Tag Archives: mexico

The Kayaker Or The Photographer

4 Dec

I knew a professional photographer who wanted to take his own fiftieth birthday portrait. He set the scene with a throne, crown and regal cape to mark his auspicious anniversary. Setting up to take the shot with his foot, he expressed frustration. When taking the picture, he became the photographer and was no longer the king. He had to get someone else to capture his royal essence.

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This morning I set off early to enjoy the sunrise from one of my favorite places, my little blue kayak floating peacefully in the middle of Laguna Bacalar. The morning was cool. We had rain overnight and the sun was beginning to show on the horizon.

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Love the clouds ☁️

I pushed off as quietly as possible. Sound carries and everyone was still asleep.

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Our house as seen from Laguna Bacalar

As much as I wanted to capture the beauty that I was experiencing and share it with you, I had to put the camera down and simply be. We are so used to seeing the world through a lens and “sharing” it through any number of social media sites that it’s easy to miss the experience entirely.

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I hope you enjoy the pictures I did take, but the seabirds soaring overhead, the changing colors and the breeze will be stored forever in my memory. Make your own memories today.

DOS TORTAS

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A Chance Encounter

20 Nov

In the months before our 2013 retirement to Mexico, I met a man who got on my commuter bus in Austin, Texas. He was over six feet tall, African American with striking white hair. Ben greeted the bus driver by name and many of the passengers. My job had just changed locations and this was a new route for me. Little did I know what an interesting fellow he was with escape plans similar to our own. A lovely friendship ensued.

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Stock photo from the Cap Metro website.

I looked forward to our daily chats on the ride home from our respective government jobs. He was a number cruncher for the State Insurance Commission and I worked for the Department of State Health Services.

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The roof going on our house.

Ben retired a few months before I did and set off for Peru. He had done his homework and found a furnished room that would serve as home-base for his many travels. Lisa and I got busy with our own adventures and communication all but ceased.

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One of the many pictures we received from Ben.

Last year I received news and photos from his epic around-the-world-trip. May to October 2015. Lima, Peru to Miami, New York, Helsinki, St.Petersberg, Moscow, Japan, Beijing, Houston, Detroit, Cleveland, Philadelphia, New York, Miami and back to Lima. Whew! We were up to our eyeballs building our dream home, and a bit jealous of his freedom.

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My friend Ben with a native fisherman on a Japanese island.

This week I was very pleased to receive an email from Ben asking how we were and how life was treating us. What a pleasant surprise! After a year in Peru, he is leaving soon for East Africa and a forty-county tour that, as he put it, “may take the rest of my life to complete”.

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What an amazing man. I am so grateful for our chance meeting three years ago. Hopefully his world travels will bring him to Mexico. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall for that visit?!

DOS TORTAS

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Home Sweet Bacalar

23 Oct

Returning to Bacalar, the Laguna of Seven Colors, along the Costa Maya of southern Mexico after two and a half weeks in Northern California has been bittersweet. I loved seeing our grandson daily. His eyes lighting up when he saw me was wonderful beyond words. We read books, went for walks and ate Nana-made concoctions for lunch. It is a grandparents’ lament whether you live in the States, Mexico or anywhere the young ones are not.

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Blueberry smoothie for breakfast, yum. Even this picky eater couldn’t resist. Score one for Nana.

Returning to Bacalar has been noticeably quieter than a home with an eleven month old. Residents have a reprieve before high season brings tourists and snow birds. There is less income for locals, restaurants and hotels, but more peace.

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Favorite restaurant El Manatí got a facelift while I was gone.

Weather is divine, upper 60’s (20C) at night and 80’s (31C) during the day with an afternoon shower to keep the garden green with splashes of color.

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Blooms start out white and actually turn pink! Amazing.

Cutting from a cactus that will get very tall.

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Bird of paradise in bloom.

September completed our first year living in our lovely home. We are enjoying the tranquility and continue to marvel at the life we have created. What is in our crystal ball? A family reunion in November and trip to Texas in the spring. For now we are loving everyday from striking sunrise to breathtaking sunset.

DOS TORTAS

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Don’t Battle The Ants

4 Sep

If you have never read 100 Years of Solitude (Cien Años de Soledad) by Colombian Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel García Márquez (1967), you have missed a magical story that takes place in the remote village of Macondo, in the jungle of the Columbian rainforest. It is one of the best books ever written. Seriously.

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I first read 100 Years of Solitude as an international student in Mexico in the seventies. It had just been translated into English. It is a tale of seven generations of the Buendía family who among other things, have the habit of naming their children variations of the same names. It’s enough to make your head spin trying to keep track of the various players.

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Hibiscus also known here as tulipani.

Eventually I gave up trying to follow who’s who and found that it made little difference. I would never give away the ending other than to say it involves ants.

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The video would not upload.

In the jungle a battle with the ants is a battle you will loose. There’s more of them than us and they never quit. No matter how clean your house, they will scurry across the kitchen counter looking for a nibble or a bug to carry off.

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Volunteer papaya tree growing out of the compost pile.

This week I was sitting on the couch and twice found an ant on my leg. I looked up to see a highway of ants coming from under the dog crate. What the…!!

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Bird of paradise blooming this morning.

They show up quickly having decided that something I thought was mine is really theirs. It’s a wonder they haven’t made off with the dog! Time to get out the trusty vacuum cleaner. The best I can hope for is to discourage them. So far, it’s not working.

DOS TORTAS

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Frieda Kalo Museum – Mexico City

12 Jul

On my recent travels to California from our home in Bacalar Mexico, I had a layover in Mexico City. It’s been many years since I visited one of the world’s largest cities. I stayed in a small hostel near the airport having an early morning flight the following day. I had done my research on what to do nearby with an afternoon in this city known for museums, mercados and amistad (friendship). The Frieda Kalo Museum was a taxi drive away, so off I went on a Torta adventure.

I was surprised to see so many people had the same idea on a gray, cool, weekday afternoon. After a thirty minute wait, listening to all the different languages spoken around me, I entered the great blue wall that housed the artist’s compound.

Waiting in line.

Waiting in line.

Large paper mâché figures welcomed all guests.

Welcome from overhead.

Welcome from overhead.

I was immediately transfixed by the large garden at the center. Her presence was there. I could imagine her sitting peacefully with the plants, fountains and sky.

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Garden paths.

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Entrance to the house and private antiquities collection.

Entrance to the house and private antiquities collection.

Walking through the house I was struck by her work. I believe that she was one of the most self-assured women in history. She put herself out there in photography and paint and really didn’t seem to care what others thought of her work. After a debilitating accident in her youth, her art was an expression of both pain and her unique view of life.

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I was transfixed by her use of color.

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As I walked through the house, I could feel the presence of many historical figures that had once graced the dinner table.

A colorful stove to prepare the meals.

A colorful stove to prepare the meals.

Fragrant aromas of traditional dishes filled my imagination.

Fragrant aromas of traditional dishes filled my imagination.

Seeing her art studio brought tears to my eyes.

Painting from pain.

Painting from pain.

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The small bedroom with mirror affixed to the ceiling allowed her to paint self-portraits lying on her back.
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Her funeral urn was at the foot of the bed.

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The sky opened as I was preparing to leave the museum. A cold rain did not stop me and I set off to visit the mercado of Coyoacán. To be continued…DOS TORTAS

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Holiday Minimalism

11 Dec

In the 1980s I was at home with three young children and a big house. My mother wasn’t the best housekeeper and to say my skills were lacking is an understatement. As I struggled to stay on top of “things” I came across the book, Clutter’s Last Stand by Don Aslett. Don had worked his way through college cleaning houses and upon graduation discovered a far more lucrative business than his original degree provided.  His ideas about having less to clean and organize resonated strongly. I also belonged to a Unity Church which taught the principle of flow. If you own something that you don’t need, let it go and what you DO need will come to you. Between the two, I started on the road to a minimalist lifestyle, or so I thought.

Sunrise of the week.

Sunrise of the week.

Moving to Mexico provided an opportunity to downsize in a big way. We sold our house and reduced everything into a 6×10 trailer pulled by an over stuffed truck. Two bicycles, two kayaks and a living room rug were strapped on top. They were all things we thought we needed to begin life anew.

Pulling out of the drive in Austin Texas to live our dream in Mexico.

Pulling out of the drive in Austin Texas to live our dream in Mexico 2013.

We had multiple garage sales and shipped “family heirlooms” to adult children, took loads to thrift stores and learned to let go, let go, let go. And still we hauled away more possessions than we needed. For the past year most of them are still stored in the trailer. We don’t even remember what we own any more.

The house we are building is about 900 square feet, larger than I originally envisioned, huge by some standards, impossible by others. We are still challenged by acquiring “stuff”. It’s the American way and deeply ingrained. And so easy to do.

The clouds enchant.

The clouds enchant.

I recently came across a website that encourages minimalism and was reminded of the original book that started the “less is more” way of thinking for me. So whether an international move is in your cards or a desire to free up your life, time and money, I suggest turning off the TV ads advertising the latest deal and try buying less, or NOTHING this holiday season. Trust me, it can be done.

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On a recent trip to Cancun we met Mercedes and Ramon, owners of Bed and Breakfast Poblenou in Barcelona Spain. They sat at our table in a crowded dining room and were visiting Mexico for a little vacation. Who’s up for a trip to Barcelona? Me, me, ME!

Our new friends from Barcelona.

Our new friends from Barcelona.

Think Global Shop Local

5 Oct

In the mid-1970’s when I lived and traveled in Mexico; there were no grocery stores. Large open-air mercados showed up predictably, one or two days a week and were the norm. We took our woven bags and baskets to bring home purchases. Bulk items such as frijoles were wrapped in newspaper. Plastic bags were non-existent.

Saturday Farmer's Market in Chetumal

Saturday Farmer’s Market in Chetumal

Coconuts in season. Open with a machete.

Coconuts in season. Open with a machete.

Then there were little corner stores where one could exchange an empty bottle and buy a coke. There were a few non-perishables sold and kerosene for the hot water heater.
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Today there are large grocery stores much as we have in the States. Some are familiar such as Walmart and Sam’s Club. Others are Mexican – Chedraui and Soriana.

The little corner stores are still the backbone of Mexico. When I first arrived a year ago, I saw abarrotes and didn’t know what it meant. Pulling out my handy pocket dictionery, I found “groceries”.

A busy little store.

A busy little store.

There are also mini-supers, tiendas and bodegas. Some are small enough to be operated out of a living room. The role that they play for low income people is invaluable. Where else can you buy one aspirin or one roll of toilet paper? Occasionaly there are eggs on the counter or tortillas warm in an insulated container. Mostly the tiendas are full of chips, candy, soda, alcohol and other processed foods.

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Like the U.S., Mexico has its problems with obesity and diabetes, and the shelves of five liter bottles of coke abound.

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This store expanded to include fruit, clothes and plants.

This store expanded to include fruit, clothes and plants.

Every block has its little store. They function as a social center where gossip is exchanged and neighborhood news reported. The other day we bought thirty sheets of copy paper and ten paper clips. Bacalar is truly a world apart, even for Mexico.

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Sunrise of the Week.

Sunrise of the Week.

Never Ever Pray For Patience

28 Sep

Last night there was a scorpion in our bed. Not sure how it got there, but its beso stung for about ten minutes and then I was back to sleep. Never a dull moment.

One of Mexico's most famous couples, Freda Kalo & Diego Rivera

One of Mexico’s most famous couples, Freda Kalo & Diego Rivera

The process of retiring, moving, and building a house in Mexico is not for the faint-hearted. It is an endless learning opportunity. The lessons we continue to learn are the result of expectations and privilege as persons born and raised in the United States.  Straddling two cultures and two languages is a daily tightrope. Some days it’s endlessly fun and fascinating, other days, not so much.

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The daily and sometimes hourly challenge is to remind ourselves NOT to blame our difficulties on Mexico. We chose to come here. I don’t think that reading a dozen e-books on how to build a house in Mexico would have helped. Laws change with each turnover in government and our experience in Bacalar will be very different from the next person’s.

At the same time, we are determined to hang in here and see it through. It is so beautiful. It’s a peaceful happy life, even with the occasional scorpion.

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The Benefits of Struggling to Learn Spanish

10 Aug

The New York Times recently posted an op-ed called The Benefits of Failing at French. I can relate.

In 1973, with the already aging brain (linguistically speaking) of twenty-one, I began the lifelong journey of learning a second language. I came to Mexico in the fulfillment of a childhood dream to experience my junior year abroad. I lived with a Mexican family who spoke no English. I had classes four hours a day, four days a week and drank mucho cerveza to loosen the tongue. Over the long weekends and breaks, I traveled as much as possible and fell in love with a culture and people that were difficult to explain when I returned to New Jersey.

Sunset in Cozumel.

Sunset in Cozumel.

In the more than forty years that have passed, I have both clung to and completely forgotten my desire to return to Mexico. As I began entertaining thoughts of retirement, memories of living here ignited fireworks and the rest is, shall we say, her-story.

Crossing the border almost a year ago woke the Spanish synapses that were more than a bit rusty. Those old feelings of my brain aching and not being able to remember words in either language came roaring back. I am happy to report that my Spanish has greatly improved in a year. I have resisted studying and have chosen to learn by practicing. I have conversations in Spanish as often as I can and find that my brain hurts less these days. Yesterday I even had a conversation on the phone, which I usually avoid, as there is no opportunity to read lips. I must admit that when friends comment on my improvement, I want to preen my feathers and crow.

Hotel La Semilla in Playa del Carmen from our recent visit.

Hotel La Semilla in Playa del Carmen from our recent visit.

Lisa had no ability to speak Spanish, other than the curse words picked up on a job site, when we arrived last September. Her first vocabulary words were highway signs on the drive down. Her learning approach has been different from mine. She uses a popular set of educational CDs and a workbook that I bought her. She now converses with locals and orders easily in a restaurant. The reason for her skill is that she doesn’t give up and she isn’t afraid to make mistakes. Our friend’s parents call her the parrot because she uses her thirty or so words, hugs them and leaves. They see her progress and love her effort. More than one of us has something to crow about.

Sunrise this week on Laguna Bacalar.

Sunrise this week on Laguna Bacalar.

So I recommend that you read the New York Times article and don’t miss the comments. Our brains need the challenge. Our changing world needs us to understand one another. What better way than to learn another’s language. And I’ve heard that the third language even gets easier, no matter what age you are.

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World Cup Football – Just Don’t Call it Soccer

29 Jun

I began watching the World Cup four years ago and became enthralled with the passion, skill and enthusiasm of the game. Soccer as it is called in the US is right up there with watching paint dry for most Americans. There’s the endless running up and down and low score that keeps most people at the chips and quacamole in the kitchen instead of glued to the big screen.

The general feeling among the expats has been to cheer for Mexico, and Central and South America over Europe, Africa and Japan. Of course there’s also the US matches which have been nail biters as well.

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The locals have been quite curious and appreciative as we scream for Mexico. No beers required.

La Playita a great little restaurant for World Cup viewing.

La Playita a great little restaurant for World Cup viewing.

Today is a big game for Mexico which determines whether they advance or stall. EVERYONE in Mexico has plans as to where they will watch the game. A huge screen will be set up in town for mass viewing. Restaurants are advertising take away food so no one is stuck in the kitchen during the game. The energy is electric.

Hotel Bacalar provides food and a beautiful view.

Hotel Bacalar provides food and a beautiful view.

Futol (as opposed to American football) does not play to TV audiences. There are no breaks for advertisers that have paid millions for a 30 second piece of you. There is amazing skill, honed from childhood, beautiful muscular bodies that are every straight woman and gay man’s dream, amazing acting when bumped and tripped by the opposition, and even front page drama when one player has this weird proclivity for biting his opponent.

This week while making small talk with our new young doctor, Lisa asked him about futbol and his face lit up. There’s something about not referring to Mexico’s pride and joy as soccer that is greatly appreciated and shows respect.

So if you’ve never watched World Cup futbol (it only happens every four years), now’s your chance. At least catch the final match on July 13, 2pm CT. Go to a sports bar and pick a team and yell with the crowd and above all, don’t call it soccer.

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