Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Something Old, Something New: Hotel Refugio Agustino

Morelia's Centro has many hotels, but there seems to be a sort of magnetic convergence of older and newer ones in and near Av. Galeana, Allende, Aldama and Abasolo.

One of the most recently inaugurated is the Hotel Refugio Agustino, at Calle Aldama # 272, just off Ave. Abasolo.
It's bounded by Málaga, a juice bar, to the east and a Happy Go convenience store to the west. The o.k. Tako Tako Taquería is across the street.

Patio lobby area
Banessa greets you with a smile
The following review is about Suite # 7, which rented for $550 pesos during the Day of the Dead period, normally about $50 pesos less. Standard rooms rent normally for $450 pesos, making this a good value, considering the quality of the furnishings.

The Hotel is a converted charming Spanish Colonial building with seven rooms. It’s very nice with few deficiencies. There are modest but charming Colonial decor touches throughout: wooden beams, brick ceilings, walls of cantera stone, brick arches. All in good taste, without being overwhelming. Our room was a suite consisting of an ample bedroom with a king bed, a very long, well constructed dresser about 3 meters in length, with mirror, better than average lighting and ample wall switches and outlets; a small kitchenette area with a stainless steel sink and drainboard, a microwave oven and a small cupboard; a tiny breakfast table and kitchen stools.

foyer of Suite # 7

There’s no refrigerator nor any drinking vessels or dishes, other than a couple of glasses out by the water dispenser in the hall. You’ll have to bring in your own food, as there’s no food service in the hotel. But there are many food establishments nearby. 

We had ample closets and storage space, although the closets are peculiar in that the hanger rods are at right angles to the norm.

The bed linens are above average in quality and we slept comfortably. There was some ambient noise through the patio doors, but it wasn’t bad, and after all, noise is almost inescapable in Mexican cities.

The bathroom is small but adequate, with a modern flush toilet and lavabo. There were a couple of minor flaws: the vertical stainless steel inlet pipe of the lavabo was not mounted firmly and wobbles a lot when touched. Another, minor detail is that the towel hook swiveled loosely. Not a big problem though. 

The attractive shower, just off from the toilet area, in an unroofed stall. The tiled walls and floor are new and very clean. The hot water took about 1 minute to arrive, but when it did, it was forceful and plentiful. In fact, the shower, along with the comfortable king sized bed are among the highlights of suite #7.

Note that as a retrofit, the bathroom is in a partially unroofed box constructed within the suite. The toilet area is roofed in relation to the rest of the suite, but the shower area is not. There’s also a translucent plastic skylight in the ceiling over the shower and part of the bedroom.

A really nice feature to Suite # 7 is the small, private patio, accessed by attractive wooden sliding doors. There’s a small table and a couple of chairs. It would be a nice place for breakfast or afternoon drinks. (You can also dry your socks and undies out there by draping them over the patio furniture.)

Patio doors looking inward
Bedroom in refection
However, considering the large and uninsulated expanse of the sliding wood and glass doors, I would not want to have this suite in the dead of winter.

The standard rooms are compact but appear adequate. They are arranged for the most part on two levels, a small sitting room below and in at least one, low ceilinged, bedroom loft, up a set of short, broad wooden stairs. 

When I stopped by in August for a quick look at the hotel, the low ceilinged upper level was a little stuffy. I would not choose a room that faced the street, because of the noise. There's at least one other suite on the upper floor, which overlooks the lobby, with a Queen bed. Price is the same. 

The most serious flaw in an otherwise lovely small hotel was the temporary (?) lack of Internet connectivity. Wireless Internet is advertised as being available in the lobby area. However, when I was given the password and I tried to enter it in my mobile device, it wouldn’t connect. After some time, Banessa ("with a B"), the friendly receptionist, told me that the router was broken, in fact, “burned out”. I was lucky to have access to Wifi at our friend Rosa's Casona Rosa, 2 1/2 blocks away, but it was nevertheless an inconvenience, and not available to everyone.

Here are some informal ratings:

Comfort: ****
Service: ****
Price per room: $$$$+ ($= $100 pesos)
Cleanliness: outstanding
Quiet: Our room, in the interior, was fairly quiet.

Tel: (443) 274 9224
Email: refugioagustino@hotmail.com
Website: Click here.
Calle Aldama # 272, Centro Histórico, Morelia, Michoacán, México

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

The Phoney War

Powered by Telcel

Until we moved to Mexico in September, 2005, we were unfamiliar with the workings of cell phones. We had to buy one, as there were no land lines reaching the remote outposts that have bookended our home life here. Only the large house down by the railroad tracks, which we house sat for 4 1/2 months, had a landline phone.

There are many Telcel tiendas in Pátzcuaro, about one on every block in Centro, and on every other corner. What criteria to use in selecting the best shop?
We guys might as well choose by which has the most attractive young women who almost inevitably run these stores.

Not your usual, everyday Telcel salesgirls
Our first phone was an inexpensive Nokia, no camera, no MP3 player, just a phone. It did have a flashlight which seemed to have volition to turn on at unexpected moments. (No photo available.)

The user interface was cryptic, but with exploration, we were able to gain a basic knowledge of the workings.

A second phone was needed when we moved out here to The Sticks. How else could we communicate over distance when one of us was in the house and the other was away?

I purchased a second Nokia. The relatively simple model had been superseded by a somewhat snazzier one. It looked cooler with its central cursor key, but the interface was actually more recondite. But that one suffered a fall, and though he crystal was replaced after an agonizing, 6 weeks wait, after which I eventually took it to a different store for repair, the phone was never the same as before. For one, the screen lost its backlighting. The interface remained inscrutable and prone to rebellion as settings changed on their own, calls were made without my involvement, and overall, it was a Piece of Crap.

A few weeks ago, I decided that I couldn't stand it any longer, so I shopped for a new phone.

I chose a Telcel tienda which I knew would be really good, because A—a, the young woman in charge, is very attractive. Sorry. No photo.

Eventually, with her help, I chose a coolly elegant LG model with a flip cover, a mini window in the cover to see time and date and other activity, a camera, a very nice compact design, and it only cost me $999 pesos. The Nokias had run about $480 back in the day.

I was delighted for the moment. A little later, I discovered a few shortcomings. The charging port is a mini-USB port with a skinny, hard to open cover. We have had to use a jeweler's screwdriver to open it.

The operating instructions are only in Spanish, on a single sheet of paper, unlike the extended, bilingual User Manual that came with the Nokias. (yet inscrutably recondite.)

The LG came with only one, obnoxious rock and roll song ringtone installed, but of course, the user can add more. We'll get to that.

The camera is easy to use, but I still haven't been able to access the files on my computer. We'll get to that.

O.k. Lets get to it. To transfer files between phone and computer requires that the back of the phone be slid off, and a tiny pinkie fingernail sized SD card be slid out. The phone kit comes with a regular sized SD into which you slide the mini SD card. The ensemble slides into your card reader. A volume (disk image) shows up on the Mac's desktop. Inside are some subfolders, some of which seem to relate to what you can view on the phone screen, after clever navigation through the shoals. Others seem to have no relation.

I won't describe the entire, tedious process of creating a ring tone, then dragging it to a folder, ejecting the disk image, reassembling the phone, finding out that it's turned off, restarting, navigating back to the Profiles screen, selecting the correct setting (a significant achievement in itself) and then only to find that the imported ringtone is an "invalid file". But eventually, I got one to work. However, I may have inadvertently deleted it yesterday.

Although I can see the lousy photos on the phone, I can't locate them when the disk image is mounted on the Mac.
However, this is probably an effort not worth pursuing.

I have one last question: if the LG phone has a mini USB port for charging, why the hell can't you do file transfers via the same cable?

Oh; one more question: where do the get the software designers for such user unfriendly interfaces? Dropouts from software designers' school?

I will admit, though, how cool I feel when I flip the cover open and then snap it shut.

What I really want is an iPhone, but the cost of hardware, and especially, the contract plan rates are way out of my budget. I guess that if we gave up eating out in restaurants so often, I could swing it. That prospect is highly unlikely.

Dream on.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Green, Green Grass of Home*

Our usual summer schedule for lawn cutting is about every two weeks. It's normally done by our landlord's father, Mateo, using a "huiter", ie; a weed eater.

This year we were away a total of six weeks, with only 12 days between visits to the U.S. Although Mateo has access to our yard, he and his wife, Chucha were in San Jose, California even longer than we were.

So it was when we returned from the final segment of travel in New Jersey, we found a Bonanza of Lawn Greene (*That was the original title of this post, but I took pity on my readers.) in our yard. It was nearly waist high out back, as the grass is always greener by the septic tank.

That's a trailer, not a septic tank
After nearly a week back home, I went out and located Sr. Candy, who had occasionally cut our grass when Mateo was away. He took a look at the elephant grass out back and told us that his huiter couldn't handle it. But he knew a couple of muchachos, one of whom had a disc cutter huiter.  We agreed on a price, and the crew showed up here on Saturday morning.

They went at it with two huiters and a rake, as well as a wheelbarrow. They also removed a tangle of chayote vines from the brick wall at the north side of the house. By 10:30, they had it done, other than the walkways that needed sweeping.

Most of the clippings were deposited outside, at the base of our wall along the street, but they workers also hauled off a truckload with which to feed their cattle.

We paid them, shook hands, and watched as the faded off into the morning sun.

And now, for your further entertainment, here's our title song, as sung by Marty Robbins (I tried to get Merle Haggard, but EMI Publishing had restrictions on it.) Click here to hear Merle sing it, on YouTube. The best one, so far, IMO.

For those who prefer, here's a much younger Joan Baez singing of the GGoH.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Flight to Reality

"Como una película, excepto estuvo real."
"It was like a movie, except that it was real."
About 2 hours out on our flight, Continental 1736 Newark to México City, the old man with a silver headed cane, who'd been  seated across the aisle from me came out of the bathroom with ashen face.

A flight attendant asked him if he was all right, but he didn't reply. The FA asked me if I spoke Spanish (By an amazing coincidence, she was the same FA of a year ago, when we flew 1st class, after attending a wedding at WEst Point.) When I spoke to the man, he didn't answer. Another bilingual FA came out and was able to communicate with him.

The FA went on the PA and asked if there were any medical personnel aboard.
Like in the movies, the slender, good looking middle aged Mexicana seated directly in front of me rose and said, "Soy médica." "I am a doctor."

La Doctora, por Diego Rivera

Doña Cuevas recalls there was an extended pause before the doctora responded, but I don't remember this.

There was a Chasidic Rabbi aboard, but he was not called upon to take a visible role in the drama.

The elderly lady traveling to Mérida, who'd been wheeled to the boarding gate in a wheelchair would undoubtedly miss her connecting flight. We hoped she would be well cared for until put on an onward flight

The doctora and the Flight Attendants attended to the sick man, taking his blood pressure and administering oxygen. They later moved him to the back of the aircraft, I suppose to lessen the stress on other passengers.

Then came an announcement from the Captain that we would be landing at Houston IAH to deplane the sick passenger. All of us would have to remain  on the plane, as it was an international flight.

We stayed on the ground at IAH about 40 minutes, to refuel. Then we took off for México City, arriving about an hour late. Fortunately, Immigration was as easy and pleasant as always; our bags arrived on the belt before we did; and the Customs process went smoothly. We got the green light, so all my exotic food imports passed without close inspection.

Army Brand Officer's Pork Loaf
The porter who schlepped our bags was a friendly man who welcomed us to Mexico; the taxi driver also was an affable gentleman.

We ate supper at the Restaurante Covadonga next door to the hotel. It was nothing special but it was very convenient.

Back in the hotel "Master Suite", I filled the Jacuzzi and immersed myself in its bubbling, soothing waters. I was soaking in the odd events of the day.

Last night, we slept soundly, some 11 hours in all. After a hearty breakfast of cafe con leche, fruit and Huevos a la Veracruzana, we walked to Plaza La Villa de Madrid, then back to the hotel for a nap.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

La Cd. de México Para Codos

A fragment of a message washed ashore near here,  about cost of living for retired expats in the Morelia and Pátzcuaro areas.

On Jul 28, 2011, at 9:10 PM, on Michoacan_Net, moreliaamigo wrote:
"I would tend to put vacation travel in a different category. The $2,000 peso splurge allowance could allow for a monthly trip to Mexico City, Zihuatanejo, or someplace and cover transportation, hotel, and meals for a short two-day trip."
"MoreliaAmigo" brings up an interesting spin off from the topic of general cost of living. ("Vacation" takes on a new meaning anyway, when you are retired and already Living la Vida Buena in Mexico, but decide you need a change of scene, so you decide, for example, to take a long weekend in Mexico City. —I think of lodging in Zihua as generally higher priced, for similar quality. Besides, I prefer Mexico City to the beach scene.)

My theme will be "Mexico City On a Budget", and I don't mean staying in backpacker's hostels and eating instant oatmeal and reusing teabags for breakfast, and the comida económica at $30 pesos for your main meal, antojitos por la calle at night.

A big chunk of the cost could be transportation. It's a little more for us here in the Pátzcuaro area than it is for our City Cousins in Morelia.

A trick to solving some of the transportation burden is to travel lightly, with just a couple of carry on bags. So equipped, we can catch a local combi (schedule indeterminate) to La Estacíon in Lower Pátzcuaro for $7 pesos each. (Here, "$" refers to Pesos Mexicanos, unless otherwise indicated.)

At La Estacíon, we board a second class Purhépechas bus to Morelia's Camionera Central, $36 each. We can live without an onboard video for the hour or so it takes to get there.

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At the Camionera Central de Morelia, we go to the AutoVías ticket counter, politely flash our INAPAM senior benefits cards, and buy two tickets to México Terminal Poniente; $218 peso each,  as of 20/11/2013, depending on class of service. IMO, the cheaper upper deck is better, but my wife likes the lower, as it is less vertigo inducing. 

Food: pack a sandwich and a piece of fruit. The bus line hostess will give you some kind of snack and a choice of water, refresco or a Boing! fruit drink. I like the Boing!
You have just saved the price of a meal.

Upon arrival, you'll also have saved $3 or $4 pesos each by sagely using the baño aboard the bus, or enter the AutoVías waiting room (or, if you have the cojones, boldly stroll into the more spacious ETN waiting room and use their baño).

Stroll past the Taquilla de Boletos Taxis with a slight, knowing smile, grasp your bags closely, cross the busy street (with the light), thread through the tianguis, and descend into Metro Station Observatorio. Buy boletos, $3 each, saving some $80 or more pesos. I have read, from a generally reliable source, that INAPAM card holders can show their credentials and ride for free. But I wouldn't have the chutzpah.

These tickets will open up most of metropolitan México D.F. to you, if should you choose to accept the challenge. But really, yours will be a trip of modest distance, of only 5 stations. It's also easy to find a seat when boarding, as Metro Observatorio is the first stop on Linea Una.

Stay on until Metro Station Insurgentes, ascend to the gladiatorial looking sunken plaza, and exit by way of the short underpass marked "Calle Jalapa". Please note that you will be entering Colonia Roma Norte, a genteel artsy neighborhood, very different in tone from the glitzy, sin drenched Zona Rosa immediately to the north. We will now find decent lodging, at a budget price. It's not far, but here's a map.
(Problems encountered embedding the map to fit this page, but here's a link—Click Me that should work.)

Immediately upon reaching the Calle Puebla cross street, turn left and walk two blocks, past Calle Orizaba, to the Hotel Embassy, at Calle Puebla # 115, adjacent to the Salon Covadonga. You can't miss it.

This is your habitacíon sencilla, one king bed, a nice sized room, a very nice bathroom, free wifi just off the lobby, at a cost of $300 a night for one or two persons. Mmm; a mirror running along one wall of the bedroom. Use your imagination.

There are other, costlier rooms, which we haven't seen. There's a list of prices here and photos.
Friends seem to like the Hotel Colonia Roma,on Av. Álvaro Obregón at the corner of Jalapa. I've only looked in, and though it's a bit more ventral central to the action, it seems very worn to me. The main attraction is that it's cheap. $200 for a king bed? ¡Increible!

Now for some food. There are cheap eating places on Calle Orizaba at Calle Puebla and north. There's a cheap comida corrida offered at the Punto y Coma restaurant on the corner.

Calle Orizaba at Calle Puebla
Punto y Coma
Continuing on Calle Puebla toward Ave Insurgentes, you'll find a wealth of inexpensive and often attractive street food stalls, as well as an inexpensive, American style coffee shop.
 These do not necessarily constitute recommendations.

Or a torta holding a deep fried tamal.

If by some chance you get touched by an intestinal bug, or even simple indigestion, there's a Farmacia de Dios just across Avenida Insurgentes Sur. With a name like that, it must be good.

Pricier eating places are found as close as the Salon Covadonga (which is usually panned for its food and service, but may be fine for a drink and a snack), and south on Orizaba to and through the Plaza Río de Janeiro. There are some pretty uppity restos in the area of Calle Colima, where it crosses Orizaba, notably the la-di-da dining spots in the Hotel Brick. There's also the overpriced Ristorante Rosetta, which I previously reviewed.

Lucille's, on Calle Orizaba at Calle Tabasco is o.k. for a beer and a light pizza.

At Av. Álvaro Obregón at Orizaba is El Diez, a very decent Argentinean style steakhouse. There's also salads, pizzas and hamburgers there. El Diez is a favorite, neither the cheapest nor the most expensive of choices in the area.

The best and by far the cheapest hamburguesas are found at the corner of Calle Colima and Calle Morelia; Hamburguesas a la Parilla. Grilled Hamburgers. Standing room only. You could, I suppose, take your juicy, dripping purchase and refresco Jarritos across the street to the park, but we never have.

For decent, if unspectacular, Mexican family food favorites, there are several restaurants  Bisquets Obregón within a few blocks. On weekend mornings, there is often a waiting line. An attraction for codos is that they'll give you a modest discount if you show your INAPAM card when you sit down.

There's more, but I'm not going to detail them here. Look in My Mexican Kitchen's archives for that.

Diversions para codos:

• People watching, especially in the Plaza Río de Janeiro and the Plaza Luis Cabrera. For that matter, just about anywhere in the area.

• Used and new bookstores, many on the south side of Av. Álvaro Obregón.

• The weekend tianguis of odd collectables and more, as well as socks for diabetics and some food. This is always an attraction.

• Walking, enjoying the architecture, much of it French influenced, a legacy of the Porfiriato (esp).

You could even walk to Colonia Condesa, about 15 to 20 minutes away. We did it, and it was very pleasant.

Museums operated bu government agencies are usually free on Sndays. But an INAPAM card will get you discounts any time, except Monday, when many museums are closed.

When you get tired of yuppie haunts, take the Metro to the Centro Histórico. You will probably have to transfer from Linea Una to Linea Dos at the Pino Súarez station. Consult your guidebook for possibilities.

Getting home.

We often splurge on a taxi for our return to Terminal Poniente, in order to avoid the press of crowded weekday morning Metro coaches. But if you leave early enough, or on a weekend, you can manage the Metro. Remember, it's only five stops away from the Insurgentes Metro station.

Getting INAPAM discounted seats may be slightly challenging at times. Sometimes there may be only one discounted seat available. Sometimes none, until a considerably later departure. If, on arrival, you'd thought ahead, you could have bought your discounted return tickets in advance. But we rarely show such foresight.

If AutoVías doesn't have what you want, try ETN or Primera Plus.

Conclusions: can a three day weekend in Mexico City be done for $2000? The buses alone will cost you $600, from Morelia to México and return.

The three hotel nights will be $600 to $900.

Miscellaneous stuff, figure maybe $300.

Food, if you can keep your dining costs at under $50 each per meal, and that's feasible, but unlikely in our case. Total for appproximately 9 @ $50 meals x 2= $900.

Let's ring it up and check out: $1800-2400. I think the higher figure will be more likely, given the many temptations waiting there for the wide eyed visitor.

Friday, July 22, 2011

I was a Volaris Virgin...

...but no longer. I have a new view of Volaris, a Mexican budget airline. It was a few years ago that I made a reservation with Volaris to speed our return from Oaxaca to Toluca. But at almost the last moment, the airline cancelled the route.  [begin sarcasm] I will give them this: the agent offered us a flight at no additional cost, from Oaxaca to to Tijuana and thence back to Toluca. I may not remember clearly, but there may have been a stopover in Monterrey. [/end sarcasm]

I was pissed, especially when I requested a refund, and I was given a complicated list of instructions that involved, among other things, scanning our passports and emailing them. Fortunately for us, a savvy friend suggested that we just contact the credit card company for a refund. That done, we got a charge back within 6 months. Good work on the part of the credit card company, but not on Volaris' part.

This spring, however, I saw a super cheap fare on Volaris, from GDL to SJC. Even with forward seating and trip insurance (given our unfortunate history with Volaris), the fare was $562 USD for two, round trip. That was perfect, as we wanted to attend the quinceañera of the daughter of the folks who own the house that we rent. At the same time, we could visit my in-laws in Campbell, CA, all conveniently situated close to the quinceañera folks, and peripherally, several fascinating dining opportunities.

After a night in the lovely Casa de Las Palomas in Tonalá in which we weathered a ferocious storm, we took a long cab ride to the GDL Airport. There we laced our way back and forth to check in, got documents filled out at Immigration, then back to the check in, where we were allowed to saltar la fila. With only a fast donut break at the in-house Krispy Kreme, we finished our check-in and went for breakfast at Burger King. It was a good Whopper, much better than the one on Calzada La Huerta in Morelia.

We ascended/descended to the Volaris waiting rooms.
It was there that I had my first sighting of the lovely birds,
Aves Illae Volaris Azafatae. (I'm certain my attempts at Latin will be corrected. Bring it on.)

Avis Illa Azafatae Volaris
By their smart uniforms and perky demeanor, it seemed as though they were just done with a remake of Catch Me If You Can. But besides being attractive, they are first rate hostesses. I had no sense of authoritarian or chilly efficiency as we have experienced with some U.S. airlines flight attendants.
(A notable exception was the First Class flight attendant on another airline, who when I requested a pillow, jokingly told me that there were none, but that I might rest my head on her bosom. I am not inventing this.)

The Volaris azafatas distributed snacks* and drinks with smiles and charm. I was entranced. I was also impressed by their snappy tailored uniforms, the precise details of which I cannot describe, due to my deficiency of couturier vocabulary.

The safety video on our return flight was done by cute kids, speaking Spanish, of course, with English subtitles, and for once, was hard to ignore.

Our return flight was at 12:30 PDT and so there were free alcoholic beverages offered by our hostesses. I had a cafecito con ron, and when asked if it was all right, I said I could hardly taste the rum, so they graciously poured more.

We've rarely had such pleasant flights as this, our first with Volaris.

*The one downside, if any, is that the snacks, while varied, are still comida chatarra. (Junk food.)

Mexico should be proud of this fine airline and its excellent staff. They are in partnership with U.S. based Southwest Airlines. I will be looking for more opportunities to fly with Volaris.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Appointment in Tonalá

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture,  now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.  The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?  That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
From Appointment In Samarra by John O'Hara

OUR Saturday departure from Pátzcuaro was threatened by the violent events of Thursday afternoon and evening. Los Caballeros Templares gang skirmished with police and the Ejército, hijacking  public and private vehicles and setting them aflame. Most of those incidents took place in distant Apatzingán, Uruapan and Morelia.

Photo from quadratin.com.mx

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

We Love Casona Rosa in Morelia

The Centro of Morelia has many hotels and B & Bs from which to choose. Where to stay depends on one's tastes and budget. We love staying at Casona Rosa.
For several years, we've watched the growth of first, Casa Rosa, and now, of Casona Rosa. They've come a long way from the first two cozy bedrooms and cute but tiny kitchens, formerly located down the street from the present location.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Five Years on the Rancho

July 1st marks the fifth anniversary of our renting our house here on the Rancho. September will mark our 6th anniversary in the Pátzcuaro region. Our first house in the area was "ready to wear", a completely furnished 2 bdrm, 1 bath, lvg/dng rm houselet on acres and acres (I should say, "hectareas") of land. It was in a vacation club called Quercus, on the road to Santa Clara de Cobre.

While it was a cute house, the thin, wooden walls were uninsulated and we passed our first winter there, freezing our butts off.

In April, when our 6 month agreement expired, we moved into the grand, rambling, tile encrusted house of an Arkansas expat friend, close at hand to the ferrocarriles of the Tzurumútaro Choo choo. We lived there and cared for it for a little over 4 months. It had a few problems, which I won't go into here.

Our friend's house
Along about June, 2006, we were looking up and down the streets of Pátzcuaro in search of new quarters, as we expected our host to return in late July or August. With the possible exception of a duplex apartment on Gringo Hill, all the houses we looked at were tortuously constructed, some with hazards such as stairs of uneven height, and low concrete beams ready to clobber the head of the careless. There was a skinny shower room installed inside a pillar between the kitchen and the living room. The neighborhood wasn't all that nice, either.

We also visited a country cottage out in a peach orchard. It was even further away and higher altitude than our Quercus cabin, and worst of all, the skinny kitchen was like a utility room. At least the view was great.

Then I met an expat at the Men's Tuesday Breakfast named Mel O'Hara. He suggested that we come out to see the two houses available for rent where he lived. It was 20 minutes out of Pátzcuaro Centro. The Internet, delivered by microwave towers, was sketchy. But one house was passable all right, and the other amazed us. We knew almost immediately that this was it. The house was well built, and the setting was beautiful. The then drab exterior belied the well finished interior.

Our first view of the house
Our house as it is today
Double doors in the entryway
The living room before furnishing

The kitchen was the deal maker

The view; OH the VIEW!
The house has changed over time. Our landlords put up a new, tiled roof, at their own expense, and then when I proposed that we pay to have the house rewired (so that I could run a toaster oven and the microwave oven at once), they paid for 90% of the costs.

The local people have welcomed us. We attend many of their fiestas. We've also been to three funerals. Through these blogs, and through my Picasa web Albums, I've become the photo chronicler of the Rancho. The people who have emigrated to the Other Side (the U.S. border) enjoy seeing local events commemorated on the Web. Next wednesday, we are invited to a Graduation comida. I was asked to please bring my camera.

We have no doubt. This is the place. The right place.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Riding the Nostalgia Train

We had the good fortune to experience passenger train travel a few times in Mexico before the services ended around 2000. We were on the Chepe Primera Clase (Chihuahua al Pacífico)* run about 3 times. Comfortable and enjoyable; fun companions, cold cerveza and a dining car! (I didn't eat from the dining car but there were enough vendors coming aboard to sell their specialities. A steward came buy at intervals to serve us a pseudo-orange drink I quickly dubbed "Naranjanada".
A highlight was the 20 minute stop at Divisadero mirador, where ladies sold gorditas filled with chcken and other antojitos. You could even see the Barranca del Cobre!

The first train trip was from Cd. Júarez to Chihuahua, and the following year from Cd. Júarez to Zacatecas, a 24 hour trip, Pullman class car, through mostly desolate wasteland. We did make friends with an interesting family. It was fun to explore and deploy the foldout furnishings in our Pullman roomette, but after that, it was nearly unremitting boredom. We stopped for what seemed hours in the middle of nowhere. Maybe we were ahead of schedule.These are probably one reason Zacatecas looked so good, with its cobbled streets, plazas, fountains and the warm glow of the faroles de dragones. (But it is truly a wonderful city.)

Another year saw us take an overnight train from Mexico City to Oaxaca. No Pullman Service. The most exciting part of that was the boarding, with uniformed conductors to show us to our seats. After a semi sleepless night, the dawn revealed that we were in La Cañada, a scenic section of the trip, not long before arriving in Oaxaca. Another fabulous city.

For some benighted motive, we once the overnight train from Mexico City to Monterrey. It was slow, paralytically boring and uncomfortable. No Pullman Service. We slept athwart the wooden arm rests, waking with our legs like logs.

We didn't always take first class trains; an exception was another overnight trip (No Pullman Service) from Tepic, Nayarit to El Sufragio Estacíon, a connecting point to Los Mochis via 2nd class bus. That particular train coach was dark, dingy and foreboding. The restroom was either nonexistant or out of order, but it was fun to whiz off the back platform.

Even riding the First Class coaches on the Chihuahua al Pacífico, taking a wee in the WC posed a threat for the photographers and others standing in the usually fresher air of the vestibule between cars. There was a definite spray factor when the WC was flushed. It was especially noticeable as the train lurched around one of the many curves.

It's fun to look back on those days of train service, the occasional discomforts and slowness fuzzily obscured by time and nostalgia. These days, I prefer the bus. We can even choose which bad movie to watch, or none at all.

(This post was inspired by a post on Michoacán_Net by David Haun, which set off a flurry of train stories.)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Magic Phrase

María Dolores was our hostess at a small (2 bedrooms) guesthouse apartment in Madrid in 2002. She was a kind and caring person, but she was very careful who she admitted to her third floor piso. It was in a nondescript building on a very busy one way street, a few blocks south of the Plaza Mayor. She lived with her then 13 year old son, who played games on a Mac. We found a kinship there.

She gave us juice and homemade quick bread. The room and ensuite bath were small but clean and we were glad to find it, especially at €35, back when the dollar was at par with the euro.

When she saw that I was going to go out into the streets with my camera slung over my neck, she also gave me some advice.

The first part was that it was better not to carry valuables in a visible way.
The second piece of advice was that if anyone accosted us or asked a question, just say: “¡NO LO SÉ!” and walk on.

We never had occasion to use the phrase while we were in Madrid, as we had no problems other than be shorted 20 Euros from an ATM on the Puerta del Sol.

Last Sunday, in Mexico City's Colonia Roma, we were walking back to our hotel from a friend’s house. A dodgy looking guy suddenly stepped out and accosted us with the words, “Discúlpe la molestia, Señor...”

María Dolores’ magic phrase awoke from its long slumber.
“¡NO LO SÉ” came out of my mouth unbidden by conscious effort.
He shrank back wordlessly and we walked on.

What Spanish magic does that potent phrase contain, to work in Mexico City as in Madrid?

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Cleaning Out the Whatsit?

Monday, I cleaned out the "Whatsit?" catch-all shelf in our trastero cabinet. We'd bought the two section trastero from a Zirahuen organic ranching couple back in 2006, and it's since served us for clothes drawers, overhead storage space, wine cellar and liquor cabinet, and as a "Whatsit?" catchall compartment.

Doña Cuevas checks the trastero when it moved in
The Whatsit? held a miscellaneous collection of flashlights, candles, mosquito coils, locks, Hallow'een masks and other junk.

Yesterday's big find were the numerous eyeglasses, in their snazzy cases, of which at least two had higher quality frames than the ones we'd gotten in Pátzcuaro. The electric extension cord and surge suppressor went out to the storage boxes in the garage. The goofy looking candle holder, mosquito coils and some other items are going to giveaways. The massive padlock which had originally been the main line of defense at our gate was defective, so we tossed it in the trash.

It was a productive and satisfying way to occupy an hour or so. We had to take a long nap afterwards, but that was partly in response to the change to Daylight Saving Time, and the previous two long but enjoyable days of house cleaning and prep for Sunday dinner.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Seven Shots In Michoacán

This post is not about violence in Michoacán. If you were looking for that, you might instead go here.

No, this is about some of the free or inexpensive health care available to both Mexicanos and Gringos living here. No ifs, ands or buts.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Hoopla On the Rancho

A couple of the preteen neighbor kids came over one evening last week. Andrés is especially inquisitive and likes to chat with us in Spanish. Both he and Alejandro were carrying a Mexican, homemade version of a Hula Hoop. The hoops are made of stiff lengths of hose, with a metal piece jammed into one end so it may be mated to the other end. These "aros", or hoops, are slightly smaller in diameter and a bit heavier than the commercial model Hula Hoops I recall. I was pleased to see that these toys or exercise devices are made from low cost, surplus materials.

They then proceeded to enthusiastically demonstrate how the hoops are used. Andrés also had a jump rope (video link).

Andrés and Alejandro
Our amiga down the street told us later that the hoops are used as part of the schools' physical fitness program. In an effort to combat obesity, the Mexican government is instituting new measures in the schools, among which fresh fruit stands are set up to tempt the children. What will the comida chatarra (junk food) vendors do? Papitas (potato chips), dulces, refrescos, chicharrones are an integral part of the Mexican food culture.

After the PE demos, we sat and chatted a while of life here and al otro lado (in the U.S.), until the air grew cool and the sun began to set. We enjoy these occasional chats with these kids. It will be our turn for Show and Tell next time.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Twisted Taxi Tales

During the many years we've visited and lived in Mexico, most of the taxi rides we've taken were free of any unusual incidents. But there have been some exceptions.

The stories you are about to read are true; only the names of the drivers are omitted because we never knew them. No crimes were committed, but we have been subjected to pendejadas. In the following series of Twisted Taxi Tales, up to five Pendejada Points (¶) will be awarded to qualified taxistas.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pemeces* Past and Present

Old Pemex Gasolinera, C/ Federico Tena at C/ Navarrete
You could get your hair permed, your skin tattooed and your car greased. That was when we arrived here in October, 2005. Gas was no longer available.

Today, a new Pemex is arising. The final construction touches are underway. We don't know what it will offer, apart from gas, oil and air. I'm betting that no tattoos will be available, except accidentally. Maybe there will be an OXXO, or a Happy Go store. You can buy a lot of handy things in those stores. Look for the hotdog specials! You can get a premixed alcoholic beverage in a can!

We miss the old Pemex, a classic of Mission style Mexican Architecture. It occasionally provided us with cheap or free parking. The lube rack pits were totally unguarded by any safety rails. No risk to me, as I never went inside.

New Pemex plaza

Shade for your vehicle
*Pemeces: plural form of Pemex