Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Bahamas in Conclusion

A storm swept our island again on Friday night. It was almost as bad as Hurricane Sandy. In some ways it was worse. Sandy kept a solid one-direction wind that slowly built up in speed. The wind drove the waves from left to right across our horizon. This allowed the reefs to protect us somewhat. The rain and the humidity were horrible, but it kept the sand on the ground.

The second storm, not even mentioned on the weather channel, was fairly dry and extremely gusty. Wind whipped every direction in gusts close to 100 MPH. walking on the beach Friday evening was difficult, but Saturday it was treacherous. It felt like a sand storm! I had to hold the beach-walk rail to keep from being knocked down. The bay looked like a giant Jacuzzi with the jets on high. Waves came from all directions, crashing into each other creating frothy white caps. Of course Joe and a couple of other fools felt it necessary to swim in it. I sat safely up at the beach bar with a Venezuelan friend and watched while trying to pin all of our belongings down.

This visit to Club Med resulted in some deeper friendships than usual. I think it was because of the hurricane. Instead of hanging out at the beach all day or diving, we were sort of stuck together in each other’s space. I remember after remember after our big meeting (when they told us we would be confined to our rooms), one older gentleman was really angry. He cornered the English speaking representative and starting raising his voice. He wanted to know “Why did Club Med say this would be a tropical storm? They should have told us the truth!” the rep tried to explain the vagaries of weather and how Cuba was supposed to knock it down to a tropical storm, but instead it just escalated. The man just got madder. Some older guests stepped in and instead of defending the rep or trying to convince the older guy they consoled him. A man his own age put his hand on the guys shoulder and said “Sir, it’s okay. We are going to be okay. Just stay calm.” The man looked completely deflated and even got teary-eyed. He looked around in embarrassment, but no one was making fun of him. Several of the older men surrounded him, gently reassuring him. I was in awe. I wonder if this was a little bit of PTSD peeking out.

I heard later that many of the guests snuck out of their rooms and went to each other’s rooms so they wouldn’t be alone. They played cards and the visiting guest talent, David Carver, played his guitar. Cigars and wine accompanied the storm. Some guests had preloaded movies on their laptops, so their rooms became mini home theaters. Most couples just stayed put and enjoyed the forced ‘alone time’ (I suspect their will be some babies named Sandy in July). The next day people were closer. We’d made it! Together.

I feel bad for the upper East Coast people who are going home to deal with this all over again, while we head off to sunny California.
The San Salvador Airport is amazingly small. I snapped some photos while we waited in the bar area.

The flight crew played a game involving dominoes while they waited for the plane to be made ready.
The passengers sat around in the waiting area and chatted.

By- the-way, Joe’s birthday was fabulous with a special cake and Ralph bought two bottles of champagne.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Hurricane Sandy comes to an end

Day Two, Lockdown 10/25/12;

At 10:30 we were told in 4 languages that we would be restricted to our rooms until tomorrow at 8:00 am. We are not to leave our room even in an emergency . . . we can call reception if we need anything. The deadline to be in our rooms was 1:00 pm. As we struggled against the wind to get here I felt one gust lift me! It didn’t take my feet off the ground, but it felt like gravity had changed for a moment.
The dining room was one big party. Once we heard the little sack lunch and breakfast was Oreos, apples, Nutrigrain bars, canned chicken, sardines, and bread with one thin slice of mystery meat, we all raided the lunch room. Beach bags were bulging. We made off with chocolate bread, chocolate truffles, cookies, and two bottles of pink wine (super low in alcohol and drinkable—unlike the red wine, yuck). I ate a blue-cheese hamburger, and fries, chicken nuggets, and fish. I’m so full.
Our cleaning lady was in our room when we came back. She stocked up our room with 4 bottles of water. I gave her the sardines . . . she was happy. Now we sit here watching the storm rip past our room. Thank goodness we are on the top floor.
We are next door neighbors with the top executive chef who flew in with us and will be leaving on the same flight. He travels between Club Meds to ensure continuity with food prep and delivery. He plans to sneak over tonight and drink wine while watching movies (he has a computer with 350 movies on it!).
The internet wifi availability is patchy. The stationary computers are down, but I have my own little mini laptop. So I logged on with my prepaid internet access code to send the last email. Everyone was saying there was no wifi, and wouldn’t believe me. Finally one guy went into the computer room and sat in the corner on the chair I was sitting on, and he got wifi. I went out and led all my friends to the hot spot. When I came by half an hour later there were about 10 people in a four-foot huddle emailing.
Well for now we are listening to music. We are done watching the weather channel. The PREdictions are over now J

Day Two, 5:00;
Still on lockdown. It’s been four hours. We can’t watch TV anymore . . . no great loss for us, but still. We would occasionally check to see where we were in the scheme of things.
The view from our room is amazing. An out-skirting reef which protects our bay is a wall of frothing white water. Behind it massive swells that look like mountains cross the horizon. Palm fronds are breaking free and ripping past our balcony. The coconuts tenaciously cling to the mother ship.
Joe has his selection of Christian Spanish music playing from his iPod. It feels safe in here, I just took a nice hot shower and am sipping a delicate white zin.
Well until later.

 Day Two, 7:00;
Well the electricity just went out. Now we are down to dive flash lights and the little iPod speaker I bought Joe for his birthday. I’m enjoying a glass of Dan’s homemade red blend, and finishing a green apple. The cans of chicken are beginning to sound appealing J, but I think I’ll eat the dessert first!
Our neighbor didn’t make it by. Probably exhausted from the day of taking care of all of us.
Starting to get bored. It stopped raining.

Day two, 8:30pm;
Electricity is back, but still no TV. We just got a call from reception. She said the worst of the storm has passed and weather permitting they would have the restaurant open in the morning. The winds are still over 100 MPH, and it’s started raining again.
Our room is now a sauna. The air conditioner is full blast, but to no avail. All the clothes, towels and sheets are damp from the humidity.
Hopefully I’ll be able to post this tomorrow.
Until then. 

Day Three, Freedom 10/26/12;
People are walking by on the top of the beach. A family just went out there with their beach towels . . . now that’s optimism! The winds are still over 50 MPH, and its overcast with a few rays of sunshine peeking through.
The good thing about Hurricane Sandy picking up speed after Cuba (instead of dissipating as predicted) is that she went over us faster than expected. This means we may be able to fly out tomorrow. We might even get sunshine before we leave. I hope so.
Joe and I are off to the gym now to burn off some of our cabin fever (and calories from the cookies and white chocolate bread).
Day three, evening;
We finally got the green light to fly home tomorrow. And we finally got wifi back on . . . yeah for internet access!!!
Spent the day at the beach playing in the surf and sunbathing.
Lots of love. Joe and Heidi

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Day One of lock-down 10/24/12;

We’ve been in tropical storms before, one squall, we’ve even been sideswiped by a hurricane from a great distance. Never have we watched satellite imagery to see a hurricane heading towards our island. It is eerie to say the least. The hope is that it will drop to a tropical storm when it travels over Cuba’s mountains.

Right now I sit in my room and marvel at the change. This morning we dove. There was no current or surge, and the sea was calm. The calm before the storm. On the way back in from our last dive the skies opened up and it hasn’t stopped since. We are now essentially driven indoors by the magnitude of the winds and tremendous amount of rainfall. I can no longer see the difference between the sea and the sky on the horizon. The palm trees are thrashing about in front of my pretty little sunny balcony, as ~ 50 mile an hour winds rip past us. The storm is between Jamaica and Cuba! I can’t imagine what it will be like tomorrow night when it hits us.

Keeping us entertained and indoors, David Craver and bartender

The GO team is feverishly trying to engage us in games. The food and booze seem endless. A thankful planeload of Europeans left this morning, leaving behind a nervous group of travelers. Their plane (a 747) made a low pass to check the runway, came back and landed, but immediately took off again. The third time was successful.

If Sandy is here Thursday and Friday only, we may be able to fly out on Saturday. Unfortunately she will be in Fort Lauderdale waiting for us. How this will all work out is a mystery to us. In the meantime we are napping a lot, and I’m finishing up my second novel, the second in my espionage series following Counterpart. I’m looking into my crystal ball and I see a hurricane in one of my books J

 Part Two, Day One;                                

Joe and I finally got hungry enough to leave our room. Once down at the Verve Bar we found large numbers of other hungry savages. Our little table of two grew and grew until we numbered twelve. Six couples; the American singer and his elegant Swiss wife, the New Yorkers, the French man and his tall slinky French Canadian fiancé, the Italian couple, and the Southern Californians. A 60 dollar bottle of wine (bought by the New Yorkers) was passed around and I managed to have my glass out just in time to have some 2009 Popillo Chianti. I am now rationing my wine for fear we will be here for a while.

check out the bent over palm tree to the left

We all walked through the storm to the dining room and talked so long that the restaurant staff was standing around waiting for us. It is really amazing all the different things people do for a living! As you all know, Joe and I love meeting people. So interesting, especially when the stress of a hurricane is looming over everyone.

Well, I’m guessing the dive boat won’t be going out tomorrow. I’ll probably write some more. Don’t know if I’ll be able to publish this dialogue on my blog anytime soon, but we’ll see. It is so  odd how this storm seems to be providing some sort of energy for me to write. Hmmm?

 Day Two 10/25/12;

We are being called to a mandatory  meeting. The winds are twice as high. The rain is sporatic. Sandy is level two now and heading our way. We are on the right side of the trajectory. I will never view a hurricane the same again.

The white chocolate bread is still yummy though.

We may be given food rations and told to stay in our rooms . . . not sure yet?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trouble in Paradise

Tropical storm or Hurricane?
So, I’m sure most of you have seen the tropical storm heading our way. The weather casters say it is a hurricane one today. Who knows what it will be by the time it reaches us. Hmmmm. So this will be our first hurricane trip. We’ve been on islands as they skirt around us, but this time it will hit us directly. It looks like a small storm in the grand scheme of things, and this island is no stranger to hurricanes! The locals smile and say “Don’t worry, Be happy.” Okay, we can do that J
It started raining last night . . . a torrential downpour actually, though I may feel differently by Friday when it actually arrives. The thunder and lightning is a bit unnerving. It’s almost constant now. Last night it struck outside our room and the clap of thunder was deafening. My ears were ringing for twenty minutes. I’m curious how flying home on Saturday works? We were told it’s a big maybe. The shipment of food last week didn’t arrive, much to the dismay of the chefs. I hope a shipment comes tomorrow as planned.
Right now as we speak (or read) the G.O.’s (employees) and guests are dancing around the pool doing a “Sun Dance”. They just finished water aerobics. People are sprawled out over the terrace playing scrabble, trivial pursuit, and monopoly. Last week was gorgeous. Beautiful diving, swimming, and sunbathing. This week is gorgeous too. Beautiful diving, body surfing, . . . and rain. I saw my first Hammerhead Shark yesterday. It was huge . . . about ten feet long. It went right behind me. Fortunately Joe saw it and banged on his tank to alert me and pointed to it. It was so cool. I also saw a little baby Nurse Shark sleeping in a little cradle of sand.
Today is Joe’s birthday. He started it with sleeping in and skipping SCUBA. He went to the gym and I went for my speed walk. I walk the upper floor walkways. It’s like a labyrinth going from duplex to duplex. I run up and down the stairwells every fifty feet or so. Great open-air workout. I need it after all  of the white chocolate bread I’ve been eating! Now we are sitting out at his favorite beach bar chatting about Canadian politics with another beach bum. Little does he know, the GO’s are planning a surprise cake and party for him tonight.
Last Sunday we went to a little local church. St Stephan, but I’m not sure what religion it was. We thought we were going to a Baptist church, but a Seventh Day Adventist guest speaker gave the sermon. It was great, but it tested everyone’s attention span as she talked non-stop for about 50 minutes. Nice people though, very welcoming, and the gospel style choir was good. If we lived here we’d go back. A local was saying there is only about a thousand people on this island and over one hundred churches of practically every religion.
Well, I guess if you are the praying type this would  be a good time to do it.
Lot’s of love, Joe and Heidi

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The French have landed!

The dreaded day came on Wednesday. The French arrived on the Paris flight, along with a few other Europeans’. 235 of them. We anticipated fighting for space on our already crowded SCUBA boat. The dive briefings would be done in French and English. They would plummet to the bottom, shoot to the top, and wait for the slow Americans to join them. Thankfully they separated us on two different catamarans.

Other than competing for the boat, we have thoroughly enjoyed the new faces. Everyone so far has been so polite. I just finished talking to a French businessman about the new French business climate. He is happy about the influx of foreigners in France . . . imagine that? And he was handsome, which is an added bonus to the conversation. I am sitting here at the beach bar taking a break from the sun while he and Joe chat. Reggae music overhead, a mojito beer (crushed lime with dark stout beer), accents, gentle waves rolling in, and crystal clear blue water. What a life!
It’s Friday, a melancholy day for most of the guests as they prepare to go home tomorrow. Not us. We are here for one more week. We might go to the airport to wave goodbye to them. The airport is one building split into two rooms. Incoming and outgoing. Checking in at the airport is done here at the resort . . . with the airline staff here. Cool huh? Then everyone gets on a Club Med bus or just walks over to the airport. Your luggage is waiting for you. The jumbo jet lands, the stairs get rolled across the tarmac, the pale-work weary newcomers come down, the bronze-vacation weary guests go up. This repeats itself three times a week.
The diving has been amazing! The reef sharks are out patrolling the coral. The nurse sharks are napping under a ledge while the invasive lion fish flounce around with their feathery fins. We were warned at one dive site that the tunnel we planned to explore was guarded by several sharks. As we approached the opening we were greeted (well, greeted makes it sound like we were welcome) by 3 sharks. When we didn’t heed their darting back-and-forth warning, they tried the charging technique. It is really intimidating to have that shark face coming straight at you. But we  entered their tunnel anyway. I like to think they looked defeated, but it was probably a look of anger . . . it’s hard to tell.
Now a French Canadian beauty is sitting with us sharing our French fries. She works here at the bar. Her name is Brooke. Her legs are so long they practically are the level of my armpits. Here’s a photo J  Her fiancé is in charge of water sports. Super nice couple.
Speaking of couples; there is a group of couples who brought their own blow-up water noodles, they congregate in the ocean drinking margaritas. One day Charles, the Chef de la Village, was walking down the beach with his staff handing out fresh fruit. The group out in the water yelled out “Hey we want some fruit too!” Charles promptly kicked off his shoes and walked into the ocean with a tray of fruit held overhead. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch this phenomenon. I ran out of the water and got my camera to film it. He walked out of the water straight up to me and offered me some melon. He looked kind of like James Bond.
I’m beginning to think the reason I like Club Med so much is the people. It’s a great opportunity to research and study characters for my books. The newlyweds, or the two couples who meet here every year, the deaf guy who talks so loud you can hear him from fifty yards, the sharp looking Miami couple, the athletic couple, the drinkers, the flirts and the talkers.
Oops, Joe just served into the net. He’s playing beach volleyball with 12 people. The ocean is like glass today. The boats look like they’re floating in the air. Here’s the view from my little perch.
I’ve opened two more bottles of wine, both from Hatcher, a Syrah and their Shake Ridge Zinfandel.
Lots of love, Heidi and Joe.

Monday, October 15, 2012

San Salvador, Club Med, Day One

We saw the weather predictions and knew it would be stormy the first few days at least. But that’s the chance you take when you go to the Bahamas in October. That’s not the tragedy. As-a-matter-of-fact, a lovely ticket agent with Spirit Airlines was jealous. She is from Jamaica, and she loves nothing more than rain on a tropical island (except a massage on the beach in the rain on an island). By the time she was done checking us in, I couldn’t wait to get here and get my massage on the beach. It is raining and I checked on the massages; $110.00. I don’t know if I want one that bad.

The surf is intense. We played in it for half an hour. I came out with sand everywhere, even my ears. Then we fell asleep in the setting sun. The humidity is ridiculous, but that’s not a tragedy because the wind is strong and feels fabulous.

We didn’t get the room we requested . . . nope not a tragedy. They upgraded us to a second floor, ocean view. Here is a photo from our room. As we came over on the charter jet from Fort Lauderdale we discovered Columbus Isle Club Med had been closed for 6 weeks for hurricane season. This island only receives 3 commercial flights a week; Sat-USA, Tues-Canada (starting next month), Wed-France. So ours was the first flight. We have the whole club to ourselves, until Wednesday. That might explain why we got the upgrade J There are more employees than guests!

We may go SCUBA diving tomorrow, weather permitting. The dock in front of the club has been dismantled to protect it. Not a tragedy because they have a marina on the other side of the island, which is calmer. The water is warm.
sign in beach bar

I brought eight bottles of California wine with me. Now hold on a second . . . we’ll be here for 2 weeks. That’s about 2-3 glasses a day, between the two of us. I usually pack them in wine boxes with Styrofoam liners. This time Joe suggested we use regular wine boxes so they don’t take up so much room. We still had to bring a suitcase just for the wine. I put a child’s water-wing around each bottle (blown up of course). I didn’t have quit enough so I left two bottles in the center ‘wingless’. You guessed it! Tragedy. One of my precious bottles shattered. When Joe pulled my bag off the luggage belt he said “Uh-Oh, that’s not a good sign,” and pointed to the wine dripping on the airport floor. Oops. I took my bag to the bathroom and tenderly lay it upon the floor. I dabbed it dry, but decided to not dig through my bottles to find the culprits. All the way to the hotel I listed each bottle in my head. I knew the one which would upset me the most would be Dan’s wine. But it was a Dobra Zimla Syrah. I have another one at home . . . I will live.

Well I’m tired from eating, body surfing, dancing, drinking my wine (Rombuar Zinfandel), and talking over disco music, so off to bed we go. Its 11:30 p.m. here and 8:30 p.m. back home.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wine Tribe Gathering

Friday night marked the second anniversary of the Wine Tribe. This is a small monthly gathering of three couples. We take turns hosting the event. The hosting couple goes all out, with amazing appetizers, dinner, and dessert. For some unspoken reason we always choose a theme.

My mouth waters over the memory of our creations. Usually the theme is national; Thailand, Italy (Chianti), France, Mexico, Spain, India, Napa. Some are thematic; comfort food, ranch food, my mom’s spaghetti, California barbeque, white trash food (but gourmet somehow). I’m forgetting many of them I’m sure.

The table is set to match the theme. This can get complicated, trust me, but we can’t seem to help ourselves. I remember at Mr. & Mrs. S’s house they used woven Mexican purses for placemats for the ladies settings, and we got to take them home with us. For comfort food night, Mr. & Mrs. W used all their oldest china and glassware . . . an impressive collection. When we did French Provencal, I used at least ten flowered napkins spread out to make a tablecloth. The cabin weekend gatherings are always spectacular, especially with Joe's barbequed ribs. 

The first night we gathered we each presented a bottle of wine for the long evening. Little did we know how it would evolve. A decision was made that first night (I think it was the first night?) to brown bag our wine at the next house and do a tasting party. Now we have a system. It’s a bit complicated, but we discovered we couldn’t be trusted to vote fairly if we knew whose wine belonged to whom. We always seemed to have very close scores . . . very diplomatic and hospitable. Now we have 3 carafes, 3 cloth wine bags, tags 1-2-3, and fancy wine-tasting score sheets. We even have a medal. It looks like it came out of a bubblegum machine, but we covet that medal! The hosting family chooses the varietals. Here’s how it works:

• One person from each couple separately enters a designated room, pours their wine into a decanter, and bags their bottle (completely covered). They place their bottle and decanter side-by-side and leave.

• One person who didn’t go into the room is chosen to go in and wrap a numbered tag around each decanter. They then place the corresponding tag on the corresponding bottle.

• Finally that person carries out the decanters, but leaves the bagged and tagged bottles in the other room.

• When the scoring is done, the bottles are brought out and revealed.

So this begins a long journey of sharing our Wine Tribe dinner events with our wine and foodie friends. I begin with the 2nd anniversary dinner party at the W’s.

We entered their home and were welcomed to Napa. In the center of their kitchen they’d rolled a real wine barrel for the cheese and crackers. The counter was loaded with sliced artisan bread and crackers, Smoked Trout Pate (caught the week before in Alaska by Mr. W) and Kahlua Baked Brie. The table had a runner of lightweight burlap, a large basket of fresh fruit, and each table setting had a menu with a fall leaf attached.



Smoked Salmon Trout Pate
Kahlua Pecan Baked Brie
Cheese Plate


Great Bering Sea Ceviche (mouth watering)


Tagliata With Baby Spinach and Arugula
Wild Alaskan Salmon (with some sort of coffee-bourbon-molasses rub)
Gorgonzola Croquettes
Braised Green Beans with Portabella Mushrooms


Flourless Chocolate Cake and Carmel Sauce (decedent)


We were told to bring a “blend”, so we brought a bottle of Prisoner (Orin Swift), the S’s brought 2010 Berhold Crankcase. The W’s cheated and presented their own home-made wine, a blend of Syrah and Zinfandel. The S’s stole the medal from us for best food-pairing wine, but the W’s wine was savored ‘til the wee hours over nibbles of chocolate cake, and gazing at the stars.

All-in-all, another wonderful evening of fellowship. Next Wine tribe gathering . . . November.

By-the-way . . . we will be in the Bahamas for two weeks in October. For my Travel Buddies, be on the look out for new postings!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Our time in Oaxaca has come to an end.

cross at the aqueducts

It has been a busy four weeks with our usual array of new friends and good memories. As always I find this last blog to be more fragmented as I try to organize unorganizable events. Cultural differences and similarities fascinate me. Some of it has do with how they interpret etiquette and responsiblity. Proper manners such as never coming to your restaurant table with the bill until you ask. Don't get up from the dinner table and leave without asking permission. Their desire to please is very Eastern, therefore if you ask for directions they will give them to you . . . even if its incorrect. Its better to see you smile with happiness than to see that lost frustrated look on your face. The solution is to use a map. 
Another strange thing wasn't so apparent at first (but now I finally get it), has to do with language. One day during class, the teacher corrected me because I wrote "I forgot to put gas in my car yesterday." Hugo said "No, your car forgot to put gas in itself." He laughed at our incredulous expressions. I asked my conversation partner (a Mexican lady who is an English teacher) how do you say "typo"? You know, like an error on a menu or something. She said "Error del dedo", which literally means "error of the finger". Hugo says this is common in suppressed cultures where being at fault could be painful. He pointed out that Americans tend to take credit for everything; "I broke my ankle." Really? Did your take a hammer and break it yourself? I guess all language has its idiosyncrasies
The street band during the day

I remember walking with Joe downtown on one of the pedestrian cobblestone streets. It was dark and somewhat crowded. We heard Santana’s ‘Black Magic Woman’ playing. A band had set up on the sidewalk, so of course we sat down on the opposite sidewalk and enjoyed the little concert.

A couple from our school, from Canada, have been traveling around the world for two years! Can you imagine that? Liz writes a travel blog that is very interesting. They started in Asia and worked their way to Mexico. They have two more months and they go home.

We discovered a hot dog cart by the cathedral. We staked it out for about a week. The guy always had a crowd lined up waiting for their dogs, so we finally mustered up the courage and got our dogs for 13 pesos apiece. They were fantastic! Loaded up with all the goodies like salsa, relish, mustard, and catsup. We ate there every chance we got.

cross at a hotel
 A major issue here is the lack of water. The region reminds me of Yreka, California. It is a high mountain valley, about three or four thousand feet. They have a reservoir, but they bring the water for human use to the houses by trucks for some reason. Apparently the amount the city is able to provide through the pipes isn’t enough, so people have to pay the trucks to top off their huge rooftop cisterns. The water for the house (remember, this is a very nice house), stinks to high heaven. No one drinks the water from the trucks or the pipes. They only drink bottled water. When we took showers we always put a bucket under the water as it warmed to save as much as possible for the garden. This morning, on our last day, the water just stopped. Not a drop came out, so to use the toilets we had to go outside, fill our buckets with dirty water from the garden barrel, and fill the toilet tank in order to flush. Ironically, it rained so hard two nights ago that the streets turned into flash flood rivers. We got completely drenched.

Our Mexican conversation students
 A frequent sight was the parking police walking around with license plates under one arm and a screwdriver in the other hand. We questioned this oddity at school. They said the police simply took your license plate if you parked illegally. So then what? They had to go down and buy new plates for about 150 bucks. The ticket for driving without plates was even higher. People were always trying different tricks to avoid this. Some welded their plates to their cars. Joe suggested making them magnetic so you could just remove them and take them with you. Devious mind.

Well I’m signing out until the next adventure. It’s been fun traveling with you as always, Heidi and Joe.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Que Chido!

I love the unique cultural stuff like que chido! Meaning how cool! The vocabulary for saying nice things is extensive here. In Costa Rica the style was all about the diminutive . . . everything was referred to as little; “Look at the cute little dog with the little lady walking down the little street.” Here it is “Please look at the sweet-pleasant dog with the amiable-kind lady politely walking down the enjoyable-lovely street.” You think I’m kidding? It’s true, this is the nicest city I’ve been to. During communion at the Cathedral, the Boy Scouts stand at the steps to assist all the ladies and the elderly. All meals finish with lavish praise to whoever cooked it or served it, followed by “Buen Provecho” (which basically translates to ‘It’s for your providence/good health’).

Most nights are pretty magical here. We often walk down to El Centro. One night, as we were walking, we came across a group of teens. About fifteen of them got up and came towards us. In the back of my mind I thought of all of the warnings about how dangerous Mexico is, even though I knew better. I was a bit embarrassed when they lined up facing each other and started dancing the traditional dances of Oaxaca. We sat and watched them practice for awhile. We saw this spontaneous dancing occur several times throughout our stay here. The traditions are so important to them. 16 distinct languages are spoken and they even have a huge fountain with statues of the 8 major old religions practiced here. It’s a surprisingly diverse place, but the Virgin Mary is everywhere. My favorite is the painting of her on a tree on a street corner.

But let’s go back further in time to about 500 years before Christ. A community of scientists and religious leaders began to form on the top of a mountain in the valley of Oaxaca. They became incredibly powerful, ruling from this complex city of 40,000 for 1,200 years. What drove them off their mountaintop remains a mystery. I’m guessing it was drought. Now it is called Monte Alban. As you approach the ruins the usual playing field is the first stop. From there the city is barely visible, but it beckons to you. As you step to the rim of this majestic man-made valley the history feels as though it is surging upward and wrapping itself around you. The archeologists did a good job of clearing the massive field where the market would have been. The palace and the bizarre boat-shaped astrology building are beautifully preserved. Joe and I sat under a thick tree in the shade and imagined the bustling community, the light glittering off the glossy walls of the palace, the pyramid-like steps leading up to the temples, and the ever present vendors set up on the grassy fields. After climbing to the other rim we could look down on the humbler dwellings of the surrounding city ruins.

Back at Oaxaca City we stayed at a small hotel with a pool and air conditioning. We stayed in the pool or the room for 24 hours! A large family from Puebla dominated one end of the pool, and we had the other end. That didn’t last long. The family ring leader, a 4 year old little girl, named Frida, came straight over to us and made the introductions. “That’s my cousin, and that’s my other cousin, well they are all my cousins except my parents and sisters.” She sat on Joe’s lap and petted his arm as she talked. Finally she told him he was going to be her pony and made him turn around so she could climb on. Her family was in hysterics. So after speaking Spanish to her for 30 minutes, she says “How come you don’t speak Spanish? Are you from China?” Ahh . . . out of the mouths of babes. By Sunday evening we were refreshed and ready to go again. Monday morning we were back to school to try to learn Spanish J

Monday, May 7, 2012

Street Smarts

As we walk about this town we realize you have gotta keep your wits about you! Danger lurks everywhere . . . not the people, they are sweet beyond belief, but the sidewalks for example have holes in them. Some holes are big enough for a foot, others are big enough for a person. Three inch pipes stick out of the sidewalks in a seemingly random manner. Windows with beautiful ironwork stick out over the sidewalk above the heads of the locals, but not above our heads . . . it's more like eye-level for us. You also need to step over the occasional inert form of a sleeping drunkard.

If you survive long enough to get to El Centro, then you have to watch out for the ever present little old ladies and old men who beg. Have you ever seen Shrek II, the one with Puss-n-boots? He would look at his prey with big soft brown eyes until their defenses dropped and then he would attack! Take them by surprise. Well these little tiny old cutie-pies do the same thing. They gaze up at you with their hands out with big brown eyes pleading . . . all day long. Thank goodness I’ve seen Puss-n-boots at work J   Also when someone says ‘buen precio’, meaning good price, it isn’t a good price. A tall scruffy looking young man works the crowd pretending to be selling an ugly ratty old doll, but he’s actually selling drugs. Joe was looking the other direction one day and he made lewd gestures towards me. By the look on my face he realized his mistake and made a quick escape.

We were looking for the Mercato de Artesanas the other day and stumbled across a different type of artesian. Joe alerted me to the ladies lined up against the wall by the motel, and nervously ushered me to the next street.

Our room has drain covers in the sink and the shower . . . don’t remove those covers unless you want cockroaches visiting at night. Speaking of bugs, there is a sound here that I couldn’t identify at first. It sounded like a Muslim call to prayer, or an air-raid siren. Since no one was ducking for cover or kneeling towards Mecca, I searched for another answer. It is a beetle!

There is an odd system of parking here (odd to an American). Most streets are one way and you can parallel park on the left side. If the parking is all taken and you think your errand is short, you can park in the lane next to the parked cars (the fast lane). During busy times of the day the fast lane will be full of parked cars and the inner cars can’t get out. However the quick stop cars really do come and go quickly, but it’s still odd to me. By-the-way, don’t trust the pedestrian crosswalk signals, they may prompt you to cross during a green light for four lanes of traffic . . . you’ve gotta keep your wits about you! And another thing . . . everyone here talks about taking a Suburban for group taxis or tours. I’ve seen two Suburbans since I’ve been here and one is sitting on the side of the road with weeds growing around the tires. It took me three weeks to figure that out that Suburban is Spanglish for a van, so now I don’t stress about finding the “Suburban”.

Well my time’s up and I’ve got to get ready to head back into town to meet friends for dinner. I’ll try to write one more time before we leave.

Hasta luego, Heidi and Pepe

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Happy Birthday spelled out in flower petals
Hierves el Agua
It's been one big party around here for about 4 days. It started with Joe taking me on an all-day tour to Hierves el Agua, Mitla, El Tule, a textile house and of course the obligatory trip to the mezcal factory (aka tequila). Later he took me to our favorite little B&B, Las Bugambias. He booked the best room, and took me to dinner at La Olla. We opened a bottle of Petite Syrah from Modus Operandi. Did I mention it was for my birthday J Que romantica! Unfortunately we were so exhausted from our day that we passed out in our air conditioned room on our giant, soft king sized bed. Air conditioners are a great invention.

 Hierves el Agua (boiling water) is an amazing place with a "waterfall" of calcified salt.The “waterfall” is hundreds of feet tall and appears frozen in space. Several cool pools of salt water are nearby with cool water "boiling" out of the springs. Mitla is an ancient town that is still occupied. The massive, beautifully intact ruins are part of the community. El Tule is a ginormous tree . . . biggest circumference in the Americas. Estimated to be about 2,000 years old.
Joe standing about fifty feet in front of El Tule

On Sunday we went to mass at the capital Cathedral. Lots of kids being baptized that day, probably because the following day was Dia de Los Ninos (Children's day), April 30th. The children got the day off of school, so the Zocolo was packed with clowns, balloons, real fireworks and musicians on both Sunday and Monday. (I say real fireworks because this town has an obsession with the fireworks that just make a loud BOOM and flash white. This goes on day and night like a war with cannons)

Palace at Mitla
Monday was my birthday and first thing in the morning Vicki gave me a gift, a little trinket box she painted by hand. At school they bought me a chocolate cake and sang the traditional Mexican birthday song and followed that with English, German, and Japanese. We went to one of our favorite pubs to study, and the owner bought our beers as a present. Joe bought me a traditional Oaxacan dress and we went home. At home they had a little party for me with homemade carrot cake and sang to me again. That night we went back to town to El Olivo, a fancy Spanish bar we like a lot, and the bartender, Antonio bought appetizers (tapas) for us and discounted my glass of wine!

Wait! That’s not all. Tuesday was Mayday. Mayday is Mexico’s Labor day/ Protest day. It was mayhem in El Centro. The dump trucks, followed by the garbage trucks and then the gas and water trucks and more trucks went for a mile, bringing Oaxaca to a standstill. Thousands of people wearing matching union shirts marched in an orderly fashion to the Zocolo (state government seat). When we finally managed to get back home Vicki’s family and friends came over for a late lunch. They brought vodka, Red Bull, whiskey and beer (don't panic Mom, I had half a glass of wine). Joe and I just sat back and tried to keep up with what was being said, or shouted. Three of them are lawyers and one is an economist. The good-natured arguments were really fun to observe. They finally packed up and left with big hugs and promises to return. (Vicki is one of 8 children, 6 are lawyers, 1 is a doctor, and Vicki was a teacher—a very affluent family).

So today is calm, and I am glad. I’ve had enough craziness for now.

Heidi (and Joe)