Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Out of order

The four posts following were placed out of order because somehow I lost them and they have been found!

Old, Fat and Frumpy; Standing On the Street of Desire



 Old, Fat and Frumpy; Standing On the Street of Desire
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            Finally we made the trip to Etzatlan, near Guadalajara, to visit my friend Loni. I did not make the trip solo. Lupe watched me struggle to secure a bus ticket and said, “Let me take time off work. We’ll drive.  Roshanna Vanna wants a road trip.”
            I believe Lupe had visions of me stranded, totally lost and alone, begging outside the bus terminal in Tepic. I had already had that vision. Ever prepared, I planned to take pencils and paper. I could write letters for people who have a hard time saying what they want to say to those they love or to those they hate. The language barrier might even be a plus. I could listen to my clients voice and heart and write what I heard, which would then have to be translated by the recipient of the letter. This could be a good business model, one with the potential for, well, potential. 
            As it was, I came unwittingly close to another ancient business model on our return when we stopped in Tepic. But that was on the way home.
            Mexico is a country of startling beauty. We drove through Sinaloa, a state that hugs the coast, into Nayarit which starts the climb up through ancient volcanic mountains and still higher into Jalisco. I wanted a guide, a botanist and books depicting the flora. I saw trees so spectacular I had to bow down, blooms which blanketed entire mountainsides, next to oddities such as a stunted little tree with perfectly round tumor-looking balls stuck out of both trunk and branches. Lupe said the balls are the fruit of the tree and both balls and bark are used medicinally.
            My cousin Nancie and friend Loni were determined to move me to Etzatlan. There just happened to be three haciendas for sale. They just knew one called my name. The brick haciendas, beautifully built in modest size and Mexcian style, are located at the entrance of a working ranch. Tempting, but my heart is in Mazatlan.
            We explored town and country, soaked at hot spring pools in Ixtlan Del Rio, visited potters in San Marcos and Magdalena where I bought a clay olla or bean pot, a casuela and flower pots. Imagine lugging those heavy pots home on the bus! We climbed a mountaintop to a shrine, picnicked, played cards, visited neighbors. We froze to death each night when thermometers plunged into the low forties. I know. You don’t feel one bit sorry for me. But the houses are not heated. The sun is turned on from mid-morning to about five-thirty.  Then it shuts down for the night.
            On the drive home, we plunged right into the historic district of Tepic, to roam the market. But first we had to park. Picture dropping severely downhill on a side street, swinging a sharp right, through columns with an inch to spare each side, up an even steeper ramp into a teensy parking garage.  I closed my eyes and held my breath, certain sure the side panels would be sheared off.
            The Tepic market is huge, bustling with everybody selling everything imaginable.  I bought a beadwork necklace, fresh ginger and chamomile, a mystery fruit, tamarind candy and a kilo of strawberries.  We ate birria de chivo at a street stand. After I licked my bowl, and said, “This is the best beef I ever ate,” Lupe told me it was goat. It was a good goat. After feasting eyes, body and soul, we walked back to retrieve Roshanna.
            I’m a good driver. I can make a perfectly fine forty-two-point turn-around. I said to Lupe, “I’ll just wait out here on the street for you to bring her out.”
            So there I stood, back against the adobe wall. Across the street strutted a woman wearing the highest shoes I have ever seen. Wow, was she ever dressed. Makeup troweled on. Hairdo cemented into place. She was gorgeous in black. I looked down the street. Another woman leaned against the wall, dressed for the evening in red. I looked further. In all, I saw eight women, all dressed for a night on the town at mid-afternoon.
            And there I was.  Cut-offs, flowered shirt, flip-flops, scrubbed face, straw hair. Leaning against the same wall. A man walked by, gave me a strange look, grinned, shook his head and kept going. Another man came along, stopped, looked me over head to foot, laughed out loud and went on up the street.
Then I got it. There were no fruit and vegetable vendors on the street of desire; only women of pleasure. I would rather have been huddled outside the bus terminal, writing letters.  
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 23, 2014
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Won’t You Be . . . My Neighbor



Won’t You Be . . . My Neighbor
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            Chip away the ice, pull on a pair of shorts, tee shirt, flip flops, sun block, a hat and come with me on a mini-tour of my immediate neighborhood. I’m only a block from the beach, so you might like to go sunbathe after our walk. I thought you might enjoy a respite from Montana chill.
            A half block out my door and we are on Cameron Sabala, the main drag in the tourist sector of Mazatlan. Unlike getting a bus out of town, getting a bus in town is easy and costs pennies. There is a bus rumbling by every few moments, well marked across the windshield for destination. And if you are not sure, flag him down and ask. The drivers are all helpful and courteous and most have at least minimal English, sort of like my Spanish. Here comes the Cerritos bus. We could take it to the end of the run to the little fishing village and enjoy freshly grilled mahi mahi or red snapper, dripping sea salt water. 
            The Ocean side of Cameron Sabala is lined with resorts, hotels, and restaurants. You can access the beach through any hotel or restaurant or through one of the open lots between the buildings.  All the beaches are public beaches and cannot be blocked.
            Usually I walk down the inland side of this street. Perhaps I’m lugging a bag of laundry to the lavendaria where I drop my clothing and linen to be washed and dried and folded neatly for me to pick up the next day.  Maria slings my bag onto a large hanging scale and charges me by the kilo.  Considering the volume of laundry dropped off every day, I am amazed that Maria already knows me by name, and no doubt, by my laundry.
This long block has three or four Tiendas. The signs read “Super Market”. Translate that “convenience store”. Each six or seven meter wide space is jam-packed floor to ceiling with the usual soda, chips and beer, along with flip flops, sun screen and inflatable beach toys.  
“Sondra.” I hear my name called. Elias from across the street is waving at me. He crosses over to give me a hug and ask how I’m doing. I met Elias ten years ago and, like magnets, we meet, usually on the beach, several times every year.
I want to take you into this little mall because it is brightly painted and cheerful, neatly ordered and has a central courtyard with benches where we may sit a few minutes. You’ll want to browse through the colorful stalls, see tee shirts and traditional blouses and dresses, look at dishes and souvenirs. Then we’ll go in and I’ll introduce you to Bertha. I met her when I needed my first hair cut last fall. Her salon takes up the back area of the mall. Bertha is a single mom, has a lovely young daughter, cuts hair, beautifies nails and does massage. We have just enough languages between us to understand one another. Everybody in this neighborhood goes to Bertha.
When we leave the mall let’s go through this well-stocked frutera. I don’t need much, a couple tomatoes, a cucumber, a handful of cilantro, an avocado, some fresh strawberries, oh, smell, and these baby bananas. All this for twenty pesos, about a dollar seventy-five to us. We’ll have a salad and fresh fruit for dinner tonight with limonada from limes grown in my back patio.
I’m starting to feel hungry for lunch. We could eat at the restaurant in front but I want to introduce you to Rueben. So we’ll go around this hotel, a hangout for ex-pats and snowbirds and back down the street where I live. We’ll walk back through a residential area with beautifully painted and trimmed homes, built much like row houses, most of them sharing a common wall. Almost all the homes are fronted with elaborate wrought iron gates. The street is lined with box trees, trimmed and shaped, some to resemble exotic animals from ostrich to elephant.
It is a long block but in moments we are back to my door. Just put your souvenirs inside and we’ll walk ten more steps to the corner to Rueben’s sidewalk cafĂ© for lunch.  Today’s special is carne adobado, which is pork marinated and barbequed with adobo sauce for just forty five pesos, about three dollars, fifty cents. “Buenas tardes, Rueben.”
Oh, look who’s here at the back table. I met Berta and Blanca, sisters who make and sell beaded jewelry on the beach, the first year I came to Mazatlan. I talk with them several times each year and have met their families and hugged the bambinos. “May we join you?  The special is really good.”
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 16, 2014
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Tried to Run Away and Got Tripped Up



Tried to Run Away and Got Tripped Up
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            Lani, who lives in Etzatlan near Guadalajara, invited me to spend a few days with her. Lani and my cousin Nancie are long time friends. Nancie has been nagging me to go to Etzatlan but it just hadn’t worked out yet. We three women spent a day together in Mazatlan in mid-December.  Lani lives in Etzatlan full time. So, yes, thank you, Lani. I would love to visit. Even in Paradise, one can use a change of scenery.
            Besides, I am at a decision point and would gladly run off and leave the decision to simmer on the back burner. In a couple weeks I will be looking at a sweet little apartment for rent in Old Mazatlan. I have to decide whether to take the rental and test-drive the area or stay in my little studio and continue to look for a house to purchase. High finance is so confusing to me.
            A trip to the Guadalajara area seemed just the diversion I wanted. I meant to spend this week there. The trip did not quite unfold the way I thought it would.
            The bus terminal in Mazatlan is much like an aeropuerto. Every autobus company uses the terminal. So Friday I went downtown. Lani had suggested I get a ticket to Magdalena where she would pick me up, a short drive from her home.
            The young lady at the counter turned the computer toward me so I could see the screen. There are no direct runs to Magdalena. The computer has its limitations. It did not suggest that I go from here to there to Magdalena. Neither did the woman at the counter. Of course, we had a bit of a language barrier. I turned and left. Emailed Lani of my lack of progress.
            Lani then suggested I go to Tepic and from there purchase a ticket to Magdalena. My friend Lupe offered to go to the terminal and get the ticket for me. He phoned me from the terminal. The only bus to Tepic left Mazatlan at two o’clock in the afternoon. And with the crush of going-home-from-holiday traffic, there were no tickets on that run until Tuesday. Tepic is a major terminal, so the scenario didn’t make sense.
I had visions of being stranded overnight in the Tepic terminal waiting for the possibly one and only bus to Magdalena. I figured I would not be taking a trip this week, so unpacked my bags.
            I had been stranded in Tepic before and all this confusion brought the memory back with clarity. Kathy, Mary and I had boarded the bus in Puerto Vallarta, destination Mazatlan. The volume on the movie topped out, the air conditioner was set to ‘ice’. Everybody carried a blanket. We were dressed for the tropics.
            We pulled into Tepic in the middle of the night. With hand signals, the driver indicated to us “fifteen minutes”. Everybody got off the bus. Kathy and I followed. Mary went to the toilet facility at the back of the bus, saying she would be out in a minute.
            We bought ice-cream bars from one of the many vendors and walked back to the bus, scanning for Mary. When we arrived where the bus had been parked, no bus. No Mary. Everything we owned was on the bus—clothing, money, passports. Mary. We looked at one another, eyes big as platters, did the only thing we knew to do, exploded with hysterical laughter. So did everybody around us. Except for one thing. They knew the secret so their laughter was even more riotous. Finally a young man with some English took pity and explained that the bus went to take on fuel and would be back.
            That night Lupe stopped by, “I don’t think you understood me. Buses from everywhere go through Mazatlan. You could go to the terminal early in the morning, wait for a bus to come through which has an available seat, and take that bus.”
            “Oh.” Now I understand. My vivid imagination once more kicked in and I could picture  trying to decipher the unintelligible (to me) Spanish code blaring from the speakers announcing that Bus # 000 from Durango to Tepic leaving gate # ABC in twenty minutes, struggling to get a ticket, find the gate and get on that bus.
            Meanwhile, Lani called me. She now suggested I take a Primera Plus bus direct from Mazatlan to Zapopan and she could pick me up there. Problem solved. I went on line and reserved a ticket for next week. One ticket, terminal to terminal. I breathed a sigh of relief. 
            Kathy reminded me to take earplugs, a blanket and snacks, just in case the bus breaks down. Nothing can trip me up now. Can it?
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
January 9, 2014
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Scarecrow-With-Straw-For-Brains On the Road in Mexico



Scarecrow-With-Straw-For-Brains On the Road in Mexico
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            Me and my big mouth, blathering away in public about creating a new life without constraints of old beliefs and cultures and language and familiar surroundings. Oh, didn’t I sound so rosey-posey. Pollyanna on Big Gulp Valium. Would you like fries with that?
            Did I ever get my come-uppance! Let me begin at the beginning. First, getting through customs at the border was a huge let-down. I had done my research diligently. I had heard all the stories about people who had had to empty their vehicle, open every container. They stood on the tarmac surrounded by all their belongings like laundry flapping in the wind while the line of cars behind piled up waiting to enter, passengers seething with hatred.
            I wasn’t about to be caught in the lurch. I had my van filled with personal and household items, all neatly boxed and labeled, with a packing list in English and Spanish. I had my Mexican car insurance, my vehicle registration and title, and my passport in hand. The guards opened the back door, yawned and waved me through without even looking at my passport. All my hard work for naught. At the least, I thought I deserved a gold star.
            After that minor disappointment, I located the bus station in Sonoyta, just blocks from the border crossing. My friend Lupe’s bus was late. I had expected that. There is never too much time for reading, so I settled in with a book.
            When the bus arrived, Lupe had two large duffels and a stuffed backpack. Since Mazatlan is an easy two day drive from Sonoyta, I asked, “Why all the luggage?”
            His exact words are lost to me, but they were something like “How would you like to go to Cabo and check out that area?”
            “No, I want to go to Mazatlan,” I said while wondering how long it would take me to skin his hide and make a wallet.
            Understand that our only communication in the last few weeks had been by text message. The wonderful thing about texting is that it is impossible to go into any depth. That is a good thing to know if you would like to keep communication shallow.
            That was not the case here, not what we wanted. Our constraints were more of a geographic distance and ten dollars a minute for voice phone matter. Lupe explained that he would like to work a few weeks in Cabo San Lucas and then return to Mazatlan. Maybe a month or two or three.
            Hey, my heart was set on Mazatlan. My plans laid far in advance. But the next words out of my mouth were, “Let me get to a quiet place and meditate on this.” The word “prayer” works here also.
            After a time of silence, I asked Lupe what he felt. “I can do what you want. We can go to Mazatlan. I brought extra clothes for if you wanted to go to Cabo. I understand. In the States you plan things out like a list (here he made hand motions of setting things one after the other in a line). We don’t do that so much here. We see that each day brings its own plans with it. But you tell me what you want. That’s what we will do.”
            Immediately I could see the image of the article I had written just the day before: adventure, create new life, leave behind old concepts, each day a new page. Ick. Yuck. Did I really say those things? Did I mean them? Did I lie to myself?
            I suggested a half measure. “We could drive to Mazatlan, find a place to stow the stuff in my van and then go to Cabos.” Truthfully, all I wanted to do was get settled, make a nest in my new home in Mazatlan.
            “If that is your decision, then that is what we will do.”
            Rats and drats and fighting cats. I could not get rid of the words about leaving behind familiar comforts and by now, Mazatlan itself was a familiar comfort.
            I sat in silence for another moment, knowing half measures avail me nothing. The next suggestion to put in an appearance was a rag-tag motley outfit that reminded me that there is no right or wrong, good or bad decision. For me, each decision comes with its  own package of consequences, not to be judged but to be experienced.
            I remembered that nothing is cast in concrete. If a few steps in this direction feels uncomfortable, I can turn in another direction. It all fit together in my mind. I imagined a huge “Detour” sign and turned the key in the ignition. “Okay, Cabo, here we come.”
Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
November 14, 2013
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