Wednesday, March 4, 2015

TEQUILA (YES, THAT"S A CITY) AND GUADALAJARA

February 20, 2015

Agave Fields Near Tequila
After a quick walk up the highway to the closest Oxxo for coffee, we packed ourselves into April’s van and headed off for Tequila.  The landscape of agave fields against a volcano backdrop was striking and we just had to stop alongside the road to take pictures.  It must have been THE spot to photograph agave fields because we later saw the same view in a video at the Jose Cuervo tequila factory.

The town of Tequila was very picaresque.  It was a small town, but all the major tequila brands had factories there.  In order to be called “tequila,” the liquor must be shipped from Jalisco. Even if it is actually made
Volcano in the Distance

elsewhere in Mexico, it must pass through Jalisco before being sent to its ultimate destination.  In the center of town there was a pretty church on a small plaza.  We ate breakfast in a small café overlooking the square that somehow managed to make standard breakfast fare absolutely delicious.  The chilaquiles were amazing and the coffee and licuados (a drink made from fruit, ice, and milk or water) were excellent.  Patricia and I sat on a balcony overlooking the square and I was practically chanting a mantra of, “I love Mexico.  I love Mexico.”  It was a perfect morning shared with great company.

Breakfast on the Balcony

Church Square in Tequila
Agave "Pineapples"
After breakfast, we walked a few blocks past tequila factories and outlets and through vendors hawking handicrafts to the Jose Cuervo tequila factory.  The Cuervo family had been making tequila in that location since 1758 and they are the only major tequila brand that has not been purchased by a multinational liquor company.  While the majority of their tequila is now produced in other, more modern factories throughout the region, they do still produce some tequila at “La Rojena,” the original hacienda.  Today, most of the original hacienda buildings are devoted to gift shops, a bar, and tour facilities.  It was, however, a lovely example of hacienda architecture and was very clean and well maintained.

Horneros Unloading Agave From the Oven
The tour showed us how the raw “pineapples” (an agave plant with the leaves hacked off) are stacked in brick ovens and roasted for 38 hours.  When they had cooled enough to touch, horneros (men who work in the ovens) tossed them onto conveyor belts that took them to the crusher where the juice was separated from the fiber.  While, in the past, the fiber was used to make products like rope and baskets, today it is composted and returned to the fields as fertilizer.  We got a chance to taste pieces of roasted agave, which had a light, sweet flavor and were a bit like eating an artichoke leaf.

The juice was fermented to make what they called agave “wine” and then the wine was distilled twice to produce silver tequila.  Tequila that is not destined to be sold as silver tequila was then poured into barrels and aged.  The barrels used are the exact same kind that are used to age wine and, as in winemaking, are used to impart flavor to the liquor.  We got a chance to taste the tequila in its silver form and also after it had been aged six, twelve and eighteen months. 

Tequila Aging in Barrels
 Cuervo has two lines of tequila.  The better line is made with 100% blue agave.  The line that you usually see in stores and bars is only 51% blue agave, the balance being distilled from other sugars.  Each line is then divided into silver (not aged), reposado (aged less than a year), and anejo (aged more than a year.)  Darker tequilas are aged in barrels with more char on the inside.  I had always wondered exactly what those distinctions meant, so was glad to hear them explained.  I liked the aged tequila better than the younger versions, but would never be a drinker of straight shots.
Our Guide Explaining the Different Classes of Tequila




After our factory tour, we spent a short time strolling around the town of Tequila.  The carload of New Zealanders split off from the group, thinking they might stay a night in Tequila or visit Guadalajara.  The rest of us returned to the van and then April drove Patricia and me to the main bus stop in Tequila where we quickly boarded a bus for Guadalajara.  The ride should have taken us an hour and a half, but ended up taking over three hours because there was a series of accidents blocking the highway.  The bus had been too crowded for us to find seat together when Pat and I boarded, so she ended up sitting next to a Mexican woman named Mary who worked for the Jalisco state police.  She was very friendly and the three of us had a long conversation in a combination of Spanish and English.  She had six children and worked a schedule of fifteen days on and six days off while her mother took care of the children.  She patrolled all over the state of Jalisco.  When we finally got to the bus station in Guadalajara, Mary showed us where to get the cheapest cab and made sure we were on our way before hailing a cab for herself.  It was all I could do to keep her from carry my bag.  She was extremely helpful.
The Group in Front of April's Van


Teatro Degollado
The cab took us to the Hotel de Mendoza, which April had recommended to us.  The hotel was a former convent right off the cathedral square and was very comfortable and elegant for about $70 per night.  Our room even had pillow top mattresses.  I was in heaven.  The historic center of Guadalajara featured a series of plazas in the shape of a cross with the cathedral at the center.  Our hotel was at the bottom of the cross, next to the Teatro Degollado.  We had hoped to be able to attend a performance of the ballet folklorico at the theater, but only the symphony was playing while we were there.  We didn’t attend a concert, but we did hear an orchestra playing in the Plaza de las Armas.  We checked into our hotel, relaxed for a little while and then walked several blocks to a very popular restaurant called La Chata.  There was a line out the door, but it moved quickly.  La Chata was a large restaurant with closely packed tables, but the service was very good and so was the food.  I ordered arrachera and Pat had chicken mole.  We were very pleased with our choice of restaurants.
Guadalajara Cathedral

It was dark by the time we returned and all of the historic buildings were dramatically lit.  The lighting of the cathedral was exceptionally dramatic and the changing colors of the fountain in the Plaza de los Laureles with the backdrop of the cathedral made a memorable scene.  We lingered in the plaza, taking pictures and enjoying the warm evening.  It had been a long day and we finally returned to our hotel to relax and plan the following day’s exploration.

February 21, 2015

Open Confessional
Interior of the Cathedral
We ate breakfast in a café in Plaza de los Laureles with a nice view of the cathedral.  After breakfast, we ducked into the church to see the interior.  The exterior of the cathedral is very attractive and unique with a semicircular pediment topped with stone spikes above the door and two tall, tiled spires.  The interior was pretty, with lots of cream and gold, but not particularly memorable.  While the cathedral was begun in the 16th century, it was not consecrated until 1716.  It lacked the fabulous art and stained glass that marks the cathedrals of Europe and didn’t have the aura of sheer age that make other cathedrals in Mexico impressive.  One thing that we found unusual was that the confessionals were open and offered no privacy.
Hospicio de las Cabanas

Our next mission of the day was to find the tourist office and get a good map of Guadalajara.  We had been told it was behind the cathedral, but we couldn’t find it.  Someone else told us it was next to the Sanborn’s store on the other side of the cathedral.  We walked up there and cast about before we found the store, but never did locate the tourist office.  I stopped at an Oxxo and bought a street map.  The doorman at Sanborn’s told us there was a tourist kiosk in Plaza de los Laureles and we did eventually find it, but they were out of maps.  They sent us back to the kiosk on the other side of the cathedral and this time we managed to locate it, right across from our hotel, but lost amidst a clutter of tents associated with the Guadalajara Half Marathon.  They provided us with a lot of good information, but it had taken us until 12:30 to locate them.

Orozco Mural at Hospicio de las Cabanas
After a quick stop in the hotel, we headed off in the opposite direction to see the Orozco murals at the former Hospicio de las Cabanas (an orphanage) that had been converted into a cultural center.  The murals were reputed to be the number one attraction in Guadalajara, but we were unimpressed.  Pat much preferred the work of Diego Rivera.  While I appreciated that Orozco was working in fresco and had a different style, I preferred other works of his that I had seen.  I found the murals at Las Cabanas very dark and somewhat confusing in their symbolism.  We walked around the galleries in the cultural center where there was an exhibition of modern paintings and another installation of photographs of the artists with their works which we enjoyed.  It was interesting to see the faces of the people associated with the often puzzling contemporary art. 

Finches in the Guadalajara Market
Our next stop was the marketplace, which had three levels and covered an entire city block.  It was very crowded and the vendors were very pushy.  Pat wanted to look at embroidered blouses, but it was impossible to shop with people shoving merchandise under our noses if we so much as paused to look at anything.  The array of fruit on the bottom level was attractive, although the swarms of flies discouraged me from buying anything.  There were also a couple of vendors selling all types of caged birds, some of which looked like very unhappy wild songbirds that must have been trapped.  We wandered around the market for an hour or so, but didn’t buy anything.  The experience was somewhat overwhelming, so we decided to go to the Plaza of the Mariachis to get a margarita and relax a bit.

Fruit in the Guadalajara Market
It was easy to find the Plaza of the Mariachis because you could hear it from two blocks away.  The entire plaza was filled with café tables, but the mariachi music was recorded and much too loud.  The singers were live and very talented, but the overall impression was tacky and disappointing.  We stayed long enough to finish our drinks and share a torta ahogada (a pork sandwich on a crusty roll drowned in tomato sauce), but beat a hasty retreat from the noise as soon as possible. 
On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to visit the jewelry market that my friend, Sonja from La Cruz, had told me was the best place to buy silver.  The market was a modern, air conditioned building with three floors that
Plaza of the Mariachis with Lone Singer

Guadalajara Jewelry Market
resembled a large department store except that every counter sold jewelry or supplies for making jewelry.  It was truly mind boggling.  Pat shopped for a gold bracelet, but didn’t end up buying anything.  I finally managed to buy some simple silver star shaped earrings to replace the silver earrings I had had ever since I pierced my ears in 1992 that had broken in La Cruz.  Finally, we were overwhelmed by the selection and had to leave.  We had been standing and walking all day and were tired by the time we made it back to the hotel, so we rested for an hour or so before heading back out to eat dinner at El Mexicano, a restaurant off the Plaza Tapatia.

It was noisy downstairs at the restaurant with loud music blasting, so we decided to go upstairs.  No sooner had we placed our order than a transsexual comedian/singer arrived and began to perform an extremely loud and very raunchy show.  Even she was a bit appalled when she realized I spoke Spanish.  Shortly thereafter, the manager arrived and asked us if we wanted to move downstairs.  I wasn’t offended, but did appreciate moving to a quieter spot.  The food was actually very good and quite reasonable.  I had a plate of carnitas tacos with beans and guacamole for only 70 pesos.  After dinner, we stopped for ice cream and watched people relaxing in the plazas.  It was a warm evening and everybody was out.  The plazas were crowded and street performers were working the crowd while horse drawn carriages circled the historic district.  It was the perfect picture of happy city life.

February 22, 2015

Tapatio Tour Bus
We decided to forego eating breakfast out, so just had coffee at the hotel before setting out to buy tickets for one of those hop-on, hop-off bus tours of Guadalajara.  It was Sunday, which was market day in the Tonala district, so we headed out there first.  There wasn’t a whole lot to see on the way.  Tonala was originally a separate village, but had been swallowed by Guadalajara.  It was famous for its Thursday and Sunday markets and handicrafts.  The market lined all of the streets of the area of artisans’ shops, making the whole district seem like one big pop-up market.  It was extremely busy and we could barely edge along from vendor to vendor.  There was really nothing we were interested in buying, but some of the art in the permanent shops was attractive.  There was a factory making heavy Mexican glassware and one could watch the glassblowers.  I was especially attracted to a shop offering mosaic lamps, mirrors and fountains.  We shopped for an hour or so and then walked back up the road to catch a bus to Tlaquepaque.
Mosaic Art in Tonala


Sunday Market in Tonala

Church in Tlaquepaque
                                                                                                                                                      The ride to Tlaquepaque took us along the freeway and was uneventful and not particularly scenic.  Tlaquepaque itself, however, was very charming.  There was a pretty church and main square and lots of colorful restaurants and boutique shops covering several square blocks.  We browsed and visited the Museum of Ceramics, which was more a store than a museum, but did display some lovely pieces.  I was fascinated by the trees painted with colorful designs that grew in the courtyard.  We ate lunch at a taco stand on the second floor of the indoor market that overlooked the street.  We had delicious arrachera and chorizo tacos for eight pesos apiece (about 55 cents.)  We browsed some more after lunch, but didn’t find anything.  We had just stepped into the long line at an extremely popular ice cream store when our bus arrived and we decided to forego the ice cream rather than wait another hour for the next bus.

Pedestrian Street in Tlaquepaque

Ceramics in the Regional Cermaics Museum 


Cafe Degollado
                                                                                                                                                   It was 4:30 by the time the bus dropped us back at the cathedral.  We were hot and tired and ready for a margarita, so decided to take a break before embarking on the third route of our tour.  After asking around for a good place to get margaritas nearby and coming up empty, we finally decided to try the café attached to the Teatro Degollado.  We ordered drinks and then decided just to eat an early dinner and continue our tour in the evening.  We were served by two entertaining young men who took our photographs and made us laugh.  We ordered chicken Caesar salads and enjoyed watching the scene in the plaza while we ate.  When we had finished eating, we returned to the bus stop near the cathedral and hopped on the Central Guadalajara loop of the tour.

Our final loop was much more interesting than the other two and took us through the modern part of Guadalajara. We passed massive modern shopping malls and huge traffic circles centered around monumental sculptures.  
Centro Magno
Plaza Minerva

Intercontinental Hotel
Templo Expiatorio
We visited the Millennium Arches, huge golden arches built in 2000 to commemorate the millennium.  They were impressive, but I couldn’t help being reminded of McDonald’s and expected to see a sign telling me how many billions had been served.  From there, we drove through a shady residential neighborhood of expensive homes, past the American consulate, and finally caught a glimpse of the Templo Expiatorio, a lacy gothic masterpiece, before returning to the Rotunda of Illustrious Jaliscans where the tour began.

We weren’t really ready to go back to the hotel, so walked around the neighborhood, soaking up the scenery one last time, before returning to our hotel to go to bed.









Millenium Arches
















February 23, 2015

Guadalajara had at least three main bus terminals (besides the one where we arrived) and it was somewhat confusing determining where we needed to go to get a bus to Puerto Vallarta.  Eventually, we divined that we needed to go to the Zapopan station on the western edge of town.  The hotel called us a cab and for 150 pesos the driver took us twelve miles through traffic to the bus station.  We had no trouble getting seats on the next bus headed for Las Penitas, which would stop in Mezcales (closer to La Cruz than PV.)  Our bus didn’t leave until 9:45 (and, of course, it was late), so we had plenty of time to get coffee and breakfast at the bus station.

Our bus finally left the station about 10:00 and we had a very comfortable ride on the Primera Plus line, watching movies all the way to Mezcales, where we arrived about 14:30.  From Mezcales, we flagged down a collectivo right outside the bus station to take us home to La Cruz.


We dropped off our luggage and rested a bit before heading down the hill to enjoy gargantuan coconut shrimp with mango salsa at the Glorieta de Enrique, which Pat had been craving ever since she arrived and found the restaurant closed the previous Tuesday.  The shrimp there were truly spectacular.  They were large and coated with coconut without being heavily breaded.  The mango salsa was fruity and delicious and the margaritas generous.  It was not a cheap meal, but a good value for the money.  By the time we finished, we were ready to go home and relax.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A LAST DOSE OF SOLITUDE AND THE ROUND "PYRAMIDS" AT GUACHIMONTONES

February 13, 2015

Mexican Train Dominoes at the Marina
Knowing that my precious days alone to do whatever I liked (reading, drawing, playing the guitar, writing, studying languages, etc.) were almost at an end, I began hoarding my time.  No longer did I seek to fill my time with interesting activities.  La Cruz was a dilettante’s paradise and the variety of choices could get overwhelming.  I spent all day at home on Friday, only venturing out at 17:00 for the Mexican Train happy hour at the marina, which I enjoyed too much to forego.  We had a very large group and needed to form three tables.  I played with Eric and Vandy from my trip to the Alta Vista petroglyphs, Mike and Katrina, and a family of three.   The family had brought a set of dominoes with numbers instead of dots and everyone was appreciative of those.

Jan and Ramona were playing at another table and, when it finally got too dark to play, they decided to join Betty and me for dinner at the Ballena Blanca.  We were all hoping to listen to the band, but it started raining on the way over there and, being that the restaurant has only tarps for shade and no roof, the band couldn’t play.  We managed to meet Betty and eat a delicious dinner, but it eventually began to rain quite hard and we had to leave before we drowned.  Since Betty was staying at the Agave Azul, a guest house nearby, I went home with her and visited until the rain abated enough for me to dash up the hill.

February 14, 2015

Valentine’s Day was completely free and I didn’t mind spending it alone one bit.  I spent it being as productive as possible and completed my blog post for the week.  It was supposed to have rained all day, but the storm stayed south of us.  I stayed in, anyway, and enjoyed myself immensely.

Late in the evening, someone started playing very loud mariachi music.  The sound of the tuba rattled my bones.  This went on until midnight when they must have had some guest artists playing because they rapidly cycled through country, electronica, hip hop and even zydeco music before returning to mariachi music again.  They kept me awake until 2:00 when I was finally tired enough to sleep even though they were still going strong.

February 15, 2015

La Cruz from Above
Sunday morning, I was relieved to awake to the relative silence of roosters and traffic noise.  The tuba was silenced.  I had left my sweater at Betty’s place, so agreed to meet her at the farmers’ market on Sunday morning.  We met about 10:30 and chatted and listened to the band for an hour or so before buying some peanut butter and strawberries and then taking a stroll along the marina and through the vendors in the plaza.  I usually went to the Mega on Sundays, but decided to just grab the essentials (eggs, bananas, beverages) from a tienda in town and pick up the few items I needed from the big store on the way to pick Pat up from the airport on Tuesday.  My time was growing short and I didn’t need to buy a lot of food.  I spent another wonderful afternoon at home and ate leftovers for dinner.

February 16, 2015

My only real complaint about living in La Cruz was that I didn’t sleep well.  Loud music and/or the neighbors tended to keep me awake at night and the mattress was so hard that, even with the memory foam I had brought, my hip bothered me when I lay down.  Since I tended to be a night owl anyway, it didn’t take much to make me stay up late.  The only problem with staying up late, since I really didn’t have to get up early, was that I needed to exercise in the morning before the sun came up and it got too warm.  Lack of sleep was cutting into my running and I wanted to keep up my endurance because I had agreed to train for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon on my return to California.  I got up early on Monday morning and ran around the marina and back up the hill.  It was remarkable how much I could sweat in 3.25 miles, even before dawn, in La Cruz’s humidity.  I had to down a Gatorade immediately on my return to stave off intense cramps in my calves.

La Patrona
I spent the morning on my usual pursuits and then met Ramona to take her to see my hairdresser.  Ramona needed a haircut and wanted to start growing a little braid like mine, so she wanted me to come along to provide an example.  We went to see Gabriela at the salon on Huachinango and she did a nice job of cutting Ramona’s hair, leaving her with a cute little pigtail in back.  From there, we walked up to the stationery store on Coral so that Ramona could buy some rubber bands for her braid and then we parted ways and I returned home to spend my last solitary afternoon writing and playing the guitar.

I had plans to meet Betty for dinner and the show at La Cava.  When I got there, I discovered we had grown to a group of ten.  I already knew Evan and Mary Lou, but I enjoyed talking to some other sailors down at our end of the table.  Once again, La Patrona was playing typical music from Jalisco.  The singer had a wonderful voice and a beautiful costume.  She sang songs about the wonders of Guadalajara and joked about how superior it was to Mexico City.  After dinner, Betty, Evan, Mary Lou and I walked up to Philo’s, having heard there was a blues jam happening.  When we got there, the music was a little too country for our tastes.  We decided to call it an evening.

February 17, 2015

Tuesday was my last morning alone, so I did 110 squats and a bunch of push-ups and sit-ups and then spent the morning drinking coffee and studying languages.  I practiced the guitar for a while in the early afternoon and then set off to meet my friend, Pat, at the airport.  Her plane arrived on time.  We took the bus back to La Cruz.  Pat had a heavy suitcase, so we had a time hauling it up the 134 stairs to my apartment.

I wanted to take Pat to La Glorieta de Enrique for a welcome margarita and coconut shrimp, but they were closed on Tuesdays.  We ended up going to the Ballena Blanca for shrimp burritos and then took a walk around the marina where I ran into almost everyone I knew.  By the time we finished our walk and returned home, we were ready to hit the hay.

February 18, 2015

We drank coffee and listened to the net.  Then I ran down to pick up my laundry and buy a few things for breakfast while Pat got ready.  I told Sonja, my friend at the laundry, that we were going to Guadalajara for the weekend.  She was from Guadalajara and gave me some tips on what to see and where to shop. 

The Beach at Bucerias
We had smoothies and hard boiled eggs for breakfast and then set off for the beach in Bucerias.  We took a collectivo over there and then walked down through the center of town to the beach.  Pat enjoyed seeing the square and we started to walk through the market stalls but were quickly discouraged by the vendors’ aggressive sales tactics.  We beat a hasty retreat through a crowd of tourists and walked down to the beach.  We strolled along the sand for a while and then stopped at a restaurant with chaise lounges under umbrellas where we parked for the morning.  We ordered soft drinks and lounged in the shade.  We took turns swimming in the ocean.  Pat went first.  As she waded into the waves, she stepped off a sudden drop and tumbled over backwards.  Our neighbors later informed us that it was better to walk a bit further to the right before entering the water.  The bottom there undulated, but didn’t have any sudden drop offs.  I was able to wade in far enough to start swimming without any major mishaps.  We lounged there until noon or so and then decided to head the other direction to eat lunch at a palapa restaurant on the sand.


We ate lunch at Mariscos El Gordo or Fat Boy Seafood.  When we had arrived at the beach, we had been greeted by a fellow who gave us a coupon and told us that the special was lunch and a margarita for 110 pesos.  That sounded like a good deal, so we went back there.  When we arrived, we discovered that the coupon was actually for five beers for 110 pesos and the waiter denied that there had ever been any such deal as lunch and a margarita for 110 pesos.  We had both clearly heard the guy.  His tactics had worked, however, because we were there.  It was a nice place with a gorgeous view, so we stayed anyway.  We ordered mahi mahi filets and pina coladas and the fish was well prepared.  We sat and enjoyed the view until it was time for us to head home and clean up for the evening’s activities.

We crossed the highway and grabbed another van back to La Cruz.  We needed to wash off the sand and get dressed in time for the Mexican Train happy hour at the Gecko Rojo, which started at 17:00.  Pat had never played Mexican Train before, but she won the first game.  We had a rather small and somewhat subdued group, so it was a good opportunity for Pat to learn how to play.  We had a drink and played until about 18:50.  Then we walked around the corner to Philo’s to see Luna Rumba.
Luna Rumba at Philo's
I could have listened to Luna Rumba every night, but I was pleasantly surprised when they played a very different set from the last time I had seen them.  They played some traditional Mexican songs with a twist and some new material.  Geo, the violinist, even played a string quartet all by himself using looping technology.  It started sounding familiar after he added the second part, but I didn’t place it until he finally added the melody at the end.  He was playing Eleanor Rigby!  I got a good laugh out of that because my cousin Tiffany and I were amazed at how often we heard Beatles songs in Mexico.  It seemed we couldn’t go a day without hearing one.

February 19, 2015

Church in Mascota
April picked us up at the bottom of the hill to leave for our trip to Guachimontones.  We continued on to PV Sailing to collect the other members of our group.  We had quite a crowd because there were not only the eight of us in the van, but also a family of five from New Zealand.  Most of the others in the van were already friends.  Even the one couple I thought I didn’t know turned out to have spent Christmas with Scott and me in Chiapas.

Plaza in Mascota

It was a long drive to Guachimontones and we were in somewhat of a hurry because we had to get to the pyramids in time to see them before they closed at 17:00.  We stopped for breakfast in Mascota and ordered sandwiches there to take with us for lunch.  We completely overwhelmed the café and ended up spending much more time there than we had planned.  As a result of that, we ended up eating our lunch in the parking lot of an Oxxo where we stopped to use the restroom.  Still, we made it to Teuchitlan in plenty of time.

Museum at Guachimontones
Betty and Kat with Their Tattoos
Our guide was due to meet us at 16:00 and we were early, so we visited the museum at the archaeological site of Guachimontones first.  The museum was brand new and had a lot of very interesting interactive displays.  One of the docents at the museum painted temporary designs on Katrin and Betty’s forearms.  After we walked through the museum, our guide met us and took us on a tour of the site.  No one knows what the people who built the structures there were called, since they left no written records.  Today, the civilization is called the Teuchitlan Tradition.  Their architecture was marked by the construction of round “pyramids” of concentric circles, surrounded by a ring of smaller temples.  A tall pole rose from the center of the main “pyramid” and men performed the “flying” ritual while suspended from that pole.  The flying ritual is performed to this day and I had seen it the previous year at Playa Linda near Ixtapa.
Unexcavated Pyramid

The site was also equipped with several ball courts, some of which were only for practice.  This society apparently used the ball game to settle disputes rather than to determine who got sacrificed.  However, since the hard rubber ball weighed between three and six kilograms and the game was, like soccer, played without hands and lasted from sunup to sundown, injuries were often fatal.  Most of the male skeletons found at the site had hip or leg fractures.  Archaeologists had reconstructed one of the pyramids and surrounding temple platforms, but most of them remained untouched and looked like unnatural little hills.  We climbed up the largest of these, which was a serene spot covered with trees and offered a fabulous view of the reconstructed area.  Our guide was interesting and told us stories of weird occurrences around the site that had led the employees who worked there to believe it was haunted.

Round "Pyramid"
We stayed until the site closed and then piled back in the van and drove down to a restaurant called Soky next to the lake where we had dinner.  The restaurant was a beautiful, huge, open structure inches from the water.  A natural spring flowed into a lovely swimming pool there.  The lake was choked with water hyacinth, which made it look more like a field than a lake, although they were rumored to blow from side to side as the wind shifted.  It was still a very pretty view and we saw egrets and white pelicans.  The service was appalling and the food fairly mediocre unless you ordered something pulled from the lake.  The frog legs and trout were good, although everyone else had finished eating by the time they finally brought my trout.  Still, we had a nice time eating dinner with the group.

Pool at Soky
After dinner, we repaired to the Hotel Teuchitlan, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise.  It was a very nice, modern hotel and, aside from the usual rock hard mattresses, quite comfortable.  We rested for half an hour and then some of us went for a walk down to the plaza.  Teuchitlan is pretty dead after dark, but we found an open ice cream shop where we bought popsicles.  We took our goodies into the plaza and sat all in a row on a long white iron bench.  It was a pleasant evening and we were all happy to be with good company in small town Mexico.

Hotel Teuchitlan



Saturday, February 14, 2015

SAYULITA AND EL SANTUARIO DEL REY

February 6, 2015

When I woke up in the morning, my dog friend was nowhere to be found.  When Tiffany stirred, she told me that the dog had ended up sleeping in her bed and she had let her out.  Once again hoping that she had gone away, I opened my front door only to be greeted by our new friend.  After the net, I called my friend, April, on the radio.  She had seen the picture of the dog on my Facebook page and recognized her.  She told me that she usually hung around by the taxi stand.  Since she seemed well fed, I figured that she had an owner.  After breakfast, I walked her down the hill and across the highway.  It took me several tries to escape her, but she eventually went off about her normal doggy business and I was able to sneak away without being followed.

My cousin, Tiffany, wasn’t feeling well, so we spent the majority of the day hanging around the apartment while she regaled me with tales from her job as an investigator in child protective services.  At 17:00, I went down to the marina to play dominoes.  While we were playing, a condominium in one of the Alamar towers caught on fire and smoke was billowing out of the building and flames were shooting upward.  We all watched, horrified and convinced that the whole building was going to go up.  All of us knew people who lived there and we were very worried.  In the end, it was only one unit that burned, although there had to have been a lot of smoke damage, since we all tended to leave every window open.  It appeared to have been an electrical fire, so the power was turned off throughout the entire building.  The developer paid to send all the residents to a hotel until the power could be evaluated and restored.  After dominoes, I came home and made pork chops and bacon slaw for dinner.

February 7, 2015

Tiffany felt better on Saturday morning, so we spent a leisurely morning at home and then set out for the surf town of Sayulita.  It was a lovely day, sunny but not too hot.  We took a collective to the prep school next to the highway and then walked under the overpass and over the pedestrian walkway to the other side of the highway where we caught a bus to Sayulita.  The total fare for both buses was 21 pesos (<$1.50.)  It was only 14 kilometers from La Cruz to Sayulita, so it wasn’t a long bus ride, but Tiffany enjoyed seeing the jungle greenery which reminded her of Oregon after living in Oklahoma for the past few years.
The Beach at Sayulita

We got off the bus at the bus terminal in Sayulita and then walked into the town, past the main square and down to the beach.  Sayulita probably wasn’t any bigger than La Cruz, but it had a lot more touristy businesses.  There were shops selling surf wear and handicrafts and lots of bars and restaurants.  The beach was lined with restaurants, each of which had tables under umbrellas on the beach as well as a covered area.  We elected the first major restaurant that we encountered and selected a spot under the roof, but next to the beach where we could observe the action.  We ordered drinks to start and then some shrimp quesadillas for lunch.  The margaritas were humongous.  It took a couple of hours for Tiffany to get through her second one.  I had started with beer but, seeing that it was going to take a while for Tiffany to finish her drink, I ordered a strawberry daiquiri.  When it arrived, I was shocked to see that it was every bit as large as Tiffany’s margarita.  It took us until 4:30 in the afternoon to get through our drinks.

Sayulita was a very touristy place and seemed even more so after living in La Cruz where almost no one ever tried to sell me anything.  Every few minutes another vendor came by hawking jewelry, pottery, and clothing.  Tiffany eventually bought a new hat.  When we finally left the restaurant, we looked for a bank.  Sayulita had numerous private ATMs, but no actual banks.  We weren’t desperate, so decided to take the bus back into Bucerias to visit a bank there before returning to La Cruz.  I knew a couple of people who had cards compromised after using private ATMs and didn’t want to take a chance.

By the time we got home, it was almost dinner time.  We stopped at the market to buy eggs, water and juice and Tiffany bought a bottle of wine and some laundry detergent.  Once we got home, she relaxed while I made us beef and peppers in a guajillo chile sauce over cauliflower rice and salad.  We drank the wine with dinner and spent a quiet evening.

February 8, 2015
Three Foot Iguana

I had wanted to go to a pool party at Los Arroyos Verdes since the previous year, but had never gotten around to it.    My friends, Jan and Ramona, also wanted to go so, after a quick stop to look at the giant tree dwelling iguanas near the park, Tiffany and I met them at the entrance to the marina where Los Arroyos Verdes had sent a van to collect us.  

Bar Pavilion at Los Arroyos Verdes
Los Arroyos Verdes is a sort of hotel/botanical garden/spa/sculpture garden inland a few kilometers from Bucerias.  The owner, Lupe, is a very creative woman and had lovingly decorated the property with all sorts of repurposed objects and found art.  Even the restrooms were beautiful.  For 300 pesos, one could purchase a day pass which allowed one access to the gorgeous pool area, restaurant and bar.  That 300 pesos could be used towards purchases in the bar and restaurant where the prices were competitive with local restaurants.  On Sundays, they had pool parties with live music in the afternoon.  The parties were popular and the pool area was lively with people swimming, relaxing in the shade, and listening to the music.

Pool at Los Arroyos Verdes
We got there just before noon and spent the day reading, using the free wifi, and soaking up the ambiance.  We had lunch in the restaurant and sipped sangria by the pool while listening to the band Funkswagen.  Funkswagen played sets that were a little mellower than usual, but they still had us dancing by later in the afternoon.  Tiffany and I got a good laugh at how an hour cannot go by in Mexico without hearing a Beatles song.  We did, however, get through an entire afternoon without hearing Honky Tonk Woman, which seems to be the most popular song in La Cruz.  We stayed until the party ended and then they gave us a ride back to La Cruz.

To save ourselves a trip up the stairs, Tiffany and I decided to eat and early dinner at El Rey Bombon before heading home.  We had ceviche and octopus tostadas and shrimp tacos, all of which were delicious, reasonable and quite filling.  Then we climbed up the steps one last time and spent Tiffany’s last evening lounging about, reading and using the internet.

February 9, 2015

Tiffany’s flight left at 15:30, so she spent the morning packing and relaxing while I studied languages.  Tiffany made bacon one last time, which had become quite a habit while she was visiting.  About 12:30, we left and took a collective to the airport.  The driver tried to charge me an extra 10 pesos per person and still overcharged me ten pesos, even after I called him on it.  I wasn’t, however, sure if he was trying to rip me off or just really bad at math.  For ten pesos, it didn’t seem worth going through another round of argument.  We got Tiffany and her luggage checked in and then stopped for some lunch at an airport café.  I couldn’t get through security, so I said goodbye to Tiffany and then hopped on a bus back north.

One my way home, I stopped at Chedraui in Nuevo Vallarta.  Chedraui is my favorite market in Mexico, but it is also the furthest from La Cruz and I had not been there since the previous year.  Despite being a Mexican company, they stock a nice variety of foreign products and their tortilleria makes the best chips.  I bought lots of beverages and produce and then took another collectivo back to La Cruz, where a spent a quiet evening enjoying my solitude.  I could see Mr. Chedraui's large yacht from my window.



February 10, 2015

Tuesday morning, I heard on the net that the benefit for the free spay and neuter clinic that was happening that evening was short of volunteers because seven people had called in sick.  Since the organizer was a friend of mine, I volunteered to sell drink tickets.  That gave me most of the day free.  Having had company for the past ten days, I was a little behind on my guitar lessons and language study.  I spent the bulk of the day reviewing what I had learned on the guitar and making notes so that I could remember what to play without referring to the internet.  It was a very relaxing day.

It was becoming increasingly clear that my time in La Cruz was very limited.  With another guest arriving the 17th and a trip planned to Guachimontones and Guadalajara for five days, I would soon run out of free days to spend as I wished.  I went over and over in my head how I could possibly extend my stay, but couldn’t avoid my responsibilities to family and property any longer.  I would have to leave La Cruz at the end of February as planned, even though it would break my heart.  My only consolation was that I would eventually be able to return.  The experiment of living in La Cruz for a season to see if I liked it as much as I thought I did had succeeded.  In fact, I liked it even better.

By 17:00, it was time to walk over to Las Palapas Grill on the beach, where the Puppy Love benefit was being held.  The only way knew how to get there was to walk along the beach from the marina, so I looked at a map and tried to divine a more direct route from my apartment.  I still ended up walking the last part of the way along the beach, but at least I found it with no trouble.  Things were a bit chaotic when I got there because people were showing up and the organizer still had not arrived.  I immediately sat down at the drink ticket table and was soon swamped with purchasers.  The original plan had been for volunteers to work in shifts so that we could still enjoy the party, but we were so short-handed that I ended up selling tickets from 17:30 to 21:00 when the party officially ended.  I didn’t get to see the dog wedding or participate in the auction and could barely hear the band, but I sold a lot of drink tickets,  greeted many friends, and got to know Landon from Inside La Cruz who was helping me and turned out to be my neighbor.

After the party ended, a few of us hung around to launch sky lanterns.  I had been fascinated by them since New Year’s of 2014 when I watched thousands of them float skyward in Ixtapa.  A sky lantern is a sort of miniature hot air balloon made of silk with a chunk of firestarter suspended at the bottom.  One lights the waxy material of the firestarter and then holds the lantern until the air inside becomes hot enough to lift it.  This is somewhat tricky because one has to do this without burning oneself or catching the lantern on fire.  Often, they are released too soon and crash before they really take off.  We did manage to launch a few of them, although the heart shaped ones we were using were a bit large and didn’t work as well as the more balloon shaped ones.

What had looked like streets on my map had turned out to be more like trails.  While I had arrived without incident, I didn’t want to go back that way in the dark.  I still had to pick my way along the edge of the beach to the first street, but then I chose a better lighted route which led me back through the center of La Cruz instead of skirting along the edge.

February 11, 2015

Fruits, Veggies and Salt in San Pancho
Wednesday, I went on another excursion with my favorite tour guide, April, to the Alta Vista Petroglyphs at Santuario del Rey.  We left La Cruz at 9:00 and drove north.  After a half an hour or so, we stopped at a fruit stand in San Francisco (usually known as San Pancho.)  They sold all kinds of exotic fruits, such as guayabana and yaka, which can grow as large as 80 pounds per fruit.  We sampled some yaka and browsed through the large selection of Mexican delicacies.  I bought a bag of tasty, but curiously yellow macaroons.  Finally, we all piled back in the van and drove for another hour or so through las Penitas and up the road to Alta Vista. 
Candies for Sale in San Pancho


The last part of the way was on a dirt road. Eventually, the dirt road degenerated to the point that we needed to park the van and continue the last couple of miles on foot.  It was an easy hike along a stream.  We saw lots of birds and a gargantuan spider that was nearly as big as my hand, although he was mostly legs.  The petroglyphs were carved into the rocks at Santuario del Rey (Sanctuary of the King), a sort of natural amphitheater which is still considered a holy place by the Huichol Indians.  The petroglyphs were not especially old.  They were believed to have been carved between 1000 and 1500 A.D.  No one knows exactly what they were supposed to represent, but it is likely that they were considered a type of communication with the gods.  Some seemed to depict shamans and others aspects of nature.  There were a lot of spirals and one that resembled a crocodile.
Petroglyph at Santuario del Rey

The petroglyphs were interesting, but I found the setting more spectacular than its decorations.  A stream ran between walls of fractured granite and poured over steps to form pools and a wide open area at the bottom.  The fractured stone made the walls look almost manmade, as if the stream had stripped away the soil covering an ancient temple.  The site had a mystical air about it and was very restful.  It was no wonder that it was considered a holy place and we saw a number of offerings scattered across the stones.  We stopped there to rest and eat a snack.  My camera suddenly malfunctioned and began taking overexposed, striated and negative images.  I had to switch to my cell phone camera.  Maybe there was some strange juju there because it started working again after we left.
Pool at Santuario del Rey

Fractured Stone
Once we left Alta Vista, we continued on to the town of Las Varas where we visited the Jamurca Hot Springs.  The hot water was trapped in brick enclosures where it welled out of the earth and then piped into concrete lined pools of differing temperatures.  We spent most of our time in a large pool the temperature of bath water, although we did visit a small, hot tub like pool, as well.  We ate lunch, bathed and relaxed.  The water left our skins feeling soft and smooth.  We were nice and relaxed for the drive home.

Pool at Jamurca Hot Springs
Hot Pool at Jamurca Hot Springs
As another couple on the trip was staying with friends who lived on my street, I got dropped off close to home.  Betty, another single woman sailor spending the winter in La Cruz, had never been to our part of town before and was curious, so I invited her up for a drink.  She was enchanted with the view and we spent a couple of hours chatting and drinking tequila.  She left when it started getting dark and I ate leftovers and spent a quiet evening reflecting that my wonderful free days were almost at an end.  I loved spending time with friends, but the best part of my time in La Cruz had been having time to devote to things like studying languages and playing the guitar, which I never seemed to be able to fit into my life at home.

February 12, 2015

I made the most of the morning and early afternoon on Thursday, reviewing what I had learned on the guitar and spending a lot of time on languages, although I did pop down after the net to buy tickets for the next Luna Rumba show and pick up my laundry.  At 15:00, I went to the meeting of Women Who Sail at El Asadero, a restaurant I had wanted to try.  The meeting was kind of a disaster.  The acoustics were horrible, there was no microphone, and we couldn’t hear the speakers.  There weren’t enough waiters and many of us never got a drink or a chance to order food.  It was so noisy that I could barely converse with the women at my table.  Betty and I ducked out early to go to the Octopus’ Garden to teach English.

The Octopus’ Garden offers free English lessons to the community on Thursday afternoons at 17:00.  It was pretty chaotic with several different levels being taught simultaneously at neighboring tables in one courtyard.  I had offered to help, but wasn’t expecting to be thrust into teaching five first and second graders with no organized curriculum or instruction.  We went over colors, days of the week, months and members of the family.  They were adorable and a couple of the girls were very eager to learn, although the boys were shy and fidgety.  After about a half an hour, they wanted to play a game and I had nothing prepared.  The best I could do was to play hangman with them, which worked until they got wind that someone was passing out Valentine’s candy and declared the lesson over.  I was somewhat relieved that I would be busy my last two Thursdays in La Cruz, but hoped that I could devote time to teaching English in La Cruz at a later date after I had some instruction in teaching English.


On my way home, I dropped by Philo’s to make dinner reservations for the night of the Luna Rumba show.  The maître d' wasn’t pleased that Philo had said I could do so because they were really already full.  I was pretty sure the only reason I managed to make a reservation was that, unbeknownst to them, Jan and Ramona had already made one and I was only adding two more people to that reservation.  I figured we’d be stuffed somewhere, but hoped for the best.  I dropped by the evening produce market to buy bananas, peppers and a mango and then returned home to revel in my solitude.