January 27, 2009

All cement - and cement dust - all the time at the Pink Flamingo

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The banging, clanging, chipping and other noises too incredible to describe here continue to sing out daily. The concrete chipping started at 7 a.m. today, with the maestro building shelves in what will be a laundry utility room. He worked until 8 p.m. last night and if I had left the lights on, he would have worked all night.

Today, after all these projects have been looking like, well, just projects, they are coming together and seem near completion.

Even the electrician is wiring madly today - though our second electrical service meter isn't connected and no one seems to know when that will be.

Cocina project moves ahead
Floor for the outside cocina

Progress on showers and banos
The showers and banos actually have a roof

Yesterday, Lucky Dog and I climbed to the ridge behind The Pink Flamingo to see what it looks like this year from the heights. The various buildings and tent structures (and the trees) give it a nice bit of privacy, but the palapa still looks huge.

We visited another lot we own on the hill, discovering that it hasn't been cleared yet and the bugs, snakes (yes, snakes), and a hundred other skittering lifeforms were obviously distressed that we intruded on their lot.

We will hire someone to clear it this week and evict our non-paying natural tenants.

Pink Flamingo from the ridge
A view of The Pink Flamingo from the ridge to the southeast

My vecinos and amigos Chon and Kiko have been laboring for the past two days to build the floor of the cocina - a project I was going to do myself but was convinced by the Admiral that hiring them would be better.

As I see how strong they are building it, well, the Admiral had a good point. I would have done it much muy rapido, but with a weaker foundation. And even though it is a 'temporary,' floor, I remember from so many boat projects on Sabbatical that the temporary fix is sometimes in place for a long time.

Maybe years.

A side benefit to helping Chon and Kiko (I shovel, move bricks) has been being fed by Kiko, who was a chef in Napa before returning to the village a year or so ago. With Chon's wife Chena out of town, and the Admiral off in Vallarta, Chon said that Kiko (his nephew) has to cook.

Breakfast by Kiko
Breakfast by Kiko

January 26, 2009

An afternoon at the pool in Barra de Navidad

BARRA DE NAVIDAD, Jalisco, Mexico - It was quite fitting that we took Sunday afternoon off and returned to the scene of earlier good times, the Grand Bay Hotel in Barra de Navidad. Three years ago, our 48-foot sloop Sabbatical was safely moored at the hotel and we were sipping drinks at poolside wondering where our next sailing destination would be.

Little did we know that we would, in the parlance of sailors, swallow the anchor, and suddenly be building a casita.

I am happy to report that the hotel is as beautiful as it was, the pool was as clean and fresh, and the food and cocktails are, well, divine.

The Grand Bay Hotel swim-up bar
Grand Bay Hotel swim-up bar

We went to the hotel to visit with amigos of our amigo, Mario. Tom and Louise have a boat in the marina and just bought a house in Barra de Navidad. (We offered our condolences on how much work they now have ahead.) An amigo of theirs - Beverly - was there too, visiting from Puerto Vallarta where she has a casa.

The afternoon consisted of swimming, a Pacifico, more swimming, another Pacifico with a hamburger and fries for lunch, and a third Pacifico after lunch.

And a nap. An honest-to-God, wide-open-mouth nap.

But the trip there would not have been complete without sampling what was our favorite drink at the hotel in the past: a melange of liquors and ice called a 'ballena.' The drink was just as tasty as ever, though they no longer serve it in the giant globe glasses.

Sipping a ballena at the Grand Bay Hotel
The Captain sips a frosty ballena at the Grand Bay

Today, urban renewal renewed in Arroyo Seco with the roof tiles going on over the bathrooms and showers and the final concrete and brickwork started.

And one last project also began: building a floor for a temporary cocina: a place for the new refrigerator, stove and tables. That work is being done by our amigos and neighbors as I write. In fact, I believe I should get back out there and take some beer orders. It's hot today.

View from the Grand Bay Hotel pool deck
View from the Grand Bay Hotel pool deck

January 25, 2009

An afternoon off - then three days of projects

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I took a lovely afternoon off at Tenacatita, then launched back into projects at the property, a Jan. 31, self-imposed deadline looming like April 15 for Americans.

Sorry about that reference.

January 31 is when Sylvia brother David arrives and a week later, son Dylan (with two amigos), cousin Ruth from Hector, New York and Laura from Calgary, Canada. Laura is going to be teaching English to a group of village children and the village children are vibrating, they are so excited.

Will the showers and banos be done? The maestro said the main part of that project would be done by next Tuesday. The Admiral says she wants to hear the sound of flushing toilets - soon.

Showers taking shape
A roof, a floor and then it will be 'voila'

As part of all the chaos, we were able to move the original Grey Goose Express back closer to its new brother (which we dragged down this year behind the Toyota Tundra). After getting the trailer close to its intended destination, we relied on pure Mexican muscle power to lift up the tongue and slide it into the parking spot.

And the miracle? Without touching anything, the GGExpress is sitting perfectly level in its semi-permanent home.

Moving the Grey Goose Express
Almost in place

RV park in the making
RV park in the making?

But the biggest improvement has been being able to use our now-tiled palapa, though it has taken the Admiral and I - with some young helpers - many washings and scrubbings to get it clean. This morning the Admiral gave it another mopping and it is starting to shine. She's nesting there, and loving it.

As it is Sunday, however, it's almost time to call time on the projects. The afternoon we are headed to the Grand Bay Hotel in Barra de Navidad to meet some sailing cruisers - and sit by the pool there.

They serve a great drink there called a 'ballena.'

It's on my agenda.

January 23, 2009

One day off the projects and a chance to hit the beach

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral came back from Puerto Vallarta late Wednesday with a truckload of goodies: a new refrigerator, a washing machine, doors (to make tables and a bar) along with a dozen other smaller items.

Oh yeah. And a kitchen sink. Really. A kitchen sink.

But by early Thursday morning, the Admiral and I were completely burned out on projects and after plugging in the refrigerator (and loading it with cerveza) we made a run to the Tenacatita beach for margaritas, rollo de mar, and some swimming.

Mario and Michael swimming
Mario and Michael pose for the Admiral's camera

The beach was much quieter than it had been during the Christmas holidays, though our favorite spot, Fiesta Mexicana, was packed with tourists from several resorts to the south that have less desirable swimming beaches.

Listening to the people playing bocce ball, I picked up a weird melange of comments in English, Spanish, German, French and Canadian.

Yes, Canadian is English. Yes, it was a little different than the English being spoken by the people from New England.

Bocce on the beach
Bocce on the beach

The afternoon also showed that while tourism might be down in Mexico, the tourists who have come are definitely enjoying themselves. Some seem to be saving money by not buying bathing suits that require a great deal of cloth to make.

With any luck - and a willingness to forego projects - the Admiral and I will get back out to the beach (perhaps here in Arroyo Seco), this weekend.

Thong Bikini at Tenacatita II
Enjoying the sun at Tenacatita beach

Riding the wild surf with a bikini audience
Riding the wild surf

January 20, 2009

Seeing the inauguration as an 'expat' - quite an experience

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - Whenever I use the term 'expat' - short for expatriate - it rankles some people who think that those of us who live some - or most - of the months of each year outside the U.S. are somehow, well, unpatriotic.

A roomful of people, many of whom would label themselves 'expat' proved that to be a mentira (a lie) today in La Manzanilla. When the Star-Spangled Banner was sung, everyone was on their feet and there was barely a dry eye in the house. And the cheers as President Obama made his speech rattled the palm fronds in the palapa.

Luckily, there were no scorpions in the rafters to ruin what turned out to be a great party.

Palapa Joe's watches the inauguration
A packed Palapa Joe's for the inauguration

I arrived just moments before the speech by our new president and as luck would have it, Jane Gorby, aka Lois Lane, had seats for my amigo Mario and I in the back. Adm. Fox was in Vallarta and caught the whole historic spectacle up there.

The room was as crowded as I have ever seen it. Willie, Palapa Joe's owner and bartender extraordinaire, said he believed there were more than 110 people crammed in. Every seat was taken, including all the perching spots on the steps and planters.

And when the announcer said that Barack Obama was officially El Presidente de Los Estados Unidos, the room erupted into cheers and with a lot of backslapping and shaking of hands. In addition, several people told me they were going to get seriously drunk today to celebrate. Better than four years ago, they said, when they got seriously drunk to drown their sorrows at George W. Bush's inauguration for a second term.

Jane Gorby was there on official business, as a columnist for the Guadalajara Reporter. We talked journalistic strategy briefly over drinks (We are journalists, after all!), and Jane launched from her chair right after the speech to interview a half-dozen or more people to get their reactions.

Jane Gorby interviews the inaugural attendees
Jane interviews a group at Palapa Joe's

Journalist Jane in search of the perfect quote
In search of the perfect quote

The heros of the day - besides the new President and vice president - were Willie and Norma. Willie worked feverishly to keep up with the drink orders as the crowd got more happy and more thirsty. Norma needed roller skates to keep up with the drink orders and the food coming out of the kitchen.

Willie serves 'em up during the inauguration
Willie serves 'em up

The only downer of the day for me, was having to listen to the pundits immediately after the ceremony dissect President Obama's performance. A little silence from those folks would have been nice today.

And that is coming from a career journalist.

January 19, 2009

Sunday in La Manzanilla: sailboats, the beach and a baptism

LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - All of the good photos - and a movie - of the baptism Sunday of our God child Devani are safely on the Admiral's camera in Puerto Vallarta, so I will only say that I attended my first Catholic Mass Sunday in 40 years - and not a single lightning bolt struck anywhere near the church.

(A few hours later a electrical transformer outside the church did explode with an incredible bang, but I was safely away at the fiesta celebrating the baptism.)

Sitting through the entire Mass, then going through the sacrament of baptism as a new padrino, was very interesting, in good part because my Spanish is good enough to understand a lot, but not everything.

I am sure though, that at one time during the priest's sermon, he used the Spanish equivalent of the word 'fornicate' repeatedly - as in don't...

When I have some pictures to post, I'll write more about the whole day - or more likely Adm. Fox will tap the keys from Vallarta and give a full description.

In between the church service and at grand fiesta at Devani's grandmother's house, (only 200 yards from the church), Adm. Fox, our Arroyo Seco neighbor Brianda, a French amiga Miriam, and I headed to the beach for a hour to decompress from the padre's sermon and ceremony.

The beach was full of sun worshippers, the water full of swimmers and while we sipped cold drinks, cruising sailboat zoomed past and dropped anchor.

Quite a Sunday, all in all.

Sailing by La Manzanilla
Sailing to La Manzanilla

January 17, 2009

Open 'Mike' night in Arroyo Seco a hit with children

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral and I had flirted with performing at Palapa Joe's tonight for the ever-popular open mic night, a repeat performance of the earlier few songs we performed this past November - all met with polite applause.

But after we spent the entire morning in La Manzanilla at the veterinarian's office, dealing with problems with Lucky the Dog (x-rays, exams, shots, etc...), we opted instead to spend a quiet evening in Arroyo Seco, away from the open mic.

It didn't work out quite that way.

While learning some Spanish from our vecino, Brianda, The Admiral dragged out our musical instruments and suggested we play a few tunes for fun. It was to be kind of a practice in lieu of our actually performing at Palapa Joe's.

What we did not realize, was that we would draw a crowd of village children, all of whom were curious about the music, our instruments and us. At one time, the palapa was crowded with young kids, until their parents made some loud pronouncements in Spanish, telling many of them to come home.

The concert in Arroyo Seco
A concert in Arroyo Seco

The violin played by the Admiral was the biggest hit, though the children loved my ukulele, too. They were not put off by the fact that all of my songs were in English, and that I could barely remember the chords. They also didn't get the punch lines, but laughed when I told them that what I was singing was funny.

Three of the lads who stayed until we were done, asked to be photographed with my ukulele. They all said they want to learn to play 'rock 'n roll.' Perhaps in addition to English classes this spring we should enlist the help of actor Jack Black, who once made a movie about a rock n'roll high school.

Jack Black
Jack Black in School of Rock

Guitar hero One
Guitar hero

Guitar hero two
Another Guitar hero

Guitar hero three
He said he loves Rock 'n Roll

The news about Lucky the Dog was not so good. Although he is getting stronger day by day, he has no feeling in his hips and back end. That means that whenever nature moves his bowels, his bowels, well, move.

The vet said that there is a slim chance the problem is an inflammation of his intestines. More likely, he suffered some nerve damage and won't ever regain control over his bowels.

That could be a problem. We are thinking we should issue all visitors and friends flip-flops immediately, as well as give instructions about how to walk about the property very carefully.

Very carefully.

Michael & Lucky
Michael with Lucky after his third x-ray

January 15, 2009

More construction, a new tree and time at the beach - ahhhhh

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - Three work crews are pouring concrete, sawing, hammering and laying tile this week at The Pink Flamingo (the new name for this enclave). The tile needs to be put down on the foundation sidewalls (to discourage scorpions from climbing onto the floor). The bathrooms & showers are being plastered, one step before the electrician puts in lights and switches. And outside the front fence, a large concrete pole is being constructed where an electric meter for our second electrical service will sit.

But the dust! Jaysus H...

Showers and bathrooms progress
Progress on the showers and bathrooms

Besides watching the workmen, well, work, we moved ahead on two other fronts: getting some privacy for the trailer and also making the Communications Center a better place to, well, communicate.

The aft window of the trailer (where the bedroom is) could be seen easily from the rear gate and so we purchased a six-foot fan palm from the local vivero to use as a natural screen. Although I would normally have hired some guys to dig the hole and plant the tree, I decided it was time to break out the shovel and do it myself. The minute I did, of course, one of the workmen (on the tile job) came over and helped.

And after a half-hour of digging, the tree went in the hole and I went in the trailer and took an hour-long nap.

I really have to get more exercise.

New tree planted behind trailer
A new tree and some privacy

The Communications Center (with the connections for the Mexico phone, Vonage Phone and Internet Modem) had been set up under a simple shade structure, which generally worked fine, except at night, when you were likely to have to battle a variety of flying and crawling insects while trying to use the Vonage phone.

But the La Manzanilla Message Board came to the rescue with a screened-room tent, offered for sale by Ani Mac. The tent project took about four hours and included Admiral Fox getting totally freaked out by the variety of insect life that had taken up residence in a wood pile we had to move. I did see the largest spider I have ever seen.
  • Message Board Link

  • New communications center
    New Communications Center at The Pink Flamingo

    But all the digging (and the building) was getting pretty old when nephew Nate Schwartz and his mom Beth came to rescue us just as the new Communications Center project was about to drive the Admiral and I to a dust & bug-induced insanity.

    Nate grabbed a surfboard and headed to the beach, where we followed not too long after for a couple of hours of boogie-boarding, swimming and, of course, cerveza swilling. Can't be too careful about dehydration in this climate.

    Nate rides away on moto with surfers
    Nate gives surfer buddies a lift

    January 11, 2009

    Watching tourists getting too close to the crocodiles

    LA MANZANILLA, Jalisco, Mexico - Our trip to the big city - La Manzanilla - included driving out past where the crocodile lagoon spills out almost to the beach, where we went to check out a screened in room that was offered for sale on the La Manzanilla message board.

    We thought the screened room might make a nice addition to some of the other temporary structures already in place.

    But as we drove up, I thought for a moment I might get to file a story with Reuters, the story Mexico City Bureau Chief Alistair Bell has told me to be alert for: "Tourists Eaten by Huge Crocodile."

    Couple checks out crocodile
    Getting a little too close

    Getting croc in focus
    Watching the camera, not the croc

    We stopped and chatted with the young couple in the top photo, who seemed quite surprised that we were at all concerned. They asked where they could buy some fish heads to throw to the other crocs swimming in the water. The Admiral diplomatically suggested that feeding the crocs is not a good idea.

    In addition to the lunker getting all the photographic attention, several other crocs were lounging near the water's edge, a few feet from the path. The water in that part of the lagoon - right behind Valentina's Restaurant - was swirling with croc activity just below the surface.

    Crocodile closeup
    Is this where I pick up lunch?

    We returned to Arroyo Seco with three new large hamacas, which will serve as sleeping quarters for some of our guests in February. We bought them at Linda Mandala's, where the folks who make them come annually to sell the hammocks and chairs. The hammocks are soooo comfortable, I might even sleep in one on a hot night, provided we have our mosquito netting in place. The weave on them is very tight, so after a nap, you don't look like you have slept in a waffle maker.

    Admiral at rest
    Admiral checks out the new hammock

    Although the palapa floor isn't done, we did have our first mini-fiesta on it and then traversed the street to Chez Chena - Chena's taco stand across the street - for dinner with our Tenacatita friends and neighbors Mario and Sharon, nephew Nate and his mom Beth and special guests, the Maestro (of our current shower and bano project) and his son Antonio.

    As I write this, the Maestro and Antonio are out chipping concrete and working until noon - on a Sunday - before they take a couple of days off to return to Sayula to be back with their family.

    Chez Chena opens most Thursdays thru Saturdays from about 7 p.m. until people stop ordering.

    After we inhaled about 35 tacos and retired back to the palapa, Chena stayed open for another two hours.

    At Chez Chena
    After dinner at Chez Chena in Arroyo Seco

    January 9, 2009

    Construction chaos continues, but lots of progress

    ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - Every time I say that there is mucho progreso on our various ongoing projects, the maestro setting bricks for our new showers and bathrooms makes a joke about there being a lot of soup available and asks me if I want some.

    He has a very good sense of humor and reminds me of the late Mexican comic, Cantinflas.

    But our senses of humor have been stretched pretty thin by the constant sound of hammers chiseling, saws ripping tile and delivery drivers show up and asking for a few thousand pesos per visit. And they visit often.

    But soon, the Admiral and I believe (we have to) that the bathrooms and showers will be done, the tile will be laid in the palapa and we can start to reclaim the property as our own before guests beginning arrriving in about 19 days.

    Nineteen days! Jaysus!

    Construction central in Arroyo Seco
    Construction Central in Arroyo Seco

    Tile floor almost done
    The palapa floor is almost done

    In and among the Arroyo Seco construction, I found time to head out to our Tenacatita beachfront lot to check on the progress of the fosa septica (it's done), as well as see if the view was as spectacular as I remembered it from last May.

    It's not. It's more spectacular and it makes me want to put up a ramada or palapa for day use there. Since we now have electricity, too, the lot is very useable for anyone who wants to camp on it, too... Hmm... where is that tent we packed?

    Tenacatita lot ready for - whatever
    Tenacatita lot - ready for occupancy

    In the meantime, Lucky the Dog's health has been improving poco a poco but he now leaves the compound to take short walks with us. His sore rear end is, well, still pretty sore, but he has demonstrated that he can be trusted around other dogs (no fighting, just a growl or two) and that he will not run away.

    By why would he run away, he's got a pretty good deal here.

    We've had Lucky as a roommate for about a week and it's time to give the dude a good bath.

    That should prove interesting, now that he has most of his strength back.

    January 4, 2009

    Quiet Sunday of chasing the dog - and watching the surf

    ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The Admiral careened up Highway 200 early Sunday morning to drive to Puerto Vallarta to attend the birthday of Cami, our daughter-in-law, leaving me home to pooch sit and also stick around for the tile workers.

    Yes, the tile guys worked on Sunday - for about eight hours straight - swearing about the uneven floor, some less-than-square corners and la vida in general. I fed them lots of ice water and bad jokes which seemed to keep them working fine. They return tomorrow for another run at it and will likely be here for most of the coming week.

    I better get more water.

    Lucky the dog, after getting his dosing of medicine and his shot, felt good enough that he dug his way out of the compound twice, one being returned by our amigo Julian, the second time by Chena from across the street.

    Tomorrow, my first job is to brace the streetside fence against escapes. We will introduce him into society this week, but under controlled conditions.

    Playa Grande in Arroyo Seco
    Playa Grande in Arroyo Seco

    But in between home chores, I toured the beaches several times (driving the Admiral's Honda quad, of course) and was impressed with the huge surf and the diminishing number of vacationers and surfers. The swimming hole we visited a few days ago no longer looks quite so safe and most of the surfers had packed it in by noontime, the break of the waves being too steep even for experienced riders.

    The highlight of the day, however, was dinner across the street at Chena's Restaurant, a home-operated taco stand that involves Chena, her husband Chon and son Dani. I started with three chorizo tacos and had eaten two more before I finally called out 'no mas,' just like Roberto Duran.

    She runs the shoppe Friday and Saturday nights and it was hopping for about three hours with carne asada, pollo, and chorizo tacos going out the door as fast as any McDonald's pumps burgers.

    I only wish she was open seven nights a week. Then we would never have to cook.

    Running an animal hospital in the middle of construction

    ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - Lucky the dog has begun his slow climb to recovery, poco a poco as they say here (little by little). Each day, we clean his various sores and then give him an injection, all of which he suffers without a whimper. I probably whimper more when I give him the injection. Not my favorite time of the day, and I'm on the non-painful end of the procedure.

    Yesterday he actually barked at several dogs walking by on the outside of the fence. I think the boy has potential as a guard dog.

    Treating Lucky's ear
    Treating Lucky's bruised ear

    When we brought Lucky home to the property, we were a little worried about how he would interact with the workmen who are laying tile, doing plumbing and moving our ramada. But he seems relatively oblivious to their presence. It's only other canines outside the fence that seem to bother him.

    All three projects are moving ahead very quickly, with the plumber promising he will be done Monday, the ramada movers likewise and the tile guy... well ... that might be another week at the current rate of progress. But the tiles look very nice, a sharp contrast to the concrete we've been walking on for the first few weeks here.

    Laying the tiles in the palapa
    Laying tiles in the palapa

    The biggest event this week was the arrival - and placement - of the water tanks on top of our bodega. As soon as they are plumbed into the water system, we will have a steady flow of water all day (a 1,000 gallons worth anyway). Currently, when I hear my drip irrigation system start hissing (when the town water is turned on for its one-hour-per day), I grab a hose and fill the tiny water tanks in the two trailers and any containers I can find.

    It's also near the end of the Christmas vacation season, and the highway is already clogged with overloaded trucks and cars as the Mexican families make their way back to their homes - and work.

    The La Manzanilla beach still looks a lot Coney Island, but less so day by day.

    Enjoying the beach
    Enjoying the beach

    January 2, 2009

    The sounds of Mexico: hammers, chisels and grinders

    ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - We awoke early today to un otro milagro (another miracle). After taking a holiday for New Year's Day, the ramada builders, the plumbers and the tile installers all arrived and are working today.

    And as I write this, the concrete dust is wafting across the property from the plumbers grinding, the martillos (hammers) are cracking concrete to level the concrete for the tile floor, and the amigos who put up the beams this morning for the ramada have disappeared, ostensibly to get more panels for the roof.

    I don't expect the third group to return today, but at least the beams are up and we have hope of shade over the trailer.

    Ramada progress
    Ramada beams go into place

    We also seem to be making some progress with our new dog Lucky, who this morning seems more active, more hungry, and at one point growled at dogs outside the fence.

    I don't know what he said when he growled, but the dogs turned tail and left, despite the 6-foot cyclone fence in-between them. The Admiral says that we have to treat Lucky as if he is a patient in an Intensive Care Unit: feed him well, make sure he has rest, and don't let him overdo.

    Shortly, I have to don the doctor's gloves again to clean his sores and give him an injection. If he keeps recovering quickly, he may get his first-ever ride on the back of a quad in a week or two.

    Lucky at rest
    Lucky at rest, in the middle of the noise and construction

    We also met some of neighbors on our morning walk today, Jose and Victoria, who own a house at the bend in the road at the end of our street. The couple's house looks like an art galleria and is painted neatly everywhere. Outside, they have also created garden spaces that put Sunset magazine to shame.

    And most of their materials are leftovers from other projects, or adapted - artistically.

    Jose has spent a lot of time in the U.S., working in vineyards in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. He has an impressive collection of wine bottles from the U.S. and has invited us to visit his casa to sample more.

    Painted trees
    A new species? Or the artist at work?