Thursday, March 29, 2007

I wrote this entry yesterday, but the internet gave out before I could post it. I though that was only supposed to happen in Mexico!

March 28, 2007

Big excitement in Casa Grande! -There e sat last night, I on my computer, Robin reading a book. It was about 7:00 p.m. The wind was blowing, gusting, rocking the rig. Suddenly there was a loud bang!

Something had hit the side of the rig. I opened the door (very carefully) to see what was out there, and I saw the awning, not rolled up as we had left it, but hanging about halfway open. (Hanging. Heh. It was blowing around, flapping, twisting vigorously, slapping the side of the RV.) We went outside, grabbed the two end poles of the awning, and wrestled it back into place. The connection at the forward end was loose, and it took some effort to reattach it. Finally, we figured it was secure, and we scurried back inside.

Our temporary repair held, and this morning Robin fixed the problem on a more lasting basis. It was a lot easier, what with (a) having some light and (b) not being blown around.

On the other hand, it was cold outside. Not cold by Canadian standards, certainly, but a lot colder than we have become accustomed to. Our plan was to head north, working our way to Beatty, Nevada so I could buy honey. As of this morning, the plan changed. We left Casa Grande, checked out a nearby glider port – just in case they were flying – but by the time we got there, the wind was coming up again, so there were no flights. They wanted $100 apiece anyway, so that was just as well. We kept going, caught Hwy. 8 at Gila Bend, and drove to Yuma, where we have settled in happily at the Shangri-La RV Park. We will probably stay here for a couple of days, then head for California. According to the weather reports, they’re having their share of wind as well, but at least we can probably put off driving into the big freeze for a few days.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking about the fact that the power cord on my laptop is a bit loose. I thought I should go up to the computer place in Guaymas some time soon and see if they have a replacement cord. Then I realized I wasn't in San Carlos. I wasn't even in Mexico. It was a sad moment.

Yesterday's drive was very pleasant, especially the first couple of hours. I drove, listening to a bit of mariachi music on the radio, enjoying the scenery. Robin took over after we went through Hermosillo (around Hermosillo, actually. We managed to find the bypass, and it was a Good Thing.) Then he drove to Santa Ana, and I took over for the trip across the border. We sat in line for over an hour, but the crossing itself was very gentle. We hardly lost anything to the border people - just the last of our bacon and sausage, because it wasn't in its original packaging so they couldn't tell for sure where it originated. Actually, its original packaging wouldn't have helped. I had bought it from Tony's truck market, and it was packaged in Saran wrap or something like that. I had meant to give it Enrique, the night watchman at the park, on our way out, but we didn't leave as early as I expected, so I missed him.

We stopped for the night in Green Valley, Arizona. After we checked in, we left again and drove to Safeway, where we wandered like people in a dream. Robin wanted cheese. Real cheese. Old cheddar. We still have about a pound of Chihuahua cheese, but I think that's destined to feed whatever stray dogs we may encounter. Next year's shopping list starts with at least two kilos of sharp cheese to take to Mexico. I hope the U.S. hasn't started restricting cheese imports by then. I drifted through the bakery, glanced down, saw a label that read Chocolate Macadamia Nut Biscotti, and marveled. Look, I said. So many things. In the end, I bought some tortillas and a package of frozen tamales for my dinner. Robin bought a chicken pot pie.

The place we stayed billed itself as an RV Resort, and I didn't like it, so we decided to push on today. We went first to the Mission San Xavier del Bac, where I took a bundle of pictures. The tower to the left of the door as you face the mission was all covered with scaffolding and tarps, so we didn't get as good a view as you will by looking at the pictures in Wiki, but it was an interesting place nonetheless. There was an effigy of Saint Francis Xavier lying in a coffin in front of one of the side altars. A sign read "Please do not visit Saint Francis during Mass." Ooh. Ick.

We ate our brunch there in the parking lot, before we started touring the mission. We were joined by a couple of dogs, who just.know. where to hang around. We must have a sign somewhere on the rig, some sort of secret symbol known by all strays, which means "You've come to the right place!" They got chicken. If I'd thought of it, I would have suggested a cheese course. Next time.

We drove on to Tucson, to the Pima Air Museum. I put the rig in a parking spot sort of under a tree, and while Robin toured the museum I had a nap. It was a delightful place - the tree provided just enough shade, and due to the high winds we're experiencing today, I was exquisitely comfortable. I opened the door and all the windows and basked in the cool air. After that we came here. I do believe"here" is very near Casa Grande, Arizona, in something called Las Colinas RV Park. Robin has gone for a swim while I take advantage of the wi-fi. (The clerk said the reception is iffy, so I'm making hay......) Speaking of reception, they don't have cable tv here, so Dr. House is going to have to do without me this week.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Too bad. Today is our last day here at Totonaka, our last day in San Carlos, our last full day in Mexico - at least for this year. Roger and Chantal (and Blitzen) left even before we woke up this morning, so we've been on our own, saying our farewells.

The major item on our agenda was to pick up the laundry. We cycled up to the lavanderia and YES! It was open. We brought all the lovely, clean laundry home and put it away, exclaiming over the professional quality of the folding, telling our favourite clothes how glad we were to see them again.

In the course of the day I took down the clothesline, put the pegs away, wrapped my seashells individually in paper towels and stowed them for safekeeping, found a place to tuck the bag of beach rocks I collected for my son. I wrapped the cazuelas in towels and put them under one of the kitchen benches, put the molcajetes down at floor level and secured them, as we definitely wouldn't want them rolling around in here.

I spent an inordinate amount of time online, looking for a motel/hotel near the Renaissance in Seattle - one that has parking for our motor home. I thought for a moment I had found one, the Quality Inn, its online information/reservation gizmo didn't work, so I still don't know whether their parking lot is suitable. I think we may check into an RV park as close to Seattle as we can get, then rent a car or, better still, take a cab in to the conference every morning.

Finally, eyes crossing from computer fatigue, I closed the laptop and joined Robin on a bike ride out to the estuary. I wanted to say goodbye to the sea, the beach, the birds. I exercised beach discipline and picked up only one very tiny shell. I can carry it in my pocket. I did pick up one other shell, a real beauty, but it was still very much occupied, so I returned it to the sea.

Soon it will be time to roll the awning up, then settle in for the evening. We will very likely leave at sunrise tomorrow, try to get to Green Valley, AZ by nightfall. Hasta la vista, Mexico.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

I need a holiday. I got up this morning at 630 or 700, and baked a loaf of banana bread to give to Roger and Chantal for their trip. Internet wasn't working, so I didn't have access to my recipe, but that's okay, because I've made this bread umpteen times, right? So I made it, and I baked it, and when it had cooled I wrapped it in foil and tied a ribbon around it. (I actually found a piece of ribbon in one of the cupboards.) About an hour after that I though omigod I forgot to put sugar in the banana bread. I walked over to their rig, and they started thanking me for the banana bread. "Don't thank me yet," I said. "I've come to take it back." I explained what I had done and assured them they would get another loaf. And I invited them to dinner.

But first, there were other things to do. The guys were finally able to bring the canoe back. Roger drove Robin and me to the estuary, then handed me the keys to the truck. I drove home, parked the truck, got the binoculars out, and went down to the beach. Chantal was there with Blitzen, watching for the canoe to appear in the distance. With my binoculars, I could see it quite clearly, so Chantal and Blitzen went home and I stayed on, walking down the beach, looking for agates, checking on the guys every couple of minutes. They had no trouble, the wind co-operated, and they even paddled past some dolphins, who unfortunately didn't hang around to play.

Then Robin and I packed our dirty clothes into two backpacks, climbed on our bikes, and rode up to the laundry. Usually I do our laundry here at the park, but there were no US quarters available for the machines today. Just for a bit of pampering, we left the clothes to be washed, instead of washing them ourselves. We were told to pick our clothes up at 3 o'clock. At 3 o'clock we piled into Roger's truck and headed up the road. (The water man hadn't turned up, so we all needed to go to the water store.) We got the water, I popped into the grocery store to get some stuff for our big farewell dinner, then we went to the laundry, which closed at 4 pm. We got there at 3:20. It was closed. The sign on the door said it was open, and the closing time really was shown as 4 pm, but the door was locked.

The sign also says the laundry is open on Sunday at 10:00 a.m. I sure hope so. We're planning to leave here early Monday morning, and at this point I have no sheets or pillowcases, and my only two pairs of respectable shorts are there, not to mention our two backpacks and all sorts of other stuff. I wonder if we're encountering another holiday we didn't know about. I noticed that the tortilleria was closed, and it's always open on Saturday. Oh, well. If the laundry doesn't open tomorrow, we'll just have to leave later on Monday - or stay an extra day.

Anyway, I did get around to making another loaf of banana bread, and I did remember all the ingredients. At least I hope so. As for the original loaf, I bought a package of peach Jello and made it up. I was reading the directions, and noted instructions for making the Jello with milk (2 c boiling water, 1 can evaporated milk). I opened the cupboard and got out my can of coconut cream (sweetened coconut milk) and used that instead of milk, poured the jello/coconut mixture over broken up banana bread, and chilled it. I had my doubts, but it turned out to be really good. We had a spaghetti dinner, then the peculiar dessert. Then we said farewell to our new friends. We will miss them.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Remember my Mexican cooking class? Chantal and I went together, and then we came back here to practise what we had learned. These are our chiles rellenos. Lotsa trouble, but tasty. I plan to try the recipe again, but with different fillings - chicken, tuna, maybe ground beeflike substance.

It's been a busy couple of days, and time seems to be rushing past. I want to grab it and hold it still. There are so many things still to do here, so many sunrises and sunsets to see, stones and shells to glean, so much Spanish to learn.

It's not even 830 in the morning, and I've been up for three hours. We have such a busy day planned, I think I started moving even before I woke up. I took a long walk on the beach, most of it before the sun rose. On the way back, I kept looking over my shoulder to see what was happening with the sunrise. Not much, as it turned out. There was a heavy bank of clouds clinging to the mountains, and by the time the sun worked its way over those, it had gone past picturesque. Yesterday's sunrise was prettier, and I got several pictures.

Chantal and I went into Guaymas early in the day yesterday, took the bus past the mercado to the town square. Town squares, as it turned out. There are several in a small area.

We found a wonderful statue of a fisherman right down at the harbour. After that we strolled around, visited the big church nearby, walked back to the mercado to buy a molcajete. I tried to take a picture of the woman who runs my favourite stall, but she was very camera shy. Chantal didn't mind posing, though.

After we finished our shopping in Guaymas, we took the bus back to San Carlos, where we did even more shopping. By mid-afternoon, I was truly worn out. The guys had decided they wanted to go to Froggy's for dinner, which was fine by us. Froggy's caters to tourists and specializes in pizza, so I was just a little apprehensive. I had pizza once before in Mexico, many years ago, and as I recall, it was dreadful. Fortunately, the pizza at Froggy's was much, much better. It had a thin, crisp crust, cheese, the usual toppings, and sauce - something that my first Mexican pizza lacked entirely. The pizza was baked in a proper horno, and both Chantal and I went into the kitchen to take pictures. The chef didn't seem to mind at all. It must happen a lot.

What's on for today? Robin and Roger are supposed to be paddling the canoe back from the estuary so we can put it up on the rig, but the wind has picked up, so I don't think that's going to happen.

I have to go in to the Ley for a few supplies, probably on the 900 bus (oops. Maybe not) , then come back to check out the Friday book exchange at the park next door. Then I have to start in on the Great Seashell Packing Chore, cook some beans, teach Roger how to use my camera so he can transfer some of my photos into his computer. See? Busy, busy.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Today started out warmer than usual, downright muggy at about 630-700 o'clock this morning, but then a breeze came up and the temperature edged downward. It's still overcast and damp, but it's much more comfortable.

Roger gave me copies of some photos he took out at the estuary and on the fishing trip the three Rs took the other day. There was a photo of me that I liked better than the Mazatlan shot, so I replaced my blog photo. Also, I'm wearing my Denizen hat in it. ;>) There are no palm trees, Marty, but there is a beach.

The photos are on a cd. I'm going to try to put some of them here. So - all the photos in this blog entry - and also the photo of me at the top of the blog - are the work of Roger Whitney. He takes better pictures than I do. So far, my system is choking on them, but I'll keep trying.

Today I'll be going to the last Mexican cooking class of the season. It's the Chiles Rellenos class - which was the first one I attended. I've got into a continuous loop. I never did get around to actually making the chiles rellenos, so I'll use this as a refresher, then Chantal and I will make the dish this evening.

When I went shopping up the road today, I had to think about buying things we would use up within five days, because then we have to cross the border. I am starting to feel very sorry for myself.

Oh, good. It looks as if My Pictures and Blogger are starting to communicate a little better. This first picture is one of Roger's heron shots. Either he has a much better zoom function than I have, or he is the Heron Whisperer. Every time I get close enough to consider taking a photo, the heron gets terribly agitated and takes off.

Note the colouring. There are also what appear to be white herons, as well as egrets - who have great hairdos. I don't think Roger has any egret pictures on this disk. Too bad.

These are the ibises I've mentioned seeing. I love those bills.

Then there are the spoonbills. I haven't even managed to see one of these yet. I think I haven't gone far enough into the lagoon. I'm saving them for next year.

And here are Robin and I, intrepid adventurers, off to explore the lagoon in our canoe. At times I've had doubts about that canoe, but it has really come into its own here. The lagoon is the perfect place to paddle around. That moment when you are out in the middle of the lagoon, there are birds dozing in the mangroves all around you, the hills are gleaming in the distance, and you just stop paddling to listen to the silence, is just about perfect.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I must have overdosed on chamomile tea, because I felt horrid for several days, couldn't even be bothered to go down to the lagoon. I came up for air yesterday, got to the store, made spaghetti sauce, even went to Charly's Rock for a near-beer after dinner.

Earlier in the day, Chantal and I walked over to have a look at a "condo" settlement a few doors down. We both loved it, but all the nicest places were taken. We did take some pictures, mostly of the bouganvilleas.

There was a band playing at Charly's when we arrived. Mostly they played stuff like El Paso and - what's that one that has the line "ah, but my eyes could see only you...something about a magic technique.....when you speak I go weak"? Anyway, that stuff, and once in a while they'd play a little mariachi, which was good. I think they're trying to acculturate the gringos little by little. The guitarist up at my end was a closet blues man, though, managed to sneak in a few very un-mariachi phrases.

Today, we went to the estuary. Robin and I paddled around the lagoon and met Roger at the entrance. Then I sat on the beach and contemplated the universe while the guys got wet. Roger did some snorkeling, but reported that there wasn't really much to see that you couldn't see by wading around. I wish I had worn a bathing suit. The water was perfect for swimming.

I did enjoy my contemplation, though, and I had a pleasant chat with this lady, Ann Woodin, whose husband was busy painting. This is his website. I didn't talk to him, because I didn't want to interrupt.

Speaking of things creative, I did mention one day that I was going to take (had taken?) a lesson in silk painting from Chantal, didn't I? Here are photos of my first effort.

I think I'm going to enjoy learning this.

Now I'm going to go meet Chantal so we can walk up the road to a monument factory. Never mind. Here she is!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Well. Chantal and I went to the mercado yesterday. We headed straight for the metate stall. There were no metates. There were molcajetes galore, including some that looked like stone turtles. No metates. Back to square one. Or not quite. When the man I've usually dealt with comes back, presuming he ever does, I'll see if he can find one for me. The woman who took his place said no, but you never know. I'll start checking all the shops in San Carlos in the meantime.

Roger and Chantal came over last night and we made our communal meal - apparently it's called Mexican lasagna. It was very good.

Today I have a code in by doze. I've spent most of the day reading Jonathan Kellerman, drinking chamomile tea, and dozing. It's very warm, both indoors and out. I want a hammock.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

At last, at last. Time and connection enough to get in here and write. First on my agenda is to correct my errors. I am told by Clarence, who knows these things,that the item I bought and called a metate isn't a metate at all, but a molcajete. The mano for a molcajete is called a tejolote, which is from the Nahuatl for 'stone cylinder'. I think the mano for a metate is just called a mano, but I'm not sure.

A metate looks like this, and is used for grinding corn.

The molcajete, you will recall, looks like this, and is used for grinding chiles and spices.
Today was Mexican cooking class day. We learned to make a casserole with totopos (tortilla chips), chicken, red or green salsa, and cheese. Chantal and I are going to make it tomorrow and have another shared dinner. The last one was great fun.

I bought a tortilla press today, so maybe we'll have a go at making tortillas tomorrow, too.

I can still get into the clothes I brought with me, by the way - but only because of our walks on the beach, cycle rides to the grocery store, paddling the estuary.

We have only twelve more days here. Oh, dear.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The time has come to post pictures of those mysterious containers I've been writing about.

First, there is the metate. Here is a picture of the metate with the mano resting on it. The metate, which has three legs, is six inches across and about 3/12 inches high. The mano, the piece that you hold in your hand, is 1 3/4 inches across and 3 1/2 inches long, narrower in the middle than at the ends.


As long as I have the metate out here on the patio to measure it, I've now filled it with rice. That's how you season a new metate, I'm told. You grind some rice to a fine powder. That picks up any dirt, rock dust, or whatever, that might otherwise come loose in the first batch of curry powder you make. (While the photo was being uploaded, I started grinding. It's hard. I think there's an art to it. I'll practise.)

I've also talked about my cazuelas. Here is the first one I bought. It's a foot across at the rim. I put a banana and a chayote into it to give an idea of its size, but it didn't really help. I finally just measured it.

I can easily cook half a chicken in this cazuela, or a batch of beans, a spaghetti sauce, or Mexican rice. This pot was my downfall. I had been doing so well at not buying things. I don't take home souvenirs, as a rule, except for rocks and sea shells (I'll definitely be hauling a load of shells home from this trip.), but as soon as I saw the cazuelas I was hooked. They brought out all the crunchy granola in me. I've always said I would much rather use a wooden spoon than a mixer, make my own bread than buy it, and all that homespun stuff. When I cook in this pot, I get to hover over it and stir, inhale the fragrance of the spices I'm using, revel in the creative process and the beauty of the glaze. Hey, for $6 per cazuela, that's a lot of pleasure!

Well, if one cazuela is good, two are better, right? So I bought this one.

Cute, isn't it? It's about 8 1/2 inches across, but deeper than the other one. It's become the beans and rice specialist, leaving the wider cazuela for meaty dishes and for acting as a fruit bowl between cooking duties.

The nicest thing about these little bits of Mexico is that I get to take them home and make them part of my daily life. That's not true of my other find.

When we first moved into Totonaka the second time (oh, how confusing. start again)...When we first came back from Mazatlan, we occupied a space at the back of the park, on the road, remember? Well. Then some rigs moved out and we snagged a space near the office, which is why I can sit here on the patio and blog. Neat.

Anyway, it was after we moved to this spot that Ahnold appeared. People keep calling him Arnold, but that's not his name. I named him for the Governator, because he's so muscular. (When I've been watching a Sunday's Heroes clip, I sometimes lengthen it to Aaaaaahhhhhnold.) This is Ahnold. He seems to be about six months old - and he's a small cat.

He came to the door, looking like somebody else's cat, but obviously wanting to be fed. I gave him some water, then went hunting in the fridge for something suitable. There was nothing meaty except for some sliced turkey ham. I gave him a saucer of evaporated milk mixed with water. That wasn't good enough for our Ahnold. Oh, all right. I gave him a little turkey ham. Ambrosia, obviously.

That was all for that night. The following day, I bought Ahnold some Whiskas dry cat food (which is very expensive down here, btw). Kitty heaven.

Ahnold decided he wanted to move into the rv. Heh. R wasn't having any of that. I put some water in a squirt bottle, and whenever Ahnold started up the steps, R would squirt some water at him. He learned very quickly, and now he stands at the door every morning, yelling for breakfast, but doesn't try to come inside. He usually leaves when Roger and Chantel bring Blitzen over, but soon he's back, wanting lunch - and dinner - and a little something to keep his stomach from growling in the night.

A few days into this relationship, our next door neighbour Russell was here, and he noticed Ahnold. "I see you've been adopted," he said. I explained that I was sure Ahnold had a home, because he was so healthy. No, Russell said, he's wild. There was a couple here in the park (pointing at the spot just kitty-cornered (heh) from ours) that tamed him. He was really wild, but they kept working with him, and he ended up sleeping in their bed. They couldn't take him home, though.

Well, neither can we! In order to take an animal across the border into the U.S., it has to have had a rabies shot more than thirty days previously, and when Ahnold came into our lives, we were already within thirty days of our departure. Of course, all hell would break loose anyway if we took him home. I can't see poor old Katrina taking to a rambunctious young punk like Ahnold. Robin either, for that matter.

Here is Ahnold playing the cello. I rather adore him, you know. He's obviously very musical.

The best I can do is to feed and pet him while I'm here, then see if I can convince Russell to take over when I leave, or prevail upon one of the other long term residents. Ahnold seems to have figured out how to look after his own interests. He really does look like a pampered pet, not a feral cat - and he has no objection to my picking him up. There is an almost identical cat living in the rv behind us - this one with a collar. Maybe they'd like a second cat.

I can go to the vet this week and find out about rabies clinics. Ahnold might let me carry him, but I'm not sure about that. Oh, for a cat carrier. And if Russell will look after him, I can see about some monthly flea medicine.

And speaking of medicine, we were going to go to the estuary this afternoon, but R has developed a nasty cold, so he's taking cold meds, napping, sitting around instead. I should really get some exercise, but I'm waiting for the sun to back off a bit.

p.s. I've figured it out. If you put the metate in your lap, you can get better leverage. I imagine if I put it on the floor and put all my considerable weight into it, I could smash this rice lickety-split, but I don't think I'm willing to go that far. ;>)

Saturday, March 10, 2007

I went to the mercado today and bought a small metate, so now I won't have to use my coffee grinder to grind cumin and coriander and such. This evening Roger and Chantal came over and we put together a communal meal of fish tacos (Chantal brought the fish, and she helped me make the guacamole and the pico de gallo to dress the tacos.) I cut up a jicama and served that on the side, with lime juice. For dessert we had flan, which I had bought at Ley. Everybody had a good time, and we confirmed that you can make really good fish tacos without batter-frying the fish. Chantal just sauteed the flounder in a little butter and olive oil. It was delicious.

Everybody has gone home now, and I've been reading my discussion boards. I read a post about stinky cheese, and it reminded me of something that happened a long time ago. As it relates to the way I'm living here in San Carlos, I think I'll reproduce my post here:

Many years ago, when I lived in Toronto, I did most of my shopping at Kensington Market, which was only a five-minute walk from my house. Kensington takes up several blocks, and consists of many small markets/stalls selling pretty well anything you might want. It was there that I developed my preference for that kind of shopping over the sterility of the supermarket (a preference I indulge here in Mexico).

Anyway, after a few years I moved out of the neighbourhood, but I retained the habit of shopping at Kensington. I would take the streetcar there and back, about 20-30 minutes each way.

One fine summer day (Toronto is very hot and humid in the summertime), I rode over to Kensington and did the week's shopping. My last stop was at Daiter's Creamery, where I bought yoghurt, butter, and a big block of five-year-old Cheddar. The clerk wrapped my purchases. I put them in one of my shopping bags, and I trudged to the streetcar stop.

Shortly after boarding the streetcar, I noticed that *somebody* smelled bad. Sheesh, I said to myself. I hope whoever that is gets off soon. Well, people got on, and people got off. People got on, and people got off. After a while, it sank into my heat-befuddled brain that the stinky one was the woman sitting in my seat. I knew I had showered that morning, and at my worst I don't smell like rotting onions - and that's what I seemed to be smelling. I finally traced the odor to my shopping bag. It was the cheese.

When I got home, I took the Cheddar out of its paper, put it into a plastic bag, put the plastic bag into a Mason jar, and put the Mason jar in the refrigerator. That pretty well tamed the beast, as long as nobody opened the jar.

But let me tell you, that cheese was GOOD. Not only was it splendid as a snacking cheese, but I melted it to make Welsh Rarebit with Newcastle Brown Ale instead of milk. We would treat it like fondue. One of the bakeries at Kensington, Perlmutar's, made a fabulous flat bread with onions and poppy seeds on it, and we would sit around the fondue pot, dunking hunks of "pizza bread" into the rarebit. I'm pretty sure that's where my cholesterol problems started. ;>)

Friday, March 09, 2007

Field trip! Off we went to Ley this morning, all sixteen of us (I think). Maria had given us crib sheets with names and descriptions of about sixteen Mexican cheeses, so that we would be able to make sense of the chaos that is the cheese department at Ley. We had given her 20 pesos each, to cover the cost of the cheese. When we got to the market, we didn't go directly to Cheese. We started in the produce department, where we got a brief refresher on the varieties of chile. I also learned that the vegetable I've been trying to identify is a chayote. It looks like an irradiated pear or something, but it's apparently a vegetable. You have to peel it, and then you can treat it like a potato. I brought one home to try. Maria says it's much better for you than potatoes are. No wonder. According to this site, it's a squash.

So. We hit a few aisles to get stuff Maria needed, and I grabbed some items myself, including half a chicken and a bunch of spices - and a fresh supply of cat food for our temporarily adopted stray, Ahnold(more about Ahnold another day) . I experimented tonight with making a chicken curry using mostly local ingredients. It was good, but not exactly curry. No cardamom or turmeric available. Next year, I'll bring all the spices along. Oh, yes. There was a little bag of giblets under the chicken half, and when I opened it up, there was a foot in it. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh. I keep thinking, One foot? Why one foot?

When we got to the cheese section, we bought ten or eleven different cheeses. Maria kept up a running commentary, to the confusion of the young woman behind the counter.

When we had all finished our shopping, we headed to the other end of the mall for a cup of coffee, then caught the bus back to San Carlos. I rushed home to do some laundry and make the curry, and just got things sort of under control before it was time to go to the palapa for our cheese tasting party.

This is Maria, my teacher, trying to keep order in the palapa/schoolroom.
She and her husband opened Totonaka thirty years ago. Her son Joe runs it now, and Maria acts as social director (like Gale Storm! Remember her? My mother told me she had five children and a 20 inch waist. Sheesh.). Maria seems to be having a wonderful time teaching, and her classes are bigger every year. I know I've gotten a lot out of them - not least of all, a degree of comfort about going downtown , shopping at the mercado, that I'm sure would have taken me a lot longer to reach on my own.

In the palapa, we sat down at the long table, crib sheets in hand, and waited while Maria cut a piece of cheese for each of us. We started with queso fresco, the freshest of the cheeses, and worked our way up to the firmest one, manchego, which is actually a Spanish cheese. Each of us had a little plastic plate. We would taste a cheese, pass our plates back up (we had written our names on them), and by the time we'd had a sip of water, they would come back with yet another cheese on them. At first I ate each piece, but Maria was cutting generous portions, and it soon became apparent that if I kept that up I wouldn't be able to get through the whole lot, so I started just nibbling a bit, then putting the rest of the piece aside. Even at that, I ate more cheese today than I have in several months. (I'm not supposed to be eating cheese at all.)

The upshot of it was that I found two cheeses that I liked - the doble crema and the Chihuahua con jalapeno. Most Mexican cheeses are very bland by Canadian standards. The doble crema would make a fantastic cheesecake, though.

Here is the group, intent on tasting. The woman at the bottom left is Chantal, Blitzen's 'mother'.
We had a great time. There are two more classes in the session. I know that the last class is on chiles rellenos - I started with the last class of the previous session, so that will be a review for me - but I can't remember what Maria said next week's class would be.

All in all, I've had a long day, and I'm ready to sit back and relax.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

No exercise today. None at all. Well, I did walk home from Tony's after I bought groceries for dinner, but that was it. We spent a couple of hours at Bahia Esmeralda, which is on the other side of Tetakawa. Robin and Roger wanted to go snorkeling. Unfortunately, Robin's wetsuit was too thin (3mm), so he found the water uncomfortably cold. Roger was wearing a rented 5mm, so he was okay.

The bay was beautiful, but there was no shade, so it was quite warm. I had come out without any sunscreen, of course. I was rescued by a couple of women who had in turn been rescued by somebody from Russell's diving class, which was going on at the other end of the beach. Speaking of Russell (our next door neighbour), he has turned out to be a wonderful source of information about shells - the identification and preservation thereof. He has lent me a book called The Encyclopedia of Shells and showed me how to clean and polish the ones I find. Looking in the book at the shells Australia has to offer, I'm almost convinced I might want to go there someday. Almost.

Chantal didn't come along to the beach, being between dental surgeries and feeling in need of a rest, so I had only Blitzen for company while the men were in the water. I was a little unsure about how he and I would get on - he is an awfully big dog, and he doesn't see me as an authority figure. Sometimes I think he doesn't see me at all, except as an obstacle between him and whatever it is he wants - which is usually to get closer to Roger or Robin. Anyway, my concerns were unfounded. We got on just fine, ignoring each other most of the time. He walked along in the shallow water, trying vainly to keep an eye on the guys. The only tense moment was when Robin came up out of the water with his snorkel gear on and Blitzen thought he was the creature from the black lagoon or something. This is Blitzen. I was very impressed by his willingness to pose for me.

When I wasn't taking pictures, I lay about in a lazy haze, reading my Isabel Allende novel, staring out over the water. It was a great place to be.

When the snorkeling was done, we went up to the nearby viewpoint. We saw two whales spouting - or one whale spouting twice - but no whales as such, just the spouts. Somebody at the dive shop had mentioned seeing humpbacks this morning, so that's probably what we almost saw.

We were only a hundred feet or so higher, but the view was much more spectacular.

There were a few other people taking pictures from the viewpoint, but I gather the place must be very popular because just before you get there, the road is blocked by a group of vendors who have set up stalls to sell tacky souvenirs.

Dinner this evening was chicken breast marinated in achiote, Mexican rice, and pico de gallo. I used Maria's recipe for the rice:

Mexican Rice

5-6 servings

1 cup long grain rice
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 medium white onion, chopped
1 to 3 cloves of garlic (to taste), chopped
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tomato puree
1 small can peas and carrots, or vegetable of choice

Heat oil in cazuela (or skillet) over medium-high heat. Add the rice and start stirring. Add onion and garlic. When the rice is nicely browned, add the chicken stock.

Cook until the rice is nearly done (about 8 minutes to go), stirring frequently. Add tomato puree. Three or four minutes later, add the peas and carrots, salt and pepper.

When the rice is done, remove from the heat, cover, and let stand until ready to serve.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

We went to the lagoon this morning with Roger and Chantal (whose name I have now learned to spell) and Blitzen. We must have been there for nearly three hours, taking turns at using the canoe, collecting shells (I have some beauties now), walking along the beaches. At 3:30 Chantal and I went to Maria's cooking class, this one on Mexican cheeses. Friday will be the field trip to the supermarket - Ley - where we will buy samples of a dozen or more cheeses; then the afternoon tasting party.

By the time we got back from the lagoon today, I was feeling decidedly sleepy. I had trouble staying awake during the class, but I managed, and I don't think my sleepiness was too obvious. Then I went to the tortilleria and the grocery store up the street, brought home tortillas and some spices for a curry I'm planning to make tomorrow, then started working on spaghetti sauce for tonight's dinner. We ended up having our neighbour Russell over to share the spaghetti; he and R are still outside, enjoying the evening.

R&R were supposed to be going out on Russell's boat tomorrow, but that has now been put off until Saturday. I think a quiet day tomorrow would be a really good idea. This holiday stuff is exhausting.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The laptop had a field trip today. I took it into town and left it at a little computer shop, in the care of a young man named Alex. I told Alex that the fan had been making a lot of noise, seizing up on occasion, and I asked about having a new fan installed. He replied that it might be very difficult for him to get a new fan, but he could take the computer apart, clean and oil the fan, and put it back together, and that might just fix the problem. At 5:30 this afternoon I went back and picked up the clean, quiet computer. The shop charged me $5. I'm not sure the problem is entirely fixed, but there's certainly less noise.

I also bought a new headset while I was there. The one I was using before had one earpiece attached to a hard plastic headband. The other end of the headband sat against my skull and tried to dig its way through. The microphone was on about a 6 inch stem and stuck out at an angle that I never could quite adjust properly. It always seemed to be either digging into my lip or sticking out so that it was in my line of vision. I've met other people that have that kind of headset and swear by it. I don't understand those people. My new one has a curved hanger that goes around my right ear. The hanger is attached to a stem on which are (1) an ear bud and (2) a microphone so small and unobtrusive that I can't see it even if I try. And it works. It cost twice as much as the other one (about $15), and it's worth every peso.

While I waited to be reconnected to the outside world, I cleaned out and defrosted the refrigerator and freezer, then stowed all the food I had brought home from the supermarket.

R had a craving for curried prawns. Having run out of all our curry sauces except Vindaloo paste, we improvised using the Vindaloo paste and lots of substitute ingredients. R really liked the resulting concoction. I'm not so sure. When we get back to Canada, I'm going to enroll in an Indian cooking class. That way, next year we can just bring lots of dried Indian spices, and I can make curries from scratch. The spices will weigh a lot less and probably take up less room than countless cans and jars. And I do like cooking things that simmer for hours. In case R wants another curry dinner while we're in Mexico, I'm going to look online for recipes I could fudge using local ingredients. Indian food hasn't made it into the Mexican grocery stores yet. Come to think of it, I don't recall seeing an Indian restaurant, either. I've seen a couple of Chinese restaurants, and apparently there is an Italian restaurant here in San Carlos, but no Indian anywhere. You know, if everybody would just live on tortillas and beans, we wouldn't have these problems! ;>)

Monday, March 05, 2007

I come bearing gifts, both photographic and culinary. The photos are courtesy of our trip to the estuary with Roger and Chantel yesterday. I was able to take a few photos from the canoe, and Roger got a lot of very good bird photos, which will come later.

As for the culinary gifts, I promised Chantel I would write out some of the salsa recipes I got from Maria the other week, and that reminded me that I haven't put them in here yet, so I'll start that process today.

First, the estuary. I don't know whether you can read this sign. I think it's big enough. If not, somebody please let me know. I had never noticed it before, and it made me laugh right from "Don't trash is UGLY." And you would think the last paragraph would go without saying, wouldn't you? There's no accounting for campers, I guess.

We rode over to the estuary in the back of Roger and Chantel's pickup truck, an adventure in itself. That's a very common mode of transport here, but it made me just a bit nervous, twitchy Canadian that I am.

Once underway, though, I lightened up and enjoyed the experience. It reminded me of childhood hayrides.

On the left is a picture of Chantel (well, Chantel's back) and Blitzen, the enormous German Shepherd. Blitzen is very happy these days. He has basically adopted Robin into his pack, and now he has both Roger the Alpha Male and Robin the Beta Male to play with him and go on outings. On this occasion, Robin and Roger went off together in the canoe and left Blitzen with Chantel and me, which was, let's say, an interesting experience. The dog jumped and lunged and barked and whined and carried on something awful as the canoe moved away from us. The guys headed straight over toward the fish camp, where there are at least three dogs - I don't know whether they belong to the fishermen, or are feral dogs hanging around looking for a handout. In any event, they came loping over to the edge of their sand bar to see what all the commotion was about, and when they saw how excited Blitzen was, they got excited too, and they started barking and lunging.....It was very hard on Chantel's back, trying to control this great beast, so we dragged him over to the other side of our sand dune and kept him there until the canoe was well out of sight, then went back to the beach.
When Robin and I were out in the canoe, I got to float along, trying to take pictures, while he did all the paddling. It felt very weird. I think that a strap for the camera just went onto my shopping list. I couldn't put the camera down at all, and I kept envisioning us capsizing, me falling over the side and trying to keep the camera (camcorder) out of the water at all costs. It would not have been graceful. I managed a few bird photos, including these of an egret and a heron, respectively. Roger told me that one of the birds I was admiring was an ibis, and he also saw some spoonbills, which I haven't managed to spot yet.

I was more comfortable taking pictures from the safety of the shore. I caught this one of the two Rs when they were coming back from their voyage.

In all, it was a great day.

This morning, Chantel and I went to Guaymas. She had never been to the mercado, so I got to play tour guide. I bought another (2 quart(ish)) cazuela, just the perfect size for cooking beans, and I bought some Mexican oregano, which is very good indeed. While we shopped, the menfolk took the truck and went to a canyon north of town (I think). I saw a video later, and decided I want to take that field trip too. It looked like a beautiful place.

Before I close, I'll add the first salsa recipe - I think I'll start with pico de gallo, since pretty well everybody likes that.

Pico de Gallo

Ingredients: 2 jalapeños, 1 medium tomato, a little bit of white onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, pepper, juice of one lime.

Probably 1/4 to 1/3 of an onion will do, depending on the size. The garlic and cilantro are to taste.

Remove stem from the jalapeño, but leave the seeds in, if you want your salsa to be authentic. Dice all ingredients except the lime. Toss together, add lime juice. If the lime is large, use only half. I´ve been playing with the recipe, trying to come up with the ideal size of the dice. I think I´ve decided on about 1/4 inch for my taste.

Pretty simple. You should make only enough to last two or three days. Buen apetito.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

It's an absolutely gorgeous morning in San Carlos. I think this calls for a long walk or cycle. Ah. R just came in and suggested we go with Roger and Chantel to the estuary and take a walk in there. Perfect. We'll go at 11 a.m..

We went over to Charly's again last night, just for a drink, and I took the camera with me. The total lunar eclipse that was visible back east was over long before the sun set here, but we did get to see the full moon. I took some pictures of that, and of Charly's itself.

The picture above is the approach to the restaurant. The seagulls are hanging around because people throw food to (at?) them from the bar.

I mentioned that Charly's is built around a huge boulder. This picture shows the boulder and the cactus garden on/around it. The construction of the building must have been quite challenging, as the boulder is anything but square.

We have been in Charly's three, maybe four times now, and it's always busy. One night it was almost empty when we arrived, but I had noticed several cars pulling up outside, with the logo of some sort of caravan tour company on them. Sure enough, within fifteen minutes the restaurant was packed. Last night it was somebody's birthday, and several tables were pulled together for the party not long after we arrived.

The bar facing out over the water is very popular, both with the bar's patrons and with the local seagull population. The gull in this picture appears to have mastered the art of standing on air, but most of them swoop and scream and carry on something awful. I don't like seagulls, so I don't feed them.

This is the view - or one of the views - from the bar, as the sun is fading.

It's definitely worth the price of admission. I'm looking toward something called Miramar. We haven't been there yet, but it's in our plans. There is a pearl factory there, along with some lovely villas.

The boulder that fronts the building re-appears inside. Unfortunately, somebody figures that stuffed animals make a suitable accompaniment to the boulder, so the decor is a little gruesome, but the rock is great!

Unfortunately, the bar is built so that you can't really watch the sun set - just get a peek if you lean out over the bar and take your chances

with the seagulls.

As the sun set, the moon rose, providing quite a show. There were stratus clouds in front of the moon, so it played hide-and-seek for quite a while. Every time I put my camera away, the moon would present a new face and I'd have to scramble to get the camera out again. I wasn't the only one. Flashbulbs kept (ha! I started to say "popping". Remember when flashbulbs did that, and then they were no good any more? Wow. I'm old.) Anyway, flashbulbs kept flashing behind me, maybe part of the birthday party. I finally remembered that there's a night mode setting on our camera, so I tried that. I'm not sure I like it. The above picture was taken in normal mode, and the flashbulb went off - so you get the bit of tree/bar support in the foreground illuminated, but the photos I took in night mode looked grainy, at least in the camera itself.

The next picture shows the development of the moonscape.

Heh. I think I made a bit of a nuisance of myself with all this moon-stalking. The two men were busy talking, and I kept standing up to take pictures. Next time, we should probably get a table. Then I could just leave and let them get on with it, instead of leaning in between them to get a better view.

But in the meantime, I had a great evening, and today I'm going to go stalk some egrets!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Such a lazy morning. I looked at the clock on the wall when I woke up, and it was only quarter to six. No hour to be getting up. I turned over and deliberately put myself back to sleep. An hour and a bit later I woke up again, and this time I got up. It was an hour after that when I realized that the clock I'd been looking at had lost an hour - again. It did that last week. No wonder I woke up so early! We can't decide whether we've got a batch of dud batteries, or the spindle in the centre of the clock has worn down. Time will tell. Heh. I baked a loaf of banana bread, caught up at the computer, had a shower, made a big brunch for R and me. Now I'm doing a quick blog entry, taking advantage of the fact that the system does seem to be staying up. I like to wait until late afternoon to blog, but lately that doesn't seem to be working. I think there are gremlins in the system.

Speaking of taking a shower, I was pleased this morning to see that the skylight over the shower was much cleaner than it had been - the man who washed and waxed the RV yesterday did a wonderful job. We are very spiffy. Anyway, I looked up through the skylight and noticed the palm fronds waving overhead. I had a South Pacific moment, nearly started singing. ;>)

As part of my catching up process, I checked Charlie's blog (Running with Coffee). He said he hadn't been running this week, and was going to make a fresh start now. It reminded me that I'm supposed to have been writing a lot on this trip, and lately I just haven't. Once again, Charlie inspires me. I will start afresh today. But first, I'll post this and then go get some exercise.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Time to catch up -

I did go to the hairdresser up the road. She did a very good job of cutting my hair, so I feel much lighter now.

My sore throat/headache/lethargy problem has begun to abate.

Yesterday a whole bunch of rvs left the park, so we scooted into a spot near the office. I can now get wi-fi from here inside the rig - sometimes. Last night I started to blog and found I had again lost my connection. Earlier in the day, I would lose it, restart the computer, and get it back again, but when I was trying to blog, the network just thumbed its nose and went away for the night.

We had dinner at the restaurant across the road last night, joined by Roger and Chantel, who also live in the park. I had fish tacos and broke my cardinal rule by eating the lettuce that came with them - and I feel fine. R also ate fish tacos, breaking his cardinal rule, which is When in Mexico, Eat Only Food Prepared in Your Own RV by Your Own Wife. He seems to be just fine this morning, as well. The place we ate is called Charly's Rock. It is built around a huge boulder, and features a bar that faces out over the water. That's where we sat. We had a lovely view of the gulls and pelicans, a bit of the sunset, moonlight on the water. The only fault I have to find with Charly's is that they don't do coffee. They do have a non-alcoholic beer, which is a first for me in Mexico, but I had flan for dessert and would truly have liked a cup of coffee with it.

Today I'm sitting here trying to type while the rig bounces up and down, back and forth. A couple of men are clambering around on it, giving it a good wash and wax. I have beans cooking in the cazuela, so I can't go anywhere for a while. When I can, I think I'll suggest we ride down to the estuary again.

When I was trying to blog last night, I was actually working on the Turtle Afloat blog. R has talked to a lot of people about our narrowboating adventures, and I've given them the link to Turtle Afloat, thinking I had posted some pictures there. When I checked, I saw that I'd only posted one photo, so I was adding some. Now that I'm online again, I'm going to go back and do that (all over again!).

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