A Little Bit Of Bacalar in Austin?

21 May

When Lisa and I left Austin,Texas for the jungles of Southern Mexico, we were frequently asked along our travel route where we were going. Curious young camouflage clad men at boarder crossings, fellow tourists at hotel stops or pyramid climbing site seers would scratch their heads at two older women, one with totally white hair, driving a truck and pulling a trailer to a place called Bacalar. They had never heard of it! Ah, and that was one of the reasons we wanted to live here. I only wish it were still true. (International living.com)

Incredible! 2013

A lot has changed in the ten years since we made that drive. Stores and restaurants have exploded and hotels are multiplying like rabbits. The push to develop is due to the Mayan Train which is currently under construction and the many tourists it’s expected to funnel into this little village, On the positive side many new services have sprung up. Last week I was surprised to see an equipment rental store. It only makes sense with the amount of construction going on. But it’s a first.

Blooming
Our entrance to the laguna.

Today I was reading online, and came across a very confusing story about Bacalar. It took me awhile to figure out that it wasn’t about our Bacalar but a restaurante soon to open in Austin named Bacalar. Award-winning Mexican super chef Gabe Erales, with familial ties to Bacalar Mexico is opening the restaurant and hoping to share the unique regional cuisine of this area with the world. The restaurant will be located in a young trendy downtown Austin area. I’m sure it will be a great success.

Gabe Erales

So much for anonymity. The cat is definitely out of the bag. One of my teachers in college in Mexico once told me, “there are getting to be fewer and fewer good places to hide out.” Ain’t it the truth.

DOS TORTAS

Happy Mother’s Day

14 May

Six direct generations of the women in my family.

My daughter and granddaughters
Me at a wedding two weeks ago
My mother
My grandmother
My great grandmother

I hope you recognize the mothers in your life however you can. ❤️

DOS TORTAS

Remembering To Be Grateful

6 May

This week Lisa did our taxes and we had some overdue conversations about finances. We are blessed in so many ways. We have very similar sensibilities about money. Spending has never been a source of contention since we are both quite frugal. Our conscious spending and wise investing means we don’t have to worry about our retirement income. We are very blessed and grateful.

Such lovely mornings in Bacalar.

It’s always a challenge to figure out how long we’re going to live. Illness and disability can eat up savings and death can cut off pensions and diminish social security. Living in Mexico has been a blessing for us. Our house is paid for and expenses are low.

The view that reduces stress.

We have been working on improving our health through eating plant-based and cutting out salt, sugar and oil. My blood pressure is such that I’ve halved my medication and am close to being able to cut it out all together. My cholesterol is lower than it’s ever been.

In my second year of weight training.

I am so grateful to Lisa. For years we have eaten very differently. Her recent willingness to explore a plant-based diet has been a huge help. From what I’ve read eating predominantly fruits and vegetables reduces inflammation and is the way to go. At this rate, we could all live vibrantly to 100 and beyond.

DOS TORTAS

Inspired By My MIL

29 Apr

Lisa’s mother Alice moved from Bakersfield to live with us in Mexico in 2015. It did not go well. She was scared and I was too. We had no real relationship prior to the move. Lisa’s interactions with her mom had only been brief visits and phone calls since she was nineteen years old. There was no one to take care of her in California and she was not doing well, so we invited her to live with us. What could go wrong?

The Queen’s Bath, Palenque on our trip from California.
Alice is not a fan of pyramids.

Upon arrival to Bacalar, Alice lived with us for a brief period in our very little house while her even littler house was being finished. Yes, we built her her own house. She wouldn’t eat anything that we prepared for dinner and almost never came out of her room. We were not off to a good start.

Alice’s little house that she loves.

As time went on, I knew that if things were to improve, it was on me. I began doing things with her, taking her out shopping and to dinner when Lisa was in the States. Things slowly began to improve.

Alice is fearless. Local kids rescued this snake from being caught in a fence.

Last July, Alice got Covid. After two hospital stays and seven months in bed, she began to improve. Our doctor had predicted that she wouldn’t make it a year, that’s how bad she was. I guess that looking death in the eye does something to a person. It sure did to Alice.

Today she goes to the gym and works out 4-5 days a week. Her drive keeps us going. She eats whatever we make her and never complains. She refers to me as her daughter-in-law and tells me she loves me. And more than anything, she’s happy and very grateful for her life. Lisa and I are inspired by her every day. At 79 she is a miracle and I am grateful to call her friend and Mom.

DOS TORTAS

Sometimes You’re Just Tired

23 Apr

I’ve been MIA with no explanation. I’ve also been just plain tired, no reason, no apologies. Well, an hour a day at the gym might be to blame, but who knows?

One weekend we went climbing pyramids with our new friends from Portland, Oregon US.

Ancient ruins near Bacalar.

Today Lisa had surgery to ready her mouth for two dental implants. She’s in quite a bit of pain with stitches and such. So for now I’ll be keeping things simple. Maybe I’ll muster more energy by next weekend.

Last weekend we went to a wedding. It was a perfect blog subject. If only I felt like writing.

Alice loves a wedding.
❤️ mariachis

DOS TORTAS

Easter Respite

8 Apr

Whether or not you celebrate Easter, Passover or Solstice as a spiritual practice, it’s a good time to take a break. Semana Santa or Holy Week is a widely celebrated national holiday in Mexico. Everyone gets a week off work, banks and businesses are closed and Bacalar is a vacation destination for many. Surprisingly the past week has been relatively quiet in our neck of the jungle, much to the chagrin I’m sure, of the million and one new hotels that have been popping up in anticipation of the Mayan Train.

Rooftop Easter sunrise.

I thought I’d share some of my latest artwork. Procreate is a drawing application that allows me to play with color, line and form on my iPad mini. I am totally a novice and use very few of the features it offers.

Let’s Dance
Find The Ice Cream Cone
Bacalar Sunrise
Hacienda
Best Friends

I hope you enjoy your week.

DOS TORTAS

More Easter sunrise from our roof.

DOS TORTAS

Let’s Wrap This Up – Acapulco 1973

2 Apr

The remote places of Mexico were easier to find in 1973. Three students, of which I was one, traveled down a beach road to a time forgotten. We spent a week with a family who was eeking out a living on the Pacific coast south of Acapulco.

This odd “parking space” was for drying coconuts! Taken on my old film camera.

Probably the most memorable activity of the week was drinking cold rum and coke. There were glass bottles of coca cola stacked against the house. One day, the fishermen were taking a run into town for supplies and asked if we wanted anything. Thinking we would provide a little fun for everyone, one of my fellow students gave them some pesos for a bottle of rum. When the rum arrived, we discovered to our surprise that none of the guys wanted any.

We bought our coke from Maria and proceeded to pour ourselves a drink. It was then that one of the fishermen casually asked us the most amazing question … “Quieres hielo?”

Old cases of coke,

It doesn’t take much Spanish language skill to know that hielo means ice. ICE? With no electricity and no running water, how could he be asking us if we wanted ice? My brain imploded with confusion.

Then this fellow proceeded to walk over to a large pile of wood chips that I hadn’t even noticed. And there, buried deep underneath was a block of ice. He pulled out an pick and hacked us off enough to fill our glasses. Voila! Cold rum and cokes. Talk about having to pinch yourself!

Cuba libre

I sat with my companions and watched the sunset, feet in the Pacific, miles from anywhere drinking cold rum and coke. We later realized that the ice was used to keep the fish cold for its trip to market in Acapulco. Wood chips provide adequate insulation. Who knew.

The boss showed up to haul the week’s catch to Acapulco. He is weighing the fish.

We three students from California, Connecticut and myself from New Jersey would never be the same. I think this is the first time I really talked about the experience in detail. The three of us went our separate ways after our adventure and never hung out again. For me, having met people with so few possessions who appeared so happy changed me. I realize that I was only there a week. I don’t want to glorify poverty as I’m sure they had their own problems. In the repaired van we said our goodbyes to return to classes having to force money on them to cover our stay. And like the 1954 musical Brigadoon, the veil closed and we went back to our student lives. Forever changed.

DOS TORTAS

A Gene Kelly taps with men in kilts from the magical village of Brigadoon.

People Like Us (PLUs)

26 Mar

In 2000 my youngest brother died of brain cancer. Lisa and I flew from Austin to Philadelphia for the surgery that we hoped would give him more time. We were sitting in his hospital room saying our goodbyes when a request to meet with the doctor caused us to extend our stay. The trouble was, hotels were booked all over the city due to something or other and we had already checked out of ours.

Michael was sharing a hospital room with a crotchety old man named Charlie who had recently had back surgery. His wife Esther showed up every day on her bicycle with a mouth watering picnic basket because he refused to eat hospital food. Lisa, who loves old people had befriended him. She even assisted him onto the bedside commode.

As a result, when I inquired as to whether they had a spare bedroom that we could use for a few days, we were handed the keys to another one of those life-altering experiences.

We lugged our suitcases the dozen blocks from the hospital to their brownstone, hopefully following Esther’s directions correctly. On the outside of the house there was a plaque stating that the building had once been the original French Embassy dating back to the American Revolution. OMG, what had we gotten ourselves into?

We climbed the stairs and entered into what felt more like a museum than a home. We couldn’t have known that Charlie was a foremost collector of Americana. Walking from room to room we cried over and over, “look at this!”. I so wish that I had a camera, but this was a time before cell phones in every pocket. The house was dark to protect the art from sunlight. This five story structure, equipped with an original elevator, was out of this world, floor to ceiling.

Charles J. McManus 1922-2011

An obituary worth reading. https://www.philadelphiafuneralcare.com/obituary/4856669

We had unknowingly made friends with Charlie and Esther McManus. Charlie was from old money. Not only would he not eat hospital food, he only carried crisp new $100 bills that Esther went to the bank to pick up. We later traveled to Philadelphia several times to visit them.

Esther was Israelí and an award winning chef. She once made croissants on TV with Julia Child! There was a spread in the New York Times Food Section (How To Give A Dinner Party) framed on their kitchen wall. Once when we visited she hosted a dinner party in our honor. You haven’t lived until a world class chef recognized for her dinner parties has one just for you. It was exquisite.

Esther Press McManus

One time we went to lunch with Charlie (Esther worked and he had a little bistro nearby where he walked daily.) During a conversation he said something about PLUs or people like us. Lisa and I just looked at each other. WE were NOT people like Charlie and Esther but it did us no good to protest.

We even got to eat some of her famous croissants.

With Charlie’s health failing, they began to liquidate the art collection. Lisa took time from her construction company to fly to Philadelphia to help out. One day a representative from Sotheby’s Auction House made a dismissive comment to Lisa who was up on a ladder working to remove a chandelier. Charlie overheard and came up out of his chair to her defense. “Do you know who you’re talking to?! That’s my daughter.” The man’s eyes got big as Charlie proceeded to evict him from the premises.” Many apologies later, all was smoothed over. But Charlie left it completely up to Lisa if the man stayed or went.

Needless to say we were way out of our league here. We lost touch and found Charlie’s obituary years later. It is amazing how four people who unknowingly met in a hospital room could become friends and touch each other so deeply. I will return to the story of Acapulco next week. But for now I hope you enjoyed my little sidestep.

DOS TORTAS

A Story Too Good Not To Tell Acapulco Part 7

17 Mar

Our beach vacation to Acapulco in 1973 was a step into a very different world from today. Heck, it was a different world from the rest of Mexico in 1973. The family we stumbled upon was operating a kitchen to feed a group of men who slept by day and fished by night. Maria, the chief cook was unfazed by a few more mouths to feed, hospitality at its best.

Our days began with breakfast which included fish in all its variations. The men were fishing in small boats by gas lantern and our meal had been caught the night before.

The child to the left retrieved water from God knows where with buckets balanced on poles across her shoulders.

The tortillas that were part of every meal were hand formed and cooked on a flat iron griddle called a comal. The comal was balanced on bricks over a hot wood fire. Maria delivered the tortillas to the table and we could barely retrieve them from the traditional woven basket in the center. Her hands were smooth leather and the piping hot corn disks tasted like no tortillas I had ever eaten then or since.

Staying in such a remote location we had to question where everything we consumed came from. There was no quick trip down the street to a little tortillaría or person who showed up on a scooter to deliver a kilo or two. Today, every restaurant in Bacalar has a delivery scooter on speed dial.

Tortillas are still a staple of Mexican diet.

One day a man showed up in camp leading a donkey with two burlap bags of corn cobs slung over its back. Maria and grandma shucked the corn and put the kernels to soak in a tub of water with lime powder. The process is called nixtamalization and causes the kernels to break down. Most tortillas in Mexico today are made from highly processed corn flour and taste like cardboard. The softened corn is then fed into a hand grinder and made into masa and the best tortillas in the world.

Non-GMO corn is quite tough.
The stock photo setup that is far more sophisticated than Maria had.

Few Mexicans today have ever tasted real tortillas. You can buy masa to press and grill your own, but the dough is made from highly processed corn flour.

A simple tortilla press can be found in most homes. Today you can buy ones that press and cook the tortillas right at the table, similar to a waffle iron.

The family we stayed with worked hard. But after the stunning Pacific sunset, a gas lantern provided the only light, and intense games of dominos ensued. One of my companions brought his guitar which was a big hit. Thinking back, all I can say is, “what an experience “.

DOS TORTAS

Amen.

The 1973 Acapulco Adventure Part 6

10 Mar

Having made our sketchy drug purchase upon immediate arrival to Acapulco, the boys and I were quickly off to our next adventure destination. My memory gets a bit faulty, but as I remember we followed the highway out of town and made inquiries along the way as to the illusive Roberto. Finally when a group of vendors all pointed in the same direction when we asked, “dónde vive Roberto?” we turned off the highway onto a sandy trail toward the ocean.

Highway market.

The narrow beach road proved to be a nightmare. We managed to damage the underside of the van crossing a dip or possibly a dry creek bed. The van limped along, but it was clear that we weren’t going anywhere for awhile, certainly not back to Cholula to start classes. Oh shit.

Parking the VW van in the shade until parts for repair could be brought from Acapulco.

We pulled/pushed into a clearing with the pacific not fifty meters (160 feet) away. The family who lived here looked at us as if we had dropped in from another planet. It took us days to figure out that the two room, dirt floor house and assorted shelters we had found were actually a fishing base camp. And btw, Roberto who lived further down the ‘road’ was out of town.

The language barrier was monumental, far beyond my one year of high school Spanish. The other worldly environment that we stumbled into took us days to make sense of. Our brains exploded with each piece of the puzzle we assembled. The bottom line was that a young couple with their three children and grandma lived in a two room mud and stick house with pounded dirt floor. The woman cooked meals for a group of men who slept on the ground during the heat of the day and fished by night. I watched intently the daily routine which did not include electricity or running water.

The kitchen entrance and three children.

We added interest to their lives, and they in turn went out of their way to entertain us. I have to break the story down because there were so many layers which included:

*Eating turtle eggs (it took me years to figure out what we had eaten). *Horseback riding *turning ears of corn into tortillas *cheese making *drying coconuts, going for a bath, and cold rum and coke.

I did not know that we were being offered turtle eggs. This was 1973.

I could not swim as the undertow was so strong and the pot was not very good so there was no getting stoned and yet somehow the days flew by. We slept on woven-mat cots which I now suspect belonged to the family. They gave us their beds! To be continued…

DOS TORTAS

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