Thursday, December 31, 2009

The sun goes down on a decade

As the sun sets on this decade I think I'm glad to see the end of it. It started with a bang as the new millenium (remember that?) came swinging in.  And here we are ten years later still suffering fallout from terrorist threats in America, struggling to surface from economic meltdown, reeling from unemployment and on the verge of catastrophic environmental collapse.  I'm ready for a new decade. 

And yet, there is so much to celebrate.  In my own life I've done a lot in these past ten years.  I've seen my son grow up to be a sweet and capable young man, who's also funny and smart.  I've learned many new things (dog behaviour, ESL teaching, chairing meetings come to mind).  I've taken on new roles and stepped forward on a few different fronts. I've made some wonderful new friends and deepened connections with old ones.

And everywhere I look I see people sharing a smile, expressing love and caring, finding joy in every day and working to make things better in our world. I've come to know that whatever life throws at us we can learn from and grow through.  And I know that the power of love and hope is incredibly strong. I'm hopeful about the new decade--and I hope that you are too.

We went up to the top of the Freedman Hotel tonight to watch the sun set over the ocean.  And it was beautiful to see the light reflected in the sky and the water of the pool.  As dusk fell one of the huge cruise ships gently wafted out to sea.  And then the full moon rose directly opposite where the sun had set.  It's a blue moon; the second full moon this month.  I think it augers well for the coming decade.
May all your new years dreams come true.

An afternoon on Stone Island

Yesterday the sun returned to a blue sky and we decided to go to Stone Island. It's actually not an island but a long peninsula, however since most people take little boats over from the centro area it feels like an island. The main feature is the long, long sandy beach fringed by palm trees. The secondary feature is the row of palapa restaurants serving Mexican food and drink, along with hammocks, tables, umbrellas and everything you need to enjoy the beach.

We drove down to the dock area and joined the crowd waiting for the little pangas. Because it's Christmas week there are a lot of people and a lot of vendors everywhere, but this just adds to the fun.

The ticket to cross the water is 20 pesos per person. That's about $1.80 each for a return fare. We piled into the panga with about a dozen people and headed off across the blue water beneath the bows of three huge cruise ships.

The afternoon included a lovely lunch in a palapa with a view of the beach,

a dip in the waves, some fizzy lemonade, a walk down the shore, a little people watching and a siesta in the sun, before walking back to the boat dock. Here are a few more images from the afternoon.

It was a lovely afternoon followed by a simple dinner at home, a movie and a quiet night.  Tonight is new year's eve and if it's anything like last year we can expect party noise right into the morning, so we're well rested and prepared for it.  Happy new year to all!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rainy morning in old Mazatlan

We haven’t seen rain in Mazatlan until this year.  Apparently it’s quite rare at this time of the year—but we’ve had three or four bouts of rain since Jamie arrived.   Last night it rained for several hours and this morning it was a light drizzle.  We headed down to Old Town to return some books to the lending library.  This is a little hole in the wall operated by volunteers that provides a pretty good selection of books.  We joined as soon as we discovered it, for $28 a year we can take out up to five books at a time. 

The beautiful buildings in this area looked quite different with water on the streets.  I think it adds another lovely dimension.  This is absolutely our favourite part of town and we keep trying to find a way to get a place down there the next time we visit.   To me it has the feeling of a European city and it's close to the art gallery, the plaza, the theatre and some lovely shops and restaurants. 

I’ll show you some more photos of this special place soon. 

Monday, December 28, 2009

The up side of clouds

We've had a very cloudy day today in Mazatlan and I have to admit that it's been a soft and peaceful day and I've enjoyed every minute of it.  You know how it is in the summer when the sun is shining, you feel you need to get outside and do something to enjoy the weather.  That's what it's like here.  Every day we've been heading off--to the beach, to the malecon, to the plaza, to the store, taking the dogs out....   But today with the grey skies there was no sense that we were missing out.  It was a day to stay at home, to catch up on ironing, reading, sweeping and just hanging out.  I spent some time painting, Jamie's been studying, Harry oiled some hinges and changed some light bulbs.  There's been time for a nap.  I'm realizing that clouds can be a blessing too.  Of course, it's easy for me to say because the weather forecast is for sunny skies tomorrow.  And I hope it is because we're planning to take the little ferry over to Stone Island for the day.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Water colour workshop

I brought my 15 year old water colour supplies with me this trip and through the internet I've met a woman from Colorado who is a water colour painter and enjoys company while painting.  She lives just down the end of the block and we've gotten together a couple times in the past week to work on our painting together.

Peggy is quite an accomplished painter and also good company.  I've learned some techniques of water colour painting just from talking to her and observing her work.  I'm really enjoying having some time to play around and discover how I want to paint.  I'm working from some of the photos I've taken over the past two years and there is a lot of material to choose from.

Yesterday Peggy and I went to a water colour workshop given by Jane Saborio, a woman who lives here and has a big art show mounted down in el centro historico.  The workshop was held at the Inn at Mazatlan, which is an all inclusive hotel.

Peggy and I and anther student,  Rodriguez from Mexico City, sat at tables under a shade tent around the swimming pool while Jane demonstrated her techniques.  It turns out that these workshops are more about entertaining guests at the hotel and helping people who don't paint come up with something they like. 

Jane's style is not exactly what I'm working towards but I did learn some techniques that I can use and it was fun to sit around and play with paints and talk, while hotel guests came by and ooohed and aaahed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

May the joy of Christmas bring light to your heart today and every day.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shrimp, pinata, and shortbread

Today is Jamie's first day with us in Mazatlan and we decided to go down to the shrimp market on Aquilles Serdan in el centro to buy some shrimp to celebrate Christmas eve. Things were hopping down there this morning. We walked by the central market for a few blocks and I think that every Mazatecan was there doing some last minute shopping. I wish I could show you some photos of our trip but I forgot to change the battery in my camera. The streets were filled with buses and taxis and pulmonias (the Mazatlan open air taxis) and the sidewalks were a crush of people of all ages with packages. There were huge crowds around the toy and candy stalls.

The shrimp ladies are down there every morning under their blue umbrellas selling great tubs of shrimp caught earlier on. The photo above is borrowed from another blog by a woman who lives here in Maz. Their prices are very reasonable and if you're good at bargaining (which we're not) you can get really, really good deals.  We got a kilogram of large camarones (cleaned) for about $7.50, which isn't bad compared to prices in Canada.  I'm marinating them so we can do them on the grill tonight.

Walking back we found a little hole-in-the wall places that sells pinatas--large and small, shaped like santas, bells, boots, animals, as well as the traditional star.

It was doing a brisk business today.  I popped in and picked out a small one for our patio.  We won't bother putting candy in it (because none of us need the calories!) but it does look nice. 

After a little lunch on the patio (with Geordie hovering in the background), Jamie has headed to the beach and I'm going to make shortbread with the butter that he smuggled down for me in his suitcase.  The butter here in Mexico tastes different from what we're used to in Canada so I asked him to bring me a pound as well as some curry paste.  I didn't think that he might have to declare foods he was bringing in though.  Smart (and lucky!) boy that he was though, he chose not to and didn't get get the red light and have to open his suitcase.  The shortbread will make it feel more Christmas-like tomorrow.

All best wishes to you and yours for a lovely peaceful Christmas day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Preparing for La Navidad

For the past week we’ve been noticing people all over town working to tidy and fix up their homes.  People are weeding their gardens, painting their gates and washing their courtyards. Many painters are busy repainting houses.  This is in addition to the placing of Christmas lights and decorations.  Snowmen and Santas seem to be the favourites.
We asked Cintia, a young woman whom we met today about this.  She says that many Mexicans get bonuses at this time of year so they have the money to do a little fix-up to their homes in time for La Navidad. 
Not to be outdone, we’ve spent a couple of days fixing up our back patio.  We visited a plant nursery the other day to see how much it would cost to buy a few plants to fill in some of the blank walls outside.  It turns out that plants are quite inexpensive.  We bought $36 worth the other day and then yesterday we went back for more.  Now we’ve bought palms, bougainvillea, and many other tropical plants that I don’t know the names of.  In all we’ve spent just under $100 on plants, pots, and soil, and the results are astounding.

plain Jane patio is now a delightful garden space.  Or it will be when I finish planting.  This is our Christmas splurge, instead of a Christmas tree or presents.  And it’s something that we’ll enjoy every day from now until the end of March.  When we leave we can give the plants away so they’ll continue to be enjoyed.

We also have some lovely Poinsettias in white painted buckets in our front courtyard—a welcome look along with our mini-lights in the front window. 

It doesn’t feel that much like Christmas here (in spite of the canned Christmas music in Soriana) but we’re doing our part to prepare. Today we go to the airport to pick up Jamie, who will be with us for nine days.  It will be so wonderful to be able to spend some fun and relaxing times together.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Ruby Tuesday Christmas flowers

For Ruby Tuesday I'm showing you a couple of seasonal blooms from Mazatlan.  The top one is some kind of palm fruit.  I don't know what but it's really pretty.

And this one of course is a lovely Hibiscus.  It still blows me away to see these houseplants and many others growing in profusion in courtyards and along the sidewalks.  We picked up some huge Pointsettias from a nursery for less than $4 each.  They look pretty in white metal buckets in our front yard.  You can see more Ruby Tuesday photos here.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Cycling along the Malecon

Cycling in Sabalo Country where we live has turned out to be a bit dicey.  The back roads are rutted, potholed, and sometimes cobbled, hence extremely bumpy and even dangerous at times. Plus they often just come to a dead end at a gate or a fence, so the only way from one end of the strip to the other is on Sabalo, the main drag.  Sabalo is like a speedway with buses and trucks zooming by on narrow lanes, taxis backing out, and pedestrians dodging across.  We tried cycling to our Spanish Class over in Las Gaviotas but we found we couldn’t even ride on the sidewalk along Sabalo because it’s blocked by trees, trash cans, sidewalk tables, ramps, curbs and gutters.
So it was with great joy yesterday that we experienced cycling along the Malecon.  The picture above shows it all—a wide smooth sidewalk along the ocean.  It’s flat and it goes for miles along Playa Norte and there’s room for cyclists, pedestrians, skateboarders and more.  This is the view.

We rode for a few miles past waves, sandy beaches, palapas, pelicans and people enjoying the surf.  Eventually we stopped at this beach where the fishermen pull up their boats.  You can buy a fish from a fellow or have a bite to eat here, or just watch the action.  For sure we’ll be making this bike ride part of our routine.

Here's Harry looking as though he has discovered bicycle heaven.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

What the heck?

The other day we found a little dead gekko in our laundry room.  Don't know what happened to the poor fellow but he ended up being swept into the garbage.  Not three hours later we found this guy on the rear door of the van.  He's pretty big--at least 3 1/2 inches, and actually larger than the gekko. Harry suggested that this one was looking for the gekko and wasn't going to leave until he found it.  It's actually a beautiful insect of some kind, but I have no idea what.  By the time we were leaving in the car last night it had moved onto the pavement so I hope it managed to find its way home.  The gekko is in another realm by now, I'm sure.

Another charming evening at the plaza

Last night we spent the late afternoon and evening in the old town wandering around some of the back streets, having dinner in the plaza as it got dark, before going to see another charming production at the Angela Peralta theatre.  This was the Gala Navadena, which we'd heard about from some people we met on the beach.  We'd bought tickets in advance but we had no idea what we would be seeing.

Well, it was a treat. The best word I use to describe this performance is "darling"--or in Spanish, preciosa.  It began with a choir of men and women all dressed in black wearing red shawls or scarves.  This was an excellent choir with some wonderful soloists.  They performed a number of lovely Christmas pieces backed by the orchestra.  Then, surprise, the dancers appeared.  Some of these were the same young ballet students we'd seen the previous week.  There were several light hearted dances with Santa, some elves, and eight lovely ballerinas each in a different coloured dress. Then, the highlight was the children's choir featuring kids as young as about five.

They sang several songs, and ended with Silent Night with the other choir--and the audience singing along.  The fnale included dancing and clapping and singing. After much cheering people began to exit the theatre and we couldn't figure out what the delay was--until we got into the lobby where they were serving food.  We were offered rice pudding with cinnamon, bright red candied apples, and some kind of cinnamon tortilla cookie.  It all looked good but we had had dinner just before so didn't try any of it.  Outside the theatre children were taking turns trying to crack open the big pinata we'd noticed hanging from a rope on our way in.  Everyone was having so much fun.

The entire evening was charming, from the families wandering around the plaza to the vendors selling balloons,, to the children painting at easels.  The thing I like best about this part of town is that, although there are lots of ex-pats wandering around, there are just as many Mexicans enjoying the plaza and the events.  It's real Mexico, not something designed to appeal to tourists in hotels for a week.

We keep finding ourselves heading down to that end of town and being ever more charmed by what we see.  I'll post some photos of the lovely old buildings soon.

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood

Tonight as we were heading home from a dinner outside at the Fat Fish restaurant we passed about four guys gathered around an old VW chatting in Spanish.  I waved to them and said "Hola" and as we walked by one of them sang in English the refrain from Mr. Roger's TV show, "It's a beautiful day in the neighbourhood".  I hadn't heard that song for about 15 years, but it reminded me that indeed it has been a beautiful day.

This morning dawned a little bit cloudy so we didn't sit outside with our tea, but instead I took Maggie for a little walk around the streets.  I was looking for an address of a woman who I'm going to meet up with to do some water colour painting tomorrow morning. Once I scoped out her house, just a stone's throw from where we live, and took a few photos of a crumbling mansion...

I came home to a breakfast of yogurt and cottage cheese with fresh pineapple and canteloupe, made by Harry.  By then the sky had cleared and we sat down to complete the homework for our Spanish class at noon.  Before it though we took the dogs to our local park and looked at some flowers, then we headed off to Rico's, the local cafe, for lattes.

Our Spanish class includes two people of about our age: one is visiting here with her husband from a little town in Vermont, the other is a guy from Colorado who is here with his Mexican girlfriend. There is also a darling young woman from Calgary who married a Mexican man and lives here with her two children.  She tells us that she has learned Spanish "like a baby learns" but doesn't have any formal grammar.  She's an inspiration to us as her accent is impeccable.

We did a few errands after our class and then came home for a lunch of soup made by Harry, followed by a little siesta (during the heat of the day).  Harry had a nap and I finished my novel.  Round about 3:00 I got a call on skype from Jamie and it was so nice to talk to him.  He'll be arriving in four days to spend the Christmas holidays here.  I asked him to bring a few things down with him, including a pound of butter so I can make shortbread, one of our family traditions.  The butter here doesn't taste quite the same as butter in Canada so I need to get this special ingredient.

Shortly after 5:00 we took the dogs for a walk on the beach just as the sun was setting....

then it was home again to feed them and then sit out on our little patio and enjoy a pre-prandial Margarita while playing ball with dogs.  Our back yard has high cement walls around it and it's perfect for exercising the dogs.  It's kind of like a squash court as the balls hit the wall and bounce around so the dogs get a lot of running.  In fact for the first time ever they gave up the game before we did.

We haven't gone out to eat for a few days so we tried this new restaurant and it was excellent.  The special is steak, ribs or breaded shrimp for two people for $16.50,  including salad.  It was very tasty and so big that I brought some of the steak home for the dogs.

It was surely a beautiful day in the neighbourhood.  We are so privileged to be able to spend some winter months here.  It is my sincere hope that wherever you are you've enjoyed an equally beautiful day in your neighbourhood.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Mexican Posadas

It has come to my attention that Mexicans celebrate Christmas very differently than we do.  For many it is primarily a religious holiday, a celebration of the nativity, and it begins on the 16th of December, nine days before  the 24th (called la Noche Buena, or Holy Night). We've been watching people clean their houses and set up big life-sized nativity scenes in their courtyards.  I've discovered that there are nine days of special parties called Posadas, which began as an enactment of Mary and Joseph's search for lodging.

Each family in a neighborhood schedules a night for the Posada to be held at their home during the nine days.The hosts of the home are the innkeepers, and the neighborhood children and adults are the wanderers, who request lodging by singing a simple song. All carry small lit candles in their hands and four teenagers of about the same height are chosen to carry Los Peregrinos, which are two small statues of St. Joseph leading a donkey on which Mary rides. The Peregrinos ask for lodging in three different houses but only the third one will allow them in. That will be the house that is hosting the evening's posada.  It begins with prayers and singing and then leads into a party for the children with a pinata, followed by some adult partying too.

Of course not all Mexican families follow this tradition but I think it is alive and well. We've been seeing families with huge pinatas in the back of their cars and trucks.  And tonight we heard some singing out in the street and I know there is a lot of partying going on. We're also seeing people on the street selling huge sparklers and we're hearing fireworks go off from time to time. Apparently this will continue right through the 24th of December, the Noche Buena when the figure of the baby Jesus is added to the nativity scene.  On this night people go to mass at midnight and then have a late night family dinner.

As for us, we've made reservations for a Christmas Day buffet dinner at the Olas Altas Steak House across from the beach in the old town.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Spanish intensive

I've been dabbling with learning Spanish for nearly 20 years now.  I've studied it from books and practiced it when we've traveled to Mexico.  But this trip I'm really making an effort to learn the language.  Harry and I have signed up for three small group lessons a week, complete with an excellent textbook and workbook.  This time I'm determined to get beyond nouns and begin to master the verbs and other parts of speech so I can put sentences together properly.

Our instructor Pati, originally from Cuba, is very vivacious and a good teacher.  There are three other people in our group so we get lots of individual attention.  Today we're studying adjectives and adverbs.  Here's one for you: inteligentemente (seven syllables!)  It means intelligently but it's quite a mouthful in Spanish. 

We are also going once a week to a conversational group at a place called Canucks.  This is a gathering place for Americans and Canadians living in Mazatlan.  Many, but not all, are here full time.  This will be an opportunity to meet other English-speaking people.  There are lots of them here.  In fact, I believe our street is probably half Mexican and half Gringo. 

Most of them have learned quite a bit of Spanish through living here and I'm determined to do so as well.  We watch American movies with Spanish subtitles to learn vocabulary and Harry watches the news in Spanish.  For me they talk way too fast but in time I may be able to follow a bit.

This is a good focus for us while we're here. We can't spend all our time at the beach or shopping.  I'm also looking into an art group so I can get a little discipline about painting and drawing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Being recognized in a foreign country

You might think that since we've just arrived in Mazatlan, a city of about 300,000 people, we could walk around without being recognized.  But today proved that to be false.  Three times today I was recognized by three different people. 

The first time was in the Mazatlan English Lending Library, where we'd stopped in to inquire about membership.  The pleasant woman at the table who told us how it worked and took my application, looked at me and said, "I know you.  I'm from Victoria too."  I didn't recognize her but when she told me her name I realized that our sons attended the same school.  Her son Brodie is a few years older than our Jamie but I knew her right away.  She lives here 8 months of the year...and is also attending the Spanish Coversation group that Harry joined last week.

The second time was when we went for lunch at Pizza Moreno, a family run pizza place in El Centro.  The Mexican woman who served us said, "You were here last year.  You came for Christmas dinner with your son."  And she was absolutely correct.  We did go there last Christmas with Jamie and had a most delicious dinner.  I can't think why she would remember us from almost a year ago but she did.

And the third time was when Harry and I went to the Spanish Conversation group at Canucks.  I sat beside a woman from Victoria who, when she heard my name said, Oh I know who you are.  You're involved with the dog owners group, aren't you?  and indeed I am.  She knew my name from Citizen Canine (Victoria) where I've been active for over five years.

That's three--in one day. For a big city in a foreign country that's pretty amazing.  I think I'm finding out that Mazatlan is a very friendly and welcoming place.

Olas Altas and the Hotel Belmar

I've showed you a bit of the old central part of Mazatlan but there's another interesting area along Olas Altas.  This is the road that goes along the beach up to the light house (the second highest lighthouse on a hill in the world, we're told, smaller only than Gibralter).  The bay curves along there and the road is named for the high waves.  See the photo from my last entry.

What's interesting about this part of town is that it is the old tourist zone.  Many of the hotels were built in the 1940s when tourism was very different from what it is now and some of these relics are still functioning. 

The one that I find most interesting is the Hotel Belmar.  To walk into its lobby is to enter a different world. It's tiled with many different kinds of glazed tiles, with arches and fountains.  It feels like you're in Havana and you'll bump into Hemmingway just around the corner.

These old rocking chairs look like they're waiting for some old Spanish men to sit down and contemplate the sea.

The Belmar's looking kind of seedy now, but I think it could be lovely with a little work.  We like to drift along the tiled sidewalk here and pop into one of the oceanside restaurants for a cooling drink--and feel that we're living in a different time.