February 25, 2010

Ex-Convento Acolman, Near San Juan Teotihuacan

Earlier this month, while in the San Juan
Teotihuacan campground, we decided to visit the mid-1500's Ex-Convento de San Agustín Acolman, just down the road. I picked up the guidebooks, and read that the attached  church has one of Mexico’s earliest plateresque facades. OK, huh...what IS that?

On the Internet, I came across an architectural website that discusses some of Mexico's most intriguing historic buildings. It's called Mexican Colonial Architecture, and talks about Acolman: http://www.mexicanarchitecture.org/glossary/index.php?building=45

The site is intriguing. Right off the bat, I discovered that the “Ex-Convento” was not a building to house nuns, but friars! Maybe y’all knew that, duh, but it sure helped us to better understand many buildings we’ve seen! Also, the Acolman church façade incorporates indigenous elements by representing the meaning of the Aztec word “Acolman” in a carving that integrates Aztec pictograph symbols to represent the first man, who was pulled from a lake. It was an unusual thing to do. From the website:

Acolman was represented by the arm of the first man crowned by water. In this example, the symbol for water closely resembles the pre-Hispanic Aztec glyph (wavy lines terminating in sea shells), while the naturalistic rendering of the arm bears far more resemblance to artistic canons of the European Renaissance.

Special too is an example of Tequitqui sculpture - images executed in Aztec carving style - at Acoman. I now think that we’ve seen that before in other old Mexico churches.

Our visit was great. An admission fee gives access to the museum, and we were free to wander the ex-convento, the friar rooms, cloisters and halls at our own pace.

Artisans covered much of the walls and ceiling with frescos in the late 16th century, and many clear examples remain.

My overwhelming impression was that Acoman feels "made by hand." Irregularities in the painted elements demonstrate the humanity of painting done without modern aids. Plaster on the walls seems patted and shaped by the human palm using eyeball alone as a tool. It is a warm, soft building that embraced
these religious people!

On we went to the church, where all the seats were quickly being filled for a service. In the congregation were large numbers of aged people arriving with canes and in wheelchairs. Families and church attendants helped them down the sloped, terraced entrance. There were so many that we wondered if there was a special theme that day, but not so, according the xerox service program they passed around!

We slipped in to stand and listen at the back of the very high-domed church where many people were standing. Before long, the congregation began to sing softly, and the sound swelled to fill the church as we walked quietly out.
By the way, the carving representing the "first man" is high on the church facade, to the right of the upper arched window.

February 22, 2010

Carnival in Cholula, Pueblo

Yesterday, February 21, was so much fun that we'll have to delay telling you about Queretaro, Teotihuacan & Mexico City! Now, our first day in Cholula.

In 1519 when Cortez arrived here, Tepanapa, the second largest pyramid in the world, had already been abandoned to strife among indigenous tribes. Cortez and his 500 men killed 6,000 people, gained control of 100,000 indigenous inhabitants, and built a church atop Tepanapa, now known as the Great Pyramid of Cholula.

It was an easy drive from San Juan Teotihuacan on 40D, and we got to Las Americas Trailer Park in San Pedro Cholula  in time for lunch. It’s a number of blocks out of town, but we could hear loud booms and explosions from all around the el centro area. What in the world? While we were eating, Mike & Terri Church came walking back from town and told us that Carnival was going on! It is a week late here, lucky for us. They also warned about the extremely high noise level, caused by gunshots! Oh. As soon as lunch was over I set off to investigate, earplugs in pocket, while Chuck did projects at home.

Things had quieted down around 3:00, but random shots were still being fired, so I followed the sound. Like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, after a parade, marchers go to their own gang’s home base to eat and drink. Many men carry elaborately carved muzzle-loading weapons. Some of the guys kept playing with their guns in between refreshments, so I watched.  After painstakingly pouring powder and tamping, they move into the road, execute a sudden, three-step turn, and send a shot to the ground or the air. KaBOOM! I quickly put on  earplugs!   
Then I found my way along mostly empty streets to a cluster of churches lining a huge plaza and even larger central garden. People flowed from the churches into the already crowded plaza.

Families and paraders who had dropped their masks were eating lunch on the grass and watching clowns, musicians and entertainers. Vendors sold souvenirs and food. Candy and gunpowder aromas mingled. I worked up the nerve to ask, and maskers were delighted to pose for pictures!

As I left the square, there was a parade coming toward me – they’d started up again! I chased gunshots and parades down street after street for some time.
Heading home I got lost, mixing up my Nortes and Orientes! I asked a counter guy in a tienda/store for directions to a panteon/cemetery I’d passed; then a family on the street in front of their house for directions to a green-walled panteon (I’d found a white one). Three women working at a pharmacy had too many ideas, and at last a policeman set me straight. Though our conversation was in Spanish, he enjoyed writing out directions in a complete sentence – in English! Tiredness had elevated my concern level somewhat, but I knew I’d find my way eventually. I sure got a walking workout, and next time I’ll take notes!
This pix was not my idea, but theirs!
I've never seen costumes like today's. Does anyone know their origin?

February 20, 2010

Communication & HAM Radio - Then & Now

We just spent three days in Mexico City - between that and running about to see the sights here in the Teotihuacan area, we are way behind in getting our news out! The Internet is super, makes blogging possible, but the author is still the weak link in the plan.

So, I'm gonna go back to sailing days and admit how really bad we were about communicating then! I've had this piece pretty much ready to go....

Communication was way different back in our sailing years. We had to find ways to be in touch with folks back home and with other sailors, too.

We left California and sailed to Mexico in 1989 with high tech equipment - an electric typewriter! We wrote a letter home once a year - or occassionally twice (BTW we don’t have kids). We'd look for another sailor who was heading for the states from Mexico, Panama, wherever, and was willing to carry the stamped letters. Our incoming mail was handled by a stateside mail service, sent via first class mail to a post office or American Express office. It was not unusual for us to receive a bundle at three month intervals.

Our VHF radio, a boat-to-boat device everybody uses, had about a 25-mile range. They’re not much use when making a passage unless there are boats nearby, but work fine in an anchorage. Where there are many boats within range, they tune in to VHF at the same time each day to get news and gossip on a regular “net.” See the typewriter, VHF radio and radar screen in this pix of our nav station.

Here's San Carlos, a large anchorage with a daily net. But, even with a VHF, cruising – traveling by sailboat to distant places – was essentially a solitary experience at any time we were underway or anchored in a remote bay. That's one reason why sailors have such a fun time when they get together!

This is La Mouette in remote Bahia Santo Domingo, up north in the Sea of Cortez. Our dingy's on the beach, where I, G, rowed in to go snorkeling. I came came face to face with my first sea snake here and leaped out of the water! They're poisonous, but anatomically have a hard time opening wide enough to bite a person. So they say.

To solve the isolation situation, long distance radios - HAM and Marine Sideband, were used aboard many boats to talk with each other and with radio operators ashore in the states. The two technologies differ in output power and the frequencies available for use. And, you have to pass a TEST to get a HAM license!

For several months of our first trip, we used only VHF radio. Then, in summer 1990, we anchored in Baja’s Puerto Escondido (in Spanish, Hidden Harbor), a spectacular anchorage surrounded by protective hills on all sides, just south of Loreto. It's a popular Sea of Cortez “hurricane hole,” gathering place, and home base for boats who have been in the Sea for years.
Oh, the potlucks and music at Puerto Escondido!

One morning a HAM radio was offered for sale on the net, and Chuck jumped at it! He’d been trained as a radio operator in the Army Reserve, and dreamed of returning to the air waves. He installed the radio in our nav station, with a long wire antennae running from the top of the main mast to the mizzen. Lee W6NPQ and Karen WK6B Leonhard, long time aficionados, administered the novice exam in technical and code skills at the local trailer park. Chuck became a HAM with call sign KC6NLS!

HAM radio increased our ability to reach help should a problem occur at sea. It also opened up communication with sailors from Mexico to Panama. Every morning, dozens of boats tuned in to a 9 am HAM net where they listened to weather reports and major news (mostly sports scores) from stateside operators, and gabbed about location, passage, helpful tips, and general gossip.

Using HAM, Chuck connected with stateside HAM’ers who had equipment to make “phone patches” and transmit his voice over the telephone. Like this: Chuck’s mom would hear, ring, ring, and pick up the phone. “Hello ma’am, I have Chuck on the line, go ahead.” “Oh, Chuck, are you OK?...‘Over’.” Pause. “Hi, Ma, we’re in Panama…‘Over’.” The conversation continues over occasional static! While sailing, HAM was our stateside communication method. It is still the method used for boat-to-shore voice communication today - unless a boat is close enough to shore to use a cell phone!

Chuck's call sign is now AH6NR. He still uses HAM radio to connect with his radio operator pals, like Randy KH6RC, who has a home and B & B on the Big Island of Hawaii, where we stayed last summer. Randy works a lot with cruisers crossing the Pacific. When we're in Mexico, Chuck participates in marine HAM networks that assist cruising sailors in the Sea of Cortez. Here’s Chuck’s HAM radio antenna installed on our rig, and Randy's big tower, too.
Today's sailing folk also benefit from MANY advances that enable boat-to-internet access. HAM radio based services such as Air Mail, and Marine Sideband services like Sail Mail make it possible for boaters to use internet from anywhere. Just imagine – a sailing blog can be updated daily from offshore! With email you can solve equipment problems, communicate with businesses, and have access to current news! When we sailed, we’d occasionally tune in to international shortwave broadcasts, but usually would hear almost nothing about current events for months. I don’t think we were any the worse for that...there's a wonderful focus about being fully wrapped up in your own day to day experiences, and having to be completely on your own.

In 2006, we had a serendipitous reunion of HAMS in San Diego. Ilah WA6EDG & Jerry KE6YY, who did many of our international phone patches; Chuck, Jack VE3EED, and Wally AC6BA.

Today we have an Internet satellite service, but no satellite TV. Internet gives us communication, news and entertainment. We use SKYPE for phone calls to the states. Stateside or in Mexico we have breakfast listening to NPR radio. On Sunday, we tune in to our favorite New Orleans community radio station, WWOZ, to hear New Orleans music and the old-time music broadcast by our friend Hazel the Delta Rambler, which is followed by two hours of great Cajun music. Try it some day! Here is a station link:  http://www.wwoz.org/blog.

February 13, 2010

Cabo San Lucas to Banderas Bay, 1989

Log of S/V La Mouette. November 30 - December 8, 1989.
Magdalena Bay to Cabo San Lucas:  33 hours, 146 nautical miles.
Cabo San Lucas  to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle:  71 hours, 304 nautical miles.
Our last sailing entry left us in Magdalena Bay. We'll continue with
the next log entries that describe our passage from Mag Bay to Cabo
San Lucas, at the tip of Mexico’s Baja peninsula, and the passage
from Cabo to mainland Mexico.


We slipped away from our Magdalena Bay anchorage at dawn, leaving the bay in a red sunrise as the fishing pangas came from all directions to go to work. Many joined up with larger fishing boats in silhouette “trains.” Chuck caught 3 small fish right away and tossed them back, hoping for a biggie that didn’t bite. The passage was uneventful - not a bad thing! We had to motor a fair bit – best breeze is at night, it seems. Then to get to Cabo before dark in failed wind the second day we motored 6 hours. At 15 tons, La Mouette does ask for a fair breeze to get her going at a decent clip.

When we sighted the distinctive Cabo cliffs it seemed like a dream (hooray!). Chuck called ahead to check conditions inside the harbor – “bumping room only,” said Vance on Destiny, “but come on in!" Standing beside Chuck, hand on a shroud, I'm holding my breath as he threaded among the boats, but once the hook was down I got used to the narrow (unsafe in bad weather, well just hope for the best) quarters.
Getting to Cabo was a big deal. There were Mintaka, Avatar, Dulcinea, Endless Weekend, Geeja, Kokana, Golliard, Jupiter and others we haven’t met but heard on the radio. Everyone’s full of excitement at making it to this milestone, and we sat on the boat and talked to folks coming by in dingies for at least an hour, past dark. Genesis made port late, and we helped guide their tiny boat in. Then eat and sleep!

Wednesday we did the roundabout to check in at all the necessary offices you must visit at a major port: Immigration (Migracion), Port Capt’n (Capitania del Puerto), a bank next door to pay fee, then Customs (Aduana). We rode our folding bikes – it would have been a long walk! At first, I'm surprised at all the dirt streets, but maybe just because it's our first Mexican town. The officials were nice, and we meet friends on the way all doing the same thing, but it takes hours!
Immigration didn't seem to rate a real building! 
Then lunch (very welcome, I’ve a terrible headache) at Papi’s Deli, a renowned boater hangout, where everyone signs their boat name on the Baja Ha Ha "Class of 89" wall chart. The annual Baja sailing rally is sponsored by Latitude 38, a great San Francisco sailing magazine: http://www.latitude38.com/. Papi's owners Karen and Gil are very busy, but Gil volunteered to drive Chuck and S/V Kokana’s Chuck to a battery store – we both need new ones, and it’s wonderful they will do this! Chuck worked all next day on the project and it is done!

Cabo is a mass of construction completely surrounding the harbor – condos, shops, hotels, a marina. The noise and dust aren’t bad on the boat because of the onshore breeze, but town is sure dusty walking in the dirt streets amid construction, and all the outdoor restaurant chairs and tables are coated if they don’t clean constantly.
This week we met folks on other boats, shopped – each time finding a better fruteria or carniceria, and ate out! We’d head out at 9 or 10 after the local radio net, and by 12:30 were so hot and dusty we HAD to stop and eat. A very good dinner at Big Jose’s, BBQ ribs and chicken. Peso exchange is 2,650p/$1 US. Dinner was $15 for two, with margaritas. Giggling Marlin has a $3 lunch special.

We jugged water by tying the dingy to the rocks of the quay; walked to the curio market; climbed over the hill to Tienda Sol condo – a blinding white sand beach slopes to brilliant water, incredibly clear because the sand grains are so large they don’t stay suspended in the surf. Wind-sculpted boulders rise a mile away in each direction. Boats are anchored in the bay outside the marina, rising gently to the ocean swell. We like the inner harbor - it's free, flat, sheltered and way more convenient! On Monday, we'll make the rounds to the Port Captain and other offices to check out.

Lots of folks decided to fuel up today. There's George and Brenda on Avatar! It was uneasy getting settled at the fuel pier - C dropped the hook, I backed down, and Skip and Sheila from Djinn took the first line into the pier with their dingy. Once tied up, however, it was a nice place to pass the long wait for the one fuel hose and for water - 4 hoses, but those fishing boat crews are immaculate, particular and unhurried in washing their boats! Some of our boat gear can be seen in the pix below.

Little kids were fishing off the end of the pier with line and stick. At last, the hose, and a bountiful, refreshing rush of excess fresh water! We washed everything down and filled up. When we’d finished topping off our fuel, the pump man took the hose and said, “Beer!” We tossed him one, then the money in a coffee can, and he ignored us thereafter. "Quantos gallons?" called Chuck…78! At 1330 we were away from the fuel pier and back at anchor. 


Eager to move on, we left today in company w/Vance and his pickup crew Michael, on Destiny. We’re headed for mainland Mexico, to the small town of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, at the north end of Banderas Bay. Puerto Vallarta is also located on that huge bay. So far, wind is tending to be on the nose – not typical and not the best for sailing our desired course of 109 degrees. But it is, by the way, hot and sunny, 8k wind, negligible swells, sort of perfect other than wind direction. I’d say Destiny will outdistance us before long!

1720: Not yet sundown, seas glassy, tiny surge, C. woke me (I wasn’t sleeping) because porpoise are coming toward us from starboard, 75 yards, they curl, curl, curl…like a sea serpent. In a couples of minutes ten or 15 are diving under the bow, herding us, following along at the surface to many feet down. It’s so clear they shine whiter when they roll their bellies up…many have whitish scars on their back in a claw-scratched pattern, especially aft of the fin on top. Could this be the result of a struggle with nets? Had they friends who didn’t make it? The smallest don’t show these marks…the biggest one has the most. He hovers below the surface right under the dolphin strike (a support cable from tip of bowsprit to the waterline). They are beautiful bottle-nose porpoise, larger than the grey and white common porpoise we saw so often in California.
1750: An anonymous radio call from a boat up ahead was a warning: “You folks back there are going to have company!” Soon along comes a big unmarked matte-black chopper, whump whump whump – shades of Airwolf! We see them circle Destiny…then head this way. The authorities (US Navy? We never knew!) in black buzz by fairly high and seem to go…then they’re bee-lining back low, 50’ to starboard. Another swoop by and they leave us.

2200: Now this is tropical sailing! Or it would be if we were sailing, not motorsailing. Tennies, no sox, lightest sweatpants rolled to knees, a sweatshirt is too hot, no hat. For the first time, my purple jacket is below during this night watch. Even the cat won’t sleep on the jacket’s lining!


It’s 0730. My watch began with tinges of pink left from the 0600 dawn. We were already nearing land and had sighted the light on Roca Corbetana.

Yesterday, the 3rd day out of Cabo, was grinding – but just before sundown a large, graceful brown bird buzzed the boat several times, swooping and sticking its feet out as to land on the sprit but unable to in the confused and bouncy seas. At 0630 I was greeted by another, coming very close to drift in our following breeze. Got out the book - a blue-footed booby, immature. Soon it was joined by another…then nine were hovering and banking off the mainsail and bow, drifting over the stern. Now they come and go in ones and twos. The adults, marked with white, stay away. I glimpse them in the distance, interested in other things.

We reach the north end of Banderas bay, passing by Punta de Mita as we look for our destination, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Our eyes are on the depth sounder as we approach the anchorage. I wonder who's there? Soon we’ll drop the hook and go ashore!

February 12, 2010

San Juan Teotihuacan Procession

Ah, Teotihuacán Trailer Park in San Juan Teotihuacán  – where Mina, our hostess, says Chuck’s cough will soon disappear – this is the Land of the Gods, after all! The huge Teotihuacán Pyramids of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon are merely two kilometers away. We saw their blue silhouettes as we neared town from the north.

After all my agonizing about finding the new Arco Norte highway, the fine advice I collected by nagging our RV friends and bloggers (too many to list, you know who you are!), and the suspense counting down the kilometer markers as my finger traced the Roji map, it was a breeze! You cannot miss the clearly marked turnoff to 40D when heading south on 57D. A segment shows on the new Roji toward Tula. It's an easy and scenic route. (Brian, we'll save your meticulous notes about other new, more direct highway 5D for next time!)
Yesterday we wandered our pueblo's market, plaza, museum and cathedral, across the street from the campground. Our cat Rojo heard cojetes for the first time and  freaked! We’re so close that launch sticks from the loud rockets fall around our trailer! In just one day, Ro learned to rush under the bed when he hears church bells, becaue they usually precede the booms. We saw a poster announcing a procession that very night.

Mucho ringing and rockets signaled the procession at 5:30, as latecomers trotted down the street. We watched from our gate with Mina’s daughter, Carina, who called the event a joyful pre-Easter occasion.

Parishioners flowed from the cathedral courtyard, following the cojete-man and his assistant with an armload of rockets, a megaphone truck, a young man with smoking censer, church dignitaries, and little angels, shepherded by moms. The rather well-dressed congregation followed closely, carrying yellow and white balloons!

The band held the rear.

The procession wound through town and returned past the campground, so we got to see it again. A woman at the tail end passed out balloons to spectators, but I had my hands full with the camera.

After the parade passed, I talked with Carina and Mina and met Mina’s mom, who’d come to see the parade…and she sweetly gave me her balloon! What great people they are!