Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Here we are in Globe, AZ

Until this morning I'd never even heard of Globe, but we've been in touch with our road buddies Ches and Allison and they suggested we meet here as it's on their way east and on our way west.  Globe lies in the middle of Arizona's Cobre Valley, home to some large copper mines.  The town is old, dating back to the 1850s, and it has a small but interesting historic center.  It's one of those towns that feels like it's from another decade, although I'm not sure which one...

It seems to be quite a vibrant community with an active arts group that has restored the old courthouse for a gallery, workshops and a drama group.

This is the interior of the building with a copper railing on the main staircase.

And this is a painting of prickly pear cactus by one of the local artists, which I greatly admire for its treatment of light and shadow.

We found a little park on top of a hill with a museum showing restored ruins of a pueblo dating back to the 14th century.  These places seem to be dotted all over the map in the Sonora Desert.

It's off to bed now after a meal at a good Mexican restaurant.  (These also are dotted all over the map.)

Tomorrow we're thinking we'll have to head north and are hoping that the massive cold front will soon leave the western states.  But Globe was an interesting side trip for sure.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Tumacacori Mission

On our way up to Tucson yesterday we stopped at the old Tumacacori Mission.  This is a lovely spot that was built and sustained by Jesuits and later the Franciscan monks over a period of 150 years. It's a walled compound with an adobe church that was never actually finished.  I'm not going to go into any more history here.  I'll just give you some of the beautiful images we saw.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Stop-and-go at the border

Well we didn't make it to Tucson last night but we did make it over the border at about 6:00 after a grueling four-hour wait smothered by diesel fumes from three lanes of trucks.  The trip from San Carlos was uneventful.  We surrendered our visas and car importation permit and entered the no mans land they call fiscal corridor between Mexico and the USA.  It runs through a weird terrain of rolling hills, steep banks on each side. Eventually we were directed in the fast lane for cars and campers heading to the USA--but it was far from fast.  We couldn't see to the front of the line because of the hills and curves. 
So we had no idea that there was about a kilometer of cars ahead of us.  We traveled that distance 100 feet at a time with waits of ten or so minutes in between.

In true Mexican style the lineup was entertained by the hawkers selling everything from toy guitars and mops to sugary snacks and paintings on plastic of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It turns out that we got caught in the Semana Santa traffic.  Lots of people heading north to spend the week before Easter with relatives in the States. We thought we'd miss it by leaving Friday but we didn't.  It's ironic that the time we spent in the lineup at the border was about as long as the plane trip from Mazatlan to Canada.  Once we got to the wicket it was just the usual few questions and we were through.

This morning we left Nogales after stocking up on a few things we'll need for the road.  We're sitting in a little cafe in Tubac enjoying a brunch.  Outside it's sunny with a little breeze blowing across the desert--really quite lovely.  We were ready to leave Mexico after four months and it's relaxing to be in the more familiar culture of the USA.  Ahead of us now we have ten days before we can get back into our house.  So we'll do a little exploring along the way.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Leaving Sinaloa

We left early yesterday morning with breakfast and lunch in the cooler and drove straight up the autopista to Culiacan, then on through Ciudad Obregon and across into Sonora.  At the border between Sinaloa and Sonora there were probably fifty or more police and soldiers with trucks and machine guns--a big show of force.  We were waved through with a smile.

Last night we stayed in San Carlos and now it's about a four hour drive to the border.  We should be in Tucson tonight.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Things we'll miss and things we won't

As we pack up to leave Mazatlan after our four-month stay there are many things that we will miss. In no particular order they are:

  • The birds--we hear them in the morning singing and cooing, and we see them flying around and at the beach.  There's one with a canary yellow breast and a black stripe on the face that's     just gorgeous.
  • The incredible variety of flowers in bloom--all colours and shapes and sizes, and recently some new ones that are so fragrant.
  • Tropical fruits (pineapple, mango, papaya and more) at prices you wouldn't belive.
  • Cheap eats and drinks.  Even the expensive restaurants are a bargain and we've found some where you can get a shrimp dinner for less than $5.  Marvelous.
  • The beach--for walking, playing with the dogs, wading in the surf, swimming in the warm blue water
  • Old town, with its 200 year old stone buildings, balconies, courtyards and plazas.  If we come here again we'll make sure to find a place to stay down there.
  • Serene mornings and drop-dead sunsets almost every night.

And just for balance here are a few things we won't be missing:

  • Garbage in the streets and on the beach
  • Crazy traffic, macho drivers and topes
  • Loud party music any time after 2:00 a.m.
  • Street dogs, roof dogs, and dogs tied up in courtyards

  • The need to lock everything all the time
  • People trying to sell you things all the time (on the sidewalk, in the car, even coming to your front door).
  • The fear of being caught in the crossfire of the crazy drug war that seems to have arrived in mazatlan.

 So there you are.  Seven of each.  This is such a beautiful place.  I hate to see its loveliness compromised by garbage, traffic, violence and crime.  But maybe that's the price of living in such a special place.  It's been an incredible four months.  We've learned a lot, we've met fabulous people and had fun both with our visitors and without. We'll miss Mazatlan but it will be nice to be home as well.

Tomorrow at first light we hit the highway north and hope to avoid the Semana Santa (Mexican Easter week) traffic jams and any kind of banditos.  We'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

End of the season

People are clearing out of Mazatlan in droves.  The trailer park a couple of blocks from us is about half full now and people are pulling out daily.  It's the end of the season.  Although some are staying until the end of April, a lot of North Americans are leaving now.  Some of them are  are leaving early because of the violence here.  Others are cool with it, saying that these things happen anywhere and it's just bad luck if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We're beginning to pack up and get ready to leave ourselves.  Tomorrow I'll see my friend Peggy again to have a last painting session, on Thursday we go to our last Spanish class, and then early Friday morning we'll hit the road.  We've heard rumors that the border is a nightmare.  Apparently the Americans are stopping and searching every vehicle within an inch of its life.  So it will be an experience crossing.  I must say I'll be glad to get off the Mexican highways where there are possible carjackings, usually of high end trucks or SUVs..  We'll likely be flying under the radar in our 16 year old beige minivan with dents.

As the North Americans leave, we're seeing the Mexicans start to come to the beach.  I think that Semana Santa (Holy week, just before Easter) marks the time that they being to think about beach activities.  On Sunday there people were out in droves enjoying the warm weather.

We're experiencing anticipatory grief these last few days and are making sure to spend lots of time at the beach ourselves.  Yesterday we caught a few cool waves with the boogie board and every night there's another beautiful sunset. Mazatlan is a very gorgeous place and we will surely miss it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Seven things you'd never see in Canada

As we get ready to leave Mexico we're looking at it again with fresh eyes.  I've been collecting a list of things that you would never see in Canada and thought I'd share it with you.

1.  People in face paint juggling at an intersection for a few coins.  There are lots of these acts, including young women standing on a big guy's hand, and even fire breathing.  The juggling and acrobatics are fine, but the tragafuegos, the guys who take accelerant into their mouths and then light it on fire, are really courting danger--like mouth ulcers and brain damage.  (It shows how desperate some people are to earn a few pesos.)

2.  A guy jack-hammering the pavement wearing flip-flops.  This is probably the most extreme but we've seen people sand blasting without eye protection and nobody every wears any kind of ear protection while working. (The attitude towards personal safety here is very different from Canada.)

3.  Unmarked open manholes in a main lane of a busy street.  (This takes the need for defensive driving to a new level.)

4.  A nine year old girl dressed in a bridal gown and veil at a pool party. (I'm thinking it's her first communion celebration.) 

5.  Guards with machine guns outside the bank.  (Too many bank robberies I guess.)

6.  A young man and his wife and a baby and six bags of groceries on a motor scooter.  (At least they have transportation.  No helmets though.  See #2)

7.   City workers sweeping the public basketball court with palm fronds.  (In Canada we'd have noisy battery powered blowers; I like the soft sweeping sound of the palm fronds much better.)

I could have listed more, but these are what came to mind in the last few days as we were out and about. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Salsa made at the table

The other night we went out to a really lovely restaurant in the old town.  We sat at a table for two in a romantic courtyard and had a fabulous dinner.  But the best part was the salsa made at our table.  The white coated waiter brought a tray of ingredients including fire roasted tomatoes and chiles, onions, garlic, cilantro and lime.  Then he ground it together in the traditional stone molcajete.  I have to tell you--it was divine.  And it was complimentary as well.  If you're ever in Mazatlan, I recommend Topolo's Restaurant and Wine Bar.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The neighbourhood park

Just a block from our house there's a lovely little park that has become a regular part of our Mazatlan life.  It's rare to find a well-kept green space here so we're really lucky to live so close. The park has two basketball courts, palm trees and flowers and little pathways, playground equipment for the kids, benches, and even a bandstand.

It's well used all day long and into the evening when kids play basketball on the lighted courts.  And every day but Sunday there are workers tending to the shrubs, raking the soil around the trees, and sweeping the courts with brooms made out of palm leaves.

We take our dogs there in the mornings to play and we've met lots of people, both English and Spanish-speaking.  They're talking a walk, exercising their dogs or bringing their kids to play ball or ride bikes.  Sometimes groups of young people use the courts to practice dance routines or band music.  It's a real neighborhood place.

 Two weeks ago we took the dogs out earlier than usual and discovered a group of people doing exercises on the basketball court.  Turns out that Daisy and her husband like to follow a fitness plan and invite other people to join them at 8:00 in the morning. 

So it's now part of our routine. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we head out early with our blankets to join the others on the basketball court. 

My favorite part is when we lie on our backs to do stretches and I can look up into the trees and see the birds wheeling around in the blue sky and feel the breeze.

I think we've met more people here in our Mazatlan neighbourhood in the four months we've been here than we have in the three plus years we've lived up on Haliburton Hill.  Maybe it's something about the warm weather and being outside more--plus having the time to chat and enjoy the park.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Spring arrives in Maz

I've been reading some blogs that chronicle the slow arrival of spring across the US and Canada (Steven's postings at The Golden Fish are memorable).  But it never occurred to me that there would be a spring here in Mazatlan.  Silly me!  Over the past few days it has arrived.

We've been noticing some trees beginning to flower over the past couple of weeks. The winter flowers like the bougainvillea and poinsettias are on the wane but there are new flowers blooming, even in the vacant lots.

The winds and clouds have blown away and the air has become soft and fragrant.  I can smell the green things growing and the salt tang from the ocean.  When our friends were here it was kind of cool, but now it's really warming up.  At night we sleep under a light cotton throw and by noon it's hot enough that a swim in the ocean beckons, and an afternoon siesta begins to make sense.  But it's the evenings that are really different.  Last night when we walked down to the beach we noticed that everyone was outside enjoying the warm, still evening. 

Kids were playing volleyball in the neighbourhood park,

people sitting on their patios, walking and chatting in the street, children playing in the surf and everyone (not just tourists) walking along the beach.  Even the sandpipers seemed to linger.

The sun put on a lovely show for us, sinking gradually into the sea.  The air was still and the ocean is warming up.

It's really lovely here.  We have only a few more days to enjoy it though, as we're heading north next Friday.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Amigos de los Animales

Meet Edgar, an amazing Mexican guy who works at the animal shelter here in Mazatlan.  He and another fellow, Jaime, are employed by Amigos de los Animales, and every day they care for abandoned cats and dogs and try to find adoptive homes for them.  Sad to say there are many of these here--all with their own story.

Mexico's attitude toward animals is quite a ways behind ours north of the border.  Dogs and cats might be selected as cute presents and then basically ignored.  Perhaps they're fed but they usually live outside, sometimes on the roof, and rarely get any kind of training. Sometimes they're chained up in a garage.  Spaying and neutering is not the norm, so they continue to have puppies.  Eventually they may be abandoned to the street or brought into the shelter.

It's tough to change attitudes but this group works on that too. They have a program for school kids to come and work with the animals, they hold spay/neuter clinics, and produce educational materials.

We've been there several times now to take the dogs for a walk and I'm amazed at the number of dogs, puppies, and kittens that they're able to place.  Lots of puppies and kittens available now that spring's here--22 puppies as of today.

The older cats don't fare so well so they get spayed or neutered and then released back to the street.

Yesterday when Harry and I went by with some leashes and collars that Linette had brought down from Canada,  Edgar was taking this female border collie mix to the vet.  She's a sweetheart, about a year and a half old in treatment for tumor-like venereal disease.  Her last treatment was yesterday and now they're looking for a home for her. 

Another little dog was brought in by a woman who picked her up from the street as a little puppy a few months ago and now  wanted to trade it for one that's prettier.  Edgar received the pup and nicely told the woman that she couldn't have another dog with that attitude.  The dog is a busy little thing and super freiendly.  I'm sure she'll find a better home soon.

Edgar was telling us about picking up street dogs.  They used to do this but now they don't have the time.  It takes between one and three hours before a dog even if it's very hungry will come closer than five or six feet, even for food.  Sometimes they used to lope along behind the dog following it until it tired out or was cornered.  Now they get dogs that are picked up by the public and brought in.  The feral ones are gradually introduced to people and eventually can learn to walk on a leash.  These two are just about ready to be walked.

Edgar and Jaime do amazing work and they're supported by a group of three expat women who organize, raise funds, run a thrift shop, and also get in there and clean cages.Talk about putting effort into something worthwhile!

Here are just a few more of the dogs waiting for homes.  Which one would you take?