The Journey to Casa Madera – Moon over Vallarta

October 27, 2012  –

We are often asked about medical care here in Mexico.   Most ask out of curiosity or concern for our well-being.  Some ask out of disbelief – as in “Really ,they have doctors in Mexico?”.  The truth is yes, there are a lot of doctors here.     Many have studied not only here in Mexico, but in the US, Canada and even Europe in some cases.    It is also true that just like home, some are better than others and it is our job as a patient to find a doctor that works for us.

After 4 years of living here, I had an opportunity to experience Mexican medical care first hand.  That is not to say it is the first time I have seen a doctor here, we do have our annual physicals and blood tests; but my first experience with the Mexican “drop-in” health care system because I had a health issue that needed a doctor’s care.

I had an earache.

I think I can best describe the set up as a version of a Canadian Medi-centre.   The idea is the same, people drop in to see the doctor on call.  The difference is that these “drop-in” places, called Consultorias, are attached to a drug store.  Actually, ina drug store attached to the medi-centre, so in actual fact, there really is no difference.

The doctor is either in or out, and he or she will take patients on a first come first served basis.    Just like Canada, one could wait a long time in that hot little room while waiting to see the doctor.   But, here, happily, that does not have to be the case.  There is, literally, a drug store on nearly every corner, and most have a Consultoria.    So, if the waiting room in one is too busy, we can simply drive down the street to the next one.

We do have a favourite doctor we see, but he is a whole 10 minutes away in Mezcales, so we decided today, to take our chances in Valle Dorado, which is much closer to us.  The waiting room at the Farmacias Medism was empty when we pulled up!   What a stroke of luck.  NO waiting at all today!!  Within 2 minutes of getting out of the car,  I was ushered into the examining room by the doctor himself.   The good doctor also invited Kevin to sit in on the consultation.

I speak some Spanish, the doctor spoke some English, so between us, we were able to communicate very well.

I told him I had an  earache and he promptly plopped me on the examining table and told me to open my mouth.  Whaaat??     He was very happy to tell me that my ear problem was related to a throat infection I did not know I had.  He continued to explain that the ear, nose and throat were all related. . . .  and did I want meds or a shot?

A shot? For a throat infection?  I have not had a shot since I was vaccinated in high school!  My efforts at asking questions to determine if this was a better option than 5 days of pills were totally drowned out by my ever loving husband, Kevin.   It was as if he had suddenly turned into a contestant on a game show, and be began yelling out   “Shot!  Take the shot?  Just take the shot!”  I could barely hear the doctors answers over Kevin’s’ encouragement to opt for the needle instead of the pills.  Naturally,  the doctor was very amused by all of this, and though he tried to remain as professional as possible,  I could see he was siding with my husband.  Must be a male thing.   How bad could it be, I thought.  One shot or a weeks worth of meds.   Really, the shot did sound like the better option.

Then the medication came out.  3 vials of stuff, all mixed together, my “shot” turned out to be 5 cc’s of meds.  if you are not sure what 5 cc’s looks like, it pretty much filled the needle.   The old joke about horse tranquilizers leapt to mind.   In my arm, right?  Oh, no, lie on the table, face down.  Oops, I forgot to ask, can you inch your waistband down just a little.

I don’t think I need to mention that as I hopped off the table to undo my pants and peel them down far enough to reveal the target for the needle that my loving husband and best friend, Kevin, was doubled over with laughter and would have suffered serious injury from falling on the floor laughing had he not already been sitting down.

I hopped back up onto the table, target side facing the ceiling.  By now, the doctor, being egged on by my husband, was also laughing.  Lucky for me, his mirth did not affect his steady hand, so he hit the “target” on the first attempt.

Slightly embarrassing, but nothing I would not live thru.  Then he said “this is a series of 3 shots”.    I need to find looser pants to wear to his office tomorrow.

I should also mention that the cost of this afternoons entertainment, aside from my eternal embarrassment was $211 pesos and my ear ache will be gone in a day or 2.   We shall see…..

The Journey to Casa Madera – Technology and useless twits….

A couple of months ago our Facebook fan page, www.facebook.com/CasaMadera started to get likes from a lot of people we did not know.  We have found over time that this does happen sometimes but we can generally follow the trail as to how they found us.  A friend, relative or a surfer who saw a picture of great looking food.

This time we could not discern where they came from.  However, we liked seeing the amount of likes go up higher so we did not think too much about it.

We are not techies.  I have enough computer intelligence to get by but if things go south I am screwed.

I had just arrived back in Canada at the beginning of September for a visit when Heather, who was still at home, let me know that people were not able to access our website.  They were being redirected to either Google or a page full of Malware.  Now there is a great way to get clients!  Infect their computer.

This needed to be fixed.  I went to work and did what I could but it was not much as I had absolutely no idea what the problem was or where to find it.   We contacted our web designer to see what he could do.  He got the page working again and with people clearing their recent history the page was loading and operating correctly.  Yay!

Then last week it was happening again.   This time however I could not even get into the files, it was redirecting so quickly.  I contacted the host who were very helpful and deleted the appropriate files.  The website was working again except for a couple of minor glitches which I could fix.

An hour later, it was redirecting again.  I put in another support request and one more time they cleared the files.  The website is still working correctly but the source files need to be updated.  This involves a lot of stuff that should wear the brain of this useless twit out.   I could ask our tech to do it and pay the fee but I am stubborn.

I have to for the same reason people climb mountains.  Because it’s there.  Technology is not going away and it is Heather’s and my lifeline.  Most of what we do here revolves around the computer.   We look for clients on the computer.  We see the grandchildren on the computer.  We keep in touch with family and friends on the computer.

And for that reason I have to fix the website issue myself.  If I can do it, then it is one hurdle that the technologically challenged (aka useless twits) won over todays youth.  The question is can I get this old brain over the hurdle.

And the questionable Facebook likes, we deleted them all.  I cannot help but figure they were involved in this somehow.

The Journey to Casa Madera – Watching the Olympics!

August 5, 2012 – The skies are greying and the distant sound of thunder reminds us it is still rainy season here at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta.  Last night we had a doozy of a storm.  3 or 4 inches of rain and spectacular lightning.  It takes your breath away watching it and now it looks like we are going get to enjoy it again.

Today we decided to do something different with the blog and Heather has taken the time to put her thoughts into cyberspace.  We hope you enjoy it!

Watching the Olympics – Heather Wood

To say that we have felt removed from “real life” since we moved to Mexico would be an understatement.  We do listen to the daily news on CKUA radio, which gives us the highlights, and honestly that is about all I have ever really been interested in.  I have made it a habit since I began living on my own to not watch the evening news.   Call me silly, but I always felt it emphasized the negative, rather than the positive aspects of the world in which we live.  However, even without my daily dose of  the evening news, I was still able to have an idea of what was going on in the world, thanks to everyday conversations I would have with friends, co-workers and family.

Now, by our choice, we live in a different country whose first language is Spanish, not English.  We can watch the evening news, if we choose, and we can choose to buy several newspapers, in Spanish, at any street corner with a traffic light.  That does not mean that we will be able to understand everything spoken or printed.  Even though our language skills have improved 200% since moving here, we still have a long way to go.  Fully understanding a newspaper article or Television broadcast is still far into our future, I am afraid.

Which is why I was so surprised when my friend who lives in the UK started commenting about the Olympics in her Facebook posts.  I used to take major news events like this for granted.  Things like this were something everyone was talking about on every corner, in every newscast, and it was written somewhere in every newspaper for months leading up to the big event.

Perhaps it is the same way here.  I really don’t know, for reasons already stated.  🙂

I can tell you that we are watching the Olympics daily and that I am having a difficult time picking a country to cheer for.  I am torn.  Of course, I will always cheer for Canada, my homeland and where my heart lies.  But, I have a soft spot for Mexico as well.     I am and always will be, a proud Canadian. I  also remember that  Mexico accepted me and my husband when we decided to experience life away from the 9 – 5.  With that acceptance, comes  a certain pride in my adopted country and its achievements.

I am loving watching the  Olympics and consider myself very lucky that Mexico and Canada will not battle it out for the medal in  all events.

GO TEAM CANADA!!!

Good things come from dirty laundry, part 4 – did someone say TEQUILA!

August 9, 2011 – It has been some time since I sat down at my computer at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast and continued on with this story.  My apologies to those who were waiting for the next part but it was time for my annual sojourn home to Edmonton so I could get my yearly dose of cold.

Now it wasn’t that I could not have written it there but my editor was here.  Yes, someone actually edits this diatribe.  Heather, stand up and take a bow because without you these rantings would never be fit to be read by anybody, let alone friends.  However, now she is in Canada so you are going to just have to take it as it is!

But I digress, aside from being cold and swatting entire squadrons of mosquito’s, I had a great time at home.  I enjoyed my visit with family and friends but I especially loved spending time with Elizabeth, my granddaughter and my children (OK grown adults), Allison and Brendan.

You always have to bring things back that people like.  Brendan always gets hot sauce, the hotter the better but this year we found pickled habaneros so if he is making you a sandwich, watch out.

The major item that was brought back this year was 8 bottles of Tajin (pronounced -taheen) which is a spicy salt that you sprinkle on fruits and vegetables.  Heather’s sister’s family and friends have come to want it by the case so I stuffed as many as I could in my suitcase.  I firmly believe that is the reason I got searched by US Customs going into Denver!

But as usual the star in the suitcase was the bottle of Tequila for my brother.  You cannot buy good Tequila in Canada without dropping a lot of dough and for the most part you just cannot buy GOOD tequila in Canada at all.  So I bring him a bottle back every year as there are times when you want to sit back, relax and sip a good tequila.

I like this one!

Tequila.  The name is enough to make a lot of people shiver.   Mainly because they had bad experiences with it when they were younger.  Something which I can attest to myself. Whoever introduced the idea of a tequila punch party should be shot….but I digress.

I truly began to appreciate Tequila when I came down to Puerto Vallarta to buy the condo into which we moved.  I stopped in a bar one night on that trip and sat at the bar to watch a ball game.  The bartender and I got talking and he walked me through the various tequila’s he had and explained the differences in quality and taste.  He was the one who showed  me that Tequila should be sipped, not shot.

He was right.  After moving through about 4 different variety’s you could taste the difference between grades.  It was a good night and it allowed me to appreciate the subtlties located within that glass.

Thinking about good tequila always sends me back to our Guadalajara trip with Mary and Lore as it was them that suggested that one afternoon we should head out to the town Tequila, Jalisco.

September 2009 – Saturday

It had already been a full trip.  Lots of sightseeing and shopping we were having a great time.  Mary and Lore though thought we should take a small trip outside of town to Tequila.  It sounded pretty good to us but Mary had to convince her brothers that they should take us.

They had to finish dealing with the Papaya that they had but they were game so at 3:00 they loaded us all into the box of their Nissan King cab and we were off.  Yes, the box.  There was not enough room for us all in the cab so 4 of us got to ride in the box.  Considering it was about 32 degrees the box was a nice change.

The view from the back of the truck

The view from the back of the truck

However, the road to Tequila is not straight and it is very busy.  Traffic moves at the speed of light so you have to hold on.  It was fun but I am not sure I would want to do it again.

We arrived in Tequila in about 30 minutes.  It is a quaint little town with stores everywhere dedicated to selling…tequila!  The stores are everywhere.  Selling anywhere from 1 to 5 liter bottles.  Now the interesting thing in Tequila is that tequila is not taxed.  Not one of the bottles had a tax sticker in any of the stores we were in, including the brand name stores.  This allows you to get some good Tequila for a reasonable price.

One of the many stores we visited

We were moving from store to store tasting this one, that one and that one over there.  It was great but there were more things to see in Tequila besides the stores.  If one had the time you could tour the Jose Cuervo Distillery or one of the many others in town.

We did not have time to take a tour so we did our own small walking tour of the town.  Checking out the square, one of the town cathedrals and seeing what else there is to do.  We will return to Tequila when we actually have time to stay there for a day or two to see all the sights.  If you ever have the time to see this town I would highly recommend it.  It is a great place.

One of the tour barrels that goes around town


The time had come however to buy a bottle so I called in the brothers to tell me which one I should buy.  After trying a few they pointed at one and said it was the purest.  So I said the person behind the counter how much was the 5 liter bottle?

150 pesos!  14 bucks!  You’re kidding, right?  Nope, he wasn’t.  I quickly paid the man and took my leave in case he changed his mind.

Tequila bought we hopped back into the truck and made our way back to Guadalajara.  It was great visit in a neat town.

The Main Cathedral in Tequila


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.

The Quest to get a Mexican Driver’s License

When we arrived in Puerto Vallarta to start the quest of finding a house that would be suitable to turn into Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast we were driving a brand new Toyota Rav 4.  We loved that vehicle.  It was great to drive, good on gas and the air conditioning worked which was a BIG plus for those of us trying to get accustomed to warmer weather.

Unfortunately the fact that a good many of the roads are cobblestone caused us to think that this was not the place to have a new vehicle so we decided to drive it back to Canada in August 2009 and sell it while we were visiting family.  It hurt to sell it but it was for the best.

When we returned to Puerto Vallarta at the beginning of September we set about looking for a vehicle.  That was lots of fun as the main car dealers do not sell a lot of Semi-Nuevos as they call them here.  This meant that we were forced to go to the used car lots which was always so much fun in Canada.  Well its double the fun here when your Spanish is limited.

We did eventually find 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee that we could live with at a reasonable price and did the deal.  The car dealer was gracious enough to send his wife with us when we went to go register it and that was a good thing as the original bill of sale was written on a form that was 2 days past its valid dates of use.  This meant they had to procure another bill of sale that was valid before the state would transfer ownership of the car.  Without the sellers wife, we would have had nothing but frustration.

While there we saw that the driver’s license bureau was right across the hall.  Now we had noticed that driving in Mexico was unique at best but we figured they all had to have driver’s licenses, didn’t they?  So we asked our helper about getting Mexican driver’s licenses.

We wandered across the hall and spoke to the receptionist who said to come back at 4:00 that afternoon for the test.  Our helper said that we would take a written test and then an actual driving test!  Cripes, I had not taken a practical drivers test since I was 16, neither had Heather.  Well that will be fun.  Sure hope the examiner speaks english!

We arrived at 4:00 and were ushered into the room at the back and told to take seats.  We did and more people arrived so soon we were sitting with about 20 other people, all Mexicans, of ages from 16 to 35.

The instruction welcomed us and then proceeded to lecture us in Spanish for 90 minutes on the rules of road.  Heather and I looked at each other and laughed silently…RULES!  Get out-of-town.  There are no rules.  The only rule we could see that when the light phase was about to change from red to green someone was going to be honking at the front vehicles to get their collective butts in gear and get moving.

Apparently though, there are rules.  The driver must wear a seat belt.  You must not follow the vehicle ahead of you too close.  Speeding kills. etc.  All rules we knew from driving for 35 years.

This lecture took place in Spanish, of course, but we both found that we were able to understand a good part of what the officer was saying.  It became totally apparent that we did because he looked at Heather and asked her how long she had been driving.  35 years she responded and he looked to me for an answer to the same question.  I repeated the same answer and on he went through the room getting answers like 1, 2 or 5 years throughout most of the room.  He then said that because of the two people in the front row, gesturing to Heather and I, that no one would have to take the practical driving test because we brought the class average up to 15 years driving experience!  You have to be kidding me!  It was a little shocking but neither one of us was upset about not having to take a practical exam.

It was then he told us to come back tomorrow after 9:30 and do the written test.

We arrived right at the appointed time and got checked in.  The instructor from the night before motioned me over to the computer and gave me a demonstration on how the system works.  I had 20 questions to answer.  He did not tell me what the fail mark was  but during the course of the demonstration he answered the first question for me.  I wondered if it was my sparkling blue eyes or the fact that sitting in my hands was a Spanish/English dictionary.

We had been told that the test was in Spanish but we would be allowed a translation dictionary for help.  So there I was, facing my first real question that I had to answer and looking up words like there was no tomorrow.  We had taken 3 semesters of Spanish but you only learn so much and we found that out in spades.

After about 3 minutes I thought I had a grasp on what the question was about and then looked at the answers.  I caught a break as the answer was obvious even in a different language.  On to question 3.  I was rifling through the dictionary like my life depended on it.  And really it did.  What good are you at 51 when you cannot pass a drivers test after driving for 35 years?

After answering question 3 I was reading question 4 when I sensed a presence beside me.  It was a security guard.  I looked up at him and he said in English, “Do you understand Spanish?”  I replied that I could understand a little and words I did not know I was looking up and so far things were going ok.  I thought that was a little odd that he would come in and talk to me while I was working on the exam but quickly forgot about it.

For 35 minutes I flipped pages, tried to figure out words and gave what I could not get my best guess.  The people there were quite amused with the gringo trying to do this test.

I finished the test and called the instructor over who came over and scored the exam.  The look on his face when 90% came up was priceless.  Of course I could not stop beaming!

At that point it was quick, he took my picture and printed off my secure license right there.  No need to wait 15 days for it show up like in a Canadian province that I know.

They had a lot of people waiting to take this test and they had two computers.  After they got Heather sat down at the one I had been working on they put a 16-year-old boy at the other computer.  Heather was working diligently at her test and completed it faster than me and passed it as well.  It was a happy day for both of us!

And then we ran into a glitch.  The computer they were printing Heather’s license on froze.  The license would not print so they told us to wait while they called someone.  We were hanging around the door waiting when the sister of the boy at the other computer asked Heather what she put for this particular question.  WTF??  You don’t ask someone what they put for an answer on an exam question???

Heather went over and looked at the question figuring what the hell, the woman who acted as a proctor was sitting right there and did not bat an eye when the woman asked Heather for help.  Heather said “I put C”.  It was then that the proctor piped and said (without a word of a lie), “That is not the right answer, it is B”.  huh….You mean we could have asked you for help!  Give me a break!

I cannot speak for Heather but for 35 minutes I sweated over that test.  The Old Spice was working hard keeping me fresh during that time and my brain was tired.  What really irritates me is it did not need to be!  For a small fee, it turns out the security guard would have written test for both of us and we would have walked away as fresh as a daisy with no problems what so ever.  And from what we understand now many people we know have taken the small fee route which worked for them but I can tell all of you this.  They don’t have the sense of pride and accomplishment that Heather and I did walking out of the Motor Vehicles office, getting into our car and driving to Victor’s for a Corona and a shot to celebrate.

Lonely Days

Lonely.  Now there is a word.  How many pop songs used it over the years?   Hundreds, many of them my favourites because they were just great songs.   The allmusic.com website lists over 1300 occurrences of the word in a song title.  Song writers love it and for good reason.  We can all identify with being lonely. 

For Heather and I at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast, it hits us every once in a while but very rarely.  When it hits though, it hits.

 The nice thing is that family does come to visit.  My son, Brendan is coming next weekend with a buddy to celebrate his 21st birthday.  I cannot tell you how excited we are over that.  Not that we don’t have friends here.  We do, and they make sure we are never lonely. 

Christmas this winter was a special treat.  My brother, Larry and Heather’s mother, Barbara were here.  That made Christmas extra special this year.  Christmas for both of us revolves around family and having family here this year was wonderful. 

That and our friends kept us busy. 

Christmas Eve at Robert & William Michael’s, Christmas Day dinner at Bill & April’s.  To be surrounded by good friends and family makes it so special.  It was so far removed from our first Christmas in Vallarta.

December 24, 2008 – Christmas Eve.  A totally different Christmas Eve than either one of us has ever experienced.  One it was 26 degrees and there was no snow, ice or threat of slush.  Two, our families were 2ooo miles north of us.  This was the first Christmas either one of us had ever spent alone.  Ok, so we were not really alone but I am sure you get the idea.

We decided that we were going to do the day up right.  Christmas Eve was the day that my family had dinner.  It developed a long time ago as the family grew, people got married and had their spouse’s family to satisfy as well.  That and the 24th of December was my parents anniversary.  It just became THE day. 

This Christmas Eve was going to be obviously different.  We knew three people in town.  Robert and William Michael who were gracious enough to invite us to their Christmas Day dinner the next day.   We knew Marco, but he was in Guadalajara with his Mother and Father.  Other than them we were alone. 

The strangest part of the whole experience was that we were having a hard time getting in the Christmas spirit.  For one, it was warm.  The air conditioner was running in the condo.  We were sweating when we went outside.  Where was the snow?  For many of us, even though we hate it, the first snowfall was what jump started us into Christmas mode.  Well no snow here except for the frost layer in our freezer. 

We noticed when we first arrived in town 6 weeks before that Christmas trees were for sale.  It seemed odd to see all of these trees basking in sunshine.  If you took one home you did not have to wait for it to thaw before cutting the trunk and sticking it in water.  Crazy.

We did not buy a tree.  One, where the hell would we put it.  No space in the condo.  We settled for a couple of artificial trees about 18 inches tall and decorated them with some small glass balls that we bought from Mega.  They got set up in the stairway.  There, we were decorated for Christmas. 

Our trees

This brought us to dinner.  What were we going to have?  We did not have a proper stove or oven so we could not cook a turkey.  We could go out but what is open on Christmas eve?  We had never been here before at that time so we had no idea what would be open or closed.  We finally decided on an old favourite as they were just down the street.

Christmas Eve Dinner 2008

Yep, that’s right.  KFC.  The Colonel.  It was a taste of home, what can we say.  I can say, it was freaking great!  It was without a doubt the best KFC I had tasted in years.  Well cooked fresh Mexican chicken done with the 11 herbs and spices.  I could go on and on but lets just say we ate there more than once because it was so good. 

Christmas morning for anybody with children always starts early.  We had been lucky as my children were old enough that they were past the getting up at 5:00 am stuff.   So I was looking forward to a nice relaxing sleep filled morning on Christmas Day.  I could not have been more wrong.

6:00 am I awake with a start to the sound of a bang.  What the hell was that?  Then there was another bang, followed quickly by another.  Well I had to go see what was going on.  I had noticed that Heather was no longer lying beside me so somehow she was involved.  And involved she was, chasing a cockroach around the floor with a hammer!  Bang, missed, bang, missed, bang, missed.  Needless to say she eventually got it but by then I was up for the day.  So much for the sleep in.

Coca Cola Christmas Tree

We had been invited Robert & William Michael’s for dinner Christmas Day and asked to bring a green salad.  We had the lettuce but Heather wanted a salad spinner, something that did not fit in the car when we moved.  It was christmas day but to our surprise all the major stores were open so after we made all of the phone calls home we ventured out to see what we could find.

Nothing, that’s what we found.  No such thing as a salad spinner in Mexico.  One of the stores, Mega, has helpers who double as time share salespeople.  Well the gentleman we talked to that day told Heather she needed to become more Mexican and just whip the lettuce around in a towel like everybody else! 

Two months later we found one in Lans Department store.  It has been followed by many others.  Apparently not all Mexican women want to whip their lettuce around in a towel either!

Dinner at Robert and William Michael’s was divine.  The food was excellent and the post dinner entertainment provided by Los Bambinos was phenomenal.  If you are ever here and get the chance to see them it is well worth the price of admission!  We thank them for making that Christmas special.

Our Christmas presents from home arrived on Boxing day.  It was a nice way to finish the Christmas season and promptly caused Heather to cry. 

Were we lonely.  Yes we were lonely but fate was going to change that very quickly the next day when our doorbell would ring….

Ok, We are in Mexico, Let’s Cook Mexican!

 

February 24, 2011 – I am sitting on our new Kitchen patio enjoying the afternoon sun here at Casa Madera Bed and Breakfast.  What a treat to be able to sit here with the breeze coming off the ocean and not have 14 year palapa grass fall on my head among other things. 

The original kitchen patio and very old palapa

It has been a long haul but the kitchen renovation is finally finished.  Man does it look good.  We put a lot of faith in Sergio, our architect and Chicho the cabinet-maker to do it right and they delivered.  They took the most ridiculously designed 2 rooms I have ever seen and made them sparkle.  They gave us actual usable space.  It is a treat.

The Original Kitchen

There are only so many people who saw the kitchens we had been living with for the last 28 months.   The two kitchens were so small that most of the kitchen items we brought down from Canada with us in November 2008 did not get unpacked until a week ago.  

The New Kitchen and the view to the patio
 

The best part about the new kitchen is Heather is totally stoked to cook again with a real stove with burners that work and hey is that an oven!  I am enjoying the rewards of having that stove and although my waistline may not approve I really don’t care!

Side view

Heather was making some appetizers she had never made before last Friday for a wine reception that our friends at Vallarta Escapes host during high season.  Watching her chop and seed some dried chili’s reminded me of the night we decided to try to cook a new mexican recipe in the condo….

December 2008 – We have been in town for 3 weeks.  We are getting tired of restaurant food and making easy to cook items on our one burner hot plate.  The kitchen in the condo is what one would call non-existent.  There is 3 feet of usable counter space.  There is a small fridge, microwave and our pride and joy, the one burner hot plate.

The one burner hot plate we brought with us from Canada.  It was purchased as a stand by for when we needed more burner space.  It was never used until we moved into the condo in Puerto Vallarta

It was in Vallarta that we discovered that the one burner hot plate was built with Canadian safety standards in mind.  What a pain those were.  You would just get a pot of water for pasta to start boiling and it would shut down!  Can’t let the little sucker overheat I guess.  Something bad might happen, like your food would cook in under 3 hours!  Oh well, it threw up a challenge but we eventually got used to it.

The condo kitchen and the one burner hot plate

Heather had brought a few cookbooks with her and one was Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless.  We found a marinade in the book that looked interesting and would translate well to meat that would have to be fried.  

The recipe included dried Ancho Chiles and dried Guanjillos Chiles.  It called for them to be stemmed, seeded and deveined.  So we started on that project.  Now this was Sunday and it was hot so we were enjoying a cerveza while we worked on the chiles.  Now there is one thing about cerveza that is well-known, you only rent it.  So once we had the chiles done I headed down the hall to use the facilities. 

I did my business, washed my hands and returned to the kitchen to start pulverizing the remaining spices into a paste.  It was about 3 minutes later that I started to get very uncomfortable.   Uncomfortable changed in about 30 seconds to HOLY CRAP CERTAIN PARTS OF ME APPEAR TO BE ON FIRE!

It was at this point I blasted down the hall, ripped off my clothes and jumped into a very cold shower.  It was not helping.  I tried soap, nope.  No staving off this burning sensation.  It was at that point that Heather showed up outside the shower, laughing so hard with tears streaming down her face carrying a bowl of Lala Strawberry Yoghurt. 

All I can say is thank god for Lala.  Things cooled off in a hurry, so to speak.  There was no permanent damage except to my ego.  I knew better.  How many times in your life to do you read, wear gloves when handling peppers.  Well it applies to dry ones too folks.  I learned the hard way.

The emergency over we went back to the marinade though Heather had a really hard time concentrating on what she was doing for some reason, why I have no idea.

Oh and through the pain of it all, the recipe was worth it!

Does anybody still own a typewriter?

Aerial view of marina, cruise ship docks and d...
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January 23, 2011 – It has been a very busy month.  We have been inundated with friends and relatives coming to escape the cold and snow of Canada.  It has been a great 6 weeks.  Lots of places to take people, lots of laughs and lots of great food and drink.  It did cut my blog writing time down but it was worth it having everybody here.

The kitchen renovation is complete save the refinishing of the tile floor.  That starts tomorrow.  We are looking forward to seeing the finished product and finally being able to fill the new cupboards.  More importantly we will be able to stop living in a construction zone!

While Sergio is sanding the floor I will be wandering down to the Vialidad ( car registration and licensing office) to register the Jeep for the coming year.  That should be entertaining.  Sure hope the dot matrix printer does not break down.  Yes, that was not a typo, dot matrix printer.  They are all over the country.  Office Depot carries an entire rack of printer ribbon as do all of the other business supply stores in town. 

An Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer
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It was quite a surprise the first time I heard one fire up when we moved here.  I am not sure how they get parts for them anymore but they are in use everywhere and especially in every government office.  It’s funny.  The Vialidad issues the registration on a dot matrix printer but the licensing division across the hall can issue you a fancy new security holographic drivers license in two minutes.  

It is this that reminds me of our first trip to Immigration in Puerto Vallarta to register that we had arrived in town a couple of years ago….

November 20, 2008 – Immigration day.  We were told we had to register with the Immigration department locally even though we already had the documents we needed to be here.  We had a quick breakfast and headed out the door at 8:00 am to walk to the office to be ready when they opened at 9:00. 

We arrived there about 8:20 to find a line up.  Hmm, a line up for immigration, that seems a little odd.  It was even more odd when we found out that one guy got there at 4:30 so he could be first in line!  At 8:30 the security guard starting handing out numbers, we were 14.  This won’t be too bad, should be out in an hour. 

While we sat there waiting for the office to open clutching our number so we would not lose our place in line Heather struck up a conversation with the woman sitting next to her on the sidewalk.  Her name was Patti.  We talked with her until the office opened.  Nice woman. 

When the office opened, like cattle we all tramped up the stairs into their cramped waiting room and they started calling numbers.  An hour went by and they were at number 4.  Well maybe this won’t be that quick.  Another hour goes by and hey we are up to number 10.  Things are moving along.  I am watching the traffic at the windows because it seems like people are coming in and cutting in on those with numbers.  It was then I realized that some of the people at the windows were dealing with papers for lots of people!  Whats this then??? 

Patti then explained it to us.  She and a lot of the people were helpers who dealt with immigration.  For a fee they took care of the paperwork and the filing of the documents.  Ok, that makes more sense now.  We took her card for future reference.

At 12:15 our number was finally called!  Up to the window we moved quickly so nobody would muscle in on us.  We handed the woman behind the counter our documents and said we were told that we needed to register our presence in Puerto Vallarta.  We thought we would just need a stamp on our books.  Noooooooo.  That was too easy. 

She handed us back more forms to fill out.  She told us to fill the forms out and return with them along with our original FM -3’s, photos (front and side views) and a copy of a utility bill for proof of address. We realized that this is more than a stamp and it is going to require more than one trip to immigration.  It could be 3 trips and 6 hours of time judging by some of the comments we had overheard this morning.  Then she dropped the bombshell….the forms had to be typewritten, not filled out by hand.  The typing also had to be lined up with the lines or they would not be acceptable.File:Underwoodfive.jpg

TYPED!!!  Who are they kidding?  Who has a typewriter anymore?  Yes typed.  Crap.  So we walked out in stunned silence wondering where the heck we were going to find a typewriter.  We know 3 people in town!  Good luck with that one.

We mulled it over for a few days wondering what we were going to do about this when we finally decided that we should call our Property Manager and see if he can help.  He did have typewriter that we could use if we wanted.  The next day we headed over to his office to try to type this document. 

For fifteen minutes Heather tried to line up the paper on the roller so the type would hit where it was supposed to.  It was futile.  Half of the problem was that neither one of us had used a typewriter since the early nineties so we were out of practice.  She finally got it lined up to where she thought it should be and pressed the first key.  Damn, not lined up correctly.  Erase, try again.  Nope, not right.  This went on for at least an hour and she was unable to get one line on the form done.

Frustrated was not the word.  Anger was building and building quickly.  After about an hour and a half of frustration Heather threw in the towel.  We thanked them for the use of their typewriter which both us wanted to throw out the window to see it hit the parking lot below and left the office. 

Now what are we going to do?  We were miserable failures at typing and that is how the form needs to be filled out.  We got home, opened a beer and called Patti. 

Patti did it all.  We only had to go to immigration once to be finger printed and get our documents.  It was easy and we spent no more time in line. 

We phone her every year now.

The Journey to Casa Madera – Ok, We’re Here, Now what do we do?

December 13, 2010 – Heather and her mother Barbara, who is visiting from Wetaskiwin, just went into town to see Berta, our seamstress who will be making some curtains for us.   After that they will be off to the printer to agree or disagree with the new business card design, hit Colchorama to buy a new mattress, and stop at the store to pick up a few necessities.

The Malecon bridge over the Rio Cuale

Everyday life here in Vallarta.  Not much different from Canada, NOW!  When I think back to that first day after we arrived and realized we had absolutely no idea what to do about anything I marvel at how far we have come in such a short time….

November 17, 2008 – First morning in our new home.  We had hit the grocery store the night before to get a few groceries so we would have the some of the important things in life like food and of course, coffee!  So we made some coffee and Heather set about trying to make breakfast.

The condo we owned was not the largest, about 450 square feet, but it was purchased with retirement vacations in mind and was mainly an investment.  When we bought it we had no idea we would be living in it full-time 2 years later.  So of the 450 square feet, about 10 of it was the kitchen.

The Kitchen

There was no stove, only a hot plate so Heather plugged it in and started trying to fry some eggs.  She put the pan on the burner and cracked the first egg.  She then felt her right hand go numb.  Figuring that she had hit it on the side of the counter she cracked another egg and then as she her hands got close to the frying pan both arms went numb.  It was then that we realized that there was something seriously wrong with this appliance so she got a plastic spatula and removed the plug from the wall.  I carried the offending item outside to the garbage.

Well ok, what do we do now?  We had brought a new hot plate with us from Canada so it was unpacked and put into use.  Well we at least tried to put it to use.  It was a three prong plug.  There were no three prong outlets in the entire condo.  They were all two.  Apparently grounding was not big in Mexico in the eighties when the condo was built so we were going to require an adapter to plug the hot plate in.  Microwaved eggs it was and they were delightful.  Well not really but hey when you are hungry you make do.

The Beach by our condo

After breakfast we thought we should head out and see our property manager who had been taking care of the condo for us.  His office was on the other side of old town.  It was a nice day, the sun was shining so we decided to walk.  We were noticing that a lot of the small family run stores that we passed were closed.  It was then we found out that it was a holiday celebrating the Mexican Revolution.  Well we were three-quarters of the way to his office so we kept going only to find it locked up tight.

Street in Old Town on the way to Ted's office

That took us 2 hours and we were soaking wet and wilted from the heat.  Just not used to it.  So down the hill from his office to a sandwich shop for something cold to drink and a snack.   We hopped on a bus from there and hit Wal-Mart to pick up some converter plugs so we could plug in the hot plate and few other things that we needed.

The next day we returned to the property managers office, however this time we went by bus, so we smelled a lot better!  Not in today.  Oh well at least we could get an appointment.

As we were standing outside of his office enjoying the view of the Bay of Banderas below us I noticed that across the street was the realty company that our favourite rental agent had gone to work for so we thought we would drop by and see if he was in.  Nope, out.  Well, 2 for 2.  Well what shall we do now?

One of the many beautiful views in the Bay

We were standing the company’s parking lot deciding that, when a car backed in and two people got out.  I recognized one, William Michael, who had shown us the condo next door to ours when he had it listed for sale.  He had been sending me email since then which always had his picture attached.  As I asked if it was him, the other man said I know that voice, that’s Kevin.  I had spoken to Robert about 5 times the last time we were in town about rentals and I was kind of surprised, I never thought of my voice as distinct.

Either way it was nice to see faces we knew and to finally make a connection with someone.  We made dinner plans for the following week and let them get back to work.  Since that time they have become some of our very dear and close friends.  And they still handle real estate and rentals for us through Vallarta Escapes.

Fishermen pulling their nets at dawn
Fishermen pulling their nets at dawn

Later that night we were sitting in our living room watching the movie SWAT on TV in spanish.   It was warm in the condo, 24 degrees, and no breeze so we were both sitting there waiting for the oscillating fan to blow our way.  Our condo had absolutely no flow through ventilation so a fan or air conditioning was in order.  We could not use the living room a/c unit as we used it on Sunday night and after 20 minutes water started pouring out of the unit.  That was a little frustrating so it was at this moment unusable and one of the items on our list of things to talk to the Property Manager about.

We had hired the Property Manager very quickly after buying the condo as we needed someone to pay the bills and look after the rentals.  We had already decided that we would relieve ourselves of him at the end of the year but there were a few things we needed done first.  The air conditioner needed repair, we needed a new toilet as the old one just was not working properly and we needed internet.

He is a nice man and was good at his job, bills were paid and things were looked after.  He was hard to get to see sometimes when we were in town but we always did get to see him.  He loved to talk and we got a lot out of those talks.  We listened and realized that it may take persistence but we could do a lot things our selves it would just take time.  We look back on those times fondly because without him we would not be where we are today.  He introduced us to Robert, the best rental agent in the bay (and the only one who could rent our condo) and Lupe, the fastest and best damn housekeeper we have ever seen.

We met with him the next day at the appointed hour, 10:00 Am for our usual 3 hour appointment.  We discussed the state of the economy, what it is doing to business in Mexico, what is happening with our condo, what needs to be repaired and what needs to be paid.

He asked if we had gone to immigration here in town to register and let them know we were here.  We had not but we said we would.   We left his office at 12:30 and headed for our favourite beach restaurant, The Lazy Lizard.

Los Muertos Beach, PV

We got there and it was closed and the space was for rent.  For rent?  Many times we had sat under their palapa’s and talked about how we would run the place as it was rarely busy which always seemed odd to us as it had the cheapest drinks on the beach, reasonable food and fun waiters.  Maybe we want to open a bar instead?  This was something that was going require some thought.  We wandered on down the beach in search of a cheap bucket of Corona to enjoy our afternoon with thoughts of bar ownership in our heads……

Maybe.......

Next up….the visit to immigration….ugh