Posted by: lianadevine | 18 October 2011

The First Thanksgiving

It’s tough finding whole, ready-to-cook turkeys in Oaxaca in time for Canadian Thanksgiving.  Unless you want one on the hoof.  We almost opted for this in previous years but instead improvised with a Frankenstein-like fabrication of two smoked turkey drumsticks from one store and a rolled turkey breast roast from another.  Now, living across the street from a flock of turkeys that are more of a noise nuisance than those cock-a doodle-dooers that have no sense of time, it gave us a kind of pleasure to sacrifice one to put on our table.  And not just an mmmm-mmmm-good pleasure.

gobbler on the run

Our neighbours help us celebrate Thanksgiving

So as the early Canadians did at their first Thanksgiving, we did for our first Thanksgiving in El Tule: caught one on the run and invited him to dinner.  Our neighbour charged us handsomely for it, but wouldn’t kill and clean it for us.  Instead, I found another neighbour who used to butcher hens and said she would be willing to take on the task, for free.  So Sunday afternoon she arrived with knives in hand, I put on a big pot of boiling water, and we went across the street. Calvin preferred to stay busy in the house while the dirty work was done, but once we returned with the bird and started the cleaning process he did sneak a few peeks and at least one photo.  At the end of it all, we had a 5 kg gobbler better-cleaned than many store-boughts we’d had in the past, and still Doña Conchita refused any payment.  But I had another plan up my sleeve…we took her a warm plate of turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes with gravy, horseradish-topped carrots, zucchini casserole and 3 pieces of pumpkin-praline chiffon pie to enjoy the taste of Canadian Thanksgiving.

this is also how he mixes cement

Calvin surprised me by setting our new oven in place in the new kitchen so I could bake the traditional pumpkin pie, and I hadn’t even noticed our barbecue propane tanks lined up against the kitchen wall with a makeshift line into the gas oven.  Monday, we were full on preparing our full-meal deal for our workers’ lunch break at 1 p.m.  Well, we were only delayed a half hour when we realized that one of the propane bottles had run out, and we didn’t bother to serve the underbaked yam.  But Alex, Leo and Don Adán experienced their first traditional Canadian Thanksgiving dinner, not a chile or tortilla in sight.  We warned them about the aftereffects of turkey tryptophan, and between that and a few cervezas the work on our laundry/sewing room roof went quite slowly the rest of the day.

Not so the day we had poured that roof.  After Don Adán had spent a week breaking out the old concrete roof with a Hilti gun, then 3 days untying all the rebar that had

Don Adan

the ultimate in recycling

held the old roof together, the forms for the roof were built and the forest of roof supports was put into place.  Most of the rubble from the old roof was hauled out to the street to be collected later, but the smaller stuff we used to fill in an area of the yard that will be the patio for the rental casita.  Our workers were prepared to stay late the night before the roof pour to finish tying rebar and putting in the wood forms for our glass skylights, but we were losing light so we sent them home.  The cement crew had been booked for 8 a.m. the next morning, so there was fast-paced action as ALL workers tied rebar and nailed down forms.  Then the cement machine cranked up – both the mechanical component and the human contingent.

makeshift ladder

non-stop cement pour

Well-choreographed, each worker knew what to do, where to go and when; we just tried to stay out of the way.  One team filled the cement mixer with sand, gravel, cement and water in the prescribed amounts and mixed it for the prescribed time, then flipped the mixer over and let the cement pour out for Don Adán to scoop into the waiting buckets of up to 5 workers.  It was an intense hour and a half as the conga line of workers hoisted the cement-filled buckets onto their shoulders, scurried up the improvised stairs and dumped it down on the roof where Leo and Galdino directed.  Back down the ladder (past others coming up) to refill the bucket…rinse and repeat.  Alex passed out well-deserved beer after the pour, the cement team cleaned up their machine, loaded it into their truck and drove off, leaving Leo and Galdino to vibrate and float the new roof into place.

Two weeks have passed since that roof was poured and the bosque of roof supports still stands, waiting for their next use under the roof of the casita.  Meantime, Galdino started the petatilloroof that Alex swears will not leak.  This style of waterproofing involves a herringbone-patterned layer of thin brick over the cement roof with a thin layer of cement over it that seals up the spaces between the brick and miraculously prevents water from filtering through.


Calvin can never NOT change something

Alex says he will sleep fine at night knowing we will not have any leaks and centuries of Oaxacan buildings seem to prove him right.  I bought a gargoyle to spit out rainwater – we’ve often admired the variety of creatures available – but ours is a mean-looking pig that will remind us not to be “water hogs”.

I made the executive decision on the gargoyle in Calvin’s absence: he spent a fun and rewarding week in Reynosa assisting a team of engineers in troubleshooting their injection molding system.  So as the patrona, it was up to me to make the decisions on our house, which at first seemed daunting, but turned out fine because there weren’t  any to be made.  Leo spent three days laying our kitchen floor tile in the pattern we’d specified previously and I assisted by cleaning the excess glue from the grout lines until my fingers blistered.

herringbone pattern

Oaxaca Waterproofing

Then he continued the petatillo roof that Galdino had started because now Leo and Don Adán were the only workers with us, a sign the project is winding down.  Don Adán prepped the casita by knocking out the back wall of the bathrooms, giving us a “loo with a view” until we had to move the water tank on the roof to a sturdier location and we lost water supply to that building.  But the walls of the bathroom addition are going up and the casita looks like our Google Sketchup plan.  Alex keeps promising only two more weeks until they’re done, and this time I almost believe him.

Posted by: lianadevine | 21 September 2011

48 months later…

Four years ago today we dropped our house keys in the kitchen drawer, hugged each other on the back door landing…he said “Goodbye House” and started to tear up.  She quickly responded “Hello Money”, hit the garage door opener one last time, and we ran out before it closed.  We hopped into our converted 1957 Greyhound bus-house, drove about 50 feet, then stopped and mooned for our former neighbours’ security cam.  We were on the road to Mexico…

Within the year we had found “a place to be from”, as in, “Where are you from?”  Whether we realized it or not in March of 2008, Oaxaca was in our blood.  This was confirmed in February-March 2009 when we attempted a one-way trip to Uruapan, and only made it as far as Cuernavaca.  Both these places held promise as pockets of green with a temperate climate, but it was rumoured that Michoacán was becoming more dangerous and we found “big city” culture in Cuernavaca, not the small-town, know-your-neighbours Mexico we wanted.  Besides, costs and traffic in the Big City (Oaxaca included) were a turn-off.  El Tule, only 15 km from the conveniences and culture of Oaxaca, fit the bill.

Today, we are a month into our renovation project – converting a former restaurant on a quiet cul-de-sac into our home.  The open design of the existing palapa-type structure gave us the freedom to enclose spaces with walls, or not.  And we have no problem having a 35+foot bus parked in our living room…it is and will be our bedroom.

vanity form with sink roughed in

Planning for the sink and fixtures BEFORE the cement slab is poured

We put a little adobe house just inside the front door of the “Big Top”; this will be the classroom/office, so Leanne’s English students need not traipse through the entire property to come to class.  Also in the adobe is our main bathroom, rustically decorated with talavera sink and tiles, but strategically stuccoed for practicality.  We are becoming accustomed to cement construction techniques, which result in big, blocky “Flintstone-like” cabinets.  Unlike familiar wood construction, cut-outs for sinks and fixtures have to be planned in advance and built into the form before the counter slab is poured.  Walls of the cabinets are built of block or brick, so are thicker than MDF used in Canadian homes, resulting in less usable interior space.  Cabinets are stuccoed inside to provide a paintable bug-deterring surface and the cupboard floor is another poured slab, polished smooth for easy cleaning.  Calvin plans to build wood doors on our cabinets and has been eyeing a table saw currently on sale at Sears.  We also went on an appliance-buying binge, out of necessity because the workers needed to know the dimensions of the fridge and stove to build the kitchen counters.  It’s been a manic experience to be thrilled about picking out the appliances of our dreams then choking a little as we dole out the cash upfront to pay for them.  Yikes! Fridge, stove and washer all in one week!  Cha-ching!!!

where's my ceiling?

Thick, water-saturated concrete loaded with an overabundance of heavy-duty rebar

But the classroom and bathroom are almost done, the sewer line has been installed and the kitchen is quickly taking shape.  With our construction team, the work is split up and moves along well: Leo finishes the bathroom tiling with Calvin’s help, Galdino builds the kitchen wall and Chiro supplies them both with the proper amount and kind of mortar.  Meanwhile, Don Adan has been breaking out the cement slab ceiling over the former kitchen with both the Hilti gun and a sledgehammer – really hard work in the sun, all day for a week.

It’s not all hard work though.  We broke early on September 16 to celebrate Mexico’s Independence Day with a traditional Mexican meal of pozole, a pork, corn and chile based soup, though my variation included lots of roasted vegetables.  Dessert was chocoflan and Theresa brought a gelatin heart to share.  Besides the work crew, we’d invited Theresa (she’s like part of our family here) and our next door neighbours, from whom we get our internet connection.  It was a really nice evening and we were pleased to share an important occasion with our new Mexican friends – on Alex’s insistence, everyone said a few words before the pozole was dished up.  Gee, I can hardly wait til Thanksgiving next month when we do it all again.  I’m sure we’ll still be in construction then.

Viva MexicoLeanne dishes pozole for our Mexican friends
corta corta corta

our textured bathroom floor tile was tough to cut, so Calvin took on the project

no registro

Calvin installs a cleanout en route to the septic field

Posted by: lianadevine | 30 August 2011

What a Week it Was!

We started the week with a chalk line on the floor and vague notions of how we wanted our classroom/office and bathroom to end up.  Monday, this became the cutting line, to remove the existing brick floor to pour a cement foundation that would support the heavy adobe brick walls.  Since we hoped to preserve the brick floor in the classroom and entry, Calvin was very particular how the cutting and excavating was done, even modifying the angle grinder and demonstrating proper technique for a clean cut.  Our first deliveries of cement and gravel arrived, the trucks driving in through the gaping hole in the front wall.

Cruz Azul, of course

Drive-In Cement Delivery

Calvin and I realized we needed to map out the plumbing and electrical in order to get supplies and be one step ahead of the workers’ needs.  Don Adan busted out the bathroom floor with a Hilti gun while Leo and Giro made rebar forms for the castillos and cadenas.  When the work crew left at 7 p.m. Monday I felt like it was too late to cook anything so we ordered pizza and veged out for the night – but we considered it had been a good day’s start.

Tuesday began early when the sand truck showed up just after 7 a.m.  As we were about to drive into Oaxaca to meet Alex, the adobe delivery arrived, so our departure was delayed a few minutes to direct traffic, snap a few pix and admire our expensive cow-shit and dirt soon-to-be-wall material.  At Ferretubos, Calvin and Alex ordered the plumbing supplies and PVC pipe while I browsed the tile and toilets…and paid the bill.  The day ended with a cement outline – the cadenas – of where the walls would be.  Wednesday’s excitement was seeing the first adobe laid, after much discussion about how to tackle the curved bathroom wall.  The 22x44cm adobe blocks needed to be trimmed into a wedge shape, which Calvin pitched in to do with his circular saw -Alex’s angle grinder wasn’t cutting it (pun intended!). With Don Adan and Calvin both cutting block and Giro mixing up batches of cement, Maestro Leo got the whole area blocked out to the level of wall plug-ins.  Alex arrived back at the end of the day with boxes of tragaluces to make our glass block bathroom wall.  Thursday morning, we noticed that the heavy rain the night before had given our baby wall a natural weathered look, which we quite liked.

the natural look

Naturally Weathered Adobe

Calvin spent Thursday as an electrician, laying in the conduit and Friday he was a plumber, hooking up the bathroom drainage system.  I was just the go-fer.  More discussions took place as Leo got the walls tall enough to start with the tragaluces; on Calvin’s suggestion rebar was welded into place to act both as a spacer and as reinforcement.  Saturday’s challenge, then, was to get the first row of glass block in, evenly-spaced, level and with the proper curve.  The first attempt didn’t satisfy Calvin’s sense of esthetics, but Alex and Leo were good about taking them out and trying again, after Calvin realized that the wire form he had made to reinforce the future “windowsill” was at the proper curve and measurements only need be taken from it to get the curve right.  Leo earned his beer and again proved why he deserved his Maestro title.

We had warned Alex and the crew that Calvin was demanding, so they have been careful about cleaning up excess cement on floor areas we want to protect, making sure each block and wall is square, level, straight and true, checking with us if anything is in doubt and have been really accommodating if something isn’t quite what we had in mind.  Calvin is a perfectionist and he wants our house to be up to his high standards while retaining its Mexican character.  So he’s come to realize the odd-shaped adobe blocks can’t all be perfect, though the mortar holding them together will even up any errors.

Leo earns a beer

Maestro Leo earns a beer

We were satisfied with the first week’s progress – the walls are about 1/3 of the way there – but personally, we found the week stressful in having to make decisions on the fly, hastily running out for supplies, actually putting in a 10 hour workday on somebody else’s timetable.  We’ve never built a house before, though many of our friends and family have; our armchair experience up to now has clearly not prepared us for the realities.  We want to enjoy the process but find we are always trying to forecast which aspect of the project will pop up next and hopefully be prepared for it.  We realize we are woefully unprepared, though we thought we had been scouting supplies, equipment and furnishings all along.  Now when we’re down to the nitty gritty, we find we have to know whether the bathroom lights will be mounted on the wall or hang from the ceiling, we have to have definite dimensions for the talavera sink we’ve long admired but not yet purchased, because making the vanity depends on it.  Those of you who have been here, done this will laugh at our predicament but I encourage you to encourage us with some constructive construction comments.

One more thing I want to mention in the early phase of our building: it’s typical for construction projects in Mexico to have a name that goes on the plans, the building permit as well as a sign on the completed house. I’ll quote from my printed-in-full-colour-at-horrific-expense e-book Build your Home in Mexico by Ed Kunze, “It could be as simple as Residencia de Sr. y Sra. John Smith, or more descriptive, as to identify the spirit of the home. A few examples of names that took on the owner’s perception of the home’s character are: House that Sings (Casa Que Canta), Blue Sea (Mar Azul), Arches (Los Arcos). It is a good idea to start thinking about a name for your ‘proyecto‘ as soon as you start thinking about the layout.  Choosing the name will either come very easy to you, or it may take on a life of its own.”  To that end, I propose the provisional name “Casa Calma” because calma (pronounced CAHL-mah) is Spanish for calm AND in the ever-popular acronym style of Mexican names for things (Pemex, for Petreóleos Mexicanos )…Calvin’ name becomes CalMa. Muy lista, ¿verdad? Comments?

Posted by: lianadevine | 21 August 2011

And Now the Fun Begins/Ahora comienza el trabajo…jajajaja!

The last week of June was a whirlwind of activity, packing up 3 years of accumulated bus-overflow, cleaning out our comfortable rut in order to vacate the Oaxaca Trailer Park which was set to close on June 30.  But this is Mexico, and though our promise to buy/sell contract stipulated a June 30 possession date, that didn’t happen.  Nor did the OTP really close – YET.

July 1:  Within an hour of arriving in Santa María Del Tule, Calvin had modified the gate, bonsai’d a few trees and smoothly piloted the bus into its temporary spot in our new yard, to the amazement of the vendors who I’m sure didn’t believe it would fit.

at Cal.Ma Rest & Repair

Our new digs

The unpacking and organizing went smoothly, but since we didn’t own the place outright, we spent the next 6 weeks spinning our wheels, figuratively.  We bought a weedeater to tackle the grass encouraged to grow by the daily rains.  We bought 500 hexagon pavers and put down a temporary patio to escape the mud also due to the daily rains.  We bought a mailbox, painted a big 2 on it (our lot number) and hung it on the front gate, bought a garbage pick-up permit and started getting up at 6:30 Sunday and Wednesday mornings to hand over the proper waste to the right truck, because, surprise! El Tule recycles!  We also discovered, to Spike’s delight, that we had a morning “ding-dong” that signalled breakfast time: the Palacio Municipal chimes Las Mañanitas at 6 a.m. daily and the Himno Nacional at 6 p.m. (Spike and Puma’s suppertime).

As we worked in our new yard, we made a point of saying buenos días to our new neighbours and introducing ourselves.  On daily walkabouts into the nearby shopping area, we discovered what supplies were available where and the locals discovered we weren’t just tourists dropping by to see the famous tree.  However skeptical about foreigners moving to li’l ol’ Tule, without exception we have been made to feel welcome, with bouquets of garden flowers, presents of baked goods and fruit, offers of help and invitations to visit coming from our new neighbours.

All three of our cats have transitioned nicely: Spike is allowed to ramble our fenced property at will, provided he has his collar on, which he asks for often!  Puma rarely leaves the bus – he knows where the gettin’ is good – but we are encouraging him to explore because once we are under the Big Top, his house will be outside the bus.  Gaby, our latest feral adoptee, spent almost 3 weeks in the men’s bathroom acclimatizing until we let her out.  We hoped that if we set her free and she came back, she was ours.  A nervewracking night passed before her hungry belly backtracked to ask for lunch.  Now she patrols the yard and keeps the gecko population in check.

Fast-forward to August 17, when we completed the deal to buy our new property: the Mexican owners arrived from NYC and we made an appointment at the notary’s office to sign the contract and pay the money.  In full.  Now it’s all ours!

Our New Home

Our New Home/Nuestra Nueva Casa

August 18, our architect/contractor Alex arrived to review our plans and map out the strategy for the reno/construction.  Just after he left, the owners and family arrived for a visit and to explain how the building had been constructed.  We learned the foundations were skookum enough to support a second floor, which had been their original plan. Calvin and I were really pleased to talk some more with the owners and their kids, to get to know them a bit better and share our plans to create our home from their restaurant.  We invited them to stop in anytime they’re back in Oaxaca to see how it all ends up.

August 19, Alex and his workers arrived to unload some of their equipment and break out the front wall – the first step of the process.  We’d need this space opened eventually to get the bus in under the roof, and having it open now would facilitate bringing in supplies – think “drive-in” – and provide access for the Thing to park under cover.






Hammer Time


Corta, Corta, Corta






Tomorrow, Monday August 22, the whole work crew arrives to begin in earnest.  Alex says it will take a month.  But this is Mexico…

Posted by: lianadevine | 26 June 2011

The Wheels are in Motion

After 3 years (!) in our comfortable rut in the Oaxaca Trailer Park, we have finally found a permanent home for us and our bus. The entire trámite, which has yet to play out, will be a story for another day. But here’s the nitty-gritty:

We first saw this property over a year ago, and while Calvin was immediately taken by it, I was less-enthused. It was a former restaurant, a big, palapa-like structure on 840m2 of nicely-landscaped property on a quiet side street in Santa Maria del Tule, Oaxaca. The price seemed beyond our budget and we had yet to view another 69 rejects before confirming that yes, this WAS the right place AND at the right price.

Negotiations back and forth over 3 months led to last Friday’s signing of a “promise to buy/sell” with a target possession date of June 30, in time to satisfy our OTP “eviction notice” (another future post).

So…the wheels are in motion, figuratively now and soon-to-be literally, as we prepare for the 15 km move. Then will be the renos to turn “La Verbena del Tule” into our new home.

Posted by: lianadevine | 1 July 2009

Oh Canada!

It’s Canada Day 2009 as I sit and write this, having just returned to Oaxaca from a 3-week visit to “the Old Country”.  As Calvin had done in March, I had to do in June – return to BC to renew my Canadian Driver’s License.  It was my first trip back since leaving Kamloops and Canada in September 2007 and I was determined to make the most of the time and money it took me to get there.

I truly enjoyed seeing family and friends in person rather than via webcam, visiting my old haunts, marvelling at the changes over the past two years.  It felt like a familiar place, but not really “home” anymore.

Oh Canada!  Your weather was disappointing!  I forgot how long the late spring days are in the North Country, but really, snow in June?  Many tank tops became increasingly crumpled in the bottom of my suitcase and I borrowed sweaters and jackets in four western provinces.

Oh Canada! You drown me in excesses, from the shower water washing down the drain to the years of accumulated stuff in every home.  While it was nostalgic to see some of our former “stuff” displayed in the homes of friends, I wonder what will they do with it all?

Oh Canada! Your bureaucracy is truly amazing, if variable.  No line-ups to pay the money and take the photo, but how long does CanadaPost need to deliver the treasured, semi-permanent, permit?  I’ve learned to love waiting in line in Mexico, carrying a book and a portfolio of all possible papers with me on any mission I intend to accomplish.

Oh Canada! The health care gods have continued to curse you, resulting in cursing at the front-line staff level.  Now I need a map and a guidebook to negotiate my former workplace, but I probably won’t be visiting again: too many new faces, too many grumpy old ones.

Oh Canada! Where twenty dollar bills fly out of pockets with alarming regularity and nary a blink.  If you knew how long I worked to earn the equivalent and how long I can make it last…would you believe me?  I saw no signs of economic shutdown – building, spending, hurrying around like there’s no tomorrow.

Oh Canada!  Where traffic stops at the thought of a pedestrian but not at the cost of fuel.

Oh Canada!  What’s in the news? Who’s in the headlines?  What will it cost?  Who gives a damn?

This isn’t a rant as such, just a lament that my home and native land has become so foreign to me and how we’ve chosen to live.  Life in Mexico isn’t perfect either, it’s just become our comfort zone.  But I’ll never give up my Canadian passport, I’m still proudly Canadian and will likely always pepper my English with “eh?”

Oh Canada!  Thank you for giving me a eye-opener of international proportions.  In the scheme of things, you’re a means to a different end.

Happy Canada Day to all Canadians, wherever you find yourself today.


Posted by: lianadevine | 22 March 2009

Last Thursday in Paradise

Thinking back on Thursdays in my life, not counting the Thursday that I was born, I’d have to say this past Thursday was one of the better ones. In my previous life, I used to dread Thursdays like some people dread Mondays (see “This was MY Thursday” – January 2008 – for the backstory), anticipating a day-from-hell in the Histology Lab. But that was then and there – this is here and now. “Here” is our little piece of Paradise, Number 6 Tabachines Street in the Trailer Park Campestre, just south of the little town of Chiconcuac, sort of in the neighbourhood of Cuernavaca, Morelos. And “Now” is my between-jobs time when I get to do what I want, when I want, especially since Calvin’s not here at the moment.

How does a single gal live it up in Paradise? Here’s my day:

Naturally, Spike wants breakfast before the crack of dawn. I stall him until at least 6:30, but with the birds singing outside he’s hard to convince it’s not “daytime” already. I want to grab 40 more winks…

Not wanting to waste too much of my day, I get up and make a coffee-woffee…though my stash is running low, I HAVE TO use it up because the best before date is TODAY. But I sit and sip it while enjoying the rest of my breakfast, peanut butter and banana toast, and watch the rest of a very inspirational movie I’d started a few days before. I think our friend Rolene left it for us, and because it has the G-word in the title, Calvin doesn’t have any interest in it, but I find it quite thought provoking. So much so, I surf a little to find out more, until I hit a wall of ads that leaves me cold on the subject. Into the shower. I think about Rolene, the Walker from San Diego, walking to Santiago, and send her good vibes for her Grassroots Environmentalists’ Conference starting today in Oaxaca.  Wish I could’ve been there.

Sewing Room in the Shade - Paradise!

Sewing Room in the Shade - Paradise!

I assemble my equipment and move it out to the patio…ahhhh, an outdoor sewing room, how very delightful!

To relieve the 36C heat, a light breeze blows under the awning, flapping my design wall clothespinned to my laundry line. But all the blocks in my design-challenged quilt have been carefully pinned into place, so nothing goes astray. It’s only me, from time to time forgetting how Mary-Ellen wants me to pick up my blocks in sequence, that causes me to re-invent my own pattern, then take it apart to fix. But I’m not upset at all…how could I be? I’m in Paradise.

A small pick up truck stops in front of the bus and the man asks if I want to buy some Oaxaca cheese. Do I??? Do I!!! The Morelos version of “Oaxaca cheese” has left us disappointed, so of course I jump at the opportunity, but check his license plates and question whether this is FROM Oaxaca or is only “Oaxaca-style” cheese. Well, he’s from Puebla, he says there’s no cattle in Oaxaca, so how can they really make the cheese there anyway…he dumps what I suppose is water, and hope is actually bottled water over his hands, then unwinds a thick strand of cheese from a huge ball taken from a cooler in the truck box. “It’s only me, after all,” I tell him, “I can’t eat a whole kilo myself…” (before it goes bad like the local stuff did, I add to myself). It’s not really a bargain, but I’ve been longing for proper Oaxaca cheese, so it’s worth the 33 pesos. Mmmmmmm, my quesadilla lunch is just what I was after.

Karen Skypes me on her lunch break and I tell her about my fabulous day. Calvin’s been staying at her place, but hasn’t let her know if he’ll be there again tonight. We discuss and laugh about houseguests and house”pests” we have known…

I continue sewing through the afternoon, enjoying Spanish music meant to help entertain the gardeners working in the site next door. Earlier, I’d asked our friendly gardener  “Curly” to cut down a palm frond that was touching our roof, thinking it was the access point of the microscopic ants that had invaded our bus. I  watch Curly and the rest raking and mowing to the Latin beat, in preference to anything else in our eclectic music collection. By four p.m. I’m on such a roll, I record my telenovela “Atrevete a Soñar” and work toward a logical endpoint by about 4:30.  I’d promised Andrea to pick up a plant for her, and I remembered the vivero re-opened at 4 until 6.  I unwrap the Thing from its car cover and make the short trip into town, detouring by the vet’s to see if it’s OK to bring Spike by for his shots.  Dra. Paula isn’t there, but her assistant tells me she’ll be back in a half hour.  I return to the nursery and pick up the coveted 3-branched Cacaloxuchitl (plumeria to you and me) sapling, a bonsaied Adenium that reminds me less of a BC dogwood today than it did the first time I saw it, and the fragrant gardenia that Andrea has vowed to keep alive longer than the Oaxacan varieties she’s had poor luck with so far.  The friendly owner reminds me about sunlight and watering needs, and as she scatters ant killer on one of the pots before taking it to the car for me, she shares a client’s secret for getting rid of insect pests on foliage: Roma laundry detergent.  “Only that brand?” I ask. “Yes.”  Driving home, I smugly calculate the exchange for the beautiful plants I’ve bought: about $21 Canadian for all three.

New Plants Add to the Sewing Room

New Plants Add to the Sewing Room

Back at the bus, I carefully arrange my new babies to take advantage of the last of the sunshine, then gather Spike into his harness and carrying case.  It’s been more than half an hour – a Mexican half hour at that – and Dra. Paula hasn’t returned from her errands.  Spike is restless in his confined space, so I let him out on the leash…he KNOWS where we are.  But Dra. Paula drives up in a few minutes, Spike is as good as gold having a shot in the hip, and we’re back in the car ten minutes and 100 pesos later.  Just in time to stop by the tiendita where Daly knows I love her icecream bars.  I tell her I don’t feel any guilt only buying one, my husband’s away today.  As I dash back to Spike waiting in the idling car, I wonder “Gee, did I sound too gleeful about that ?”

Sitting back, savouring my irish coffee and pecan-flavoured treat while Spike nibbles a little of the freshly-cut grass, I reflect on the good progress I’ve made on my long-delayed quilt, still hanging on the sheet I’m using as an improvised design wall.  Crunch the cat comes for a look at what food I might have for her, but I remind her that chocolate is for people.  I miss the garbage can as I toss away the empty stick, and she sniffs it with disdain – nothing of interest anyway.  When I get out the hose to water the lawn, she hightails it, thinking she’s in trouble again.  But I’m aiming at the grass, waving the water in time with the tunes, and I sneak a splash at Curly, now piling sand and gravel in the street to make a big pile of concrete.  They’re putting in a patio for the neighbours’ gazebo.

They work through the fading light and into a drizzly evening.  The third hour of telenovela finishes recording while I dismantle my sewing room.   I sit down to watch for the evening, eating supper in front of the tele like I would at home.  The Oaxaca cheese tastes good on the tostadas I make, and burn,  talking to Calvin on Skype.  Oops.

Karen Skypes me again from home, and between us we decide that popcorn is the thing – she to watch “Survivor”, me to finish “En Nombre del Amor“.  It’s good to be the grown-up.  Even fast forwarding through commercials, it takes me awhile to watch the day’s episodes, then it’s time for bed.  Spike has beat me to it, as he often does.  Cats have their own schedule and pretty much ignore what their people are doing.  It’s good to be the cat.

“Good night, daddy, wherever you are, ” I tell Spike, as I turn off the light.

This WAS the last Thursday in Paradise, because next Thursday, we hope to  pull out early enough to beat the traffic jam of 22 Quebec RVs due to leave the park.  I hope they’re not headed to Oaxaca like we are…

Posted by: lianadevine | 8 March 2009

Return to Paradise

Though we arrived in Cuernavaca from the east this trip, and a little less stressed than our previous blind wanderings from the north, we found our paradise pretty much the way we had left it.  We had stayed at the Trailer Park Campestre outside of Chiconcuac, south of Cuernavaca, just before Christmas in 2007; now the trees are a little taller, the bamboo hedges a little fuller and our friendly camp mascots, Pepper the dog and Crunch the cat soon came out to greet us.  It was evident that continuing improvements were being made, and the increased camp fees were funding them.

Paradise Revisited

Paradise Revisited

We got set up on a nice spot with fresh lava rock beside the paving block patio, with lovely green grass for Spike to graze.  Yes, it was paradise to see such greenery, not even in the rainy season yet.

Over the next couple of days, we got in touch with Cathy and Christine, our friends here who have Casa Chocolate B&B and arranged to come over for a visit.  The morning we came by, they had guests who were enjoying their comfortable beds until the last possible moment, so we lucked out and shared the decadent three-course breakfast with Cathy and Christine and their guests Lillian and Alejandra.  We enjoyed the food and conversation in the relaxed setting of their sunny terrace by the sparkling pool, then had a tour of the finished B&B.

Back at the bus, Calvin set out to discover the source of the overheating problem, and in getting the thermostats out of their hiding place in the bowels of the bus to check them, broke the thermostat housing.  When the cursing died down, he got busy online to try to track down a replacement housing.  One of the improvements in the park was the addition of wireless internet, but we found it intermittent and slow at best, non-existent at worst, necessitating a drive into nearby Chiconcuac to the internet cafe we had frequented previously.  Eventually we connected with Ted at Coach Maintenance and made arrangements for the parts to be shipped.

While we waited for the parts, we made exploratory excursions to several nearby suburbs of Cuernavaca: Temixco, Xochitepec, Tezoyuca and Emilano Zapata, getting our bearings and assessing the feasibility for settling into the community.  I had a job interview, which, while I knew was not realistic so soon, might leave a door open for something later in the summer or in the fall.  I tracked down several quilters, after Cathy and Christine put us onto a Yahoo Group for newcomers to the Cuernavaca area; we’ve now visited two of them and in addition to meeting two nice couples, have discovered other residential neighbourhoods and I got a bit of a quilt fix satisfied.  We took Spike to the nearest vet as a followup to a treatment we’d started before we left Oaxaca, then returned to her the following Monday with a wounded egret Calvin discovered in the park.  Through Paula, the vet, we met Lucy, a biologist who keeps birds as well, and is into greening the planet.  I visited her and saw her compost system, her greenhouse with symbiotic plants and even her “experiment” raising beetle grubs (in her kitchen!) for sale to sport fishermen.  Her chorus line of 6 dogs of all sizes greeted me at the gate – these are therapy dogs, so even the biggest is mild-tempered, and her noisy aviary included various parrots, a macaw, budgies and a mama-to-be cockatiel.  Not to mention her little monkey, who eats those beetle grubs like candy.
Lucy’s budding garden, recently planted, promises fresh organic tropical fruits well within the 100 KM the current diet rage advocates.  It’s a paradise I dream of having someday ourselves.  Well, except for the beetle grubs in the kitchen and the monkey who eats them…

We like the weather and greeness of Cuernavaca, its proximity to both Mexico City and Acapulco, and the norteamericano-style shopping available.  But the city lacks the colourful indigenous culture we realize we took for granted in Oaxaca.  In fact, Nancy, a quilter who moved here from Mexico City, says she can’t really describe the “personality” of Cuernavaca, always a resort town for visitors from the Capital.  It’s not really colonial, sort of cosmopolitan, but lacks the cultural depth developed over centuries of history.  Its citizens, while friendly and helpful, are largely DF transplants, or worse, weekend warriors who keep a house in the “City of Eternal Spring” to spend time in when the weather in DF is not as pleasant.  A realtor took us to look at a property in the neighbourhood “Burgos”: a gated community filled with large, extravagant weekend homes, likely each with a pool hidden behind the eight-foot high walls, but not a tortilleria, tienda or taco stand in sight.  That is not the Mexico we want to live in.

On Lucy’s encouragement, we drove outside the city to Miacatlán, then on to Coatlán del Río, in search of small-town Mexico with an agreeable climate.  They were a little bit too far from Cuernavaca to be seriously considered, but confirmed for us that these places do exist in the state of Morelos, “Land of Liberty and Work”.  We’ll just have to keep looking to find our paradise.

Posted by: lianadevine | 26 February 2009

Such is Serendipity

Those who know me know I’d have a route and a schedule to follow as we left Oaxaca and headed into Mexico’s interior.  When my planned Sunday departure was literally thrown to the wind – we flew a new kite with Andrea and her kids Tilman and Merle Saturday after work

Spike reluctantly says "adios" to Auntie Theresa

Spike reluctantly says "adios" to Auntie Theresa

– it only followed that the route would also evolve.  So Monday morning, February 2 (Día de Candelaria),  we bid a hearty goodbye to Eucario at the Oaxaca Trailer Park, and following my usual walk to work, we struck out on the toll road toward Mexico City, intending to make Cuernavaca by nightfall.

The first leg of the toll road, though expensive (196 pesos for 42 km) was our proving ground, assuring Calvin that the bus was running smoothly after more than 10 months at rest.  Turbo boost good, jake brakes fine, breezing along in very light holiday traffic.  We returned to the free road at Nochixtlán and continued winding and climbing through the Oaxacan mountains toward Huajuapan.  But between the climbs in altitude and temperature during the day, our engine began to run increasingly warm.  Calvin compensated by diverting heat into the bus, but we eventually had to make a few roadside stops to allow the motor to cool down.  Always something.

We considered stopping for the night at Izucar de Matamoros, well short of our goal, but the bustling little pueblo did nothing for Calvin, who opted to press on.  Cuautla was only 60 km beyond, with a Sam’s Club and WalMart where we hoped to stop, shop and stay.

But I guess nobody told the Mexicans that WalMart is a favourite RV campground: after we had been in and spent more than we would have at an RV park, security asked us to leave.  They suggested we try the bus depot in nearby Oaxtepec.  I grumbled about missing out on the free parking, but at least the bus depot was easy to find, considering it was now after dark.  Of course, the bus depot was too busy to allow squatters, but the friendly security gal kindly showed us to a large lot next door where we could enquire about parking from the security there.

In truth, this was the IMSS facility I had noted in our Mexican campground guide, and had considered directing us to when it became apparent we would not be going all the way in to Cuernavaca before dark.  Yes, they would allow us to park there, for a fee…Again, I grumbled about missing out on free parking and 140 pesos to sit for 12 hours in a parking lot seemed a bit steep. But we settled in and I heated up our Día de Candelaria supper: Doña Lupita’s tamales de frijol and  salsa verde.  We were just starting to eat, taking photos

Happy Tamale Day!

Happy Tamale Day!

to share with Kyle and Pilar, when the security guard showed up to take me to the office to pay our rent.

As we drove beyond the lit parking lot where the bus sat quite near the arched entranceway, I started to wonder what kind of place we were actually in.  We drove for several minutes through grassed parkway lined with buildings, and I noted a mini-super and a couple of pizza restaurants before we parked in a wooded area.  The man in the office was friendly and very thorough, explaining with a map what areas we were now entitled to visit as he wrapped a bracelet around my wrist.  I paid more attention on the return trip, so Calvin and I could come back and explore in the morning before hitting the road again.

The park was so large that we took the Thing, driving the route I’d gone the previous night then beyond, up the hill where the map said the Stadium was.  Stadium??  Yes.  This was the site of the 1968 Olympics, featuring more than 20 swimming pools, where the aquatic events were held.  The Mexican Government, specifically the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS, who also provides the medical coverage that Calvin and I are enrolled in) took it over and has turned it into a vacation destination of sorts.

Oaxtepec Cabana

Oaxtepec Cabana

We saw many cabañas, that I could only imagine had been the “athletes’ village”, each with a little pool on its patio.  These are now rented out, as are rooms in several hotels on site.  The huge tent camping area I’d been to the night before – with a capacity for 4000 – rounded out the guest housing.  Several onsite restaurants, bars and of course the swiming pools, hot tubs, video arcades, football fields, Olympic sized track, and a new waterpark kept visitors active and entertained.  The full convention facilities now available attracted a different clientele, providing both hightech amenities and highclass accommodations in a prestigious and exotic site.  From the  Torre Parlementaria that crowned the hilltop, offering a commanding view to conventioners, a cable car would deliver you back to the geodesic-domed natural sulfur pool near the entrance.

We were impressed at every turn with the immaculate grounds and the number of employees busily sweeping, clipping and mowing.  The diversity of facilities for every taste, interest and price range was amazing.  Who would not enjoy a sojourn here, whether a family day at the waterpark, a boy scout campout with activities galore or a retreat that provided for both business and pleasure?  It turned out 140 pesos was not so bad to make this fortuitous discovery afterall.

Posted by: lianadevine | 1 February 2009

Been There, Done That, Got the T-shirt

Hard to believe it’s almost been a year since we set up house in the Oaxaca Trailer Park – last March.  We’ve discovered the OTP is perfectly located for walking almost anywhere we need to go – to work, to the Zócalo, shopping, restaurants, the vet, our local IMSS clinic, auto parts places, you name it, we’ve found it, somewhere in the neighbourhood.

In fact, we’ve become the resident experts as other RVers roll in and need a laundromat, an internet fix or a quick and cheap copy shop.  Calvin has enjoyed the interaction and has even put his tools and talents to use again fixing various problems caused by vehicles not faring so well over the mountainous roads that lead from any direction into Oaxaca.  But it’s snowbird season, and the ambiance in the park is changing.  With only two months left until we need to renew our FM3 visas, we thought we should take advantage of the opportunity to make a move…

We had skipped past several places in the interior of Mexico on our make-time trip to Bacalar before Christmas 2007.   We’d intended to look at Morelia and Pátzcuaro at least, and now, having experienced the almost-perfect Oaxaca weather, we’re searching for similar – yet greener – pastures in perhaps a smaller centre.  We’ve been quite happy here, but it’s like my colleague Theresa said, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt”.

So tomorrow, Monday February 2, Mexico’s Día de la Candelaria, we’ll leave Oaxaca, heading first for Cuernavaca on our way west.

We know we’re not done with Oaxaca.  We’ve made many good friends here that we’ll want to see again, and we feel at home here on the streets of Colonia Reforma, our neighbourhood.  But there’s more of Mexico to explore – it’s now or never.  And if we decide to return we know we can easily renew our life and our lifestyle,  and I still have my Berlitz shirt…

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