Sunday, November 29, 2009

Goats, Pelicans, Markets, and Thanksgiving

One of the common features of living in Mexico is the presence of domesticated animals everywhere. This herd of goats grazes at least once a week on our street, Santa Margarita. The owner of the goats seems to take them to various places around Riberas, the small community between Ajijic and Chapala, where we live. Mexicans enjoy goat meat, particularly in the common chili-based stew, birria. They graze on almost anything green and always seem to have a voracious appetite. Cows, or Vacas, are also common sights around the community. They are usually tied up grazing by the side of the road or enclosed in pastures. Because everything is so dry here, especially now, it can be a challenge finding good places for livestock to graze.

Families often keep chickens as well. I can often see them walking around the yards of Mexican homes. Presumably they keep them for eggs and eventually for meat. Every morning we can hear a chorus of roosters who often don't wait for dawn to crow.

Horses are another ever-present sight throughout the community. It is common to see them tied up in front of homes or stores when we're in town. The Mexicans love to ride their horses around town, and some appear to use them as regular forms of transportation. We also see burros and donkeys. In the rural areas it is common to see old men in sombreros leading burros laden with firewood or some other cargo on dirt paths near the road.

This time of year, the American white pelicans have returned to their winter quarters here at Lake Chapala. They spend most of their time in the lake, fishing. The photo below is a common scene as the pelicans hang out with the Chapala fisherman who use the traditional fishing method of using a net. The pelicans are obviously hoping they will get some scraps.

These white pelicans are much larger than the brown pelicans we saw on the coast. (See the last post from Rincon de Guayabidos.) Apparently they are much more numerous on the south side of the lake where they tend to congregate. I rarely see more than a dozen at a time around here, although hundreds can be seen on the other side.

I thought I'd include some photos of the Ajijic
tianguis, or outdoor market. Each town of any size in Mexico has one day set aside for their market. In fact, this practice is common around the world. We saw these local weekly markets when we were in Italy in 1999 as well. In Ajijic, the market is on Wednesdays. Chapala has its on Monday, and Jocotepec on Thursday. We generally go to the Ajijic market which appeals more to gringos with more craft and jewelry tables, English-language movies, and more bi-lingual vendors in general. We generally buy most of our fruits and vegetables for the week at the tianguis, as well as fresh yogurt, fish and shrimp, cheese, granola, and flowers. When you go every week, you get to know the vendors, and they know what you like, which makes shopping easier. It's more crowded now as the "snowbirds" have arrived, so shopping can take a bit more time. Here are some photos of last week's market.

Last Thursday, of course, was Thanksgiving, and we gathered, as usual, with our friends from our Unitarian Universalist fellowship at Lew and Trudy Crippen's house. Turkeys are not a popular food here in Mexico, and so they are expensive to get. Typically a 8-10 kilo turkey (18-22 pounds) will cost about $40US. At our Thanksgiving, the fellowship buys two turkeys, which Lew and Trudy cook, and we all bring the other fixin's. Pixie always makes her New England style cranberry sauce, and this year we also brought pumpkin pie and hot crab dip. As you can imagine we have a wide variety of foods, and we bring containers to bring home leftovers for the next day. It's a lovely dinner on their terrace overlooking the lake. Lew always puts a football game on in his den for those who want to watch, but most of us just eat, drink and talk.

One final photo. Our good friends, Steve and Susan Barr, welcomed their son, David, his wife Susan, and two of their children, Amelia and Kaitlyn, to Mexico for their first visit. They took them to Guadalajara to the zoo, to the Centro area, to Mescala Island, and all around the Lakeside area. Here they are when they stopped by for a visit at our house.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rincon de Guayabidos

For the second year, we went to the beach for Pixie's birthday. After the difficult year we've had, we both were looking forward to five relaxing days in the sun. We chose to return to Rincon de Guayabidos, a fishing village turned beach town, about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast. We like this town because it is very Mexican, not very expensive, and friendly.

The trip to the coast is about a 5 1/2 hour drive from Chapala. The worst part of the drive is through Guadalajara, but most of the trip is on one of Mexico's fabulous toll roads, or Cuotas. Cuota means toll, and the tolls are heavy, about $30US one way, BUT believe me, it's worth it! There is always an alternative free, or libre, road, but for a long trip, these roads are very narrow and SLOW. Here is a photo of the cuota we were on from our point of view:
The scenery through the mountains on the way to the coast is stunning. We passed the town of Tequila, where most of the world's tequila is made:
We also passed an inactive volcano, Volca Ceboruco, which had left many deposits of old lava from its last eruption. Here is the volcano and some of the lava deposits:

We stayed at a small hotel, Vista Alegre, where, for about $85US a day, we had a room on the ocean with a private balcony, three good meals a day, snacks by the pool in the afternoon, and an open bar from 11am to 11pm. Here are some photos taken around the hotel and the beach:

We enjoy taking long walks up the beach every day. One afternoon, we ran across a large group of people on the beach. They had collected some newly-hatched sea turtles and were releasing the 8 hour old babies on the beach. They need to find their way to the sea on their own to the experience will be imprinted on them so they will return to the beach in several years to lay their own eggs. We each held a turtle, released it, and watched it make its way into the ocean. Pixie named her turtle, Isabelle. Of course I forgot my camera, but here are some photos of a similar turtle release from this week's New York Times:

Sadly, only one out of each 100 turtles released will live to adulthood. The rest are victims of the many predators. Some, undoubtedly have been eaten by birds already. When I asked the Mexican man what the turtles themselves eat, he replied, "Jellyfish."

On Pixie's Birthday, we drove into Puerto Vallarta for the day. We found it beautiful, but much more expensive and full of tourists from a cruise ship. Here's a photo of the birthday girl and some shots of Puerto Vallarta:

One interesting person we met was Xaime Ximinez, a street artist who, because his hands are congenitally deformed, paints with his brush in his mouth. He is obviously very successful and has a variety of paintings for sale. Here is his photo with a sample of his work:

We're now back in Chapala, back to our busy life. We are both starting to teach English this week. I am teaching three Mexican friends in a once-a-week lesson at one of their houses. I am looking forward to working with a small group. Pixie is going to a local orphanage to help teach English to preschool children on Saturday mornings. We re both looking forward to these new challenges.

Finally, my new poetry book,
Agave Blood, has been published and is now available. This book is bigger than Sacred Lake, with 101 pages and 54 new poems.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Day of the Dead 2009

November 2 is traditionally the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. This wonderful holiday is set aside to honor those who have died. It is thought that the dead relatives and friends will come back on this day to reconnect with their earthly lives. As you can see from these photos, it is a celebratory day, not a sad one. And I think it reflects the Mexican attitude toward accepting the inevitable and enjoying the time they have here on earth.

We decided to take the opportunity yesterday to also bury Maggie's ashes. We had brought her remains down with us from Maine and had been trying to decide what to do with them. Since she loved our garden, we decided to bury her between the Birds of Paradise plants, and to sprinkle some of her ashes on the wall. She continually tried to fly up there to see the birds. We lit a special Guadalupe candle to commemorate her grave. The candle is still burning today.

On Sunday, we held our annual Day of the Dead service at our Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Each year we decorate a large table with traditional marigolds, skulls, and other Mexican Day of the Dead art, and people bring photos to share and talk about during the service. Here are a couple of photos from this year's service.

When we went to Chapala last night for the festivities, we made a special effort to see the elaborate altar prepared by Maria Elena, our maid. She and her family always have one of the largest altars, and last night was no exception. Here is a photo of Maria Elena with Pixie, Fred and me. Maria Elena is wearing the fleece we brought her back from our visit north.