April 29, 2010

In the City of Brotherly Love, where America meets the world

PHILADELPHIA, Penn., USA - The couple two tables away from me is chattering away in Japanese and if you listen carefully there are occasional snatches of Spanish and French.

The English spoken by the service workers has a definite twang to it, peppered with some new terms and a Philly dialect that I'm having trouble understanding. My ear is still tuned to Spanish. I remember Philly English faintly from when I went to Villanova University in 1966-1968. That's a longer story.

The Admiral and I have been flying through this airport now for four or five years and it seems almost finished. This cafe - Au Bon Pain - offers exceptionally good food (in or out of an airport) and, gasp, the staff is friendly and seems to enjoy serving the customers.

In Philadelphia. Who'd a thunk it?

US airways plane
Not the friendly skies, but cordial

Our last airplane experience was in December of 2009, when we jetted from Sacramento to Phoenix and then Phoenix to Puerto Vallarta.

Since then, U.S. Airways has changed a few things. For one, no peanuts or snacks, except in first class. And in first class, all you get is a bag of peanuts now, too. But the second change had Admiral Fox's blood pressure spiking to red levels as we got ready to depart Wednesday.

When we arrived at the PV airport hours before our flight, we asked to jump on a nearly empty Phoenix-bound plane. No problem, senora, the gate agent said. But the small problem (for us) was that U.S. Airways wanted to charge each of us a $50 change fee.

In the past, the airline would have simply put us - and our 50+ pound bags - on an earlier flight. They might have even smiled while they did it. (Might have...)

But nooooooo, not now. There is a new company policy. All changes initiated by the customer are subject to fees.

So we sat, are much farther along in reading our books, and I have $100 to spend.

Sailboat on Seneca Lake
View from the front porch at Valois

Three hours from now we will jump on a small U.S. Airways plane for the last leg of this three-flight sojourn, a Philly-to-Elmira, NY flight that can be exciting if there are any thunderstorms.

But no storms are forecast - and there is even a chance the temperatures might hit 80 degrees Saturday.

Eighty degrees!  When do we get the pontoon boat out of storage and launch the sailboat?

Three amigas at The Showboat
Last summer at the Showboat on Seneca Lake

April 28, 2010

In the USSA after two small glitches, two more flights ahead

PHOENIX, Ariz., USA - We left Puerto Vallarta mid-afternoon on our sojourn back to the U.S. with only one minor problem.

I forgot that I had a knife in my pocket and walked through the security X-ray with it.


Thank God I was in Mexico. Had I been here in Phoenix, Arix., I would still be sitting in a small windowless room and probably would also be a headline on Fox News.

Instead, the young Mexican woman handling security at the Puerto Vallarta Airport gate very apologetically told me she was sorry, but that I would not be allowed to fly with my knife in my pocket. I told her to keep it as a present for her novio.

folding knife
I will miss my knife

A few minutes ago here in Phoenix, going through U.S. security, Adm. Fox got busted for carrying a package of Swiss Cheese in her carry-on bag. Swiss Cheese!  

Gawd, I feel safer.

And a couple of hours ago, when we first landed on American soil, we were delayed for an hour because the national U.S. Customs and Immigration computer system was down. The entire national system. We sat on the plane for a half-hour before getting off because no one was getting through immigration. Finally, the immigration people dragged out a few laptop computers and processed people very slowly. A lot of people are spending the night here in Phoenix because they missed their connecting flights.

Can you imagine what it must be like at JFK Airport in New York or LAX or San Francisco?

Immigration computers
Immigration computers

In about three hours, we will board a red-eye flight to Philadelphia (sans Swiss Cheese, I'm afraid). Then after another three-hour layover in Philly in the morning, it's a short flight to Elmira, N.Y, where we will be borrowing brother Dan's Toyota Tundra pickup for a few days until we buy a new car from Hal Van Skiver of Van Skiver Motors.

But that's a subject for another blog, another day.

April 27, 2010

Brace for impact! Getting ready to head back to the U.S.

PARADISE VILLAGE, Nuevo Vallarta, Nayarit, Mexico - We shut down the Pink Flamingo in Arroyo Seco Sunday in a flurry of last-minute items from a much longer checklist:

Close slider on Grey Goose Express II
Empty black water tank and rinse (ugh!)
Turn off electricity to both trailers
Disconnect internet modem
Hook up Mexico telephone
Put Honda(s) in bodega
Turn off water pressure
Close windows tight

But we still left before noon (my deadline) and were rocketing up the highway to spend three days here in Paradise Village Resort before boarding our flight Wednesday to get back to the wilds of upstate New York and Seneca Lake. Here in Paradise, we have pools, restaurants, a beach, and the best boogie-boarding in Mexico.  


The sojourn takes us by air from Puerto Vallarta to Phoenix, Ariz. (better double-check my immigration papers quick), then to Philadelphia, Penn. (where the airport staff in the City of Brotherly Love has lost touch with that sentiment), then on to the Elmira, New York airport and then a short drive to Valois.

We leave Puerto Vallarta at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday and will arrive in Valois the following day at about 1:30 p.m.

Yup, a looooong trip. And if we are lucky it will be 60 degrees when we arrive at the lake house. If we are extremely lucky. Fire up that hot tub, rapido...

Christmas on the beach
Paradise Village hotel, beach and marina

The few days here are partly to decompress, partly to watch some American television (i.e. Fox News) so my blood pressure can rise slowly to the level of an Orange Alert, but also to spend some time with Granddaughter Sasha Fox (and her parents, of course). If we can wrest the nearly two-year-old away from her parents today, we will take her to the beach where she and I will build some sand castles and perhaps do some boogie-boarding.

OK, she won't boogie-board, but she loves the water. And I am teaching her how to splash people. Hey, someone has to be in charge of her education.

Sasha as PigPen
Sasha at the beach

Still, it is very hard for me to leave Mexico, even knowing how many friends and family we have waiting in New York in California.

The last week in Arroyo Seco - shutdown issues aside - was great, with trips to the beach, trips into La Manzanilla for lunch and Palapa Joes and Figaro's, and a fabulous welcome home party for our amigo Jose Cuevas, better known in the village as Chapon.

As we departed Sunday, our neighbor and amigo Chon closed the Pink Flamingo gates for us and I could tell he was ready to start cleaning and clearing the mess we left. I hadn't trimmed a bougainvillea or mowed the grass in weeks.

He promised that next season life would be mas tranquilo than this season and that we should not worry about anything (Mexico-wise) while we are in the U.S.

Except, he said, we should be very careful in the U.S. (his exact word was cuidado!) and be sure to come back home safely to Arroyo Seco.

Lo prometo, mi amigo, lo prometo.

Chena, Papa, Brianda y Mama
Chena, Chapon, Brianda and Consuela

Sunset at La Manzanilla
Sunset in La Manzanilla

April 24, 2010

Time to leave Arroyo Seco for the season, just as a new baby arrives

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - Our time here in Arroyo Seco for this year is over already, and Sunday we head north to Puerto Vallarta to spend a few days lounging by the pool before boarding a U.S. Airways jet to take us to Elmira, New York (and from there we drive to Valois on Seneca Lake...).

But after a long winter and spring of dealing with a property dispute - more on that another time - the last few weeks have given us great joy, and a reminder of why we like it so much here.

-- CEO Laura Warner headed north this week with her rescued dog, Princesa Mia, who is already adjusting to life in Canada. Mia - and a shaggy village pooch named Canela - were the stars in this year's efforts by the Admiral to help the dogs in the village. Getting a dog rescued from the highway (Mia) and having her actually adopted (by Laura and us...) is as good as it gets. And the best part is Mia will return with Laura next fall.

-- Jose Cuevas Sr. (better known as Chapon) is back in the rancho this week after nearly a year's absence. There's a long story with that, too, also better told another time. But his family and friends have been celebrating since he came back and now he has a new granddaughter to bounce on his knee.

-- That granddaughter, Elina Lizbeth Cuevas Hernandez is the child of Chapon's son Jose Antonio (better known as King Kong in the rancho) and Veronica. Veronica came home today with her baby (born Friday) and Veronica looks like she was on a vacation - not in a hospital having a baby.

Proud mom Vero with Elina
Proud mom - with her new baby

Here is a short video of Veronica and her baby, Elina Lizbeth. Veronica wanted to send a video message to her mother, who is living in the U.S.

April 12, 2010

RV repair requires finding a transplant donor - guitar to toilet

ARROYO SECO, Mexico, Jalisco - Living in Mexico reminds me soooo much of living on our 48-foot sailboat Sabbatical.

When things broke on the boat, you didn't call someone, you fixed it yourself. And you didn't rush off to the store to buy parts, you fabricated with whatever you had on hand.

As a sage once said:
"If all solutions are temporary, 
why not use duct tape in the first place?"

The patient
The patient needing the transplant

The problem was actually quite simple. The toilet our RV (the Grey Goose Express II) wouldn't flush. Yes, the bowl would fill with water (and other substances not to be mentioned here). But a push on the pedal to flush left the bowl full.

Santa Crappo! (Quite literally)

I put off the repair for three days, blaming it on the beautiful weather and the two-days of the surfing  contest at Playa Grande. The toilet sat unused inside the bathroom of the trailer, a silent reminder that I had a nasty job to do that I really wanted to avoid. As in avoid until next winter when I came back.

But this morning there was no putting it off. Getting up in the night and walking across the compound in the dark, wearing flip-flops was getting old fast for both myself and the Admiral. Especially the Admiral. (Can you say scorpion?)

The offending wire
The problem revealed

RV toilets are not exactly easy to work on. And because they are mostly plastic, there's no using brute force - when it seems like it would be a lot easier. So for an hour, I unscrewed and dismantled quite carefully until I had the entire assembly in pieces.

(Yes, I soaked the entire toilet in Fabuloso cleaner for about a good half-hour before I even started.)

Once apart, it was obvious - the wire to the flush pedal was broken off. And without it, no flushing was going to occur.

In the U.S., at that point, I would have probably headed down to Camperworld or some such big box store, slapped down my American Express card and bought a entire new unit, right out of the box.

But I live in Mexico and I have learned from my neighbors that you don't go to the store everytime you have a problem like this. You fix it. Great idea! But where in the ^*&%**(^&)$%#^# would I find a 18-inch piece of thin wire that could be fed through a tiny channel and tied off on both ends?

Then I heard the music on the radio.

The string donor
The wire donor

Three weeks ago in Puerto Vallarta, I bought a new set of guitar strings. The old strings were tired - very tired - and needed to be replaced, our amiga Myranda told me. And so the strings were lurking in the back of my mind when I was thinking of what kind of thin wire I might have to effect a cruiser/Mexican repair.

And because I hadn't ever gotten around to actually replacing the strings, I went right to the guitar, plucked a worn out B string off, and installed it.

With luck, the B string from the guitar will now live a long life. I would prefer not to have to do that job again.

But if I do, well, I have five more strings waiting...

String donor recipient
The donor recipient on the recovery patio

April 11, 2010

Surfing competition is over - but will be back next year

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The announcers at the surf contest got the loudspeaker going about half-way through the competition today at Playa Grande, just in time to hear that the promoters of the contest - el municipio de La Huerta and Corona Beer - want to make Arroyo Seco into an international surfing destination.

Property owners will likely rejoice at that idea. People who live here might be a little less enthusiastic.

Whatever the case, the surfing today was even better than Saturday, as the surfers went out two by two to compete, one wearing a red jersey, the other blue.

Some very fancy surfing took place, even with relatively small waves again.

In the wave
Riding the wave

There were two mishaps, one minor, one not-so-minor.

In the minor category, a Canadian surfer who winters in Melaque got inspired by the competition and decided to head out and try a few waves. But 25 feet from shore, he got swept north - right to the area where the surfers were competing, effectively blocking the surfers from making their runs.

The announcers told him to move off, but in the wind and waves, he couldn't hear.

He was caught in a terrible rip tide and ended up going out into deeper water to escape the current - escorted by another surfer who passed along the message that he had to move.

Hurt surfer on ground
Hurt surfer getting medical attention

Hurt surfer hauled to ambulance
On his way to the ambulance

In the not-so-minor category, a non-competing surfer stumbled out of the water right in front of the fans, holding his neck and in obvious pain. And because the bomberos and an ambulance were there for the tournament, he was immediately treated by the red-shirted staff.

The medics immobilized his head and neck and whisked him off in the ambulance after only about 10 minutes.

Lois Lane interviews surf officials
Lois Lane interviews tournament officials

Also in the middle of all this was Guadalajara Reporter columnist Jane Gorby (aka Lois Lane) on the beat to gather information for her column.

After watching an hour of the competition, she went over to the judges' table and in very fine journalistic style, button-holed several of the leaders. Button-holed might not be the right expression, considering one fellow was sans a shirt, the other wore a blue t-shirt.

Still, Jane got the story and snapped a few photos, too, before departing in a cloud of dust back to La Manzanilla and her computer.

Photo tower at surf competition
Photo tower at the swim competition

The event was a photographer's dream, providing me with evidence (again) that I need to upgrade some of my photography equipment before next year's competition.

Perhaps I should upgrade as soon as I get back in the U.S. - the land of cheap electronics.

Here is a brief video of some of the action:

April 10, 2010

Surf was up - sort of - for Arroyo Seco weekend-long surf contest

PLAYA GRANDE, Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico - The surf was relatively tame for today's surf contest in Arroyo Seco - at least from the shore. About 30 surfers (mas o menos) were involved in the La Huerta-sponsored contest, most of whom camped on the beach last night, no doubt to get a good night's sleep before today's tournament. Ok, maybe there's some doubt. A few of the contestants did look a little sleepy until they hit the water.

Scheduled to start sometime around 9 a.m., the contest part began closer to 11:30.

!Que sorpresa!

After a practice run
Surfer comes in from a practice run

But the later-than-expected start gave spectators and vendors - and there were plenty of both- time to get their chairs and tables and beer coolers set up to watch. The surfers all practiced for at least an hour  before the first whistle was blown and it was wild watching all those surfers fighting for space, close to the rocks on the north end of the beach.

There were no loudspeakers, so the spectators had to give a guess as to what was going on when the actual tournament started. But we witnessed some fancy board work.

Things ended by about 3 p.m.

Not a good sign
Um, where's the surfer?

Sunday the contest continues and the organizers promise that it will start close to 9 a.m. - and it might. The tents and scoring booths and cameras are all in place and ready to go without set up. And the spectators? Well, most of our gear is in the back of our neighbor's pickup truck, ready for tomorrow's action.

In addition to local spectators, there were out-of-town vistors from La Manzanilla, Boca de Iguana, Melaque and even two polo players from Careyes who we met several weeks ago when we strayed from the shoreline to catch a few chukkers there.

Tomorrow, I understand that Guadalajara Reporter writer and La Manzanilla bon vivant Jane Gorby (aka Lois Lane) will be on hand to check things out.

We will have a chair and some shade reserved for her.

Great sign
The sign tells it all

April 9, 2010

Catching the tail end of Semana Santa at Tenacatita Beach

TENACATITA, Jalisco, Mexico - As the final few weeks of our Mexico season wind down, we've started a Mexico bucket list for things we want to fit in before we wing back to New York.

And CEO Laura Warner - who will leave a week before we do - has already starting getting in her last weeks of surfing.

Two surfing expeditions are on tap for her today.

A not-too-crowded beach
Tenacatita Beach - not that crowded

Thursday we all headed out to Tenacatita to get an afternoon of snorkeling and boogie-boarding in. The Semana Santa vacationistas had thinned out appreciatively, but there were still plenty of people enjoying the beach.

And, in very un-Mexican-style, there were three lifeguards on the beach, keeping people from swimming out too deep (and maybe to avoid having them get run over a speeding panga).

The swimmers were so unused to lifeguards - or anyone else - telling them what to do, that the lifeguards had to walk out into the water up to their necks to get the swimmers' attention. Then, of course, there had to be a long discussion between the swimmers and the guards.

Lifeguard on the Tenacatita Beach
Lifeguard rounds up the swimmers

The boogie-boarding was good - though I managed to swallow plenty of salt water when I got rolled three or four times in the big crashers. The lifeguards didn't call me back into shallower waters, even when I went out pretty deep. But they had somewhat amused smiles on their faces when I washed up on the beach a couple of times right in front of them, boogie board on top, not underneath me.

Tomorrow and Sunday, in Arroyo Seco, the surfing pros will be here, to compete some kind of surfing contest - at least that was what was announced on the La Manzanilla message board. The action is supposed to start at 9 a.m. and we won't know until tomorrow morning (and Sunday morning) at which beach the surfing will take place.

Wind direction - and swell - will determine whether we need to head to Playa Chica or Playa Grande.

If the waves are like they are today, the surfers are in for some wild rides.

Last year, an amigo from Canada (originally from South Africa) came by the Pink Flamingo for an afternoon but stayed for several days when he found out how good the surfing was.

Below is a video of him on the beach and surfing. The music is from the classic surfing movie Endless Summer, which was filmed right in front of Ricardo's casa in South Africa, when he was a child.

April 3, 2010

The tide - and huge waves - taking a chunk out of the beaches

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - When we arrrived in December, the beaches here extended out, oh, say another 50-75 meters compared to where they are now.

What happened?

No one knows, but the combination of unusually high tides and some pounding storms have pulled a lot of sand out into the ocean.

Beach erosion in Arroyo Seco
Beach erosion at Playa Chica

The small lake in the photo above - created by the waves breaking over the beach - had been the campground of a half-dozen tents the day before. The campers scurried pretty quickly when the first set of waves inundated their campsites. Several trucks had to be moved muy rapido, too.

Down at Tenacatita, however, the beach seems to be growing farther out into the sea. Mother Nature might be just moving a little of her furniture around.

In the meantime, swimmers on Good Friday were confronted with a pretty ugly algae bloom. It didn't smell like Red Tide, but it kept a most people out of the water.

Red tide
Red Tide? Maybe

Good Friday also brought the arrival of two more turtles to Arroyo Seco's Playa Grande. Unlike Thursday's turtle walk, the crowds of vacationistas seemed much more polite and gave the tortugas some space as they lumbered up the beach to lay their eggs.

The turtle in the video below, was very determined and came ashore much more quickly than Thursday's arrival.

April 2, 2010

Turtle comes ashore to lay eggs - right in the middle of vacationistas

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - The wind had just died down enough yesterday that the volleyball match on the beach in front of Luis' restaurant was getting good when we heard the cry from down the shore.

Hay un tortuga!

And sure enough, a big turtle was making her way up the sand to go dig a hole to lay eggs, drawing a crowd immediately.

Turtle pix
Turtle makes her way to dry sand

Turtle draws a crowd
Crowding the turtle

Admiral Fox talked with a woman who camping on the beach to explain the need to keep people back - so the turtle could even lay her eggs.

But even at that, children were running up to get close so they could have their photos taken. We left at dark, hoping the cold would drive away the crowd - and the people who would want to steal the eggs.

The turtles - and eggs - are protected by law, but with several hundred people on the beach, it's hard to say what we might find this afternoon when we go back out for another lunch and more volleyball.

April 1, 2010

Semana Santa comes to Arroyo Seco - and brings beach volleyball

ARROYO SECO, Jalisco, Mexico - Holy week in Mexico (Semana Santa), and the week following, are vacation time for virtually everyone in this nation and, of course, they flock to the beach up and down the coast.

This year, the influx of people in Arroyo Seco has been less than in year's past. But still, our rancho has seen a marked increase in vacationistas, roaring motorcycles, and tents on the beach. Beer sales are brisk, too.

Several local families have opened up restaurants - just for the vacation period - and are doing a booming business in the evenings. The Admiral and I are declaring a moratorium on our cooking and are going to sample food around the village.

But today, just how much the normal routine has been disrupted hit me when the trash pickup guys didn't show up to haul off our basura... I suppose that means I may have to head off to the dump myself, or see if the composting garbage in my three garbage containers can make it another week.


Vacationistas in the surf at Arroyo Seco
Vacationistas in the surf at Playa Grande

We were sitting under a palapa by the laguna, enjoying ceviche Wednesday with neighbors Chena and Chon (and their extended family) when an amigo roared up on a moto and announced that there was a school of fish off the beach. Immediately, virtually everyone piled into a pickup truck and headed out to the south beach, where a fish called a Forel (sp?) was in abundance. The group pulled in a few, and local fisherman sold what they had already caught.

We watched some fisherman launch their small boat through some impressive surf, too, reminding us of when we did the same in years past, except usually with a powerful outboard motor strapped to the back of the boat. These guys had plastic paddles and made it look easy.

I expect the featured meal at lunch (and dinner) today in the restaurants will be Forel, cooked six different ways. And it probably will be delicious.

Cleaning the Forel
Cleaning the Forel

Fishing off the rocks
 Fishing off the rocks

Besides eating and chasing fish, some villagers broke out a volleyball net, putting it in place in front of our amigo Luis' restaurant on Playa Grande. (We are headed there for lunch again today, I think, provided he has shrimp as well as Forel on the menu.)

The volleyball got very spirited for about an hour and would have continued much longer except for the arrival of puesta del sol (sunset) and, perhaps even more important, a rising tide that started to edge across the sand volleyball court. Sand is one thing. Four inches of water, another.

Pink Flamingo CEO Laura Warner and surfer-dude and amigo Julien teamed up for several matches.

More games on tap for this afternoon, after lunch.

Volleyball team
Laura and Nena team up