Hot Diggity Dog

We are a baseball family.  Often, as our son was growing up, we planned our summer vacations around the Major League Baseball schedule.  A trip to South Carolina meant a stop in Atlanta to see the Braves play.  We opted to drive to a family vacation in Delaware so we could catch games in Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.  Eventually, our grand plan of hitting every ballpark in America fizzled out.  Yet, while moving Caleb to Oregon this past summer for law school, he and I went well out of our way to make a game in San Francisco.

Fall means baseball playoff time.  Even in San Carlos, Mexico.  Especially in San Carlos, Mexico!  Baseball in more popular than soccer in the northern state of Sonora.  In fact, the first baseball game played in Mexico took place in the port of Guaymas in 1877.  Today, there are three teams representing Sonora in the Mexican Pacific League, a winter league, whose season runs from October through January.  Estadio Sonora, in the capital city,  is home to the Hermosillo Naranjeros.  It is one of the largest baseball stadiums in all of Latin American, boasting a capacity of 16,000.


It is difficult for my husband to be a Cubs fan during this current series, as many of our friends and neighbors are rooting for the Dodgers.  Fernando Valenzuela, the Dodgers’ 1981 Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winner was born in Navajoa, Sonora. 

I no longer have that one favorite team.  I get a lot of ribbing from my son for my “fair weather fanishness”.  I am a fan of the game these days.  I am a fan of the experience.  I am a fan of the nostalgia of ballparks, and the feelings stirred up by the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, and the smells of popcorn and peanuts.  So while a Cubs’ victory in the series would definitely make my husband happy, and ultimately my life happier,  it just does not really matter to me who wins.  What I am more excited by is an excuse to indulge in the most famous ballpark treat of them all; a hot dog.  And it just so happens that Sonora has me covered!

thumbnail-2Sonoran hot dogs, or Estilo Sonora hot dogs, got their start in Hermosillo 30 to 40 years ago.  They were sold from carts by venders known as “dogueros”.  For the most part, they are still sold this way today.  The hot dogs have spread throughout the state and even jumped the border.  The Sonoran hot dog is the star of the menu at all three El Güero Canelo restaurants, located in Tucson, Arizona.  The delicious treat has even been featured on the Food Network and Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel.

The hot dog is first wrapped in bacon and then grilled.  It is
served in a baguette style bun, called a bolillo, a bread that was introduced by the Spanish in the 1860’s.  Next, the bacon wrapped dog is slathered with pinto beans, grilled onions, tomatoes, mustard, mayonnaise, and a guacamole thumbnail-1purée.  Jalapeños are served on the side.  I do not care for tomatoes, but I make an exception for the Sonoran hot dog, always ordering mine “completo”.  There is a wide variety of extra sauces that can be added as well, including plain old ketchup.  The combination of flavors and textures is incredible!  And there is absolutely nothing better to wash this treat down with than an ice cold Coke- – in a bottle!

Just as friends trash talk with one another about teams and players, Sonoran hot dogs cause their share of drama too.  Heated debates about where to find the very best ensue whenever the topic comes up.  This is a contest I am more than happy to lose, as long as there is taste testing involved.  But to be honest, when Sonoran hot dogs are involved, everyone is a winner!

Making Friends With… Me!

Celebrating friendship at Hammer Head’s in San Carlos.

I was very fortunate during our move to San Carlos in that I had women who were here before me, transfers with their husbands, ready to welcome me into a close circle of friendship and support.  Once my husband accepted his new position, things moved so quickly, I had little time to process that I would be leaving many dear friends and family in Fort Wayne.  I knew I would have adjustments to make moving to Mexico, and I did not consider how much I would need new relationships or how much they would help me  with many of these changes.

I appreciated immensely the invitations to breakfast, guided tours, directions, tips, and comfort offered by these women who also left friends and families behind.  Throughout my first year in San Carlos, we shared many experiences together and grew to trust and depend on one another.  Unfortunately, contracts expire.  Two friends rotated back to Fort Wayne within months of one another.  Another began spending more time with her family in Tucson.  Rather suddenly, important parts of my days in San Carlos were gone.  Aside from missing the friendships, I selfishly wondered if I would now have enough to do.  Would I become bored?  Feel isolated?  Could I stay busy and feel fulfilled?

I had grown more than I realized in a year.  In many ways, I am busier than ever.  I have nurtured new and equally special friendships and continue to explore and enjoy San Carlos and Guaymas.  There are still plenty of places to discover and connections to make within  my community.  Most importantly, however, are the moments I have spent developing a relationship with myself.

I have made time for activities I take delight in and practice them daily.  I devote hours to researching the customs and culture of my new country.  I study the language and seek opportunities to practice my listening and speaking skills.  I bought a map of Mexico and have challenged myself to learn the names and locations of all of the states.  I collect shells.  I read.  I write.  I exercise.  I volunteer in my community.  I am now patient enough to try projects that had frustrated me in the past.  I do things that scare me.

These are not shallow pursuits.  I have been given a gift of time; time to explore who I am and what is important to me.  Time to try new things.  Time to learn to be comfortable in my own skin.  Time to be gentle with myself.  I am learning how to just be, no matter what is happening around me.  I find joy in everyday moments.  I practice gratitude.  I am not as negative toward myself or others.  I am not overwhelmed by my daily life.  I am not measuring time the way I once did.  I have given myself permission to slow down.

I have always appreciated my alone time.  Today, however, these occasions are not  escapes from a hectic workday or the barrage of self-imposed obligations or “have-to’s.   They are quieter and calmer.  I am finding deeper meaning in my life and greater peace.

Yes, I miss my old friends.  But I could not be happier with the new one I have made in their absence.

An Oasis for the Spirit

thumbnail-6Cañón de Nacapule seemed like the perfect place to flee from the unrelenting pounding of hip hop music that had been playing non-stop in our neighborhood for more than 12 hours.  Tucked away in Sierra de Aguaje range just a few miles north of San Carlos, it offered the peace and quiet we were desperately seeking.  Nacapule is a Yaqui Indian word for “earlobe”.  It is also the name of a fig tree which is found in the canyon, whose seeds feed small birds and bats.

A pot-holed, paved road gave way to a rutted, rocky, dirt one.  We were entertained by the roadrunners and jackrabbits darting in front of us as we made our way through the desert.  Signs guided us in the right direction, as the road veered off in different angles at several points.   Upon reaching our destination, we were surprised to see a barbed wire fence and locked gate standing between us and the canyon.  We decided that the risk of scooting under the fence was worth it.  Had we returned home to the party that drove us away in the first place, we were not sure we could be responsible for our actions.

In lieu of a trail map, we stumbled upon a sign warning us of the risk of death.  We thumbnail-8decided to tempt fate and proceed.  Our path into the canyon was clearly marked, wide, and flat.  Things changed rather quickly, however.  We moved forward (or what we thought was forward), maybe on the trail.  But then again, maybe not.  Signs had fallen over in the rocky soil, and rocks, painted with arrows, had been deliberately moved.  At points, huge boulders blocked our path, requiring more climbing than hiking.  Sometimes there was more than one way to get from point A to Point B.  It did not appear that one route was any less challenging than the other; you know, “Expert hikers go this way, big babies go that way.”

I am the person who trips when there is nothing in front of me.  Even in the grocery store, my husband provides a play by play of all “potential” obstacles I may encounter.  So when I was not watching my feet closely, hugging the sides of a ledge or grabbing a branch to steady myself, or deep in prayer (making all kinds of “deals” should I come through this hike without one clumsy episode), I was aware that my surroundings had completely changed.

thumbnailCañón de Nacapule is truly an oasis in the middle of the desert.  There are at least five “ojos de agua”, some permanent, and others that are filled by the summer rains.  The canyon also boasts a waterfall.  It has its own ecosystem and microclimate that attracts a wide variety of birds, reptiles, and mammals.  The water source is responsible for unique flora including: towering palm trees, flowering plants and bushes, fig trees, and cacti.  Some of its species are endemic only to this area.

The canyon is about a mile long, and by this point we had thumbnail-2traveled maybe 1/3 of a mile.  Yes, I know what you are thinking.  Based on the struggle so far, it seems we really should have been done by this point.  I could not agree more.  Our next challenge was a rope ladder, drilled into the canyon wall.  Once we reached the top, we were greeted by incredible views of the canyon.  It was here we lost the trail.  Kind of.  There were two signs offering us  different choices for further hiking, but nothing beyond the signs was especially clear.  Caleb thought he knew which way to go, but it involved mountain goat skills that I was not sure I possessed at this point.

thumbnail-1On a different trip (one that did not require sneaking under a fence), we were able to reach the back of the canyon, primarily because there were other people to follow along the way.  Caleb had been correct in the direction he thought we should go.  I had right been too.  It did take mountain goat skills.

Cañón de Nacapule offers stunning views, unexpected surprises, and the opportunity to push oneself beyond what is believed possible.  We were not always certain we were following the intended path, surely giving new meaning to the “road less traveled”.  Scrabbling along on all fours over boulders, testing for footholds in smooth inclines, I found myself celebrating my accomplishments more so than the beauty of what was around me… For me, this is the real power of nature.


Sea and Sunshine in My Soul

thumbnailThere is nothing more special than an unexpected gift.  That is exactly what SeaSanCarlos offered 20 lucky recipients this past week.  As a thank you to the community for a successful touring season, we were invited to join a free morning cruise on the Sea of Cortez.  My friend and I arrived early and found seats at the very front of the boat; reached by a precarious walk/shuffle along a very narrow section of the craft.  We were rewarded for our efforts immediately with a stunning view of Tetakawi, our sacred mountain, peeking at us over the masts of boats docked in the marina.

After introducing us to his crew, our captain slowly made his way into the bahía.  He almost immediately idled his engine to point out a stoic osprey, perched on a branch, protruding from one of the high cliffs surrounding us.  What else had I been missing by only focusing in one direction?  Immune to our attention, the powerful bird continued scanning the bay for his breakfast.  thumbnail-1

The power of the sea was displayed in the cliffs that stretched out to meet her.  Hidden hollows, carved by years of relentless pounding, provided shelter for gulls and blue footed boobies.  I had believed I might only be able to see this famously funny bird by making a trip to the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.  What a joy to know we were neighbors.  I delighted in the sight of their bright blue feet, which reminded me of a bold fashion accessory to an otherwise dull outfit.  Do I overlook the seemingly  “plain”, only to miss what is beyond the surface?

Moving into more open water, we experienced vistas of our sleepy little town from the outside.  I reflected on the importance of opening my eyes to different points of view, and the potential they offer.  I marveled at the bold colors of the homes lining the shore, and the way the buildings seemed to hold on to one other dearly.

thumbnail-2Our attention was suddenly drawn to a small pod of dolphins feeding.  As the boat moved slowly closer, my eyes filled with tears.  It is difficult to explain the emotions I felt upon seeing these incredible creatures in the wild.  Grateful, humbled, awed.  I clapped and hooted like an excited child.  What unbridled joy I felt.  This happiness penetrated me to my very core.  My soul actually felt lighter.  What other little surprises do I take for granted during my days, not quite appreciating them for the potential magic they hold?

Finally, we turned and headed back in the opposite direction.  Our captain tucked our boat into a small cove, where the waves had carved an opening in the rock, large enough for kayaks or  a fishing panga to find protection and solace from bad weather.  Cacti reached upward, taking root in the cracks in the cliff and holding on for dear life; the small overcoming the mighty.  Size is not a measure of significance.

SeaSanCarlos thought they were just gifting me a boat ride.  They gave me so much more.  thumbnail-6Each moment on this trip granted me the opportunity to reflect on the significance of everything I experienced and how it could be applied in my own life.  Look around.  Ordinary is extraordinary.  Be open to other viewpoints.  Notice the little things; be grateful for them.  Everything, big or small, has value in our world.  What happens on the boat, does not stay on the boat.  I am taking this with me.

“Let’s Go Shopping,” She Said. “It Won’t Take Long,” She Said.

thumbnail-7I cannot describe how excited my husband was when I suggested we head to Empalme last month for the Sunday tianguis.  Okay, not really.  But I was certain he would get there.  Technically a tianguis falls into the shopping category, but it is definitely not a “you sit here while I disappear into the dressing room for four hours” kind of experience.

A tianguis is an open air market, albeit temporary, existing in its location on set days and at set times.  The tradition dates back to the Aztecs, when markets were set up and taken down daily so that people could buy, sell, and trade their goods.  Tianguis are not regulated, meaning there are no taxes paid to the government by the vendor.  Typically, there is a small fee paid for booth space.  In some cases the fees collected benefit the municipality, and in others, money collected may be donated to local schools or other groups.  Booth space means a series of tables set up under a canopy, some with walls, some without, or a cloth directly on the ground where goods are displayed.thumbnail

Empalme is a former railroad town, and directions to the tiaguis include “turn left at the big locomotive engine”.  While not officially in the market zone once you make the turn, there are already numerous stalls lining the streets; selling shrimp and fish, fruits, vegetables, and homemade sweets.  From here it is easy to find the market itself; follow the slow moving line of cars.

Okay, I get Steve’s lack of enthusiasm.  I really do.  I am not much of a shopper myself and would avoid malls altogether if I did not have a son who is a shopper.  But a tianguis is less about shopping, and much more about socializing; interacting with friends and neighbors.  And eating really good food.  Some of the most popular stalls at the Empalme tianguis are those where food is sold.  These booths are transformed into mini restaurants complete with tables, tablecloths, napkin dispensers, and chairs.  Music blares from portable speakers.  Bakers sell slices of cake.  There are strawberries with fresh cream.  I have heard there are at least four churro carts roaming the aisles.

thumbnail-2Shopping is most definitely possible too, for those so inclined.  Dining room tables, washers,  used tires, bicycles, toys, flowers, power tools, clothing (new and used), shoes, cazuelas, microwaves, sofas, stereos, books, CD’s, eggs, movies, statues of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and on and on and on…  I need absolutely nothing, but find myself drawn to the colorful displays. “Steve, here is a really great deal.  Need any socks?  Or underwear?”  He looks bewildered, but at least I have not started handling the fuschia, orange, and electric blue bras on display right next to them!thumbnail-6

The whole town is alive on tianguis days.  Sundays are the one day off work for many, and the sidewalks are full of people checking out the cosmetics, jewelry, produce, and seafood.  An elderly couple prepares their harvest of nopal cactus for sale.  Musicians play violins, drums, and guitars; there is dancing.  Children enjoy raspadas and horchata.  Everyone seems friendlier than usual, relaxed and happy.

thumbnail-1The average family spends about 300 pesos ($15) each week at the tianguis.  We got out of there for about 50 ($2.50).  We bought fresh onions, tomatillos, strawberries, cucumbers, and peppers.  And this non-shopper has already made her list for the next time!  Steve even looked it over and added a few things.

Live Life like Someone Left the Barn Door Open

thumbnailWhile I know very little about horses, I am always up for a horse ride.  Horses seem pretty smart to me; they know that  I have no idea of what in the heck I am doing.  Granted, most of my rides have been pretty tame.  The horse follows the one in front of him on a trail so well known, he could walk it in his sleep.

Except my horses always seem to be the ones that stand around a lot, laughing at me while I mentally run through my options.  Do I squeeze?  Do I pull the reins?  Do I swat?  Yeah, usually, I am just rescued by the professional—or my son.  My horse is also the one that experiences technical difficulties.  I have spent more time leaning 45 degrees in the saddle because of equipment malfunctions that I am too embarrassed to mention.  (As if The Leaning Rider of Horses is a thing, and no one notices.)

Steve does not ride, so it is up to me to accompany Caleb and our guests on the trail.  Our first ride was a two hour trip into the desert and back.  Hidden throughout areas of the desert are “ojos de aqua”, or deep holes that fill with rainwater, creating mini ecosystems within a larger one.  The hole we were searching for was filled by a waterfall no less.  I rode Mariachi, who was preoccupied with the smorgasbord on the side of the trail.  The guide had discussed the horses’ snacking habits prior to the trip.  I knew I was not supposed to let him munch on the trees and grasses.  But, kind of like me at a Pizza Hut Buffet, no one was going to get between this guy and his lunch.  This meant the guide was paying a lot of attention to me (and my lack of ability).  Caleb actually moved  a spot or two in line to distance himself from the troublemaker and obvious amateur.

The set of Catch 22 in San Carlos, Sonora.  The movie was based on the novel written by Joseph Heller.

While it was apparent that these horses knew the route, they were not nearly as programmed to follow one another.  We did not move through the desert nose to tail.  This allowed riders more time to focus on the beauty of the desert than the bathroom habits of the horse in front.  I experienced moments of solitude which allowed for quiet time to reflect on nature and my place in it.

I had never been allowed to trot or gallop on a guided horse ride in the U.S.A.  On these trips, however, our horses were encouraged to pick up the pace.  I am still on the fence about whether or not that is a good thing.  I am pretty sure I looked like a rag doll in the saddle, and I felt like a bowl of Jello.  But I did not care!  I opened my eyes wide, let out a “WHOOP”, and pretended to chase an old time stagecoach robber.  I was at the end of the line, in my own world, and oblivious to the coaching (or reprimands)  I was receiving at this point.

Our next horseback ride passed right through the set for the movie Catch 22.  Part of the old airstrip is still visible.  Some of the buildings that served as the base are still standing.  Many of the stones used to build them have disappeared over time, probably serving a more functional purpose in someone’s actual home today.   Since I had never read the book, Catch 22, I needed to watch the movie, especially knowing now that it was filmed in my own backyard.  I watched long enough to say, “Yep, I have ridden my horse through that arch,” before falling asleep.  Then I read the synopsis published on Wikipedia instead.

thumbnail-2I loved watching my mom ride.  The smile never left her face.  Her joy was pure.  Her laugh while her horse ran across the desert was beautiful music- -and she even looked like she knew what she was doing.   At the end of the day that is what is most important about experiences like this.  It is not how well you handle your horse or how competent you look doing it.  It is about being able to let go, if even for just an hour or two, and living life in the moment.  It is about leaving insecurities and worries at the ranch.  It is about appreciating what you are seeing, even if you happen to be looking at it from a 45 degree angle.

Keep Calm and Buy More School Supplies

thumbnail-1You can take a teacher out of the classroom, but you cannot take the classroom out of a teacher.  Or so they say.  It has been more than a year since I resigned my position as an elementary teacher, and I still love visiting art/office/school supply stores.  When a friend mentioned she needed some new drawing pens and a sketchbook, I jumped at the chance to accompany her.   One of my husband’s co-workers pointed us in the right direction.  We stuck to her map until detoured by the opportunity to photograph goats grazing in an empty lot next door to the beer store and across from the Home Depot.  Cuteness quota met, we carried on.

We experienced a bit of confusion when we pulled up in front of a Super Farmacia.  Do not misunderstand.  I love a drugstore as much as the next guy.  This has less to do with being a teacher and more to do with the 3/$3 deals on boxed candy I remembered.  I just was not sure we were in the right place for what we needed.

Oh, I love when am I am wrong! (Shhhh.  We will just keep that between us.)  Thethumbnail-6 “Super” in the store’s name meant that this was much more than just a pharmacy.  It was also a papelería, or stationery store.  My eyes glazed over as I took in the bins of notebooks, the holiday decor, the wrapping paper and gift bags, the pens and pencils…  Within 15 minutes I had my hands full of things that I could have used in my Spanish classroom.  Then I remembered I did not have a Spanish classroom any more and put most of them back.

I did have a very loud internal debate with myself on whether or not I would be able to convince Steve to play “Pon Una y Toma Una”.  (Learn to play here.)  After discovering the game a few years ago, I modified several dice so that my kindergarteners could play.  The real deal was right in front of me!  Ultimately, I decided Steve would not be interested, even if I somehow managed to include tequila.  I consoled myself with the fact that I now knew where I could buy the special dice I needed.  The Día de los Muertos lotería game I ended up with made me feel a little better too.

Pens and pencils, markers, erasers, paints, glue, scissors, and pencil sharpeners are arranged on shelves behind glass.  Most of those items are sold individually, rather than in jumbo packs.  Great idea, considering I am still hauling around the box of 60 of pencils I bought for Caleb when he started junior high school 12 years ago.  In fact, you can buy individual sheets of construction paper, tissue paper, wrapping paper, and pipe cleaners too.  This makes school supply shopping much more affordable for families.  There is a copy machine on site as well.  My friend found her art supplies and picked up a box of Dramamine for our upcoming boat ride at the same time!  Talk about convenient.

thumbnailI was excited to show Steve all the cool stuff I found.  Always a good sport, he was as enthusiastic as one can possibly be when looking at items purchased from a papelería.  That is until I pulled the Constitución Politica de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos   out of my bag.  He could not look up the word “nerd” in his Spanish Dictionary fast enough.   It is el/la nerd, by the way.  And I will own it.