Archive | March, 2015

Exploring Bacalar On Foot

29 Mar

My favorite way to explore any place is by walking. It’s a chance to savor the sights, sounds and smells. Bacalar is quite compact, so it is an easy distance to meander, allowing whim to lead. Last night’s tormenta left streets washed away and electrical wires down. The trees and flowers weren’t complaining however and everything looked green and bright, the way it does after a good drenching.

Bogavilla of all colors are blooming year round.

Bogavilla of all colors are blooming year round.

It’s also banana season in southern Mexico with large bunches hanging in every yard.

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This bunch came down in the heavy downpour.

This bunch fell down in the heavy downpour.

Along my walk, I admired this beautiful stone wall that was recently completed. It is amazing to me that a wall is built on property where there is no house! In some instances, I’ve seen narrow doors in a thick wall in front of an empty lot that will make future construction almost impossible. I’ve yet to figure it out.

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Onward toward the mercado. There is a large Mennonite community around Bacalar. They are known for their cheese production and handmade furniture. These lovely chairs were for sale at about $25US each. This robust gentleman had to show me how well the chairs were made by wiggling his behind in the seat, which made everyone laugh. The Mennonite man even smiled, I think.

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The mercado was busy. There are a lot of out-of-state vehicles in town as we lead up to Semana Santa, Holy Week and Easter, which swells Bacalar to capacity and then some. All hotels and hostels will be full to overflowing.

The Mayan women have their patio eggs and backyard veggies.

The Mayan women have their patio eggs and backyard veggies.

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My next stop is the juice bar. It’s new and they offer a mean green drink, a bit sweet put perfect refreshment after a walk.

$1.50 for a half liter.

$1.50 for a half liter.

I was pleased to see early corn available. The guy said it was grown local, a peso an ear (.07). I bought five and he threw in a freebie. The corn turned out to be quite sweet. Mexico banned GMO corn, so the ears are small. Together with the black beans left from dinner and the tomatoes and cilantro from the mercado, I made a great fresh corn and black bean salad for lunch. Yum.

I couldn’t resist a shot of these lovely watermelons. It would have been a bit difficult to carry and besides I had one home on the counter.

Another Mennonite family.

Another Mennonite family.

I had a conversation with a Mennonite woman selling tomatoes and peppers. She spoke English having lived in Belize and complained that she found Spanish difficult to learn. She told me that she has eleven children and her mother had sixteen, all still living. She was fascinated that I only had three children. I wished that I had more time to stay and talk to her. Hopefully I’ll see her again.

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I learned that going for a walk with no destination or plan can turn a grumpy morning into an awesome day. The ingredients for lunch were a bonus. It’s easy here with a smile and a hug to connect. I bet it would work where you live too. Let us know. DOS TORTAS

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Permission to Build – Let the Games Begin

22 Mar

“Everything will be all right in the end… if it’s not all right then it’s not yet the end.”

I guess you can tell that we re-watched the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel this week. I just love that movie. It makes me laugh. We saw it first on the big screen the summer before we pulled out of the driveway hauling our worldly possessions to retire in Mexico. Life sure has been an adventure since then, although not always the one we expected.

This week, after five months of waiting, we got the approval for our home construction project from the state of Quitana Roo. Cue music – happy dance!

David, our builder and Lisa out checking out the placement of the house.

David, our builder and Lisa out checking out the placement of the house.

We put a contract on a half acre of lake-front property when we first visited Bacalar, Quitana Roo, a half hour from the Belize-Mexico border, in December 2013. It was a bold move and we returned to Austin to sell our house, retire from our jobs, sell everything and return the following September to begin life in small-town southern Mexico. We never expected to be renting for two years before moving into our own home. We had a lot to learn about how things are done in Mexico.

Our wobbly dock will be replaced eventually. This will be the view from our porch.

Our wobbly dock will be replaced eventually. This will be the view from our porch.

We hired a biologist a year ago to submit a three-ring, three-inch environmental impact study to the state oversight agency. Building in an environmentally sensitive area required jumping through many more hoops than we were aware. We turned in the report in October 2014 and got our permission to move forward on Thursday of this week.

The view south from our rickety dock.

The view south from our rickety dock.

Our next steps will be to submit structural plans to the Municipio de Bacalar. Municipalities have oversight over all new construction. We will continue transferring funds to our Mexican bank, open an account with a local construction materials company, who will make weekly deliveries to the property, and work on the interior design. We meet next week with a woodworker to begin making the doors.

A built-in cabinet that we will have incorporated into the house design.

A built-in cabinet that we have incorporated into the house design.

I love the idea of niches and built-in cabinets. In a small house it is especially important to optimize the use of all available space. We’ve extended the size of the porch and my studio to allow room for a bed and guests.

We want a similar roof-top patio for star gazing, curling up with a book or entertaining friends.

We want a similar roof-top patio for star gazing, curling up with a book or entertaining friends.

We’re finally starting to feel excited. Today we go to the property to check out progress on the well and septic system. It’s been one big lesson on how to be happy while life unfolds in its own way.

I love this stonework that is in the home of a neighbor.

I love this stonework that is in the home of a neighbor.

This is the time we get to fulfill an unspoken dream, a beautiful home. I’ve never been one to focus on beauty. Our home has always been basic, functional and comfortable. Now is the time to create beauty, something until this time, I’d never really considered. Stay with us, this is when it gets fun. I hope.

DOS TORTA

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A Car Chase in Bacalar Taxista #29

15 Mar

Taxis are an essential to life in Bacalar and Mexico in general. You can travel from one end of Bacalar to the other for about two dollars. When considering the cost of insurance, gas and maintenance on a car, you can’t beat it. That is why, when our friends from Austin, Roberta and her sister Mary where visiting a few weeks ago, we thought nothing of hailing a cab to head to breakfast and the best view in town, Hotel Laguna Bacalar.

The food is good and the view is no extra charge.

The food is good and the view is no extra charge.

Looking south toward Chetumal.

Looking south toward Chetumal.

Upon our return to town and exiting the taxi, I knew within minutes that my cell phone was missing. I returned immediately to the taxi stand and told my woe to the taxistas. Note to self and all of you – always note the number of the taxi you ride in.

Roberta and Mary visit Bacalar.

Roberta and Mary visit Bacalar.

The remainder of the day was spent backtracking, getting the phone turned off and trying not to spoil our guests’ final day in Bacalar. We made no further progress on finding the phone and left two days later ourselves, for our trip to Austin.

Teaching Grandma Lisa how it's done (target shooting)

Teaching Grandma Lisa how it’s done (target shooting)

Halfway through our vacation, we got a message from our good friend and neighbor that his velador Carlos (property manager) knew who had our phone! Carlos used to drive a taxi. And as stories go in a small town, his wife’s cousin saw a taxista with a phone that wasn’t his. Given an opportunity, the cousin looked in the phone and saw Carlos’s phone number and that of our friend.

Now before you get all hopeful, as we did, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. Upon our return, we went to the central office to report taxista #29. The manager said that he would look into it. The fun started when two days later, we spied #29 and Lisa decided to give chase . Now you cannot really have much of a car chase in Bacalar and when the taxi pulled over, we blocked his exit and got out of the truck. He had stopped for the manager who was also looking for him. And then another supervisor showed up. There were neighbors standing in their doorways craning their necks to see what was going on with the crazy gringas. I wish I had thought to take pictures.

A car chase in Bacalar would require avoiding hitting the goats.

A car chase in Bacalar would require avoiding hitting the goats.

It came down to “he said – she said” and #29 vehemently denied everything. Without someone willing to testify, we had no proof. Upon further conversation with Carlos, we decided to drop the issue. #29 is a known bully and he knew who had accused him. We were not concerned for ourselves, but the young cousin who would be asked to testify. Our only hope is that the management knows and #29 will be more careful in the future.

This morning's sunrise.

This morning’s sunrise.

So we’re off this week to buy another phone. As many great stories as we’ve heard about people going out of their way to return lost items, I suppose there will always be a #29 who will show up, an unfortunate fact of life anywhere.
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Life Returning to Normal – Whatever That Means

8 Mar

The Tortas have returned to Bacalar after two weeks in cold, drizzle and fog. We loved visiting with friends and family, but we didn’t get the usual lovely Austin early spring. The day after we left, the city was shut down with freezing temperatures and ice. Whew!

Travel is tiring no matter how well the trip goes. Even the young adults sitting behind us on the plane chanting “Cancun, Cancun!” didn’t put a damper on our mood. Earplugs helped.

The sunset leaving Tulum heading home to Bacalar.

The sunset leaving Tulum heading home to Bacalar.

Returning to our paradise means kicking our house construction into high gear. We have met with our architect and a three week deadline is ticking to complete the structural plans. It was fun to talk sky lights, niches and ceiling fan placement. We will walk the property on Tuesday with our builder to discuss house placement tweaks to optimize the view and air flow. While it seems that it has taken an inordinately long time to build this house, blessings can come in disguise. We are finally clear on what we want and the universe is getting onboard.

A built-in cabinet that we will incorporate into the house design.

A built-in cabinet that we will incorporate into the house design.

A huge blessing is the current dollar to peso exchange rate. As we prepare to transfer money to our Mexican bank account, the dollar is the strongest it’s been in 22 years. It means  that our cost to build will be less than when we arrived in 2013. Another blessing being showered on The Tortas.

Sunday morning sunrise over Laguna Bacalar.

Sunday morning sunrise over Laguna Bacalar.

We are happy to be settling back into our routine of exercise, meditation and our daily to-do list…make a dentist appointment, schedule maintenance on the truck, clean out the refrigerator, etc. It’s a simple life and extremely satisfying.
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Gratitude Gratitude Gratitude

1 Mar

Looking at the world through the lense of a blog makes for an interesting experience. The Tortas are visiting Austin, Texas, home to family and friends and our former life. There’s been a mountain of loving connections, tasks completed and lessons learned.

Taking selfies with Sophia age one.

Taking selfies with Sophia age one.

Hunter age three with Grandma Lisa.

Hunter age three with Grandma Lisa.

There was a great sunrise out first morning in town. We were on our way to an early appointment at the Veteran’s Administration Clinic. The VA has checked Lisa’s health from head to toe. She will have new glasses and the continued support she needs to stay healthy.

Heading toward the VA Clinic on highway 71.

Heading toward the VA Clinic on highway 71.

A walk along Lady Bird Lake provides a view of downtown Austin. This was the warmest day we had during our stay. Note to self: come back when it’s not so cold!

View from the newly extended hike and bike trail.

View from the newly extended hike and bike trail.

While visiting Austin, I celebrated my birthday. We had a small gathering of friends at a local restaurant that had a swing band playing on a weeknight. After all, Austin is the live music capital of the world. No small claim.

The Lucky Strikes

The Lucky Strikes

We are blessed to be staying with family members Steven and Terry. There are two pictures on the shelf in their home that make me smile and bring back sweet memories.

Our backyard commitment ceremony in 1999.

Our backyard commitment ceremony in 1999.

The same backyard in 2012 for my 60th birthday.

The same backyard in 2012 celebrating my 60th birthday.

Time is flying by as we prepare to wend our way home to Bacalar. All I can say is gratitude, gratitude, gratitude, for a city that opens its arms to welcome us, family and friends who make time in their busy schedule and comfy homes, and everyone at the VA who went out of their way to adjust appointments and meet our every need. I am also grateful for the amazing life we have chosen in Bacalar. Life is very, very good.

A breakfast stop at Mother's Cafe. Great vegetarian/vegan restaurant and an Austin treasure.

A breakfast stop at Mother’s Cafe. Great vegetarian/vegan restaurant and an Austin treasure.

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