nationalism and patriotism. Her image was exhibited in all churches with the Mexican flag, and  in displays in and outside homes.                                                        
Though we did not participate, we were well aware of the goings-on at our closest church because of the Mexican version of “Get Me to the Church On Time”… which begins about 5 am with thundering thuds spaced a few seconds apart. These are cohetes: home-made gunpowder rockets-on-a-stick, launched by hand at some risk, producing a loud Boom. BOOM. BOOM. Boomboomaboobooboom! It may be a designed to wake the congregation, but it must do a good job of shaking the whole town up and off into their day. We’re almost a mile away. I fumble to reach the ear plugs. Zzzzzz. 

During the last few evenings, booths with food and games were set up, and the darkening street was filled with families and music. And cohetes. One night in the dim light, we had to detour our truck around dancers in Indian dress. It was just one of the interesting surprises that occur so often in Mexico!

So, now, the Mexican Christmas traditions begin. The veggie market has pinatas. Tiny handmade figurines are offered for household tableaux.
And, look at these cuties are outside our gate, living the life of pampered gluttons. Sadly, we expect their numbers will dwindle during Christmas celebrations. Who can tell us: Are they sheep? or goats?

Roca Azul, at Last!

Driving into Roca Azul campground is kinda like our sailing into an anchorage in the old days, sanning the tethered rigs to see who might be here. Look! Once again, our friends have saved for us the same site we’ve occupied for the past three years! We feel totally at home, and it’s great to be back. That’s us, with Chuck’s HAM antennae on the roof. Roca Azul Resort and RV Park (check out their website) is located in a quiet neighborhood on the western shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake. We have a lake view from our back window.
The resort has a kids’ playground, swimming pool, hot spring pool, tennis, basketball and volleyball courts, and soccer field where a Jocotepec team practices enthusiastically each Tuesday evening. For those of us less athletic, there's a lakeside lighthouse where campers gather for an occasional sundowner. There’s a clubhouse, Wi-Fi, and gated security. Around us are agricultural fields, lakeside cows and a bird population that could be the subject of a whole ‘nother post!
A third generation of the Sanchez family now manages Roca. They're just great. A few days after our arrival, Arturo and Rafa treated 12 of us to a “Mexican barbeque!” The onion is the chef's secret: grill it a bit first, and it will prevent other items from sticking. This is a good start to our winter!

Our local town is Jocotepec, a very traditional Mexican town of about 16,000, with historic roots and traditions. In contrast to Ajijic and Chapala, which are farther east on the north shore and have many thousands of American and Canadian residents, few extranjeros/outsiders live here. Marilyn, a long-time friend of Gigi’s, does live in “Joco,” and introduced us to this wonderful region in 2005. We’ve spent time here every year since. We enjoy the friendly residents, local events, and restaurants and shopping that meets our everyday needs. We’ll be in Mexico into May. We will visit other locations, but could stay here a couple of months.


December 11, 2009

Mazatlan to Guadalajara

November 24, 2009, Mazatlan to Guadalajara.
Careful! There are no Pemex (fuel) stations on the quota (toll road) from Maz to Guad! We held our breath once we realized that, but made it to Tepic for diesel! The drive was easy and spectacularly beautiful, from ocean lagoons to jungle, and volcanic highlands spiked with mountains and green with agriculture.
Because we made great time on the cuota (toll road), we decided to try a campground near Magdalena, and next day arrive before noon in Jocotepec, our destination. It seemed like a good idea at the time! We were a mite late with the time change speeding the sun, so were glad to see the Magdalena exit as sundown approached. We quickly found ourselves in the heart of a charming village…with narrow streets, bustling two-way traffic, and a road that zigzagged past the scenic church and square on a street with many busses and trucks. Whew! It was exciting but nerve-wracking. Chuck can sure handle the trailer! When we exited to the east, the sun was falling low, so we stopped at a lake bird refuge to re-assess. It seemed too late to drive 17 miles to an unknown campground that, if we did not like it, would require retracing our path in the dark. Although returning through town would be a bear, we decided to get back to the quota and look for a Pemex (the national gas stations) for the night.

As we re-entered town, what luck! We noticed a sort of periferico (circle route) to the right. Good, let’s take it! Uh-oh, around the corner, the road narrowed toward railroad tracks and turned to dirt. What if this road is a dead-end? we need to turn around now! I jumped out and trotted towards a young woman walking alone who was at first suspicious (why is this gringa coming at me?) but smiled widely when she understood our dilemma and urged us to keep going…Sufficiently ancho? Si, it is wide enough! We rejoined the main road and were soon on the quota. Arriving in Guadalajara after dark, we found a large Pemex with big parking lot, and a young guy at the pump said yes, yes, esta bien to park! I bought a soda and cookies at the store, and it was a quiet night (with earplugs). We were off in the bright morning to our destination.

As we rounded the hill down into El Molino, shortly before Jocotepec, and the Roca Azul campground, the street vendors were setting up their tables, and men beginning to head for work. I felt like waving, “Hello, good morning, we’re baaack!” as we drove by…

December 10, 2009

Drive to Mazatlan

November 20, Drive to Mazatlan.
Leaving San Carlos early, we saw work parties along the road with rakes, brooms, machetes and bags, cleaning up trash and cutting brush. They seemed to be volunteers, young men and women in ordinary clothing. Many waved as we went by, and we waved, too, which made others turn to look and wave. Quite fun for us all, it seemed. We saw more enthusiastic workers here and there all morning. The cut grasses and branches from roadside were stuffed into sacks, maybe to take home to the horses, goats and cows? The next day was the Dia de la Revolucion holiday, maybe they were sprucing up for that.

People at bus stops, carrying groceries home and kids walking home from school waved spontaneously. Our truck is extremely noisy (straight pipes) and pedestrians or bicyclers normally turn to see what’s coming….just to see if they’re safe, I think. We think they wave at us strangers from el Norte just out of natural friendliness. Maybe it is that they know we come because we like their country – and they’re proud to show it off! As a passenger, I’ve found that strangers – even those who turn to look with a blank face – will nearly always wave and flash a grin in return to a waving hand in the window.

When we crossed into Sinaloa, the desert turned green, bushy and grassy, with trees and glimpses of small village life. We were tired when we rolled into Los Mochis Copper Canyon RV Park an hour before sundown, and buzzed from truck noise and motion. Again, we were off early in the morning.

Mazatlan, Sonora.
Location, location, location. Mazatlan has several campgrounds, all formal and well-equipped, but we returned to simple and somewhat neglected Mar y Vista because it is the only one truly on the beach! The landscaping looks to have been done a generation ago and roughly held in check by machete, and a little personal hacking by campers. While C installed our Internet satellite, I walked to the long beach and stood there with a wonderful feeling of relaxation and well-being, just being “at the beach!”

In a 3-nite stay we enjoyed two dinners with sailing friends Winona & Roy, beach walks, shell gathering, sea bird pix, iguanas overhead, a beachside hammock, exploring an end-of-the-road cliffside beach with fish camp and restaurants, & a McDonald’s sundae on the tourists’ Gold Coast!

Crossing the Border

November 15, 2009
We're heading for Mexico!
C&G beginning a fourth six-month RV trip to Mexico. We're bringing our full-time home along: our RV-with-no-name, a 27-foot Laredo fifth-wheel trailer, towed with a 2000 Dodge 2500.

The night before crossing into Mexico at Lukeville, AZ, we stayed at beautiful Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument & United Nations Biosphere site. G took a walk around the campground in the last hour of the day… cactus wrens danced in the brush at my feet. And a jackrabbit raced away with long black tail and pink, black-tipped ears glowing as he ran into the sunset.

This small-town border crossing into Sonoita, MX was a breeze, no waiting. A word and a wave through Mexico Customs. “No, senor, no guns, no goods to sell. No, no liquor, solo un poco tequila and rum!” Sonoita is a mix of old and newer buildings, with a modern motel, and several street stalls selling black, green and camouflage backpacks. Seventeen miles in was the Migracion check-in and Banjercito office where we paid our fees. The Migracion official himself stepped out to tell us where to park and invited us in. Two young women in the bank cheerfully typed the tedious truck and trailer forms. We chatted with a couple going to their boat in Mazatlan, and greeted a group of Mexicans heading north to their home in SF. Then we were off, Chuck appreciating the mostly good blacktop road, some of it with wide shoulders. The empty countryside looked just like the dry Arizona desert we left behind.

Santa Ana, Sonora.
In late afternoon we reached the small Punta Vista Campground in Santa Ana. There was Edgar on the street waving the RV’s in! We’d been here before, in 2006. Ana (American) and Edgar (German) first invited RVs to park behind their house in ‘86, and keep a ledger listing every visitor. During our last visit, Edgar discussed his heritage with me, then out of the blue said, “and you’re Finnish! “ Oh, you’re right! Wow. In their yard, two black dogs stand on their doghouses, and there’s a family of several grown black cats. Wind chimes hang from trees, with plastic storage containers as clappers. Untended local plants are left to grow…or not. We welcomed the electric and running water, because there was none at the park the previous night! Next morning, we drove on to San Carlos.

San Carlos, Sonora.
As we drove into San Carlos, we wondered why the town did not seem quite so nice as we remembered….then realized that they’d recently been hit by a bad hurricane! Workers were repairing a road washout at the Totanaka Campground, where we stayed. It's, just across the road from the beach, though it’s a bit pricey at 300p/night (the exchange is just under 13p/1$). The next day, we visited sailing friends Jinx and Mad Dog on their boat in Marina San Carlos. The scenery and clear Baja sky is stunning, the blue ocean and the stark hills dramatic.                                                                A recommended restaurant for tacos was closed, so we stopped at the “Who Cares” taco joint, a group of tin-roof shacks. We enjoyed the waiter who answered most questions with “Who Cares!” and a laugh while fixing limonadas and liquados. We tested our rusty Spanish and smiled at the cook, working over black pots at her stove. The food was fine (not super), the experience great.

We then found the BEST market – open air with tables under awnings, offering everything from fresh veggies in cold cases and coolers to WONDERFUL mahi-mahi, huge shrimp and other fish, homemade tortillas, local honey, and even American goodies like canned pumpkin. The friendly staff spoke English, but were delighted when we tried, "shrimp sin cabeza, por favor." We went home, ate half the mahi, shoved the extra into the freezer, and cooked the BIG shrimp to eat with salad tomorrow. We’d have enjoyed a few days exploring beaches, but moved on - we wanted to reach Jocotepec before Thanksgiving!

December 9, 2009

C&G Buy a Boat

In 1983, we each had a boat in Alameda Marina, on San Francisco Bay. C lived aboard a
lovely C & L Sea Ranger 37' trawler. G shared a Ranger 26 day-sailer with friend Lynn.

Cool boats, many great times.
And our boats were just a few slips apart!

How did C & G get together? It sort of involved Chuck's many skills and a cranky outboard or leaky thru-hull on Gigi & Lynn's sailboat! In 1984, C & G bought the CT-41 Garden-design ketch La Mouette. She was a seasoned boat, sailing the South Pacific with her first owner, but staying close to home in Marina Del Rey, CA with her second. We brought her north to Alameda, and lived aboard while we worked in San Francisco, and outfitted her for a cruise to Mexico and south.
We learned to sail her on SF Bay and offshore. Ripped out the galley & improved it, replaced the engine after a failed but hidden fitting filled it with water a few times, installed big winches, bought sails, stripped and barrier coated the bottom, removed and painted masts, varnished, studied navigation, got a life raft, foul weather gear and more and more boat goodies, burned the mortgage,