Guanajuato, Mexico

Guanajuato is intense : its walls are bold slashes of orange and red; the sky is a huge, vivid blue. Yet the climate is so gentle that some here call it “eternal spring”. This old silver Mexican mining town is a complex layering of underground tunnel highways below glittering Spanish Colonial streets. An enchanting historical town center lays below mazes of hillside alleyways.

That was a year ago and now I again remember the magic and mystery of this city.

Thanksgiving Memories

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Why are some of us hurting as Thanksgiving approaches?

Because it reminds us of beloved family members and friends we’ve lost. People so dear and close, but no longer with us to celebrate. Parents, children, siblings. Lifelong friends. Passed away tragically, either suddenly or through illnesses. Aunts, grandparents, uncles. Separated over misunderstandings, feuds, secrets and betrayals. Wives, husbands, partners. No longer speaking. Not even reaching out to make up anymore…

I acknowledge this sorrow. It’s real.  This deep pain, however, also proves we are sensitive and authentic and loving.

We can’t change the past or others. We can’t bring back the departed.  We shouldn’t set our Thanksgiving table with ghosts of turkeys past. Be grateful for those still here, and tell them how dearly they are cherished.

So, don’t feel you’re alone this coming Thanksgiving. Lots of us know just what you’re going through…

 

 

Popcorn Balls

October gets me thinking about 1960s Halloween in Home Acres. There was no better or spookier a place for trick or treating as a kid. The winding dark streets, sloping hills and hidden ravines lit only by the warm harvest moon. Our neighbor Pete Cronk, concealed insidehalloween a leafy tree, on stilts, jumps out as we approach his door. We scream with fear and delight. There’s a rumour of popcorn balls available at a house way up on Ternez Drive. We trudge up the steep street, fueled by anticipation of that special, gooey prize.

TimeZones

Jewish Quarter
Venice Jewish Quarter

we travel limitless galaxies

parallel paths

future past  present.

sans dimension: gravity-free

awake?   dreaming?

our warped and bending spacetime

connects everything at once:

death, birth, love, longing

(you and me)

journeying transcendent timezones.

               A continuous loop

                                     of boundless hope.

Missing the Road

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My husband accepted a job offer.

That was 2 months ago. He loves being back to work.

I miss our adventures. Exploratory travels. For 2 years we roamed and discovered.

It was exciting. And scary. Risky and fun.

Now I make dinner and wait for him to return each day.

I watch Judge Judy at 4 and 4:30.

I walk the dog at 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Rome, Paris, Morocco and Mexico are daydreams

I replay between commercials.

Callejon Alley

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Guanajuato is intense : its walls are bold slashes of orange and red; the sky is a huge, vivid blue. Yet the climate is so gentle that some here call it “eternal spring”. This old silver Mexican mining town is a complex layering of underground tunnel highways below glittering Spanish Colonial streets. An enchanting historical town center lays below mazes of hillside alleyways.

I hadn’t really wanted to visit . I was content with our month at Playa del Carmen and the slow, sultry pace of Yucatan’s Caribbean coast .  We’d gotten into a comfortable pattern there: sleep late, walk to the popular “Quinta Avenue” for hot coffee and breakfast. Then, lie under beach umbrellas, swim in the clear turquoise sea and drink fruity “aqua frescas”. We were finally adapting to the semi-nomadic life we’d adopted after a surprise company downsizing two years earlier.

But my husband, an amateur photographer, looked to Guanajuato for its pristine light, new images and inspiration. At nearly 7000 feet high, with its colorful Spanish plazas, 17th century cathedrals and eerie underground tunnel system, the city beckoned enticingly. Finally, I agreed to change locales. After a short flight we landed in the highlands city of Leon.

I’d found our temporary home online. A vacation rental site had listed a hillside casa with panoramic views of the dazzling Mexican Colonial city below.  The house, though beautiful, had issues:  due to poor construction we could hear our neighbors long past midnight. Some rooms were strangely malodorous, with vague sewage-like smells. Though not in the historic center, it was connected by an ancient cobbled alleyway to the town below.  While steep and winding, it wasn’t difficult to descend down each day. The strikingly painted homes lining the alley invited us to photograph and admire. We were both soon  falling in love with this unusual city of alleys, tunnels, and hills.

cobbleway alley to centro

One morning we saw several pack donkeys near the mouth of the alley. Dirk began snapping his camera shutter, delighted with the scene. Their packmaster glared at us, speaking Spanish in a low voice. “No, don’t take any photos, I don’t like it”.  His forehead was wrinkled with anxiety. With his peasant hat and boots, the man appeared to be from the remote areas higher in the mountains, probably an Otomi Indian. Many Otomi populations practice shamanism and hold prehispanic beliefs. These indigenous folk feared the camera could steal the soul. He was probably making deliveries in the callejons (alleyways).

donkeys

Dirk backed away with his quick smile, apologizing, “Lo Siento”. To me he whispered, “He seems crazy. Why won’t he let me take photos?

Even accounting for possible cultural differences, the asses’ owner seemed unusually angry and suspicious.

We continued our mesmerizing trek toward the town.

Later, further down the stone path, a woman called out to us. “Be careful here, it can be dangerous, keep your eyes open” She gestured, opening her eyes wide with fingers as she said in Spanish, “ojos”. I shivered a little and suddenly felt a shadow fall over the quaint painted houses and maze-like pathways.

Maybe things weren’t what they seemed.

Still, we were assured that if we didn’t veer into the side alleys we’d be safe.

A few days later, my husband again spied the  pack donkeys in the colorful alleyway. They were further down the trail this time, tied up at a house. The glowering owner was nowhere in sight. Dirk took out his Leica quickly, thinking he could sneak in a few shots before the man returned. I begged him to leave, reminding him of their fierce Otomi master. Suddenly, that swarthy man came bounding toward us, screaming Spanish obscenities as he ran, “Cabron…puta”. Beyond enraged, his whole body was shaking and his breathing was fast and heavy. I watched from about 5 feet away on the opposite bank of the road. As the Indio passed Dirk he spat out more vitriol and insults. Dirk replied with his own Spanish cuss words, reddening and becoming angry. The Indio reached his mules and struggled with their packs.

From somewhere between the blankets he pulled out a very long machete, and then turned toward us with the knife held high. His eyes were dark with hatred and lit with a strange, wild stare.  My body froze, limbs tingling and numb with fear. This couldn’t be happening. In the longest of instants I waited for the raging peasant’s attack with the deadly, long sharp weapon. Frantic, I looked around for any possible escape.

donkeys

There was none, in this tiny alley faced with this crazed machete-wielding Mexican. I pleaded again, “let’s go, let’s go”. Maybe we could outrun him. But instead of running, Dirk did a totally unexpected thing:  he stepped aggressively toward the attacker. I couldn’t believe it! I felt an overwhelming surge of renewed terror.

With that move, the raging man’s eyes bulged with disbelief and confusion. In that instant, the machete wavered.

Like this one but larger...
Like this one but larger…

It was enough. We moved quickly then, down the cobble-stone alley, away from catastrophe, confrontation and the paralyzing loss of control. And back into the beautiful, fascinating city we’d come to love.

I was furious with my husband. Why had he exposed me to that kind of danger?

“You shouldn’t have taken the pictures. He’d warned you already. Why did you cuss him back? How could you risk our lives moving toward a crazy man holding a machete”?

Dirk paled then and said quietly, “What, that was a machete? It looked like a big stick”. He’d been squinting into the sun without sunglasses. But from the other side of the alley I had seen the weapon clearly. That explained Dirk’s reckless bravery: he’d never seen the machete.  Fortunately, because of that, we’d escaped alive and uninjured.

I felt lucky to be alive. But, I wasn’t sleeping well. We had 2 more weeks at Guanajuato. We rebooked our flight to leave in a few days instead.

We considered notifying the local police, but were advised this could backfire in the current corrupt environment in the country. We could find ourselves under investigation, or even in a Mexican prison. We kept quiet.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Eventually I was able to put the event into perspective. The incident was traumatic, but we’d also had dozens of beautiful, memories of the good people of Guanajuato.  The ending to this story could have been much worse: any of us injured, dead or in jail.

We love travel because of the unknown, the unexpected and the new discoveries we’ll see. But this time we’d come way too close to real danger and I knew our alleyway adventure would remain imprinted in my mind for many years…

 

Guanajuato Day Three

The reward for this difficult climb is stunning vivid colored houses in the rare mountain light. This city reminds me of European places I’ve visited: its like a captivating melange of Venice, Innsbruck, Jerusalem, Girona, Rome, and….?

On Owl Alleyway
On Owl Alleyway

Guanajuato Day One

cobbleway alley to centro

We arrived at Leon Airport from Playa del Carmen and took a 50 minute taxi north. In Guanajuato, the house we rented for a month was so difficult to find (no house number) our taxi drove up and down the hills for hours. We asked pedestrians along the way. The landlord’s phone number didn’t work, so no help there. Finally we had the taxi just leave us in the town center at a cafe. We contacted the landlord by email thru wifi and he sent his mother to pick us up. She got us in a mini pickup, I barely fit in the cab with my large husband. The stick shift was painful. But at least we weren’t lost anymore.

Not an auspicious beginning, but once there, we loved the beauty of the casa,hacienda, all hand-built stone of the area in unusual greens and pinks. Amazing hillside views of the colored houses climbing the steep grades, and beautiful mountain light.

I awoke with a sore throat and some altitude sickness (its at 6500 feet) so stayed in bed most of the day. Finally went out in the late afternoon and was astounded at the sheer beauty of this unique city. The 45 degree steep walk into the center was a real adventure!! And I thought San Francisco was hard to walk…Got a delicious supper in a traditional local kitchen; enmoladas (very tasty) and homemade chicken soup – so perfect for my throat!

My husband and I took some wonderful photos during our walk around the centro historico and I will post them tomorrow when I feel better. Just from the short time in Guanajuato it’s clear how interesting and unusual the place is. Can’t wait to explore more tomorrow….

Visiting Beautiful Playa del Carmen on a Budget

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESI’d always yearned to visit the Riviera Maya in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. To swim in the turquoise waters of Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen. But whenever I’d review the costs of this popular Caribbean coast, they were always much higher than our budget could handle. So instead we’d travel to Merida, Oaxaca, Puerto Vallarta, or cheaper Mexican destinations. Finally, this year, I decided to make it happen. Just by thinking outside the box, we were able to enjoy a month in the Caribbean for less money. It might not work for everyone, but maybe you’ll be able to get some ideas. Here’s what I did: (1) Researched Airbnb for accommodations. The nightly prices in Playa were super-high, so I re-filtered the search tab for the monthly price. It significantly lowered the cost.  Next, I used the location map in Airbnb to search further from the main tourist areas. Not surprisingly, the further out, the cheaper the price. I found a 2 bedroom 1 bath home in a safe, local neighborhood only 5 blocks from the beaches, clubs and restaurants of “La Quinta”. The monthly price: $1220.00 USD. That may sound like alot for Mexico, but we’re talking about the highest-priced vacation destination here. Playa’s price range is typically $100-$500 USD per night. Do the math for a monthly cost!! So that saved alot of our budget for other fun things, like restaurants and activities.

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My husband outside our temporary home in a working class neighborhood in Playa. February 2015.
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Tropical breezes and beautiful turquoise water make this the ideal sun-lover’s paradise!!

(2) Shop at the local grocery stores. They have great prices here for food, and its fun to get ingredients to cook in our little kitchen. Of course, the produce has to be disinfected with a special product here, before eating. Its not difficult to do. At least 3 very large supermarkets were in walking distance for us. A taxi can be taken home for $3.00 USD if the grocery bags are too heavy. (3) Sometimes ate at the local “comedores”, cafes where Mexicans open their own restaurants at home. The meals can be incredibly tasty. And the cost is very low. For instance, one place, “El Brody”, served spicy chicken, rice, salad and a cool drink for only $5.00 USD.  El brody 2

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The excellent cook at El Brody is Jose.

Calculating the total monthly budget here, we spent under $2000.00. This included housing, food, entertainment, restaurants, activities and transportation. It also included several amazing trips around the area, including Tulum, Puerto Morelos, Isla Mujeres, and Puerto Aventuras. This has been a tremendous vacation value, in my opinion, with great weather, beaches, culture, and many interesting activities. In summary, don’t miss out on beautiful Playa del Carmen due to budget concerns. Be adaptable, and you’ll find that experiencing the true Mayan experience doesn’t require a pricey tourist hotel. Hasta Luego, all.