Everyone needs an ice cream break.
"Monotony Collapses Time; Novelty Unfolds It"
Carrie is responsible for most cool things we do. I’d be fine hanging around the area where we’re staying. It never fails that I’m glad we go with her ideas instead. This time it was Mazamitla, “The Mexican Alps”.
It was to be a two hour drive, construction turned it into almost three. This picture shows one of the gentler parts of the construction. For much of it, if you went an inch out of your lane you’d be down about 10 feet in a trench. Stacks of rocks with white paint drizzled over them serve as the edge markers.
After detouring around yet another parade and having the worst bottom-out on a speed bump yet, we found the hotel. It was a $27/night beauty. We were given a cozy, no frills interior room (common here; your window looks into a courtyard instead of outside.) For under $30, we certainly weren’t going to complain. We went out to see the town and stopped back by Carl, parked front and center outside the hotel, literally three feet from the door. While I was grabbing the stroller, the attendant spotted me and asked if everything was OK and if we’d like to switch rooms. I was confused by the question because I hadn’t said a word, much less complained. But I took the opportunity to ask if they had any exterior balcony rooms available. With a pleasant smile she showed me the new room options and with no increase in price, I chose one of the coolest hotel rooms I’ve ever seen. We could have brought at least four of our friends and still had plenty of room to sleep. There were bunk beds plus stairs that went up to a loft that had a queen bed on one side and a full on the other. There was a nice balcony, a dining table, a sofa, & a fridge too. It even came with a bottle opener key chain, which I took as a clear hint to enjoy a Corona on the balcony.
So that had me feeling like I was a real winner for most of the afternoon and evening. We watched the finale of the kid’s parade, had a great dinner, & walked around the quaint town. What a fun little town it is. The architecture is charming, the small ma & pa stores take you back to a mostly bygone era for the US, and the people are friendly as usual. The main plaza, 1/2 block from our hotel, was the site of more festivities into the evening.
And then came the point when we realized why exterior rooms aren’t a great idea, at least not on holidays and weekends. The sounds are incredible…as in incredibly loud. Blaring music, loud ATV’s, singing, etc. I woke up at 4:30 AM thinking, “wow, it’s finally quiet.” And no sooner did that thought cross my head, the church bells started ringing, as they did the entire night. Just one of the various sounds would have sent our neighbors of years past lining up at city hall to lodge a complaint. Here, no one seems to care, or think it’s any of his business, and life goes on. We laugh and enjoy it for what it is. iola took to plugging her ears, no joke.
And this is how we spent a few days, enjoying the sights & sounds of Mexican Revolution Day festivities in a whimsical Mexican town. Parades. Lots and lots of parades.
We saw Protect the Squirrels, Protect the Skunks, Protect the Armadillos, & this one is Protect the Raccoon.
Chapala had its Revolution Day parade today. It was LONG. And fun. Somehow iola stayed in there for the whole thing, which took over two hours. She’d normally be throwing in the towel long before that, so she must have been entertained.
The main theme of the parade is dressing up, mostly kids, in period-appropriate dress for the revolutionary war in the early part of the 20th century. Heroes like Pancho Villa & Emiliano Zapata are forever remembered and recreated by the huge mustaches they wore.
Very brief history: The Mexican Revolution started in 1910 and lasted around 10 years. Prior to 1910 there had been a 35 year presidency that the campesinos (country folk) grew sick of. They revolted and won, however a subsequent power struggle ensued and many of the revolution’s heroes (including Zapata & Villa) were subsequently assassinated under various circumstances. Read more at Wikipedia.
A good alternate name for the parade would be line after line of adorable children. Here’s a slideshow. Spot the bandoliers (ammo straps) made of peanuts where the kid had gotten hungry and the cowboys bringing things up to the 21st century (holding a bud light and a cell phone):
Latin America has the stereotype of being machista, that men do manly things and women should do the motherly things. We haven’t experienced it. There was way more male participation with the kids in the parade than you’d ever see in the US. It was about a tie men vs. women helping the kids in the parade. Choreographed dances, hula-hoops, fans, pom-poms, gymnastics & all. I’ve seen many guys wearing their babies in a baby carrier. Good for them. They’ve busted yet another dumb stereotype of mine.
We enjoyed a meandering, lakeside Sunday in Chapala today. Everyone we’ve met since crossing the border has been really, really nice. If I ask about various menu items at a restaurant, servers will often get the food and show me the difference versus just explaining it. When we’ve needed help finding something, people are more than happy to help. Vendors are smiling and wish us a great day whether or not we decided to buy their goods. When I wave at other drivers, or motion them to go ahead, a wave or nod usually comes right back at me. Or they’ll motion me to go ahead instead. People can’t stop staring at iola; they’ll often stop & turn around just to keep watching her with big smiles on their faces. There’s an obvious emphasis on family here.
It’s common for guys to offer to wash your car if you park along the street. Today I paid a guy 50 pesos ($3) to wash Carl (our car) while we walked around. I paid him in advance, so he easily could have kept my money and not washed it, or done a mediocre job. Instead we returned to a shiny, well-washed car.
Long story short, the people we’ve encountered here are fantastic. Even as the media’s attention is on terrorism and retaliation for such, I’d like to think that around the entire world, 99% of all people are kind. They want to eat. They want their families to eat. They want to go to sleep at night in a safe place. They want to provide these things for themselves & others in an honest way. They want to be around those they love. Our experience so far has shown us that here in Mexico, anyway, that is true.
We’re settled in and relaxed at our temporary home. It was a very productive first week here. I even caught wind of a local restaurant that delivers food to our area on Thursdays. For those of you from the US, it’s like fresher, delicious-er, much cheaper, Schwan’s delivery. Fruit empanadas, so good they were partially eaten before I could get my camera, and three kinds of personal pizzas.
When we first arrived at this house last week, as the neighbors were showing us in, iola screamed and begged to go back to “Carl car!!!!” over and over. That’s changed. One of her wardrobe choices this week was rain boots, blue undies, a t-shirt, a trench coat, and noooooo pants, so we know she’s settled in too.
Monday is the official holiday to celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution in 1910. It wouldn’t be right to only celebrate for one day, so instead it goes on for over a week, and the festivities have already begun!
We visited a town northeast of where we’re staying called Poncitlán. I should know better than to choose a route that even Google Maps doesn’t give me as one of my options since we’ve already experienced some Google routes that were nearly impossible to drive on. I chose a road that goes east along Lake Chapala, turning into what amounts to a small path after passing the town of Mezcala, and then we turned north and went through the mountains on a rock switchback road laid by hand. I was worried for poor Carl car. We definitely saw authentic Mexico, and we eventually made it without any known damage to Carl, so we were glad we took the scenic route at the end of the day. As a reference, Lake Chapala is about 12 miles wide (north-south) and 50 miles long (east-west), so in the picture below it’s about 12 miles over to the mountains on the south side.
We wandered around Poncitlán, not having gone there for anything specific. We were unknowingly walking around the opposite side of town from where a lot was going on. We could have easily left town without even knowing what we missed, but fortunately we stumbled upon a huge outdoor market we weren’t expecting. It would be like a flea market in the US, plus candy & food.
We wandered into a cool church because a mariachi band was playing inside. We still don’t know why! They played a few songs, people clapped, and just like that it was over. iola loved it and requested “más” when they stopped playing.
We also happened upon a whole train where every car had laundry hanging outside and satellites on top, as well as air conditioners. As we turned the corner and saw the carnival rides, we connected the dots. It’s a carnival train! The workers live in the modified railroad cars and they bring the carnival to town by train.
Everywhere I’ve been in the world there have been “scenes” where it feels like I could be somewhere other than where I’m at. There are many times here in Mexico the predominantly Spanish architecture makes me feel like I’m in Spain (which I’ll dedicate a post to soon), however in this moment I felt like I was in Iowa, right down to the Pioneer Seed sign.
Carrie loves visiting cemeteries. We’ve been to cemeteries in the US, Spain, Norway, Morocco, Costa Rica, Italy, some more places I’m forgetting, and now Mexico. Here they are still heavily decorated from Day of the Dead celebrations. Mexican cemeteries are certainly different from ones we’ve seen elsewhere in the world. Most graves appear to be shallow with rocky soil piled in mounds on top. Many have very crude grave markers. This surely varies with the affluence & geographical location (read: soil type) of the deceased. If these were in the US I think they’d be deemed as sad, but I can think of many reasons why they could be considered better. Here’s one reason: instead of the emphasis being on the facade, the materialistic marble & granite representation of who that person was, the focus is on the family remembering who that person actually was. That remembrance is what Day of the Dead is all about. Then again some of the graves are indeed elaborate, so maybe my reasoning is wrong. Sadly, it might just have everything to do with the money that person had at the time of his death. In either case, everyone pictured was a person, an equally important person on this earth, regardless of the elaborateness off his or her final resting place.
We love Mexican road signs, even if not many of the messages are heeded.
Here’s a collection of road signs with my very, very official translations.
DON’T DRIVE TIRED, YOUR FAMILY IS COUNTING ON IT
Note: many, if not most, signs are bent on the end. It’s common for driver’s to drive on the shoulder to allow faster cars to pass by. It also happens in no passing zones like on hills or mountain curves. It appears that big trucks have hit all the signs while driving on the shoulder.
DRIVE WITH CAUTION. Yes, that one is bent too.
No donkey carts or tractors allowed, but pedestrians are good.
Tractor drivers must wait until they get to this portion of the road.
A CLEAN ROAD IS SAFER
KEEP YOUR DISTANCE
USE EXTREME PRECAUTIONS WHEN RAINING
DON’T DRIVE TIRED (But your family isn’t counting on it this time.)
DIM LIGHTS APPROACHING TRAFFIC (Literally: Concede Changing of Lights)
NO LITTERING (Literally: Don’t Throw Trash)
We were cracking up at these “Traveler Services” signs. They don’t tell you how far ahead they are, only that they’re ahead. We drove hours before seeing most of the items listed.
Need a coffee or a flight? You’re in luck.
Keep going and you’ll be able to get gas, see nature, climb nature, wash gas & nature off your hands, then sleep.
If you’re not in the mood for nature, you can also just wash your hands, eat, then sleep.
Alternatively, you can see a museum, visit nature, fix some shit, then go into an authentic house.
Take a tram ride, see an aqueduct (I only know this because we saw it…an hour later), and splash in water.
Gas and nature seemed to keep their place well in the sign hierarchy, but handiwork, pyramids, and scenic overlooks got an occasional shout out.
Finally, although not a road sign, a very clever sign on a liquor store business that delivers to your house, or “Service to your home”. “Vicio” means “vice”, and that portion of “serVICIO” has been emphasized, aka We Deliver Your Vice to Your Doorstep.
Today we met the midwives who will be delivering our baby in Guadalajara. They were fantastic and we couldn’t be happier! Gracias, Maria y Lupita!
I’ve driven in some big cities, but Guadalajara was intimidating to me (in my imagination). Is it a little crazy? Like do you see mopeds and occasionally cars driving the wrong way (against traffic) on the shoulder of pretty major highways? Yes, most definitely. Will pedestrians run across these same highways? Yes. Did we see a sizable rock, maybe the size of a decorative gourd, fall out of a truck, hit a car, and then witness the car driver make the truck stop? Yep, sure did. However, I must say it wasn’t that crazy. For the most part it’s orderly and drivers are friendly. They’ll let you into traffic, they’ll give a friendly wave if you let them into traffic, and they’ll honk and flip you off as a friendly way to let you know what you did was against their driving preferences (oops). My favorite mind-numbing activity when I need one is to watch crazy Russian driving videos on YouTube. They’re worth a viewing. Don’t let Carrie tell you they’re a waste of time. Compared to the Russians in those videos (given, it’s a lowlight reel of human behavior), Mexicans I’ve encountered while driving are incredibly polite. No yelling, no punching, and no guns.
We went to Guadalajara yesterday so we didn’t have to do the round trip all in one day. The $35 awesome hotel three blocks from our midwives’ clinic made that an easy decision. We found a trendy, what should be expensive, area of the city for dinner (under $10 total for dinner) and a cool little waffle cafe for breakfast (also under $10).
We were excited to meet Maria & Lupita and we’re very happy we get to have our next child with them. They’re professional, kind, and full of laughs, which might just be the best part. Carrie and the baby appear to be as healthy as can be. It was confusing to them Carrie tested low on vitamin D on her lab work done while we were still in the US. They don’t run across that much in sunny Mexico!
After being on the road for a couple weeks it’s nice to be at home. It’s our temporary home near Lake Chapala, south of Guadalajara. Carl the car was in need of a break too. Poor guy got a good workout with all the potholes and unmarked speed bumps. Turns out he’s a low-rider too, a lot of speed bumps scrape the undercarriage. Ouch. He’s just shy of 242,000 miles and still going strong. By the way, if you’re thinking about driving to Mexico, don’t drive a newer car. Just don’t.
Google Maps likes to route us in odd places. My guess is that on unknown roads, like gravel back roads, Google guesses what the speed limit is and estimates it to be way faster than what you can actually travel on that road unless you feel like doing some rally car racing. Based on the mis-estimate, Google then routes us that way because it’s “5 min faster”. In almost every case we’re quite positive we take 30 minutes longer than if we took the “slower” routes.
Here was the final stretch before arriving at our destination.
We knew ahead of time this area has a large gringo community, lots and lots of retirees from the US and Canada. We’ve been pleasantly surprised though that it’s not as overwhelming as we thought. It’s still 95% authentic Mexican culture and the predominant language, by far, is still Spanish. The area is beautiful with great weather. I don’t blame all the gringos for coming down!
Today we got ice cream by the lake, 20 pesos for two scoops in an edible bowl. Two separate hungry guys asked for money to buy a seven peso taco (less than 50 cents). At least they’re not in Minnesota. I never understood how one could survive on the streets in the winter. And there wouldn’t be many street tacos. As my personal policy I used to almost always say no to beggars, justifying it because they were probably going to buy drugs, not food. I read in a book awhile back to think about not judging so much when considering giving to others. I’ve been pleased with my policy change. It feels a lot better to simply give and not question motives. One of the guys got a packaged Rice Krispy treat Carrie had in her bag and he seemed genuinely thankful even for that small treat.
Public potty breaks are the best. It was our unplanned navy color day.
This is a dual use court, either basketball or soccer. I’d bet I know which one gets used more.
A dog walking around with sunglasses, can’t beat that.
Painting with water back at home.
Don’t click to see this post unless you really like pictures of our child (BTW, this is why we don’t post much on Facebook–we at least like to offer the option of whether or not you want to see an overwhelming amount of pictures of our child : )
Here’s a series of photos by Carrie of our favorite subject. The backdrop is the wallpaper & bed in the last minute room we got in Guadalajara (last post). These are all the pictures Carrie took, exactly as they were taken. No deleting, no editing, no reordering.