Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Babysitter Busted

Four days babysitting grandkids recalled memories of earlier parenting episodes. This is one such incident.  

Managing one harried Mom - me, an equally overwrought Dad, a toddler and a baby was challenging, exhausting, time consuming and never-ending.

The laundry, the meals, the snacks, the baths, the play-with-me Mommy time, read to me time - it is all a blur now, decades later. We - parents - maneuver our way through the baby years and eventually emerge on the other side, sometimes somewhat scathed, wiser, older - definitely looking older, and still tired.

But we move on, enjoying, more or less, each phase of our children's lives. These stages pass quickly, although at the time it seems as if they will remain a (put in whatever adjective and age you want) kid forever.

Weekends turned out to be a test of wills and schedules. Mom has her agenda, Dad his, and the cute little ones have no say choosing activities - until they reach the scary age when they prove uncooperative unless having input into the day's adventures.

Mom and Dad work out a schedule worthy of an Excel spreadsheet.

One Saturday afternoon when Mike and Jake are about 3 years old and 6 months, Mom and Dad decide Mom will go food shopping, with a couple of additional errands added on. Jake tags along because, not yet walking, he can be restrained in a stroller or shopping cart. Mike, on the other hand, barrels through the store grabbing everything in sight, throwing boxes and cans into the shopping cart at the same time Mom, one step behind, returns the item previously tossed in the cart.

Mike stays home with Dad, bonding, hanging out, having lunch together, and doing whatever.

Mom does not care. One child home, only one to handle at the grocery store.

She can do this.

Hours later Mom returns home with a car full of groceries, baby Jake happily chomping on a usually forbidden snack, tired but temporarily content and quiet.

Mom untangles Jake from his car seat and carries him into the house.

"Hi, we're home!" No response.

All is quiet.

Too quiet.

They walk through the hall, past the living room and dining room. Still no signs of human activity.

Reaching the entrance to the family room, Mom quickly looks around and gasps.

She stares and almost drops Jake.

Mike is sitting in the middle of the room surrounded by every single toy owned. Game pieces - game boards, play money, tokens, dice, boxes, spinners - encircle him, along with stuffed animals, Legos, blocks, books, puzzles, and other indeterminate objects. The entire floor is covered with his possessions.

Mike looks up, sees Mom and Jake, and puts his finger to his lips.

"Shshsh," he says in a loud whisper, pointing to the couch.

"Daddy's sleeping."

And so he was. Snoring away, ignorant of his son's activities.

"We had fun," he says, smiling delightedly.

It was time to wake Daddy.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kayaking, With a Side of MRI

Our kayak!

Hub and I returned home last night from a Road Scholar kayaking adventure, five days paddling calm waters, making new friends, learning new skills and enjoying perfect spring weather.

Road Scholar is a non-profit intent on helping seniors fill their leisure hours, days, weeks, months and years with interesting, stimulating activities. Set your budget, choose an interest and location, and take off!

Our second Road Scholar program (cross country skiing our first three years ago) began unofficially with a road trip to Virginia - the Chincoteague/Assateague area, part of a chain of barrier islands along the Delmarva peninsula stretching from Delaware and Maryland into Virginia.

Years ago, decades actually but who is counting, our family spent a couple of days camping in the Chincoteague area in the midst of oppressive summer heat. The most memorable part of that trip was the hordes of mosquitos attacking us.

Mosquitoes or other bugs, biting or otherwise, did not plague us this trip, except for a few minutes one day at a state park. Once on the water, the bugs did not pursue us. Back on land, we retreated quickly to the air conditioned van. No bugs allowed.

The program officially began with a traditional Chesapeake Bay boil dinner - crabs, shrimp, oysters, corn, potatoes, and sausages cooked together in a huge metal pot. Once the smell of the crabs and shrimp becomes irresistible, the food is poured onto a long table. Following a quick lesson on the correct method of extracting meat from the crabs, everyone dug in.
Chesapeake Bay Boil

The days and evenings comprised leisurely paddling on mostly calm waters, lectures on the flora around and below our boats, the animals surrounding our kayaks, tidbits about the history of the area, and food ranging from adequate cafeteria fare to a great seafood boil, an afternoon barbecue, and two restaurant dinners.

The one exception to leisurely kayaking occurred on our late afternoon paddle. Meandering through calm waters, passing oyster traps, nesting birds, and NASA facilities, the skies grew increasingly menacing. We were aware rain was predicted later that evening, but a sudden loud voice piercing the stillness shook us up.

The NASA Wallops Island facility alerts employees about impending storms so equipment can be stored. The announcement, which can be heard over a great distance, motivated everyone to morph from a leisurely kayaking pace into let's-get-the-hell-out-of-here-fast mode.

We made it safely back to the van and indoors before the rain descended in powerful, steady sheets.

And for the record, the two-woman paddling team beat the other two-person male/female teams to the landing site.

Carol and Meredith, you were awesome!

Actually there was another exception to leisurely kayaking. We were paddling through very calm waters during low tide - so low that very little water remained in the tidal creek - not enough to paddle through. Our kayaks grounded in the muck and mud. We used our paddles to free the kayaks, and our trusty guides Jim and Alyssa (strong twenty-somethings) pushed the kayaks into deeper water when all else failed.

We earned our lunch that day.

Hub and I missed the last paddle in the bays between Chincoteague and Assateague islands. We spent the morning in the emergency room of the nearest hospital, 40 miles away. Extreme pain hinting at a possible serious problem, possibly appendicitis, landed the two of us in the car at 4:00 a.m.

There was a silver lining to the hours spent in the ER. Walking into the facility, I was placed on a gurney furnished with a thick plush mattress, fluffy pillow and warm blanket. Our accommodations at the Chincoteague Field Station (a.k.a. Marine Science Consortium) were less-than-plush dorm-quality. Once on the gurney, I immediately fell asleep.

Following tests, including a CAT scan and MRI detecting no problem, and medicated enough to feel no pain, we were sent on our way.

We rendezvoused with the group in time for a lunchtime barbecue, followed by an afternoon exploring Assateague Island's visitor centers and beach.

I was not going to miss a seafood dinner of scallops and shrimp at Bill's Seafood Restaurant, or the opportunity to wander a deserted beach Friday morning collecting shells.
Collecting shells along the beach

Our final evening a musical trio, the 3 Sheetz, regaled us with old Celtic sea songs and New World ballads.

All that fresh air and exercise takes its toll on older bodies! We were lucky to remain awake until dark...

Now we could use a vacation from our vacation. Instead I am writing this on a USAirways flight to Florida. Hub and I are on our way to babysit the grandkids while Mom and Dad enjoy a long, long weekend away. They told us they have a wedding, but I am skeptical...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Seriously, Gracias Mexico

I realize I said I was done writing about Mexico, but I miswrote. This is really my last post about the trip.

Our exercise days of walking up and down mountains over - for now!

Hub and I returned home following two weeks in the Mexican resort community of Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast. We had a lot of fun, ate too much fattening food, got in shape walking up and down hills, toured local attractions, spent lazy days reading and relaxing on our apartment patio, and suddenly it was over.

I want to thank Mexico for our adventure.

I made fun of some of our experiences, especially the heat, the unending variety of tacos consumed and did I mention the heat? But...

American stereotypes concerning Mexico involve immigration, migrant workers and drug cartels. I realize there is a lot more to the country.

A few of my vague ideas about Mexico blown, modified, and relearned:

I did not see overwhelming, gut-wrenching poverty.

I realize most locals we met are in the tourist industry and supposed to be friendly, but the friendliness, helpfulness and amiability of everyone was a pleasant surprise. As a New York-area person, kindness to strangers is not necessarily a common trait, whether or not one works in the tourist or other people-oriented industry. I hear people complain all the time about the surliness of Atlantic City hotel workers.

Salespeople in stores and on the streets actively attempted to solicit our business, but did not accost or berate us, but after two weeks it did become wearying. And like in so many countries (including our own), the buyer must beware.

The climate is ideal for a wide variety of flora and fauna. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful, fresh and delicious. Tasting new foods is one of the joys of travel.

I have, however, seen and eaten enough peppers for a while. Not just red, yellow and green bells. Hot peppers of all kinds grace most meal - chile peppers (green, red, banana, etc.),
cayenne, jalapeno, habanero, and lots of others...

A Mexican food staple I can live without is beans - fried, refried, smushed - forget it, I am definitely not a bean fan.

Mexico, I owe you an apology. I am one more American visitor unable to speak your language. I should be able to do better - I took Spanish throughout high school, but language was not one of my better subjects. And many decades have passed since sitting in a classroom. Should I return I hope to do better - I will study a bit beforehand, although I think I promised myself this in the past. Somehow life gets in the way.

Anyway, my point is I want to thank you, Mexico, for a great trip. I enjoyed our stay and hope to return to another part of your country someday. A cooler place in the highlands or mountains.

Adios, amigos, hasta la proxima vez!...until next time.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Christie, the Shady State of New Jersey, and the Rest of the Crowd

Countdown to the 2016 Presidential Election - #7 in a Series

Big news this week in the 2016 Presidential Sweepstakes. My state governor declared he is thinking about, wants to, and may throw his hat into the 2016 Presidential ring.

Chris Christie wants to be POTUS. Of course everyone knew that.

The George Washington Bridge scandal, he stated, will be forgotten by 2016, or at least very old news.

Maybe, but I have faith in my governor and my state. There will be more scandals and corruption and political intrigue over the next two years. After all New Jersey, otherwise known as the armpit of our country, has a long, distinguished history of:

Moral decline – The 2013 movie American Hustle publicized the Abscam scandal of the 1970s, exposing business and political corruption. A bunch of people were indicted,  including a U.S. Senator (D-NJ) and other New Jersey politicos.

Moral decline and political ineptitude – New Jersey Governor McGreevy resigned in 2004 following a series of scandals involving pay to play, extortion, and sex, declaring he was gay at the same time he announced his resignation.

Moral decline, political ineptitude and financial mismanagement – Ever hear of Operation Big Rig? Me neither, but you may remember the news stories. It is an FBI investigation, beginning around 2002, into political corruption in New Jersey involving politicians (bribery and paying for land development permits just two examples), orthodox rabbis (money laundering), and the sale of organs (body – not musical).

And speaking of financial mismanagement, a financial genius Christie is not. The NJ state budget has a ‘hole’ because the amount of money collected was less than projected.

Collect some money. Spend more money. Result = Debt.

Anyway, two years is a long time in the saga of New Jersey politics. Doubtless additional scandals, political upheavals, financial shenanigans and Christie-isms will make headlines before the Republicans choose their 2016 Presidential candidate.

I believe his chances of securing the candidacy slim. The Tea Party does not like Christie or the currently purple, blue-leaning state of New Jersey.

But in politics, anything can happen…

The Republican wannabee field is crowded. Besides Christie, contenders include (in alphabetical order, an attempt to be objective): Bush, Cruz, Huckabee, Jindal, Paul, Perry, Rubio, Ryan, Santorum, and Walker. Check here for a recent contestant popularity poll.

Unfortunately (not really) the Republican contest may not be as much fun as the 2012 circus. The Republican National Committee established new rules limiting the number of candidates and the number of debates – there were 20 Republican debates during the 2012 primary season; there will probably be 10 next time.

Democratically speaking, Obama referenced Hillary Clinton’s possible candidacy in his speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner a couple of weeks ago, saying,

“Let’s face it, Fox, you will miss me when I’m gone. It will be harder to convince the American people that Hillary was born in Kenya.”

Republicans anticipate a Hillary run also. Karl Rove questioned her health, citing possible issues from a concussion suffered in 2012. Bill Clinton, however, rose to the occasion and in turn skewered Rove.

And think about this. The best is yet to come!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Yelapa, Sayulita, and An Embarrassment of Shopping

The end of our two week Mexican adventure approaches, so this will be my last post about the trip. Soon, back to life in the good ole USA...

Although one boat ride seemed too many, I wanted to visit the village of Yelapa. The only access is via boat. It was forego the opportunity or hope for the best - no seasickness.
Yelapa water taxi
I hoped for the best and hub and I boarded a small boat - a water taxi - for the trip across the bay. Actually I misspoke - or miswrote, to be exact. There is one road that comes close to the town. People can take a bus, then walk abut one mile down the mountain into town. Should you have stuff with you - luggage or shopping bags for example - helpful young men are available to carry the items for you (for a few pesos, of course).

But you have to walk down the mountain into town yourself.

We opted for a ride on the water.

It was another hot, beautiful day in Paradise. The 9:45 a.m. water taxi left Puerto Vallarta about 10:30 a.m. Not bad for Mexican time.

I not only survived but enjoyed the ride. A canopy provided shade and, as the taxi whisked across the water, I spent time observing the rugged terrain. Mountains plunge down to the sea, sometimes ending in a cliff overhanging the water, other times a group of rocks - boulders, actually - between jungle and the sea, and occasionally a small beach separated water from jungle.

A quick note about the beaches. They do not impress. Growing up on Long Island I went to Jones Beach. Jones Beach is a wide, pristine yellow sand beach that seems to go on forever. Many beaches in other parts of the world do not measure up. They are narrow, often rocky, the sand course and gray, reaching the water challenging because rocks make walking difficult. But I digress...

Yelapa is a Mexican village outpost slowly turning touristy. There is a growing ex-pat community (we were told - and I have no idea how valid the information is - the community currently numbers about 200 Americans and Canadians) living in homes straddling Gringo Hill.
The Yelapa waterfall - a trickle this time of year (late spring/summer)!
We took a short hike through the town to a waterfall, which this time of year is not much more than a steady trickle. Then we hiked to the beach where a number of restaurants offered drinks, food, lounge chairs, shade and a breeze.
Enjoying lunch and the view - Yelapa, Mexico
We lingered over drinks (alcoholic of course - I am truly becoming a lush in my old age) and a leisurely lunch, then parked ourselves on lounge chairs on the beach, watching kids swim and small boats maneuver around the bay. We left late afternoon for the return trip to Puerto Vallarta.

Yelapa offers a hotel with bungalows, charging $50-$60 USD per night this time of year. Next time I would like to linger longer in Yelapa, but we have to return soon - before the town becomes another upscale tourist mecca.

Which is what Sayulita has become.

The public city bus ride to Sayulita, a small coastal town north of Puerto Vallarta, took over an hour with one bus transfer. It was hot, the buses not air conditioned, and they continually stopped to pick up and drop off passengers. The ride was extremely bumpy, not because of the paved road but because (I think) the bus needed shocks. I should have worn a really, really good sports bra.

I guess a less-than-luxurious ride is to be expected when we forego a $200 (US dollars) round-trip taxi ride for a bus ride totaling $12 roundtrip - for both of us.

Tourists descend on Sayulita to surf, sail, shop, and be seen. It seemed more an American outpost in Mexico than a Mexican town. The beach was beautiful and the food in the small restaurants reasonable, but the numerous shops upscale and expensive. English appeared to be the number one language. Listening to discussions around us, folks discussed trips to Acapulco and beyond, what upscale restaurant they wanted to try for dinner, and shopping.

Speaking of shopping, I encountered an embarrassment of non-riches on a shopping jaunt.

One of the most common purchases tourists make in Mexico is silver.

Hub and I walked into a silver jewelry store in Puerto Vallarta and wandered around. The store was air conditioned (first warning sign), so we were in no hurry to leave. I eyed the beautiful bracelets, necklaces, and earrings while he enjoyed a free Margarita (second warning sign).

Trying on a couple of bracelets, a salesman immediately approached me (third warning sign). Asking the price (nothing was marked - fourth warning sign), he took out his calculator and began punching keys. "This one is," and he pointed at the number 490 on his calculator.

"This one," holding out the second bracelet and punching more numbers, " is 280," and he again pointed to the number displayed on his calculator.

About $25 I thought, mentally figuring out the peso to dollar rate. A very good price. It was not as large and heavy as the first piece, but I liked it and decided to buy it.

I handed the salesman two 200 pesos notes, expecting change. He looked at me and said, "Dollars. Two hundred and eighty dollars."

Hub and I looked at each other. I sheepishly took the peso notes back and we left the shop.

Pesos...dollars...a common mistake?

It is definitely time to go home.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Air Conditioning Mexico-Style and Mountain Breezes

Our Mexican adventure continues...
 Tequila tasting
Few places ventured in Puerto Vallarta and the environs are air conditioned. The big resort hotels are cooled, but our condo and most of the stores, restaurants and tourist attractions are not.

Signs indicate some places have the ability to air condition their premises, but it is not hot enough to warrant turning the air on - yet. That will have to wait until the really hot months of July, August and September.

Hot is relative. As far as hub and I are concerned, it is beastly hot now. We stumble home from wandering the city, peel our clothes off and shuffle to the shower. We would jump in the shower, but are too exhausted and hot. Temperatures reach the high 80s, but the sun is intense.

A friendly warning: Do not venture down here during the really, really hot months of August and September!

A tour into the surrounding mountains brought welcome relief. Not only was our bus air conditioned, the air was actually turned on and working. Exiting the bus a couple of thousand feet above sea level, mountain breezes offered a stark contrast to the intense coastal heat.

It did not matter what we did all day. We were cool and comfortable.

For the record, we visited a tequila factory and tasted four or five different flavored tequilas, a coffee plantation and drank fresh roasted Mexican coffee, an abandoned hacienda (plantation) where workers from the 16th through the 19th centuries turned quarried stone into silver, and an old Spanish mining town - San Sebastián - at one time population 20,000, population today 600.
Coffee beans
A Mexican criollos (Mexican born of pure Spanish blood) proud of her Spanish heritage gave us a tour of her family home, pointing out pictures of her ancestors, wealthy from mining silver in the nearby mountains, all members of three wealthy Spanish families that ruled the mining town for generations. Families intermarried for generations, supposedly preserving their pure Spanish blood. Her mother, for instance, was also her aunt, cousin and niece - definitely confusing. Even would have trouble drawing a family tree.
Town of San Sebastián
We savored a traditional Mexican buffet lunch sitting on the cool, covered patio of a restaurant, using a large mug to fill our coffee cups from a huge vat of fresh steaming coffee.

And then we returned to the hot coastal plain of Puerto Vallarta.

Back to centuries old, old-fashioned cooling methods of ceiling fans, open doors and windows (no screens), cold drinks and cool clothing.
Sangria is a perfect cold drink on a hot day.

Friday, May 9, 2014

By the Sea, On the Sea, the Beautiful Pacific Sea

One of the Marieta islands - barren, rocky, in the middle of the Bay of Banderas, Puerto Vallarta.
A visit to the ocean would not be complete without a ride on ocean waters.

Or so I thought.

Hub and I signed up for a day long trip to the Marietas, four small islands off the coast of Puerto Vallarta. The islands are a national park, uninhabited by humans but full of birds and their poop.

The catamaran left shore 8:30 a.m. and sped across the bay to our destination. It was another hot, dry day in Paradise, not a cloud in the sky, the water bright blue and calm.

Either Mexicans love their alcohol all day long, or they think Americans and Canadians love their alcohol and want to drink all day. I suspect the latter.

An open bar greeted us as the boat left port.

OK, it was five o'clock somewhere, but not close to that hour on the boat. But you would never know it as passengers eagerly imbibed beer, margaritas, pina coladas and other alcoholic concoctions. Attentive personnel did not wait for passengers to head for the bar. They circulated, taking orders and returning a few minutes later carrying a tray of filled plastic cups.  All you can drink liquids, snacks mid-morning and a cold buffet lunch kept passengers happy.

I, on the other hand, was not among the party-hardy happy.

I succumbed to a mild case of seasickness. Luckily a friendly stranger provided Dramamine, and I endured the trip vomit-free.

Multi-purpose employees served drinks, passed out snorkeling equipment, entertained passengers with dancing and singing comedy numbers, prepared lunch, assisted passengers in and out of the boat, the water, kayaks...

I took a few pictures, went kayaking, and waited patiently for the trip to end.

Disembarking, we made our way to the taxi stand. The port is several miles from our apartment. Taxis are inexpensive and available, an ideal method of transportation.

We gave the man in charge of hailing cabs our address. He verified the address with us a couple of times, making sure he knew where we were going (and we knew where we wanted to go), then huddled with the other drivers.

No one wanted to take us home.

The drivers refused to drive up the mountain. Not only is the mountain steep, roads are unpaved, composed of rocks of various shapes and sizes imbedded in the ground and surrounded by dirt. There are no smooth surfaces.

The smallest taxi, which also happened to be the oldest, most beat-up one, was finally chosen to drive us home.

After much huffing and puffing (by the cab, not the people inside), the vehicle slowly drove up the hill (I think I can, I think I can...) and we reached our home away from home.

I promptly fell asleep. I was now close to the sea, near the sea, the beautiful sea, but thankfully no longer on the sea.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

More Than a Taste of Mexican Culinary Fare

Tortillas rolling off the assembly line.  
We did not set out to make this vacation a food extravaganza, but that is what it is turning out to be - an on-going Mexican culinary feast. Of course we are doing other things, like walking up and down hills, but daily activities are punctuated by food.

Friday we ventured into the countryside. The highlight of the tour was a stop at a tortilla factory. The large open-air room was scorchingly hot - it has been hot every day - but the workers seemed oblivious to the heat, carefully mixing dough, then placing huge mounds into the tortilla maker. Small round uncooked tortillas passed along a conveyor belt, entered the oven and less than a minute later, lightly browned and smelling wonderful, emerged ready to eat.

And they tasted delicious.

Piling back into the open-air truck, we drove on to a house in another small village where we observed Margarita, a very large woman, probably about 45 years old, making tortillas by hand. Working in an outdoor kitchen set up on a patio, open on three sides - the fourth side a wall of her home - with a thatched roof and surrounding trees protecting her from the sun and rain, she greeted us wile continuing to make tortillas, throw them on a cast iron pan set over a wood fire, expertly turn them over and finally removing fresh cooked, ready to eat tortillas. We filled them with a variety of salsas, sauces, and meat.

Lunch was yet to come. The mid-day meal is the main meal in these parts.

We continued on to a house on the beach. A hearty buffet awaited us.

Arranged on the grass, under coconut trees providing shade and a breeze, the buffet consisted of barbecued pidgeon (initially thought we were eating chicken), sausages (of indeterminate animal) and beef along with grilled vegetables (onions, peppers, zucchini), rice, beans, corn on the cob, potatoes, salad, and condiments including salsas and hot sauces.

The meal began with a lesson on the proper way to drink tequila - inhale deeply, drink all at once, exhale. We tried a couple of shots before passing the test and permitted to fill our plates.

Bowls of fresh cut fruit were placed on the picnic table following the meal.

And there was an open bar. For those who did not want to imbibe additional alcohol (remember the tequila shots) - after all, it was not 5 o'clock yet - there was soda, water, and juices.

The next morning hub and I enjoyed a Signature Taco and More walking tour of the Zona Romantica section of Puerto Vallarta. Beginning at 10:00 in the morning and over the next three hours we walked a mile and a half and stopped over a dozen times. Tacos are breakfast food for Mexicans, so it was not unusual to stand in line at taco stands mid-morning. Most stands were doing a brisk business.

We were instructed beforehand to come very hungry.

Outdoor taco food stands/trucks can be found on almost every street. We sampled nine different kinds of tacos (varieties of beef, pork, vegetables, shrimp, fish), several kinds of fruit water drinks, ice cream, candy and creamy liquors.

Our guide discussed the different kinds of tacos and the various ingredients and cooking methods for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, etc.

It was all rather confusing, except that some are made from corn and some from wheat.

We toured a tortilla and bread bakery, tasted fresh breads, and observed the preparation of pork rinds. This was one food I refused to sample. They are eaten like taco chips, with salsa and other dips and spreads.

Pork rinds are pig skins. We watched the pig skins - a.k.a. fat - frying in huge vats of oil. This, to me, was the least appetizing part of the tour.

By mid-afternoon we were hot, tired, and stuffed. I could not finish all the food, but gave it my best try.

I passed up a fruit popsicle for a very small cup of ice cream.

Next time I will hit the ice cream stand early.

Recent statistics - do not ask who compiles or analyzes them - indicate Mexico is now the fattest nation in the world. The U.S. dropped to #2.

I can understand why.

This morning we walked to the Mercado, the city market composed of lots of small stands selling meat, vegetables, fruit, fish, and a few non-food items. We bought vegetables and a fresh chicken for dinner.

We did not buy tacos.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

We Are Not in the U.S. Anymore, Although Sometimes You May Not Know It

Relaxing with a Margarita after a long, hard vacation day.

We are in a country foreign to Americans in many ways, yet in many ways it is a lot like the good ole USA...

Almost everyone speaks at least a smattering of English. I hear more English than in some parts of South Florida.

Retail and restaurant household names back home fill strip malls on the outskirts of town. Starbucks in particular (although we have yet to venture into one) seem to be everywhere. Subway, McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King, Home Depot, Walmart and Sam's Club...hotel chains - Sheraton, Holiday Inn, Comfort Inn, Hyatt, Marriott...

None of these places were around when director John Huston filmed Night of the Iguana, starring Richard Burton, in the early 1960s. Elizabeth Taylor accompanied Burton to what at the time was a small fishing village. They built homes across the street from each other, the residences connected by a bridge.

The film put Puerto Vallarta on the map. Adventurous tourists discovered area beaches. Cruise ships (remember the TV show Love Boat) added the town to their itinerary.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Puerto Vallarta's main industry is tourism. It is the only big industry and the town wants tourists to come on down!

And a lot of Americans and Canadians are doing just that.

There is a noticeable gay population, permanent residents as well as tourists. Local publications such as Gay PV list events, clubs, and other places catering to gay visitors.

Medical tourism is a growing business. Procedures such as cosmetic surgery, not usually covered by U.S. insurance companies, are especially popular.

Senior citizens from north of the border are making Puerto Vallarta their home in lieu of at-home care or assisted living facilities back home. The quality of care is high and the cost of nursing/medical care, housing and other expenses very reasonable.

We meet ex-pats everywhere. Many start out as snow birds and eventually make Puerto Vallarta their permanent residence. Most hail from the West Coast and Canada.

We are getting around...

Few traffic lights impede the flow of traffic downtown. Good for cars and buses, not so good for pedestrians. Dashing across the street, we hope we do not get hit.

Local produce is a real bargain. At a corner vegetable stand we purchased two tomatoes, an onion, a hot pepper, two limes, one cucumber and cilantro - ingredients for a salsa -  for eight pesos - 68 cents.  

TV is much like home. Lots of stations and difficulty finding anything to watch, and no On Demand. There are English language stations with Spanish subtitles, Spanish stations without English subtitles, and English stations without subtitles. We receive the Today show from New York, CNN, and The Big Bang Theory Marathon - all in English.

Dollars or pesos are accepted almost everywhere. Many places indicate prices in both currencies, making taxing mental calculations - multiply by .08 - unnecessary. (100 pesos = $8)

One of the cafes we ventured into for refreshment, to temporarily get out of the hot sun and rest our tired feet sells coffee, cigars and chocolate. What a combination! In addition cannabis is available, a.k.a. marijuana. Initially I thought the small rectangular-shaped, carefully wrapped pieces were chocolates. Looking closer, I discovered my mistake.

One more indication we are not in the United States. Although I have not been to Colorado recently...

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Greetings From Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

View of the Pacific from our patio.

Hub and I recently arrived in the Mexican city of Puerto Vallarta, a seaside resort on the Pacific Ocean, for a two week vacation. Our home away from home is an apartment in the heart of El Centro, the old city, part of a home exchange deal.

The trip to our final destination began at 4:00 a.m. Tuesday morning when the alarm rudely awakened us. By 4:30 a.m. we were in a taxi on the way to the airport. We ran the calculations, finding it cheaper to take a taxi to and from the airport than pay to store the car in the airport lot for two weeks.

And it was too early to ask any of our friends to drive us.

Two plane rides and ten hours later another taxi deposited us at the door of our Puerto Vallarta apartment complex.

Exhausted, hot and cranky, we were glad to be somewhere.

We are acclimating to our temporary home. The biggest surprise encountered so far is the geography of the area. The mountains go down to the sea. There are three main streets, fairly flat, that run parallel to the ocean. Our apartment is about three quarters straight up the hill - really a small mountain. Directly below us is the beach and malecon (boardwalk).

By the time we go home we will be (choose all that apply):
   * in great cardio shape.
   * almost dead.
   *  exhausted.
   *  the proud owners of protruding calf and thigh muscles.
   *  expert at walking uphill via dozens and dozens and dozens of concrete steps.
   *  expert at walking downhill via dozens and dozens and dozens of concrete steps.

And just to emphasize the steepness of the mountains and streets, cars (and cabs) cannot drive up or down many of the hilly, meandering, cobblestone streets. Buses stick to the three main thoroughfares. Only brave pedestrians attempt and complete the climb.

Many tourists visiting this area stay in Nuevo Vallarta, the new and expanded area north of the old city comprised of up-scale resorts offering all amenities desired within each resort's walls.

Hub and I are (choose one):
a. adventurous.
b. stupid.
        c. both of the above.

We wanted to be in Mexico, not secluded in a beach resort that happens to be in Mexico and could be anywhere in the world - including Miami Beach, which is what Nuevo Vallarta is often compared to.

So far we have sampled Mexican cuisine while lounging at tables in the sand facing the Pacific Ocean, watching fishing and sailing boats, observing brave parasailing souls, a few swimmers, and a lot of people tentatively poking their feet in the refreshing bright blue Pacific waters.

We spent last evening on Puerto Vallarta's Art Walk, strolling along city streets and meandering in and out of art galleries, all of which offered glasses of wine (white or red), pina coladas, or some other refreshing beverage.

It is a good thing we were walking...

Most snow birds have flown north and the number of tourists and cruise ships has dwindled, although not entirely disappeared. This is the shoulder season - between the craziness of winter and the emptiness of hot, lazy summer time.

Although it is hot now. 90 degrees and quite humid mid-day.

This morning we walked down the mountain to the Ley, the local supermarket. It is well stocked and prices reasonable. I am currently cooking a chicken with vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, onions, broccoli - all local and fresh picked) which will be consumed as a late lunch on our covered patio, an overhead fan providing a welcome breeze.

We took a taxi back from the store - the cab can reach our door via a series of S-shaped narrow streets.

The store sold beer, wine and liquor. All at very good prices.

It is 5 o'clock somewhere...