Strangers, Friends in Waiting

Heather is working in the Casa Madera kitchen this afternoon preparing appetizers for the No Reason wine reception tonight at Vallarta Escapes.  I do my part by staying out of her way and being the official taster. 

Watching her do this for the past weeks has caused me to think how far we have travelled in two years. 

The hosts at Vallarta Escapes are great friends to us and have introduced us to many people at these receptions.  It’s nice to have friends.  People we can count on when we are looking for something or someone.  People who can lend us a hand when need be or people that we can help out.  People to celebrate with at weddings, birthdays, arrivals, departures or to celebrate with for no reason at all except a bunch of friends want to get together.

It is nice to have friends to do that with.  We were so far from that 2 years ago it was ridiculous…

December 2008 – In the month we had been in Puerto Vallarta we had met a few people but a lot of them would really only be acquaintances.  We really only had two friends, Robert and William Michael until we met Marco and that friendship was in its infancy.  It meant that we did a lot of things ourselves.  Which was fine, we were independent people anyway.

The door bell rang one day when I was working on my computer in the condo while Heather was doing her work at the internet store because her computer was a Mac and was made of metal.  This was not a good thing in a condo whose electrical system was not grounded! 

I wandered down the stairs to the main door where a couple were standing.  They introduced themselves and said that they were looking for a place to rent for 3 months starting January 1st and the man next door said we were looking to rent ours.  I told them that he had misunderstood us but we were not renting the unit out now because we were living there. 

They explained that they come every year and stay in their time share in the Pelicanos and then look for a place to rent for the rest of the winter.  Time was running out.  The end of December was coming and they had yet to find a place to stay.  The couple took their leave and I went back to work not thinking much about it except to mention it to Heather later that day when she came home.

Just after the new year Heather and I were out for a walk one evening and we ran into the man from the couple.  I asked if they had found a place and he said they had.  They were renting a unit over in La Joya.  However his wife Marni was ill and was not moving out of the apartment.  Again we talked for a while and then bid him good night. 

Heather asked me what his name was.  I did not have the foggiest idea.  I know they introduced themselves when they came to our door but that was at least a week ago.  There was far too much rust in the cabeza to remember that little tidbit. 

The same thing happened about 4 or 5 days later.  We ran into him wandering around the complex later in the evening.  Again he explained that Marni was still sick and not leaving the apartment so he was forced to go to Blakes Sports Bar to watch his beloved Maple Leafs by himself. 

So we talked hockey for a bit, we said we were sorry that his wife was still sick and that he had to cheer for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  After a couple laughs we parted again for the night.

We started to see him quite regularly around the complex over the next week.  Always alone.  Marni was still sick so he was doing a lot of stuff by himself.  I still had absolutely no clue what his name was. 

Heather and I talked about that a lot.  We have been talking to him now for more than two weeks but we don’t know his name.  Do you just come out and ask or do you wait for the opportunity to present itself where it will just be dropped?  We decided to wait. (poor choice but hey we are both introverts)

It was about a week later when we ran into both of them in the complex.  Marni was feeling better and happy to be out of the apartment.  We talked for a while but still there was no dropping of his name (which I now find amazing for the amount of times that Marni uses it with an exclamation point). 

It was a that point when he asked us if we liked movies.  Well yes, but we have not gone to any recently, why?  He explained that they go to the movies on Monday afternoons.  They are inexpensive and you generally have the theater to yourselves.  They were going on Monday and would we like to come.  Sure we replied we would love to.  We arranged that they would come by our condo at 2:00 and we would walk over to the cinema’s.

Monday came and we still did not know his name.  When they rang the bell we went downstairs and finally said, “you introduced yourself to me in December but I have not been able to remember your name to save my life, please tell us what it is”.  With a giggle he said “Tony” and we were off.

I cannot remember what movie it was that we went to that day but it was good.  We wandered through the mall on the way back and stopped at Burger King for a cone.  It was a perfect way to get to know each other.  Marni & Tony invited us back to their place for a drink which turned into a couple before we wandered off. 

This became a regular Monday occurrence.  Movies, Burger King cone and then dinner and cards.  But Mondays also turned into Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays or any day of the week for that matter.  Dinners, lunches, drinks at Victor’s (home of the free tequila with every drink order), or just plain old wandering around. 

Marni & Tony had been coming to Vallarta for years and knew the town like the back of their hands are were not afraid to share their knowledge.  Over the course of those first 3 months we had a hoot.  It was like we had known them for years.  Now some will say it was because we were starved for company and at first some of that may be true but I really think it was due to the fact that we all fit nicely together. 

Tony and I shared the same affinity for Cerveza and Heather and Marni could just sit back and watch the destruction.  We have had a lot of firsts with Tony & Marni. 

The first bad movie, Quarantine (hey when there is nothing else at the theater in english you take what you can get), was so bad we still talk about it.

The first visit to Naty’s Cantina for pork day.  The first visit to the Mismaloya Beach.  The first drive into the Valle.  The first visit to Grenias’s (home of the best Arracherra in Vallarta).  The first visit to the Hot Springs.  They were also the first people to see our house which would become Casa Madera right after we bought it and did not run away screaming. 

The list is endless and without them it would have taken quite a long time for us to discover all of these things.  We still do movie day but it was not as regular this year due to renovations in our house. 

When it came time for them to go home the first year Heather and I were beside ourselves.  Now what the hell are we going to do, they had kept us so busy.  It was a difficult couple of weeks after they went home.  We could not wait for them to return in December. 

Today it is still the same.  They go home next Friday and while my son will be here for a couple of weeks to take the sting off, we will still be counting the days until they come back in December.

Great Times!

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!

You Want to Eat What???

February 8, 2011 – We had friends staying at Casa Madera a few weeks ago. Two couples, Doug and Linda who are Vallarta veterans and Bob and Susan who had never been to Mexico before. 

It was a great combination.  Doug and Linda were free with information and advice to the rookies who ate it up.  It was fun watching as Bob and Susan discovered what it was that caused us all to love Mexico so much. 

The highlight was the day that Doug suggested we all go to Tacos on the Street in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle for dinner.  So we packed everybody into the Jeep with Doug riding in the luggage compartment as he had a broken leg that needed to be kept straight. 

We arrived early enough that we were able to get a table without lining up and I wandered down the street to the local store to buy a bottle of wine for dinner.  This is an excellent restaurant food wise but it is not much to look at and I am pretty sure Bob and Susan were wondering where in Gods name we had dragged them to eat.

The Crew at Tacos on the Street

That changed the moment the food arrived.  It was great, grilled rib eye tacos, tostadas and quesadillas, it just does not get better.  Everybody loved it.  A great evening out, good friends & good food.

It was the start of something great and the next evening Bob & Susan ate in a small little hole in the wall in Puerto Vallarta.  They told us they loved it too.  The two of them had come a long way in a few days.  It reminds me of Heather’s and my eyes being opened to the variety of food available on the street a few years back.

December 15, 2008 – Time for a walk.  We had just finished dinner and were feeling cooped up inside our little condo.  We were just locking the gate when a Mexican man came down the hall with his hands full of paint and other building materials and stopped at the door next door. 

He smiled and introduced himself as Marco and explained that he had bought the unit a few months ago and was here to renovate the unit and get it cleaned up.  I had heard working next door and knew someone was there but we had never seen him.

We chatted back and forth for the next little while getting the details of what he was doing, how he was doing it and his schedule for the next week.  He explained that he is a Mexican National who has been living in the US for 20 years.  He is an American Citizen living in the Bay area but has a lot of family in Mexico.

One of the things he had been doing on this trip was reliving his youth and enjoying the food that he used to eat but cannot get in the United States.  He was especially interested in Tacos de Sesos but had been unable to find them yet.  We said our good nights and continued on with our walk.

A couple of nights later we were relaxing in the condo watching some tv considering going to bed because it was after 9:00 when Marco yelled up to our patio windows.  He was going out to see if he could find some Tacos de Sesos and would we like to come with him.  We wrestled with that for a while as we had yet to beat the Canadian responsiblity gene out of ourselves yet but finally we decided what the hell, it sounds like fun let’s go. 

So into Marco’s car we got and we were off.  Marco had done his research and had found out that there was a stand down by Casa Ley, a supermarket so we headed downtown.  he drove slow through the area but could not find the stand. 

Marco was not going to be put off by this turn of events and decided to keep driving.  He knew there was one or more out there and he was going to find it! 

We continued driving around the northern end of el centro but we were not having any success.  It was at that point that he saw a young man standing at a bus stop.  He asked him in Spanish if he knew of any stands in the area that served Tacos de Sesos and he said maybe up the road and to the right.  That was enough so Marco asked him to get in.

Now there was something we were not quite ready for but Marco and passenger kept conversing in Spanish with Marco translating for us into English.  The man rode with us for a couple of minutes and then Marco let him out at another bus stop where he could catch his second bus.  He had pointed him in another direction so Marco had dropped him in a place where he would only have to pay one bus fare to get home.

We ended up in a part of town that Heather and I had never been in.  Marco was checking every stand for these tacos but no, not one of them had them.  He finally got to one that said that they had other types that interested Marco so we stopped. 

He ordered a taco whose name was indiscernable to me but it turned out to be breast of cow.  We agreed to try it and it was udderly fascinating.  Not quite up to my tastes, a little chewy but not overly offensive.  He liked the stand so he continued to sample the rest of their wares.

Next up, Tacos de Labia.  Cow lips.  Better than the udder ones, more flavour and not as chewy.  This was quickly followed by Tacos de Lengua or tongue.  I have never liked beef tongue so I let Heather have that one.  I stuck with a regular meat taco.  It was delightful, as was Heather’s tongue taco according to her.

Marco still obsessed with the Tacos de Sesos however and was questioning the stand owner about them.  We were in luck.  He had a brother who had a stand a couple of blocks away and he sold them.   

So back into the car we went and after starting to think we were going the wrong way we found the stand and yes, he had Tacos de Sesos.   Marco was like a child a Christmas, he was so excited.  Marco ordered two and only two because he had not had them for quite a while and was unsure about whether or not he would still like them.  After he liberally doused the first one in hot sauce he took a bite.  I watched with anticipation as he uttered the first words out of his mouth, “well these will be an acquired taste”.   

Immediately he added more hot sauce, salt , pepper, and offered a bite to us.  After his second bite he offered the other taco to us.  I passed  but Heather being the gamer that she is jumped right in with both feet.  Marco ordered a drink. Heather covered hers in hot sauce.  I steadfastly refused to touch it.

Heather ordered a drink.  I watched an Iraqi journalist throw a shoe at George Bush on the tv while trying not to gag at what they were eating.

Marco finally got his down.  Heather kept struggling.  Why you say did these two continue to struggle to eat these?  Well it would be an insult to the proud chef who was watching their every move to throw it out. 

So I ordered drink because they looked good.  Horchata, a drink made of rice water, sugar and cinnamon. Very tasty but somehow I doubt it would totally clear your taste buds of what was lingering there.

Heather was obviously struggling to keep the taco down but she was still working on it.  I kept expecting Jeff Probst to jump out of a truck, but no there were just a lot people wondering what the gringos were doing in their neighbourhood.

Marco may have had his Tacos de Sesos but he was not done yet.  He then a Taco de Ojo, which he explained was to get the taste out of his mouth of the Sesos.  Again he offered a bite to us but Heather after just managing to get the other one down chose not to.  Me, not a snowball’s chance in hell was I going to try Cow eyes.  So Marco finished his Ojo and paid the man.  4 tacos, 3 drinks, 40 pesos….we said goodnight to the man and off we went home. 

Marco was a revelation to us.  We owe him a ton.  Without him dragging us out on this adventure we would have taken forever to get over eating food off of a road side stand.  He showed us what Mexico really had to offer and that while you may not like all of it or want to try it all there is a ton of food out there that is very, very good.  You just have to look for it and you will find it.   

And for that Marco we thank you from the bottom of our hearts!  Though honestly, I still cannot figure out why you will try all of that stuff and not eat an escargot.

Enjoying a Sunset Cerveza with Marco on Playa Las Glorias

As far as what are Tacos de Sesos?  If any of you are game to try Cow brains come on down and we will be happy to show you where you can get them.  The stand is permanently ensconced in our brains.

Does anybody still own a typewriter?

Aerial view of marina, cruise ship docks and d...
Image via Wikipedia

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
Image via Wikipedia

 

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

The Journey to Casa Madera – Puerto Vallarta, our new Home!

December 7, 2010 – A month ago we sent our dog, Alexa, to training school.  She was good dog but we had bad dog owner habits that had made her a leader in the household instead of the 4th in line behind Heather, myself and Zorro the cat.  This needed to be corrected so she got a month’s vacation with Carlos at Dog Tag training.

Alexa and Zorro

The final stage of this training is training us on what to do and how to handle her.  This entails us going into Vallarta everyday this week for that training.  That can be a challenge at this point in time to say the least as on August 31, 2010 heavy rains washed out one of the bridges over the Rio Ameca which divides the two states, Nayarit and Jalisco.

What was remaining of the Northbound section of the bridge

This has caused quite the traffic mess as people work of both sides of the river and go back a forth a lot.  This is also the highway that goes to Tepic.  Needless to say there have been days when we sit in a traffic line up for an hour just to cross the river and because of this we only went into Puerto Vallarta when we had to.  This all changes tomorrow at 11:00 AM as they have finished rebuilding the bridge and traffic will once again flow smoothly between the two populated areas.

Fifteen weeks from the date the bridge went into the river, it has been replaced.  They worked 24 hours a day to get it done.  It is truly an amazing accomplishment.  But I digress….

One of the main things we like to do when we are on the other side of the river is find a fruit truck.  The fruit is farm fresh and much, much less expensive that at the grocery store.  Today we drove into Ixtapa when we were done with our training and found a truck selling Papayas, Pineapples, Watermelons, Mandarin Oranges, Apples and Cucumbers.  As we were picking our fruit I was reminded of the first time we bought fruit on the side of the road on our way into Puerto Vallarta….

November 16, 2008 – We were up early at the City Express Hotel in Mazatlan.  Breakfast was included in our room so we loaded up the car and headed to the lobby to chow down.  The hotel was new and they were still working the kinks out so we had to wait a bit for them to get everything out but the coffee was ready so we were able to enjoy a cup.

All fed and watered we were in the car trying to find our way out of Mazatlan.  The GPS worked wonders and that was a good thing because while I am not normally directionally challenged I certainly was in Mazatlan.  I would have gone in totally the wrong direction!  However the GPS rescued us and we made the right turn and ended up on the road out-of-town.

It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was out and it was 24 degrees at 7:30.  This was the nicest morning we had on the entire trip down.  It was a perfect start to the day we arrived at our new home.

Lagoons south of Mazatlan

We had been on the road for only a few minutes when we hit the toll booth.  Now all of the toll roads we had been on so far were smooth, 2 lanes and nice to drive on.  Today….it was a toll road but is was a 2 lane toll road, one lane in each direction!  Speed limit 110.  Straight as an arrow.  Oh and no shoulder.  Sigh…

In Mexico they build the bridge before they need it!

It did eventually change back to a 4 lane but that did not last long, only about 50 kilometers and then it was back to the 2 lane.  A 2 lane that began to climb about an hour out of Tepic, Nayarit.  It did not finish climbing until we got to Tepic.  The other problem with this toll road was that it was no longer straight.  It turned here, it turned there.  It was like a road race set except you don’t find buses in a road race set going 110 on a twisty turny road.

It turned out the road was still under construction so being as it was two years ago maybe some of the curves have been ironed out or at least maybe it has been twinned.

We were quite happy when we got to Tepic as it was the final major center on our journey.  161 kilometers to go.  That won’t take long.  It was about 11:30.  The GPS was telling us that our arrival time in PV would be 4:00 pm.  What the heck?  It was 161 kms.  No way.  Even allowing for the time change from Mountain to Central, that is still 3 and a half hours.  It must have miscalculated.

Woo Hoo!

So we left Tepic knowing that we will be in Vallarta soon.  Certainly well before 3:00 pm.  It was then the highway got narrower and hard to believe, twistier!  The speed limit was 60 kph and I could not get to it.  It made the Trans Canada Highway outside of Golden, BC look like it was straight as an arrow.  To top it all off most of these corners were on cliffs where Heather was looking straight down.

Did I mention the buses who were riding my bumper.  Cars were passing on the 75 feet of straight highway between corners.  Needless to say we started to drive even slower as we had not driven this far to go over the side of the cliff.  Luckily there are little pull outs on the side of the road here and there where you could escape to let people by.

Dangerous curve, no FREAKING kidding!

While the driving was hairy, the scenery was spectacular.  We thought it might be similar to the Alps with the lush farming fields in the distance and views that went forever.  It was beautiful.  However, I was ever so happy when we came off the hills down into the town of Compestela and the road flattened out.

Spectacular views

We stopped at an Oxxo store and picked up some drinks and junk food for the rest of the drive.  Evidently the GPS was going to be right and we would have another 2 hours on the road.  It took us an hour to go 31 kilometers.  We still had 130 to go.

The drive did not get any less pretty.  Rainy season had just ended a few weeks previous and the jungle was lush and spectacular.  There was a canopy of trees and vines over the road.  Really cool.

As we moved towards Puerto Vallarta we started to see fruit stands on the side of the road.  After passing about 30 of them we finally stopped at one.  The woman and her daughter who ran it were all over us letting try this fruit and that fruit, many we had never seen before.  Some was ok, some would be an acquired taste.  But one thing that was purchased was a Pineapple.  10 pesos for about 2 kilo pineapple.  She had given us a taste of one they had cut, oh so sweet and juicy.  I had never tasted one so good so it was a no brainer, a pineapple for a buck.  We had to buy it.  Hopefully it will be as good as the one she gave us.

It was about an hour later when we saw the sign for Sayulita, Nayarit.  Something familiar, finally.  We had visited Sayulita in 2006 when we were in PV with my kids.  A beautiful little beach town.  With nice gentle surfing waves it is a very popular place and gave us a very California in the sixties kind of feeling.  A nice place to spend a Sunday.

The final push, 30 kilometers left.  Over a mountain.  Lots of traffic but it was slower as the climb made it difficult for trucks and buses to move fast.  The next thing we knew we were thrust out of the jungle onto the four lane highway by La Cruz de Huanacaxtle.  We had made it.  4 lanes all the way now.  What a relief.  20 days after we had left Edmonton we had finally reached our destination!

Ahhh

We drove through town finally starting to relax until we pulled into the area where our condo was located, Plaza las Glorias.  Now the fun part, finding a place to park.  Our condo was in a retail, office complex that was surrounded by 3 hotels.  It was a busy area so parking could be a premium and it was this day.  We finally found a spot in the middle of the street and started the unloading process.

Almost there!

We were getting the second load out of the car when a time share sales rep named Juan approached us and asked if we wanted some help.  He was probably looking for someone to sign up for a presentation but it was a hike to the condo from where we were parked so we said sure.  His help probably saved Heather and I three extra trips.  We said thanks and offered to buy him a beer later but we never saw him again. (and we did look)

Almost full

We stood in our kitchen (20 square feet of kitchen) and surveyed the living room.  It was packed with stuff.  Well what should we do, unpack?  Nope, off to Casa Blakes Sports Bar to say hi and have a well-earned cerveza!

Time for a well earned Corona!

The Journey to Casa Madera – Hey, Who washed my car?

December 1, 2010 – We had guests last Friday night, Ray & Jan from Sherwood Park, Alberta.  They are friends of friends of ours.  They were staying the night on their way to Barra de Navidad for a week with their friends who were due to arrive on Saturday.

Lagoon Beach at Barra de Navidad

 

We have been using our Jeep for many things like picking up cement, sand and other building materials while we renovate our house.  Generally this occurs about 5 minutes after I have had the car washed, much like the one cloud in the sky that immediately rains on the car when you are not looking.

Shops in Barra de Navidad

 

The problem with transporting these items in the back of the Jeep is that sand bags leak so sand gets all over the back of the car.  We were picking Ray & Jan up at the airport, so a complete wash of the car inside and out was required. So off to the Eco Car Wash I go.  For $75 pesos they do the complete wash, vacuum and dry.  As they do a very thorough job it takes them about 45 minutes so I normally take my book and retire to the tables with the umbrellas and have a cerveza.

Sunset from the Condo in Barra where our friends spend their vacation at Playa Grande

 

This day I was having a difficult time getting into my book and was distracted.  I was remembering my first Mexican Car Wash in Ciudad Obregon a couple of years previous.

November 15, 2008 – 7:14 am  16 degrees Celsius warming up! – We had a relaxing evening in a nice hotel with comfy beds.  We slept well but we are both early risers and were awake at 6:00.  We strolled out of the room and started packing the car for the day’s drive to Mazatlan, Sinaloa.

As I was standing by the car making space for Heather’s Mac I noticed that my windshield wipers were folded out.  Hmm that’s odd I thought.  It was then I noticed that I was standing in water.  That was even odder as it did not rain during the night, there were no sprinklers on and there was no other evidence of water on the ground except by our car.  What the heck?

It was then I noticed a small Mexican man coming towards me with a bucket.  It appears he was in the middle of washing our car and went to get more water.  He was talking to me in Spanish so I was lost after he said Buenos Dias.  However I soon realized he was bound and determined to finish the job he started but could not get to the roof so he had gone to get another bucket to stand on.  He proceeded to finish the wash.

I was lost.  What the hell do I do?  Do you pay him? Is he paid by the Hotel?  Do you tip him?  What?  I noticed at that time that quite a few cars in the parking lot had their wipers up and realized that it was the sign to wash the car.  So either someone had done it for us or he saw the Alberta license plates and did it himself.

He did a great job.  The outside of the car was spotless.  He rinsed, washed with soap, rinsed and hand dried.  Neither Heather or I knew what to do so I handed him $20 pesos as I tip.  He smiled and said gracias so we figured it must have been ok.  I have been to a few car washes in Edmonton who could learn a lot from this old Mexican on how to actually wash a car.

We checked out of the hotel and decided to forego the hotel breakfast and hit either McDonald’s or Carls Jr. on our way out-of-town.  This was a tactical error.  It was Saturday and we were used to places like this being open at 6:00 or at least 7:00 am.  Not so in Ciudad Obregon.  The signs said they would open at 9:00.  Now what do we do?  Luckily we had a cookie left over from the day before so we decided to just grab a cup of coffee somewhere and hit the highway and catch some chow in Navojoa, Sonora.

Out of the city we came up to the toll booth.  We had decided to stick to the toll roads or Autopistas as they call them here.  They are straight, in great condition and generally divided with two lanes.  And did I mention straight.  There are a few sections that make the QE2 between Edmonton and Calgary look too twisty.

We got to Navojoa and found nothing that was close to what we wanted for breakfast but we did find a Soriana.  Soriana is your standard supermarket like Safeway.  We wandered in and looked around.  We picked up some Yogurt drinks, some mandarin oranges and starting looking for something that would fill the gaps.

They had a large hot food section at the back of the store but we had never bought anything like that before in Mexico so we really did not know what to do.  It was 9:00 am so the store was still deserted.  We were hoping we could just hang back and watch to see what the other shoppers did but there were none!  We finally just got over it and went up to the counter.  We still could not figure out what to do but a woman came over and realized that she was dealing with two twits from Canada and served us.

Apparently you ask for a container, grab the tongs, take out what you want and hand it to her for labelling.  Well now we know!  We purchased 4 pieces of Fried Chicken.  Yep, Fried Chicken.  We did not recognize anything else in the case so we went with what we knew!

Off to the checkout we went.  46 pesos later we grabbed our chicken, yogurt drinks and mandarins and headed out to the car where under the watchful and curious eye of the security guard we ate breakfast.  Now I realize we were hungry but that Fried Chicken was phenomenal.  The chicken had flavour, it was delightful. The security guard looked relieved when we started the car and drove out of the parking lot.

Back on the highway.  Another toll road.  Nice.  Speed limit 110.  Locked the cruise in at 110, lord knows we don’t want to be stopped.  We were the only car going 110.  The average speed was running between 130 and 140, even the buses!  Worse the buses would drive down the center of the road, only moving over to pass another vehicle.  It was a little nerve-racking but I had driven the old 79 Dodge Motorhome on the QE2 I was kind of used to being passed.

Note the total lack of anything that might resemble a shoulder!
Note the total lack of anything that might resemble a shoulder!

 

As we moved through Sonora into Sinaloa the terrain began to change.  Sonora was high desert for the most part but we never really noticed the downhill as we started to level out from ranch style land to farm land.

Corn processor

 

Sinaloa is a farming state.  There were greenhouses everywhere made of plastic.  Tomato’s are their major crop, so much so that they have a tomato in the middle of their license plate.  It appears that most are grown hydroponically hence the green houses but there are also many areas where the plants were in the ground.

One thing that startled us was the fact that people just came out of nowhere.  We were clipping along at 110 kph and all of a sudden a man would appear out of the grass in the ditch.  Never locked up the brakes but it certainly gives the heart a stop!

Aside from the odd person wandering out of the ditch it was an uneventful day and we rolled into Mazatlan at 4:00 pm.  Found a City Express hotel with a nice room with a pool and breakfast for $67.00 Can.  It was 4 months old and very close to the tourist zone in Mazatlan so we cleaned up and headed out to see the town.

Mazatlan!

 

We were not ready for dinner yet and just wandered.   After wandering for a couple of hours and looking at hundreds of menus we decided to go eat at the next restaurant we stopped at.  The menu looked good and it was coming off of a wood grill.

We sat down and I ordered a beer.  “We are not licensed so we do not serve it” I was told.  “You can go to the store and buy some if you like and bring it in”.  Say what?  I bring my own???  That was new one to me.  I could not shake that Canadian feeling that there was just something wrong with that so I ordered a Coke.  Ahh, Coke in an ice-cold glass bottle.  I had forgotten about that.  There is no better Coke than one that comes out of an ice-cold glass bottle so I did not miss the beer!

It was then we spied another group of tourists in the place who were uncorking the bottle of wine they brought.  They obviously knew the drill and had been here before so the food must be good.

And it was.  Oh it was tasty.  It was the best dinner we had on our travels over the previous 3 weeks.  Nothing even came close.  It was pretty amazing for a restaurant that only had walls around the kitchen and whose roof was vinyl Coca Cola awning.

We retired back to the hotel looking forward to the last day of our journey to Puerto Vallarta and the day our lives would totally change.

The Journey to Casa Madera – The Big Scary Border

November 28, 2010 – We are downstairs sitting by the pool. It is a sunny, beautiful day.  Temperature is heading for its usual 28 degrees.  Just another spectacular Vallarta day.

Today is a special day.  Nobody is working on the house.  We have it to ourselves.  The only sound we hear is the pool fountain and Aretha Franklin.  It is divine.  We love the men working on the house, they are great guys but we have two weeks left before they will be done.

Alfonso Jr., Marco, Alfonso, Roberto, Me

It is nice to be alone.  However, it is also Grey Cup Sunday.

 

Saskatchewan Roughriders Logo
Image via Wikipedia

The one day of the year that most Canadians gather around tv’s with their friends to watch the biggest Canadian Football game of the year.  When I was growing up it was known as the Grand National Drunk.  It may not get called that anymore, but it certainly still is.  It will especially be that in our hometown, Edmonton as it is being held there in -7 degree temperatures.  They have been partying for 3 days.  It looks like it should be a great game.  A pity that my Eskimos will not be there but being westerners we still cheer for the western team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Walk into virtually any bar in Canada and you will find someone wearing their green and white jersey.  Once a Rider fan, always a Rider fan.  The people from Saskatchewan may relocate across the great land but the green jerseys follow them everywhere.  Even to Puerto Vallarta.

Today we will become part of the Rider Nation (man that hurts).  We are venturing into town to Casa Blakes Sports Bar.  It will be full of Rider fans and we will be sitting with 2 of them.  Dale & Annette.  They live in Victoria, BC but Dale was a transplanted Newfie in Regina.  Who else would he cheer for?

We met them last year at the same bar for the same game between the same teams.  The bar is busy and you need reservations for Grey Cup.  Sue Blake  puts people together to fill all the tables.  She put us with Dale & Annette.  It was a riot.

Today we will be immigrants in the Rider Nation.  It is a daunting experience.  We felt their pain last year when they could not count to 13.  We will feel their pain this  year should they not come out victorious  but at the end, we will still be immigrants in a scary land.  Riderville.  Much like we were two years ago crossing the border into this great misunderstood land of Mexico….

November 14, 2008 – 6:48 am.  We were up and ready to go because the walls in the hotel were thin.  People had been moving about since 4:00 am.  So in our bleary eyed state we started the car and pointed it in the direction of the border.  D-Day was here.  Were we going to actually do it?  We were excited but we were also scared spit less.

The Big Scary Border

 

We had never crossed the border in a vehicle before, we had always arrived by plane.  Would we get through without an inspection from a corrupt border guard who was looking for money.  We did not know whether the stories were true about the customs agents in Mexico but we had everything we owned in that car and did not want to lose it.

We drove past the American checkpoint and crossed into Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.  There were no barricades.  You just drove through.  Hmm, that was odd.  We saw the immigration building and pulled in beside it.  We had arranged our immigration papers with the Mexican Consulate in Calgary and they had advised us that this white and red piece of paper had to be turned in at the border.

It was 7:00 am.  We walked in and located the one person who was working and handed her our documentation.  She looked at it and took it back to her desk.  She drank some coffee and slowly moved to the copier.  Photocopied the FM-3’s (our immigration documents) and our passports (the first time out of about 400 that they were going to be photocopied in the next two years).  She took the pieces of paper, stamped the documents and sent us on our way.  Was it that easy?  Wow.  Didn’t expect that.    However we still had to go through the customs checkpoint 12 miles down the road.  We still had that to look forward to.

We drove on right into the center of town.

Nogales. Sonora

It really is like driving into a foreign land.  It was so different.  Vendors in the middle of the road selling newspapers, food stands everywhere and lots of different things to catch your attention.

 

We found our way out-of-town still feeling like frightened rabbits.  There was nobody else on the road and we started to relax a bit.  The signs were all in Spanish but the gps had our backs.  It knew where we needed to go and lead us on towards the car importation station.

To bring a vehicle into Mexico it has to be imported.  You need a sticker.  To get that sticker you have to provide copies of your registration, your insurance, your passports (one more time) and a credit card guarantee that you will not leave the car in the country.  They charge you $30.00 US for this sticker.

We arrived at this station just before it opened are were not the first people there.  We were however the only people in shorts.  Did I say how freaking cold it was!  It was 7 degrees, not what we expected.  We waited in line and after an hour we finally got everything taken care of.  They gave us our sticker and some paper documents that we were to not to lose and return when the car left the country.  There was also some paper work that would be taken at a checkpoint farther down the road.

We left the station and there it was.  Customs.  Here we go.  For those of you who have never travelled to Mexico, they have a random inspection system that does not involve questions.  After you say whether or not you have something to declare you push a button.  Red they search your car and your bags possibly keeping whatever they find, green you drive happily down the road.

It was time, I pushed the button and GREEN LIGHT!!!!  The gate goes up and needless to say we were out of there as fast as we could go without attracting suspicion.  Not that we had anything illicit or illegal but we wanted the hell out of there while we still had all of our stuff.

The GPS said we had 24 hours to Puerto Vallarta so we knew we had 3 days of driving ahead of us.  It was 8:30.  Our destination for the day was Ciudad Obregon.  Did not know anything about it but knew it was approximately as far as we wanted to travel that day.

Wide open Mexican Landscape

 

We spent some time getting used to Mexican traffic and drivers not that there were a ton on the road, most were Americans and Canadians heading down for the winter.  We  tried to decipher road signs.  That was entertaining as what little spanish we knew did not include translating the verb usage on road signs.  Needless to say we just played it by ear but most of the time we had no idea what they meant.

Signs warning of a toll booth

 

9:30 – We needed a driver change and needed a bathroom.  Stopped at Pemex station which had a corner store attached to it and bought some water and some galletas (cookies) that we had no idea what they were about but the girl behind the counter told us they were good.  She was not wrong, they were delightful.  Nice soft cookies filled with cajeta (goats milk caramel) that were really tasty and to this day if we see them on the street we buy them.

A half an hour later we approached a military checkpoint.  Lots of men and lots of guns.  A little unnerving.  They wanted to see the vehicle paperwork.  We handed the soldier the form we got from the import people and he took a portion and waved us on our way.  Pheeww.  You just didn’t know what to expect.

We drove on to Hermosillo.  A big city.  We were in one lane and the GPS was telling us to turn left.     However, I had forgotten one thing about the roads in Mexico.  In a lot of Mexican cities they have a lateral road that is to access the businesses on the side.  It is generally also used for left turns.  We were a little stressed over this and could not turn left there so we went straight.

I should have turned left here

 

That actually worked out for the best because we were hungry and there, lo and behold, was a Subway!  A quick lunch and back on the road.

It was a nice drive to Ciudad Obregon.  The scenery was nice, we were more relaxed and beginning to enjoy our adventure.

Trucks waiting in line at a cargo inspection station

 

We got into town about 3:00 and looked a hotel.  We found Hotel Valle Grand.  It was $87.00 for the night.  The parking lot was secure with a guard.  We felt safe.  We unpacked the car and went out for a walk to look around.  It was hot and sunny.  We found a little sidewalk cafe ordered a couple of Corona’s and some chips and salsa and enjoyed the afternoon.

We sauntered back to the hotel and relaxed for the evening to ready ourselves for the big drive to Mazatlan in the morning.  We slept well that night.  We were comfortable, we were in a safe place, we were happy and we knew that things were going to turn out just fine.