Monday, 28 May 2012

Housesitting.........what is that ??


Lots of people ask us " What does house-sitting entail? " and my answer could be "How long is a piece of string?" but on a more helpful note thought I would write a bit about what this one entails.

Firstly we have to care for the animals ,which you might remember are three dogs and two cats. I am an early bird so I get up about 6AM and usually do my e mails etc , the minute the cats hear me open the door they dart into the house for food!! The dogs aren't allowed in the house, there is a large front porch and that is their boundary line...........which I like as the house gets dusty enough without dog hair everywhere.

The temperatures here as such that the only time it is possible to walk them is early in the morning so we have a cuppa about 7 AM and the take them for a walk for about 75 minutes. Before we leave we close all of the windows and curtains and put my patent sun shield down ( made from 3 car windscreen shields), we have found this is the only way to keep the house manageable. Once back they get a small amount of dog food and then we have breakfast.

Our day then depends on what needs doing, there are the same chores as you have in your home, washing clothes, changing beds ( three times a week here with the dust and the heat), cleaning the house and thinking about what to eat. We take turns cooking, although try not to use the cooker too often as it just adds to the heat!! Having tried the meat at the local butcher Chris bought some steak in the supermarket in Tepic and we had a BBQ and it was good.

We have got into the habit of Saturday breakfast at a local restaurant and Sunday lunch by the laguna. There is a lovely family-run place called Catalina, actually most of the places on the laguna are family-run but this one is not too big. On Sunday the laguna is "mobbed" with people who come down for a meal. We were there yesterday and I had ceviche (raw fish) and coconut prawns(served with some lovely mango chutney) and Chris had Chicharrons ( small pieces of fried fish) and pozole ( a local dish , more like a soup or stew, with soaked corn, pork and topped with shredded lettuce). 

There is always a steady stream of people selling their wares, jewellery, carved wood statues, candy floss, biscuits and cakes and DVDs and CDs. Anyone who thought Chris was tough should see him when a little girl, who is very sweet, comes to sell him chocolate. It costs 5 pesos (25p) and given the heat it is melted...........he buys the chocolate and then gives her it back to sell again.......same thing every week!!

The garden needs tidying and watering, for the first 3-4 weeks we were here the strangler fig , which is so huge I can't get it all in one photograph, was shedding leaves about the size of your hand and they needed gathering 2 or 3 times a day. Angel comes and does some gardening here and next door too. I have planted a small vegetable garden-just want to see how it does. So far everything has germinated really quickly but I will have to see what happens now it is transplanted in the ground. Yesterday Chris decided to prune the bougainvillea and got stung by some tiny little insects..........who weren't resident last time he pruned it!! 

The lime tree is starting to produce usable limes and we are hopeful for some mangoes soon.......and I think we have an avocado tree too............and they are my favourites. This week I re-organised the back to provide some sitting space in the shade, as up until then there was none during the day. In the process I found out what was causing an awful smell...........we assumed it was the drains, fields etc but here were 2 huge potted palms standing in dishes full of stagnant water.........PHEW!!! One of the plants still smells so we will either plant it or move it to the border opposite the front gate.

The big job this week was to replace the black plastic which covers Uwe's huge American 4 wheel drive car. There is a frame and the sun had made the plastic fragile and the winds had ripped it. We measured up and got 7.5 m of 6m wide plastic and on Friday replaced it and it looks really good. Its amazing what you can do with black plastic, gaffa tape and wire. By the time we were finished we were shattered, luckily we have had a few cloudy days so it was not full sun. Chris has also had to replace the catch on the outside door, all good for the Spanish as he also needed a new drill bit.

We had another trip to Tepic to top up our shopping, we buy lots in SAMAO , I like to get the fruit and veg in the market on Monday, but some things are only available in the city. We bought a new DVD player as the one in the house had died..........and the new one does not work!! So it can go back next time we go and we will look for one in town today.

The heat means that often we just have fruit for lunch or a small salad , or maybe if we are in town "gorditas" which are two tortillas fused together with a filling, chili or cheese or beans or any combination. Tortillas in Mexico are usually made in the cafes and restaurants and are about the size of a tea plate.......not like the ones you get at home. 

The afternoons are a time for a siesta or a swim in the laguna-which is wonderfully cooling. We also keep meaning to get a kayak and go out but until Chris' dental appointments are finished we don't have a spare morning ( my kinder takes up Tuesday and Wednesday).

About 6 pm we take the dogs down for their swim and then they get fed..........a mix of dried dog food and a chicken and rice concoction that i make every 4-5 days. The cats feed themselves and get some treats about 6pm. The labrador type Eugene is really looking well as we only give him two feeds a day and no extras. Uwe is a big meat eater and often BBQs and the dogs were used to lots of extras- we don't eat meat often and they would not get any anyway.........they have realised too that they do not sit near the table when we are eating.  

Once the sun is down it is good to sit outside, so we potter in the garden and then have our meal and a drink ( only alcohol at the weekend) as it gets dark. Chris usually checks the dogs for tics- Eugene seems to get the most. We have satellite but better than nothing. Although we watch mainly films or programmes in English the subtitles do help build the Spanish.

Having the computer is a godsend for all sorts of things, e mails, news, google etc and of course skype. Had a lovely long chat with my girls yesterday . They were at my friend  Heather's ( my old neighbour) and chatted to her and Dan and Alex......we even managed a bit of video although it does reduce the sound quality. Of course the other big advantage is skype to skype is free!! Everyone   looked well and it was good to see the sun shining.

So that's out life in mexico, maybe much like your own? The difference is we are in a stunningly beautiful place and the weather is hot and it is culturally different to the UK. The Mexican are really sweet people, in the cash and carry a man heard us speaking English and he had lived in the states and asked where we were from. When we said England he said "Ah the motherland!!" at least one person who realises that there is only one English language !! Even our drumming neighbours have settled down!!

Till next time and love to hear your news too 

Norma xx
PS More photos next time!!

Monday, 21 May 2012

After the rain...........

I know some of you reading this may well be experiencing a different climate and in the UK it has been colder than normal but last night we had some rain..........about a thimble full.....maybe six drops and today the temperature has become crazy. We can usually keep the internal temperature to about 30 C with windows doors and curtains closed but it has just hot 34C which is 93.2F !!! It is unbearable and have had to put the aircon on...........I don't expect sympathy!!

Had an interesting week, fiesta is just proved to be busy, noisy and nothing very interesting. The Mexican people are lovely but they are not the worlds best singers!! Town is getting back to normal and parking is becoming possible again. 

We continue to make connections with people, Jose in the local garage who helped us get the aircon sorted. That was a mega trip to Tepic -found the air con place but finding the Ford dealer for the part was a whole other the end got a taxi!! Each ride is 30 pesos ( £1.50p). But it wasn't a problem with the gas in the aircon system it was a valve on the water pump..........but now it works every time you switch it on. The part was £50  and the labour 200 pesos (£ 10 ) and it was done on the day with no booking!! When it got boiling hot in Tepic we went to Liverpool -the air conditioned shopping mall.

Before we left home I developed a problem with an infected gum and wanted it checking out...with X ray if necessary. The SAMAO dentists don't have it. Lulu our doctor gave us details of Carlos in Tepic 
 and we saw him on Thursday. Lovely man and he said everything looked fine and all I needed was a scale and polish. Chris needed his international root canal finishing and had lost some filling from his front tooth . ( The root canal started in Spain, then some treatment in England, then more in Spain and to be in Mexico). Carlos said Chris needed two crowns to sort his front teeth and then the last bit of the root canal........8,000 pesos..........£400 . 

Probably about a quarter what it would cost at home. Luckily Carlos has a surgery in SAMAO so we went there this morning. I'm all sorted and Chris needs 4-5 visits. He was there 2 hours today having his front teeth filed.he had a massage first think it would have been better afterwards.

We've had 2 trips to the beach...see photos.........the one of the birds on the post is a group of pelicans. When some flew over the beach Chris said "wonder what you call a group of pelicans?" I answered a crossing!! The answer is a schlop.........huh not as funny!!

We have a 2 week holiday from our house sit and plan to go to the Nayarit coast to chill by a pool. No dogs, cats or gardening or housework.  On 13th May we went to the nearest beach , Chacala, which was okay for a day visit but not good to stay. Lovely white sand , quite strong waves lovely pallapas on the beach and we had fish..and finally I had tequila . Mango margueritas-they were lovely. 

It will be mango season soon and the trees are full everywhere...........I love them but maybe after 2-3 weeks I will get fed up?? 

Our second trip to the beach was to San Blas, small town with a crazy one way system, lovely beach and we had BBQ fresh fish to die for!!! There is a lovely old colonial hotel which looks good for the last 2-3 days of our holiday. We plan to go to Puerto Vallarta for one week..........its a big touristy resort ...aimed at the Americans...plenty of choice of hotels and it has scuba diving for Chris.We want a nice room or suite and a pool to laze beside.

Both of our trips to the beach were to avoid crazy days at the the weekend people come to stay from the cities but last 2 weekends has been crazy due to the motorcross and other fiesta events. We get used to the tranquillity in the week and resent Saturday night when it is full!!

We are also getting used to the fact that as soon as some Mexicans hear us speaking English they want to tell us about the time they spent in the USA. Its lovely and many of them say they enjoy speaking English........part of me doesn't have the heart to tell them it is English but not as we know it!! 

My sessions at kinder are going well, I think, I spend about 30 minutes doing an activity and getting them to practise English, and then spend time with Edith, the teacher, on whatever she is teaching them . This is great for my Spanish. We have even bought a Mexican SIM or CHIP as they call it......which is fine until you try and listen to your voice mail and there is a woman giving instructions speaking a hundred miles an hour. 

I met an American man on Sunday who wants to speak English with us and Chris is  hoping that he might do some Spanish tuition with him. There is a lovely couple Jorge and Julia who live directly across the lake and he would be good too but they are only here alternate months.they have a house in Mexico City.........I know where i would rather be.

On Sunday I try to go to mass in the local church and it is relatively okay but this week he didn't keep to the service order you get and the sermon was not one I understood but we had a band singing  .......I think i could join as I am no worse than they were-although people who know me might disagree!!

Chris is pottering in the kitchen he is making pork stir fry and noodles........we don't cook too often( too hot) so have lots of salad but tonight fancied something a bit different. There is a limited range of foods available so you just have to cook with whatever there is, but the market was on today and we had fresh mushrooms.

The upside of this weather is you can do a load of washing and it is dry in half an hour!! The rainy season is looming and the temperatures will go down a bit but then the humidity will go up as well.

Well that's about it for this week-best wishes wherever you are.
Norma xx

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Well thought this was too good to be true!!


Its all go in Laguna Santa Maria del Oro.........its fiesta in the town up the hill and for 10 days now a squad of lads have been painting everything. The seats in the square, the old town hall, tumbledown buildings etc. Most of it in cream and maroon?? Must be the corporate colour scheme!!

Any way having painted it all there are now fairground rides cramming into the square shielding the buildings! Fiesta is linked to the fact that it is Ascension this week.

Ventured up to town for a haircut this week -thought I had an appointment for 11 but it was full so wandered about a bit and got back at 12 to find still had a 15 minute wait! The haircut is good-bit short at the back ( but good in this heat) and it was 30pesos (one pound 50p). Chris has given up trying to find a barber to shave him and trim his beard so he bought a trimmer in Tepic.  

Tepic is the big town , about an hour away, where we go to stock up on things without loads of sugar!! Monday we had a reasonable trip but on the way back the aircon in the car did not work...........not good at 35+ degrees-went to the garage in our town and need to go to Tepic to get it fixed............. 

We went up to SAMAO ( the abreviation for  Santa Maria del Oro) to get something to cook on the BBQ last night. At first nothing was open and then our butcher stayed closed so we went to another one..............who only sold we bought 2 types of steak and some liver.............the fillet was as tough as old boots......maybe next time I will marinade it in lime juice for a few hours.

The peace and tranquillity of our little house has been dented a bit this week-some people moved into the house behind ours-not part of the place we are on- two men and a young boy. They play the drums, which was nice to begin with but yesterday they started at 7.30 AM and when we got back at 6 last night they were playing so load you could not hear yourself think. Chris went to ask them to cut the noise and got a whole load of abuse from them.............they were out of their skulls on something ( not unusual in Mexico) but we will have to see how it goes.

Any way that seems quite quiet compared to the field next door..........Uwe and Marlena said it had recently been dug up and created into a motor cross course and there had been a huge fuss and it would only be used 3 times year. Well yesterday afternoon i thought I was experiencing my first earthquake when i realise it was earth movers on this course...........they worked yesterday and this morning and since about 2 pm there have been very noisy cars zipping around. Another thing for the list when we see Carlos who is the manager here!!

Hopefully we will get to see some of the fiesta, there is music, dancing and an open water event here at the laguna...........not sure what that will be...........maybe a great big plodge?? ( For those of you that are not Geordie -it means a paddle) We seem to be the only people who can swim the Mexicans just paddle in the shallows in their life jackets??

We decided to have breakfast Mexican style this morning and i had huevos rancheros.........soft tortillas, tomato chili sauce, fried eggs and frijoles ( soft mashed beans) -it was good.

Life in the house is getting some routine as there are things to think of constantly due to the vagaries of the water and plumbing
  • toilet paper in the bin not down the toilet ( remember to empty often!!)
  • water is straight from the lake ( clean teeth with bottled water!)
  • Vegetables sometimes sprayed with insecticide etc ( clean off with iodine water)
  • Drinking -either bottled water, Coke etc or beer are the only safe things
  • Replace the 15li bottle of water regularly and clean the gravity pump
  • Cook with bottled water
The temperature makes a difference too so we have the following to try and keep the temperature in the house bearable
  • Close all the windows and curtains before 8am
  • I've created a sun-blind from 3 car windscreen things to reduce the solar gain in the bedroom -it gets full sun from 12-6!!
  • Keep door closed as front porch gets scorching
  • Walk down and jump in the laguna when it gets too much
  • Wait for 6.15 when the sun goes down!!

All in all though we have settled in well and are loving the endless sunny days..........will be interesting to see what the rainy season is like as the ground is getting incredibly scorched and it is 3-4 weeks away.
I love getting replies from people , it keeps me in touch with life elsewhere and of course some of you are on facebook and i have loved our "chats".
Hasta luego

Norma and Chris x

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Another week in Laguna Santa Maria

Its hard to know where to start but lets get the rugby out of the way first. Those of you that know me well will know that I love rugby and in particular Newcastle Falcons.........not always an easy thing given their form over the last few seasons but today, they finally got what I think they deserve , after several lucky escapes, they will be relegated to the Championship ( unless some crazy RFU rule stops the winners of the play-offs getting promoted ) . I listened on-line and it sounded like a pretty poor performance -to stay up we needed to score 4 tries-away from home!! Pigs might fly.

Still that's the UK and this is Mexico. Starting to get settled into life on the laguna, its pretty quiet during the week but at the weekend it gets a bit busier with Mexicans from Guadalajara in their tents and renting the bungalows. Last weekend was manic, especially Sunday , where the locals "dump the car anywhere" caused a bit of a problem with the narrow entrance to the site. Everyone drives huge big pick-ups too !! But people are very friendly and seem genuinely intrigued that 2 old English folk should be spending 5 months here!!

I should tell you a bit more about the nuns........Loretta, Bea and Rita. The latter two, who are Irish, are working about an hour away and come to the town Sunday and Monday. Loretta is based here and she is American and is helping local women run a centre for alternative medicine. They offer massage, reiki and various lotions and potions and the local women have been trained to deliver most of it. Chris had a massage on Wednesday for $50 -that's pesos not dollars-about 2 pounds 50p. As this is a Catholic country there is no choice out here in the sticks so I went to the noon service last Sunday and it was quite easy to follow-the sermon is aimed at people who don't read -so lots of repetition which is good for my Spanish..........there is also a service sheet which does help keep up too.

Kindergarten has been good, there are only four children Armando(m), Itzel, Harilyn and Angel (m) and I do about half an hour of English twice per week. They might end up with Geordie accents !! Last week we did colours and this week I am doing parts of the body. I stay for another half an hour as they do their normal lessons and then at 11 they have their break..............for sugary drinks and sweets.  There is another Kindergarten in a village 5 km away with 20 children, so might investigate helping there.

We managed to sort out a Mexican SIM but it doesn't work in Chris' dual SIM phone!! So had to put it in mine. He was so excited about having this phone and it doesn't want to work!!

Yesterday was one of those frustrating days when nothing is as it seems. We went to town in the morning and Chris booked his massage for next week, EASY. Then the barbers was closed but one of the locals said it would be open at 5pm. Same story - at the woman who does pedicures  -the rough ground here is wrecking my feet (closed now but she is open at 5). The ladies hairdressers was also shut. Plan B go back to the Laguna and come back up to town in the evening. Popped to fill the car up..........its $10 a litre-that is 50p.

Sorted the dogs early, they go for a swim and then get fed afterwards, and then off to town. Barber was there but not cutting hair till Sunday 10 am till 8pm............and definitely doesn't do shaving or beard trimming! Pedicure place still closed...........may have to e mail Germany and find out when it is open. Hairdresser open and have an appointment fro Wednesday.

All in all this was 4 times ( 2 up 2 down) 8 kms of winding road and about 2 hours.............but hey we are retired so its not like we don't have plenty. 

After our evening trip had a quick beer in the Mirador-overlooking the laguna. The only sell tiny bottles of beer at $10 each-same price as a litre of petrol!! Our Friday night would not be complete without a beer at the shop- you buy a cold beer in one shop $18, then 2 plastic cups next door $1 and sit on the wall and drink with the locals.

A big Harley pulled up with a huge tall guy and a girl and she was wearing the tightest jeans you have ever seen. He said Hiyall!! He was Mexican, Roberto, but had been living in Indiana for 18 years, she, Abigail, lived in Guadalajara and they had come to the laguna for the day. They were so sweet- they had been childhood sweethearts and had lost touch and reconnected through facebook last August and had met again face to face the day before. He described here  as amor de mi vida..........the love of my life!! It made my day , they had a beer with us then rode of into the sunset on the Harley..........We got into our Ford Ka and went back to our laguna paradise.

We are really lucky to be here, the laguna is beautiful and the wildlife amazing. Fabulous butterflies of all colours and sizes, while I was sweeping the leaves off the path today there was a whole hosts of tiny violet butterflies. The birds make amazing sounds, a big one is called a chuckalucky, and that is just what they sound like. At night there is a bird that makes the sound of fireworks dropping through hey air. The orioles are amazing yellow and black and there was a huge eagle taking off yesterday as we walked.We have humming birds too.

It isn't all idyllic though, the dogs went chasing after some chickens on Thursday and between the 3 of them killed it-felt awful as it belongs to a Mexican family!! There is also coping with the plumbing, water etc but more of that next week.

We are never sure how hot it is outside as the thermometer is on a wall and will measure the heat of the building-most days 38-40 C. Yesterday I checked in 3 different places and it was 39 ( in full sun) 36 and 34 in the shade. So I'm going for about 35...........and it is the same everyday for about the next month or so till the rain comes..........but at least it will be hot rain.

I've added a couple of pictures of the house and the lake............till next time