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Monday, January 31, 2011

1/30 Business as usual in Mexico

One of the things I enjoy most about Mexico is how differently they do business. There is a flavor to it that is much more than a difference in language. It all seems so laid back and relaxed and that attitude permeates life here. They are wonderfuly hard workers at the same time that they are in no hurry at all. Theirs is a life of daily closures for siesta time and the fact that almost nothing is open on Sundays. Most early mornings are starkly quiet and most restaraunts don't start serving dinner until after 7pm. Its "Island Time" to the max and visitors can never forget that manana doesnt really mean tomorrow it just means "not today."

Even in the smalles of towns everyone seems to be in business. All it takes is a small store front and your good to go. For that matter you don't even need a store front. A blanket and a piece of ground is all one needs to lay out their wares. Most of the stores are run by family and offer a limited supply of goods. The local small tienda's selection may be only a half dozen types of fruit, a few heads of lettuce or cabbage and corn and flour tortillas, cold beer and bottled water. But it sometimes seems like there are half a dozen stores on each block. Every store though has a metal rack or two holding snack cakes and cookies in small packs (the mexicans must have a sweet tooth because the rack is almost always front and center.)

Wherever there foot traffic there is a business. No store front? You just need a piece of sidewalk or street. The only requirements for a restaraunt are a couple of plastic tables with chairs, some tortillas and meat of some kind, a bag of ice in an ice chest with a few beers and cokes thrown in, a few limes and a charcoal grill. Walla! Many have no signs and often have no menu at all. We are sometimes confused as to weather a place is serving meals to the public or if it is just a spill over of the family kitchen. It's a regular occurance to see your waiter slip out the door and run to the closest store for that coke light you just ordered. In fact as dinner time rolls around you see the cooks emerging from the tiny local stores with arms full of fresh produce, cheese and meat for the nights offereings. One place we have been to for advertised nights of music has completely run out of food for the evening, twice.

The entrepenuership here is truly amazing. Get a good price on watermellons? Fill your truck bed, pull over and wait. Live near the bus route? During peak times a fellow climbs aboard for one stop and then walks down the asle selling individual servings of chips and pauses to shake the salsa on as you watch. The buses too are a favorite for selling packets of stickers or small packets of sewing needles, or fake tattoos and comic books. They climb on, hand out their wares and then work back through the bus picking up either the unwanted merchandise or the required pesos. I find it baffeling that there is a fellow here in La Cruz who has two trampolines( I wish I knew the whole story behind that,) he sits at the edge of the main square selling jumps on his trampolines. They are decorated and even have lights for the nighttime jumpers. Day after day, night after night he sits in his folding chair in front of a small TV watching soap operas or soccer and waits for someone to want to jump. I personally have never in a month seen anyone so inclined but Bill swears he actualy saw some kids jumping around inside once.

Food is forsale everywhere. Have a hankering for some hot corn on the cob? Most evenings there is a fellow who pushes his wheelbarrow through town selling roasted and spiced ears. One of my favorites to look at is the wooden push cart filled with colorful sweets. There are candied sweet potatoes, gummy worms and dried mango, a rainbow of pastel marshmallows, lemon peanuts, spiced pecans, jewel colored gum drops, hard candies and luscious carmels. In the heat of the day he is always followed along by a buzz of hungry bees.

Anything and everything can be sold out of the back of a truck. If it moves there is always the accompanying loudspeaker calling out their arrival to each new neighborhood. Tonight we saw two men with a pickup filled with mattresses and hand hewn wooden bed frames. They slowely drove the streets of La Cruz de Huanacaxtle loud speaker blaring, patiently looking for anyone who just might decide tonight is the night to buy a new mattress. There are trucks full of giant bottles of water, propane for home delivery, bread and donuts and vegetables and fruits, trucks that sell clothes and trucks that sell housewares. And several times every week in every individual town there are markets. Herein La Cruz we have the Sunday Market(jewelry, art, local handcrafted items and fresh baked empanadas mmmmmmm) Wednesday Market(used clothes, housewares, coconut juice and toys and games for the kids,) Thursday Market(vegetables, sweets, fresh fish and shrimp and artisan breads.)

If whatever you want isnt available it is as likley as not that you will be told manana. "Manana we will have for you." Manana never seems to come but they will smile and asure you again. Or you may need something specific so you go across town to find a certain business. You make a point of not going on a Sunday (most everything is closed on Sunday)and surely not on a monday and definitely not during siesta time. You find the business but the big rolling door is closed. No note, no listing of hours of operation, no idea. It is almost impossible to tell by looking at the writing above a rolled up door if the business is even in business. But don't let looks fool you. Just because it looks abandoned doesnt mean a thing. Its just not open right now.

Away from the small towns the stores usually have lots of security people around in full uniform. The more epeletts and flapped pockets the better the security force it would seem. In one mall we entered it lookrd like there were more security personal than there where customers. Near banks, cash machines and silver stores they security looks more secure as they cradle their machine guns. Loaded I presume. At the Wallmart or the Mega(the big box grocery store) they are militant about not allowing you to take in any bags or packages and so employ people to stand at the entrance to spot the bag holders. So you stop at a desk at the entrance and exchange your bags and packages for a numbered ticket. At one marine store we were the only customers in the store and the only gringos around. We left our bags in exchange for a handmade paper ticket that said "7." When we finished shopping we returned and fumbled for our number. Ours were the only two bags in their rows of cubbies. The two people at the cashiers desk, the salesman and a uniformed guard all watched as we fumbled through pockets. No 7, no back packs.

Then there is the guy in every town who asks you if you want to go fishing or sightseeing. He sometimes is behind a desk or at a stand but often is just walking the streets offering first rate services in helping you find the worlds best fishing, whalewatching or zipline trips. He is just as likley to be at his corner at 10:00am on as he is to approach you at midnight in the square on a Saturday night while he's hanging with his buddies drinking cervesas. He is always hopefull that you will finally change your mind. Or maybe all the gringos look alike? We have though finaly learned the trick to stopping the timeshare sales crews from going into their long spiels. You simply tell them "vivo aqui." Which means "I live here." It goes to reason that if you already live here you have no use for a time share so, walla you are left alone. One persistent fellow in Mazatlan kept approaching us night after night. He was good natured and often showed his sense of humor. One night we were walked along in the hotel zone and after once again turning down the chance at an amazing one time offer he perked up and grinned then asked Bill who now sports a ponytail if he would maybe rather have a good haircut!

Here in Banderas Bay the area is so spread out (we are nearly 30 miles from downtown Puerta Vallarta) so when we need to go shopping it takes most of the day. Oh and you never know how much the bus is going to cost you. I swear every single time we have taken the bus it has been a different price. A gringo tax seems to always apply as they decide weather or not to give us a paper ticket in exchange for our fare. Mostly it seems dependent on the drivers mood. We are still not sure what we are supposed to do with the paper tickets when we get them. Though once in Mazatlan an official looking person actually came on the bus and asked us for our ticket! So now I pack them away until I have a pocket full and then reluctantly leave them off in the trash. I think the tickets are supposed to help the bus company acocunt for how many passengers the driver picks up but it seems about 30/70 weather he gives us one or not. Oh and the bus company employs a fellow to help you get on the right bus. He stands or aften sits in a chair and yells out what bus is coming. Though the stops are listed in big letters on the bus windshield. Just the other day I finally figured out that there are actually two sets of bus stops. They hopscotch each other along the main thoroughfare and one has to be carefull not to stand helplessly at the wrong bus stop. The city buses are full, noisy and often have no shocks. One we have caught has places in the floor where you can watch the street pass by below you. The ATM buses have soft seats and even curtains on the windows to keep the sun out. There is no difference in price and no ryme or reason to their schedule. Yetat some seemingly random point the ATM becomes and express and goes from stopping and starting wherever and whenever to driving you a mile past your destination while shaking his head and frowning at you.

All in all we are getting the hang of things. With a bit of persistance there are few things that we can't find here that we want. There are two Wallmarts, a Sams Club and a Costco here but there is a decided lack of cheddar cheese, natural peanut butter, 12volt inverters and stainless steel U-bolts. So far we have not found life unlivable without any of those things. Well, the lack of good peanut butter has us living on the edge! Kat

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Banderas Bay

The entire Banderas Bay area has been wonderful. There is a large cruisers community here (especially in La Cruz,) the choices of where to stay and what to do and see here are many, the provisioning is easy and the bus system is simple and inexpensive and it definitely is a great place to have friends or family come and visit.

We began our visit staying in the marina in La Cruz which is NW of Puerto Vallarta. La Cruz is a wonderful small town with a big community of cruisers and a wealth of live music virtually every night of the week. Marina Riviera Nayarit is sparkling new and full of activity. We arrived right before Christmas and stayed through New Years. We caught up with some of the cruisers we had met so far along the way and made some new friends too. They have a weekly cruisers movie night at the amphitheater on the breakwater (so far we made a showing of The Santa Claus and Master and Commander.) and lots of amenities like propane tank pick up and refill, laundry service and of course the very active daily cruisers net.

The cruisers net runs Monday through Saturday at 830am. They welcome new arrivals and offer up every conceivable form of help and information. If you need a part or have a question someone on the net invariably can help you out. They also act as a clearinghouse for the local happenings like dock parties, potlucks and the local live music and restaurant scene. After the net most boats monitor CH 22 which leaves us sort of an open party line for contacts.

From La Cruz it was simple and easy to catch a bus to explore old town PV, or the local suburbs of Nuevo Vallarta, Punta De Mita and Salyulita. It’s also just a short hop by boat to Yelapa or to the islands at Tres Marietas for snorkeling and diving.

It was the perfect place to pick up my friend Barbara for an 8 day visit and I will definitely remember this place when more family comes to visit. While she was here we were able to show her a surprisingly complete slice of the cruising life including a day in downtown Puerto Vallarta, dolphins playing in our bow wake, dozens of Humpback whales , a 25# fish landed , fireworks for the New Year, a beach wipe out landing in our dinghy, an afternoon of snorkeling and even a couple of balmy afternoon naps. Not sure what we might have missed but I hope it all added up enough to get her thinking about her next trip with us…maybe the south pacific?

One of our favorite stops in Banderas Bay was a New Years Eve trip to Yelapa. Yelapa is on the southwest corner of the bay and accessible only by boat. Just for Barbara we found lots of whales on our trip across the bay. As we motored into Yelapa’s bay we were enchanted by the hobbit houses and luxurious Swiss Family Robinson estates.

We were met by Ricardo in his panga as he motored out to offer us his mooring –for a price- and after a bit of haggling he led us further into the bay. Once we were settled Barbara, Bill and I headed into town hoping to find something still open in spite of the holiday. Though most of the town was shut down getting ready for their own family holiday we wandered the winding streets and did eventually find a scrumptious New Years Eve feast –shrimp stuffed chili relleno for Bill and Barbara and grilled shrimp for Kat. The night was topped off by a wonderful fireworks display over the bay at midnight. The locals were firing off aerial bombs from one side of the bay and the small area of hotels across the bay was simultaneously setting off a display of their own. Under a star filled sky in the middle of the bay we sat feeling a bit like targets but bathed in the brilliant purple, silver, red and gold all while keeping an eye on the firework of downtown PV in the distance.

This tiny town was the first place we stopped that made us both Bill and I say….. “wow, I could live here!” The homes built into the rocky hills, the warm welcoming people, the winding paths, the small but close expat community, the clear cool waterfall that tumbled into a deep pool a short walk up into the hills behind town all enchanted us and made us want to keep exploring. The homes along the waterfront did remind me of living like Swiss Family Robinson and the homes the locals lived in along the winding paths of town were all a marvel of engineering enabling them to be placed on top of and around the boulders buried in the hillsides.

The only downside to our trip to Yelapa was the ever present presence of the mighty Pacific. For our first evenings foray into town the seas were calm enough that we could land at the concrete dock and we all slept like babies lulled by the gentle rocking. The next days’ landing was an easy and safe beach landing but by late afternoon the ocean was showing us her true spirit. A beach landing would have been impossible and the night was rocky and sleepless.

In the morning we headed to Punta de Mita. It was a short trip but we got in a great sail. On the way Bill spotted birds diving and feeding in the distance so we detoured and sailed through them. Its quite exciting to sail through the feeding birds but the added benefit is sometimes it means fish for dinner. We managed to land a 25# jack. Not my favorite eating fish…he’s chewy and pretty fishy but it was fun regardless bringing him aboard. In the midst of all that we were joined by dolphins on the bow and they put on a great show for Barbara.

Punta de Mita was memorable for our first real dinghy wipe outs. There was no dinghy dock so we gave it our best for a first attempt and failed rather miserably. On the way in we got damp…nothing to worry about really but a bit embarrassing. Barbara and I took off for awhile and Bill stayed with the dink and studied the waves. When we returned we took a moment to plan our escape. Unfortunately we havn’t gotten the rhythm of things yet and we took several waves right over the bow. One broke completely over my head. Thankfully I had zipped my glasses into a pocket or I would have been down one pair of prescription lenses! On the fourth wave we finally made it out past the breaking water. Luckily the only thing damaged was a bit of our pride. It was too dark to have much of an audience and a little water never hurt anyone. Once back to the boat we all grabbed warm showers and dry clothes and none of us were any the worse for the wear.

The next day we headed out to the islands of Tres Marietas. The Three Marietas are a national park area and very popular for snorkeling, kayaking diving and whale watching. On our way we saw some of the most amazing Humpback behavior we have ever witnessed. It is breeding season here so the males especially are very active. Bill and I have seen some great whale activity in the past around Vancouver Island and in Alaska but this was amazing. We ended up at one point in a small group of boats all watching a pair. The female was very relaxed and just slowly feeding and diving. The big male next to her on the other hand was doing his best to impress her. He was spy hopping, breaching and most amazing of all slapping his tail on the surface. Not just once or twice but dozens of times. He also acted quite aggressive moving in close to the boats even splashing one of the boats hard enough to soak everyone on board. He pushed again and again between the boats in a very pointed statement of “get out of my way.”

We spent one day going to Salyulita by bus. It is a bit touristy but very laid back and sort of boutique-ee. It’s mostly a surfing town and is filled with young people, great for people watching with lots of fruit stands and little restaurants and shops. On our way home from there I saw a man in the side of the road his hands full of little round wire cages. Each cage had a squawking green parrot.

Since the whale watching was so amazing we decided to take our last full day here with Barbara and see if we could find them again. This time we took a boat full of guests. They weren’t as active as on our last visit but everyone seemed to have a good time regardless. At the end of the day we headed into a different part of town for our last couple of days in the bay. We motored in to Paradise Village at about 4pm with a boat full of tired sight seers.

Paradise Village is in Nuevo Vallarta and is part of a private development. It was not our favorite stop but the marina was clean and well managed. Our only problem with it really is that it was so separated from the real Mexico. It is a development of Villas, condos and hotel suites complete with a zoo full of Bengal tigers and colorful parrots. Every hotel and condo unit has security and its impossible toeven walk through their lobby to reach the beach. The marina itself is on a series of canals that wind back into a swampy jungly area that boasts loads of iguanas and even has alligators. We took a dinghy ride up iinto the canals and it was easy to spot the huge reptiles high in the trees. We even saw one small green fellow swimming along in the murk. Pretty gutsy of him I think what with the other citizens lurking nearby. We didn’t actually see any alligators but we found one muddy bank covered with footprints and at one point there was something swimming below us in the murk! I carefully kept my feet and hands inside the dink and Bill made some attempt to not be silhouetted against the dark waters. Eventually one canal we chose got so shallow we were churning up mud with the outboard enough that we began to plug the water outlet. We decided it wouldn’t be too wise to get stuck out in the canals and have to try and drag the boat back through the murky waters ala’ Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart when the African Queen got stuck in the swamp. We returned with all our fingers and toes and got the outboard running right again in no time. Tomorrow we head south towards Barra de Navidad and hope to catch up with some of our friends. kat

Sunday, January 2, 2011

12/30 Riding the bus in Mexico

We love riding the bus in Mexico. Not only is it an easy and cheap way to get around it allows us to taste a slice of life we wouldn't otherwise have the chance to experience. A couple of days ago Bill, Barabara and I caught the bus into downtown Puerta Vallarta. The ride in from La Cruz requires two buses and takes nearly an hour. After visiting the core of old town PV -the center of the tourist town- we caught the bus back to the small town of La Cruz with a planned stop at Walmart for suppplies.
The names of each stop are written in shoe polish on the front window of each bus. You stand on the side of the road and wait for the right bus to come along then stick your arm out and flag them down. We caught the Wallmart bus but it turns out there are more than two Wallmarts and we were on the bus headed to the wrong end of town, we think. When we eventually caught the right bus we stepped on only to find that there were not any seats left. Barb caught a seat but Bill and I found ourselves stepping into a space where two seats used to be. As we lumbered along from stop to stop we held on for dear life to the seatbacks ahead of us. After a few minutes of stops and another ten or fifteen people had come aboard(the already full bus)we noticed that the floor below us was flexing beneath our feet. I turned and looked down and realized that I could see the street flashing by below me.
The bus continued to stop and more and more people climbed aboard. There were people boarding from the front door and the back door. Each time someone climbed on in back they would dutifully pass ahead from hand to hand their 6.5 pesos fare and then the crowd would again pass hand by hand their paper bus slip. One fellow who was just behind us grinned as he pantomimed pocketing the 6.5 pesos in exchange for his own bus paper.
As each new person boarded through the front door they would just barely get far enough in to allow the driver to close the door behind them. At the next stop a young woman boarded with two kids, one an infant and the other nore more than two. There was a local ahead of her who quickky settled down to sit on the dashboard of the bus and took the older of the kids onto his own lap. At the top of his little lungs the toddler made sure everyone on the bus understood that he had never seen this man before thank you very much. Barbara though got the great honor of taking the infant into her arms and she rocked him until we made our stop.
About half way through the trip a couple of musicians boarded and one began playing the bongo drums at top volumn as the other worked the croud for donations. Because between the traffic, jostling crowd, crying toddler and the grinding gears we obvioulsy needed to be entertained! Eventually we made it to Wallmart all for 13 pesos. Lots of people we meet take taxis and that of course is fine. For us though we prefer to save our money, ride the bus, meet the people and watch the world go by. kat