Unrelated: a fall, Luche Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

Unrelated items: a fall, Lucha Libre wrestling, and return to Yelapa

We’ve just returned from our annual Yelapa visit. For those who don’t know Yelapa, and my love of it, I suggest you search my blog for prior posts. We played in the International Croquet Tournament, but alas did not win. Like croquet? Want to play it in a beautiful tropical place on a jungle-y course? You can join in next year, February 10-14. The more, the merrier.

Living in Mexico this year made our trip different, as we didn’t return home to the US and the cold, but to our snug rental in sunny, colorful Ajijic. Still, I find Yelapa incomparable. The lack of cars makes it different than other beach towns we have enjoyed. Even though there is more building here every year, the location and the fact that the place is an indigenous community keeps it small — there will be no Hiltons, Señor Frogs, no time shares or 20-story condo buildings. I enjoyed sleeping on an open-air porch and listening to the surf at night. And the frogs! The nights when I heard the chorus frogs from the river, those were special.

We were invited to dinner at some friends’ house and several people told their “why Yelapa” stories. They all have one thing in common, “I got off the boat (haha, everyone gets here by boat),” and most then continue with something like “and knew this was where I wanted to be,” or “and I felt like I was home.”

Gracias Yelapa; nos vemos en el proximo año!

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And now, on to the topic of feeling old. A week before we visited Yelapa, I fell. I had attended Zumba class on the malecon in Ajijic and was jogging home through a field, on a dirt path, when my toe hit a rock. The next thing I knew, I was sprawled in the Superman pose on the hard, rocky ground. (Did I mention it was hard and rocky?) Knees, elbow, hands, thigh, lots of scrapes and bruises. My stainless steel water bottle tumbled onto the rocks, making a huge clang that woke up the dogs who live in that field. They came barking at me, which motived me to haul my sorry ass up quickly. I hurt, I felt miserably old, and I limped home where my husband fussed over me and cleaned my wounds. I spent the day with ice and ibuprofen. I’m happy to report (I think) no lasting injuries, although my left knee still isn’t quite right.

I feel lucky, as a middle-aged woman, not to have broken my wrist or ankle or hip. I feel old and vulnerable, and more committed than ever to exercising and staying fit.

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A few weeks ago we joined a bus trip from Lake Chapala Society to see the Lucha Libre wrestling in Guadalajara. My complete knowledge of the sport was based on seeing Jack Black in the film “Nacho Libre” years ago. But it seemed like a fun experience to be had only in Mexico and so we signed up.

And it was fun! A stadium where beer and food vendors come to your seat is always a plus and the wrestling was a spectacle! Evidently we were there on “family night,” and heard it gets pretty raucous on other nights, with folks throwing things at the wrestlers. Kids and adults, everyone seemed to be having a good time. Lots of cheering the good guys and booing the bad. The wrestlers had interesting (and sometimes skimpy) costumes. My favorites were a sexy guy with “Black Sugar” emblazoned on the rear of his briefs and “Tigre,” a fellow with white-and black-striped mask/ears and briefs. Roar! There were single matches, and then some with teams of two or three. The guys were all athletic with their choreographed gymnastic throws, slams and falls. All of that must seriously hurt, even though it’s “fake.”

Our biggest adventure of the night came when the bus ran out of gas on the way home, about 4 miles from Ajijic, on a dark narrow stretch of road with no shoulder. Some fellow passengers called taxis, the fire department showed up to make sure no one whacked into the bus, and things worked out in the end.

Go do things. Enjoy life. And when you fall, get your sorry ass up before you get bitten by a dog.

Black Sugar

I’m a fan girl

 

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I Speak Spanish in my Head: San Sebastian and Women’s March

I speak Spanish in my head: San Sebastian and Women’s March

Saturday, January 20.

We started the day at the Ajijic plaza for the second annual Women’s March. Last year, we were travelling and I regretted that I wasn’t able to march in protest of the inauguration of our current US President. So I decided not to miss my chance this year, although this year’s theme seemed more general. A woman more artistic than me made the sign I carried, “Los derechos de mujeres son derechos humanos.” Women’s rights are human rights.

My husband came along and took some great photos. At one point, he left the plaza to get a spot on the street where he could photograph the march approaching. He asked the police if he could stand in the back of their pick-up truck to take the photo — and ended up riding in the police truck along the parade route. How cool is that?

Women’s march as viewed from back of police truck

Stop the hate; spread the love

As we were walking, I had one of my most embarrassing moments ever in Mexico. (Yes, more embarrassing than going into the men’s room in a restaurant, which has happened more than once.) I was walking in the march when a young Mexican man with a large camera approached me and asked me if I spoke Spanish. I told him, “Un poco.” He proceeded to turn on the recording feature of his iPhone and start to interview me! I am guessing (and hoping) it was so awful that he didn’t end up using the footage. He asked me why I was marching. I understood the question, because really, I do understand Spanish if someone speaks slowly to me and uses the words you might use to speak to a 6-year-old child. But speaking? I speak it in my head. I answered him very simply (Porque creo en los derechos de mujeres!) and then completely bombed the follow-up questions, not being able to translate fast enough in my mind to form coherent sentences in Spanish.

Of course, a few minutes after this, I thought of a bunch of things I could have said, know how to say, that would have been fine. But alas, it was all in my head, and much too late.

<sigh> What an idiot I am, living here, and being so inept. Of course, who knows how cogent I would have been in English when faced with a reporter … but likely a lot better than I was in Spanish.

I enjoyed the Women’s March, being with like-minded people, although it felt odd to be participating in one in Mexico. I am not protesting anything in Mexico. I don’t know enough about the politics and women’s issues here, I’m not a citizen, and don’t feel it appropriate to comment or protest on anything Mexican. Most of the people marching were from the US, some from Mexico, some from Canada. I think people were largely incensed with, and protesting, the anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-human actions of the US leadership. But we were doing it here, because, well, here we are.

Our second event of the day was the San Sebastian procession and fiesta in the upper village area of Ajijic. If the Women’s March was largely a gringa(o) event, the San Sabastian procession and fiesta was almost 100% Mexican. Earlier that day (6 AMish), the statue of San Sebastian was taken from the chapel on the plaza and processed up to a small shrine in the upper village where Mass was said (and menudo was eaten). We joined the procession to bring him back to the chapel at about 4 PM. The procession had marchers carrying the statue, men carrying a tray of cakes and pots of food, a guy lighting off cohetes (bottle rockets), costumed dancers, floats in pick-up trucks, and folks throwing confetti and candy. After replacing the statue in the plaza chapel, the group made its way back to the upper village for the PARTY!

Procession

Masked dancers

San Sebastian procession

Cups of tequila-infused ponche were distrubuted, beer was sold, a band was playing, and then the big “fight” started. Everyone (aged 2 to 80+) had brightly-colored confetti-filled eggshells and started breaking them over people’s heads. Some nice folks gave us some so we could participate as well. It was a blast! And during all this mayhem, a lovely woman with a big smile, about 10 years younger than me, approached, again with the question of whether I speak Spanish. And again, well, I speak it in my head. She hugged me, welcomed me to Ajijic and to the party, and gave me a confetti egg. She later introduced me to some of her relatives. How sweet is that? After the US has fucked Mexico so many times, a kind woman welcomes me, the inept foreigner who can’t speak her language? I feel it in my heart, a warm sweet pain.

Confetti chaos

Our twin friends having fun

Confetti mayhem

As dusk fell, the party cranked up a notch. The band was fun, lots of cumbia music. We danced and drank beer. A greased pole had been erected in the street with toys hanging from the top. At a certain point, boys began to try to climb it. Men stood to form the base, hoisting boys onto their shoulders, and then more boys on top of those boys. Many times, everyone slid back down to the disappointment of the crowd. One of our friends and my husband decided to help (my husband thinking they needed a tall gringo to get the boys up higher), and finally there was success as a boy managed to get to the top and pull down the toys. Cheers!! A few minutes later, another lovely lady found my husband and our friend and gave them each a Tecate beer in thanks for helping the boys.

Boys!

Boys climb the greased pole

Two events, a lovely day, and the same conclusion: I need to speak Spanish out loud, and not just in my head if I want to connect with all the kind, interesting, fun people around me.

Viva Mexico! I’m a lucky gringa to be here and I appreciate it every day.

Christmas and the New Year

Christmas and the New Year

Having never spent Christmas or New Year’s outside the US, I wondered if I would get homesick. I will say that I didn’t miss the constant societal push to shop, shop, shop, buy, buy, buy. I didn’t miss the plague of advertising. I didn’t miss the cold weather or the rain or snow.

Instead, I watched the live scenes of the “five mysteries” outside the church. I hung up a piñata my husband bought me. I saw all the families sitting outside their houses on Noche Buena (Christmas Eve), eating, drinking, making merry and sitting around glowing bonfires. I gave some envelopes of pesos to the trash guys, the police, and the house cleaner. I had brunch with new friends on Christmas Day and cozy dinners with my husband. I saw a Christmas that seemed different than that NOB (North of Border) — one where no one was busy shopping and people got together to enjoy each other’s company.

I did, to some degree, feel homesick. I missed having a Pacific Northwest fir tree, decorated with ornaments from my parents and my life. I missed the days of baking I usually do — my mom’s recipes, mostly. I missed our house adorned with festive lights. I missed entertaining, having a Solstice party, having folks to dinner, and going to friends’ houses for get-togethers. I missed (really) good wine.

New Year’s was fabulous. We caught any early play reading at the Naked Stage, Nora and Delia Ephron’s “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” Have you seen it or read the book? I recommend. After, we had a great pasta dinner with friends in their lovely century-old hacienda-style house. The Ajijic malecon then started up with music and we danced a gringo version of the cumbia on the concrete walkway along with tons of other people who were enjoying themselves. Midnight, the fireworks which blasted off from the pier to the sound of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

We walked home shortly after and saw a group in the Seis Esquinas plaza. Adults were hoisting piñatas on a rope over the tree limb and kids were taking turns whacking them with a decorated broomstick — rushing forth to claim the candies when the piñatas burst. At the corner near our house, a large family group was gathered at tables, with their bonfire, and were playing some kind of gift exchange game. From babies in arms to the elderly, everyone was having a blast commenting on who should give a gift to whom. I have no idea of the rules, but a good time was had by all and the gifts seemed to be accompanied by kisses.

Piñatas

Our neighborhood also evidently hosts Ajijic’s New Year’s Day parade, which started around 1:00 p.m.. Leading the parade was a local cowboy and his horse, following by “Wonder Woman” on her horse, a banner proclaiming the parade a gift to Donald Trump and a bigger-than-life-size Trump effigy being carried by guys dressed as Lucha Libre wrestlers. On Trump’s backside was a “hit me” sign and many gringos from the crowd happily obliged, greeted by cheers and laughter. Many of the parade floats were themes from the movie “Coco” (have you seen it? You must!). And there were bands. Bringing up the end were a host of folks dressed as expertly-painted loteria cards. Better than the Rose Parade, at least in my opinion!

But then again, I am biased, and am so loving the holidays and culture I am experiencing here in beautiful Jalisco.

Beach trip

A brief trip to the beach

Chilly weather here at Lake Chapala motivated us to take a 4-night trip to the beach. It was about a 4.5 hour drive to Barra de Navidad. The scenery included berry farms, sugar cane harvesting, huge dry lakes, mountains, volcanoes, and cities.

Stayed in Barra de Navidad and visited the other small beach towns of Melaque and La Manzanilla (not to be confused with Manzanillo, a big port city with huge container ships coming in and out). We enjoyed all three towns and decided that the best beach was La Manzanilla, flatter and calmer.

We visited the crocodile reserve in La Manzanilla too. It’s a self-guided tour on a wooden walkway, with some swinging bridges, over the swampy habitat. We got to see a small crocodile eating a bird, although he was obscured by the mangroves and the photo didn’t turn out. The man at the entrance gave us a safety speech — no running, pushing people, leaning over…and no swimming.

We took a boat tour out of Barra de Navidad — firsst, we went through the back bay which has houses on canals, a fancy hotel (Grand Bay Isla Navidad), golf course, a small town, and seafood restaurants. Then we went out into the big bay where we were fortunate enough to see a whale breaching very near our boat. How fortunate we were!

We ate some delicious food including ceviche, seafood cocktails, and fish tacos on the beach in Melaque and la Manzanilla, and excellent breakfasts at Bananas Restaurant (Barra). And a fancy dinner of molcajetes at Manglitos in Barra.

Just a little game of fireball

So we see a lot of fabulous, amazing things here in Mexico that we would not see in the US.  This was one of them.

In Ajijic, there was a festival to celebrate the culture of the native Purépecha people from the mountains of Michoacån.  We saw dancing and incredible crafts.  And then at dusk, a ceremony was conducted to honor the four directions and a game of fireball was played.  Evidently, in ancient times,  the game was used to train warriors.  And then later became used as a way to settle disputes.  We don’t fully understand the rules but watching it was pure magic.

The game played with a coconut that was lit on fire, starting position inside a circle of fire, using sticks similar to hockey sticks.  Yes, women play too, although evidently not usually in their ceremonial dresses.  And I will tell you we got out of the way when that fireball got whacked our way.


What can I say about Tequila?

What can I say about Tequila?

We spent two nights in Tequila, Jalisco, in November. Yes, Tequila is an actual town, not just a bottle you buy at the liquor store. Tequila is a “Pueblo Magico,” as designated by the Mexican government and I can see why. We found it beautiful and charming. It’s surrounding by mountains (including an active (I think) volcano). There are lots of historic buildings, it’s very clean, and main plaza is welcoming and fun.

We toured two tequila distilleries and they could not have been more different. Both tours showed us how the agave plants are harvested by jimadores using wicked-sharp tools called coas. Our first tour was at Sauza, chosen due to its proximity to our hotel and the availability of an English tour. We rolled in from Ajiijc exactly as the tour was starting at 1:00 and joined one other couple (a Canadian and Aussie) and our gracious capable tour guide. Make no mistake, Sauza is a giant producer, not your hand-made artisan liquor. When the agave “piñas” arrive, they are shredded and then cooked down, not roasted in the traditional way. The distillery is cleaner than clean and we enjoyed our visit, as well as a late lunch at their small restaurant. We noticed a bunch of white tents being set up and asked our guide about them. Evidently, the next day was going to be the employees’ kids’ Christmas party (an adults-only employee party is held on a different date). She told us Sauza was voted one of the best companies to work for in Mexico. To which I say, “Cheers!”

Cuervo Distillery has a huge complex called Mundo Cuervo. These are their crows at night.

The next day, we drove out to an hacienda to tour the Casa Herradura distillery. The hacienda dates back to the 1700 or 1800s (I’m not so good with dates after a tequila or two) and is a gorgeous walled compound with the original house (off limits to us tourists, still used by the family), the original distillery (more on that later), worker housing, and the current distillery and related buildings. Our tour guide was cute (hey, a woman can LOOK) and did an excellent job of explaining everything to us.

We saw the huge ovens where the piñas are stacked and roasted for (if I remember correctly), 20 hours. We got to try some slices of the roasted agave piña, yum, kind of like molasses. The roasted piñas are pressed and shredded and the juice is pumped into big open fermentation tanks. Unlike most places, Herradura uses wild yeast. For a homebrewer/beer geek like me, this was interesting! Who knew?! We toured the distillery (tequila is distilled three times) and then the barrel room. Reposado and anejo tequilas all spend time in American Oak barrels, a practice started by Herradura in the 1970s.

Harvesting the agave

Waiting to go into the oven for roasting

Alex explains the distilling process

One of the coolest places on the tour was, alas, forbidden to photograph: the original distillery from the 1700 or 1800s. Stone vats in the floor for the liquid, a big grinding stone that he been pulled by horses to crush the roasted piñas, and the electricity that was added via a steam engine in the early 1900s. This factory was used untilthe 1960s. I highly recommend this tour and seeing this for yourself!

Casa Herradura

A fun find in the town of Tequila was the La Cata tequila bar. They have about 200 bottles from which to choose and the bar staff can give you an advanced education about tequila — the producers, the flavors, the terroir. If you visit Tequila, I’d recommend one distillery tour to see the “workings” and then that you head for La Cata to sample and learn. The bar is one the second floor, the space is cute, and the bottles are sparkly.

https://www.lacatatequila.com

What else do I recommend in Tequila? The Hotel Solar las Animas. First class everything and a refreshing roof-top pool. And restaurant El Jima where you can enjoy a molcajete (even if you’re not a meat eater).

View of Tequila’s lovely church from Hotel Solar de las Animas

Virgin of Guadalupe Day

We loved the Virgin of Guadalupe fiesta. We live a few blocks away from where the church honoring La Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is located, an area called Seis Esquinas (six corners). At the place where the streets come together to form the six corners is a tiny plaza with a big tree, a shrine for Nuestra Señora and some benches. The benches, shrine, and many of the surrounding shops got fresh coats of paint in the few days before the fiesta. The shrine was decorated with flowers and holiday lights. Altars could be found on the neighbor streets as well, outside of stores and homes, decorated lovingly with lights, candles, flowers, noche buena plants (poinsettias).

During the day, we saw food booths setting up on the street. (I was fortunate to hit up the dessert table for some tres leches cake before he sold out.) Late afternoon, a procession from the church went around town and then returned. The procession was led by small sharp-dressed children forming a drum and bugle corps and also featured: dancers; several pick-up truck floats featuring people acting out the first vision of Nuestra Señora to Juan Diego in 1531; the icon from the church carried on a bower of flowers; and a band — all of this followed by lots of folks. Guys rang the church bells and some of the procession members set off sky rockets, and the drum and bugle corps led the way into the church grounds. Mariachi bands took turns over course of the evening, serenading Nuestra Señora.

Shrine at Seis Esquinas

Statue approaches church

Float reenacting the appearance of the Virgin

Outside the church, toy and balloon (yes, balloons with the Virgin’s iconic image) vendors set up kiosks among the food and drink sellers. A truck arrived containing the parts and pieces of what would become the fireworks castillo and a team of men unloaded it and started to assemble it in the street. Finishing touches were put on a bandstand in a nearby intersection and someone climbed a ladder to hook the lights and band equipment into the power grid. An entrepreneur put up a “Baños 5 pesos” sign and started selling restroom access, for which we were grateful.

As it got dark, a band started in the plaza. The local mini-super set up a cooler outside to sell beer and bottles of tequila. A guy with a table and cooler near the bandstand sold cocktails made to order in plastic cups (I can vouch for the tequila and mineral water combo). On the plaza, a propane cooker heated up a large metal keg full of canela (cinnamon tea), which was served free of charge with bowls of sugar and a few bottles of booze for the recipient to use to customize his or her beverage. Given the night chill, the steamy canela hit the spot.

Fun band!

Canela on the plaza at Seis Esquinas

A man on a horse arrived wearing a poncho and boots with spurs and started the dancing. Soon, the plaza was filled and we were happy to join in. The band was great. Folks were handing out sparkly pompoms on sticks and the type of long balloons that clowns use to twist into animals. Very fun and festive indeed! The band quit, but shouts of “otra!” compelled them to do one more song — the Spanish version of “Jailhouse Rock.” It’s much more fun in Spanish!

The musicians on the bandstand were going strong by this point, the crowd thick, everyone eating, drinking, and making merry. These were younger guys, all dressed sharp in matching black skinny pants and jackets, playing more modern music than the cumbia and salsa we had enjoyed at the plaza. The fireworks team was still working on the castillo when we left about 12:30 a.m., long past our usual bedtime. We could hear the band and fireworks as we drifted to sleep. A big thank you to the Seis Esquinas neighbors for allowing these two foreigners to party with you! Party on!

Party!