BootsnAll Travel Network

This has been a full trip

August 4th, 2011

By Allison

The excitement continues. At some point you would think that things would slow down for us here in Mexico, but they don’t. William has had a bit of a cold, nothing unusual, but for the last couple of days he has been complaining that his ear hurts and I suspected he had an ear infection. There are two pharmacies within a stone’s throw of where we are living and when Theo sliced his cheek open we made a trip to both of them to get a second opinion. I was hoping they would both tell us that he didn’t need stitches again. Our first visit was to Similares (a pharmacy that specializes in generics – or medicine that is similar to the real stuff). The “doctor” there was very kind and suggested we take him to a real doctor for stitches for aesthetic reasons. Her facilities were anything but similar to a doctor’s office. It was a dirty room with a desk and a bench. The other pharmacy, the one selling the real medicine, also had a consulting doctor. I could tell she really took time to clean the wound and give a good assessment of the situation which was, unfortunately, also a verdict of stitches. We are flying home on Saturday and I want William to be in good health for the flight and his soccer camp for next week, so I felt a trip to the consulting doctor was necessary. Indeed it is an ear infection and we’ve started William on a course of antibiotics and anti-phlegm medicine. Luckily William is a great sport about it and I almost feel he is happy to take the medicine.

Earlier in the day we stopped at a hairdresser after summer camp to get Julian a haircut. Many of the hair salons advertise themselves as Unisex hairdressers. When we were travelling in 2006 I often wondered why anyone would want a gender-neutral hairstyle, but eventually I came to the conclusion that they just cut both men AND women’s hair. Either way, we stopped into a place and were greeted by a young girl who probably wasn’t even 20 years old. Her friends were also hanging out texting and intensely laughing to cartoons, so I think I’m pretty accurate with my speculation of how old they were. Whenever she smiled we were bombarded with a very gummy smile with lots of long, overlapping teeth. If I had examined her hairstyle before we went in I think I would have kept walking and tried to find another place. I guess it is kind of like Supercuts in the States, you don’t go in there if you want inspiration or advice for a haircut. You either know what you want or you find another place. Luckily I was able to explain to her in Spanish how I wanted his hair and Julian walked out with a great cut. And at 35 pesos (about 3 US dollars), it felt like quite a bargain compared to the $25 dollar hair-cuts that are common for kids in Seattle.

Earlier this year we sold our house and bought a new one. We weren’t able to move in until the end of June since our new house was rented out and we had to honor the lease. In the interim we were living in a condo and in the courtyard there was a whirlpool all tenants could use. There was a funny sign next to the whirlpool that read “No Sex in the Spa!” William is 9 and still has no idea what sex is and doesn’t show any curiosity in that respect, but he’s been throwing the word around a bit lately. Mainly he thinks sex equates to kissing and one day before we moved out William gave Julian a hug and a kiss in the hot tub and said “Look! We’re having sex in the spa!” The word came up again today, and I told him “But you don’t even know what sex is.” I’ve always kind of been dreading “the talk” and always hoped Matthias would take this parental task on. For whatever reason at this moment I felt like I could talk to William about this and would be comfortable talking about it. I asked him if he wanted know, which of course he did, so I gave him a bare bones account of the physical aspect and said that sometimes women become pregnant afterwards. He heard “penis” and “vagina” and just started to giggle. His response… “They become pregnant because the guy pees. Um, can we watch Kung Fu Panda 2?” So I think he’s still not ready for this information, but the seed has been planted, and I imagine the hit counts will skyrocket since I included words like ‘sex,’ ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ in this entry.

My boys have 2 days left of summer camp. On Friday the parents are invited for a potluck and I’m thinking I’ll bring a German potato salad. I’m already practicing my speech for when it is my turn to explain to the group in Spanish what dish I brought. When I think what all we’ve been through so far (hospital visit after hospital visit + a brief birds and the bees talk) I’m not going to make any bets on what will happen the next few days. The upheaval seems to be accelerating and I’m ready for a little down time, or at least a little help from Matthias, once we are back home in Seattle.

Our last few days in Cuernavaca

August 2nd, 2011

by Allison

While the rut of daily life with our kids prevails I had a great conversation with Matthias that has given me a second wind. Five weeks in Mexico sounds great on the surface, but he said he can understand how it wouldn’t be easy (especially since I’m by myself with 3 kids). But regardless of how difficult it is, he said he wanted to be the one that was figuring things out in Mexico, hailing taxis with a bleeding child in tow, deciphering the ER doctors, trying to get receipts so we might be able to re-coup some of the $500+ dollars in emergency room visits, taking trips to the Farmacia to get the right medicine, and all of this en Espanol. Matthias was so right, and his comments helped me to try and make the most of the rest of our time here. Our taxi driver on Friday mentioned that Xochicalco, some ancient ruins about an hour outside of Cuernavaca, was worth the trip. William and Julian were up for it so we decided to do it.

We hailed a taxi to downtown, and I tried to ask the driver where we needed to go to get to the ruins. I had an idea where we needed to go, but our taxi driver seemed to have different information. This was one of those taxi rides when I didn’t understand very much, but I more or less recognized the route and knew he was taking us to the Centro bus station. Even if he had been wrong I knew we could figure things out from there. It turns out there were buses leaving from the Centro station, but we had just missed the direct bus by a half an hour. It was already 11:00 AM and the next bus wasn’t leaving for another hour. The ride would have been about 1.5 hours to the site (plus another 1.5 hours back), and seeing as the kids are definitely NOT dying to take in ancient ruins, I decided we would just walk around town and see what we found. Right away we hear sounds of a sporting even nearby. We followed the cheering and quickly found a sports center that was hosting a tae-kwon-do tournament and a basketball game. We only spent about 30 minutes there, but it was fun to stumble upon the experience and just sit back and explore and enjoy it. It is a little weird when the spectators are paying more attention to us than their own friends and family. If I were a real entrepreneur I think I could make more money selling pictures with the guerros (light skinned people, aka our kids) like they did with the elephants at the circus. I might just be able to make a decent living. We spent a nice afternoon walking through town and finished it up with a little swimming and soccer.

One thing that has been really nice is having George and Ines around. The first time Theo had to go to the hospital for stiches George dropped everything and drove us right away. He was on his way to meet someone, but called and cancelled so he could help. Ines and her daughter Sonja stayed at the house and watched over William and Julian. On our way back from the hospital George and I stopped to get the antibiotics and pain medication the doctor prescribed. He asked me if I knew how to say “wax” in Spanish. I checked on my iPhone and he proceeded to ask them if they have moustache wax. They didn’t have it and didn’t know where he could get it either. He looks at me and says in English “They’re dumb as shit, ain’t they?” Now why he thought a twenty-something year-old young woman at a pharmacy would know where an old fuck like him could get mustache wax is beyond me. It is really hard to roll with these kinds of comments, and I find them fully offensive, but what are you going to do after he’s gone way out of his way to help you in your time of need? I’m not about to start harping on the choices of an almost 80-year-old man at this moment, or ever really. He knows what he is saying is not politically correct, or right, but he doesn’t care. Maybe the best I can do is just buy him a case of mustache wax when I’m back in the states and send it to him.

This week is the last week at summer camp and the kids are already starting to think about some of the things they will miss. This morning Theo fell and scraped us his knee quite badly, but this time all we needed was a Band-Aid and he was back up and running. This afternoon we returned to the hospital for the first set of stitches to be removed. The back of his head is healing up perfectly. They also looked at his cheek and it is healing up really well, too. Later this evening we had a great dinner at a new Taqueria. The tacos al pastor were delicious and this restaurant served them with a thin slice of pineapple which the kids really loved. As I was paying for our meal William and Julian were waiting with Theo on the sidewalk. I come out and see Theo is screaming bloody murder and holding his arm. William and Julian also informed me Theo stepped in a big pile of dog poop and his shoes are covered in dog doo. I suspect immediately that he has a nursemaid’s elbow. The first few times one of our kids had this we went to the emergency room, but we eventually learned how to fix it ourselves. I give it a quick initial try, but he screamed so much that I figure it would be better to get a cab home, clean his shoes up and assess the situation at home. When the taxi pulled up at our place I noticed Theo has been rubbing his shoes on my leg and now my thigh is also smeared up with dog poop. At least I was right about the nursemaids elbow and once we were home and got cleaned up a quick manipulation popped his elbow back into place and I was so very relieved that we didn’t have to return to urgent care.

I suspect we will return to this taqueria for tacos at least one or two more times before we leave. We have one more (planned) hospital visit to remove the last of the stitches, and we want to pick up a few more bootlegged DVDs before we leave. We’ve had a few more nice taxi drivers, one that was blaring Lionel Ritchie “All Night Long” on his stereo. The mambo-salsa party attitude this song conveys is quite an interesting juxtaposition amongst the gritty streets of Mexico but those kind of moments are what makes this place so fun.

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It’s getting old

July 30th, 2011

By Allison

After about 3-3.5 weeks there is a point where you start to miss your regular world. At 2 weeks you are not ready to go home, but at 3+ weeks you are ready to pack up forever. You just miss a little slice of normal life. You are ready to finally hit the Americanized grocery stores for macaroni and cheese and spaghetti because it feels like a direct link to your living room, even if you don’t even eat those things at home. Everything foreign all the time is hard. From my experience if you stay just a little longer you get over this hump, eventually really settle in, and everything stops seeming foreign all the time. Matthias was not ready to leave after 2 weeks, and at about 3 weeks all I could think about what going home. We have a week left and I feel like I’m settling in. When we go around town I recognize many places and am starting to feel like I know my way around. I recognize people at the stores, and they know us, too. I’m just on that cusp where I miss home, but am starting to feel like I will miss it here.

The last week and a half has been rough. The weekends (when the kids are home 24-7) are exhausting. Since Matthias left I am the only person my kids turn to when they need something. They need a glass, they come to me. They need a snack, they come to me. They are wondering if it would be better to become a ghost when you die or just die straight out, they come to me and want to discuss every aspect of this topic. Their constant bickering wears on my patience and I feel like I’m constantly nagging. Part of parenting is reminding kids to pick up their shoes, clean up after themselves, take their dishes to the sink, and on and on and on. This is a part of parenting that I hate, and it seems to have gotten the best of me. It’s just not fun, and although 5 weeks in Mexico sounds great, being here alone without anyone else to help out with these types of things in addition to making dinner, doing the dishes, brushing teeth, reading stories, etc, has been hard. I can hardly go a minute without some sort of request coming in from one of them, and many times I’m sitting there with two or three kids talking at the same time needing something. When I write and reflect about it, it does seem somewhat charming and I feel like I should be savoring the moment, but many times I just find it annoying and taxing.

The first two weeks of our stay here were vacation for me. But for the last three I am working from “home.” Since home is currently Mexico I sit at my laptop and work while they are in summer camp and fit in an hour or two after they come home. That alone is hard enough, but then there are just things that seem to go wrong, which makes everything difficult. For example we went to a cooking class early on in the trip and learned how to make these great marinated onions. The recipe calls for a habanero chile, which is a super-hot chile. I’m slicing away, being careful not to touch the flesh of the chile. I do a quick test and touch my lips just to be sure I didn’t get any on my fingers. Of course my lips start to burn and I wonder what I should do because I am still wearing my contacts. Do I just take them out ASAP, or do I wait and risk that the spiciness might spread to the rest of my fingers? I was able to get my contacts out with my right pinky finger (the finger with the least direct contact to the habanero), but then the question was, would I have fire in my eyes the next morning when I put them back in? The next morning, it turned out to be fine and I walked into the kitchen and noticed that I’d left the onions out on the counter all night long and had to throw them out. You see my digestive system has been in a bit of an upset lately and I wasn’t going to risk making things worse by eating food that has been left out all night. Eventually I took a dose of Imodium and that cleared everything right up. But why didn’t I do this sooner? I’ve been suffering for a few weeks and had the cure right in front of me all this time. Because of this I’ve also been wary of the street food exacerbating the situation and street food is one of the best things about Mexico. So now I’ve had so many days of missing out on the great food here. These are the types of things that compound themselves and make me miss home even more.

Lately I’ve been shopping at the Walmart, and LOVING it! I hate Walmart and would never go to one in the States. What’s wrong with me now? We can get a few things at the Oxxo across the street (Oxxo is like a 7-11), but since we don’t live within walking distance of any grocery store it is easier to get everything in one store and just haul it back in one taxi ride. Walmart fits that bill. At least I call hail a taxi for and from Walmart with finesse.

We’ve also gotten to know an urgent care center here. On Tuesday Theo fell and cracked his head open which resulted in 3 stitches on the back of his head. Yesterday he slipped and fell onto a glass table in our bungalow and we had to return for 6 more stitches on his cheek. The stitches also necessitated another trip to Walmart to stock up on Band-Aids and gauze so we can keep his wounds clean. When Theo hit his head the first time I knew right away he needed stitches. William and Julian asked me if he will need a shot, which I knew he would. “Oh my gosh!!!! Shots are the worst!!!” replied William. That is the last thing I wanted Theo to hear on his way to the hospital. Theo also got a prescription for antibiotics and William tasted a small drop left on the table. “Eeewww! That is disgusting!!” 3 year-olds just repeat, repeat and repeat. I knew I had 7 days of medicine 3 times a day ahead of us and William was just about to make the ordeal much harder. If he hears from his older brother it is disgusting, then for Theo it is disgusting. Luckily I turned the situation around quickly so he still looks forward to his medicine. The chocolate afterwards helps too, I’m sure.

After Theo and I left urgent care yesterday we took a taxi home. While looking outside of the windows things looked foreign yet familiar at the same time. We know the streets, we know the different routes the taxi drivers can take and we know if someone is giving us a gringo rate for a taxi ride. I think it is this feeling of knowing and understanding your surroundings that can fuel an extended exploration of a place and I wish I felt it sooner than I did. I can feel that I’m coming out of the funk and I hope I can make the most of our final week here.

The Circus of Mexico

July 28th, 2011

By Allison

On the first full weekend without Matthias we decided to hit the travelling circus that was in town. George and Ines reminded us to keep our expectations low, which was probably a good game plan. With low expectations we could only be pleasantly surprised, right?

Over the last week I had been asking our taxi drivers if they knew when the shows were and how much they cost. We got a bunch of different answers, but many of them said there was a car driving around town advertising the circus and they were selling discounted General Admission tickets for 20 pesos instead of the regular 50 pesos. We’d been keeping an eye out for one of those cars. We saw one early on – it was driving through town with a huge speaker and a megaphone on the top blaring advertisements and trailing 3 or 4 cages behind with the poor animals from the show. Unfortunately we were never able to actually encounter one when we were in a position to pick up a few tickets. I mentioned this to George and his response was “Nah, those taxi drivers, they’re all lying to you.” Somehow I didn’t think there was a conspiracy amongst the taxistas to give the gringos in town bum information on the discounted circus tickets, but I just nodded and tried to change topics. If I’ve heard the same story from at least 2 or 3 different taxi drivers, well, I’m going to start to believe there is something to it. Despite not having any discounted tickets, we went anyway.

The opening number couldn’t have been worse. I came with low expectations and I was already worried I had already set them too high. The next number was a tribute to “El Rey de Pop.” Yep, a tribute to Michael Jackson. These Mexican dancers come out in black suits and spats and were pelvic thrusting and leg wiggling to songs from the Thriller Album. They are horrible dancers and the worst is that they don’t even look like they are enjoying themselves. Matthias’ MJ impression has more soul than any of these guys. Pretty soon clowns start walking through the audience trying to sell stuff and later those same clowns end up in the show performing. The kids are getting super annoying because they want 15 of everything each clown is trying to sell. To top it off we are under a tent on a dirt floor and it is sweltering and it stinks to high hell.

Next came the first animal routine: a camel, a dromedary and 2 lamas. They walk around in circles, do some twirls and walk around in more circles. It all kind of makes me sad, but on the other hand I’m a little happy that there aren’t more animals. Mexican’s aren’t known for being animal lovers, and the thought of their lives (walking in circles for 2-3 performances a day, being driven through town in cages behind a blaring speaker) seems like a pretty lame existence. After the animals left they brought out a big tarp, unfolded it (which of course stirred up a smelly dust cloud inside the tent). This was one of many gritty transitions with precarious safety precautions (at best) but what they were doing was making way for the acrobats.

This is when the circus took a turn for the better. These guys were seriously lacking on the dirt dance floor but what became evident is their passion for the acrobatics. They were smiling, engaging and a lot of fun to watch. Seven very buff, chest-hairless Mexican men swung from ropes, hung upside down, twirled around in their air, climbed up poles, juggled, were interacting with the audience and you could really get a feeling of the camaraderie and fun they must have in this circus life together.

At one point in the show they called a few kids down to the ring to participate (William and Julian included) while they were preparing for the next act. And at intermission it got a little weird when everyone in the circus (except us) went down to the ring, paid the circus performers a bit of money so they could hoist their loved ones on top of the elephant, hand a clown their phone, and have their picture taken with babies, siblings and grandparents waving their glow sticks and other trinkets while sitting on the elephant. This was clearly the longest segment of the circus and definitely a money-maker.

After intermission there were a few more acrobatic numbers and then it was time for the finale – the tigers!!! The tigers file into the ring one-by-one to the tune of Enter Sandman by Metallica. Their trainer waltzes in in a gold lame sequin-studded, luche libre-esque top with black leather pants. This is his moment to shine. You can clearly see he feels superior to his shit-shoveling colleague who rakes up all the poop after the animals perform. There were 9 tigers and 7 of them were white tigers. Julian was literally on the edge of his seat for the tigers. They sound crew hit play on the A-Team theme and the tigers started their number. They sat on stools, they growled, they all laid down in a line next to one another and eventually jumped through rings of fire. The cage they erected inside the ring seemed like a bit of an afterthought, since all that was needed was for a tiger to take a wrong right or a wrong left at the exit and he’d be lose in the stands, but it all went off without a hitch. All in all it was an enjoyable afternoon and I’m happy we went, but a 3-ring Barnum and Bailey Circus it ain’t.


July 26th, 2011

On the road in a taxi in Cuernavaca

By Allison

The “situation” in Mexico is much different than it was when we were travelling in 2006/2007. I’m sure you have all heard about the “war on drugs” and the ensuing violence in Mexico. We drove through borders towns 5 years ago, and back then they were not places you wanted to hang around. Today I’m not clambering to visit ANY of those border towns. The violence in border towns has risen to a new level, and if you listen to the news Mexico is NOT a place ANYONE should be visiting these days. So far I’ve felt very safe here and I feel my biggest obstacle is to ignore the alarmist, sensational press in the US, continue using common sense (as we always do) and just enjoy Mexico. People here have been nice, good, friendly and helpful. There is violence in this part of Mexico. There is one newspaper you can buy on the street that specializes in crime, crime scenes, and every day they have a body of the day. We picked up one of those papers one day and the pictures are horrific. If I were looking to sell, manufacture or transport drugs here in Mexico I believe that might be a reality. But me just working from home, bringing our kids to summer camp each day a taking in a few sights, well, I really don’t think we’ll run into this violence unless we are looking for it. If you choose to seek out that kind of journalism, then you will be uncomfortable, but if you just spend time making a few stops here and there in town I would be very surprised if you encountered any of the unsavory side of Mexico.

Because of the “situation” in Mexico, one piece of advice we have heard many times is to only take taxis from a “approved” or “official” taxi stations and this advice comes from a multitude of sources. I think the reason is to avoid express kidnappings and other sorts of hostage crimes you hear are so prevalent in Mexico. If you take a look at the US State Department advice on Mexico, or any country for that matter, you would probably never want to go anywhere. Where we are living there are none of these “approved” taxi stations. When Matthias was here we just hailed taxis on the street. The first Monday after Matthias left I called a taxi at 7:30 to take our kids to summer camp and requested a taxista we had used twice before. They assured me he would be there, but as you can imagine we were standing on the street, waiting for our taxi and no one was there. In the meantime 15 taxis had passed by offering up their index finger because they were “libre” – ready to pick someone up. But, no, we waited and waited and waited for our guy. Eventually, what are you supposed to do? I’ve hailed a taxi with Matthias at least a couple of dozen times, so we just did what we have always been doing and it has been fine. The first few times I was a bit nervous. George assured me I can always get someone good on the street to just drive us, but being a woman alone in Mexico with my 3 boys I reverted to being nervous. I guess I was worried because I was the only adult. When Matthias was here, if anything were to happen I wouldn’t be the only one who has to react and figure out what to do and keep my kids safe. But the truth of the matter is, NOTHING has ever happened. In all reality we have probably spent close to a full calendar year in Mexico (which is a significant portion of our children’s lives) in Mexico and have had no problems. And when I think realistically about it, I can’t think of a worse group of people to kidnap in Mexico than us. Mexican kids seem so much more tranquillo than our kids. In the end I’m sure they would pay ME money to take my kids back and leave them in peace! Matthias has been gone for a little over a week now and I’m at ease. I still use caution and common sense (as always) and am hailing taxis right and left.

Anyway, my intention was to write about the taxistas – taxi drivers. We’ve had every demographic of taxista I think there is. Young, old, nice, stern, quiet, chatty, boring, handicapped, incomprehensible (to us at least) and everything in between. One thing they all could do superbly was get us around town. Driving in Cuernavaca is a trip. It feels absolutely chaotic at first, but after 3+ weeks of riding around in traffic you start to feel a method to the madness. There are places where the traffic seems to bottleneck here, but one strategy all taxistas and other drivers seem to use is to just pull out into the mess. The speeds are slow due to the strategically places topes (speed bumps) and if you just pull out no one will plow into you. It is good to know where the topes are because you know the oncoming driving must slow down and you have more time to drive out into to flow. This is also very handy when trying to cross the road on foot. It can be quite frightening when you are new here and don’t realize the oncoming cars are actually going to have to slow down.

There is also a nice system of hand-waving that supports the flow of traffic. A quick lift of the finger signals to another driver “I’m letting you in.” A quick honk says “I’m here and you better not pull out.” All of this seems to be followed up with a cordial hand wave and everyone is on their way and traffic continues to flow. I’ve never been in a taxi that had more than a ¼ tank full of gas. Until now only one taxi driver has pulled over to a gas station to fill up en route. One-way street signs mean nothing and they will drive crazy amounts of slalom if they can get at least one tire off a tope. Throughout this entire circus you will see pedestrians, donkeys and street dogs froggering through it all. I’m glad we’ve been able to see the symphony through the chaos and in the end it is gringos like us who drive through the middle blindly that might mess up the flow.

The taxis here are also low-tech. The “available” taxis can be identified by the sign in their windshield “libre” which operates on a system of suction cup + binder clip. Libre = clip down, in service = clip up (hence the libre sign is not visible to those on the street waiting to hail taxis). William was quick to notice that rarely our taxista (or any other for that matter) actually flips the sign when they have someone on board. A taxi may be approaching with a “libre” sign, but there are clearly people in the car. William also has developed a keen eye and skill for hailing taxis. When you see a taxi coming, you hold your arm up and eventually one will stop. He’s often willing to hail a taxi before I’m ready. Forget Matthias, William could get me through the next 2 weeks here.

This is the 3rd week of summer camp. Our attempt at a car rental didn’t go so well (see previous blog entries) and I’m now happier that we have been taking taxis instead of driving ourselves. Some days I don’t talk to the taxista hardly at all, some days we chat the entire way. Each day is different and I never know what to expect. Since the kids are in summer camp and I’m home working, this has been an unexpected gem in this trip – my time with the taxistas.

Summer Camp

July 24th, 2011

By Allison

Our kids have finished two weeks of summer camp and have two weeks ahead of them. Through friends of a friend we got an excellent recommendation for a summer camp in Cuernavaca. The kids are there from 8:30-2:00 Monday – Friday and are having a great time. When we arrived in Cuernavaca we attended an orientation for the camp and recognized immediately that the people organizing the camp put a lot of thought into their program and were very welcoming. Our main goal for summer camp is to have William immersed in Spanish as much as possible. We recently moved to Wallingford and our neighborhood public school is an immersion school (Japanese and Spanish). Julian already goes there (on the Japanese track), but if William passes an informal competency test in Spanish he can go there, too. He learned some Spanish when we were travelling in Mexico and Central America in 2006/2007. This last year he has had Spanish lessons up the wazoo to prepare him, and our plan was to have him in summer camp in Mexico this summer to prepare him for his test. Almost all the teachers here speak English, which has been good for Julian and Theo. I’m afraid William isn’t speaking as much Spanish as we were hoping, but all three of our boys have been having fun and that is most important.

Each week they have a different theme and on Fridays the parents are invited for the final 2 hours to participate. The theme of the first week was “Games.” Matthias and I were both able to attend. We tag teamed the kids and rotated through the different stations they spend time at each day: games, music, theater, sports….. This week the theme was “the 5 senses.” All the parents assembled for a great presentation, but we were blindfolded. The kids passed around objects to feel, they walked through with incense for us to smell, played music for us to hear, and finally a few pieces of fruit from the garden to eat. Once we removed our blindfolds I realized one of the foods was pomegranate seeds, but I still don’t know what the other one was. To me it tasted like pears, but I know there are no pear trees at summer camp. My Spanish is not all that good. I understand a lot, but am a ways away from understanding everything. My worst fear through this presentation was that everyone had removed their blindfolds some time ago and there was one gringo in the room (me) who was sitting there for 30 minutes with a blindfold on. Luckily I think I caught the moment and took my blindfold off at the right time. The only mishap was that I realized each person got their own little sampler of pomegranate seeds for themselves. Like the other objects I just took one tiny seed and passed the rest to the person sitting on my right. She was still munching on hers (or rather mine) when I took off my blindfold.
Next week their theme is “the 4 elements” and for their final week here “the head.” We’ll see what is in store for them. The grounds are very nice, they spend pretty much all day outdoors and have mango, pomegranate and banana trees to enjoy and, of course, climb. For now, here are a few pictures.


July 19th, 2011

This is George

By Allison
“Allison, I tell you. If you ever decide to get rid of this bastard I’ll take him. I mean I never had any faggoty tendencies in my life, but I LOVE this guy. When you are done with Matthias I’ll marry the son of a bitch!”

George is our landlord. We are renting a bungalow on his property in Cuernavaca for our month long stay. He’s a lawyer, a gambler, a drinker, says whatever the fuck is on his mind and not afraid to start drinking in the morning. We found him on a Yahoo Group. Matthias called him before we left for Mexico to ask him about the place he had for rent. We were interested in seeing a few pictures, and George answered “Let me sober up and I’ll send you some pictures.” A few days later we had them (although I’m not quite sure he ever truly sobered up). When we arrived in Cuernavaca and saw his place we knew we wanted to stay. George and his wife Ines are very kind and helpful, their property is BEAUTIFUL and George is quite a character.

George was born in Latvia around 1940. His mother left his sister behind and took him to Germany with one goal: survival. They survived the raids in Dresden before they immigrated to the United States. He grew up in Chicago, joined the army and served 3 years in Panama. Eventually became a lawyer (not one of the discerning types) who ended up defending the Chicago mob amongst other unsavory characters. This guy lived a life and half by the time he was of age and has enough stories to fill a lifetime.

Being around George is hard in one respect and that is keeping the potty talk in check with our kids. Fortunately his swearing and the random kid comments seem to fly right pass one another. I don’t think I’ve heard one fucking sentence from George without a god damned swear word. He refers to all women as “broads” (myself included) and is lose with the N-bombs and not-so-endearing terms to Asians that rhyme with the word “clink.” He speaks freely of the various periods in his life in the US Army, marriage to his first wife (a bitch) and his whoring around. He definitely loves to talk about his penchant for pussy (which he refers to as “doing the bungi-bungi”). He drove us all to his favorite restaurant in Cuernavaca and this guy walked in with (according to George) a whore. “Well if that ain’t a fine piece of ass than I’m a fucking monkey’s uncle.” He brought his own cooler with booze to the restaurant. After downing about 4 rum and cokes in ~90 minutes, he made himself a 5th, placed it in the cup holder between himself and the passenger’s seat and drove us home. Drinking and driving is taken much less seriously in Mexico, and I know he’s had practice at it. I was a bit nervous of George driving down the long windy road and sending the car off the cliff into the wooden ravine, but only in theory. Once we got into the car he re-assured us “Man I know this road by memory. I could drive this shit with my fuckin’ eyes closed.” When we got home “Well, did I drive you drunk home safely? Ha ha!” When got out of the car, everyone retreated to their separate quarters, that is until George came back to our bungalow with more rum and OJ, plopped himself on our couch and told stories for another couple hours.

But he really loves Matthias. I think he is bored here and missed his connected life in the states. He told me seeing Matthias in the prime of his life, full of piss and vinegar was “like a breath of fresh air.” Even as liberal as Matthias is, and George as conservative as he is (he has no room in his life for a liberal president, and certainly not a black one), they got along. George had 2 bitches (he really means he had 2 girls) with his first bitch (he really means wife). After years of whoring around he let her keep everything and picked up and left. Later down the road he paid for their college education, and it now does NOT sit well with him that they went out, did the bungi-bungi, got knocked up and are sitting on their asses wasting their education. He’s mentioned many times that he wanted boys, and seeing Matthias with so much life left to live and with three healthy boys must remind him of a good period in his life. The ex-pats he knows here are all bitching about their physical ailments and/or dying. You don’t hear that kind of whining out of George. He’ll tell you getting old is a bitch, but it stops at that.

Yesterday George said he would give us a ride in the morning because he wanted to see where our kids are going to summer camp. Camp starts at 8:30, we walked into George’s house about 8:10, he put his beer down on the table, grabbed his keys and we were off. He also offered to pick us up, and at 2:00 PM sharp he was standing outside the kid’s summer camp on the street, a huge smile on his face and beer in hand, ready to take us to our next outing – a small pueblo 30 minutes from Cuernavaca called Tepotzlan. On our way back we made a quick stop at his casino to collect his winnings and lay down another bet. It was a really nice afternoon.

Today Matthias left and George was happy to give us a ride down to the bus station. When we said goodbye Matthias even got a hug out of George, and I think that George is not a hugging type of guy. I think he was genuinely sad to see Matthias go, or on the other hand, he might have had to hit the casino again anyway, so it was on the way. I guess we’ll never know.


Bumps in the Road

July 15th, 2011

By Allison

Well, we are back in Mexico again. This time I will be here for 5 weeks with all 3 boys and Matthias is here for the first 2 weeks. We did this last year as well, but last year we spent the time outside of Guadalajara. This time, with the help of a long-time family friend, we decided to spend the majority of our time outside of Mexico City in the town of Cuernavaca. In the first 4 days in Mexico City I was flooded with memories of our year-long trip – the smells of the showers, men’s hair gel sold by the tub, stores that specialize in one commodity (you buy umbrellas at the umbrella store, raincoats at the rain jacket store, cleaning supplies at the cleaning supplies store, …, you get the idea). I had forgotten what it is like to stick out like a sore thumb. In the subways in Mexico City I never ever saw another gringo once. With the exception of the Zocalo or the world-renowned Anthropology Museum we were the only white guys around. This draws the range of stares: friendly, suspicious, amazement, shock, curious, loving, and on and on and on. With all the bad press Mexico has had recently it is comforting to see the random people who look out for us. People in the seriously crowded subway were holding others off and asking them to be mindful of our little ones oblivious to the crowds cramming their way into the subway. Two (not particularly clean-cut) men walking close to us saw that we turned the corner and Julian continued to walk straight ahead. They tapped him on the shoulder and pointed him in our direction. These are just two examples and we could tell more. In this daunting city of 24+ million people (2nd largest in the world) we still have the same experiences that we have had throughout our travels in any country (including the US): you WILL encounter swindlers, if you are looking for trouble you will find it, and a bit of humility and common sense will lead you to millions of people who are nice and decent.

However, nothing in Mexico seems to come off without a hitch. Part of the fun is adjusting plans and adapting to these bumps in the road at a moment’s notice. After Mexico City our first obstacle was to find a place to live. We had two places lined up that we were going to check out and decide. We arrived at the first place much too early and sat around for close to an hour waiting for the woman to arrive. Once she got there she realized she forgot the keys, so we sat and waited some more. The situation with this first apartment was a bit delicate, as the woman who was showing us the place is 21 years-old, her mother passed away some time ago, and her father died about 2 weeks ago. The apartment we were looking at was her father’s apartment, and we knew it would really have been a great financial help for her to have the place rented out. On paper everything sounded perfect – cul-de-sac with almost no traffic so the kids could play, great central location, tortilla lady down the street, next to a park and walking distance to the bus station. Alas, so perfect on paper, but in reality so very, very bad. The apartment felt like they had removed the deceased, shut the door and we were the next people to return. The bed was slept in and not made, half-full glasses on the table, dishes in the sink, garbage cans full, dead roaches on the floor. The “pool” had no working filter and you couldn’t even see the bottom in the deep end because there were so many leaves and sticks settled at the bottom. In retrospect it is not surprising that a 21 year-old in mourning is not ready to step in as landlord and think about prepping the place to show to prospective tenants. Also a bit unfortunate because we would have been happy to help her out in this hard time for her, but there was no way this was going to work with us.

We decided to take a look at the second place, but of course I forgot to write down the phone number or address. A few hours later we were this close to checking into a hotel when Matthias finally got a hold of the owners of the second place. We got the address and taxi and were on our way. We were looking for house #28, but for the life of us could not find it anywhere. The house numbers are by no means sequential in Mexico. You may find 20, then 22, 24, 28, 14, 103, 22 (again), 8. Although the numbers we were random, we did find 28, but it was a car wash. No one seemed to know what place we were looking for. After about 30 minutes of driving up and down the street we found a woman who offered to call again. It turns out we shouldn’t have been looking for 28, we should have been looking for 20H. In English both sound quite similar, and we’ll just attribute this to Matthias’ language barrier. Once we made it to this bungalow we knew right away we wanted to stay. The bungalow is just big enough for us, and we have access to the pool, basketball court and the owners George and Ines are very helpful. They have an enormous garden and our kids are really enjoying the dogs, bunnies, birds, geese, cats and 4 peacocks on the grounds.

The next day our only agenda item was to pick up the rental car. Through a Yahoo group we found a woman who was willing to rent us a 1998 Ford Windstar van. Now this car is usually a piece of shit, but the price was reasonable and she was flexible, so we decided to give it a shot. We met Gloria at the bank to get insurance (which involved a lot of time, waiting around and many hand-written receipts on scraps of paper). We checked out the outside of the car and she showed us everything we needed to know. With the engine running, hand brake dis-engaged and the car in Drive she returns, “Oh, one more thing, when the automatic transmission switches gears it is bit rough, but it is ok. Just slow down or accelerate and maybe move it into second gear and you’ll be fine.” Huh? Well, whatever. It doesn’t sound so bad, let’s just get a move on because this whole ordeal has taken nearly all day already and we were anxious to get home. We get on the road and when the transmission changes gears it JERKS into gear and we lurch forward in our seat. When you press the accelerator it backfires nearly every time, it takes about 10 seconds from pressing the gas to the time the car actually starts to accelerate. This car is the true Mexican experience, and after about 15 minutes Matthias gets the hang of it. The next morning we get everything loaded up and are about the head out for the day when this Mexican man comes running over waving his hands and pointing at the tires. The left rear tire is completely flat. We inspect the tires and there is a huge gaping hole in the tire. The other 3 and the spare are also completely bald and I realize we didn’t check the tires before we left. The jack in the back is missing parts and there is no tire iron. Luckily George has one, and the neighbor’s gardener, Mario, came out to help. None of the jacks were tall enough on their own, so by propping up one tire after another on cutting boards and wooden planks, we finally lift it up enough to get the old tire off and the spare on. We ended up returning the van and got most of our money back. In the end it cost us about 80 dollars and two days of time. Sad for Matthias because this is his vacation where we could have been doing other fun stuff. In the end it was a good lesson to learn and we now have a solid list of things to check when renting a car: take a look at the care BEFORE you start agreeing to charges, check the body, check the tires and take it for a test drive. It may seem obvious now, but at least it was a cheap lesson to learn.

In the meantime the kids have started summer camp and Matthias and I have had two days to ourselves. We went downtown, did some shopping in the market, and on Tuesday we had a cooking class. We made 3 fabulous salsas, marinated onions, cochinita pibil, a great marinade, tortillas, gorditas and have learned the fundamentals of cooking with chilies. Regardless of the bumps to come we will already take a lot with us from our visit here.

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Theo drank the water in Mexico

July 13th, 2011

By Matthias

Now that I finally remembered Allison’s bad ass password for her laptop, I can try bringing our blog “Travels of the Bay family and the Yoda Van” back to life. For those of you who are not familiar with this blog, let me try to bring you up to speed.
In 2006 Allison and I quit our jobs, bought a 1983 VW Bus (Yodavan) and drove from Seattle to Panama and back. We were on the road for 50 weeks with our 2 boys William (4) and Julian (2). To sum it all up, it has been the best thing we have ever done in our life. Not only all the sights, people and countries made this trip the best thing of our life, being able to spend 24 hours a day with our children for 1 year is what I consider pure luxury.
Now almost 4 years have been passed and the yodavan has been replaced with Theo. Theo is now 3 years old and a Yodatrip souvenir.
After returning from our trip the one thing happened that I was most afraid about: we just stumbled back into our old lives. We found new jobs and life was just as it used to be before our adventure. The upside to this is that we have proven to ourselves that we have done everything right. We had the great adventure and we were able to continue with our careers right away. We even got better jobs than we had before we left. The downside, we are no longer on the road and with a stressful job, I don’t always look at spending time with my kids as pure luxury.
Something else I consider luxury is being able to remember almost every single day of an entire year. If we look back at our trip or read through our blog we have memories of almost every day. Looking back at the last 4 years, what do I remember? Some things come to mind: Theo’s birth, William being expelled from school by an utterly unqualified principal, who luckily didn’t make it through the first year of being principal (it’s safe again to send your kids to school on Queen Anne). I remember the stress of moving several times this year and probably a few more things that happened here and there. My point is that most days of our post yodatrip lives are just about the same and blend together as a big routine.
Why now writing the blog again?
For one, we have time on our hands while the kids are in summer camp and we are on vacation, but the main reason is that we planned this vacation different from other vacations we have had in the past. While we honestly didn’t have time for a lot of preparation for this trip (since we moved into a new house 5 days before we left), we also knew that we COULD do it without planning every detail in advance.
Before we left we didn’t know where we were going to live, how to get around etc. All we knew was that the kids had to start summer camp on July 11th and we had to get them registered in advance. We knew we can do this, because we have learned it and we are good at it.
When we arrived in Mexico City we decided to go to the hotel we stayed at and loved 4 years ago. This time it didn’t work out so well. The beds were big enough for 4 of us, but now we are 5 people and it was extremely uncomfortable. The floor would have felt better, but it wasn’t very clean so we decided to look for a different hotel. We looked at some hotels in the area on the way to get breakfast and found a great one. Granted it was a bit more expensive, but turned out to be perfect for us.
Getting around the town also turned out to be a bit challenging at times. Our preferred mode of getting around was the subway. You have quick access to most of the city, it is cheap ($3 pesos = 25 US cents per person) and it can often be an experience. Sometimes we have been in situations where we have needed to take a taxi and have been quoted exorbitant prices. One taxi driver quoted us $120 pesos, but with a little persistence we found the same ride with another taxi for $35 pesos. Another time we jumped into a cab in haste since a torrential rain storm had just begun. When he quoted us a way high price ($140 pesos) and refused the turn on the meter we told him to pull over and jumped out. Luckily we found a covered spot to wait until a bus came by. We weren’t exactly sure where the bus would take us, but we had a good idea that it would bring us close to a Metro station. Actually we needed it to be very close to a metro station, because we did this during torrential rainfalls and all we had to wear were modified garbage bags. This bus also doubled as a boat since the rain (once it starts) is like stepping into a shower and within minutes that water level on the street was rising above the first step into the bus. Once in the Metro it was easy to get back to the hotel, so we thought. Finding the right train is a piece of cake, but when it starts raining like this EVERYONE heads into the subway and the trains were packed like you could not even imagine. No need to worry about pick-pockets because everyone was jammed in and pressed against each other that there was no way anyone could raise or bend an arm enough to lift a wallet out of a purse or pocket without everyone noticing. Getting in was easy, but getting out was crazy. The train was so packed that we had to plan our exit 2 stops in advance. Every time the door opened we had to struggle our way a bit closer and at our stop push with full force to get out.
While things can be stressful at times, travelling lite and not everything preplanned ahead can also be very rewarding. You get to meet a lot of people, most of them very happy to help out and eventually find the perfect place to stay.
By the way, Theo did not drink the water in Mexico (at least to our knowledge), but he has not been in the title of any of our blog entries yet.


Impressions of the USA

August 2nd, 2007

The first really amusing outing was our first dinner back in the USA.  Where else would we go than McDonalds?  It wasn’t that we had been missing it for the last 11 months – McDonalds are everywhere in the world.  We cruised the streets of San Bernardino looking for a McDonalds.  I was waiting for our food when a pudgy black guy with a see-through fish-net shirt, thick glasses, dread locks and a key chain with “Jesus Saves Lives” came in and started talking to me.  He bore a resemblance to a young Stevie Wonder and his belly rolls were clearly visible through his shirt.  He was very upset because they made us write our names on our receipt so they could call out our name when the food was ready.  “What if you are from a 3rd world country and can’t write?  And this McDonalds is really going downhill.  They are slow and the food is bad.” 

I guess what I thought was so funny about this encounter wasn’t really his outfit (although it did make me smile), but rather the eclectic mix of weirdoes this country has to offer.  People in Latin America seemed to be a little more homogenous in their outward appearance.  The fact that he also just started an animated conversation with a complete stranger was unusual for us.  Maybe it was just our bad Spanish, but we didn’t have so many impromptu conversations like this on the street.

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