January 27, 2010

Leaving Roca Azul

This Saturday we will leave Roca Azul campground after two months and a week, and head down the road to new destinations!

Our goal is Oaxaca, a bit over 600 miles away. Our route will take us down MX15D past Morelia, then to the Arco Norte, a new highway bypassing Mexico City to the east. We are not sure where this grand new road starts, but we will find it! Along the way, we’ll see Teotihuacan - the Big Daddy of Mexican archeological ruins, and also Puebla, a classic colonial city.

First, we must say adios to our fine RV friends, great birding, daylong road trips, team truck repairs, potlucks and morning walks; to the lakefront, hot pool, cold pool, trees, tennis court (we watch) and free laundry.

We also bid Hasta la vista to Jocotepec and to local pals, among them us four who celebrated our birthdays together this month!

And adios! to the new burro down the road. 

We’ll be back to Roca Azul in April. Look forward to the next post from a new location, as soon as we set up our Hughes Internet satellite dish again!

January 22, 2010

El Senor del Monte Procession

Last Sunday, a bright, mild late afternoon, Chuck, our RV neighbor Sonia and I went into Jocotepec to see the highlight event of the annual El Senor del Monte festival. The honored El Senor is removed from his position above the Cathedral altar and carried around the town in a grand procession. Participants include locals, residents of small towns near and far, and many “absent sons,” those who have left for work up north, but return to visit their families at this time.

We arrived in time to see one of two green arches erected on Matamoros Street.
At 4:00, El Senor would be carried out of the Cathedral by select church leaders and high clergy into the eager crowd waiting in the courtyard. Where we waited on Matamoros Street, venders walked the parade route selling candles, food, and toys as spectators gathered. Aromas of  flat, sweet grilled gorditas, crisp bunuelos (can’t spell that one) and roasting corn kindled our appetites.
                                                       We gave in.

As the light became rosy with the lowering sun, penitents and their helpers began to lay down folded blankets. Many would greet El Senor on their knees with extreme humility, in supplication, atonement, entreaty or thanks, progressing along the parade route towards the approaching icon.

Then, we heard drums and stamping feet and the clacking metal shoes of the blue-suited Indians, and saw the multitude of the procession appear. The Indian dancers, stamping their feet in a repeated rhythm, were surrounded and followed by a crowd of townsfolk carrying on the dance. This contagious emotion is my  favorite part of the event!                            

The street became thick with people, many with candles, some walking blindfolded, arm-in-arm with a companion. More Indians, a band, and then El Senor! Honored men maintained space with a rope barrier. The priests walked within, and El Senor del Monte was carried aloft. They were followed by a truck with loudspeakers. Prayers were read, an old woman with a rather shaky voice led a song, and the crowd joined in quietly and sweetly. To my ear, it is a haunting, somber chorus. Thousands walked by us.

When the huge crowd began to dwindle, we wandered the central streets, which were lined with plastic tarps and wooden tables set up by itinerant vendors who sold just about everything you can imagine. One booth might be thirty feet long, stacked high with kitchen goods, another a modest table with a few shoes.

This was a moving and fascinating experience. We went home for a late, light meal, but most folks in town would have a long night. The plaza and adjacent streets were crowded with people enjoying loud music, carnival rides and arcade games. Restaurants and bars set up in the street were selling snacks, beer, tacos, carnitas, and the local favorite – birra, or goat stew.

January 17, 2010

I Embrace Cohetes!

Ask any American transplant to Mexico about cohetes, the handmade rockets used endlessly to announce or to mark every conceivable church or civic event : “O..M..G! the cohetes! The dog is a wreck! I can’t sleep! 5:30 in the morning!! Ajijic’s Festival San Andres? Just LEAVE TOWN…it's all DAY and NIGHT!”

And they’re right. Even at our safe distance from Jocotepec in Roca Azul, a brisk 50 minute walk, during our first three years we were SO aware of them…5:30 am or 10 to 11 at night were the worst. Earplugs.

So what happened to change my mind this year? First of all, I noticed that their booms did not keep me awake. I woke to wonder, no church this morning? Impossible!

Then, yesterday (Saturday), we went to a parade, part of Jocotepec’s three week Festival for El Senor del Monte. Each town has a festival honoring their church’s most central icon, and this is one of the best, with parades and processions daily, special events, and blocks of traveling vendor stands filling the streets.
We went to town, wandered the plaza, and browsed the street booths…then heard cohetes popping in the distance, moving east. The parade!! Following the sound, we found a crowd three blocks away. We peered over the heads of people lining the streets, and saw the parade in progress. GREAT! But we'd missed most of it. Knowing the route, we walked a few blocks across town to see it again. We waited at the curb. Bought a peanut snack from a wheelbarrow.

It wasn’t long before we heard cohetes approacing….and around the corner came an old, nondescript guy in dark, maybe gunpowder-dusty clothes. Cigarette dangling in one slightly blackened hand, and in the other a cohete – a slender three foot long cane stick with a cigar-sized twist of paper on the end. A young boy shadowed him, a bundle of the rockets in his arms. Cohete-guy walked fairly briskly along, paused, touched cigarette to fuse, flicked his arm up and launched the rocket. Whish, BOOM, and a puff of white smoke appeared overhead. Walk, BOOM, puff at roughly seven second intervals. I was fascinated. The first band came around the corner. Cohete-guy was way up the street.
The parade passed.
After the parade, we walked back to the Cathedral, where the parade would end. Soon, cohete-guy worked his way down the street and popped the last one outside the Cathedral gate.
He came briskly in and walked to three waiting ranks of cohetes in iron frames, sweeping his arm to tell a few small boys to keep back. As he adjusted a few fuses, I asked from a distance if I could take his picture, and he smiled. Suddenly, he didn’t seem so small, or so old!

I stepped back farther as he picked up his cigarette. With a sustained whoosh, whoosh, whoosh the rockets blasted off consecutively, up and up and up, as parade participants flowed into the courtyard. Musicians, Indigenous Indians, folkloric dancers, penitentes, townsfolk in suits and fine dresses – all gradually entered the lighted cathedral for a long service.

Then another rank was ablaze! Whoosh! High above, a few of the thin sticks floated down, twisting in the breeze. A handsome caballero coming through the gate dodged one. I looked for cohete-guy to ask how long he’d been at his trade. He was gone.

So that’s the story! I embrace cohetes! AndChuck? Well, perhaps not so much!

Meanwhile, in the Cathedral courtyard men were constructing a huge, multiple-towered castillo - a framework that supports fireworks in whirling shapes, spirals, religious messages and bursting skyworks. About 10:45 in the evening we heard those fireworks explode. It is a spectacle not to be missed, but we'd seen it a number of times, and it was a very cold evening.

Here are a few more parade pictures.

January 10, 2010

Cedros Island, North Anchorage, 1989

Log of the S/V La Mouette. November 17, 1989 
San Diego-Cedros Island: 74hours, 340 nautical miles.

Friday we sighted the north light at Mexico’s Cedros Island, almost exactly four days out of San Diego on our longest sailing passage yet. Seas were kind, wind not enough – we motored about 38 hours – but overall conditions were great.

We had a glorious sail for 20 hours Thurs-Fri. We’d never experienced such smooth water at sea, with an 8-12 knot wind moving La Mouette sweetly at 4.5 - 5.6 knots. No whitecaps, not even wavelets on the flat sea, and down below the boat rose and fell so easily that you hardly knew you were moving! Swells of two-three feet were so long and even they could not be felt!
Also had the usual night thrills with freighters in shipping lanes. Dead reckoning* showed us about five miles off to the east of our actual Cedros location due to trusting an erratic loran reading, but the island of our first landfall peeped through the morning haze. Soon, the light tower and small village appeared, falling behind as we followed the southern coast of the island. A fine passage, and Jogo the cat not sick once!

We anchored near shore on a four to six fathom shelf as the cruising book advised, next to rocky steep hills with century plants, dry shrubs, and red soil above greenish cliffs falling to the water’s edge. The first delights of this isolated place were young California sea lions leaping out of the water in a line like dolphins. Some clap in midair before diving back in! Narrow rocky beaches are lined with sea lions and one group of elephant seals – noisy!! The sounds these creatures can make are amazing. The male gargle sounds like our bilge pump! Young California sea lions swim around La Mouette, you can see them spin under the clear water. Thanks to the terific sailing magazine Latitude 38 for the map! The largest Island above the hook is Cedros.

A lazy afternoon went by waiting  for Bequia Chief’s arrival late in the day with Tom, Jan, and kids Jala & Tavis aboard. They’d traded fishermen who came up to their boat M&Ms and coke for several lobster. We contributed albacore Chuck caught Thursday night and had a potluck at our place, discussing the exhaustion of night watches, adventures, problems and the beauty of our anchorage.

We woke to blue sky to see Lisette I with Don, Lisa, Ben, Ian and Dan at rest in the anchorage. We dingied to watch seals while the two families snorkeled and speared fish. Seal puppies were so curious they’d follow the dingy, joined by more and more buddies till they were nosing each other, rolling in bundles and poking their Darth Vadar eyes at us. Chuck discouraged one from jumping in by banging the paddle on the boat. As we came to close to a harem on the beach, the male plunged into the water to charge. ”Turn on the engine!” We visited with the others, played with the SSB radio and got together at 4:00 for seafood potluck. The fishermen’s panga came by about that time and we declined lobster, placing an order for ten, “manana, por favor!”
Log entry the next morning: Now, after the first perfectly calm night and day, we’re drinking double coffee to recover from an incredibly rolly night – one of the worst– due to gusty wind and swells…where do they come from? And always at night! In the morning we’re a bit apprehensive, wondering whether the next night will be sleepless again, or as tranquil as the first.

Notes:  Cedros is the fourth largest island in Mexico, located west of the Baja Peninsula & north of Turtle Bay. In ages past, Cedros had an indigenous population of 1,000-2,000 dating back 10,000 years. The 2005 population of 1,300 is employed largely through a fishing cooperative and a trans-shipment deep-water port to export salt mined on mainland Baja. Today, tourists arrange eco-tours, biological expeditions and fishing trips to the island.

* In 1989, Loran navigation was unavailable south of Cedros Island, Mexico. Satellite systems were too pricey for us, so from here on we navigated by dead reckoning – a great name for a system designed to keep you off the rocks! A “DR” calculation is based on time/speed/direction traveled, taking into account a guess about the impact of current. An estimated “track” line is plotted (drawn) on a paper chart, with an “X” marking position, updated hourly. We’d studied celestial navigation, but to tell the truth, our attempts did not yield impressive results - and there is always the risk of dropping the sextant overboard! We have kept our lovely sextant as a souvenir!