Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Three Cylinder Opera (a farce)

Idealized propane cylinder
I was preparing breakfast this morning. Arepas and bacon. I had modified the arepas with an egg, a bit of oil and some baking powder in the hope that they would be lighter.

I had the bacon, almost done in the skillet. I put the griddle for the arepas over two burners and turned them on. Just then, the flames faltered and went out. I donned my LED headlamp and went behind the house to switch the scuffed and battered propane cylinders. As I'd thought, one was empty. It was an easy task to switch to the other.

Back at the stove, I relit the burners, and again, they feebly faltered and extinguished.

Back again at the propane tank, I discovered that it also was empty. How could that be?

It might be hours before the propane vending trucks that ply ciudad y campo would come by..

So, I detached a portable 10 kilo cylinder from the heating stove in the living room. and wrestled it out back. It was frustrating connecting it, due to hose and coupling shortfalls.

Some time later, after I'd calmed down, I was able to get it connected, and it worked like a charm.

The arepas and bacon were good. We are still waiting for a propane truck to arrive. In the meantime, I took a 2 hour long nap.

Moral: always carry an effective spare. This was kind of a once in a lifetime cosmic event, as we have one empty and one partial cylinder at the front of the house. Those are used for the water heater, which we fire up on an as needed basis. (Pilot runs constantly.)

We are still waiting for a propane truck to arrive.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Twistems: Hate 'em! Can't Live Without 'Em!

The Many Colors of Twistems

Twistems (wire ties for plastic bags): Hate 'em. Can't live without 'em. Sometimes pure hell to untwist from the neck of the bag because *someone* has double twisted them. Then there are those that are too short or too stiff to be easily removed. Others are found in the bottom of the chest freezer, having *spontaneously*, of their own accord freed themselves, as the contents of the bag spill into the cavernous depths of the freezer.

And there's the old standby: not to hard to remove, perhaps, but WhereTF is it when you want to re-close the bag?

My policy when cooking or baking is that any twistems removed from bags get placed *off* the work surface. Hardly anything is worse then finding a wire tie in your slice of bread.

Despite my loathing for twistems, we have to ask friends to schlep some in their luggage when returning to México from los Estados Unidos. After all, we wouldn't want to ever run out of them. Twist ties are only now barely debuting in México. Most plastic bags here are closed by twirling the bag and its contents into a usually unassailable knot, the bag openable by ripping or assaulting it with scissors.

In the end, twistems are our friends, although difficult ones, as they help to keep foods fresh and to prevent ants and other insects from entering and eating our foods.

Even the ants are confused and frustrated

Thursday, January 30, 2014

P as in Privacy

Don Cuevas, exposed in the men's room, Restaurant Zandunga, Oaxaca

Below are a few of my observations, acquired over time in Mexico, of the role privacy plays or fails to play in public restrooms in various locals, such as bus stations. If you are sensitive or easily offended, I suggest that you go read another blog. This one will lay it out the way I see it. If you are ready, Read On>>

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Fickle Finger Strikes and Moves On

I occasionally read about scams played on tourists, but until recently had personally avoided and escaped the shame and distress. About two weeks ago we were successfully scammed by a taxi driver.

Toward the end of our first week in Oaxaca, we hailed a cab passing in front of our hotel, an older vehicle in poorer condition, driven by an older man.

Usually, I prefer to sit in the front passenger seat, but didn't do so this time because there was a small tool chest occupying that space. I got in the back with my wife. It was uncomfortable, as the front passenger seat back was inclined rearward and the seat as far back as it could go. The taxista got out and did something in the front passenger side, which didn't relieve the crowding in the rear. He indicated to me to open the rear right door. At that moment, he grimaced and held up his left hand to show that he'd caught his finger in the door. (I was puzzled how that could happen when opening the door, but...)

Despite this apparently severe, sickening injury, he still wanted to take us to our destination. We were disheartened and didn't want to continue. He told us not to worry, it was an accident, "no pasa nada." During the ride he made no sounds of pain. His finger truly looked broken, although the skin was unbroken and there was no blood.

He put either his radio mike or cell phone between his left shoulder and chin and talked at length with someone, about where we were going, the finger accident and arranging treatment at "una clínica particular." —a private clinic—

He didn't seem to have very good knowledge of some of even the major streets. I had to direct him. (Could it be that he wasn't a taxi diver at all?)

When we arrived at our destination, he was very careful to pull over and courteously directed us to exit to the left in order not to be hit by oncoming vehicles!

When we started to pay him the fare, $40 pesos, he asked for $3000 pesos "para la curacíon". Up to this point, we believed that it was a real and very distressing accident, Now doubts entered. We told him that we don't carry that much money, but we gave him $500 pesos*, which he took, looked thoughtful, nodded and drove off.

*Some of you may ask "Why would you pay him?" Because we just wanted to get clear from the psychological and physical distress we were having.

We crossed the street and entered the restaurant in a truly dejected mood. We weren't sure if it was a real injury, or a scam to get money from gullible tourists like us. We now speculate that he already had an old finger injury and was using it to get extra income, but we can't say for sure. In either case, it was really upsetting for us and possibly very painful for the taxista.

In retrospect, we conclude that we were scammed for sure. The driver is awarded the Fickle Finger of Fate for his subtle, devious psychological ploy.

Last Sunday Morning In Barrio Jalatlaco, Oaxaca

Barbacoa Sunday mornings at the corner of this wall outside of Casa Arnel
It's been said that there are No Stupid Questions, but what happened Sunday morning puts the lie to that cliché.
Note that no one is identified by name or description.

I was seated at the Sundays only, family operated barbacoa stand on the corner of Calle Aldama across from Hotel Casa Arnel, where we'd spent the previous two nights.

A couple of New York women stopped and asked me some questions. One women was considerably older and seemed to have acute failure of common sense. The younger (50's?) was sharper, yet even she nearly drove me into a surreal state of mind.

I'm sorry that I can't perfectly reconstruct the dialogue, but here are a few of the high(?)lights. Try to imagine their frequent interruptions to my answers as I tried to answer their questions.

NYW: "Is the meat hot?
DC—I took this to mean "is it spicy?". I asked the cocinera if it was picante. "No"
DC: No, it's not. But if you put these salsas and chiles on it, it's hot."
Older NYW: "What I meant was, is it spicy?"
Younger NYW: "That's what he means. 'Picante' is 'hot'.

DC to self: ¿¿¿WTF???

Not "hot"
NYW: "How do you get to the airport?"
DC: "I'd take a taxi."
NYW: "How did you get here?"
DC: "On the bus."
NYW: "Oh! There are buses?? How many? Where do they go?"
DC: "There are many. They go many places. We will leave for Mexico City in an hour or so. They have a website."
NYW: "Oh. What's it called?"
DC: "ADO.com.mx"
NYW: —writes it down with some difficulty and coaching by me.
DC: "The ADO website can be difficult to use. It's much simpler to just go to the station, which, by the way, is only 7 blocks up this street."
NYW: peers up street.. "Where?"
DC: To the end of this street, take a left, about 2 blocks, you can't miss it."
NYW: Are the buses safe? I mean, it goes on a road, doesn't it?"
DC: ~speechless~

There was more of this sort of inanity, and when I got away, I felt very sad for my native land and the city of my birth.

To their credit, they did remark on the charm of Barrio Jalatlaco, but I had to wonder how they managed to find it. I wonder if they found their way out.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Mariposas Monarcas Seek New Over Wintering Home

"Tenemos que irnos."

December 28, 2013:
Word has come from the Administrative Council of Las Mariposas Monarcas that they will be abandoning their traditional over wintering area in the oyamel (fir) mountains of eastern Michoacán and westernd Estado de México.

The governing body, which administers 4 sanctuaries in said areas made it known in a press conference yesterday that due to the diminishing of the oyamel forest because of illegal logging, and the further diminishing of visitation, for fear of Michoacán's bad rep for violence, that as of the next season, the Monarcas will be in new wintering grounds.

"We are considering various locations, but we like the way La Riviera Maya looks, on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula.", said Licenciada Inocente Paloma, spokesperson for the Council. She went on to say, "We realize that this may have some negative impact on the local economy but they are resourceful and will find alternative sources of income, such as emigration al otro lado. Personally, I like Playa del Carmen".

¡Adios, amigos, hasta la vista!

Map showing proposed route of move.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Two Hotels of the North. Part 2

We'd long considered Nuevo Laredo a sort of ugly necessity when crossing the border into Mexico from Texas. We recently had to go there to nationalize our vehicle. It wasn't fun to do, the distance from home is great, and the temperature in the Rio Grande Valley in August at times reached 109º F.

So it was important to have a conveniently located, comfortable hotel for our sanctuary. We chose the Hotel Colón Plaza in which to stay two nights on our recent trip to Nuevo Laredo, based on TripAdvisor reviews and personal recommendations. It's located in a surprisingly attractive, upscale part of the city. We were comfortable, except for the heat when walking to and from Los Ajos restaurant and nearby branch banks. Note that if you go to Los Ajos, the heavily fortified and guarded building next to it, immediately to the north, is the U.S. Consulate. I recommend walking on the far side of the street, as the security guards are justifiably vigilant, especially after a bomb attack of April, 2010.

It was easy to find and the rate was a reasonable $715 pesos for a double room. The room was a little small, but very well outfitted and ample for our needs. The style is serious "Business Class", and while it didn't warm my heart, it was fine. Parking was in a walled lot behind the hotel with access to the lobby.

The service environment seemed "correct" and a bit "stuffy".

The main things were that the elevator, AC, and bath worked. There is an attractive swimming pool, but we never had time to use it. Although our room faced a busy avenue, the interior was quiet, as it was set back from the street and had heavy curtains as well.

On Sunday evening, the desk clerk told me that the hotel restaurant "Triskel" was not open and was not open for breakfast on Monday. This was not a big issue for us, as we took all our meals at the Restaurante "Los Ajos", an inexpensive, pleasant and informal restaurant 800 meters east, at Calle Álvaro Obregón and Paseo Colón. I will review that separately.

The bathroom was a bit small, but worked fine and like the rest of the room, spotlessly clean. The shower was o.k. but not positionable as it was fixed directly above in the shower stall. The hot water arrived fairly quickly but with only moderate pressure. The bath amenities were above average.

The Wifi worked very well, and there was a large and comfortable desk, plenty electrical outlets, drawers, shelves and adequate but not generous closet space.

The only notable glitch was that the electronic key cards would not work at times. The receptionist got one to work, but a second never did. One is needed to place in a slot inside the room to keep the electricity going. Another is useful if one guest wants to go out while the other stays in. On our return one evening, neither card worked and I had to go to Reception to have them reactivated.

There were the standard two bottles of purified water in the room each day, but on Sunday, when I requested more, the desk clerk told me that there weren't any. What he failed to reveal is that there is an alcove on our floor, close to our room, with a big jug of purified water. It's there for the guests to use to refill their water bottles.

I would have given the hotel 5 stars but for these small annoyances.
(A version of this review appeared on TripAdvisor.com)

I don't have any photos of the hotel, but you can look at these.)

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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Two Hotels of the North. Part 1

We recently traveled to the Frontera del Norte that divides México from the United States. It's a long drive from Pátzcuaro to Nuevo Laredo, and we planned to do it in two stages. A few friends of ours are able to do it in one, 12 hour grind, but we value our comfort and sanity too much.  We were also driving without air conditioning. We decided to pause for rest and refreshment at the Hotel Del Parque, in Matehuala, San Luis Potosí. It's at approximately the midpoint of the trip.

The better known hotels in Matehuala are out on what we might call the Business Bypass to Highway 57D. Of those, the best known is the stalwart Las Palmas Midway Inn. But we had read good things about the Del Parque, and we weren't disappointed. It's located close to the center of town. It's a first rate establishment, offering excellent accommodations, quality service and a surprisingly good restaurant.

We found the hotel with only a little difficulty. It's located at the corner of Calle Bocanegra #232 at Calle Rayón. That's at the southwest corner of the park.

There's a secure, underground parking garage. There's an attractive lobby and spacious lounging areas with comfortable furniture on each spacious floor landing. The stairs are broad and easy, but there's also an elevator.

Del Parque Lobby
First floor lounge
On our first night, while heading northward, we ended up in the Junior Suite, because no doubles were available. There was only either a solitary single available, one of several rooms with windows that face the interior lounge areas. The other was the Jr. Suite was a splurge, but a good value, at $835 pesos a night. It had a big screen tv (which we didn't watch), a mini refrigerator, which came in handy, a king bed, plenty of desk and shelf space and a reasonably sized closet. If they would include a microwave oven, it could be a very nice, spacious studio apartment.

The bathroom was spacious, with separate toilet, lavatory and shower sections. The hot water arrived quickly on demand, and water pressure was adequate. The only flaw was some sewer gas coming up the drains, both from the shower and the sink. We were able to isolate that by closing the bathroom doors.

On our return, a few nights later, we arrived earlier and had more choice as to rooms. This time we chose a double, $775 pesos, and it was more than satisfactory, although it lacked a mini fridge.

Double room with view of the park.
Both rooms in which we stayed were remarkably quiet.

Usually, we avoid hotel restaurants, but this time we gravitated to the adjoining Restaurante Los Nogales.

Informal but well run restaurant "Los Nogales"
It was extremely convenient, attractive, and the service and food were good. Both of our evening meals were light. On our first night, I had Enchiladas Potosinas, and Sra. Cuevas had an Ensalada César Con Pollo. On our return a few days later, she had Caldo Tlalpeño and I had a rich and soothing Crema de Elote and a couple of pretty good Empanadas Argentinas.

Enchiladas Potosinas
Caldo Tlalpeño

Crema de Elote...Soothing...Creamy
Where the Restaurante Los Nogales really shines is with its daily breakfast buffet. The Sunday morning offerings seemed a little more varied than those of the following Wednesday, but still a good value at $108 pesos per person. Cereals, yogurts, fresh juices, piping hot meat  and egg dishes of various types, and if you desired, the kitchen would prepare special requests. The Sunday selections even included menudo. I tried a small amount, and it was superior to any I'd had in Pátzcuaro  or Morelia.

Menudo "Los Nogales"

A few of the hot dishes on the breakfast buffet


Comfort: *****

Service: *****

Wifi: various routers, worked well most of the time. I had a little difficulty connecting at first.

Housekeeping: Immaculate

Price: $735 (sgl); $775 (dbl), $835 (Jr, Suite), in high season, which is when we were there.

Restaurant: See above description.

Food: ***1/2

Service: ****

Price: $-$$

Rest rooms (off hotel lobby) clean and modern.

The now obligatory bathroom shot

Location: Google Maps is a little bit off on this. Hotel is actually to the west of the place marker.)

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The Seven Year Hitch

La Casa, July, 2006
We have just marked the seventh anniversary of our arrival at el Rancho. When we first saw the house that was to become our home, we were immediately attracted to it. True, it wasn't as nice looking then; a one story, flat roofed, unpainted building on a big lot. But we knew right away that we wanted to live here.

The ugly duckling exterior belied the attractive interior. Two bedrooms, a bath (complete with bathtub), a garage with an overhead door, lots of windows, and most attractive of all, an ample kitchen that called to me to cook in it.

Mi Cocina
Since we moved here, our landlords put on a traditional, red tiled roof and painted the exterior. (It already needs to be repainted.) Early this year, they rebuilt the outer walls, defense against would-be, opportunistic predators.

The improved house in summer
We also like that there are no stairs or changes of levels in the house. We also enjoy relative tranquility. Most of the traffic that passes consists of a few farm vehicles and small herds of cattle.

We were quickly accepted into the community, which consists of a handful of closely knit families. We used to participate more in local fiestas, but we have in the last few years pulled back some. It's just too exhausting to go to every fiesta. We also limited our fiesta going to those within a radius of a few kilometers. We don't want to drive at night if at all possible.

Overall, living in this small, pastoral community has been a very satisfactory experience. Every time that we turn off the main highway and travel the last three kilometers to the village, we feel that we are headed homeward.

Splendid backdrop mountain scenery

We're eager to sign up for another seven year hitch.