Saturday, 30 June 2012

Dedicated to Tessa-RIP

This week's blog starts on a very sad note as my good friend Tessa passed away on Thursday back home in England. She had battled with cancer for several years first in her bowel and liver and finally in her lungs and bones. We were students together in London and shared a flat in Hackney, Jill, Nicky, Tessa and me. Tessa was studying Philosophy and the rest of us Dietetics. Dietetics was one of those full on courses, we had only Wednesay afternnons off, wheras Tess did about 12 hours a  week and read strange esoteric books. 

Jill was with Tessa the day before she died and I just had to say my goodbyes from a long way away. I did remind her though about Tessa and her mammoth cooking sessions. She lived with 3 people who loved cooking and studied it as part of our course but she insisted on taking her turn cooking. Thursday was her day and when we got back to the flat she would still be in her fluffy blue dressing gown and the kitchen would invariably be covered in flour as she created our meal.............her Guiness burgers were wonderful. She went to work in Ancona, Italy doing TEFL and I went to visit and we ended up on in the audience of some crazy Italian game show sponsored by a yoghourt company!! Happy days.

Here in Mexico life goes on and Tessa's passing focusses you on the need to take opportunities as they come along without any what ifs..............just go for it. 

We are well and truely in the rainy season now-rain some of most days but still some sun. Had another little glitch with the power which as off 36 hours. The good thing is the house is not getting so hot and it is much cooler at night. The rain is pretty strong and is starting to change the landscape. We were walking with the dogs yesterday and I commented to Chris that it is like spring in the UK on fast forward. In 2 weeks it has gone from brown, dry and frazzled to verdant, I took a picture of some seedlings a week ago -they are now about 10 inches high. The rain was pretty bad in the North East last week too-there were some amazing pictures on line but it caused travel problems for everyone. Hope it is improving.

The rain is raising the level of the laguna too, its about a foot higher. Yesterday we went swimming about 11 and there was no wind and as I set off swimming the lake was like a mirror in front of me............very strange sensation and then swimming back to shore there was the beautiful reflection of the palm trees. It was surreal. 

Its election day tomorrow and the expectaion is there will be change of government back to the party who ruled for 70 years...........and tolerated the drugs, narcos ,police involvment etc- a bit like the Italian mafia!! The potential new president looks like a bit of a slime ball........him and Cameron could be brothers. 

We went to Tepic this week and I spotted a sign in one of the shops that said stock up on beer now for the weekend!! I thought it was to celebrate the outcome of the election?? But no!! No alcohol has been sold since yesterday and can't be sold till Monday as part of the rules for the election. Not sure if it to ensure sober voters, or reduce potential violence?? In SAMAO you don't really see a lot of problems with alcohol. I bought extra beer on Thursday so we will be fine.

We are still ploughing our way through loads of mangoes and the stack of tiny fish I bought last week. Made a lovely fish meal yesterday. You put foil in a frying pan and then layer fish on the bottom, cover it with some fried-off veggies ( I used peppers, omions and mushroom and garlic) the another layer of fish and put on a foil lid. It took about ten minutes to cook and was lovely. We also manged to have a BBQ this week despite the rainy season. I was confident it would not rain, Chris less so , but knew if it did we had plenty of experience of UK BBQ's to just get the umbrella out. 

Its odd what you miss about home and despite the surfeit of frijoles ( mexican bean mush) we were both hankering after Henz baked beans...........albeit cold ones for me. Part of me is thinking that in touristy Puerto Vallarta we might find some!!

My attempts at wildlife photography are proving pretty useless although Mr Toad was easy ( see photo). There are fabulous birds of all sizes- a tiny little jet black wren size, lovely humming birds, golden oreoles ( yellow and black) and beautiful orange, blue and green ones about the size of a thrush. Never manage to have my camera when I see them!! The butterflies are stunning too but are less in number now.....chrysalis time?? One day last week there were millions of tiny frogs/toads the size of your small fingeranil hopping everywhere. 

We had a dog washing session yesterday as they were starting to get a bit whiffy. Eugene was really good and just stood patiently getting shampooed and then dried and brushed, Lekkie hates sitting still so it was a 2 person job and Lily was in the huff all day although she is so much whiter!! 

Had a bit of a pamper week too, had a 2 hour pedicure, including red sparkling toes for £5 and a massage, which is £2.50. They were 2 days apart and four blocks too so not quite as luxurious as it sounds. The massage was at the dispensario at the local chuirch, where the nuns have supported the devlopment of a centre using natural appraaches. Lloretta, the American nun, is planning to start helping people with health problems like heart disease and diabetes change how they eat. I hope to be able to help her with some of the practical preaparation to get this started. 

I will have loads of time soon as kinder finishes next Friday. Although I do worry that it will fold soon as there are fewer and fewer children. Last week 2 moved on, Yahomi ( from the drumming house) has gone back to Cancun to be with his mum and Itzel's family packed up and left for Tepic!! That only leaves 4 children and they got a teacher on the basis of there being 10!! The teacher doesn't seem bothered and hasn't turned up 3 times in the last 2 weeks.........once because it was foggy!!

Our South America planning is continuing and we could end our trip in Brazil...........this was never in the plan!! Although if you loook at the map the Iguazu falls ( an Argentian must see) are right on the border and we will get to see them from both sides. It will only be for an overnight stay to get a cheap flight from Sao Paulo to Barcelona and then the next day from Barcelona to Newcastle with Easyjet!! Trying to think creatively about what to do over the Christmas and New Year and we will also be in South America for Carnaval...........not Rio but who knows ..........

I am getting excited about the trip as I am getting itchy feet and Chris and I think we wouldn't do another 5 month house sit. Its lovely here but we are limited in what we can do beacause of the animals and as well there is not enough change in the weather for us to do the things we like...........long walks pretty much out of the question.

How's that for shoes and bags??

Inspiration for jabba the Hutt??

The photo of the bags and shoes is specially for my about these for colour and high heels!! 

Well its now 7 am and time for a cup of tea, walk the dogs and then we will be off for our Saturday morning treat..........breakfast by the laguna. Eggs, frijoles, chilli and tortillas!!!

Till next time
Norma xx

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The answer to everthing.......TORTILLA

Hello and sorry this is a bit late this week.........more of that later. 

Let me explain the title. Here in Mexico the food staple is the tortilla-not the sort you can buy in the Western world but made fresh daily in the tortilleria (where else) . Fascinating system of mixing , pressing flat and then a conveyor belt that bake sit quickly. They are about the size of a tea-plate and made with either wheat or corn and neither really taste of much. There is no salt in!! They are served with ever meal and eaten rolled up tight to dip in to things or stuffed (fajitas)or stuffed and fried (flautas)-I used them in place of pasta to make like a veggie lasagna. But they are also fed to the sheep here in Koala-I offered them some veggies and they turned their noses up!! Chris is not having much success with his fishing so asked Rafa( he's about 8 but manages to get some) what to use for bait and you guessed it-Tortilla!!

My blog is late as the rainy season has arrived and on Saturday we had the mother of all storms- a cyclone had hit Acapulco and we got the edge of it. The rain was violent and the thunder and lightning amazing until about 11 pm when a huge crack of lightning took out our electricity. Luckily once the rain had stopped Chris was able to use Uwe's back-up plan (don't you sometimes love the Germans!!). We have a separate supply here but also have access to the camp electricity so we ran a line out to their supply -enough to run the fridge freezer, one fan and a light. 

He modified it on Sunday to run the water pump for a shower. I needed to put the washer on Monday so we had to disconnect everything else for an hour or so. So no TV, Internet etc Whilst it got us through till yesterday afternoon, when the power was restored, we had wires everywhere. 

I like to think the power was restored becuase I went into the electricity office in town and used my best Spanish to see when it would Be fixed as the call that was made on Sunday had not had much effect!! At least we have had a dry run as I think it happens regularly during the aguas. 

The temperature has dropped a bit and we get a bit more cloud and have had heavy rain 3 nights and more of a shower last night. The rain has helped the mangoes fatten up and drop off the trees-I collect them most mornings. Today we have had fresh mango for breakfast, some mango aqua fresca ( like a watered down juice) and I'm making frozen mango yogurt too !! See pictures

Our walking route is getting muddy and I don't want to wreck my good walking shoes so yesterday set out to find some wellies.........Logically I went to the shoe shop! No hay ( Spanish phrase you hear everywhere when the shop doesn't have what you want, the restaurant has no beer, run out of something on the menu!!) She sent me to the little supermarket that also stocks material and more Mexican men's "cowboy hats" than you can shake a stick at. No hay try the hardware shop......of course ......................and they said..........would you like black or white!! I am now the proud owner of a pair of white wellies. the guy was going to clean the dust off but I told him it there wasn't much point given the mud here!! They cost only 180 pesos ( £9) rather than 450 in Walmart for flowery ones. Chris wants to know have i got a job on a pig farm or in an abattoir!!

Chris started his Spanish lessons on Sunday after church. We went to a house in SAMAO belonging to Maria and Chris had his lesson with Pedro, a university lecturer who teaches political science in Tepic uni. His lesson was 1 1/2 hours and I sat with Maria and her niece and spoke Spanish the whole time-I was exhausted but its the only way to improve is to practise. He has another lesson tonight but I will stay here.

Yesterday when I was in town for my massage thought i had arranged to get  hair cut but she was gone to visit her aunt so will try again on Thursday. 

Kinder was very quiet with only 3 children, the people who work on the site have had a bereavement. Asuncion's father was found dead in a ravine on Saturday-not having returned from work in the fields on Friday. 

Our drumming neighbours have had to swill out their "house" it is not watertight so yahomi hasn't been to school either. Chris is hoping now that the rainy season is here they will go off somewhere else??

We had a lovely meal at Miguel's house before he set off home to Iowa for a break. Isabella made fajitas, flauatas and Napale (cactus) salad. It was all lovely, very tasty and spicy and I was grateful for the salad as so much of the food here is served without veggies. I popped up to town the next day to wish him Bon Voyage and had one of those " god how arrogant are those Americans" moments. I had e mailed him and said ........hope you are organised for your trip and he made a comment about my misspelling organised.........surely it is with a z!!

Yeh well it sure is if you are American but if you write and speak English it is with an SSSSSS .Sometimes I think they truly believe all of the hype!!

We had a trip to Tepic last week and on the way back there were loads of police -we were stopped once -two old gringos nah on you go!! There were about 20-25 armed police , all masked up at our junction off the main road. The next day i found out that 2 narcos had been shot in the second village up on the Tepic road. Its a place called El Arbol and it is the home town of the current President so any action requires a big response !! The police are a bit scary but our local ones are less so-they don't wear masks so obviously never kill anyone!! The guys that stopped us had on masks and sunglasses so you could never identify them-which is why they wear the as the narcos go looking for their families!! 

The latest thing in the news is the number of decapitated bodies dumped in the last 3 months-82!!

After only 4 days of the Aguas we have seen the damage due to the run off, our little "beach" is half washed away and the road out of the camp is really muddy. Going to need those wellies. 

Looking forward to our break in less than 3 weeks time-Chris is going diving for 3 days so i am going to chill in the beach club. Our planning for South America is going well-Peru mapped out (by Chris) , Bolivia just about sorted ( by me) , including one week at a language school, and Chris has started on Chile and I am doing Argentina. We only have a rough outline and have fixed only the essentials. Our trek to Machu Pichu and our trip to the jungle. The rest will remain fluid and we will book as we go. 

The chicos who live on the campsite........

Mangoes straight from the tree..........and what we thought was a courgette but its a gourd!!
Starting to think about where to be for Christmas and think we might try and find a help-ex or short house-sit so we can be with people. Don't really fancy Christmas in a soulless hotel.

So life  continues on in La Laguna de Santa Maria del Oro , might try and get some pictures of wildlife for next time!!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Getting hotter and hotter!!


This week's blog could make those of you in the UK wish for some sun but there is sun and then there is sun!! These last couple of days have been savage-it hit 35.9 inside and on Sunday we went for lunch and the usual cool breeze down by the lake was like one of those hot fans you get in shop entrances in the winter!! Sleeping on Sunday night ws difficult, although we have aircon it is in the living space not the bedroom. Apparently the rain is coming.............and no doubt then I will be moaning about that!! Very English thing talking about the weather.

We have had quite a quiet week really . On Wednesday , for the first time, we went out on the laguna in a kayak. It was a little bit cloudy which helped and we were able to see all of the fabulous houses from lakeside. We walk at the rear of most of them. They are stunning, most have a pontoon for access for their posh speedboats ans some type of shaded palappa near the laguna and then garden leading up to fab houses. Some have floor to ceiling glass and must then have aircon!! The wild life is great too, some lovely colourful herons ( with the skinniest necks I have ever seen!!), huge iguanas basking in the sun and fabulous butterflies. I have tried to get some shots but it is too difficult to catch them still.

The dogs are doing fine but lekkie finally killed a duck on Thursday, it was lame and waddling through the forest and she killed it and left it. They also have a penchant for running after and barking at cows and bulls, some of which are huge!!The cats continue to do what cats do, drift in an out for food. Charlie is in the doghouse at the minute though. We had to repair one of the mosquito nets on the window from the kitchen to the porch. Managed to get the stuff to it replace it at the ferreteria and in the heat Chris put the new netting in and I repaired a small hole in the back window by stitching another piece over. It hadn't been up more than an hour when we saw the cause of the tear in the netting. Charlie was using it as a way in and out of the house, we then put some kitchen stuff in front and he still did it -so now we have had to partially close the window.

Chris has got himself sorted with some Spanish "classes" he's gone from none to 2 types in a week. Jose , he's at secondary school, is a young waiter at Catalina and Chris had joked with him last week about the two of them teaching each other and this week Aurora, the cook, helps sort that. So last night Chris went up to SAMAO and did his first session with Jose and his dad. I mentioned this also to Maria, (she is a retired science teacher) and she has found Chris a teacher and his first lesson is Sunday after church.

We meet some fascinating people here too. Last week we had two mid week visitors to the laguna. Christean who lives in sayulita ( by the beach) camped here. He is Italian, but born in Argentina and then moved to Milan, and has a Swiss girlfriend who runs a dog rescue place ..................what is it about Europeans!! Apparently he comes regularly and knows the owners of the house. He was swimming butterfly across the laguna...a stroke that always looks such hard work.

 Also here was Eugenio a gynaecologist from guadalajara who camped right on the shore side doing his Robinson Crusoe thing!! His taste in music was a dead giveaway to his sexuality.........Frank Sinatra , George Michael and Elton John.  Then Sunday we were sat by the laguna enjoying a beer and the peace and quiet, as all of the weekend Mexicans had gone home, when our young ( he's about 25) neighbour from across from us came back. He had a suit carrier over his shoulder so I asked him where he had been? Turns out he is an opera singer!!

Today i am at kinder, it is Father's day on Sunday so the kids are making gifts most of the week. Then I am off to SAMAO for a massage at the dispensario ( part of the church) the church has helped a group of local women set up a centre. Then we are having a Mexican lunch with Michael, he can't cook so his landlady is making us something. No doubt chili will be the basis of it!!

I forgot to mention that Chris finished his dental work and now has a lovely set of front teeth-it took about 6-8 visits but was worthwhile----------I've included a picture!! i must make an effort to get more photos taken-next week pictures of SAMAO.

Well that is it for this week-its 6.45 and we will be having a cuppa soon and then off with the dogs before it gets too hot. I love this time of day, its cool, the birds are singing the sun is rising

Till next week

Norma xx

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Appreciating nature


Hope everyone is well and those of you in the UK are not all "jubileed out". Although I am definitely not Royalist I was delighted to see photos of my lovely friend Annie and her daughter Jayne all dressed up for their trip to the picnic at the Palace. Their photo made several newspapers and it sounds like they had a fabulous time!!

We are one third of the way through our house sit and life is good. 

Its a real area of contrast between the laguna, the town and the city.

Down here in the laguna there are only a few people who live here permanently mostly those running local shops etc. There are half a dozen bungalow-type places that people come to spend the weekend, Sunday sees a huge influx of people who come to picnic or have lunch in the laguna-side restaurants. Around the laguna are some fabulous houses that sit empty most of the time. Each day we walk past one ( I call it casa amarillo) and it sits empty. It is huge, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the laguna, simple decor and lovely wooden furniture. We chat to the caretaker , Cale, and the people who own it live in Guadalajara and come 2-3 times a year. They were there on Saturday, with their speedboat!! There are also some luxury complexes, one near us is 150 pounds a night and has a "party boat" which looks like a floating lounge. It rarely has any guests. A couple of places have been built and not opened, money laundering!!

Santa Maria del Oro is a typical Mexican small town. Town hall, main square , football and baseball pitches, two churches. Lots of people drive around in beaten-up old pickups loaded with stuff on the back, fruit, corn, people-saw one yesterday with 3 buggies (holding babies) with the mothers hanging on to them!! There are also still lots of people who ride their horses and who look like the Mexicans in the films, complete with lasso -and there are very skilled at using them. There endless small shops-most of which have no signs and some look like someones front room! 

The food shops are very similar and sell a limited range so we eat what is there. Likewise with fruit and vegetables -we use what looks good and fresh. Yesterday there was a van selling local strawberries at £1  per kilo.......they were lovely. Shopping takes forever as you buy what looks best in each shop-there is a lovely vegetable shop too and when you buy an avocado and ask for one that is ready to eat you get just that. Not like the choices at home either mush or hard as rocks. Also as the only gringos in town everyone chats to us. It is helping my Spanish enormously, yesterday i bought two new vest tops and the lady said sit down and tell me about what you are doing in Mexico!! I'm also a good customer in the papeleria as I buy things for kinder -yesterday it was pencils and paint brushes.

Tepic is the nearest city and lots of people go there on the collectivo-these are the size of a mini-bus and go once they are filled up. There are loads of them line the square and also plenty of activity. In Tepic there are a few museums, cathedral, main municipal buildings, huge court, lots of shops and places to eat in the centre, proper banks, local market and it is quite big. It is also full of police, local, national and the army-iv'e still not got used to the sight of 8-10 guys on the back of a white pick-up wearing masks and toting huge machine guns.......the guys on bikes are the same. It all looks pretty scary.......the built a prison in tepic and the families of the narcos have moved in , so crime is up!!

On the outskirts there are 3 big supermarkets........including the dreaded walmart. Also there is a "out of town mall" called Liverpool ( it is the name of a shop -a bit like House of Fraser). It is a godsend as it has air con!! Welcome respite after a week of outdoor temperatures of 40+ and indoor 34. Here though you seen the "modern" Mexican, affluent, Americanised with the designer gear, Iphones and eating fast food and some of them are huge!!! 

We got our DVD player returned last weekend and a cash refund.......only took 45 minutes!! I got some photos of the children from kinder printed out too.

Then we get back to the laguna and out kids here are jumping in the laguna and trying to catch fish!! Chris bought a rod last week but two trips yesterday and he caught nothing!! Good job I had made other arrangements for a meal!!

Last Thursday Miguel our American friend came down to the laguna for a meal. He is a retired lawyer from Iowa and moved here 5 months ago and lives with a family up in SAMAO. He loved the laguna and we had an evening swim and appreciated some of the things we had started to take for granted. The lovely mountains, the beauty of the laguna, our garden with the butterflies, humming birds and the peace and tranquillity compared to the town. He is doing some adult English classes and also teaches guitar and maths. I went to a different mass (10am) in the other church with him on Sunday. It was better acoustics to hear the priest and there was a choir to add to the atmosphere-what they lacked in quality they made up for in enthusiasm!!

At kinder yesterday I made a poster for the wall with the photos of the children and their names and they look so sweet!! I find though that i spend my time doing more with them in Spanish than i do in English.....although they are improving slightly. At 4 and 5 they are way behind where children would be in the UK. They can just about write their names and the numbers 1-10. They are still struggling to recognise letters in the alphabet ( although they can do A-Z parrot fashion) and none of them can read. But they seem to enjoy the time I am there so that is good .

We have suddenly got a very different house-the weeping fig, having shed all of its leaves and grown a whole new array in less than a week, now provides wonderful shade in the garden so we can sit out during the day. It also shades half of the house and Chris had put up a new tarpaulin to shade the window of our room from the full sun. This now means that we can leave the windows open and get some air movement and although the temperatures are the same it does feel cooler!! 

Only downside of using the garden is you have to use bug spray- I got chewed the other day and each time something new bites I get a reaction around the bite. We were sat in the garden Wednesday about 5 when we heard this almighty crack and then a huge thump as part of the tree outside just collapsed. Nothing was damaged but it blocked our exit with the car. Oscar, he looks after the place, was out for the night so it would have to wait till morning. So at 7.45 yesterday Oscar arrived with his chain saw and cut the tree into pieces to help shift the process ending the life of a huge iguana. Imagine you are safely huddled inside a branch wondering what to do with yourself, you hear a loud buzz and then cut in half by a chainsaw!!

We nearly had an incident on the laguna yesterday. Lexie had tried the day before to swim and catch a duck but was outwitted by it when it dived under the water, Lexie swam in circles for 5 minutes. But yesterday she set off after a mother and 2 new chicks......luckily we managed to distract her with stones and the chick was saved.

I hope I manage to load some photos tried last week and it crashed!! Haven't worked out how to label them yet. So these are early morning cloud, kinder and rainbow pictures