My Internet Pain Is (Finally) My Dad’s Gain

The good news is that I can now receive WhatsApp and Messenger messages from family and friends wherever I happen to be.  Downtown Guaymas, the beach, on a boat in the Sea of Cortez, and even my house should the internet crash and burn.  That is the bad news- -and the reason I can now be reached wherever I am.  Sometime last Wednesday afternoon our internet died a horrible death.  We are used to somewhat sporadic service, so we waited a day to see if it was a Telemex problem.  It was not.  After trying to call to report the issue, we realized our phone was dead as well.

Yes, if I had only listened to my father a year ago or so, I would have been able to call Telemex on my cell phone to schedule an appointment.  But, since I did not, I had to write a note to Steve explaining why he was going to have to handle this. I gave the note to my mom, who is thankfully on vacation in San Carlos right now, to take to her house.  She copied my note as a text message, and sent it to my husband.  Had we known that Telemex never answers their phone, I could have just driven over and explained in person.  Since we did not, and Steve could not reach me, he had that honor.  At any rate, a claim was filed, and we were told we could expect a response in three to five days.

I panicked.  How would I bombard Caleb with texts all day asking him how he was doing, making sure he had food and was warm enough?  I was at risk of losing my Word With Friends games with my dad by timing out.  I absolutely hate to lose, and he beats me on a regular enough basis as it is.  I had important e-mails I needed to access regarding a charitable fundraiser, Spanish class, and a book discussion.  I needed to update my reading list on Goodreads.  I was missing news reports of Trump’s most recent shenanigans.  Never mind that Steve might actually have real work he needed to do from home.

Yes, I am well aware of how very shallow this sounds.  I think people who “tweet” have a hashtag they use to describe my whining over such insignificant “problems”.  I was not proud of my reaction, but there it was.  It was startling to discover how much I depended on technology now that it was available to me.  (Well, up until Wednesday.)

Bright and early Saturday morning, Telemex arrived to fix the problem.  The technician looked at one of the phone junction boxes across from our house.  He drove down the street to look at another.  He came inside and listened to our phone.  He looked down a little hole in the dirt in the yard next door.  He said the problem was with the wire underground.  He could not fix it; we lived on private property.  He explained that the realtor managing the property next door had been trying for six months to get this fixed, as it affected his listing also.  And then he drove off, not looking back even once.

Steve headed across the street to discuss the problem with the gentleman who rents us our house.  Our addition’s maintenance man, Julio, joined them in a discussion around the little hole in the dirt.   Once he understood the problem, he said he could fix it.  He needed a work order from the hotel next door, since the hotel is kind of, sort of the owner of the addition.  Steve and I headed to the hotel for a work order (and to Oxxo for a Sim card and Amigo Plan minutes).  Our landlord/neighbor attacked the water line cover with a pickax.  (He swears the problem was caused by three guys working on a water leak with a jackhammer.)

thumbnail-1
A neighbor happened by this group and commented that it must be a government job; one guy working, and three standing around.

While I tried to figure out what my new Amigo Plan included, there was a meeting of the minds happening around the little hole in the dirt.  Given the news that a work order was pending, Julio, got right to work.  The others were just there for moral support, I guess.  Within minutes, Julio found and replaced a corroded connector.  We still had no phone or internet, but we were all a little encouraged by this development.  After a two hour long inspection of the underground wire (how this happened, I do not know), Julio concluded that the wire was “no buena”.  His plan was to run a new wire on Monday.

No wire was run today.  We are following up on that work order.  Telmex is still not answering their phone.  In the meantime, I have read three books and completed five crossword puzzles.  I joined a yoga class.  I have also finished a chapter in my Spanish workbook and written three blog posts.  I am now contemplating a jigsaw puzzle.

(Thank you to Shots Bar for the wifi hookup this afternoon.)

A Whale of a Time

Caleb has always been a reader.  He favored non-fiction, so I had the opportunity to learn alongside him when he was small.  His interests varied, but there was usually an animal book or two in the large stack we brought home from the library or purchased ourselves.  We were both fascinated with whale sharks, and he owned multiple books about this amazing animal.

IMG_5423So there was absolutely no way we were going to miss out on the opportunity to snorkel with them while we were in Baja California Sur- -even if it meant Caleb needed to wake up two hours earlier than he would have liked to during a break from school and spend hours in a cramped van with 15 strangers.  Interestingly, we had no problems locating him this time when our ride picked us up at the hotel.

We were first taken to the company “hub”.  While Steve and I checked in, Caleb located a Starbucks.  (His day just kept getting better and better).  We met our fellow snorkelers and guides and loaded onto another van for the trip to La Paz, about an hour and forty-five minutes north of Cabo San Lucas.  We scanned the Pacific Ocean on our left for humpback whales and enjoyed the beautiful desert vista on our right.  It was the best of both worlds, and the trip went quickly.

Once we arrived in La Paz, we did not mess around!  We lined up for wetsuits,DCIM100GOPROG0049310. flippers. snorkels, and masks.  In mere minutes, we were heading down the malecón toward the panga boats waiting for us at the dock.

During our walk, our guide explained that La Paz had recently moved to protect the bay where the whale sharks feed.  Mangrove trees, lining an island in the middle of the bay, were important in the creation of plankton, the whale sharks’ food source.  All boats entering the bay were chipped and monitored from shore to insure they did not violate the rules in place.  If they did, captains risked losing their boating licenses for the following year.

Due to the protections, there was a limit to the number of boats allowed in the bay at a time.  While we waited our turn, we chatted with the guide and learned that his parents lived in Guaymas.  Granted, we probably should have used this time to cover snorkeling basics, but it was much more fun to listen to him reminisce about his favorite beach bar in San Carlos and discuss other hot spots.  Hindsight being 20/20, the tips probably would have been a better idea!

DCIM100GOPROG0179375.Basically, our instructions were to jump over the side of the boat and move toward the whale shark, giving him six feet of space on the sides and front and nine feet around the tail.  That sounded simple enough.   I jumped in, not at all expecting the entire Sea of Cortez to come streaming in my snorkel.  As soon as I cleared it out, I was smacked in the face by a wave.

Some whale sharks stay in one place and feast; others like to play tag.  We had a lot of swimmers!  This meant we were constantly on the move (and constantly being smacked in the face by waves).  Cough, clear snorkel, take a breath, get hit in the face with a wave, drink some sea water, repeat.  Eventually, I abandoned the snorkel and just held my breath.

I am not complaining.  I had it much better than the guy whose wife planned thisDCIM100GOPROG0209392. outing for their second wedding anniversary.  While she gave chase to the whale shark, he was pummeled over and over by the sea, never once getting the opportunity to catch his breath and never getting further than three feet from the boat.  I have a feeling he will be planning next year’s anniversary trip, if the marriage survived this one.

Fortunately, we had one older whale shark who was not at all bothered by people watching him eat.  The sea was teeming with plankton.  He found his spot and was not moving.  I was in awe.  There could not be anything more incredible than experiencing this.  I was completely lost in the moment…

thumbnail

Until I remembered the six/nine rule!  Holy crap!  It looked like I was close enough to touch this guy.  I vaguely remembered the guide mentioning that the whale shark might startle and accidentally hit a person with one of his fins.  The current that had been feeding me waves was now holding me in place under water!  Or was it moving me even closer?  (It is, of course, quite possible that I had no idea what I was doing with those flippers and causing my own problems.)  Eventually, I surfaced and made it back to the boat, only to learn that our face masks made things look closer than they actually were.

It was impossible to keep up with what Caleb and Steve were doing underwater, IMG_5421so I was very pleased to see the two of them on the boat and happy as we headed back to shore.  The trip included a delicious fish taco and fettuccine Alfredo lunch.  Wait.  What?  And the tequila shots took the taste of any salt water out of Steve and Caleb’s mouths.   And they also probably saved that one marriage.

It was an unforgettable day on the water.  The ride back was very quiet (again, thanks to the tequila).  I said a little prayer thanking God for making my son a reader and an animal lover. I also thanked him for giving me Steve, who should have learned his lesson by now but continues to let me plan our vacations anyway.

Man Overboard!

We planned a couple of special activities while we were in Cabo San Lucas.  The first was a glass-bottomed kayak and snorkeling trip to Land’s End and Cabo’s “famous” arch.  Our guides arrived a tad earlier than we expected them, and Steve and I had a moment of panic when we could not locate Caleb.  After waking his neighbors pounding on his hotel room door, Steve found him in the restaurant (wondering what all the fuss was about, no doubt).  We all loaded ourselves into the van, picked up the remaining members of our group, and headed to the beach.

Steve and Caleb must have discussed logistics and kayak assignment beforehand because the next thing I knew I was being pawned off on the guide.  The joke was on them.  Here was my chance to receive expert one on one training!  As it turned out, in addition to paddling tips, I also received a history and geography lesson of the area from our guide.  And there no fear of falling out of the kayak this time.  This trip was definitely a win-win for me!

thumbnailThe bay was full of boats:  pirate ships, pangas, sailboats, and other kayaks.  Due to the number of boats, the water was a bit choppy near the Arch, so we waited for some of the traffic to clear out before entering the somewhat enclosed area where it is located.  I was hoping for an excited reception from the sea lions who lounge in the area.  Unfortunately, we were not the first visitors of the day, and they were no longer interested.  I guess if you have seen one tourist you have seen them all!  It was at this point, Steve most likely questioned his judgment in choosing Caleb over me for the first time.  A lone male sea lion dove into the water.  Like a flash, Caleb maneuvered their kayak closer.

Meanwhile, I was benefitting once again from being with the guide.  He held us steady so thumbnail-1I could focus on taking photos.  It was a bit intimidating to think there was nothing but water, a lot of water, beyond the last rock outcropping.   Instead, I focused on how small the Arch looked.  (Of course, anything in the Pacific would look small.)  I felt immediately guilty for expecting something bigger because it truly was amazing and beautiful.  Then I wondered if I was the sort of person who would see Mt. Everest and comment on how I thought it would be taller.  This led to an internal lecture on being grateful and appreciating the miracle of nature, blah, blah, blah.

We did not have far to paddle before stopping again to snorkel.  Given that we did not pull our kayaks out of the water, I opted to stay aboard and continue to serve as trip photographer.  Honestly, I could just not get past the vision of myself splayed across the thumbnail-2kayak trying to get back in.  Yes, I have been doing some arm work.  No, I was not quite ready to power myself out of the sea onto a boat.  Sea lions look cool sprawled out on the rocks.  Me, on the back of a kayak, not so much.  Steve had never snorkeled before, so I documented this “first”.  Caleb had snorkeled plenty, but it was a terrific opportunity for a new “Insta” photo!

Everyone made it safely back on and in their kayaks, and we headed to shore.  I was preening, listening to the guide tell me what a strong, consistent paddling form I had, when we were surprised by a sudden splash.  Apparently, while I was contemplating asking the guide if he could repeat this in front of my family, one of Caleb’s flippers slipped off the back of his kayak.  In an effort to save his parents the cost of replacing it, he reacted quickly to get it back, losing his hat and sunglasses in the process.  Caleb jumped off of the kayak and into the water, without giving Steve a head’s up.  The kayak was thrown off balance, and Steve was thrown into the water.  The flipper and hat were saved.  The sunglasses and Steve’s dignity were not.

I tried really hard not to gloat on the van ride back to the hotel.  The guide did indeed inform my family of my mad kayak skills.  And I was completely dry.

Culture Shock

Caleb just finished his first semester of law school.  And by finish, I mean he spent 37 hours studying for his his Torts final alone!  If anyone was deserving, er, desperately needing a Christmas getaway, it was our boy.

thumbnailI began planning our trip in June of last year.  I chose Cabo San Lucas as our destination, knowing nothing more than the fact that this was a huge Spring Break destination for classmates in Caleb’s high school class.  He had never gone on the trip with his friends, and it seemed like having survived Contracts and Torts was the perfect reason for discovering what the draw was over his Christmas break.  And while I felt a tad guilty for being such a “typical American”, I felt Caleb needed time to just lay on the beach and soak up some sun.  We could hit more “educational” destinations after his second year- -you know, when law school gets easier.

We were warned about the “time share” guys in the airport.  We were not, however, expecting them to act like they were from our car rental agency.  Yes, we fell for it!  Twice!  It was my fault.  It seemed rude to just ignore someone telling us he was calling the shuttle, then go over a map and highlight our route and main beaches while we waited.  Ugh!  If they would just make their pitch in the first 30 seconds!  We were much quicker the second time.   And yes, I truly felt like a horrible person walking away as soon as Alamo Representative #2 pulled out the map.  Caleb was not fooled.  We found him standing next to our real shuttle driver in an even more overwhelming crowd outside the airport.  This was probably the first time of many he was wishing he had been with his friends, not his parents.

The process for picking up the car was quick and painless, and finally, we were on our way! Thanks to the map provided by Time Share Guy #1 we had no trouble.  Of course, there is only one way out of the airport, a beautiful federal highway, and lots of signs pointing us in the right direction too.  It was exciting to see the opposite side of the Sea of Cortez.  Well, when I could see it through all the hotels, condos, and I assume, time shares!

Our hotel was not on the water.  It was just two stories high.  It was purple and turquoise.  The wifi was horrible.  And I loved it!  We unpacked, regrouped, and headed into the central district to check things out.  It was hard to believe I was still in Mexico.  Nothing about Cabo San Lucas looked like the places I knew:  Nogales, Santa Ana, Hermosillo, Guaymas, Obregon.  There were no potholes in the roads.  There was no trash along the streets.  The desert seemed softer.  Waiters and shop owners spoke English.  Everyone seemed to be paying in dollars.  Music was blaring from all directions.  Almost everyone we passed on the malecón was carrying a beer or margarita.  And wearing a balloon animal hat.  What was that and where could I get one?!  Hostesses were standing in front of clubs with trays of tequila samples.  There were so many choices- -it was a tad overwhelming.

And then the “draw” became much clearer.  A restaurant sign advertising 2×1 margaritas thumbnail-1caught Caleb’s eye.  Yep.  That was where we would eat our first night.  Being an only child can be lonely at times.  But 2×1 margaritas when you don’t have to share is not one of them!

“Music Can Change the World Because It Can Change People”

FullSizeRenderI am still adjusting to a December without gray skies, cold winds, and snow.  For almost all of my life Christmastime meant white, fluffy stuff and freezing temperatures.  Now my head sweats under a Santa hat because it is 73 degrees and sunny, not because I am shoveling snow and scraping ice.  Bright, twinkly lights look amazing on palm trees, but blow up snowmen perched between two cacti seem strange.  Steve and I needed a little help getting into the spirit.  A Christmas concert by the Esperanza Azteca Youth Symphony seemed like the perfect choice.

I do not have very good luck attending symphonies.  In fact, I am pretty sure that when I attended annually with my fifth grade class, I was caught dozing off once or twice by my students.  The Sonora Youth Symphony, however, is the pride of Guaymas.  It was a risk I was willing to take.  Steve does not have a track record of falling asleep at classical concerts- -mostly because he avoids them altogether.  I could practically hear his eyes rolling into the back of his head and his teeth grinding when I walked up to the ticket seller at the Christmas Bazaar and purchased two tickets to the December 17 Christmas performance.  I am also pretty sure I heard a pencil scratching as he made another tally in the “she owes me” column in his Take One for the Team tracker.

The Esperanza Azteca Project is sponsored by a foundation operated by the Salinas Group in Mexico.  Its goal is to improve the quality of life for at-risk youth in low income and underserved communities through music.  The foundation provided all start up costs for the program in Guaymas beginning in 2012.  This included funding for:  brand new instruments, music stands, chairs, rehearsal space and utilities, and teachers.  The expectation for all orchestras receiving the grant is to be self-supporting after one year through performances and local, private, and government financial support.

There are one hundred children performing with the orchestra today.  Seventy of those IMG_5232one hundred had never played an instrument before in their lives.  In addition, there are one hundred children who sing in the choir.  In September, a steel pan drum group was formed and began practicing as well.  Their very first public performance kicked off Sunday’s show.  All members practice five days a week for four hours a day.

The importance of this program is seen and felt in 29 states across Mexico.  There are 54 orchestras and at least 800 music teachers thriving from the opportunities provided by participating in the arts.  These young boys and girls are confident, driven, and excelling in school as a result of their participation.

The reputation of this group of children was well known to most of the audience, who was on its feet from the moment the young musicians walked onto the stage.  They received multiple standing ovations, brought at least one of us to tears with their rendition of “Silent Night”, and treated the audience to three encores.  Parents beamed with pride as the audience around them chanted, “Otra!  Otra!  Otra!”  We hooted, hollered, and whistled our appreciation and admiration.  Admittedly, this is not  typical orchestra viewing behavior.  The audience was passionate about this incredible group of performers and not shy about letting them know.  And no one fell asleep.

thumbnailTwo hours after it began, the concert finally came to an end.  It was announced the group would be back in February for a Valentine’s Day show.  And guess who suggested we buy tickets for that one?!  This gives me a free future tally somewhere!  Now, overflowing with Christmas spirit, Steve and I are headed off to spend some much needed time with our son.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of A Christmas Festival performed at last year’s Christmas concert by Esperanza Azteca Orquestra Sinfónica Sonora!  Happiest of Holidays to all!

 

El Maratón Guadalupe Reyes: Leave Your Running Shoes at Home

IMG_5219Living in San Carlos, Mexico is in many ways like peeling an onion.  I do not mean that I cry a lot.  Quite the opposite, actually.  With each new layer, something I did not know before is revealed.  I was always a big fan of those “aha moments” in my classroom.  How genuinely lucky I am to have them now myself, almost daily.  And while not everything I learn is mind blowing, life changing, or save the world important, this life long learner appreciates each and every opportunity to experience something new about Mexico, its people, and their culture.

For example, last week marked the beginning of El Maratón Guadalupe Reyes.  What?!  Is this a race?  A shopping event?  Another celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe?  It just so happens that it is even better than all of those things.  Guadalupe Reyes marks the time period between the Feast Day de La Virgin de Guadalupe on December 12 and El Día de los Tres Reyes on January 6.  Basically, a month long party of never ending special days!  How did I miss this last year?!  I am so excited to know about it now!

Guadalupe Reyes reminds me of the time period in the U.S.A. between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  More than time spent getting ready for one big celebration on Christmas morning, however, Guadalupe Reyes is about getting together with friends and family for food filled parties, one after another, every day!

Here in Guaymas, the word posada is used to describe any Christmas celebration. IMG_0373
Between December 13-15, my husband attended four Posadas!  Many of his friends made it to even more than that!  El Maratón had officially begun.  Steve enjoyed special Christmas tamales, beans, stews, and sweets at each Posada that he has attended.  A typical Christmas tamal made in Guaymas includes shredded beef, potatoes, onions, chilis, and one green olive.  I may not have attended a Posada, but I am certainly enjoying my share of tamales thanks to all of Steve’s leftovers.  There are many jokes made this time of year about the amount of weight gained during Guadalupe Reyes.  Maybe I am fortunate to have a smaller social circle!

IMG_0381

Further south in Mexico, Posadas will be held nightly from December 16-December 24.  These are more religious in nature.  These nine days of celebration are called the “novena” and signify the nine months that Mary was pregnant with Jesus.  The word posada means “lodging” or “inn”.  The celebrations begin with a procession, led by a couple dressed as Mary and Joseph, through neighborhoods and communities.  Participants carry lighted candles and sing as they weave their way through the streets.  The procession stops at prearranged homes or “posadas”.  A song is sung asking the owner for lodging.  Several times each evening the procession is told “No, there is no room”.   Finally, the group is accepted into a home.  After a prayer around the nativity, a celebration with music, food, sweets, Christmas punch and hot chocolate begins.  There is always a piñata for the children.  The traditional piñata is star-shaped.  The star has seven points, each one representing one of the seven deadly sins.

IMG_0400Piñatas are popular at Christmas time no matter where you live in Mexico.  And truthfully, it does not matter how old you are either.  Steve’s company hosts a Posada for all of its employees each year.  There is always a piñata.  And there are always at least 500+ adults diving onto the floor grabbing candy once it breaks!

Enjoy your special holiday time and traditions with friends and family.  Keep Calm and Guadalupe Reyes, amigos!

Get In My Belly!

thumbnail-5It seemed like no sooner than we returned home from Guaymas for the Christmas Parade, we turned around and went back.  This time we were there for El Festival del Camarón, the Shrimp Festival.  Guaymas is a shrimp fishing port and very well known for the abundance of and the size of shrimp caught in the waters of the Sea of Cortez along its coast.  The season typically begins in September, and its length is determined by the government, so as not to deplete the supply.  Throughout the fall, many men leave their “day jobs” for the opportunity to earn some fast cash.  Fishermen appear in the parking lots of area grocery stores and on street corners selling their shrimp.  The stalls along the main street in Empalme and fish markets in Guaymas are filled with fresh shrimp catches.  This is definitely a good time for a shrimp eater in Sonora!

So, of course, there is a festival to celebrate not only shrimp, but also the fisherman who bring it to us.  The Visitors Center in San Carlos arranged for a shuttle to take hungry, shrimp loving folks like us to the malecón in Guaymas for the hoopla.  Steve and I had never taken a shuttle with the Center before, and I have to admit it was very nice to not have to worry about traffic or parking downtown.  We were able to buy our shrimp tasting tickets on the bus.  This meant no standing in line for them once we arrived.  We jumped off the bus and started sampling immediately!

There were about six local restaurants participating and even a cooking school!  Anything that could be made with shrimp was available for tasting.  We sampled chile rellenos with shrimp, empanadas, machaca, shrimp lasagna, ceviche, and fresh, made right in front of us, corn tortillas overflowing with shrimp, cheese, and vegetables.  (I feel a little bit like Bubba from the Forest Gump movie.)  I discovered a new to me restaurant and found myself in line for their creation more than once.  One restaurant even included rice, salad, and a dinner roll with its offering.  Needless to say, our eyes were bigger then our stomachs, and we passed on some of our extra tickets to a vender, who had just happened to sell us a beautiful handmade basket earlier in the day.

Musicians entertained the crowd from a center stage.  The highlight, however, was the folkloric thumbnail-1dancers.  Wow!  Wearing traditional, brightly colored dresses women were spun across the dance “floor” by their partners.  It was impossible to hold still during the energetic displays.  The audience was caught up in the excitement, clapping, stomping, and trilling.  Even the festival characters dressed in salsa bottle costumes got into the act, dancing with the onlookers.  For a moment I forgot that I was in the middle of a bustling city, imaging myself at a boda del campo, or country wedding, instead.

Venders mingled amongst the crowd selling cotton candy, chamoy apples, churros, elote, and other festival favorites- -just in case you were there for something other than shrimp.  (And yes, I was seriously tempted by the churros but passed this time.)  Children begged parents for balloons and other popular festival toys available.  There were blankets, baskets, embroidered blouses, and other typical handicrafts for sale.  Steve and I visited the Christmas tree and other holiday decorations displayed on the malecón without the overwhelming crowds from the night before.  This also gave us ample opportunity to walk off our lunch!

thumbnailAll too soon it was time to board the bus for our return home.  It is no secret that San Carlos is an expat retirement community.  Therefore, many of its residents are just a wee bit older than the two of us.  We had barely left the parking lot when Steve and I noticed that many of our fellow passengers had nodded off, revealing just one more benefit of taking the shuttle!