Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Further Explorations in the Centro Historico

It seems Mazatlan has clouds from time to time. The weather's quite cool and grey compared to what we’ve experienced up to now. During the day we wear a sweater or long-sleeved shirt and at night we use a blanket. It’s good weather for walking around and that’s what we’ve been doing. Yesterday we went into the Historic Centre again to take a look at the area around the casita on Segunda Penuelas that we’re thinking of renting next year. It’s an interesting area of mostly small houses and narrow streets going up and up a landmark hill called Cerro de Nieve (or Icebox Hill). It a very steep knoll topped by some TV towers. The views are incredible. We walked around the other side then to the top and here's what we saw.

This morning we went again to look at the inside of the little house and we think we can be very comfortable there. So if we decide to spend longer here next winter we will secure that as our accommodation. It’s one of the few dog-friendly places we’ve been able to locate. Parking can be a problem though. The street the little house is on asita is on actually narrows down directly in front of the house and turns into an alley and then a dirt path up the hill. Cars that go up there have to back down to the intersection to get out.

The historic area has such a different feel from the Golden Zone (read tourist) where we’re staying now. Narrow, car and pedestrian clogged streets, colourful houses and walls, little shops of all kinds, and not much English except in the Plazuela Machado. Just behind the casita is a High School of Performing Arts where we can see teenagers learning some amazingly active dance routines to very lively music. There also seems to be a tradition of making political art on vacant walls and some of it is quite amazing. Here are a few that I’ve found.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Blue Agave

The trip to La Noria was an interesting day—even though the town itself was a bit of a disappointment. It was just a dusty little town with the usual one and two storey houses winding along dirty roads and a rather plain central plaza. The real feature of the trip was our visit to two very different tequila factories. The first one was just a few kilometers from La Noria. We noticed the fields of blue agave as we drove in. This plant is native to Mexico and is the basis for its national drink. The alcohol is fermented from the core of the plant, which takes a number of years to mature. Here's Jamie looking at a pile of the cores.

The first place we visited was Los Osuna where they’ve been making the drink since 1876. The three Osuna brother brothers started it and it’s still making an excellent tequila the old way. Donkeys pull a big stone around and round to crush the cores and there are big underground pits where the mash is fermented. It’s a very distinctive smell; we couldn’t decide if we liked it or hated it. There’s a big old copper still but the rest of the place is all stainless steel and modern technology. The interesting thing about tequila made in this area is that it cannot actually be called tequila. That name is reserved for the drink made only in the state of Jalisco a few hundred kilometers south of here. So this drink is called distillation of agave azul. The fellow at Los Osuna told us that the stuff they make is superior because it is 100% agave, whereas in Jalisco they add cane sugar to it. In any case it tastes very nice. We got to sample the drink and it’s very smooth. Harry bought a bottle for $300 pesos (about $30) for a gift for a friend.

The second place was a very old Hacienda that was built by a family to process tequila at around the same time. To get there you turn off the paved road at a little hand painted sign that says “Hacienda las Moras” and follow a dusty road for about 10 km into the hills. Eventually we came to a gate (open) and a gatehouse (empty) so continued on through some winding roads past signs pointing to La Capilla (the chapel) and Caballeros (horses) until we finally arrived at the hacienda. It’s no longer a tequila factory as it closed some time in the 1930s. It was completely restored (and modernized) about 20 years ago and is now an amazingly private and exclusive hotel, complete with Mexican antiques, fountains and gardens, little casitas, a farm with animals, corrals, huge meeting rooms, dining rooms and a pool with a swim-up bar.

Our neighbour Bob had told us to look for this place and it was so worth it. It turned out that we were the only ones there as a group that had rented the entire place over Christmas had cancelled. We had lunch in the lovely open-air dining room, then a personal tour of the place, finishing with a dip in the pool. Jorge, who took us for the tour, was so gracious that he even allowed us to bring Maggie into the dining room for lunch and presented her with her very own margarita glass of water to drink.

Apparently this place is known and used by many famous people to make videos and have parties and weddings. He said the only names he could tell us were those that had already been reported in the press—including Madonna, Bono and Gloria Estevan (whoever she is!). It is really a beautiful spot and we enjoyed pretending we could afford the $140 per person rate for a while. Although it’s not actually a tequila factory now, but Jorge told us that the owner is planning to restore the old ovens and make a few batches next year and we could still see the blue agave plants scattered about the area as we drove away.

Friday, December 26, 2008

La Navidad and La Noria

Christmas morning we did the usual thing and went to the beach with Maggie. It was crowded with Gringos looking relaxed and happy. Then it was home to a simple fruit and yogurt breakfast. The afternoon was spent at Deer Island. We sailed over in a hobie cat along with the scissors to rescue the little dog with burrs. The young man who was ferrying us across was happy to give over the tiller to Jamie once he learned of Jamie’s sailing skill. There were many more people at the beach than the last time I went over with my sister a week ago. The little dog was still there though and we were all happy to see that it had been groomed and the burrs removed. So the rescue mission was unnecessary after all. We had just time for a stroll along the beach and a little swim.

On our return Jamie and I attacked the piñata with gusto. This piñata was very strong--it took two people to crack it open. And when we did we found that it didn’t contain any candy! My mistake. I had asked the fellow when I bought it if there was candy inside but there was a miscommunication. It turned out that I needed to purchase the treats and put them in. So no candy treats after all, but we had fun whacking the thing anyway.

Our dinner in the old town was very delicious. It was cooked by a fellow named Dave from Scarborough Ontario who now lives here with his Mexican wife and two kids. They normally run a little Pizzeria but decided to put on a traditional turkey dinner for the expats, complete with vegetables, stuffing and gravy. He’s a baker and did a fantastic job with special pies for dessert—a choice of apple or pineapple, both served with Kahlua ice cream. After dinner we wandered around the plaza along with many Mexican families. It was vey festive.

Early to bed last night so we could get up in time to drive out and visit La Noria, a little town north of here, on boxing day. We learned all about this place from our neighbour Bob who has lived here full-time for two years and knows a great deal about the area. I’ll tell you more about it in my next post.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve in Mazatlan

We spoke to my brother in Vancouver this afternoon and he tells me that they have two feet of snow there. His daughter Callie is five years old and at the height of Christmas excitement. She’s waiting for Santa tonight and I’m sure she won’t be disappointed. It’s a very different scene here in the tropics.

Our late afternoon was spent hanging out at the beach watching the sun go down. Maggie found a group of people who were willing to throw the Frisbee for her and had a great time. Harry and I sat in our camp chairs and sipped our Margaritas while the sun set over the ocean. Then we came back to our little casita and cooked up a shrimp spaghetti to eat out on the patio under the bougainvillea arbour.

We found a big piñata this afternoon outside the Soriana grocery store and we’ll celebrate la Navidad with that. The guy was selling them from the back of his truck, dozens of big ones there with the glue still wet. I’m thinking they were up all night creating them. This is what it looked like.
We’ve decided that we’ll do the honors tomorrow (Christmas day) in sunlight so we’ll have a better chance of finding the candy.
Now that we’ve finished dinner we’ll take a walk in the cool of the evening before we retire for the night. Here’s hoping that Santa makes his usual successful run.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

La Noche Buena

Today everyone is getting into the spirit of la Navidad. Tonight is a big feast night and Yolanda and others around Los Apartamentos Fiesta are cooking and cleaning and getting ready. There is a church service tonight at 8:00 but I doubt that I'll be able to convince Jamie and Harry to go so we'll probably just hang out at the beach watching the sun go down. We had a deluxe breakfast at the Balboa Club restaurant overlooking the water this morning. The weather is beautiful--not a cloud in the sky and the ocean is very calm. Lots of activity on the beach these days--paragliders, banana boats, sailboats, jet boats, hobie cats and more are plying the waves, and lots of families (both Mexican and Gringo) are walking along the sand.

Isn't the internet wonderful? Last year we met a couple when we were in Alamos and this year they've reconnected through this blog. Speaking of which--is anyone else reading this? It would be great to have a few comments from people who are reading it. It's a pretty easy way to keep in touch. Meanwhile Harry, Jamie, Maggie and I send love and our best wishes to all for a wonderful Christmas celebration wherever you are.

Exploring Old Town Mazatlan

We’ve spent a bit of time walking around Old Town Mazatlan over the past couple of days and we’re liking it more and more. In fact we think we may come down next winter and stay in the area. It has everything—the beautiful Plazuela Machado with its coffee shops and restaurants and the restored 17th century theatre, the Malecon walkway along the beach, the centro area with its huge market and the department stores. It’s not nearly as touristy as the Zona Dorada where we’re staying now.

Tourists go down there to see the old buildings but not that many of them stay in the area. There are lots of Gringos living there though so there's quite a bit of English-speaking culture. In fact there’s even an English library run by a couple of ex-pats. The beach hotels are mostly older and many of the beach goers are Mexican families. Part of the beach is used for pulling up the little fishing boats and vendors sell fresh fish and shrimp along the Malecon.

On Sunday we took a look at a house for rent up on a hill with a view from its patio of the cathedral and the downtown area and even a glimpse of the water. It’s a cute little place that accepts dogs and it has many more amenities than where we are—including a washer/dryer, cable TV and internet, and even a water purification system. We’re in the process of talking to the owners about booking it for maybe three months next year. Spending time there will be a more authentic experience and even Jamie thinks it would be cool.

Here’s a photo of the patio, which is really the rooftop of the downstairs of the casita.

Today we took the bus down to the central market and scored some fresh prawns at $7 a kilo. So tonight again it’s going to be a feast. We also scoped out the situation for Christmas dinner the day after tomorrow. Mexican families make a bigger deal of having a special dinner on the 24th, the Noche Buena. Many restaurants will be closed for both days but there are some that are hosting a Christmas feast for Gringos and we’ve reserved at one just behind the Plazuela in Old Town. It should be a rollicking good time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mexican Christmas Decorations

As we’ve been exploring Mazatlan over the past few days we’ve seen some very unusual Christmas Decorations. People here seem to be fond of the secular symbols like Santa, Frosty, and Rudolph. In fact we were at Home Depot with Jamie yesterday and they had wooden stakes that you stick into your grass with signs for the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop that were just flying off the shelves. But the most interesting décor we’ve seen are the blow-up figures that people put on their roofs or their upper balconies. There are a lot of them around, but the thing is that most of them are deflated or semi-deflated. I guess these products aren’t designed for tropical temperatures and so they over-inflate and then pop, with the result that Santa or Rudolph or Frosty end up hanging over the roof tops or balconies like the victims of some mass shooting. It’s rather silly really. Here are a few photos to give you the idea.

As we get closer to Christmas things are picking up here in Maztalan. We went to the surfing beach at the north end of town today with Jamie. Playa Bruja it’s called and when Harry and I went up there last week it was pretty much deserted with just a few surfers hanging out. Today, the Sunday before Christmas, it was mobbed with lots of families with little kids playing in the sand and on their boogie boards. Maggie had a great time enticing the beach goers to throw sticks into the water for her. The beachside palapa restaurant was full of people and there was a live band playing songs all afternoon. Very festive!

It’s great having Jamie here but it was sad to send Jan off on the plane to frigid Victoria. Sounds as though there’s more snow in the forecast there. I guess it will be a white Christmas this year. Funny thing, the last time Victoria had a white Christmas was in the Blizzard of ’96 when we took Jamie to Costa Rica for the holiday. Maybe someone should be paying us to stay at home. That is, if they don’t like snow at Christmas. Although I think most people do…and if it’s going to happen, the end of December is certainly the very best time.

Meanwhile, we are doing our best to get into the spirit of Navidad by investigating the Mexican decorations.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A trip to Copala

Yesterday we took the van and drove up into the Sierra Madre mountains to visit Copala, a little silver mining town at around 2500 feet above sea level that is over 400 years old. It’s very small but picturesque with a lovely central square and an ancient church.

Although it’s 65 km from Mazatlan it’s on the itinerary for the tour bus crowd from the cruise ships. We arrived at around 11:00 just as the big bus was pulling in. We’re not too sure how the bus managed to negotiate the twists and turns to get there, but we assume that the bus drivers are more experienced than we are at driving those narrow shoulderless roads. At the turnoff to Copala the road became cobblestone and very narrow. We weren’t even sure it was a road as it wound up into the hills past an old cemetery and through a creek. But sure enough, it ended in the little village square and we parked beside a huge bus that was unloading a couple of dozen tourists.

The very moment we opened our car door we were besieged by kids selling what looked like brown husks, but they turned out to be very sweet little wood carvings of the village.
Jan bought one for three dollars and here’s a photo of it.

The town itself is very lovely and the church is beautiful.
We went for lunch at a place that was built in the 1950s by an American named Daniel, who saw the potential for this town to attract tourists. He built a huge restaurant with the help of teenagers in the town, who are still working there as waiters and cooks. The restaurant serves very good food and an amazing version of banana cream coconut pie. Delicious. Here’s Jan and me enjoying our lunch.

After a walk around we met a fellow named Myron, who has retired to Copala with his wife and helps to raise money for children to get school uniforms. He was a university professor and they live in a lovely house built along a wall that is over 300 years old. Harry and he chatted for over an hour while Jan and I looked at the leather masks created by an Italian artist. Then Myron showed us his gorgeous house with its authentic Mexican kitchen, its lovely patio with a fireplace and its view over the hills. Very beautiful. We saw that these two have a pleasant life in a beautiful town but wonder how they manage without more than a couple of other English speaking friends. Myron seemed in fact to be quite a lonely fellow. It took a while before we were able to take our leave. It’s fascinating to see how different people from Canada and the US are creating lives for themselves in Mexico.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Beach day and a nagging concern

Our beach day started this morning with a walk on the Las Gaviotas beach by Harry and Maggie and me. Maggie did her usual game of playing in the waves while we talked to the guy who sells the shrimp. He and his son get up at 4:00 in the morning to go out on their boat to catch them. They’re sitting in buckets of ice, sorted by size. We bought about two pounds of medium sized ones for about $9, then took them home to put in the fridge so we could cook them for dinner.

Then Jan and I walked down to find out about taking a little trip across the bay to Deer Island. This island has a beach that’s sheltered from the waves and people go over there to explore, snorkel and swim. We took a lunch, some water, our hats, books and towels and made our way along the beach until we found Fito’s place, where we could get a boat ride over and back for $10 each. A lovely young woman took us across in a jet boat. It was quite an experience riding through the surf clinging onto her and then crossing the blue sea. It didn’t take long, maybe ten minutes before we landed on the sand. Nobody was there but us, and a couple of dogs. There is a house of sorts there where the dogs appear to live but not a sign of a person. We spent four hours there altogether—swimming, reading, finding shells, swimming again, and tanning—until Fito came around 3:00 as planned to take us back. This time we got to ride on his hobie cat through some fairly windy weather. It was lots of fun. Even when the waves splash over you it’s just lovely warmish water. So after our day of sand and sea, we’ll be cooking up the shrimp in garlic and butter. All in all a lovely day.

There’s only one thing that marred our day. One of the little dogs at the beach is a puppy with short curly hair, and she was just covered in nasty sharp burrs that I couldn’t get out with just my hands. I keep thinking of her in pain from these sharp things poking into her skin. Perhaps I’ll have to make another trip over there with a pair of scissors to cut them out of her fur and put her out of her misery.

Cleaning up the Courtyard

My sister Jan and I used to garden together in Victoria, so what do you think was the first thing we did when we got into the overgrown courtyard in Mazatlan? Right you are. We started whacking back the dead branches and cleaning up the overgrown vines. Well—I actually asked her to bring her secateurs and gardening gloves, because I knew that we would have to do that work.

Yesterday morning the three of us cleaned up the outside of our little casita and made it just beautiful. Harry hauled out the dried up banana and palm branches, Jan pruned and I swept and cleaned. Then we strung up twinkle lights in the arbor and fashioned a little shade for the open bulb from a piece of cardboard. Now we’ve made the place ours. It looks just lovely and we eat all our meals out there. There's a funny kind of concrete table top built over an electrical box that has plants and bricks and pots and sculptures. We've created a little altar there....not that we're making sacrifices or anything, but it's very pretty. Here's a view of the courtyard from behind the "altar"....

This is in stark contrast to the garden in the rest of the gardens at Fiesta Apartments, which are so overgrown it’s like the deepest jungle. Also because of standing water it’s full of biting bugs. We wouldn’t ever have to go over there except for one thing—that’s where the wireless internet signal can be picked up. So a couple of times a day one or the other of us hoofs it over to what we now call Bugville to keep up to date on goings on at home.

It’s fun having Jan here as we can introduce her to Mazatlan. Besides walking the beach and swimming in the waves, we’ve gone down to the historic old town area for a nice lunch and a visit to a museum and gone shopping at the MEGA store. This is the Mazatlan equivalent of Save-On-Foods (with the addition of an extensive liquor section). Most Gringos do their shopping there as it’s huge and has just about everything including stuff that Mexicans don’t normally buy. They even have a fellow speaking English who goes around and asks Gringos if he can help them find something. We met a retired couple from Alberta waiting for whole wheat bread to come out of the bakery’s oven. There is even a section where you can buy imported cheeses like Gouda or Feta. It’s an excellent place for people like us to shop—and the prices are pretty good too.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The weather outside's delightful

We're sitting outside at Starbucks using their free wifi and listening to Frank Sinatra sing the old Christmas song that starts: the weather outside is frightful. I hear from my Victoria correspondents that snow is expected on Saturday. I hate to say it but that's not the case here. Every morning we wake up to blue skies and sun and we take Maggie for a long walk along the beach. We're settling in to a nice routine of housekeeping Mexican style (a lot of sweeping and wiping things down), walking explorations and siestas. The clouds do come through from time to time in the afternoon but they don't seem to bring rain, they simply cool things off for a pleasant evening. We want it to be nice because my sister Jan is flying in this afternoon for a week. We've got the courtyard all ready, just waiting for the mini-lights she's bringing (as we couldn't find any here). I'll post a photo once we've put them up.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mexican Driving Tips

In Canada we have a few highway driving slogans like “buckle up” or “keep right except to pass” but in Mexico they take things to a whole new level. Driving the Mexican highways is almost like getting a driving lesson. Especially on the toll roads, there are signs every few miles that give you driving tips like "don't park on a curve," "no passing on the shoulder"or "don't obstruct the crosswalk."

Here are a few other examples:

Don't drive when sleepy

Moderate your speed, your family is waiting for you

And my favorite, don't leave rocks on the pavement.

I'm not sure why people would leave rocks on the pavement, although I seem to recall that it's a way to force drivers to slow down for one reason or another. I think that most of these signs are placed on the new toll roads because the speeds on these roads are higher and the driving style required is more sophisticated.

In recent years the Mexican government has built a big network of toll roads throughout Mexico. The tolls are quite costly for some of them--so much so that many residents cannot use the roads. So there continues to be a "libre" or free road between communities that is used by the regular folk. The toll roads are much faster and some of them even have shoulders--a new concept for some drivers. People tend to use the shoulder as another lane which leads to some interesting situations.

We spent over $20 on tolls just between Culiacan and Mazatlan. It's worth it though as the road is wonderful and you can make very good time. The only stops are for the toll booths. When you come up to a toll booth or "cuota" there are signs telling you far in advance so you can slow down. The important sign to watch for is this one:

Vibradores are rows of big metal domes in the road that force you to slow down to a crawl. Then as you line up waiting to go through the booth you're a sitting duck for all the little kids who want to clean your windshield or the people selling food or CDs or trinkets. Everyone is always very polite though and a shake of the head is usually all that's needed to deter the salespeople.

Harry was captivated with these little cuties. Still, he managed to keep his sales resistance.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Getting our Bearings in Mazatlan

Now that we’re settled in our apartment, we’re finding our way around the town. We went to a couple of the big stores to do some shopping. One is the Mega store, which has moving sidewalks going up to the second level and down. It’s a huge grocery store along the lines of Save-On-Foods, but with many Mexican specialties. We stocked up on basic foodstuff along with fresh pineapple and mango and papaya for ridiculously cheap. It’s interesting that yogurt is about half the price it is at home, while cottage cheese is twice the price. I think it’s that cottage cheese is a Gringo food and yogurt is a Mexican favorite. We try to eat local foods rather than pay a premium for imports, but cottage cheese is part of our daily breakfast and we don’t want to give it up.

Today we went to Walmart. Finding it was quite a task though since we haven’t yet found a map. We asked four different people for directions and each time ended up driving back and forth from one barrio to another. Finally we made it. It’s a lot less organized than the US stores. Things seem to be shoved together with a different logic than we’re used to. We were looking for a few things to give our courtyard a festive look--like sparkle mini lights, candles, lampshades—but it appears that few of these things are available (either at Walmart or Home Depot). Or maybe they’re already sold out. So we’re asking my sister Jan who is coming to visit on Friday to bring a few sparkly things.

We also found that it’s no more expensive to get your laundry done at a lavandaria than it is to take it to a US style Laundromat. That’s ok with us. Who wants to spend their afternoon sitting looking at the dryers go around? Especially when there are flowers like this to look at.

Maggie is settled in now and feeling comfortable in her courtyard. She loves going for a long walk along the beach and running in and out of the water after sticks. There are few, if any, sticks on the beach though so we have to bring our own from the garden. I’m trying to teach her to body surf. We saw a little Jack Russell Terrier that loved to go run in and catch a wave on the way back. Maggie managed to do it once when I timed it right tossing the stick in. She looked very surprised to be propelled shoreward. The timing is pretty critical though.

Tourists along the beach are often very interested in knowing how we managed to bring our dog along. Many of them have dogs at home and are thrilled to visit with her and find out about her journey.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Changing apartments

This is our second day in Mazatlan and it’s been a bit confusing. We arrived yesterday morning before noon as the drive from Culiacan was quick. The Fiesta Apartments, which we booked off of the internet, turns out to be a very FUNKY place. It seems to be the lifetime work of a fellow who loves cement and clay. There are 14 little apartments set in an overgrown tropical garden, chock full of stuff. Even the artwork on the walls is made of cement and tiles.

The apartment we rented is right in the middle of the overgrown area and felt very gloomy and claustrophobic. The space itself was ok but it was in the middle of a construction zone—as they are building a second storey on the building. Sunday when we arrived it was quiet but Monday morning the workers arrived right outside our bedroom and started sanding the walls and pounding on the ceiling.

To make a long story short, we managed to get moved to another apartment—this one is more like a little casita complete with its own courtyard, arbour with bougainvillea and even a big wrought iron gate that we can close. This works much better for Maggie because the resident dog Popey was extremely territorial and snarly. Now Maggie has her own yard and she feels a lot more relaxed. So today was spent repacking all our stuff and transferring it to our new place. Now we are settled though and things will be just fine.

We are three blocks from the beach, the water is warm, the skies are blue and the temperature is hovering in the high 70s to 80s. Maggie just loves playing at the beach and so do we. Tonight we twined our mini-lights through the arbour to make a darling little dining area. We think that we can be comfortable here for the next few weeks.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Two more things

Just two more things about Alamos and then I'll stop. First, the hills west of town are dotted with purple blooming trees that we're told are called Amapas. So beautiful. And second, late late Friday night after the fiesta, a group of inebriated fellows wandered along the street outside our window. In most places a group like this would be shouting and swearing; but in Alamos they were singing Mexican traditional songs (very raggedly and loudly) and accompanying themselves on a guitar. What a place!

Tonight we're staying at a roadside motel south of Culiacan and tomorrow we'll drive the autopista straight into Mazatlan.

Friday, December 5, 2008

More discoveries and a fiesta farewell

We’re in our 200 year-old room getting ready for bed with the sounds of Mexican traditional songs wafting in the window. We spent an hour in the plaza taking part in the fiesta events along with most of the town. It’s only a little after 9:00 pm but we had to leave the festivities early as we’ve had a full and wonderful day. After a morning of exploring the town by foot and by car, we connected this afternoon with Robin, a woman who has lived here in Alamos with her husband and two daughters (now aged 7 and 9) for the past six years. She showed us the house that is available for rent and then took us on a little tour of the town and a visit to their beautiful casa, which was built for Mary Astor, a 1930s Hollywood star, who moved here when she retired from the movies to write books. The house is just lovely and so are they. We ended up joining them for dinner at El Mirador, a little restaurant on a hill overlooking the town and had a great time together, not to mention the delicious stuffed shrimp we ate.

Robin and Rich told us more about the town and about the horrific damage caused by the Hurricane Norbert, which swept through here in early October. Quite a few people lost their lives and many more lost their homes. The repairs to the roads, sewers etc, will continue for months or years, but the town is coping. We also learned more about the expat community here. It seems to be a close knit group and growing every year. The difference we see between Alamos and San Carlos, for example, is that people who live in Alamos get involved in the life of the town. This is very appealing to us.

Robin showed us a house up in the hills that we can rent next winter and we are very seriously thinking of making this arrangement. The house is huge, maybe 3,000 square feet with a big living/dining area and kitchen plus three bedrooms, each with a bathroom, and a few other nooks and crannies as well. It has a big open-air covered porch that looks out over the valley, a pleasant front yard area and even a huge yard where the dogs could roam. We’re thinking that we could rent it for two or three months next year and invite everyone we know to come and visit.

We are far from finished with this town. Every time we come here we discover new charms. The fiesta tonight was a delight. We thought that last night was the fiesta but it hadn’t even started yet. Tonight there was spectacular music, fireworks, the crowing of the fiesta queens and folkloric dancing. We actually hate to leave but we have to head south tomorrow in order to make it to Mazatlan on the 7th of December, however we’ll stop here on our way back towards the end of January. Apparently there is a wonderful music festival taking place here then that it not to be missed.

Two days in Pueblo Magico

Alamos has been recognized as a special place--a puebl0o magico-- by the Mexican government, which is paying to have all the electric wires buried underground in the central area. This is part of what creates the special feeling about the town, but there's more to it than that. There's a sense of living in a small town where everyone knows each other. Doors are left unlocked, everyone (both Mexican and Anglo) smiles and greets each other on the sidewalks, children sing while walking to school, church bells ring, the songs of birds fill the air. And the air is very pleasant here--cool nights, fresh mornings and warm, sunny days. There is the tang of wood smoke and the sound of people working and chatting. A lot of work is going on these days. Ancient buildings and portales are being repaired and repainted, and there is also the transformation of the plaza for the four-day fiesta of the Parroquia de la Purisma Conception.

When we arrived on Wednesday, they were setting up the children's rides and last night was a busy one in the plaza. It seemed to be a family event. Parents and children and teenagers were all milling around, buying cobs of corn and shave ice from vendors, looking at tables of crafts and toys for sale, and putting the kids on the carnival rides. We sat outside on one side of square and watched the action while we ate our dinner of chicken mole and sopa de Azteca.

It's a walking town and there's much to explore, including whole areas that we didn't see last year. Maggie has been able to be with us just about everywhere we go. She enjoys that but has some issues with the street dogs that come right up to her or bark furiously as we go by. There are dogs wandering everywhere here and they all seem interested in meeting Maggie. But she's not that interested so we end up shooing them away.

Today we'll continue walking around. That is if I can drag Harry away from the breakfast table. We were served a lovely breakfast of fruit and home baked muffins, coffee and fresh orange juice. He's been talking to a fellow from Berkeley for the past hour and a half, but there's no rush. Time has a different feeling here. We saw a poster last night about a small house for rent where children and dogs are welcome. We're going to take a look today to see if it might be possible to rent it for a period of time next winter.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Our love affair with Alamos continues

After a pleasant morning in San Carlos taking Maggie for a walk and a swim at the beach, we headed off to Alamos. This is possibly our most favorite place from our trip last year. We stayed here for ten days and fell in love with it. Alamos is a 450 year old colonial gem of a town in the Sierra Madre, about 50 miles inland from Navajoa. In this magical place you feel as though you are stepping back in time. The central part of the town is all colonial buildings, some restored and others with just the facades remaining. Many of the beautiful old buildings have been restored by foreigners but it still has the feel of a small Mexican town, with a lot of town life going on all around.

We arrived in the central plaza, parked in front of the cathedral, and stepped out of the car to find a fellow we met last year when he gave us a tour of the old town. He told us that Alamos suffered damage a couple of months ago from a hurricane and flood. They are still repairing the road and some areas where houses were swept away. He also directed us to a small hotel nearby called Solipaso, which is run by an American couple. It turns out that this is adjacent to a cafe we visited several times last year for its lattes, book exchange, and free wifi. We were shown a beautiful room with 14 foot ceilings, saltillo tile floors, and deep windowsills. It's furnished with lovely comfortable antiques and Maggie is welcome.

What a lovely place to stay for a few days. We're looking forward to exploring more of this beautiful place. Apparently there is a big fiesta with dancing and children's rides tomorrow night in the central plaza. I'll keep you posted on goings on.