Good things come from dirty laundry, part 3 – Tonala

 

September 2009 – We had heard many things about the City of Tonala and were very interested to see what it was all about.  Tonala is a suburb of Guadalajara which is similar to many of the other great city’s in the world with a small central core and many other separate cities or boroughs attached making up its mammoth size.  We had been looking forward to this trip for quite a while….

After a delicious breakfast of fresh papaya the four of us, Mary, Lore, Heather and I headed to the city bus stop a few blocks away.  The bus was crowded and it was every person for themselves when it came to getting a seat.  This lead to us getting separated on the bus but from what I could see is we were in for a long ride so sooner or later seats would open up closer together. 

Heather and I at one of the many fountains in downtown Guadalajara

Well that was a great thought.  Never happened, people would get off but another load would get on so any extra seats never came available.  Oh well, we were adults so I was pretty sure we would figure it out.  It was a typical bus ride.  Quick, lots of stops and lots of things to look at.  It was an entertaining ride.

As we crested a hill there was a lot of movement on the bus, people were making their way towards the doors.  A lot of people.  It was then that I heard a cry that would become familiar over the next few days, KEVIN!, in accented spanish was called by Mary and I am pretty sure it could have been heard 6 buses away but it got my attention.  Apparently it was time to get off.

As the bus pulled away all we could see stretching for blocks was blue tarps.  This was it.  The Tonala street market.  Every Thursday and Sunday people came and sold their wares along about countless city blocks on this road.   But that was not all, it went down alleyways and other cross streets.  It was literally amazing.

Fountain in pedestrian walk in Guadalajara

Enough looking, let’s get across the street and see what they have!  They had everything.   Heather and I were in awe.  Pottery, glassware, leather, flowers, artwork, household items, religious items, lights, clothing, furniture, pets, herbs, candy and of course, food.

Our plan was to wander through today and if we saw something we liked Mary and Lore would find out what the cost was as in most cases it was thought that if Heather or I asked, it would be more.  So we wandered, we stopped, we looked, we bought.  2 sets of 2 round paper lamps for 10 bucks.  6 coffee mugs and a stand 5 bucks.  The same mugs in Puerto Vallarta were 5 bucks each!

Me, Mary and Lore in front of a store in Tonala

As we found out through out the day, everything was much cheaper there than here but there was a good reason.  Tonala was the factory town.  Everything was made there and shipped out. 

We loaded ourselves up and about 3:00 we thought we should head for home.  As we had a great deal of stuff Mary called her brother and asked him to come and pick us up. 

We packed as much as we could into the trunk of their Nissan Tsuru but we still had stuff on our laps.  Apparently we bought more than we thought but we got it home.

After a nice visit with Mary’s family Mary and Lore decided they should take us downtown so back to the bus we went. 

Downtown Guadalajara is something to behold.  What a beautiful city.  They lead us to all the highlights.  The place was bustling.  The Cathedral, the government buildings, the central market which is absolutely huge.  It was spectacular. 

Fountain and orphanage in the background

We were walking down a pedestrian walkway in jewellery section of town when we came across a building that was originally an orphanage many years ago.  Lore wanted us to see inside as apparently it is special.  We wandered around the square while she went in search of someone she knew to see if she could arrange a tour. 

The building it turned out was closed that night for a special function but if we come back tomorrow at 10:oo am he will give us a tour.  We agreed to that and wandered around a bit more before Mary said we needed to see this one cathedral so off we went to find that one.

It was about 6 or 7 blocks away but it was a beautiful night so we wandered towards this cathedral.  When we arrived it was really busy.  Wedding central.  One wedding was going on inside and another wedding party was waiting out in front of the doors.  It was something else. 

The square in front of it was hopping too.  Vendors selling all kinds of things and people just out enjoying the night in a pretty place.   It was then that what they wanted us to see happened. 

It was 9:00 pm and the church bells chimed.  That was not all there was though, this church had a glockenspiel which started to work as the bells started to toll.  All the Mexican Catholic Saints started to come out of the doors and go down their track.  It was really cool and something we are really glad we saw. 

Heather and Mary on some of the coolest sculptures ever. They could be in the hot sun all day and never get hot!

Mary and Lore were not done yet though.  As the one wedding was emptying out and the other was still getting itself in order they hustled us into the church to see it.  It was beautiful.  The woodwork in it was amazing as were most things.  It was a sight to behold.

After that I could not imagine that the orphanage could be anymore beautiful but as usual I was wrong….

Good things come from dirty laundry, Part 2

June 22, 2011 – I am sitting on our balcony at Casa Madera watching the rain drop from the sky.  It is intense for our first real rain of the season.  Rain.  Never thought I would enjoy it as much as I do here.  It probably has something to do with the fact that it is still 26 degrees and the water falling is warm not cold like it is in Canada

When it comes like this it is nice.  However yesterday we were on a hurricane watch as Hurricane Beatriz was working her way up the Mexican coast and while it would most likely not hit us directly we would probably get tropical storm winds and lots and lots of rain.  Beatriz though was just like the latest Canadian political landscape, it took a straight left turn and wandered out into the ocean.

Hurricanes.  Never had to worry about hurricanes in Edmonton however if you want warm weather you take the little side extras that comes with it.

Our first experience with a hurricane like event was in September 2009 and it came from the most unlikely source…..

September 2009 – We had made the deal on the house that was to become Casa Madera and were patiently waiting for it to close.  There were many delays but we were told don’t worry it will close, we just don’t know when. 

We had told Mary and Lore about the house purchase prior to returning to Canada for a vacation at the end of July.  They were very excited for us.   They were well aware of what we had in the condo and it was not going to go far in a 3000 square foot house.  It was then that they suggested we should all go to Guadalajara to shop for items for the house.

This was a great idea.  Heather and I always wanted to go to Guadalajara but had not been able to fit it in yet.  So we agreed that when returned from Canada we would set it up for the end of September after my kids had returned home (they were coming back with us for a vacation).

We returned and the dates were set.  We would leave Thursday morning on the midnight bus so we could hit the market in Tonala which runs Thursdays and Sundays.  We would stay at Mary’s parents house.  Ok, this will be interesting but really who better to haul you around a city of 8,000,000 people than a couple of people who lived there!

To do this though we would have to get over our fear of being on the highway at night.  The one main rule we had always been told was to never, ever drive at night.  The roads are narrow, twisty and there is always the possibility of running into a cow as they sometimes graze on the side of the highways.  However, it made the most sense to do this so we said ok.

On the day we were to leave Mary said she would come by the condo and pick us up around 8:00 pm.  From our condo we went over to her friends Carlos and Bertha’s house Bertha was determined to feed us and feed us she did.  Tacos dorado (deep-fried with potatoes, yummy), beans, rice, guacamole, it was endless and very, very good.

After she filled us with food we were off to the bus depot where we purchased tickets to Guadalajara which included a snack on board.  In minutes we were on the bus and on our way.  A big adventure for Heather and I who really did not know what to expect.  Mary and Lore were in total control.

The bus ride was non eventful.  There was a movie if you wanted to watch but I was more interested in trying to sleep.  Sleep, now that would have been nice.  I don’t sleep well in moving vehicles, never have but I did manage to catch an hour of shut-eye on the 4 hour trip.

We rolled into Guadalajara at 4:00 am and took a cab to Mary’s parents house.  It was 4:45 am and we were greeted by Mary’s mother who had the biggest grin on her  face for someone who was awakened at this ungodly hour to let her daughter, her daughter’s best friend and two middle-aged deer in the headlights white people into her house.  After the introductions we were shown to our bedroom and laid down to try to get a little sleep before the big shopping day.

We were up at 7:30 and went downstairs to actually say hello.  Or try.  We spoke very little spanish at this point and they spoke no english so we did what we could.  While we were talking I noticed in the corner of the living room there was a mountain made of Papaya’s.  No one offered any explanation for them being there and we did not ask as we were just trying to fit in.

At that point Mary’s mother, her sister Maggie, and Maggie’s son were up.  Then two of the largest men I had ever seen walked into the living room.  Mary’s brothers, Fernando and Victor.  Identical twins, great.  I will have enough problems getting know everybody’s name without dealing with identical twins

Victor and Fernando started loading the papaya‘s into the back of their pick up.  Once loaded they were off and as far as we could tell were selling them door to door for 10 pesos each. 

Then more people came out of the back of the house.  Where were they all coming from?  This house is huge.  It turned out that 3 families were living in the house though we found out later that one was moving out on the weekend to their own apartment.

Heather and I were suffering from severe culture shock.   We were definitely fish out of water and were really never sure what was going to happen next. 

Breakfast, that’s what happened next.  Papaya, now there was a surprise.  I was never a big fan of papaya but this was really good and we enjoyed it thoroughly.  Full of papaya we picked up our stuff and headed out to catch the bus to Tonala.

Good things can come from dirty laundry! Part 1

We had just poured a glass of wine one night last week when a red Jeep drove by our house, Casa Madera.  It went a few feet past, turned around and parked at the end of our driveway.  There are an awful lot of Jeeps in Mexico but we did not know anybody with one so we thought they were going to the Senora’s house next door.

It was then that the gate rattled so I looked over the balcony and there were Mary and Lore.  They had dropped by to say Hi.  It was nice to see them.  We had a great visit as it had been a couple of months since we had talked.

It was a good conversation.  As a matter of fact I would have to rate it as one of the best conversations the 4 of us had ever had.  It took place in Spanish and we understood most of it.  It was later that I got to thinking about how far all of us have come from the first day we walked into Mary’s laundry 2 and a half years ago…

December 2008 – We have discovered that regardless of where you live, you will always have laundry!  Our condo does not have a washer and dryer nor does it have the space or hookups for them.  This means we have to find a place to do our laundry.  There are 2 to choose from in the complex.  This was new.

Heather says she went to Mary’s because she liked the painting of the Smiling washing machine on the front but really it was because the other laundry just never seemed very friendly.  Something that Mary had no issues with.

The first visit was difficult as Mary spoke virtually no english and we spoke very poor spanish but we managed to get through it.  The first load of clothes were returned in fine shape so we continued to take our dirty laundry to her.  Well except for the day that Heather thought that maybe we should visit a laundromat that we had noticed about 5 blocks up the street.

The laundromat was like any other, lines of washers and dryers, folding tables and a bench out front for sitting on and reading.  The problem was there was no real place to park so we either had to walk down with our clothes or take the bus.  Now there is lots of fun, riding a bus with a big bag of your sweaty, smelly clothes.  We did this twice at 30 pesos per wash and 30 pesos per dry.

It was then that we realized that Mary would do it for basically the same price as the laundromat and we only had to drop it off and pick it up.  So no more visits to the laundromat.

One day Heather came back to the condo announcing that she had made us pedicure appointments with a woman around the corner who was looking for clients.  Ok, why not.  So off we went.

There were two women there, one to work on Heather and one to work on me.  The name of the woman who had the lovely pleasure of working on my spectacularly abused feet was Lore.

Again conversation for me was virtually non-existent but Heather seemed to be holding her own.  This became a twice monthly event for us as it was actually quite nice.  It was the second time we were there that the woman who worked on Heather’s feet asked her about learning english.  It was decided that we would return tomorrow afternoon and attempt to give them some insight into the english language.

The appointed time came and we went to their store to find 3 of them eager to learn.  Lore, Mary and the other woman whose name is escaping me.  This became a regular event for us.  We would get together a couple a times a week to at least try to show them the words and the sentences they needed to attract tourists into their shop.

The problem was that the complex had at least 6 shops that did massages, manicures and pedicures.  In the economy we were in at the time, there was just not enough tourists to go around.  It was getting very difficult for them to eek out a living.

The lessons were a major hit.  Whether or not we made a difference to their english learning is anybody’s guess but we had fun.  The lessons also became the catalyst to friendship. 

We had been going for pedicures and trying to teach them english for about 3 months when Mary asked us if we wanted to come with them to fiesta for a friends son’s first communion.  She was very persuasive and said that her friends would love it if we would come.  Okay, we will attend.

Heather and I were now in a quandary.  This is an important event in a young persons life and we were invited.   While we knew Mary and Lore we did not know the hosts nor the child in question.  How do we dress? Do we buy him a gift? 

We eventually settled on giving him a card and some money.  But then, how much?  He was 8 so we decided to go with 70 pesos. 

The day arrived and Mary told us to meet them at the laundry at 2:30 and we would take the bus.  Heather and I decided that being a religious but festive event we would not wear shorts.  This was in June when the temperatures hover around 33 degrees celsius and the humidity makes it feel like 40.  Needless to say, it was hot and sticky. 

We hopped on the bus and headed into a part of town we had never been in before, Cuoapinole.  The road was not in what one would call primo condition but we made it.  We were hot and sweaty so we were using what ever we had to try to dry our faces and necks before we met these people.  Heather had kleenex in her purse so that was our only choice. 

We finally arrived at our destination and walked up to the house where the party was already going on.  Needless to say Heather and I kind of stood out in the crowd.  We were the only white people there.  Now that should not be unusual when you live in Mexico but when it happens the first time it kind of unsettles you. 

Mary introduced us to her friends, Bertha and Carlos and their son, Juan who looked sparkling in his pristine white communion clothes.    Mary immediately wanted us to eat.  The food today was Pozole.  A soup made from pork meat broth with hominy in it. 

Bertha was dishing it out and I had my choice of meat, pork shoulder, tongue or other parts.  I asked for the shoulder and just a little tongue.  I took it out to the table outside where there was cilantro, jalapeños, onions, radishes and of course, limes.  It was delightful.  Full of flavour, wonderfully cooked,  it was great.

Beer was offered, accepted and more pozole was requested.  We were introduced to the people around the table who were gracious and very nice.  We met Bertha’s brother who is a monk and spoke english.  The day was good but being able to converse with somebody easily was great.

We were still sweating and using the kleenex to dry our foreheads and necks when Heather looked at me and said that we must get cloths for this chore as for the last hour I had been wandering around with little bits of kleenex attached to my neck and beard.  Nothing like making a good impression on new friends!

All in all it was a great day.  We made some new friends and had a great time.  It was a life lesson for both of us coming from a culture where people are more closely guarded and not as free with their affections, and I was definitely one of those types of people.  Mary and Lore did our laundry and now we are proud to count them among our dearest friends. 

It just goes to show that if you go around within your own little world the rest of it just passes you by.

Without meeting Mary & Lore there are so many things we would have never experienced.  Wait until you hear about the trip to Guadalajara….

House hunting, frustration in any language!

Over the last couple of weeks we have been diligently working on improving Casa Madera.   When we bought the house, it needed work.  A lot of work.  But there were reasons we chose this house over the others we looked at and it was while I was painting our bedroom I started to think about some of the houses we looked a couple of years ago.

January 2009 – The condo was up for sale and attracting some interest.  This meant we should get our butts in gear and find a house that would be suitable for a bed and breakfast.  We called our friend and exclusive realtor, William Michael from Vallarta Escapes.  He knew what we wanted and set about to see what he could find in a reasonable price range that would meet our needs.

It was about a week later that he some houses to show us.  So off we went with the typical excitement you have when you are looking for a new house.  We were stoked!

Well we came down from that pretty fast.  Our problem was we were not really sure where we wanted to live.  We thought we wanted to live in Puerto Vallarta so that is where the houses that he had for us to see were located.  The first house was located back behind Fluvial which is a new district.  It was nice house but it was a little far away from all the tourist amenities which was going to be a problem.  That and there was just not enough room for a pool which had become a must have for me.

Sometimes pool's come in a variety of colours!

After the first day of looking Heather and I decided that we needed to make up our mind where we want to live.   Puerto Vallarta, Bucerias, Nuevo Vallarta, La Cruz de Huanacaxtle, Sayulita?  There were many choices so we started driving out to various areas just to try to get a feel for everything that they each had to offer.

Bucerias is a nice town.  It has all the services you would want and a great beach.  Ok, lets look there.

La Cruz de Huanacaxtle was small fishing village that had started to grow up with large condo projects and had an interesting feel to it.  We thought we could look there too.

Nuevo Vallarta was a planned residential tourist community that gave us a Beverly Hills feel when we drove into.  We decided that we can look there but we were not sure about it.

Sayulita is a great town.  To me it had a sixties California feel to it.  A surfing beach, great waves that still allow you to swim.  It’s drawback was it was on the other side of the mountain.  We will think about it but it was just too far out for me.

That left us Puerto Vallarta.  The reason we moved here.  We loved the town.  Friendly people, all the services.  It is great.

After all the discussion between to the two us we told William Michael our preferences.  He did his best to come up with something that would meet our needs and make us happy.

The next house was a 3 storey affair next to the Rio Cuale in Old Town.  It was a nice place.  Currently being operated as a small hotel and doing reasonably well.  The rooms all had some kitchen facilities, they were comfortable and the house had a great view but there was just no room for a pool.  We decided to keep it in mind but I really wanted a pool.

Shade and sun at the same time!

There were many that day, some worth looking at, some not so much.  Some out of our price league but fun to look at anyhow.

The next day we went out we went to see a house in Bucerias which we quite liked but again there was just no room for a pool.  The other thing we found odd about Bucerias is that most of the houses were two bedrooms.   At least those were the ones which were for sale.

From there we went to La Cruz de Huanacaxtle where there were two houses to see.  One was definitely a fixer upper according to William Micheal.  We walked into the house which was a one storey and it had the oddest feature.   A knee-high rock built into the floor.  WTF?  No one could tell us why it was there.  The house was being lived in at the time.  It was not finished.  No bedroom doors or jambs, just curtains.  They had not sprayed the house for bugs in a while as we were stepping over cockroaches to get into the house.  It was when we walked into the kitchen that William Michael calmly told us to step to the right as there was one coming right for us.  We both take direction well so we did and watch it stroll on by.

From there we went to a house which was actually set up for and being run as a bed and breakfast.  It was a nice place but was located across the street from the Sonic Gas propane station which played a whistle and shouted gas every few minutes.  We liked the house but not the location.

After 3 months of frustration of trying to find a house & setting up a pre-approved mortgage we were getting a little jaded.  It was a that point that William Michael reminded us that we had yet to look in Nuevo Vallarta.  Ok, let’s go see what Beverly Hills south has to offer.

Nice houses, that is what it has to offer.  Every house we looked at was gorgeous.  Immaculately kept, nice grounds.  They were beautiful.  Unfortunately they also had a nice price tag to go along with all that great stuff.  We were not going to denied though.  After 5 months in Puerto Vallarta we thought that living out in Nuevo might not be that bad.  It will be quiet and it really is not that far out from town.

It was then that he took us to what would become Casa Madera.  Wow.  It was perfect!  3 bedrooms downstairs with their own doors and livable space on the second floor for us.  A pool!  A nice size pool and a hot tub!  Man how could we be so lucky! And at a great price too.

However, we were still not sold on Nuevo Vallarta so we did not do anything that day.  We did talk about the house a lot though.  So we talked to our mortgage broker to make sure it would fit into our budget and he discussed it with the bank.  After a few days he came back and said that yes it would work.

We let it sit for a while because we were not going to rush into this one.  We did once already and were let down.  A couple of weeks went by and we decided we needed to look at it again.

The second viewing was not as good.  We then saw all the warts that the house had.  It needed a lot of work.  The bedrooms were going to have to be gutted.  The palapa over the garage was shot as was the one just outside of the kitchen.  And the kitchen, crap it was awful.  Well, now we are going to have to rethink this.

I have a screwdriver, we can fix it!

Again we discussed and discussed.  Can we do the repairs that it needs within a reasonable budget amount.  Especially since we are such handy kind of people.  Eventually it came down to one thing.  It was a perfect house for what we wanted to do.

So we jumped with both feet.  And then the fun began…..

Just think Steve Austin, you can rebuild it! Hopefully it won't cost you 6 million