Coca tea, Cusco, small pleasures

Coca tea, Cusco, small pleasures

We enjoyed our two nights in Lima. What a busy, bustling place where people walk much faster than we are used to from either Ajijic or Oregon. Maybe even faster than in Chicago. We toured the monastery of San Francisco which is known for its underground crypt full of the bones of Franciscan monks and “rich, important” people who donated to the church. Alas, no photos were allowed on the tour, but I am sharing a few we took in the church (allowed).

We watched the changing of the guard at the Plaza de Armas, which evidently happens twice a day. Impressive. One of these guys pulls a hamstring, he’s out for good; the high kick Is mandatory.

We ate cebiche (see prior post) and then just wandered about the Miraflores neighborhood. It’s a fancy place (Chicago friends, think Lincoln Park; Oregon friends, think Pearl District). In the evening we sampled the Pisco Sour at a bar/restaurant called Haiti and watched people stream by. Dinner, we had along a little park where we watched the nightlife there. Animal lovers, take note that the parks have fenced green areas which are occupied by cats (someone waters and feeds them). I can imagine them running amok in the wee hours when all the people have gone to bed.

Very impressive church:

Crypt!

Lima, Plaza de Armas, school kids:

Lima night life:

Pisco Sour:

Hot chocolate tasting. We put the chocolate into the cups and then added hot milk. Mm.

I practiced my Spanish with our various Uber drivers, only one of which took advantage of us. I learned that Peru is pretty excited about their team playing in the World Cup this year and got tips on restaurants and sites to visit.

We flew from Lima to Cusco and, after a plane delay, just made it to the briefing of our tour group. Of the 15, we are the only 2 not doing the multi-day hike to Machu Picchu and are instead taking the train. I’m sure they will have a spectacular time but we will be well-rested and see other sites (and I won’t be the person who drags the group down).

Our tour leader took us on an orientation walk and Cuzco seems extremely charming. Tiny narrow streets reminiscent of small villages in Italy. Lots of interesting buildings and more shopping than a person could shake a stick at. From a million alpaca clothing stores to NorthFace to local crafts, they’ve got it here. The restaurant scene looks fun too.

We had a chocolate and hot chocolate tasting — organic, Peruvian cacao. Delish. In building with the chocolate place, we noted Mr. Soup. Our tour leader recommended we eat light tonight to help with adjusting to the altitude (altitude sickness is a real thing and can lead to death!). We returned to Mr. Soup for dinner where this non-meat person was extremely happy to eat a giant bowl of lentil and veggie soup. Despite the altitude sickness advice, we each had a glass of wine (don’t tell) — a Peruvian Malbec which hit the spot.

The hotel offers free coca tea, which I sipped before bed. How is it related to cocaine (or is it?)? Hm.

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Ceviche in Lima

Thanks to a friend’s recommendation, we had lunch at La Mar Cebicheria in Lima, Peru. Oh my. We sat at the bar and had a view of two pastry chefs creating desserts — apple pie, chocolate cake, and these fried dough things called (I think) Picarones. Served with a honeyed syrup. Yes, we had to order them.

Ceviche combinado– catch of the day (see above) with friend calamari. Followed by scallops tiradito con leche de tigre. No, it’s not really tiger’s milk, but some kind of sauce.

15: Lucky and pampered

15: lucky and pampered

We went to one of our favorite restaurants, Casa Domenech, to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the day we met. We met by chance at the Emily Morgan Hotel bar in San Antonio, Texas. Life has never been the same, and it’s never been better.

My husband talked to Ray Domenech, the owner, and let him know we were celebrating our anniversary and asked if we could bring one of our prized bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir. (Folks as what we miss, living in Mexico, and I always say: “Our friends and Oregon Pinot Noir.”)

When we arrived, Ray asked if we wanted the regular menu or whether we wanted something “special.” He knows I don’t eat meat or mushrooms and said he would make us something. We said, “Great!” Ray rolled out four courses of colorful food wth unexpected combinations, rich sauces, and regional Mexican specialty ingredients. Oh, and there were two after-dinner drinks.

Rafa Torres, one of our favorite local musicians, sang us some special songs, supplementing the excellent jazz duo that plays there regularly on Mondays. How fortunate are we?? Our hearts are so full! (And our bellies were, too.)

I wanted to get this post up so you could see how well we were pampered for our anniversary evening. Alas, I don’t have the names of some of the unfamiliar ingredients, but here goes:

1: Fish topped with a reduction of strawberries, tomatoes, and onion. Grilled nopal topped with cooked veggies, kiwi, and a magical chile sauce. Center: chipotle chutney/sauce/marmalade.

2: Pasta with veggies, cheese, grated mango, and a savory nut mixture from Cuetzalan, Puebla.

3: Shrimp served over toasted bread and guacamole. More delish chipotle chutney.

4: Bean and potato tostada. (My sweetheart had a meat tostada.). Rafa playing in the background.

And: margarita and herbally liqueur from Cuetzalan.

And these two? Lucky, happy, and extremely pampered and well-fed.

Mother’s Day; remembering Estée Lauder

May 10 is Mother’s Day in Mexico. Here is a little remembrance of my mom, Agnes. I hope she’s partying in heaven with her sisters.

I remember the smell of my mom’s Estee Lauder perfume. My dad wasn’t the most creative shopper or gift-giver; he always claimed that the lights in the stores hurt his eyes. As I came of age, he would make me go to select his gifts for her. But before that, birthdays and Christmases, he would usually get my mom Estee Lauder soaps, lotion, or colonge. Her purses always smelled strongly of it: cigarettes and Estee Lauder, her signature scent.

My mom wasn’t exactly a hoarder, not like the stuff they show on TV where houses only have tiny paths through stacks of newspaper and trash, but she was definitely a saver. She was a child during the depression and saved everything because you “might need it someday.” My parents moved from Chicago to Oregon when they were in their 70s. I don’t think she sorted through much in the house before moving, just had movers pack everything up. When she moved to Oregon, I found a box of comfrey tea in her cupboard — tea that my grandmother had drunk and that my mom never liked, probably at least 10 years old. Yet it was there and had been moved across the country. All the cupboards and closets were full. A lifetime of accumulation, nice things and junk, shelves and drawers full.

The bathroom storage was particularly stuffed: cottonballs from a store in Chicago that had long been out of business, a lifetime supply of Aquanet hairspray, Cindy Crawford anti-aging lotions from the Home Shopping Network, and lots of worn towels and sheets (because there was no sense using all those brand new ones until the old ones were completely rag-like). And again the smell of Estee Lauder. She had soaps or sachets; towels and sheets were infused with scent.

When my mom died and I had the responsibility to go through her things, I found a fair amout of Estee Lauder colognes and soaps from, I guess, the 60s and 70s, still in their original packaging . Most of them went to the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store, but I kept a box of small rectangular green soaps. Each was wrapped in cellophane with a small bow, the Estee Lauder name carved into it, and they fit into a classy-looking green and gold box. I used the soaps in my homemade laundry detergent, reminding me of my mom.

When we packed to move to Mexico, there was one soap remaining, its edges finally turning brown. I threw it into the bag with our comforter and pillows.

Henry and Agnes, engaged to be married:

Rainy season(s)

Rainy season(s)

I endured about thirty rainy seasons in Oregon, West of the Cascades, the part of the state where it rains. My experience is that the rainy season is approximately from November to April, with May, June, and October thrown in some years as a bonus. That’s a good six months of rain. What is the rainy season like? It’s dark (think short days and long nights at that latitude), grey, and the rain comes in steady showers, drizzles, and soakings. To break it up, there are occasional bursts of ice and snow. It’s the season that makes some suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and compels others to a winter vacation to sunnier places. Like Mexico, for example…

On Beltane (May 1), I think our rainy season started here in the Lake Chapala area. The clouds built up steadily during the day, mostly south across the lake. We saw a few little flashes of lightening around 6 p.m.. By 8:30 or 9, we had a thunderstorm, the kind I remember from growing up in Illinois. Lightening vibrating the sky in big arcs; thunder, rumbling like earth’s anger; and a long drenching rain. We watched the show from our mirador (rooftop deck) for quite some time. The rain was loud on the plastic patio cover roof. The electrical energy was palpable all around us.

The next morning as I went out for exercise along the lake, the air was fresh. The cobblestones were damp (not dusty!). The sand on the beach was furrowed in places where streams of water ran into the lake from the streets. In the afternoon, we had a smaller, less spectacular storm but we enjoyed that one as well.

During travels in Mexico, many have told me that they love the rainy season the best. They say, “Everything is so green and fresh!” I am grateful to be here to experience this rainy season and look forward to it with anticipation — green mountains, flowers, fresh mornings and roaring thunder in the evenings.

What I’ve seen so far here beats the rainy season in the Pacific Northwest. Here, there is sun, powerful electrical energy, and cooling after a hot day. While I do enjoy a rainy day of soup-making, cookie-baking and sitting by a fire, the energy of the dark grey drizzle in the NW doesn’t crackle and charge me like the rain energy here.

Experiences and changes; more opportunities to let go

Experiences and changes; more opportunities for letting go

It’s been a while since I posted anything, largely because all of my electronics were stolen in mid-March. I won’t go into the details of the burglary, but will express that we are very fortunate to have excellent landlords and neighbors who helped us in the aftermath of this unpleasant and disruptive experience. Losing those electronics and my jewelry has been yes another lesson in letting go.

Does being burglarized influence our desire and decision to live in Mexico? No. Burglaries happen everywhere. In fact, our neighborhood back in the Pacific NW was well-known for burglaries.

In fact, we have been looking for a house or a lot to buy in Ajijic, with the intention of spending seven or eight months a year here. That will be a big change in lifestyle for sure.

As I’ve mentioned before, we got rid of a lot of stuff before making this one-year jaunt to Mexico. A. Lot. Of. Stuff. We kept the things we will need to live when we return: bed, dressers, desk, chairs, table, kitchen things, cookbooks, winter clothes, garden tools, hobby stuff (camping, canning, soap making, beer making, skiing, dog-fostering, bicycling). We also kept art and (speaking for me here, not “we”) a major quantity of old (1920s to 1980s) photos, files, journals, and inherited mementos. Where will all of these things go when we sell our house and move South for the majority of each year? How much will go with us (not much, given moving costs and constraints), how much will go away, and how much will remain in the Pacific NW for our summer life?

Semana Santa (Holy Week) was interesting. This was the trial of Jesus, where he was condemned to death:

Gran Isla Navidad resort in Barra de Navidad. Stayed there for a treat and golfed at their lovely course:

Wine on our mirador:

Me and Frida, being beautiful:

Monarch butterfly reserve at Cerro Pelón

Recently we went to Macheros, a rural town of about 300 people and the gateway to the Cerro Pelón butterfly reserve. It’s one of the places where the monarch butterflies spend the winter. Macheros is at about 7,000 feet, and the mountain reserve is maybe 10,000. The closest large town is Zitácuaro, Michoacan. It took us about 6 hours to get here from Ajijic.

We stayed at a place called JM Butterfly B&B, owned by a local Macheros guy and his American wife. 14 rooms. Lovely and highly recommended. The owner’s mom runs a small restaurant (only one in town) next door that serves three meals a day to us butterfly tourists. The vistas remind us of Oregon – mixed conifer forests, farmland, orchards (here, peach mostly, I think, and avocado), mountains. It’s pretty remote. There is wifi at the B&B only because they built the towers to bring it in. No cell service. Fields being plowed by horses. Trout farm for fish.

Our lovely room:

View of Macheros from B&B, and sunset:

Yellow on map shows where we live; red shows approximate location of Macheros:

We took the tour up to see the monarchs, which entails about an hour horse ride each way. Do you know I am afraid of horses? Well, there you go. Luckily, you don’t actually ride the horse, in that you don’t steer it; someone leads it while you sit on it. Still, I found it kind of terrifying. The terrain is pretty steep and I was very sore from the ride — both my backside (as expected) as well as my arms/shoulders from hanging on the saddle, front and back.

I asked one of our guides if anyone ever fell off the horses and she said, “never.” I understand now that this was a lie, but I am grateful she told it to me, or I still might be making my way down the mountain on foot after refusing to get back on the horse.

The butterflies were wonderful to see, although we were at the tail end of their stay here and many had already left. (My advice: go in December or January vs March.) Still, we saw lots of clusters hanging from the trees and then many flying when the sun hit them. Pretty amazing how they make the trek across two (sometimes three) countries twice every year.

Butterfly numbers are significantly down, largely due to the herbicides in the US that kill the milkweed they depend on, and the pesticides that kill them. The argricultural system in the US causes so many problems, and this is one very sad one. Many of the people visiting here are folks who find the caterpillars in the US and Canada and then feed and shelter them until they become butterflies. (They have some tagging system too, and the tag numbers are entered in a database when the dead tagged insects are found.)

We had some milkweed growing in our yard in Oregon and saw the caterpillars (although the Western monarch population is different from the one that winters here). Now, I want to do more.

The B&B, the butterfly tours, and a non-profit started by the B&B folks (Butterflies and Their People) are doing what they can to protect the habitat here — mainly by offering jobs (guides, B&B workers, arborists) so that people have some income and don’t illegally cut the trees that the monarchs rely on.

We also took a nice hike up a big hill to two viewpoints. Along the way, a forest full of wildflowers and hummingbirds.

I will write later about my cooking class at the small restaurant, with owner Doña Rosa.