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…..

Good things come from dirty laundry, part 3 – Tonala

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fountain in pedestrian walk in Guadalajara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fountain and orphanage in the background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House hunting, frustration in any language!

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

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

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

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

Sometimes pool's come in a variety of colours!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shade and sun at the same time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a screwdriver, we can fix it!

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

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

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

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.

Where is Home Hardware when you really need it?

May 16, 2011 – It’s another spectacular day at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast in Nuevo Vallarta!  I never get tired of saying that.  I don’t know why.  Is it the weather?  The fact that the sun shines virtually every day?  The fact that the air temperature is at least 28C (82.4 F for those who follow the real temperature)  for 8 months of the year? Possibly, but I really think it is because we just having too much fun!

I am not now, nor have ever been what one would call “a handy kind of guy”.  My friends never invited me over to help fix something, build a deck or help with any other home improvement project.  Realistically I was eternally grateful for the fact that I had no idea what most particular tools were called.

Unfortunately since moving to Puerto Vallarta this has changed.  Since we bought the house which would become Casa Madera, it has changed even more.  It became necessary to learn what this tool is called and what it did.  This may seem like a simple concept for many people out there.  But imagine having to learn the English name and then figuring out what the heck it is called in Spanish.  It is entertaining for all, us who are trying to figure it all out and the poor guy behind the counter who is trying to decipher what spanish word we are trying to say.

Over the last few days Heather has been painting furniture to add colour to the rooms.  We decided that we really liked the Mexican painted furniture that we had seen around but being as we are inherently cheap did not want to pay what they wanted for it.  So we decided to paint it ourselves.

Unfinished Headboard

We went to the Berel paint store in Mezcales and explained to them what we wanted to do (in Spanish) and they set about putting together the best paint for the job.  We go to this store a lot since moving into Casa Madera so they know us now and are very good about taking the time to deal with the two home improvement rookies.  They have helped us immensely over the last year.

It does get easier every time we go to the paint, hardware, or plumbing store.  We have learned what to ask for and when to ask for help on how to use a particular item.  Those who work behind those counters have been great.  However it does remind of the first time I needed to go to plumbing store in Puerto Vallarta.

Heather painting the headboard

February 2009 – As usual we got up in the morning, made some coffee and headed for the beach to sit and enjoy the view.  We are still pinching ourselves everyday.  It is not cold, there is no snow and no threat of a winter storm warning.  Every day it is the same.  Sunny and warm.  Some might call that boring but I just call them jealous.

We only stay out there for 30 – 45 minutes as we do have work to do and like to get it done early so we can enjoy the rest of the day.  We return to the condo and find out that a water main let go and we have no water.  It will be a couple of hours before it will be fixed.  Oh well late showers today, no big deal.

It was then that Heather said, “you should fix the shower taps while the water is off”.  We had one tap that dripped continually.  We had already paid once to have it repaired which apparently did not work.  It was time to take it into our own hands.

We had looked at trying to fix this ourselves before but could not find a water shut off for the condo.  We saw the water main breaking as a good omen so I quickly grabbed my 3 tools, screwdriver, crescent wrench, vise grips and proceeded to take apart the taps to get at the “seat” of the tap.

We had decided it was the seat that had worn out over time and was no longer sealing allowing water to leak through.

I grabbed the piece and ran across the street to Groupo Amutio to see if they had a part.  I asked them in my best Spanglish and showed them what I was looking for.  The one man in the store who spoke English told me I would have to go to a plumbing store.  He told me that the closest one was 3 blocks away and how to get to it.

I took off towards the plumbing store and got there in record time for an old fat guy.  I showed them what I had and tried to make myself understood.  He looked at the piece and went to see what he had.  After about 10 minutes of going through every bag he had he finally said something in Spanish that I did not understand.  Luckily there was a man there who spoke English who said that the part is too old you will have to replace the whole thing.

Okay, I will take not one but two.  I might as well replace both while I have the chance.  It was then that I realized that I did not have enough money.  I had just put some pesos in my pocket and ran out the door.  I had left my wallet at home.  So, I told to hold those items there and I will be right back.

Off I ran back to the condo.   Ran in, got some more money and ran back.  This took about 15 minutes.  Now I was getting worried.  The water was off but really how long is it going to take them to fix this pipe.  I had nothing in the taps to stop the flow of water should the water come back on.  This was causing me great concern!

I made it back to the store picked the parts and ran back to the condo to get the repairs done.  I got the parts ready and reinstalled them in the way I took the out or so I thought.  I put the handles back on and gave them a test.  The water was still off but I could see that the handles were not moving the same as before.  They had way too much play, that and they were turning the wrong way.

The finished headboard

I took them apart again and tried to figure out what I had done wrong.  Good luck with that.  Where was Shell Busey when you needed him? For 20 minutes I sweated over the taps and finally thought I had it figured out.  I put in the hot water stem, put on the handle and it moved the way it should have so I did the same with the cold.

Just as I was starting to put the nut on to hold the cold water stem in the pipe the maintenance people pressurized the water system.  Muddy water was spraying everywhere!  I kept working the nut and finally the spraying water subsided. Heather was killing herself at the bathroom door.  I was totally soaked and covered with muddy water.

Between guffaws I managed to get the handle on the cold water tap and everything worked properly.  Water came out where it was supposed to, turned off when it was supposed to.  I had managed to replace the tap stems.  I was rather impressed with myself.

I figured I was already wet I might as well have a shower.  As I was drying off I looked up at the shower head.  Drip, drip, drip……

The Offal Truth!

May 1, 2011 – April was quite a month at Casa Madera Bed & Breakfast!  We were inundated with family!  Heather’s brother Kevin & family were here for 10 days leaving last Saturday.  It was a hoot.  We got to show them the real Mexico outside of the all-inclusive resorts.  Dinners at taco stands, trips to fruit markets, hot springs, surfing…you name it, we did it!  It was lots of fun with great food, great company & great sun!

Kevin, Laura, Megan, Joshua and us at Las Caletas!

Prior to their arrival Heather’s cousin, twice removed, Danny, was here for 10 days.  To us she is Heather’s aunt.  It was great having her here as it made Heather finally drag the sewing machine out of its purgatory and start to make curtains for our upstairs windows.  This will be a challenge but the material is bought, the sewing machine works, all we need now is curtain rods to span the size of the windows!  That could be fun but hey it’s Mexico, if you cannot find it at Home Depot there is some enterprising soul out there who will make it for you in iron! 

Danny got the same treatment, hot springs, dinners at taco stands, fruit markets and with the sewing angle, lots of visits to the material stores!  Heather quite enjoyed that as the writer’s attention span starts to waver in material stores after about 2 minutes.  So much so, I stayed home the day the two of them went into the big stores in downtown Puerto Vallarta

And then there was the biggest visit of all, my son Brendan came down with his buddy Ray to celebrate his 21st birthday!  21?  Crap!  I am getting old.  It seems just like yesterday he was sitting in a small wooden block trailer….and now he is an underwriter at Peace Hills Insurance!  Where did the time go? 

A 21st birthday only comes once so it needed to be celebrated in style.  Brendan and Ray were the guinea pigs for the family soon to arrive.  We took them to the taco stand we found in Valle Dorado one night after a wine reception Casa Madera catered at Vallarta Escapes

That was the night we met a Westjet flight attendant who is a Mexican married to a Canadian in the Armed Forces but has lots of vacation time and spends a month down here at time.  She was fun to talk to and was very vocal in how good this stand was.  And how right she was!  It was great, but I digress….

There were many things we did with Brendan & Ray but the big event was his birthday.  We needed to do something special.  Not your normal birthday experience.  Everybody can go to Montana’s, the Outback Steakhouse, or Bubba Gumps and wear a funny hat, but only here can you go to Naty’s Cantina!  As luck would have it Brendan’s birthday as on a Thursday, which is pork day at Naty’s. 

Heading into Naty's!

On Thursday’s they roast a whole pig.  Slow roasted, it is delightful but you have to work to get to the real good meat.  We go to Naty’s once a year, generally with Marni and Tony and this year was no exception.  They cleared their schedule to attend the birthday extravaganza!

It was walking into Naty’s this year that reminded me of our first trip to Naty’s in 2009.

February 26, 2009 – We have been in town for three and a half months.  In this short time we have heard about Naty’s Cantina from many people.  They all talk about going on Thursday, pork day.  We had heard about how good the pork was and how much fun the place was.  We had discussed this with Marni and Tony and decided that today was the day.  They had been there before but it had been quite a few years and could not quite remember where it was so we took a taxi.

The taxi dropped us outside of the cantina on a hill in a true Mexican neighbourhood.  It was a little daunting as we looked at the swinging doors, I know Heather and I were a little apprehensive as we approached the doors and pushed them open.  The doors opened up to a large concrete room with the standard plastic Corona tables and chairs.  Juke box playing Mariachi in the corner, we were uncertain whether they still did the pork so we asked.  The waitress said yes and to sit anywhere we liked.

Heather and I at Naty's the first time, note the empties behind us!

After taking our seats she asked what we wanted to drink.  Heather, Tony and I asked for Corona and Marni order a Coke.  The drinks arrived and we set about to taking in the surroundings.  Lots of concrete,  a couple of tv screens, curtains over the bathrooms with the sink outside the curtains.  Interesting place. 

We soon found that we would never go thirsty as the waitress brought our beer to us in a mop bucket filled with ice and 15 Corona complete with its own opener.  As we finished a beer the waitress would take the empties and put them on the table behind us.  

At this point they came around with a raffle that they had.  20 pesos got you into their reverse draw for a good bottle of brandy.  After the 25 tickets were sold, they started pulling numbers, last one in wins.  We were close, but no winner both times we did it.

After we were on our second beer around the table a plate of “offal” showed up.  Pork heart, liver, skin and intestines.  Complete with salsa and tortilla chips.  A plate that Anthony Bourdain would be pleased to see!  Us, not so much.  Sorry Anthony, none of us are big organ meat eaters so we picked over that plate.  However we did eat it so as not to be rude.  I noticed that the Mexicans in the place were not exactly attacking it with gusto either. 

Which "offal" piece would you like?

We had that on the table until we got to beer number 4 which is when the plate of shredded pork, chicharron (deep-fried pork skin and fat), beans and hot tortillas showed up.  It was delightful.  Hot, full of flavor and the chicharron was so good we asked for more which they readily supplied. 

What we really came for! Spectacular!

We had just finished eating when the Mariachi band came in the front door.  After a few minutes of wandering around they parked themselves and played.  Now, I like Mariachi music.  It’s just great.  However, when played in an enclosed concrete space it leaves something to be desired.  It is like being trapped in a car with a car stereo that could fill most stadiums playing the latest hot hip hop cd.  I believe it was louder than when I saw The Who at Northlands in Edmonton in 1976 and trust me that is saying something as my ears hurt for days after that concert.

Anyhow, back to Naty’s.  The beer bucket was empty.  We were full of pork and we were happy.  The food had been excellent but it was time that we wandered off.  We asked for the bill.  18 beer, 3 bottles of coke, big plate of pork, 380 pesos including tip.   A great meal and a great deal. 

Guess we are going to need another empty case....

March 31, 2011 – Brendan’s birthday.  Not much had changed at Naty’s except that they now counted the beer by the person regardless whether they were drinking beer or not.  There were 6 of us so we had to drink 36 beer and also because there were 6 of us we were the lucky recipients of 2, count em, 2 plates of offal.   Needless our cat and dog got extra treats that week.

Brendan & Ray, we have Pacifico where is the pork!

Try as we might, we did not make it to 36 beer.  We were just too full.  We just told them to charge us for the food, however they were good to us probably because we did make it to 26 and only charged us for what we had.  All in all a great afternoon that was complete with the prerequisite Mariachi band who did a lovely interpretation of Happy Birthday for Brendan!

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!