The view west from the homestead

The view west from the homestead

Sweet Chance

Sweet Chance

Sunday, August 17, 2008

En Casa


Poppi is set up out front in a sad kind of way. We are slowly transferring our life inside to our new home. For two weeks now we have been living INSIDE . It's kind of strange....... a real house with windows that don't zipper shut, a full size refrigerator with a freezer (!), our own bedrooms, closets, and flushing toilets. Our square footage has increased dramatically, and with it, the complexity or our lives. Chris starts work in a week, and the kids are off to a new school Friday.

A new life is out there to become part of, but for now we are in a surreal space of Olympics and boxes. Perched on this new life, there is a deep longing to continue on our journey (for some of us!). I understand now the families that took off for a few months, and never went back. Money is the most obvious barrier, but there is also a promise of stability that we have made to our children. Not everyone can stay with the life on the road....Teslin for one, is SOOOO happy to have a home. She was the first to set up her room and now has two new gerbil friends to keep her company. The fact that she knows nothing of Northern New Mexico does not phase her. In a way, settling in an entirely new community in a new part of the country feels like a continuation of our travels.....it is a huge adventure. Perhaps such a large move was made easier having traveled for a year.

So here we are, nestled in the bosom of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. It is beautiful here....we are very remote, perhaps too remote, but it is very peaceful. The most action we get is from the female hummingbirds bombing each other at the feeders. We have rufous-sided and broad tailed hummers, barn swallows nesting in the eaves over the large window in the living room, and countless siskins, lesser goldfinches and grosbeaks. There are spotted towhees and Lewis's woodpeckers, red-shafted flickers and an occasional chickadee. It seems that the migrations are starting since huge numbers of swallows are gathering. On a walk last night we saw 8 Lewis woodpeckers in one tree. We finally got Cassidy's room painted yesterday and he is all set up in the bird room facing the feeders that are in the cottonwood grove. All is strangely well!

Anny

Our family is as tight as ever. Teslin has 2 new gerbil friends (see her blog for details: sillyfillysblog.blogspot.com ), Cassidy is getting a breeding pair of parakeets this week, and we are looking for a puppy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Viva Las Vegas--New Mexico that is!

Well, we finally decided after much thought and effort and family pow wows to live in northern New Mexico. We had great options in Tucson with a great job offer for Chris, a great school for the kids and great friends but the spirit of northern New Mexico set in and wouldn't let us go. This land has always been special to Chris and seemed to be shouting "home" with each visit back over the years. We almost moved here in 1997 upon Chris' graduation from UMass as Chris accepted a position in Tierra Amarilla north of Santa Fe and we had started looking at homes but fate kept us on the East Coast for 10 more years. The amazing land, the acequias, the mixed cultures of northern New Mexico and the living history that surrounds one here combine to make it a special place. It's fighting the creeping "sameness" that infects much of the USA and other countries and seems to have survived the sickness so far though not entirely as Santa Fe and other big towns will show. The spirit of the land is still very strong-I don't know how else to say this. We've bought a home and 14 acres of mixed pastureland some 15 miles outside of Las Vegas in a valley nestled against the Santa Fe National Forest which leads up to Hermit's Peak on its north end. It will be a 25 minute drive to work and school but what a drive it is! The trees around the house had Red-tailed Hawks, Grosbeaks, Woodpeckers and other raptors in them during our visits and we found a dead Rattlesnake in the grass that had tussled with something and eventually died from its wounds. Teslin has already drawn up plans for the horse corral and new fences, Anny has spotted the location for the hot tub, Cassidy has claimed the bedroom by all of the bird feeders and Chris has estimated the mowing time for the pasture when necessary. Chris and Cassidy will be doing a "road trip" driving a UHaul truck from Belchertown to Las Vegas arriving around August 2 while Anny and Teslin fly to Tucson and drive the car up, arriving the same day. We hope to be open for business and visitors soon-we'll set the pop-up up right away for extra beds. Just call and tell us when you are coming! School starts August 21 and work for Chris on August 25th so our current dilemna is how and where to play during August. (It's hard to get out of the travel and adventure mode!) Remember, Nuestra casa es su casa and the New Mexican favorite, Una comida sin chile no es comida!
Un fuerte abrazo to all.
Chris

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Crunchtime


We have been camped out in the KOA on the South side of Las Vegas for a week now as we look at our other opportunity for resettlement. Las Vegas is perched between high plateau grasslands to the east and the scrub valleys and mesas of pinon and ponderosa that lead up to the Pecos Wilderness to the west. In fact, it is just on the other side of the Pecos from Santa Fe (60 miles away), and 70 miles fromTaos. It is at 6400 feet elevation has spectacular clear skies. The first night here, Chris went out in the middle of the night and thought it was cloudy when he first looked up, but alas, it was the milky way, clearer than we’ve seen it since the Yukon.

The town itself is small, around 15,000 but has 3 colleges…a 4 year university (NM Highlands), a community college (Luna community college), and an unusual school called the United World College of the American West, a liberal enclave that teaches gifted kids ages 16-19 from around the world (only 25% come from USA) and offers a 2 year baccalaureate program.

Chris has been interviewing with El Centro Health Center and we have found a tremendous school for the kids called the Rio Gallinas Charter school. It is an Expeditionary Learning school, a program adapted from Outward Bound that teaches through “adventure and service”. The classes are small….15 to 16 kids, and the school has expanded slowly and is now up to K-8 grade. Very interesting possibilities…..

So here we are, looking at real estate and jobs again and scratching our heads. The contrast with Tucson is huge…..you couldn’t get much different:
semiurban cohousing vs rural life,
heat of the desert southwest vs the coolness of the Sangre de Cristo mountains,
winter snows and drives to town after mountain blizzards vs January in the 70’s,
searching out neighbors and like minds vs a ready made community in Tucson,
working with the rural poor vs more of a geriatric population...

It is not obvious yet….we are talking to all levels of life and consciousness, we have searched out homes in both areas, talked to residents, interviewed at both jobs and now interviewing again, walked in the woods and the desert, talked to the grandparents and have begged the universe for a clear answer. The calendar has now demanded we decide as the family plans for the trip back east to Cape Cod on July 1 and we have agreed to figure it out by Friday, June 27. IT’S CRUNCH TIME!!!! We’re open to all advice and suggestions from our friends. This is a tough one. So fill the universe with hopeful thoughts and help us out with this last task of “The Big Year” on the road.

OOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mexico a Milagro

We are just finishing our first week at Milagro Cohousing in Tucson.....we are in love with the place, the peace, the possibilities. It is making the transition from the life of the free to one of home somewhat easier. We've rented a 3 bedroom house here for two weeks, perched on 35 acres of open space. We look west back to the Tucson mountains, north towards Phoenix, and NE towards the Catalina mountains. The cohousing is on the west side of town and is slightly higher in elevation, so we have a great view of things and are not affected by the chaos of the city. The heat has been very forgiving....only today did it climb into the 80's....it is supposed to climb back into the low 100's any day now, which I guess is good since we are looking forward to seeing what this place feels like HOT!

We have been spending a lot of time doing puzzles and reading the Lord of the Rings out loud. We are half way through the 2nd book and find it is a great distraction to life in the United States. We are getting Popi mended, and our trusty Toyota just came back from a tune up. The kids attended a class at the Paolo Freire Charter school they got into last Thursday, and it was a big success. Right now we are having the luxury of actually living in a place we may be buying (not this house exactly, but one in the community). We will be here one more week checking things out, then up to New Mexico for a few weeks. By the end of June we will have decided where we will be landing, and will head back to Massachusetts to get our things.

We still have June and July to play with and frolic in our pop-up, but something felt very conclusive when we left Mexico.....our time on the road IS winding to a close and the void in our bank account is making whispers of work and home a necessity. However, we still have some wandering to do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

BACK IN THE US OF A


Fort Davis, Texas

We are on Day 3 or 4 at the Prude Ranch, 5 miles north of Fort Davis, Texas. Our friends in Paa Mul told us of this place…..it is a huge ranch nestled in the mountains up at 6000 feet. I’m sitting in the lobby between Chris and Cassidy who are watching the final moments of the Celtics/Calves game 7 and the energy is, well….very tense.

Oooooeeeeee, I guess we are back in the thick of it! Actually, Fort Davis is far from the thick of it. The population is around 500, according to the receptionist here. Maybe 800 if you include all the wranglers and ranchers. There are beautiful rock outcroppings, rolling hills, river beds with huge cottonwoods, and otherwise low brush of the high desert. (There are now 7.9 seconds left in the game and it is even MORE tense…2 point, no…3 point game).

San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende was our last stop as tourists in Mexico. It is an old silver mining town which has maintained much of its old flavor and beauty from its glory years as a silver center. It is high in the sierras of east central Mexico and is much cooler than the valleys around it. It is for this reason that money has flowed to this city even after the silver ran out as people from other parts of Mexico and now from around the world have bought property and houses there. The “Centro” is wonderful with narrow and steep streets winding around an area full of shops and restaurants. There seem to be a fair number of expats from the USA and it is easy to see why they come here with its beauty and the sense of safety walking the down its streets. It was a good visit and we’ll have to visit again-when we have more money!

We left San Miguel de Allende after 3 nights and got on route 57 that goes due north to the border. Some kind of wind was sweeping us out of the country and we made it to Eagle Pass, TX, in 2 days. We spent a night in Saltillo and amused ourselves in the car by reading the Fellowship of the Rings out loud. We made it to the “frontera” in record time and then only spent 10 minutes on each side of the border checking out of Mexico and in to the USA- a record of sorts. It must have been the kids. They usually are looking in my spare tires and toothpaste containers-this time they just asked if we had anything to declare and waved us through when we said no (they did claim our salami sausage as contraband). We then drove up to Del Rio through a driving rain and hail storm which cleaned off all of the Mexican dust from the car and trailer and camped at an RV park along the highway before moving on to Ft. Davis.

The Prude Ranch

We are spending 3 nights here at the Prude Ranch which is a combination RV park, cabin and bunkbed destination site and riding stables. We’re one of only 2 RVs here and have taken the time here to catch up on baseball (watched 2 BoSox games), basketball (watched 2 Celtics games) and Internet (contacting Tucson people about places to rent and setting up job interviews in NM and Colorado before we make our final decision). Anny and Teslin did a short 30 minute ride here with the stables which wasn’t much so we all saddled up down at Ft Davis at Lajita’s Stables where we went on a 5+hour ride up into the hills with a wrangler (we brought along our Frequently Used Wrangler Phrasebook to help with language hurdles) and had a great time. Now we are all a little sore but happy and we all spoke the same language in many ways so the day was a success! Now we are off tomorrow to Tucson to start the last difficult process of deciding on a job and home. This is going to be tough!!!!!!!! Travelling was much easier than making these necessary decisions. Anyway, adios for now.

Anny and Chris

Monday, May 12, 2008

Back on the road!

I am sitting in Popi having a nice cup of tea and listening to the traffic and bird sounds of Monday morning in San Miguel de Allende. We are in La Siesta Hotel and RV Park on the edge of town. It’s the closest you can get to Centro with anything larger than a van. There are 2 other rigs here, but so far we haven’t seen any people. Most campers have made their way north by now. Perhaps to avoid the intensely hot weather we’ve experienced over the last few weeks. Coming up through the state of VeraCruz, it was in the high 90’s and very humid. Someone told us the town of Vera Cruz had set a new record 3 days ago…49 degrees C. I remember sitting in our Posada in Oaxaca having Celsius lessons from our friend Dan. He said the low 20’s were cool and comfortable, and approaching 30 is a hot afternoon. 49 must be cauldron weather.

Driving somewhere near the port of Vera Cruz we stopped at a Pemex station and the car’s thermometer was at 100. It was so humid out it looked foggy. I came back from the bathroom and asked Chris…..”Surely Tucson can’t feel hotter than THIS at it’s worse!....?” The unfortunate answer was: “Well…….actually, it can”. The nights here in San Miguel are forgiving….the climate is dry and the temps go down into the 60’s late in the evening. We had 3 nights on our way here that were in the 80’s and humid. The big Kahuna just blew mist on us. There is something to be said about a dry climate that cools off nicely at night.

VOYAGE UPDATE

We left Paa Mul on May 1st and headed to Valladolid via Tulum, about 2 hours away. We spent 2 nights there, camped at a great restaurant, Restaurante Hacienda Ticuch, just outside of town. It was an old Hacienda with a huge grounds complete with a chapel, peacocks, a tiny pool, and extremely friendly people. It’s only drawback (besides the near 100 degree weather) was that it had “Topes” right out front. This meant that during the night all the trucks approached the “topes” going fast and put their jake breaks on (that loud sound semis make slowing down). Then, once across it, they’d slam their foot on the accelerator and take off again. The peacocks also had their stories to tell all night.

Vallodolid was a great jump off point for Rio Lagartos. Cassidy wrote a great blog entry on Rio Lagartos, and you can see his post for specifics on bird species (www.birdnutsblog.blogspot.com) . We hired a boat and guide up at the port in Rio Lagartos, and went out for about 4 hours. Our guide was Erik Ramos Celis, and he was very knowledgeable about birds (www.negroerik@hotmail.com). We passed on the offer to visit the salt ponds where you could smear salt paste all over your body (a favorite with the Mexican tourists), and concentrated on the channels that led through the mangroves as well as the more open estuaries where the flamingos were. We saw 49 species of birds, and got fairly close to a group of several hundred flamingos. They were quite skittish but we were able to get out of the boat and approach them from behind some dunes. We observed them for several minutes from 30-40 yards away before they saw us and took off en masse. They then continued to circle around for awhile before settling down a bit further away. There was a huge pile of salt in the distance, and evidently they manufacture it in the area. All the places I’ve seen flamingos in the wild have been in areas where salt was harvested (Celustun, Rio Lagartos, and Bonaire). The critters that are the basis of the flamingos’ diet must thrive in the shallow, high salinity waters of these areas.

From Vallodolid, we spent one rather luxurious hot night at the Mayaland Hotel and Bungalows right at the archeological site of Chichen Itza. Chris and I had been there on our 10th anniversary trip, and the kids wanted to see it for themselves. It is a 100 acre spot, with amazing grounds, trees, peacocks wandering around, and lots of birding. We had fun being in a bungalow for the night. Chris and I slept in the loft under the thatch. At dawn, we awoke to a symphony of bird song, a lot of which was coming from the top of the thatch a few feet away. It was like waking up in the boughs of a tree. We found the Chichen Itza ruins HOT, busy, and disappointing after our amazing tours in Chiapas.

From Chichen Itza, we went down to Isla Aguada, a tiny fishing village on the gulf coast of Campeche (a bit north of Ciudad del Carmen). We had our first tire blowout of the trip on the trailer which luckily happened on probably the only stretch of Mexican highway with a level median which we slowly drove on to and changed the tire. Chris had the joyful experience of watching the sun set across the gulf while he did his duty and got us back on the road. We had heard that there was a great RV place right on the water in Isla Aguada that was peaceful and fun. It was peaceful alright….mostly because it was WAY TOO HOT to be camping on the gulf. Anyway…..I’m sure it would be a lovely spot at the right season. However, Chris and I decided sometime during the night to keep on trucking off the Yucatan Peninsula. We left right after breakfast the next day, and made it to Catemaco in the state of Vera Cruz.

CATEMACO


Ahhh…..CATEMACO!!!!! We stayed at the Tepetepan Hotel and RV park. Perched high above a river, up at 370 meters above sea level, it was heaven! We were again the only folks there (except for one night when a couple came through on their way north). We parked on the grass under an enormous mango tree that was heavy with almost ripe fruit. Our site was the last one before the river, and overlooked the opposite bank where towering trees and vines were a favorite perch for a flock of black vultures The river gorge was a flyway for all sorts of birds. The first morning I woke up to see flocks of snowy egrets, green herons, black vultures, double crested cormorants, various hawks (Cassidy saw a laughing falcon), and an assortment of wonderful song birds going by. This was easily one of the most beautiful RV parks we had stayed at in Mexico.

Catemaco is an amazing area. It is in an area known as Los Tuxtlas, in Southern Vera Cruz state. It is a mountainous, jungle area with lakes, waterfalls, great swimming places, and lots of rivers. Catemaco is on the edge of a beautiful lake, Laguna Catemaco, and is very popular with Mexican tourists (during holidays and the summer). There is a road going down along the lakefront in town, the Malecon, that is lined with huge trees, currently filled with thousands of nesting cattle egrets. They were making quite a racket, and it seemed that many of the chicks were fledging, dropping out of their nests to wander awkwardly around the lake front, their parents squawking after them.

Our favorite haunt was Poza Reyna (Reina), a waterfall and swimming hole about an hours drive from Catemaco. The drive was an adventure itself winding through the countryside on a dirt road over several cattle guards and going through areas that until recently had been tropical jungle. There were few signs along the way which led to us going 2 miles up a steep 4 wheel drive road into the mountains before a campesino came out to see who in the world had made it up this far to his shack in the mountains. He helped us find a place to turn around and directed us back to where we needed to go. We finally found the water hole which was accessed by parking next to a cattle pen and walking down a path some 5 minutes to the river. The Pozo or waterhole is fed by very cool springs, and was the most refreshing water we’ve found. There is a very large swimming hole under it with several more downriver which we also explored over several hours, and I’m sure Chris will put in some great pics.

We spent 4 nights in Catemaco….it was hot during the day, but had great places to cool off. We didn’t see many travelers, and it was a peaceful, beautiful area. Chris and Cassidy did a birding trip the last day with Feliz Aguilar and saw some Toucans and large flocks of Moctezuma Oropendula among other birds, and we returned twice to Poza Reyna. We’ve marked Catemaco down as a great place to return to and explore for an extended period. There was just too much to do to pack in to this trip.

JIM & MINDY’S


We drove from Catemaco up the coast to just outside the port of Veracruz and then headed NW up the road towards Xalapa. We had been communicating with a great couple on the internet who had settled up in the countryside outside of Xalapa close to Los Baños Carrizal after moving there from Tucson and decided to stop and visit. Here is their blog: http://blog.solarhaven.org/. Jim and Mindy had built a great house outside of Tucson “off the grid” which incorporated many solar and other energy conserving principles before moving to Mexico. Their place in Chahuapan was a small block house with mango trees in the yard with their Airstream parked next to it with an additional place where we could park Poppi. We had a great visit with them, sharing supper and breakfast together while we all talked about our experiences and reasons for being vagabundos. We finally left late the next morning continuing our migration northward.

We finally got a break from the heat as we climbed the mountain range around Xalapa, leaving a hot and dry zone in to a lush, green and much cooler area just west of Xalapa. The temperature dropped from 95 degrees to 75 degrees after 2 hours of gaining elevation and we even opened the windows for while. We stayed north of Mexico City to avoid traffic and the “no drive day rules” of the Districto Federal and traveled via Pachuca to the smaller town of Ixmiquilpan. We had some great meals there at local “Barbacao” restaurants where we ingested large quantities of red meat of all varieties. We even had an amazing bowl of “menudo” for breakfast to go along with our “Borrego” tacos which made Anny long even more for the land of salads and stir fry’s up north. Another half day’s drive brought us here to San Miguel de Allende were we have settled in for a couple of nights so that we can do some nice walks through the city and regroup before the final push north.

Anny and Chris

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Head ‘em up, move ‘em out!


Things have gotten a little slow over the past 3 weeks and the natives are restless here on the beach. We’ve had a few adventures, eaten some fresh fish, done some snorkeling, swam in cenotes, been baked in the sun (from Tucson to Tucamcari….) and we’re preparing to head north. We’ve gone some 3+ weeks with highs in the 85-90 range and the nights around 75 and sticky and we’re ready to look for someplace with cooler nights. Things have been heating up since Bonampak and we’re pretty sure our only relief will be when we pass through the mountains of central Mexico around San Miguel de Allende. We think that we will most likely arrive back in the USA the 3rd week of May somewhere in Texas.

First, a little update on our travels. After leaving Bonampak, we stayed several nights in Palenque to visit the ruins, do some more birding and say aloha to our friends Steve and Susan. We hooked up at the campgrounds in Palenque with 2 young Americans, Nate and Nicole, who were looking for a ride to the coast at Tulum and they joined us for several days of travel. We first stopped outside the ruins of Calakmul and stayed outside a small restaurant on the highway so that we could drive in to the ruins first thing in the morning. The ruins were very isolated and few tourists were there which made for an interesting visit. We decided to drive on towards the coast after the ruins and proceeded on towards Laguna Bacalar just north of Chetumal. Anny talked about our visit there which I most remember for the open air toilets with no roofs where one could heat up in the midday sun while contemplating life on the bowl, birds singing above you in the palm trees overhanging the WC. After several days there swimming and relaxing with some side visits to Chetumal to visit the Maya Culture Museum we continued on to Felipe Carrillo Puerto a few hours north. On the way there, we stopped to see Mahahual on the coast which we had heard good things about. We had heard that this area had been hit by a hurricane the previous August which had damaged the cruiseship dock and that things were slow so we thought it might be quiet there. It definitely turned out to be quiet as we found the area almost totally destroyed with most structures and businesses completely destroyed and electricity only in town. The trees were all either blown down by the wind or poisoned by the salt water surge that came several kilometers inland. We had some ceviche north of town under a tarp where a restaurant had been then continued on north towards FCP. Felipe C.P. turned out to be quite a nice little town with little restaurants and hotels and few foreigners. Cassidy and I birded a great road leading in to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere out of town the next morning while the ladies slept and upon returning, we continued north towards Tulum.

Tulum was another shock as the beach south of the ruins is now wall to wall Hotels and Cabañas all the way to where the Biosphere Reserva starts. It was heavy traffic, wall to wall gringos and we fled north without stopping for more than a bathroom break. Probably 90% of the businesses had come in to being since our last visit so it was almost unrecognizable to us and it was way too busy to think of staying there. We continued north to Paa Mul which is one of the last pockets along this coast which has not been ultra-commercialized.

The Yucatan seems to me what pre-Castro Cuba may have been like with unrestricted investment and building by all comers, foreigners and rich Mexicans alike, little protection of the environment, no sewage treatment plants from Cancun to Chetumal that we could see-an entrepeneur’s dreamland. American business people talked of the benefits of lack of restrictions, poor Mexicans flock here from other parts of Mexico to work in the service industry keeping wages low, local villages and landowners have been swept aside to make room for the mega all-inclusives and unplanned and uncontrolled captitalism has shown how much damage it can do in 20 years. Scuba divers are still able to go far enough offshore and to deep enough waters to find some live coral and some fish but the reefs closest to shore and the surface are now almost completely destroyed. The bays all seem filled with a fine silt which is worked up into the water with any wave action, an oily film often is seen in the top foot or so of water and the beaches between the resort groomed beaches are filled with garbage washing up on shore. The only hope that the Riviera Maya may have is if the Mexican Government realizes that it is allowing a national heritage to be destroyed by its lack of planning, regulation and infrastructure and steps in, but no one expects this to happen. They are dependent on the tourist dollars now and like any addict, have little ability to put off current benefits and pleasure in order to save this land for future generations. The lagoons of Xel-ha and Akumal are now cloudy bathtubs filled with bathers trying to see through the silt and oil as they feed the fish dogfood to keep them coming close enough to see. It probably would not bother me as much if I hadn’t been here in the early 1980’s, swimming in the clear waters, enjoying the reefs which were still quite alive and colorful. Time to move on.

We’ll try to visit some of the inland Mayan villages that still fill the countryside on the way out, maybe see the birds at Rio Lagartos, some ruins, then on to Campeche and beyond. Maybe we’re just a little homesick for something we know better, can understand. We’ll shed a tear for the Yucatan, hope for the best for its people and environment and keep on keeping on.

Con esperanza,

Chris

Attack of the Jellyfish!!!!




The latest “big event” here at Paa Mul was Teslin swimming head on into a Portugese Man of War some 10 minutes out from the beach during a group swim. We all had been snorkeling along the outer reef for 45 minutes or so and had decided to head for shore when Teslin started screaming. She had been bringing up the rear and was swimming hard to catch up when she must have swum head first into the jellyfish. Its tentacles wrapped around her neck and draped over her back to her waist before breaking off. The pain from this particular jellyfish is known as one of the worst and is described by divers as if a bucket of fire had been poured on you. Anny was the closest to Teslin when she started to scream so turned back to see if she could help but upon reaching her found she could not keep both of them above water. She called for me and I swam the 70-80 yards between us and we all started toward the beach some 10-15 minutes swim away. Teslin was beside herself and was screaming quite forcefully that it hurt and that it was burning her. She was able to hang onto my neck and be kept afloat on my back as I swam in as fast as I could. The swimming and waves pulled off all of the tentacles as we swam which was lucky as they continue to inject their poison as long as they are attached to their victims even after they are pulled off of the jellyfish. We finally made it to shore where we asked for some advice on what to do before heading back to our trailer. Teslin was having difficulty not screaming which made for some excitement for the pool crowd that day. We did some quick Internet searches for treatment options and gave Teslin some Benadryl and Ibuprofen while cleaning the area with vinager and finally after about an hour she was able to stop her screams and just sob when the pain increased periodically. She had large welts across her back and front of her neck and redness to many other areas of her back and fingers where the tentacles had either latched on or brushed against her skin.

We did not see the actual body of the jellyfish which Teslin ran in to so walked the beach that afternoon and the next morning to see if any were washing up on shore. To our amazement, we found many Portugese Man of War who were just washing up on shore north and south of our swimming area. The dive shop said that they had not seen these in our bay for 5+ years and were surprised by their presence. These jellyfish are quite beautiful as well as deadly and we did a lot of reading about them over the next 24 hours. I’ve included pictures of both the Portugese M of W that we found and Teslin after her experience.

We were all reminded of the importance of keeping your eyes open while swimming and also how aware one should be out there in the ocean. We all learned from the experience though Teslin had to pay the biggest price.

Chris

LA PLAYA


Estamos en Paa Múl, un campamiento entre Playa Del Carmen y Akumal. Es un lugar que tiene menos desarrollo que otras partes de la costa este del Península del Yucatán. Paa Múl tiene un hotel y siete cabañas, una piscina enfrente del mar, y un restaurante. La mayor parte de este lugar es para RVs, los coches muy grandes, como casas con ruedas. Personas han construido palapas encima de los RVs, y se parecen como cabañas. Hay más de 100 como eso. La mayoría de las personas son de los Estados Unidos y Canadá y regresan a sus países en la primavera. Es muy extraña, pero podemos vivir muy económicas en nuestro tráiler de camping. Lo que no me gusta es que hay pocos de los extranjeros que hablen español. Es como cualquier playa en los Estados Unidos. ¡PERO….es una playa! La excepción es los domingos, cuando muchas familias Mexicanas vienen por el día.

Hemos estados aquí hace tres semanas y vamos a salir en unos días. El mar es fantástico para nadar pero el arrecife y los corales no están en buena salud. Demasiados hoteles, casas, y resortes, al lado del mar han tenido un gran impacta. También han tenido unos huracanes fuertes en los años pasados. Paa Múl es un lugar a que muchas personas vienen para nadar con esnorkel. En el pasado, el arrecife aquí debe haber estado increíble. Ahora, los corales que están en buen salud son más profundo, como 4 o 5 metres, y tiene que hacer scuba para verlos. Lo que se veen el mar enfrente del restaurante son peces interesantes, y pequeños lugares de los corales.

Ayer, fuimos a una laguna unos kilometres al norte de Akumal. Fue muy divertido….muchos peces y lugares interesantes para explorar nadando con esnorkel. El agua estaba muy protegida y calma. Estaba bueno, porque los niños, hace tres días, tenían un poco miedo del mar. Teslin chocó contra un Portuguesa Man of War (una medusa muy malo). Nuestra familia estaba nadando con esnorkeles afrente de Paa Múl, cuando Teslin empezó a gritar. No lo veíamos, pero ella recibió muchos aguijones. Mas tarde, Teslin nos dijo que siento como un garrafón del fuego en la espalda. Ella tomo medicina para dolor y hinchazón, y todavía, hace tres días, tiene los marcos del medusa en la garganta y la espalda.

Pues…es la hora ir a la playa. ¡Adiós Amigos! Anny

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Resplendent Quetzal

Cassidy Ruge, age 13


Description
Resplendent Quetzals are one of the world’s most gorgeous birds. I have never seen one myself, but I’ve heard of how beautiful they are. Males have a red breast, green body, bluish back and very long, green tail streamers. They also have a yellow beak, which is fairly small (the females have black beaks). Males are 39 inches in length, including their plumes or streamers. Females have much shorter plumes (just extending right below the tail) and are drabber in color. The “song” is like “a whimpering pup” or as kyow or vi-viu, which is sometimes repeated monotonously. They have other unmusical calls too.

Range and Habitat
“Resplendents”, as I call them, are found from southern Mexico to western Panama. There is also a subspecies found in Costa Rica, P.m. costaricensis. The population in southern Mexico (Pharomachrus mocinno) is found only in Chiapas in remote montane cloud forests called “bosques de niebla”. The “bosques de niebla” are dense and wet and have mixed trees including pines. One of the quetzal’s favorite trees is the tepeaguacate tree, which has small avocados that the quetzals like to eat (see diet).

Diet
Resplendent Quetzals eat mainly fruit; their favorites are the wild avocados from the tepeaguacate trees. They also like fruit from the trees of the Laurel family. The birds swallow the fruit whole and then regurgitate the pits, which helps to increase the population of these trees.
Resplendent Quetzals are weak fliers and they have some predators. These include the Ornate Hawk-Eagle, owls, and Kinkajou, which hunt the birds themselves. Emerald Toucanets, (yes, little toucans) and squirrels, eat the eggs of the quetzals when the nest is left unguarded.

Breeding
Resplendents usually start calling and looking for mates in February. They start nesting a little bit after they call and mate. The female chooses a suitable tree for nesting (mostly rotting tree stumps) and then the pair pecks out a good-sized hole for the nest. Then the female lays 2 pale blue eggs and starts incubating them. The male and female share incubating: the male sits on them in the daytime while the female incubates at night. The incubation period lasts 18 days while the pair keep switching off incubating. When the male is sitting on the eggs, his long tail hangs out of the nest-hole so that from a distance it looks like a green fern is growing out of the hole! When 18 days are up, two little quetzal babies pop their heads out of their shells and say “give me some grub, mom”! Both parents take care of the little youngsters and feed them their grub, which includes fruit, berries, insects, and some frogs and lizards (big grub). Here is when it gets interesting. Near the end of the rearing period the female gets sooooo fed up with her little furballs that she says “vaya con dios you little scraps”, and leaves the dad to finish rearing the young until they are ready to fend for themselves!

Myth and Legend
Resplendent Quetzals play a big role in Mayan and Aztec legend and myth. The Mayans and Aztecs viewed the quetzal as the “god of the air” and as a symbol of goodness and light. Mesoamerican rulers wore headdresses made from quetzal feathers that symbolically connected them to Quetzalcoatl. Quetzalcoatl was the god of wind and the creator god. It was a crime to kill a quetzal so people simply captured and plucked its tail streamers and then released the bird. The tail feathers supposedly grew back in time. Ohh, I forgot. Mesoamerica was a region of Central America and South America that was inhabited by the Mayans and several other pre-Columbian civilizations.
The Resplendent Quetzal is Guatemala’s national bird and the quetzal is on their flag and coat of arms. The bird is also on the paper money and of great relevance in the country. It is mentioned in the widely popular legend of Tecún Umán, a prince/warrior of the Quiche Maya. The legend is that when the conquistador, Pedro de Alvarado, fought against Tecún Umán, there was a quetzal flying above the fight. Pedro de Alvarado managed to disable Tecún Umán’s horse and then killed him. Then, the quetzal flew down to Tecún’s chest and dipped its chest in the warrior’s blood. It was there that the quetzal acquired its gorgeous red chest feathers.

Conservation
Resplendent Quetzals are as Wikipedia states “near threatened”. They are not on the Endangered Species List but they might be on it in the near future. The population in Guatemala and southern Mexico is most threatened due to loss of habitat and hunting for their feathers. Costa Rica’s population of quetzals is in better shape because Costa Rica is setting aside some forest for quetzals and other wildlife.
I wrote this article so I could learn more about quetzals and help the species. I traveled through the quetzal’s forest in southern Chiapas and never saw one but I’m glad I at least know a little bit about them.



References:

1. Resplendent Quetzal, by Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
2. El Quetzal, by Miguel Limón Rojas, Edmundo Salas Garza
3 A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, by Steve N. G. Howell and Sophie Webb
4. The Resplendent Quetzal, by TED Case Studies

Saturday, April 12, 2008

living small


Chris estimates we have 24 square feet in Popi. Maybe 26 he says. That doesn’t include the 2 enormous beds on either end of the pop-up, or our table area. Our one couch is usually covered in bags and books, but we are able to leave the middle part empty with some effort. Our 2 counters are covered by milk crates filled with food, a stack of 4 plastic storage drawers of dry goods, and Chris’s towering metal shelf that houses our ghetto blaster, towels, books, Baby (our sourdough starter that lives in a 2 quart casserole dish), and the mother load of all STUFF.

Our square footage shrinks as we unpack more. The first few days are always fine. Then STUFF happens. Books come out of bags, and the storage containers in the car become volcanoes of art, shells, journals, and knick knacks, all slowly migrating into our square footage.

Then there are the fans. So far we have made it with 2 small Vornado fans, one facing each bed. For a surprise, Cassidy, Teslin, and Chris bought an enormous rotating fan. Its base takes up the entire walking area in front of the sink (that’s 4 of the 24) and it stands 5 feet high. It’s Iowa size. Only Chris would think that we could actually fit it into this place. But oooooo does it move air! Now at night, the kids each have a fan and we have the big Kahuna blowing on us. We’ve all slept better and it’s great for hot flashes. In the daytime, we move things off one end of a counter and put it up there so no one catches their privates in it.

We have a morning and evening rotation ritual. Evenings, we uncover our beds from the myriad of things that have accumulated there. The guitar, computers, and our ocean size wooden fruit bowl all make this voyage. In the morning, everything that spent the night on the table and the benches is moved back onto the beds so we can sit down.

Another rotation ritual is to open and close the inside stove. We do most of our cooking on the outside stove, but morning tea is produced inside---very important. When the stove is closed, it offers almost 2 whole square feet of counter space, so it’s well worth the effort. Each morning it’s filled with various water jugs, dirty dishes, and the usual left behind things from the night before.

There is a bright side to this life of rotation…..it keeps the inch long cock roaches on the move. This morning when we moved a milk crate off the bench, a big honking cock roach fell out onto the table. Chris pounced on it like a cat, but was forced to have mercy on it by Cassidy and Teslin, who insisted he let it go by the dumpster where it can lead a happy life. Ahh yes. Live and let live.

Anny

Saturday, April 5, 2008

WOW!!!


It is 7:30 pm and Chris and I have been instructed to sit down and RELAX by Cassidy and Teslin who are making us dinner. Not just any dinner, Cassidy is out at the grill by himself doing his first rite of passage at the barbeque and Teslin is making a salad and setting the table in a flurry of action. We're doing our best to drink beer and relax, but frankly, Chris is just plain uncomfortable with the solo action outside. He feels that barbequeing is a male bonding experience and feels left out stuck here inside of poppy. Ahhh....there are some wonderful surprises to watching your children grow up!

La Playa is Windy!


Paa Mul

April 5th or so

It's another one of those early mornings when everyone is still asleep and I've managed to creep out and make tea and get to the only computer that has internet. Hee hee. We are tucked into Paa Mul, just south of Playa del Carmen on the Yucatan Peninsula. It is a former coconut plantation that was turned into a RV resting home of all things. There is a hotel with some rooms and some cabanas further down the beach, but most of the property is sites for RV's. It actually is very nice....most of the spots are semi-permanent and palapas have been built around the RV's. Many people buy or rent a space year round and return north in the summer. There is a fairly large group of people that live here year round and call it home. We know of two families so far, one from California and one from Canada, who are here with their families and home schooling. One family set off for 2 months 4 years ago.....I see how it happens, believe me!

The entire Yucatan coast has turned into a swarm of resorts, back to back. We stopped in to Tulum on our way North and were shocked by what they've done to the place. For Chris it had been 30 years since he first visited, and at that time there were only two places just south of the ruins. I was last there in 91 and even then, it was quieter. Now the area stretches south all the way to the preserve where building is not allowed. We spoke to a worker at Cabanas Tulum who said the area lost their electricity during Hurricane Katrina 7 years ago and it still hasn't been restored. With so many resorts dependent on it, you have to wonder why the government hasn't replaced it. The motels must use generators and solar.

What is amazing about this place is that there is no sign of development nearby. Paa Mul itself was built in the 70's (I think), and the entire bay here is owned by them. There is a sandy road that leads north along the coast from the campground to another bay, which is even larger than this one, and is completely undeveloped. One of the security guards told us it is owned by the same guy who owns 2 of the largest resorts down the way and has "plenty of money". One side of the road is lined with mangroves and scrub, and the other a pristine sandy beach. There was little more than some pelicans and alot of trash that had washed in. It is impossible not to wonder what will become of this beautiful stretch. The security guard said for now it was protected as a turtle breeding area....for now. He said if it was ever to be developed it would only be cabanas (versus a mega hotel). Time will tell.

It is hot here but there is a stiff wind.....24 hours a day. The surf is quite worked up and Cassidy and Teslin have been boogie boarding. We are paying by the week, but thinking about a month. Once you get in here, it is hard to leave! There is a pool right in front of the ocean, a nice restaurant, and all the facilities we need. 10 minutes up the road is more than we need....all the giant stores and strips of motels.

Well... everyone is up and asking for a turn, so off I go....TATA for now, Anny

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

¡AGUA DULCE!


Estamos en un lugar muy tranquilo, al lado de la Laguna Bacalar. Las personas de aquí nos dijeron que al agua no es de sal, es dulce. Podemos ver una península pequeña al otro lado de esta laguna, y es el lugar del mar. Cassidy y Teslin están tratando abrir unos cocos. Cassidy se cayó dos veces….es trabajo difícil. Chris está nadando, y nuestros nuevos amigos están tocando música y suben un árbol de coco. ¡La Vida estupendo!

End of March

We are working on day 4 at Laguna Bacalar just North of Chetumal. We’ve just completed bucket baths on the grass under the palms and are feeling fresh and frisky. The water is crystalline turquoise, although it is fresh water (I’m not sure why it is called a laguna….it does not seem to be connected to another body of water). All of the Yucatan is a limestone shelf, so any body of water that is clean looks turquoise because of the white bottom. The laguna is a long slender body of water that lies about 6 miles inland from an enormus brackish bay which leads out to the ocean. Cassidy and Teslin have written about the wonders of the place, so check out their blogs too (see under links).

The place where we are set up, Balneario Cocolitos, is not a formal campground, although the family that lives in the palapa here let folks stay for a fee. We snaked our electrical cords over to their spot, and are set up beneath the palm trees on the grassy shores of the laguna. It is quite idyllic, especially since we are the only folks here, along with the couple that we gave a ride to. There are no showers or water other than the laguna, although little is needed. The toilets are the best….they are nice roomy open-air stalls so you can bird while you relieve yourself. This morning there was a pair of orioles in the palm tree above the toilet. It does get a little hot at mid-day, but who’s complaining.

Ceynote Azul is just up the road. It is a deep, fresh water sink hole surrounded by mangrove and palm trees. A large restaurant dominates the scene and it has become a major destination place. We originally came to this area to go to the ceynote, but it is only accessible through the restaurant and is a much used place. A large assortment of fish hang out by the restaurant since they feed them tortillas regularly, and there is a boat/raft you can swim out to and jump off of. My favorite thing about ceynotes is to explore the mangrove roots for all walks of fish. We haven’t done that with Ceynote Azul yet…we will see. From what I remember, the keynotes are an important rookery for fish who spend their early months sheltered in the roots of the mangrove trees. I’m not sure what the heavy use of the area has done, but I imagine it is not good.
The couple that has been traveling with us, Nicole and Nate, are taking off this morning for Tulum. The peace of this place might be a little slow for the jovenes…..it also has no facilities at all. We are all set up here with electricity, fans, and a kitchenette (emphasis on “ette). But you know, as we spend more and more time leading this simple life, it becomes more evident how little you need to live off of. Nicole and Nate are back-packing and living much more simply than us. Ahh to be 20-something again!
Life on the road has become second nature. We’ve figured out the basics of how to always have delicious, clean water to drink, how to disinfect fruit and veggies, and how to live without toilet seats. Chris has the driving down, we see most of the topes, most of the time, and so far we've only gotten one policia bribe request (for a flashlight). Poppi continues to show the strain, the fridge liner is busted, the awning is held together with duct tape and other tarps, and the couch is held up by a cutting board. Our beds are still heaven, and we’ve figured out how to move deftly out of each other’s way in this tiny space. Our only summit yet to climb is to teach the Sequoia to drink something other than gas.

So much for now! Anny

Misol Há


March 26th
Oh my. Misol Há is a beautiful area. There are two 100-foot waterfalls cascading through rainbows into a large swim hole in deep jungle. The cliffs behind the falls cut in sharply and they have built a walk way behind them. If you follow the ropes completely behind the falls, they lead up to a cave. There are solid nylon ropes to hang on to, and smaller cascades coming down around you as you ascend the rocks to the cave opening. Chris, Cassidy, and Teslin took the 10 peso tour back into the cave……they will have to describe it, since I sat happily on a high overlook and watched life go by (I heard something about a large dark cavern with tons of bats and fish with giant eyes). While I sat, 2 toucans soared over the falls, followed a bit later by a pair of bat falcons. The sun was darting behind clouds and every time it reappeared, created a massive rainbow at the base of the falls.
THEN a skink led us downstream into a fairy land of small waterfalls and swim holes, around boulders, through water deep and cool and clear to other boulders, falls and deep pools. The skink was chasing bugs near the end of the top pool and then got up on his 2 back feet and ran across the water to another boulder. Jesus the Skink. Quite something, really. We played and explored for quite some time until Chris took a jump off a boulder into what we thought was deep water and hit a rock 4 feet under. Luckily he landed flat and didn’t break anything. He was quite sore though, and we had to give old gramps a rest (I’m happy to report there was no lasting damage and Chris is as limber as ever).
It was quite incongruous to find 6 tour buses in the parking lot when we came up. 95 percent of the visitors just go down to look at the falls, take a picture, and never set foot in the water. A man who works in the campground in Palenque told us that it is just in the last year that Misol Há got on the map as a major tour destination. Chris had been there many years before and found it quite empty. Now there are cabanas and a nice restaurant. They’ve made a huge parking lot, so must get quite a few people though. We hope that like all of the popularized beauty spots, that they are good stewards this amazing place.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

BONAMPAK


March 23rd, 2008

We are camped by a beautiful green rolling river in the Lacandón jungle in Southern Chiapas. The name of the place is Campamento Lacandones . The river spreads out just upstream and has created a wide waterfall that you can climb up and jump off of. The falls come in from many different angles. It is truly beautiful. There are also some great trees that the young (and Chris) can climb up and leap from. A three meter crocodile has been seen up just river several months ago but hasn’t shown his chops here yet. As for the birds…..see Cassidy’s blog entry entitled: “ Euphonias, Tanagers, and Honey Creepers, Oh MY! “ (Cassidy’s and Teslin’s blogs are hyperlinked near the top of our blog).
Our fellow Vagabundos, Susan and Esteban, are here as well. Susan is an avid birder, and she, Cassidy and Chris have been getting up daily at daybreak to go birding. The rest of us have enjoyed the babble of the waterfall and the beautiful sound of bird song through our pillows.
Bonampak is near the Guatemalan border south of Palenque and is in a large preserve or protected area. The area around Bonampak is managed collectively by three distinct indigenous groups’ the Lacandones who previously inhabited the Lacandón Jungle, the Choles and the Tzeltales. There are places like this one popping up all around the area, offering cabañas, places for hammock dwellers and camping. This area is relatively new to tourism. Bonampak was accessible only by airstrip until 1997 when the Mexican government built a road in from Palenque. With the road came modernization and well…you know the rest. It is a very precious place still.
There is an internet hut a twenty minute walk from here. It is owned by a Lacandón family who also has a campamento. The place is a simple room with 5 computers, shelves of wood carvings, baskets, some clay figures, and seed necklaces. The family that runs it spans 3 generations and most still dress in the traditional Lacandón tunics which are long white cotton shifts worn by the men, women and children (the young girls were dressed in colored tunics). The older man explained how they get the fiber from the inner bark of a tree, while his daughter showed us how they make cordage by rubbing the fibers firmly between their palm and leg. Behind their shoulders I could see Internet Explorer home pages.
The Lacandón people seem very aware of the pressures on their jungle habitat. Although we ourselves pose a threat to this, the tourist trade is not the greatest of their challenges. The destruction of the rain forest is happening here just as it is in more well known areas such as the Amazon. The entire drive south from Palenque, there were large herds of cattle grazing on land that was once jungle. The trees are cut down for firewood, for grazing, for fields and to provide habitat for an ever expanding population. Many people have already migrated to the area from other parts in Mexico, and the pressure it places on the land will only continue. The Lacandón seem wise stewards of the earth and I only hope that this special culture has the strength to survive the political and social pressures that come with growth.

Campeando Estilo Méxicano

It is Easter holidays here in Mexico and many are out and about. Two different times, both here and in Palenque, we were nestled down for the night when 2 tour buses arrived (around 9:30 pm) from Mexico City. They were packed to capacity with Mexicans with the best attitudes I have ever seen exhibited while setting up camp under less than optimal conditions. They piled out of the buses, searched for dry and level areas of ground, pitched small tents in the dark-all within a few feet of each other (and us)- waited without complaint at the 4 bathrooms sans TP that were too small for their numbers and not functioning well and then slept a short hot night after grabbing whatever they could eat from the kitchen. The next morning they hurriedly rolled up their wet tents and bags, lined up again at the bathrooms and then were all packed into the buses again, taken to the ruins for a visit and another long drive to their next destination. It was quite an odyssey….a little appalling at first sight, but you can appreciate it much more once you see that there were grandparents, grandchildren, city dwellers, small pueblo citizens…..all walks of life, happily going “camping” together. I would hate to hear the complaints from a bus of US tourists! These folks were all very good natured and seemed to be having a great time. Obviously, this is an affordable and accessible way for them to get out and about.

Anny

Friday, March 14, 2008

¡ADELANTE!


We finally said goodbye to Oaxaca after 6 weeks of school and sedentary living. We had settled in to a great schedule of 4-6 brisk 15 minute walks a day and city living. We left Saturday, March 8th, at noon alter a morning of goodbyes to our housemates and set off South on the Pan American Highway. Things were going great until the road was blockaded by “las maestras” 10 miles north of Tehuantepec. It is a very complicated story and I don’t want to minimize the importance of the schoolteachers’ dilemma or demands but road blockades have been adopted as a bargaining tactic by the teachers’ union and everyone is thus included in their struggle. Anyway, we were directed on to a dirt road at the military checkpoint if we wanted to avoid being stuck on the highway for 24+ hours and we decided to just follow other vehicles they had already diverted that way so off we went. It was a very interesting detour down an ever-narrowing dirt road with many interesting turns and ruts, which got even more interesting as night fell. We finally came to what looked like a dead end at a river some 50 feet wide but watched the lights of a pickup truck as it crossed it and they didn’t go underwater so lumbered after him with the trailer in tow. We felt like we were part of an old wagon train- just needed a cow tied to the back bumper to make it authentic. Anyway- finally made it to Tehuantepec at 9pm and crashed at the Calli Hotel. Birded in the grounds and around the pool the next day and then headed out at noon for Ocozocoautla (outside of Tuxtla Gutierrez) and the Hogar Infantil.

Day one at the orphanage was spent looking closely at the popup and getting organized again for living in the trailer. We were surprised to find that the back section of the trailer had separated from the body and there was a 2-inch gap of air leading in to the inside- not good for tropical climates! After much thought, we decided that Duct Tape was definitely the treatment of choice and proceeded to wrap it tightly alter removing the spare tire. It looks like it may work for a short-term solution and will see how it does on the highway. Anny was so impressed it got her to write a poem-she really applied herself!

Sima de los Cotorras

We heard through some friends who had preceded us that there was a great birding place close to the Hogar that we should check out. We drove out some 12-14 miles on a dirt road following signs for the selva and the sima and finally arrived at a huge limestone sinkhole some hundred yards across and several hundred feet deep surrounded by scrub trees and filled with huge trees on the bottom. Several thousand birds-mostly green parrots or “Cotorras”- roosted in the Sima (sinkhole) at night so we waited there until nightfall far the nightly return. We were not disappointed as groups of parrots started returning at 5pm as wave after wave came in for the next 2 hours. They made quite a racket as they flew in and settled in along the cliff edges and tops of trees. Cassidy and I were so impressed that we got up at 5:30 the next morning to be there at sunrise as they came out. We left with it still quite dark and arrived at the sinkhole before grey light. We heard some great bird calls in the dark so turned the car off and waited. We were surrounded by Buff-colored and Paraque Nightjars who have a wonderfully eerie call and they came quite close to us as they hunted insects in the night. We just sat there in front of the car for 10-15 minutes until it began to get lighter then proceeded to the sinkhole. It was very quiet in the Sima when we arrived with an occasional parrot call echoing around the hole. Then, as light came, wave after wave of parrots, 20-30 in a group began spiraling their way out of the sinkhole. They called continuously as they rose, seemingly calling others to join them, and then flying off in different directions for the day’s activities. This went on for close to 2 hours as we watched and listened and was quite a treat. After most of the parrots had left the sima, we walked the scrub area around the sinkhole and came across groups of noisy Chacalaca, Black-headed Saltators, Altamira Orioles, and a Squirrel Cuckoo, which is one of my favorites. We finally left at 10am and returned home.

Tuxtla Gutiérrez Zoológica

We went to Tuxtla that night to get groceries and visit the Zoo, which we had read great things about. Cassidy has a great description on his Blog-see under Links. The zoo was amazing- one of the best I’ve ever experienced- as it is a large reserve filled with large trees and scrub on the side of a mountain with several streams running through it. Almost all of the animals and birds were residents of Chiapas and there was actually more wildlife outside of the cages than within them as hundreds of birds-Chacalaca, MotMots, Guan and Curassows flew in to the park for feeding and some seemed to have taken up residency. Large rodent-like creatures the size of large cats-Agoutis-wandered the zoo’s grounds by the hundreds and the air was filled with the cries of many parrots and other birds. Spider monkeys could be seen in the tops of trees as one walked through the park- we did not know if they had escaped their own enclosure or had come to the park on their own. We walked on a great 4-5 km path that wound its way through the park over 2+ hours and as we were leaving, we were treated to a loud penetrating growl of a black panther that reverberated through the park several times. It made one think of dinner-in many different ways.

San Cristóbal de las Casas

We left on the 12th de Marzo for San Cristóbal and moved in to the Bonampak Hotel trailer park, which is quite comfortable for 4 nights before continuing on towards Palenque. San Cristóbal is a wonderful city in the midst of the highland Maya region that is unique for many reasons. The Zapatista uprising happened here in the 1990s and the area is still in flux with many communities close to here that actively support and align themselves with the Zapatista movement and others who side with PRI or other government groups. There continues to be a large military presence and harassment of Zapatista followers and sympathizers and history continues to be made as this struggle continues. The overall feel of the town is also very different with its architecture reminding one more of Guatemala and Central America than Mexico and the narrow rough cobblestone streets making even Oaxaca seem very “modern”. The tourists are mostly European---Americans are definitely outnumbered--with an interesting smattering of more “earthy” types sporting native dress and the less showered look-our kind of people! We hope to get out of the town to surrounding communities before we head out but also plan on returning for a longer visit on the return trip if money allows. Anny and I both love this place and want to explore its riches. Unfortunately, other foreigners also share this feeling as Century 21 is in business advertising new homes in gated communities, which is a little distressing. Anyway- more to come.

Chris

Las Hadas Tardes

En nuestra casa, las Hadas habían venido cada año en la noche ante de los cumpleaños de nuestros niños. Habían traído regalitos y flores, y los pusieron en la mesa. Casi siempre, las hadas traían animales de vidrio o de madera. Siempre dejaban una vela especial con flores.

Este año, mi hijo cumplió trece años aquí en Oaxaca. Tenía mucha curiosidad: ¿qué van a dejar las Hadas en México? ¡Pues….Los hadas no vinieron! Fue la primera vez qué no habían venido. El niño no lo comprendo y estaba muy triste. Le dijimos que quizás le olvidaron, o quizás, no se encontraban las Hadas de cumpleaños en México.

¡Que sorpresa! ¡El sábado, 11 días después su cumpleaños, las Hadas llegaron! Nuestro hijo nos despertó temprano y dijo: ‘¡Las hadas acaban de venir!! ‘ Pensamos que las Hadas se duerman durante una siesta larga, y por eso llegaron tarde.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

OWED TO DUCT TAPE

It’s silver, it’s grey
It lays coiled away
We bought it in case
and now need it each day.

Old Poppi is sagging
From the trip we are having
He’s torn in the stern
and for a rest he does yearn.

He leaks when it rains,
The couch sags and it strains
The rear’s gone and popped out,
screws are lying about.

The caulking is baked
Like the sun on a cake
While the topes have shaked
all the screws from their plates.

But all we must do
to make Poppi anew
Is apply our duct tape
to the holes where they gape.

Now the backside is tight
from the tape with it’s might
And the rain is kept out
as if in a drought.

Ahh, yes….Poppi is dapper,
with silver and white strappers
and strong as a horse,
he will carry us forth.

We continue our travels
as our trailer unravels
But we haven’t a fear
Because duct tape is near.



By Anny

Monday, March 10, 2008

10 Marzo, 2008

Hogar Infantil, Ocozocoautla

We are camped at a beautiful place outside of Tuxtla Gutierrez. It is home to about 90 children who are orphans. We were met by an amazingly helpful and cheerful group of boys who had us set up in no time. They are obviously used to visitors pulling in for the night, and were very curious about our pop-up. There are 4 spaces here for camping, and if they are full you can set up on the soccer field. They will not let you pay for your stay, but there is an organization affiliated with them in the U.S. that you can make financial contributions to on your return. It’s an ingenious setup, and benefits both sides greatly. They have a small bathroom near the camping spaces, but it is not working and has no water. Instead, Teslin and I use the bathroom in the girl’s dormitory, and Chris and Cassidy are using the one in the boy’s dormitory. The girls always greet us in English and are eager to talk (in Spanish). It is great fun.

We arrived on a Sunday and Teslin and Cassidy were quickly playing all sorts of games and surrounded by new friends. The grounds are large and clean and grassy. There is a huge playground area, basketball court, and soccer field right outside the pop-up. There are large shade trees for climbing, goats with kids, a family of pigs, and a puppy. It is quiet this morning since all the kids went to school. Cassidy and Chris were out birding early, but Teslin and I slept like babies through all the pig snorts and rooster calls. The great tailed grackles and white-winged doves, Great Kiskaddes and Clay-coloured Robins are keeing up a constant chorus. It is all very peaceful!

Anny

8 Marzo, 2008

We are once again Los Ruges Vagabundos. We’re heading down 190 south from Oaxaca having said our goodbyes to our Posada friends. Teslin is sporting corn rows that Patricia gave her this morning. We are listening to the Weavers, eating Mexican oreo cookies and feeling very, very fine. The landscape have changed from the dry mountains of Oaxaca to a thriving cactus zone starting to bloom, and now down into the lowlands where there is a huge amount of mague cultivation….you can just smell the tequila potential. The river beds now have water in them and are lush tropical lines in an ever greener lanscape.

Pues, es tiempo para escribir en español. Chris está cantando Quantanamera con fuerza en voz alta. Estamos escuchando a un grupo del los 60’s, Los Weavers, quien cantaban muchos de los políticos. Nos salimos de Oaxaca este mañana y estamos en ruta a Tehuantepec. La carretera tiene muchas curvas, y Teslin tiene un poco de mareo de movimiento. Este lugar tiene muchas milpas de maguey, y poca a poca está cambiando mas verde. Los valles que tienen agua son muy verde y vemos árboles de plátanos y papayas. Uh ho….estamos detrás una camión grande y tenemos pasar en una curva. ¡Ojalá que Chris no haga eso! Cassidy está felíz ver cambios en la tierra, porque buscando pájaros nuevas.

Todos estuvieron tristes en salir de Oaxaca. Nos despertaban por tres horas. Estábamos en Oaxaca por 7 semanas. Cassidy, Teslin, y yo hemos aprendido mucho español, y ellos tienen la confidencia para hablar con personas en restaurantes y cualquier lugar. Muchísimas gracias a todos—nuestros maestros: Luz, Pati, Monse, y Omar, y todos de las personas del Instituto Cultural. Unas gracias especiales a Patricia de la Posada del Fortín, quien era una buena amiga a los niños y nosotros, y con sus niños, Africa y Amir, nos introdujo a la cultura de familia en Mexíco. ¡Seguro que regresamos a Oaxaca!

Paz.
Anny

Monday, February 18, 2008

Oaxaca, February 18, 2008

We are getting quite accustomed to this new pace of existence in Oaxaca. We start to stir between 7-8:00am and wander outside to the open veranda to start the water for coffee and tea. Cassidy usually sets up shop with the binos and scope, watching the morning antics of the Yellow- rumped and Wilson’s warblers that are plentiful here and the different hummingbirds that are very into the purple flowered tree above us. We make our breakfast in the open kitchen and then it’s off to school for Anny and the kids around 8:45. They have a 15 minute walk to school (about a mile in distance)via a combination of small streets and cobblestone alleyways, passing under the centuries old aqueduct that supplied water to the town in colonial days. Daddy cleans up the place and writes emails to send later at the school when we have internet access and then walks to the school around 11am for internet surfing, emails, and future trip planning online. We all visit during the 15 minute breaks every hour and a half and then the kids check their own email sites at 1pm before walking home.

We normally stop at a small café for a “Comida Corrida” which is still found in much of Mexico though not often in resort towns. It is a lunch special of sorts with a choice of hand-made drink, a soup or boullion, a salad course, a main course chosen between 3-4 options ( chile relleno, pollo, enchiladas, mole, cecina o bistek) and a small postre or desert-usually rice pudding or cookie. The price varies café to café but we usually pay 35-50 pesos or $3-5.00 per person and get 3 meals. Then it is home to the Posada for a siesta which is spent reading, sleeping or doing homework. We all walk back to the school at 3:45pm for the Backstrap weaving class that Anny and the Kids are doing and daddy does more internet downloads of places to go see, birding advice for Chiapas and the Yucatan, and updates on news and sports. The afternoon session is over at 6pm and we all walk home for daddy to make supper and then usually spend 2 hours doing homework. Some week nights we will walk down the mile to the Zocolo for a meal and to enjoy sitting and people watching but we usually reserve this for Fri, Sat and Sunday nights. We end the day with some book reading, star gazing or Harry Potter video game challenges if the kids are in the computer mood.

Weekends bring time for choices. We always go to the “Centro” to sit on the Zocolo at one of the open air cafes, drinking “Limonadas con Agua Mineral” and eating the free “botana” that comes with all drinks and meals-usually nuts soaked in chile and salt with limon to flavor it with. We will wander to one of the close markets to look at handicrafts and fresh fruit and vegetables. The kids like to take the scooter everywhere here so will take turns scooting around the plaza, taking in the street scene with musicians, street theater and strolling vendors aged 5-80 sharing the space with them. We try to do an adventure as well- going on birding trips, visiting ruins and may even visit some smaller villages in the mountains around this large city.

We have decided to stay in Oaxaca until around March 10th when we will head out for Tuxtla Guttierez and Chiapas though we haven’t decided on the route yet. We may take a 2-4 day detour through tropical jungle north of Oaxaca closer to the Gulf coast to make it a more interesting trip and are talking to a great local guide about accompanying us for this stretch of the trip. We hope to take in a lot of nature experiences in Chiapas over 2-3 weeks with stops in San Cristobal, Palenque, Bonampak and other jungle sites before continuing on towards the Yucatan. We’ll see how we feel upon arriving on the beach before deciding how long to stay on the peninsula. We are open to any ideas for rendezvous in the jungle or on the beaches of the Yucatan so write us anyone if you want to come for a visit and adventure!! Some friends of ours from Massachusetts (Amy, Pat and Bailey) are seeing whether they can come to see us in the Yucatan south of Cancun in mid-April which would be great.

The family talks continue as to where to land eventually-it helps to talk about it as we are encountering less absolutes such as “I will not live in __________ unless we have_______ and _________ and I can do this type of school or homeschool”. We finally arrived at a point recently where we have no ties to any particular place or absolute rejection of any particular place-including back east in Mass.—which actually has made it easier to discuss. We have had great offers of work in Tucson and northern NM and we know we could go back to western Massachusetts and return to some version of our old jobs there. It’s good to have options though the array of choices is a little mind-boggling. We believe that it will become more clear to us over the next 2 months- it has to as our bank account dwindles down lower and lower. We do love this little adventure we have been blessed with and would love to keep it going as long as we can (Cassidy would love just one more year and Teslin said she would continue if we have a house to go back to!). We’ll see what the new day brings.

Peace to all.
Chris

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mid February already???

February 13, 2008

Ooo it’s hard to keep up with this blog stuff while we are in SCHOOL!!!! Cassidy, Teslin, and I are in our third week of Spanish classes. Class is 4 hours a day with a 2 hour workshop in the afternoon (4-6:00). Chris meets us at school at 1:00 and we go out to a nice big mid-day meal, and then return to our Posada for a serious siesta. Spanish is going great, but by 8:00 I’m toast (the kids still have zip at this hour however). We all feel that the afternoon class is a bit too much, but now we are learning back strap weaving and can’t resist.

Cassidy and Teslin are doing great with their Spanish. They are speaking in sentences and asking for things at restaurants and markets. Over the weekend we all went to the market at Tlacolula, a small town 20 minutes from Oaxaca. Cassidy bought his first treasures and did a great job bargaining for them. I’m quite impressed. I find myself sitting in class feeling a lot like I am a first grader in an 8th grade honors course. (Actually….I’ve gotten better…I may just be 2 years behind now). We just found out it is actually a 5 week class this time, so we will be here longer than we thought.

One of our Posada buddies, Ron, returned today to Tucson, and we are all sad to see him go. We look forward to seeing Ron and meeting his wife when we get up there ourselves again. The Posada can take 3 more people, but I don’t think anyone is scheduled to come this month. Another woman, Jennifer is out traveling around rural markets in Oaxaca for the week. She’ll be back for a bit, and then she too leaves. That leaves us and Dan, the long term renter from Canada. This is Dan’s 3rd year here and he considers it his second home. We’ve gotten to know the sweet family that runs the Posada and the kids are getting quite friendly with the 7 year old, Africa. In fact on Saturday, Chris, Cassidy and I went out to a nearby village (San Felipe) to bird, and Teslin stayed with Africa’s family. The 3 year old, Amir, likes to scare Chris with his dinosaurs. The two are quite a pair. Efrin, Africa's dad, works 2 jobs to make ends meet. He works at the school during the job, and then on Friday and Saturday nights works at a bar until 5am

The weather has been amazing….in the high 80’s each day and 50-60 at night. We have our fans and soft sheets and just about everything else from the Pop-up with us at the Posada. It’s only sprinkled once since we arrived which is a bit dry for this time of year. There was a 6-4 magnitude earthquake the other day that woke everyone else in the city but the Ruges. We all slept like babies through it. Evidently Oaxaca is very near a fault and they have tremors every day. This was the biggest they’ve had in a few years, but did not damage anything.

Here’s Cassidy for a two sentence bird update:

I’ve seen lots of interesting birds around our posada including Gray Silky-flycatcher and Bridled Sparrow. We are going to a place in Oaxaca called Teotitlan this Saturday and I bet it will be great birding! So….this is what I’ve seen: Vermillion and Tufted Flycatchers, Rufous Capped Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, Yellow Rump warbler, Berylline and Dusky Hummingbirds, Orchard and Bullock’s Orioles, House Sparrows!, Nashville Warblers, House Finches, and Great-tailed Grackles, Inca Doves, orange-crowned Warbler, Turkey Vultures, Robins, and 1 black and white warbler that mom saw. That’s all! Cassidy.


Feb 16th, 2008


It's Saturday and the boys are on an all day birding trip with Roque and us girls are having one big long siesta. Another home schooling family arrived yesterday with a 13 year old girl and will be here for three weeks. That should be a lot of fun for everyone. Yesterday morning there was a huge demonstration of the teacher's union. I was told that there were 20,000 people demonstrating, from the city of Oaxaca and outlying villages. They started at the ministry of education on the edge of the city and walked down the main street to the Zocalo. They were going past the school for almost 2 hours. Demonstrations are very common here and an accepted way to express sentiments. We talked quite a bit about it in class and my teacher (who is quite liberal) feels that it is an outdated and ineffective form of protest. There are not a lot of options it seems, and it is a welcome change to what seems like collective passivity in the States. There is much frustration with the government here, but very few way to express it and even fewer ways to affect change.

Teslin and I are on the veranda at school. It is a huge garden area with palm trees and flowering plants and trees I am not familiar with. One side is on one of the busiest roads in Oaxaca, but you rarely notice once you enter the school. It is surrounded by a high wall with ivy and plants on it. However, when the traffic gets stopped for some reason folks just lay on their horns. It's even worse than NE cities! Even when they can see the reason for the stop, people honk and honk. That coupled with the lack of pollution devices on any cars makes walking on busy streets very nasty. for the most part you can avoid them and there are many pleasant parks and small streets to wander through. The school is the only place we know of that has any stretch of grass to it, and we always bring a frisbee with us for breaks. Oaxaca's main plaza or zocolo is beautiful, with gorgeous large trees and seasonal flower beds (now they are all poinsettas). It is a large pedestrian only space, but all cobblestone and pavement with lots of places to sit and enjoy things. An enormous cathedral borders one side of the zocolo and has its own beautiful open area. The rest of the zocalo is edged with cafe's and shops.

Well...the school is shutting so we have to go! more to come! Anny


Sunday, February 3, 2008

EL SUPER BOL

Aha! We are sitting in a fancy bar in Oaxaca on the plaza sipping cerveza y limonada and watching the Super Bol in Spanish. It's actually much more enjoyable. Teslin is playing solitare on a computer and I am well....watching tight ends. Silly men, hitting heads like that. The crowd in here is sparse.... most are very American with one Mexican table that seems to be Patriots fans.

We are having a great time here. Walking everywhere is making more room for all the great food and makes for a good nights sleep. We have slowed down, but the school schedule keeps us hopping. Chris and I continue with 2 left feet in Salsa class, but Roberto is trying his best. Talk about a tight end! He's great....he arrives on his motorcycle in his sweats totally LISTO. Cassidy and teslin are the only kids in the class and catch on quickly. Since there are many more women than men, the men have to dance with a

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oaxaca, Mexico


January 27th, 2008

My new watch explains a lot. It has a pink faux leather strap and a sparkly mauve face. It only has numbers at 12, 3, 6, and 9, so you don’t need to get too up tight about specifics. The entire watch face swivels and turns around with the back out: Santa Maria surrounded with faux diamonds. It makes me want to weep. I figured we better get a Santa Maria in our midst down here. I can swivel my watch around at crucial times like looking for a place to live or being inspected at a military check point.

Perhaps the fact that Cassidy turns into a teenager in just a few hours (4:07am ) explains the rest. WOW! How do kids get to be so old when you’re living right next to them? I don’t know what happened, but now he’s faster, stronger, has size 9 feet, and wants to talk about politics. At least he’s not taller than me…..yet.

We’ve landed in Oaxaca and are staying at a Pasada near the main Plaza…..it is great. We have our own little 2 room space and then share a common courtyard and covered, tiled outdoor kitchen area with the other tenants. At this point that is a man from Tucson who spent the last 40 years in Alaska, another man who lives here half the year from Peace River, Alberta, and a woman who we never see. The place is owned by the language school we are going to and everyone here is taking some semblance of classes there.
Anny

Oaxaca is one of my favorite places in Mexico with a wonderful Zocolo which is filled at this time of year with thousands of poinsettas in all of the plots around the tall shade trees. There are outdoor concerts many nights each week- classical, marimba, mariachi- as well as wandering troubadors throughout the main plaza. There is a huge Indian Market with all manner of things-foods, handicrafts, clothing and many smaller markets with different emphasis on specialty items. The town is full of ancient churches, some being built as early as the 1500s, before the pilgrims landed to the north, and many beautiful plazas/parks where one can sit and take in the sites. We have already walked more in 3 days here than we walked the previous month and are taking buses when we get a little tired (or cranky). We worked out a deal with the trailer park where we spent the first night and can park our car and trailer there for the month for $60. It’s not too far from us if we need something though we packed the car full once already with all of our books food, clothing, bedding and other assorted stuff. Our rooms are very homey!! Birding in the veranda is great with hummingbirds, Vermillion flycatchers, tropical kingbirds, yellow grosbeaks, many types of warblers, doves, orchard orioles and some unidentified birds filling the trees and bushes. We are contemplating putting out a feeder and watering dish for them to see what we can attract to the yard. We have Wifi at the school so will try and get some pictures in soon of our new home.

Hasta luego,
Chris