Thursday, January 29, 2009

Home again on Vancouver Island

After horrendous stop-and-go driving through the snow on the freeways around Portland we made it to Vancouver on Tuesday night. The traffic on I-5 in Portland was actually completely stopped for about an hour.

It seems there has been an awful lot of snow in this area. My brother tells me the snow that fell before Christmas is still on the ground in places in Vancouver--five weeks later.

We stayed overnight with with Jock and his family, then scooped up Jamie after his 9:00 a.m. class for a quick breakfast out, and drove out to catch the 1:00 p.m. ferry. The weather cooperated a bit for our re-entry by providing an hour of two of sunshine just as we were getting on the ferry. It was absolutely beautiful as we crossed the strait and we even had three killer whales jumping off the bow.

You know how when you're away from home for a long time, as you come in the front door you see everything with new eyes? Well the ferry ride back to Victoria was kind of like that. I was up on the sundeck with the rest of tourists, clicking away taking pictures through active pass. We really do live in a beautiful part of the world.

Linette brought Geordie over before dinner and it was so great to see him. Maggie greeted him with a symbolic growl to show that she is still "top dog" but within minutes they were friends again. The two dogs are quickly re-establishing their routines. It's taking Harry and me a little longer to gather up all the loose ends of our lives and catch up on things like bills and home maintenance.

We had a lovely time on this year's trip. Maggie was an awesome traveler and I have to hand it to Wanda, our minivan. She took us over 4,000 km to Mazatlan and back without even a sputter. She's a bit more dinged up than when we started and certainly needs a good wash inside and out, but she was stellar. Here she is on the ferry coming home

It was such a relief not to be worrying about mechanical breakdowns. This trip was very different from last year's odyssey with Mohita. Less adventure and more relaxing. Mazatlan is a great place to hang out for a couple of months and we are thinking that we'd like to head down next winter for a while with both dogs--if we can find a good place. We have a couple of feelers out so we shall see what turns up. Of course it all depends on finances, health and the world does everything, I guess.

Meanwhile it's back to real life and this chronicle is ending. However, I've become a bit addicted to blogging and so I'm going to set up a "life" blog where I can post some ramblings and ideas on a less intensive schedule. I'll post the link here once it's set up.

Monday, January 26, 2009

It's cold outside!

We're now in Salem, Oregon and it's COLD outside. Below zero C. and they're predicting snow tomorrow. I had to go and buy a couple of pairs of socks because the ones I brought with me are packed away somewhere underneath everything in the back of the van. I distinctly remember looking at the socks when I was organizing my stuff in Mazatlan for the trip back--and thinking I would probably never want to put such heavy things on my feet. Well I have to say that tonight I'm glad to have some!

We had a quick visit with our friends in Berkeley but things didn't go exactly as planned. Helen had recently fallen and broken her shoulder so was just out of surgery and was on pain meds so wasn't at her best. Also, just before we arrived there Maggie stopped eating and started vomiting. So we spent Sunday morning at the emergency vet's clinic in Berkeley. We saw a very nice vet who examined Mags, then gave her an anti-nausea drug, hydrated her and put her on a regime of white rice and chicken. That was yesterday and she seems to be back to normal tonight. This morning she ate a bit, slept all day and tonight seems quite hungry. We are so relieved.

Today we drove for 8 hours, quite a bit longer than usual, and came over the Siskyou pass in sunshine. Our little minivan Wanda is a stalwart girl and hasn't had even a sputter to date. When we left Berkeley it was about 65 degrees F--But as I said, it's cold in Oregon, below freezing. We're pulling out all the vests and scarves that we started out wearing back in early December. Our plan is to make it to Vancouver tomorrow night and then take the ferry to Victoria on Wednesday. If we get delayed by snow or other things, we will probably still make it home in time to get to the flyball practice on Thursday night.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Heading North

Yesterday we spent the night in Long Beach and had a delicious meal at a wonderful restaurant there with my cousin Dean and his partner Tari. Dean is a sculptor and we were able to see his huge whimsical metal sculptures on Broadway, although some are hiding behind trees.

This morning we checked out the Queen Mary, the big ocean liner that's now a hotel and tourist attraction. It was pretty neat to walk those historic decks and see the gorgeous art deco interior.

Today we stopped to visit some friends in Santa Monica and then headed north on 101 in the rain. (!) Tomorrow we'll spend the afternoon and evening with our friends Helen and Sam in Berkeley and will then continue north to the clouds and probably more rain. (sob!) Although I guess you're not really feeling too sorry for us after our six weeks in Mexico.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Trading info at Balboa dog park

We had an interesting meeting today with Candan, a young San Diego man who connected with us through this blog. Candan and his family are planning to visit Mazatlan with their border collie and in researching accommodation there he happened upon our blog. When he found that we were planning to come through San Diego he contacted us to suggest that we get together for information sharing. So this morning Harry and Maggie and I met Candan and his two dogs at the Balboa Dog Park. The dogs got along and so did we. We spent an hour yakking and sharing info while the dogs played. I just find it so utterly cool that the Internet can connect like-minded people in this way.

On Candan's recommendation we had a delicious outdoor lunch this afternoon at Prado, a wonderful restaurant in Balboa Park. This park is amazing--it's huge, and filled with beautiful gardens, museums, restaurants and more.

We spent a couple of hours walking around there with Maggie and taking photographs. (I seem to have become obsessed by taking photos of plants.)

Later on in the afternoon we drove over to Coronado Island, place of the famed Del Coronado Hotel.

Tonight we’ll head into Old Town for dinner and then tomorrow it’s up the coast to Long Beach.
San Diego is a real discovery for us. It’s a beautiful city and we will for sure come back some time.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Yuma and Obama

Yesterday we didn't get to visit the desert museum because they don't allow dogs on the property--even in cars. But we did get to see a lot of desert at the Saguaro National Park and on the drive across the Sonora Desert to Yuma. Here are a few images from that drive.

Our plan was to look up a friend from Victoria who is here in Yuma in his RV. We didn't know which RV park he was in but we thought we'd be able to find him by looking through the different RV spots. I said to Harry, "There can't be that many different places to look for him."

Well, we abandoned that plan before we even arrived. Yuma is a lot bigger than when I was through here in 1974. Just on the road in from the east we passed at least a dozen RV parks--huge ones with hundreds of rigs lined up cheek to jowl. The yellow pages list 84 RV parks here.

This morning we sat in our Yuma hotel room watching Obama sworn in as president, along with millions of people around the world--quite an amazing day. He is such a great speaker and a truly a humble man. Everyone has such high hopes for him and I hope that he can inspire in everyone the will to make choices to make a difference to a planet in crisis. His message of hope over fear is so needed at this time. What a speech he gave; he pulled no punches. I look forward to talking to Americans about their hopes from this watershed event.

Now we're heading off to take Maggie for a swim in the river.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Art in Patagonia and Tucson

This morning we headed out from Nogales on a secondary road that winds through rolling grassy hills into the town of Patagonia. Ches and Allison told us to take a look at this place and it's a really cool little town. It's in an area rich in bird life along a river and it's quite an art centre.

We had breakfast at a nice little Mexican place and met some people who live nearby. After a great conversation about Obama and their hopes for the future, we explored the town and then drove up to Tucson for a visit to their fabulous art museum. We saw an exhibition of drawings and paintings by Maynard Dixon, who worked around the turn of the century to record the southwest places and peoples. Also there was a strong collection of the work of various Mexican photographers. We bought the catalogue for this amazing exhibition. Here's a photo from the courtyard of the art museum.

Then we walked around the old part of Tucson for a bit and found a place to stay tonight at a nice pet-friendly motel with all the amenities. Harry's getting his political fix by watching the American news about Obama and his inauguration.

Tomorrow we're going to visit the Desert Museum and then head west to Yuma. We're staying close to the southern border for as long as possible before heading back north.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mex 15

Mex 15, also known as Carretera Internacional, is the main highway down the west coast of Mexico. It runs from the USA border all the way down the west coast as far as Tepic (near Guadalajara). This is the road taken by all the through traffic including the big trucks, buses, RVs, and cars like ours. Mexico is in the process of developing this road into a four-lane divided highway, and in places it feels almost like an American freeway. Almost—but not quite!

One big difference is that you have to pay to drive on it. There are a lot of toll booths along the way. Sometimes there are more than 100 km between them; sometimes only 20 or so. The tolls vary from 20 pesos (about $2) to 118, and there are lots of topes (speed bumps) and signs as you approach to slow you down. Here’s one of the plaza de cuotas (toll booths).

Topes also appear randomly along the road as it passes through little villages. Speed limits range from 40 km per hour to 100, but to safely negotiate most topes you have to slow to 10 k or even less. It’s our theory that villages build these topes so that the villagers can sell their goods. Sometimes it’s a local cheese or other food, or handicraft; other times it’s kids’ toys or caged birds. This photo taken from the car window shows a collection of religious articles included images of ever-present Virgin of Guadalupe.

But the real speed interruptors are the military inspection spots. There are two types: the fruit and vegetable inspections (no big deal) and the soldiers with machine guns (more scary). We passed through three of the machine gun type stops on the way north from Mazatlan. At these places the soldiers are looking for drugs we think and they mean business. They stop and search every single big truck on the road, and the buses as well. Sometimes the trucks and buses have to unload everything they’re carrying. The lineup of trucks backs up for two or three kilometers at these stops.

I made the mistake at one of them of taking photographs of the soldiers and not putting camera away quickly enough. The soldier who stopped us made me delete every image on my camera before he would let us through. That’s why I have no photos except for the warning sign and the line-up of trucks.

We crossed the border into Nogales this afternoon at 3:30 with only a ten-minute wait. Again it’s a long wait for trucks; the line-up stretched back for several kilometers and the guy told us that they can wait for up to nine hours to cross. We were glad to be driving our mini-van.

Catch 22 Beach

We met up with our friends Ches and Allison in the Totonaka RV park on Thursday evening and decided to spend Friday together exploring a special beach. This is where the movie "Catch 22" was made some time in the 1970s, and I spent an afternoon there with my ex-husband when we drove down to San Carlos about 30 years ago. At that time there was a little bit of the set left and a man with a string of horses walking on the beach--and nothing else except the sand and the rocky islands. It's quite a bit more developed now--but still an absolutely beautiful spot. We walked the whole length of the beach and then sat in the sand under the palms and enjoyed a picnic. In the afternoon the wind came up and we watched a few guys kite-boarding. It was a lovely way to spend our last day in Mexico.

This morning we're packing up and getting ready to drive north through the desert to Nogales and cross the border.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Leaving Mazatlan

January 13th was our last full day in Mazatlan and we spent the day packing the car and cleaning our little casita. Yesterday we left at noon and drove north to Los Mochis. It was very hard to leave our pretty little place with its canopy of bougainvillea and access to the beach but most of all the sunny weather. We're wondering what we were thinking of when we planned to return to Canada in Janaury. Last winter we didn't even leave Victoria until the last week in January.

Although I have to say that even in Mazatlan there is a winter. For the past few days we've been sleeping with a blanket on the bed and the water temperature is enough cooler that swimming just doesn't appeal the way it did in December. The temperature is in the 60s now, rising to the 70s--rather than the 70s rising to the 80s as it was when we first arrived. Many of the Mexicans go around in big puffy vests and woolen scarves. The newly arrived tourists are still wearing their beach clothes and are easy to spot. We're somewhere in between with our light pants and long sleeves.

W had a lovely time in Mazatlan and it was nice to spend enough time in one place to get really comfortable. We learned how to navigate the neighbourhood, made some friends, discovered some new areas and still have left things to explore next time we're down.

So we're back on the road again and that feels kind of nice too. We're planning to get to Guymas tonight and hook up with Allison and Ches there. We met them laslt year in Alamos. These stwo have been living on the road in a small van for almost two years. It will be nice to see them again. After that we'll head west through Yuma to look up a friend, and then to San Diego for a few days before turning north via Long Beach to visit a cousin. And then it's up the I-5 to Canada. Although it's with regret that we are leaving the warmer weather it will be wonderful to see our Victoria friends and especially our other dog Geordie, who has been staying with his border collie pack.
He seems to be having a lovely time there (that's him on the left with his sister Sophie in the middle and Maggie's sister Maddie on the right) but we are missing him.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Our sailing trip on Mi Casa

As a final treat before leaving Mazatlan we thought we’d go out on a sailboat for an afternoon. Actually it was my idea since Harry’s not really much of a sailor. But we’ had so much fun coming back from Deer Island on the Hobie cat that it seemed like a good plan. We arranged for the trip with Eduardo and Kym, a very pleasant couple, who offer tourists the opportunity to sail with them for an afternoon or a few days on their 40 foot ketch, Mi Casa. We decided on the sunset cruise, which leaves the harbor at 1:00 and returns around 6:00 pm just after the sun sets.

The weather was perfect, blue skies and some wind and we went to meet Kym at Rico’s cafĂ© ready for a fun afternoon. Eduardo and Kym were so welcoming that we felt immediately at home on Mi Casa. She’s a classic design and very comfortable, with a broad after deck complete with cushions so we could lean against the rail and relax while our hosts sailed the boat and brought us snacks and drinks. We motored out of the harbor and into the waves and then Eduardo put up the sails and we were underway. I had a great time being out on the water with the pelicans, frigate birds and the blue-footed boobies. We sailed out to a rock off the coast where sea lions and seals hang out and it was very cool to be so close to them even in the rough seas.

It wasn’t until we turned around to return that I realized just how ill Harry was feeling. He hid it well enough for a while until he was forced to throw up in a bucket. At that point we decided to head for calmer waters and ducked in behind Deer Island and anchored for a while to wait for the sunset and then head back to the dock. I enjoyed every minute of the trip and Harry was a good sport about it even though he told me later that he spent most of the four-hour sail counting the minutes until he was back on dry land. I guess the weather was just a bit too rough for his landlubber’s tummy. We both kind of forgot his tendency to motion sickness. Even so, it was an amazing experience and Eduardo and Kym were so warm and welcoming that we felt as if we were sailing with old friends.

If anyone is coming to Mazatlan I highly recommend the trip. It’s a wonderful way to see the city from a new perspective. But if you’re subject to sea sickness, do choose your weather or take some Dramamine before you leave.

This photo shows a blue-footed boobie just above the sail and there’s Eduardo turning the boat around with Harry looking a little green around the gills in the background.

PS: I'm posting this the following morning and Harry tells me he won't come to the beach with Maggie and me as he doesn't even want to look at the ocean. I guess the trip wasn't that much of a treat for him. Sure hope this is only a temporary state for Harry!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Desperately seeking dog-friendly accommodation

For the past month we’ve been checking out the Mazatlan rental market with the idea of coming down next winter with both dogs for three or four months. If we’ve learned one thing, it’s this: there’s a big selection of apartments and houses to choose from—unless you have a dog.
You can’t walk along the street or down the beach without seeing “se renta apartamentos” signs. Many of these apartments are designed for snowbirds and come complete with furniture, bedding and kitchen stuff. These rent for between 6,000 to 24,000 pesos a month depending on the size, amenities and location. But Mexican people have a different attitude towards dogs. Many people keep guard dogs in their yards and some have little lap dogs as pets, but in general these dogs are not treated as family members the way ours are in Canada. So an apartment owner would never consider allowing two large furry dogs.

We’ve contacted rental agencies and the rental departments of real estate offices that have lots of rentals listed. There are actually two different types of rentals—the fully equipped tourist places that rent to tourists on a month to month basis in the winter, and the Mexican-owned houses that are rented on a year-long lease. Some, but not all of these are furnished and the rent is often very cheap (like 4,000 pesos a month, equal to about $400 Canadian).

Right now there are lots of empty places of both kinds. The tourist ones are taking reservations for next winter but in a month of searching we’ve found only two in our price range that will accept dogs. The one in Old Town that we looked at was lovely but had no parking at all. It was on a steep hill in a busy area the street narrowed down to an alley so cars couldn’t even get to the front door. The other one is on a nice residential street near the beach but the owner is holding out for a longer-term rental—six months—and we’re not ready to commit to that. Neither are we willing to rent a house for a year so we can spend three months here next winter.

So in spite of many vacancies we haven’t found a thing. We’ve decided to wait until the fall and then try an internet search. If that doesn’t work (and if we still want to escape next winter) we think we’ll just drive down with the dogs and find something once we get here. We know what we’re looking for and we have a pretty good idea of neighborhoods and prices. So it’s just a matter of finding a place with an owner who loves border collies. Probably being there with cash in hand at the time is also a pretty good way of finding the right place.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Morning in the Golden Zone

The area of Mazatlan that we're staying in is called "the golden zone" so that's what I'm referring to in the title for this little photo essay. We're starting to get nostalgic already for the lifestyle here as we think about getting ready to leave on Wednesday.

A water bottle awaits replacement.

A cat watches on a wall.

A young couple wait for the bus.

Workers head off to the job.

A surf fisherman makes his cast. Not sure what they're fishing for but they're out every morning.

A breakfast cook takes a little break before the rush.

A tourist heads downtown, either by bus or on foot. (Probably by bus as it costs only 70 cents).

The shrimp fisherman makes a sale from Harry (with Maggie looking on). Dinner will be good tonight.
The time share salesmen begin their day.

The beach chairs await their loungers.

Visitors play in the early morning waves.

The seashell salesman prepares for another day on the beach.

The newspaper sellers are hard at work.

Tourists order their breakfast.

Visitors take an early morning walk along the beach.

A couple enjoys their morning coffee.

Yolanda sweeps the courtyard.

The water truck arrives, and the driver chats with Orillio (gatekeeper for the Tennis Club and a wonderful friend who's studying English in his spare time).

The sun shines on our little altar. The day has begun.