The Journey to Casa Madera – San Francisco!

Sunday Morning, November 7, 2010 – 7:58 AM. We were just returning from taking Alexa for her morning walk and I was in cool down mode from my morning run when we spied Alfonso and his white pick up truck backed up on the lawn in front of our gate. As we get closer we see that Alfonso is not alone. He has his 14-year-old son with him and 2 other men. They were here to pick up the concrete and brick that had been piled up during the demolition and to bring wood back for the construction of the roof over our kitchen patio.

The aftermath of demolition
This is what is left when you know how to use a sledgehammer!

It was 7:59 on Sunday Morning! We had not even had coffee yet and they were here ready to work for 5 hours.

Don’t ever say anything to me about a lazy Mexican because it is just a media myth like so many other things about this great country.

Heather and I retired to the roof to enjoy the morning view

Roof view looking towards the bay
The view from the roof

with our coffee as we try to do everyday but Sunday is special. Sundays we generally take off, we relax, we read, we remember why we moved here in the first place.

So as we sat on the roof enjoying our coffee the men below loaded the back of the pick up with concrete pieces and bricks. The truck loaded Alfonso yelled up that they would be back and we heard the truck doors close. And then we heard the sound. The sound that a 1977 Ford F-150 makes in Canada when the night before it was -25 celsius and you forgot to plug it in. The starting whine but no catch. A 20 second break and they try again. The whine but no catch. This goes on for a few minutes before I wander down the stairs and to see what is happening. The hood was up. There was space.  You forget that 30 years ago there was actually room under the hood of the car.  Space under a hood, what a concept, but this is not a blog about what they have done to our cars so on we go.

After many tries the truck was not going to start. Hmm, what to do. I ask if they have battery cables. No. It was at that point that Alfonso realized they were out of gas. (there is no working gauge, speedometer, heater or a/c controls or radio in this truck) So we decide to siphon some out of my tank as it was full. No go, who knew that a Jeep had a plate to stop siphoning of your tank.

Off to the Pemex we go. Bought 6 litres of gas and return to give it another try. The truck sounded better but still no go. They decided that it was because the truck was not level so it was then necessary to push the truck on to a level spot on the street from its current resting point. So there we were; Alfonso behind the wheel, the two Mexican men, Alfonso’s son, Heather and I all at the back of a fully loaded pick up pushing it into the street. It reminded me of a cable car incident in San Francisco 2 years ago tomorrow…..

November 7, 2008 – Sonoma, California 9:00 AM.  Checked out of the Best Western and headed down the highway to San Francisco.  One of my favourite cities.  Has been from the first time my parents took me to it in 1967.  As always, I am looking forward to my return.  Don’t know what it is about the Bay Area but if I can find a reason to go there I will.

We are driving in a fog, a fog that has nothing to do with the bottle of Eric Ross wine we had with dinner the night before, it was Bay area fog.  The type of fog they always talk about in old english novels, thick, very thick.  We were in no real hurry as the drive was a short one but we took it easy just the same hoping it would lift soon.  The main reason is we knew that in about 30 minutes we should be able to see the bay and the scenery surrounding it.  By the time we got to the bay our hopes were answered.  The fog was gone, the sun was bright and it was very, very warm.

San Francisco from across the bay
San Francisco from across the bay

Just prior to crossing the Golden Gate Bridge is Battery Spencer.  The US Military considered San Francisco Bay to be a major strategic location so they built installations throughout the bay with the Battery being the last as weapon firepower had increased to such a point that previous installations at locations such as Alcatraz were no longer needed.  It was in operation until the end of World War ll.  Now you can do a self guided walking tour.  The stop provides a beautiful view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Battery
The Battery

The thing about San Francisco is there are just so many things to see and do one never really knows where to start.  We had reservations at the Best Western Carriage Inn downtown but we could not get in there until 3 so what to do to start.  We did what all tourists do, we head to Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39.  The Wharf was my favourite as a kid.  Dungeness Crab Cocktail available everywhere for a buck.  Fresh from the sea.  For someone from landlocked Edmonton it was totally unbelievable that crab could taste this good.  Well it was 2008, Crab Cocktail is no longer a buck but it is still fresh and tasty!  And this is a lesson.  Watch the Seagulls!  We had just got our lunch from one of the many stands that line the wharf and were crossing the small street to eat in the park.  As soon as Heather stepped out from under the canopy she was dive bombed by a seagull who almost knocked her down and got her food.  We retreated to a more quiet area around the corner that had a roof to enjoy our food in peace.

It is easy to waste time in that area, there are lots of things to see.  The seals lying on the docks by Pier 39,

Pier 39
Pier 39

the Musee Mecanique on the wharf (really cool), the buskers and really interesting public bathrooms in the middle of the street.  The bathrooms sanitize themselves after every visitor.

It was hot, sunny and truly a beautiful day.  We walked throughout the area looking at the shops, the seals and taking pictures.  It was great.

The Inhabitants of Pier 39

As the day wound down we worked our way back to the car and headed off to find the hotel.  The Best Western Carriage Inn is located in the center of town a couple of blocks off Market Street.  It was in our price range and had recently been renovated.  We were looking forward to kicking back for a bit and resting our legs before dinner.  We checked in and did the usual trek to the room with all of our worldly belongings.

As we walked to the door we saw there was a sign on the door.  The room had a name, The Pink Man room.  Ok, that is a little odd but through the door we went.

Is that cool or what!

To say they had done a renovation is one thing but they did not tell you what kind of renovation they had done.  It was a throw back to the art deco period but updated.  The room was spectacular, not your usual run of the mill hotel room.

It was comfy!

The decorations would be eclectic  but fitting with what they were trying to do.  On the table there was an old Royal typewriter exactly like the one I had typed my term papers on in High School with a piece of paper in it.  On the piece of paper was the story of the Pink Man.  It turns out they had named the rooms based on San Francisco legends.    I have stayed in some nice hotels in nice spots in my time but this one was located in an older part of town is one that I will remember forever.  It was neat, cool, groovy or sweet depending on your generation and I would stay there again.

My oldest brother had once told me that San Francisco was the coldest place on earth.  Well after the first day in town we would not agree with him, it was spectacular.  So the next morning we dressed for the same.  We walked out of the hotel and were outside for 30 seconds before we did an about-face and headed back up to the room for jeans, sweaters and jackets.  It was bone chilling cold.  No sun, lots of clouds.  Ok so maybe he was right.

We bought a day pass for the transit system and left the car in the parking lot as everything was easily accessible by transit and we could get off and on as we pleased.  Today we did the areas we did not see the day before.  Chinatown, Ghiradelli square, Market Street.  It was a full day with the highlight of the much-anticipated cable car ride up and down the hills of San Francisco!

The standard tourist shot but how can you not take one

We boarded the car just off Market in a retail district with the idea to ride the route.  And what a great idea it was until the car came to cable crossing where the driver has to release the grip on the cable to get over the cable going the other way and then he has to grab the cable again.   He has to hit the intersection with the right amount of speed to get to where he can grab the cable to continue up the hill approaching.  Well, our driver didn’t make it.  He could not grip the cable.  So here we were at the bottom of the hill going nowhere fast.  The driver tried a few more times to get the cable but it was not going to happen.  At that point a transit truck was going by and they stopped to see what was happening and what they could do.  They were driving a Freightliner.  They backed up the truck and took a run at the car (all while it was still fully loaded with passengers) and tried to push it up to where he could get the cable.

He's going to do what???

No go, one more try.  Still nothing.  It was at that point they asked us to get off as the truck was going to have to push it up the hill and we could get on the next one.

I think I can, I think I can....

Well, we were a block from Chinatown and we were hungry so we decided to catch a much later one!

Chinatown

In Chinatown it started to drizzle so we bought an umbrella and toured the shops, the alleys, and stopped for the most important meal in Chinatown, Dim Sum.  It was lovely, not quite the same as you find in Edmonton but still excellent.  From Chinatown we caught another cable car to finish the route we had started earlier.

It dropped us down by Ghiradelli Square which while interesting was more shops though it did have a very interesting art gallery with some works by Tony Curtis.  We spent at least an hour in there talking to one of the sales reps and examining their works of art.  It was a very enjoyable visit.

We walked along the waterfront, there is just something about a waterfront to people from landlocked Alberta, and found the San Francisco Maritime Museum on Hyde Street Pier.  They have restored many old sailing vessels that are accessible for touring.  It is quite fascinating.

San Francisco Maritime Museum
I was really there!
It was cold but we still had fun!

It had been quite a day, we hopped another cable car headed back to Chinatown for some quick take out and back to the hotel as we had a long drive down the Pacific Coast Highway in the morning to get to LA.

Man it is a long way....

The Journey to Casa Madera, Chapter 2

What happens when you have a sledgehammer and you know how to use it!
Alfonso's Handiwork

We are into the second week of the kitchen reconstruction and Alfonso is still pounding.  8 days he and a helper have been pounding, chipping, sledgehammering concrete and brick.  The dust is everywhere, Zorro our cat spends the daytime in parts unknown

Zorro and Alexa
Leave my plant toy alone!

and Alexa our dog just tries to hide under everything.  We would like to hide too but there is more work to be done that we can do while Alfonso just keeps pounding away.  From 9:00 AM to 8 PM he is pounding….very reminiscient of the waves pounding on the rocks by the Oregon and California border……

Oregon Surf
Not the place to kayak but man is it beautiful

On November 4, 2008 we were on the road heading for Crescent City, California.  It had been raining it seemed since we left Tsawwassen, British Columbia on October 31st, it hadn’t of course as we did see a little sun here and there in Seattle but for the most part it was either drizzle or pouring.  Today was no different.  Raining when we left Newport, Oregon but by the time we got to Bandon, Oregon the sun had come out and the weather started to warm where we actually took off a sweatshirt!

Stopped for lunch at a shack in Bandon which was simply called “Fish & Chips Restaurant”.  Obviously that was their specialty so that was what we had.  They had one table and 5 counter seats.  The food was delightful and the place was very, very busy.  Nothing like a good feed of fried battered fish to get you heart started for the rest of the days drive!

Lunch
Great food from such a small little shack!

Arrived in Crescent City late afternoon and spent the night at the Lighthouse Inn.  A quaint little motor inn that had already set up their Christmas display in the lobby.  Apparently the businesses in town use their lobby for pictures with Santa.

Christmas display
Halloween was just 4 days before!

Hit the road on the 5th at 8:00 am and in my best Gomer Pyle imitation, surprise, surprise, surprise…it was pouring.

We were heading down the Del Norte Coast looking forward to seeing the Redwood Forest, hoping the weather would lighten up so we could actually see a tree when we got there!  We arrived in Eureka, California and were shrouded in rain, wind and cold.  We didn’t see anything there that necessitated us getting out of the truck for in that weather so we continued on.  (I am sure there are many things to see in Eureka but the weather was awful so we kept going).

There had been a Ranger Station near Big Tree, California that we stopped at for a highlight map of the North Coast and in it we found a reference to Ferndale, California that made it sound interesting so we decided we would go there and see what we could find for lunch.  The town is spectacular.  They have done the town in a Victorian style and the buildings are gorgeous.

Ferndale
Eagle House Inn in Ferndale
Victoria Inn, Ferndale
Victoria Inn, Ferndale. Next time we may stay here.

It was about 10 miles off the main highway but it was worth the drive.  Not to mention it actually stopped raining while we were there!  I would highly recommend stopping and having a look if you are in the area.  Saw our first palm tree in Ferndale….ahhhhh.

Redwood Highway
Note the wet windshield and how dark it is at !0:38 am

Heading south on the 101, also known as the Redwood Highway looking for Humboldt State Park and the Avenue of the Giants.  Great scenic area and again worth the visit.  The trees are phenomenal.  We did stop at the standard tourist trap, The Drive Thru Tree,

Drive Thru Tree
Well we paid our 5 bucks, we had to drive through the tree!

near Standish-Hickory State Park.  There we saw a sign to say how far we had come and how we yet had to travel!

the signpost
Apparently someone decided they did not want to know how far Canada was

Oh and look, it’s pouring again.  Well, at least it is not snow.

That is one big tree
Pretty big tree
Paul Bunyon
Not everyday you get to take a picture of a blue ox!

At 4:38 pm we were out of the Redwoods and heading for Ukiah, California to spend the night.  It was then we spotted our first vineyard.  Now we’re talking!

Vineyard
Clouds rising out of the first vineyard.

November 6th, the United States had just elected their first Afro-American President and we were going to tour vineyards while heading to Sonoma!  It was a truly spectacular day, now if it would only quit raining.

For the first 30 minutes on the road we were driving in clouds and drizzle but we crossed the Sonoma County Line and the clouds parted, the sky was blue and the sun was shining brightly.

The first city we came across was Windsor, California.  It was a beautiful town and suburb of Santa Rosa.  We went looking for a map store as we needed a Mexico map for our GPS.  We found the map store but no gps maps.  We bought a paper one in case we were unable to find a software plug-in.  This town was nice, they had Peanuts characters all over town as this was where Charles Schulz lived a good part of his life.

Snoopy
One just has to take a picture of Snoopy!

It was also time to change the oil in the car.  So off we went to the local Chevron oil center.

Oil freshly changed we were back on the road and heading for Benziger Vineyards.  We managed to make it there in time for their 1:30 tour and off we went.  A beautiful spot, they had worked hard to be a bio-dynamic vineyard to maintain their vines without chemicals.

Benziger Vineyards
Benziger Vineyards

It was worth what we paid to take the tour.  Oh that’s right it was free.  The wines were nice but not within our budget so we moved on looking for another.

Which way to go?
So many choices!

We ended up in the Eric Ross Wineries Tasting Room and a lovely time talking to the manager and trying a few wines.  We were there for at least an hour and bought a few bottles to enjoy on our trip.

Eric Ross Winery
We picked this one! It was a great choice!

From there we ended up in Sonoma at the Best Western for the night.  The center of town is very nice with a lovely square and lots of restaurants.  The man from Eric Ross had told us about a great Italian place that was near the hotel and we did our best to find it but if it was there it was invisible.  So instead we bought a pizza and enjoyed it in our room with an excellent newly purchased red.  We would have liked to see more wineries but the wharf in San Francisco was calling!

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate

The Journey Begins

I was sitting down by our swimming pool the other day having coffee listening to Alphonso and Marco hammer the crap out of our kitchen walls to enlarge it and I started to think about how we got here….

A couple of years ago Heather and I were enjoying life in Sherwood Park, Alberta. We had good jobs, great employers, my kids were growing up, excellent friends, the house was close to being paid off and we had just finished renovating our kitchen. However, something was missing. We had a sense of adventure that owning a 30-year-old motor home was not fully satisfying. We needed something else…..it was a that point we decided that it was time to start a new chapter in our lives.

We sold the house, packed up our Toyota Rav 4 with what ever we could fit in it and moved to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to open a Bed and Breakfast. This is the story of that journey and how we got to where we are now.

When we decided to do this we already owned a small condo in Vallarta that we could live in while we searched for a property with which we could open this grand project.  However we never thought how about how long we would have to live there!

In October 2008, the car was loaded and we headed out on the Yellowhead highway towards the west coast. We had decided we were going to take our time and have a small vacation on the way. Our plan was to drive down to San Diego on the coastal highways and then head inland to Tucson and down into Mexico from there.

We crossed the Canadian/United States border south of Vancouver in a driving rainstorm. At the border the US customs agent asked us the reason for our trip, it was obvious he could see that we had the Rav packed to the rafters. We explained we were moving to Mexico. The response was “oh, and why would you want to do that?” After our explanation we were off and driving.

Our stopping point for the weekend was Seattle. We both wanted to actually see Seattle and some of the things we had seen or heard about. The Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and things we had yet to encounter.

The Pike Place Market
The recognizable face of the Pike Place Market

If you ever have the desire to go to Seattle and even if you don’t, you must go. A truly beautiful city and just seeing the fish mongers at the Pike Place Fish Market toss the fish around is a treat. I could go on about it but really you need to experience it yourself!

The Space Needle at Night
The Space Needle at Night

After a great weekend in Seattle we moved on towards the coast down past Olympia heading towards Seaside, Oregon. On the way we stopped at Cape Disappointment State Park which is on mouth of the Columbia River. An interpretive center is located there on the difficulty ship captains had with the currents at the mouth of the river and the shifting sandbars which caused many a grounding and wrecks on the beach. It was an interesting stop, one I would recommend.

From there is was across the massive bridge over the river to Astoria, Oregon where we visited the Astoria Column. The column is unique and quite the site. The view from its location is spectacular! We ended this day in Seaside about 40 miles down the road from Astoria.

The Astoria Column
The Astoria Column

The next day we were the Oregon Coastal Highway. The scenery is absolutely spectacular! If you have not driven this road, it is a must do. The ocean is wild in this area with large waves and many scenic points to watch them crash on the rocks below.

Beach in between Seaside and Newport, Oregon
Beach Close to Tillamook, Oregon

It was this day we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory in Tillamook, Oregon.  It was a great place that had a self guided tour of their factory.  They also make great cheese and we are very happy we can buy it in Vallarta!

Tillamook Cheese
Tillamook Cheese Factory

As you may have figured out we were not moving at the speed of light.  We figured we were only going to do this drive once and we wanted to do it right so there were lots of stops for pictures of scenery or stops at places of interest.  Sometimes we found interesting pictures for no reason at all.

ironing board
this was in a parking lot????

We have no idea what this was all about!

The scenery on the Oregon coast is phenomenal.  Pictures will say it better than words.

Lighthouse
Lighthouse overlooking one of the many coves
Sea Lions
Yes those are all Sea Lions
Oregon Dunes
One of the many Oregon Sand Dunes

From Oregon it was on to California and the Redwoods!

That will be our next installment.

Kevin