Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Mexico Chronicles

Here is a long account of the last week of our lives:
Our traveling day dawned long after we were up and gone. It was, of course, a short night; I think I probably got less than four hours of sleep. We set our alarm for 3:30 in order to make it to the airport by 4:20. The first leg of our journey was just the little "puddle jumper" flight to Portland, and from there on to San Diego. Even though our flight continued on from there, we had to get out, along with our carry-on luggage, and reboard the plane. Even though it was a hassle, it broke the flight into two nice segments and gave the kids a chance to stretch their legs a bit. (Raphi and I "marched" around the airport in San Diego.) The kids did great on all the flights; I was so proud of them all. One thing about traveling with a pile of kids, other than getting to pre board, is that I no longer have to pack things to keep me occupied! Gone are the days when I used to sit on a plane with a book and my journal.
We landed in Puerto Vallarta right on schedule, and were surprised by the overcast skies and relatively cool day. Of course compared to Oregon it was warm, but it wasn't sweltering hot like we'd expected. We'd planned to rent a car for the first few days, but the property manager, Christy, offered to give us a ride to our place since she had to be at the airport at the same time anyway. We were glad to take her up on that offer, and enjoyed visiting with her and her husband on the ride back to Bucerias. Not surprisingly, they're a Canadian family who lives down here. (It seems the majority of the gringos here are from Canada.) The surprise was that they are a Christian homeschooling family with four kids! They've lived here for over seven years and now just have two kids at home. It was interesting to hear a bit of their story; interesting, and inspiring. (If they can do it, then maybe we could do it too?)
We arrived at our condo, in the same complex where we stayed last year. We're renting it from yet another Canadian Christian homeschooling family we met down here. (Makes me wonder how many more there are.) After a bit of settling in, the kids were happy to get in the pool, in spite of it not being particularly warm. After a swim we walked down the hill and ate dinner at the closest little Mexican restaurant we could find. It wasn't the best food ever, but we were tired and didn't want to walk the rest of the way into town to find another place. We've often found that our first night in a place can be very hard, but thankfully the kids all settled down well and had a decent sleep.
The next day, Friday, started out cool and overcast again. We saw a news report about unseasonably cold weather in other parts of Mexico, and hoped that the sun would come out before too long. After settling in some more and another swim for the kids, we walked down to the highway and caught a bus to Mega, a large Mexican supermarket. After a quick lunch of tacos we each grabbed a shopping cart and wandered the aisles, stocking up on the things we'd need to keep everyone fed, which is no small task these days. We all squeezed into a taxi- Erik in front, four kids and I in the back, and groceries in the trunk- for the ride back home. That evening we walked into town, and it was so fun to watch the kids rediscover places and things they knew from last year. Peregrine was most excited to find that "his" parrot was still in a cage in front of a restaurant we used to walk by. He's quite convinced that "Slim" recognizes and remembers him. We were glad to see the clouds breaking up a little and to feel the warmth of the sun.
On Saturday we decided to walk down to the beach. Even though the day started out cloudy, the sun came out a lot earlier and it finally felt like Mexico; warm, sunny, bright. We loaded up the double jogging stroller, left here by the owners, and made our way down the hill, across the highway, and to the beach. We decided to walk a while before settling in somewhere, although we could hardly stop the boys from stopping to dig or wade in the waves. We were surprised at how many more people seemed to be out and about compared with last year. We learned later it was a long weekend so a lot of people come over from Guadalajara for a holiday. We found a place to "park" our gear and I had the hard job of sitting under an umbrella, sipping orange juice, holding Pearl, and practicing saying "no" to wandering vendors wanting to sell me bracelets, bags, hats, braid my hair, etc. Erik played with and watched the other three kids. Raphael and Poppy were mostly content to play in the sand, while Peregrine tried out some boogie boarding. It was fun to sit and watch them having such a great time. We hung out on the beach for a good long while, then walked into the town center where we ate dinner before heading home for the evening.
Sunday was another lovely day, clear and warm, but still cool in the shade. I'd read online about a farmer's market in the next town up the coast, La Cruz de Huanaxatle. After walking down to the highway, we caught a bus heading north. It's a pretty short ride, maybe just 15 minutes, and from there we walked down into the center of town to the plaza where the market is held. Each town seems to have a plaza with some nice open area, sometimes a fountain or a playground, and always a "bandstand", which looks like a large gazebo. We'd visited La Cruz a year ago and it seems they'd done a lot of work to improve the plaza there. The best feature about this particular one is the massive spreading trees that provide welcome shade.
While the market was quite crowded, I enjoyed it very much. I'd say about a third of the vendors were gringoes, and there was a nice array of handcrafts, baked goods, and produce. They even had some activities for the kids, and Erik stayed with them so I could browse a bit. I was very happy to find some organic veggies, as well as honey, coconut oil, and fresh peanut butter. In the bandstand was a lone fellow with a keyboard singing Queen songs; not quite what you might expect, but there you have it. I bought some tamales, a chile relleno, marinated vegetables, and some coconut macaroons, which made a lovely little market lunch. We sat on a low brick wall in the shade of a huge tree and enjoyed every bite.
The last few days we've fallen into our typical Mexico routine; breakfast and lunch at home, swimming somewhere in between, siesta in the afternoon, and then a walk into town for dinner. I think the kids would pretty much swim all day if we let them! Even little Pearl is loving splashing around in the water. It takes about twenty minutes to get to where there are restaurants and shops, and the walk is a pleasant one. Pearl happily rides in the Ergo, and this year we have a small stroller we bring for Raphi, who also does some walking. I'm amused by the looks we get as a family with four kids; I think people are a bit surprised, but also pleased to see it. After dinner we often walk a bit around the square. In the evenings there are various food carts set up, and it's always fun to see what people are selling. We waited in a long line one night at the churro truck where we got some fried bananas. While waiting, some girls came by with a baby parrot, just one month old. It was so little and cute; the kids got to pet it. I got a crepe from Luisa, "the crepe lady" who we remembered from last year. I was surprised that she recognized us as well, so it was a happy little reunion.
Most nights we just eat at the inexpensive little taco stands, but last night we tried something new. At the recommendation of Lionel, a Frenchman who has a little crepe shop, we ventured further than we've ever walked to find a little bistro run by another Frenchman. Usually our walk into town goes no further than the artisan's market that is just south of the plaza, but last night we crossed the bridge over the river bed, which is dry at this time of year. This took us to a different part of town that we had no idea existed! It is much more upscale, even uppity; fancy shops and restaurants, and a completely different feel than the laid back little Bucerias we thought we knew! We found the bistro and enjoyed our dinner, but I have no desire to cross the bridge into "that" part of town again!
I'm really enjoying cooking here in Mexico. We usually eat some sort of eggs scrambled up with vegetables for breakfast, and I even got some nice chorizo at the farmer's market. We're all enjoying the abundance of fresh fruit; pineapple, mango, papaya, bananas, and I bought some guava last night, which gives off a most lovely fragrance. It's both a challenge and a joy to cook with just a few fresh ingredients, without an array of spices, and with very limited gadgetry. Thankfully there is a blender, and I've been making Pearl purees of avocado, yogurt, papaya, and cooked vegetables. She's not too excited about "carrots and squash" but she seems rather fond of "papaya and yogurt". We've also been drinking smoothies and eating lots of spoons full of delicious fresh peanut butter.
This morning, after a kefir-banana-peanut butter smoothie the kids went swimming for a good long while. We had a "brunch" of broccoli fritatta and pineapple followed by a bit of a rest. We left shortly after 2 and caught the "wild bus" into Puerto Vallarta. That's how Raphael describes it and he's not too far off. It was very crowded when we got on, and Peregrine and Poppy marched together all the way to the back, where I think someone got up to give them a seat. There were so many people standing up that I lost sight of them as I tried to guide Raphael along before the bus lurched off. I knew that Erik, wearing Pearl and carrying the folded up stroller, had gotten on behind me, so I was just trying to find a place to sit and get Peregrine and Poppy back in my site. We were almost to the back when a Mexican man who was sitting in an aisle seat, picked up Raphael and seated him next to him by the window. He was speaking to me in Spanish, and I don't know what he was saying, but I reached over him, grabbed Raphael, and said that I will hold him. I think he was just trying to be helpful, but this mama bear would prefer that strange men NOT grab her children thankyouverymuch. I squeezed into the back seat with Peregrine, Poppy, Raphael, and my backpack, all of us scrunched up, but together at least!
The back of the bus is the worst place to sit, and it was a very bumpy and wild ride; there were several times that we were all bounced right off the seats and jarred back down again. I was holding Raphael tightly on my lap, trying not to envision anyone really flying out of their seats. It was a long time before the bus cleared out enough that I could see Erik, who had found a seat at the front. After about 45 minutes we transferred to another bus for the last leg of our journey. We drove my the marina, where there were two huge cruise ships docked. It was amazing to see them up close; the kids and I were pretty impressed with how huge they were.
Finally we arrived at our destination and began our walk on the malecon, the seawall with all the sculptures that are so often featured in pictures of Puerto Vallarta. The kids were excited to walk along and see the same odd, funny, and whimsical creations they remembered from last year, as well as the ever changing sand sculptures. We enjoyed our walk as well as some snacks along the way. We got some mango in a little bag; it was seasoned with salt, chili, and lime. I wasn't sure if I'd like it, and didn't think the kids would, but it was actually really yummy and even the kids enjoyed it. We also got a fresh coconut and all took turns sipping the refreshing water inside. After we finished it they scraped out the flesh and gave it to us in another bag with salt and lime. The other interesting thing we had is called tuba, and it's a drink made with the nectar of the coconut palm flowers. Apparently it originated in the Philippines, but has become popular here. After collecting the nectar it's lightly fermented, and then (I think) mixed with a sweetened water. It's served with chopped apples and pecans and was quite delicious.
We spent a few minutes walking around the naval museum, which was interesting. Peregrine, of course, enjoyed seeing the model ships, guns, and cannons, and also the uniforms. There were three people working, in uniform, and one of them taught Peregrine the proper way to salute. Another one, a woman named Erika, took Pearl out of the stroller and oohed and aahed over her! From there we walked up to the little restaurant we enjoyed last year, right by the big church. They were cleaning and going to open in "ten minutes" so we wandered around a little more, waiting. We enjoyed a nice dinner of tamales, tacos, enchiladas, and sopes, before catching a bus again. Thankfully the second bus, the one that is the long ride back to Bucerias, was a very nice one; soft seats and a driver who actually did things like slow down and avoid potholes. Other than a man selling potato chips, one might have almost forgotten that one was in Mexico.
It was almost nine by the time we got home, and now the kids are all sleeping and bed is calling my name too. Buenos noches...

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