Monday, December 08, 2008


From the bottom up: (1) entrance to the cuota (toll road) to Guadalajara; (2) Guadalajara Christmas market; (3) fine art galleries in Tlaquepaque; (4) the famous Sunday market in Tonola - hundreds of artesanial vendors; and (5) candleholders waiting for new homes in the Tonola market.

Last weekend, Justine and I had a wonderful adventure: a bus trip to Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque and Tonola to do some Christmas shopping. With a group of 15 friends and soon-to-be friends, we left early Friday morning in a luxury bus. We stopped along the way to tour a tequila factory in Tequila - a surprisingly interesting experience. The factory we toured (Herraduras) is the only tequila factory left in Mexico that is actually owned and operated by Mexicans, and it has been in business for over 150 years. The grounds were beautiful and the process was fascinating. Although I am not a big fan of tequila, even the obligatory tasting at the end was great - helped me take a nice siesta until we arrived in Guadalajara. We walked a few blocks to the annual Christmas market, which filled an entire city block, met some nice people there, and then had a very special dinner at a former convent in the city.

Ever since we came to Mexico, people have told us that prices and selection are the very best in Tlaquepaque and Tonola. They were all right about that - lovely fine art and lively folk art in every price range. We had a fine time, filled our shopping bags, and didn't spend a fortune.

It was nice to get back home to Bucerias, however - Guadalajara is a mile high, and very cold this time of year (high 30s at night; mid-70's during the day.) I guess I have really acclimated to the tropical coastal weather.

Next trip? A bus tour to Guanajuato, Dolores Hidalgo and San Miguel de Allende. Justine will be here to care for the menagerie, so Jerry and I will be free to travel a bit. Dolores Hidalgo is the home of Talavera pottery...we are looking forward to it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

(1) A picture I painted the week before the US election, as an offering of hope. The writing says,"Not only is a different world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." (Ahrundati Roy); (2) Blanca and Lucky; (3) Our patio on this warm November morning, dressed for a fiesta
As we begin this week of Thanksgiving, we sit on our lovely patio on a warm and friendly morning, drinking rich and aromatic coffee grown right here in Nayarit. The sun is shining; the sky is cloudless; the temperature is a perfect 72F; and the tropical breeze is gentle. We watch the mama kitty play with her kitten. And we reflect on the many reasons we have to be thankful:
  • Daughter Justine is on her way to visit, and will arrive tomorrow. I haven’t seen her for eight months, and having her with us for Thanksgiving is a special gift.
  • Our little family of personas y mascotas is blessed with the addition of Blanca and her baby, whom we have named “Lucky.” Watching them play together has provided us with many many hours of pleasure.
  • There is a new feeling of hope in the world. New leadership in the United States has filled everyone, even those here in Mexico, with a sense of optimism.
  • We continue to believe that we made the best possible decision to make Bucerias our home, and that we are the two most fortunate people in the world.
  • I have a special sense of gratitude for the opportunity to express my respect and affection for Mexico through my painting and drawing - and that I have sold five paintings and a drawing in the past few weeks. I am especially grateful for Jorge and Blanca, who have faith in me, and who have chosen to make their gallery a showplace for my work.
  • We have found so many delightful new friends, who fill our lives with laughter and purpose.
  • In the midst of so much economic uncertainty for so many, we have a modest and dependable income stream that is not affected (so far) by the crisis in the US. In fact (for some arcane reason we do not understand) the peso has gone from 10 pesos to one dollar to 13:1, giving us a temporary pay raise.
  • We are both strong and healthy.
  • We look forward to the holidays and the coming year, with hopes that more of our friends and family will find the time and resources to come here and share our corner of paradise for a time.

So Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may all your days be full of hope and promise.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Adios to rain and humidity; hola to Blanca

Top picture: our last storm of the summer. I was lucky to get a picture of a good lightning strike...although it seems like daylight, this tormenta occurred about midnight and lit up the night sky.
Bottom picture: our newest kitty, Blanca (not a very original name, I know). She is another "rescue"; she was living as a feral cat in the field next to our house.

Although we love the summer storms, the heavy rain (about 140 inches in the last four months) takes its toll on the little dirt roads in our town. Most of them (including our own street) look more like ravines than roads right now, and navigating them is a challenge. Now that the rains are over, the municipality will grade and fill them all, one at a time. No more power outages or fried electronic equipment for another 8 months or so!

The humidity "switch" got thrown sometime during the night last night, and we awoke this morning to a dry warm wind blowing from the mountains. It almost felt like fall - and the humidity was down to 60% .... yesterday at the same time, it was 95%! Although the day was warm (around 90-95F), the wind kept blowing, and soon it was down to about 40%. Longtime Bucerians have told us that the humidity leaves in one night, shortly after the rains stop, and they are right. My paint is finally drying better and we will be able to turn over in bed tonight without sticking to the sheets. Hooray! Seven months of perfect weather ahead!

"Blanca" is the newest member of our family. She is a truly feral cat, having been born and "raised" in the field of palm trees that borders our back and side yards. A few months ago, she began coming in our cat door in search of food. We noticed that she was pregnant and began feeding her. Polo is very smitten with her - Negro not so much. She now has one little kitten and spends most of her time on our patio. She is becoming very approachable, and likes to play and be petted. She still has her baby in hiding, but I imagine that he will soon be joining our family as well. Isn't she pretty?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Some good things that are happening in our community...

The picture at the top is Casa Hogar (literally, "a house that is a home"), the orphanage/children's shelter that is being built here in Bucerias, entirely with donations. Please take a few minutes to look at read the story of this phenomenal effort, which is being led by local resident Valiene Heckart. From now until the end of the year, a generous local architect has offered to MATCH each donation. AND, the organization has US 501(c)(3) status, so your donations are US tax deductible. I know that money is scarce and times are uncertain, but please consider a donation to this wonderful organization. You can even donate using PayPal from the Manos de Amor (hands of love) website.

The bottom picture is a wondrous treehouse that is being built at the public swimming pool for the children to play will be a magical thing when it is finished, and I'll keep you posted with photos of both projects as they progress.

Now, for the good news/bad news item: the good news is that the rainy season is almost over. The bad news is that the rainy season is almost over. We love the storms and the cooling rains, for this is the most uncomfortable time of year for heat and humidity. But when the rains go at long last, so does the humidity, and gradually, the heat. We enter six months of ideal weather: cool nights (50F-55F) and warm days (75F-85F). We bid goodbye to the rains reluctantly, and we will certainly welcome them when they return next June.

The US presidential election is the main topic of conversation everywhere we go. Because we now have a SKY TV satellite dish, we are able to watch the US news and the debates (But NO annoying commercials or political messages). Everyone we know from the US is casting an absentee ballot (ours were emailed to us and we will mail them to Oregon on Monday). We are members of Democrats Abroad, a worldwide organization that has produced this wonderful video, showing support for Barack Obama from expat Democrats all over the globe. This will make your day, I promise. It may even bring a tear to your eye if you are like me and cry at Hallmark commercials...

That's it for now - mas tardes.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The right place at the right time

It is not unusual to encounter moments of breathtaking beauty here, and we were lucky to come across one this afternoon. This baby iguana posed just inside our front gate atop a blooming bird of paradise...what a wonder he is, with his long, delicate fingers and long, subtly-ringed tail. With luck, he'll grow up to be a 4-5 foot long adult, like the ones we enjoy watching in our big mimosa tree, and who herald both the sunset and the dawn with their whistling...

Friday, August 01, 2008

Puff Earns Her Wings.....

When we came to Mexico, we brought our two cats, Puff and Polo. They endured 12 hours in their carriers, and when they were finally released, they found a whole new world. They loved their new world, especially Puff. She developed an uncanny facility for tracking down and catching the enormous cockroaches that lived around the condo we rented in Vallarta. And when we moved to Bucerias, her hunting prowess extended to little field mice and lizards. She had a wonderful life, enjoying the warmth of Mexico.

Puff's Mexican adventure has come to an end. She was (we think) about 15 years old, and for the past few months, her age had begun to show. She was having trouble eating, and Dr. Wenceslao carefully cleaned her teeth and removed the few that were abscessed. He discovered a small bony growth on her jaw that he suspected was a tumor, and it grew rapidly. Finally, she could barely open her mouth, and I had to feed her by hand. It was time to say goodbye.

Her passage was gentle, thanks to Wenceslao. When it was done, we asked him "how much?" and he shook his head, tears in his eyes. "No charge for Puff."

The picture above is a tribute to brave Puff, as a merkitty, watching over her brothers and ready to rescue Polo from the giant squid.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Driving in Mexico...confusion, but no road rage

When we first arrived in Mexico, I didn't drive much. Jerry is an adventuresome driver and I like to tease him that he was "born to be a Mexican driver." Mexicans, who are sometimes painfully polite and courteous, apparently lose those qualities when they sit behind the wheel of a car. Driving here is an adventure, and despite the fact that I am a confident driver who has had a license since age 16, I was reluctant to take it on. After we moved to Bucerias, it occurred to me how foolish it was to depend on Jerry to go everywhere with me, and so I gradually began to venture out on my own. Now, I am a pretty confident Mexican driver, and I even have a ticket to prove it (running a red light - yes, I did it. The fine was $110 pesos, or a little over $10 USD.). Last week, The Vallarta Tribune, a local English language weekly paper, published the following tips for driving in Mexico. I know this smacks of stereotypes and generalizations, BUT they are ALL TRUE. Really.

  • Turn signals will give away your next move. A real Mexican driver never uses them.
  • Under no circumstances should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, or the space will be filled in by someone else putting you in an even more dangerous situation.
  • Crossing two or more lanes in a single lane change is considered going with the flow.
  • The faster you drive through a red light, the smaller the chance you have of getting hit.
  • Never, ever come to a complete stop at a stop sign. No one expects it and it will inevitably result in your being rear-ended.
  • A right lane closure is just a game to see how many people can cut in line while passing you on the right as you sit in the left lane waiting for the same jerks to squeeze their way back in before hitting the orange construction barrels.
  • Speed limits are arbitrary figures, given only as suggestions.
  • Remember that goal of every Mexican driver is to get there first, by whatever means necessary.
  • It is traditional to honk your horn at cars that don't move the instant the light changes.
  • Just because you're in the left lane and have no room to speed up or move over doesn't mean that the driver behind you won't flash his high beams, thinking you can go faster.
Now here is the amazing part. Despite the fact that drivers cut in front of each other constantly, run stop signs and red lights and often park in the middle of the street, they never get visibly angry. They don't exchange rude hand signs. They don't yell at each other. There is NO road rage.

A few months ago, our friend Salvador came to visit us, parking his car in the middle of our street, even though there was plenty of room for him to pull over to the side. We were sitting on the patio having coffee when we heard someone calling from the front of the house, "Buenos dias. Buenos dias!" We went around to the front. There was a pickup behind Salvador who could not get by. Did he honk? No. Did he yell? No. Did he ram Salvador's car? No. He politely called "Buenos dias" until Salvador moved his car. Then he waved happily and went on his way.

What a place. Reason number 416 "why we love Mexico."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Meeting with El Gobernador!

Governor of the state of Nayarit, Ney Gonzalez

This morning, the officers of the Amigos de Bucerias had the pleasure of meeting with the governor of our state, Ney Gonzalez . Following a general meeting of our group a few months ago (in which many questions were asked regarding future development in our area), we requested a meeting with the governor. A few days ago, the American Consular Officer for Vallarta, Kelly Trainor, called and said we were "on" for this morning.

Meeting with Governor Gonzalez was pretty much like meeting with Governor Kulongoski in Oregon (or any other governor, for that matter, I'm sure). Except, of course, Governor Kulongoski speaks Ingles, would likely not have invited us to his family's vacation home in Nuevo Vallarta (three miles from us), and would not have given us almost two hours of his time.

I was very impressed with the level of knowledge Gov. Gonzalez has regarding the details of the plans being made for our state, and especially the coastal area that runs from the state border north to Rincon de Guayabitos (including Bucerias) - an area that has recently been christened Riviera Nayarit. An impressive amount of state and federal money has been pledged for development of this area.

Our immediate area has been targeted for a number of new health care facilities, including a new 30-bed hospital, outpatient clinics for mental health, alcohol and drug addiction and HIV. Outreach and prevention programs are also planned, along with a cardiac and diabetes center.

Most reassuring to us, was that Bucerias is slated to remain a puebla tipica, or typical small Mexican village. Plans do include an expansion of our town plaza and construction of a malecon, or boardwalk, along the ocean front downtown.

Ney Gonzalez is a charming, well-educated and amiable man, with a good sense of humor. It was a privilege to meet with him, and a bit reminiscent of my working days.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Lichees, lizards and lovely visitors...

Top picture: a pile of lichees harvested from the huge tree in the middle of our patio; Center picture: a lovely Brown Anole Lizard showing off his dewlap; Bottom picture: Kim, Amelia, Josie and Jeff at The River Cafe in Puerto Vallarta

We've had a wonderful week, with glorious summer weather. For the last eight days, we were especially excited to have VISITORS FROM CHINA! Son Jeff, his wife Kim and their two daughters Amelia and Josie got on the plane this morning, heading for the US for a few weeks before they return to China, where Jeff and Kim teach in an international school in Wuhan, Hubei Province. They enjoyed being tourists: scuba diving, boogie-boarding, going to the Splash Park, swimming at the beach, shopping and eating great Mexican food. It was so hard to say goodbye...

So many wonderful fruits are coming into season right now - we are inundated with fresh many friends bringing us large bags of sweet, sun-ripened mangoes. Fortunately, we can reciprocate with bags of lichees, a walnut-sized fruit that is not native to Mexico, but actually was introduced from China. It is a huge favorite of Mexican people, who love their spicy sweetness. They are also pretty expensive - about $10 ($100 pesos) for a kilo bag. So we have become pretty popular in our neighborhood, as Jerry goes from house to house with gifts of lichees.

That pretty little lizard is called a Brown Anole, and they scamper all over our patio, jumping from tree limb to tree limb and post to post - they can jump about 2-3 feet. They love to show off their bright orange dewlap. To us, they are a metaphor for beautiful and mysterious Mexico - they look very modest and ordinary, blending quietly into the background until they throw back their heads and surprise us with such an extraordinary display of beauty.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mexico's Glorious Disorder............

This picture was taken on October 13, 2007 at the foot of the arroyo on the beach at Bucerias. That was our last big rain, and 13 cars washed down the arroyo!

For your reading pleasure, a column written by a Canadian about Mexico that really captures some of the reasons why we love it here so much:

Mexico's Glorious Disorder puts Nanny state to shame.

Having just returned from a week in Mexico, and therefore being an expert, this is what I have to report:it is just like Canada...30 years ago.
  • People smoke in restaurants.They ride in the back of pick up trucks.There do not appear to be seat-belt laws(or,frequently,seat-belts).Half the pasty white population of Canada frolick in the water with nary a lifeguard in sight.
  • A vacationing builder from the United States stood poolside and gazed dumbfounded at the construction workers clambering,untethered,high atop the concrete skeleton of the condo complex being erected next door."seventy-two feet up and not one of them is wearing a safety lanyard,"observed the American, his voice a mixture of admiration and horror.
  • It was, in short,gloriously unregulated-just like canada used to be back when kids could take peanut butter sandwiches to school and skate without helmets.
  • In Mexico,smiling street vendors served up food that had basked in the sun longer than an Albertan after a six-margarita breakfast.
  • The waterfront walkway had no railing,not even a yellow line painted along the edge to prevent inattentative strollers from tumbling,lemminglike,to the jagged rocks far below.Parasailing tourists soured high in the sky before plunging straight into beaches packed with first-time jet skiers-and not one of them had to sign a liability waiver before doing so.
  • On new years eve,the fireworks burst directly overhead and fell at the feet of delighted celebrants.The floor of the bus that carried us downtown was fissured with thousands of cracks,just one pothole away from exploding into a cloud of rust-colored dust.
  • The municipal planner appeared to have been drunk.All the properties in town had seemingly been tossed into a giant paper bag,given a good shake and dumped on the ground in a dizzyingly haphazard manner.A gated mansion sat by a Quonset hut crammed with truck tires,which was beside a franchised chicken joint,which was next to a corn field,followed by a car lot,a hospital,and a farmhouse.
To repeat: the disorder there was glorious.
  • In Canada we have allowed ourselves to be regulated,sheltered and shepherded to the point that our national costume should be the fluorescent-orange safety vest.We have banned lawn darts,mandated bicycle helmets and robbed our playgrounds of any apparatus that spins until you trap a limb/throw up/or have fun.
Few of the rules in which we wrap ourselves are objectionable when viewed in isolation(smoking in restaurants?yeuck!bleh!ptooey!) but the cumulative effect of all these directives is a nanny state that smothers us until we are incapable of moving,of making our own decisions. The result is a society with a false sense of security.It absolves us of any personal responsibility.Coffee too hot?Sue McDonald's. Slip on the sidewalk?The city should have cleared the ice. Fall off the cliff?There should have been a warning sign.

So Viva Mexico! Down with over-regulation and those who would inflict it upon us!

written in 2007 by Jack Knox, Times Columnist

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Saving a Pelican


Top picture: poor pelican trapped against the fence under the vegetation
Center: Jerry rides in the back of the truck to transport the pelican back to the beach
Bottom: The pelican is back in his element, on his way out to sea

Last Sunday was a typical lazy day - Jerry took the dogs for a walk in the late afternoon, and Blondie and Bob seemed very interested in the field down the street from our house. They spotted a stranded amigo - a poor young pelican who had apparently become trapped in the field. He must have landed there and in trying to get out, got tangled in the vines and vegetation. Poor thing. He wasn't going anywhere, and he was very weak and dehydrated.

Our neighbor Pepe helped Jerry get him out of the field - Jerry handed him over the fence to Pepe - and we prepared to drive him down to the beach. Jerry sat in the back of the truck, holding the pelican's large bill very tightly shut. Only a six-block drive.

When we released him on the beach, we attracted alot of attention and lots of offers to help from Mexican families who were enjoying their Sunday afternoon at the beach. But the young pelican did fine on his own, letting the surf carry him out to sea - and home again.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Some images from our daily life in Bucerias..

(1) The fruteria where we like to shop for fresh fruits and vegetables; (2) One of my favorite places, The Gringo Bookstore, run by our friends JoAnne and Patricia; (3) I am learning to cook authentic Mexican food - this is pollo con salsa roja y chorizo; (4) The reason why we sold our washer and dryer. This is where we take our laundry; and (5) our favorite little restaurant, Tacos Itzel - yummy and CHEAP!!

Our daily lives here in Bucerias are filled with color, flavor and serenity. Here are a few images that help to convey what it is like to live here. At the fruteria, I can buy 3-4 large bags of fresh fruits and vegetables for less than $100 pesos (about ten dollars). I love to buy fresh papayas, mangoes, chayote, potatoes, brocolli, chiles, peppers, pineapple, limes, oranges, bananas, onions, garlic, tomatoes, tomates verde, cilantro, zucchini and more. All fresh, all naturally ripened. So good.

The Gringo Bookstore is about the only place in town to buy English language books, so it is a favorite place as well. Among our friends, we do a pretty good job of exchanging books, however, and I am never at a loss for something to read.

I am having a great time learning to cook authentic Mexican food - the sauce for this dish is made of dried chiles (guajillo and ancho), garlic, tomatoes, onions and chicken broth. This chicken is so good it just falls off the bone into a warm, fresh tortilla. I've been posting some of my recipes on under "MexicoKaren" if you want to take a look.

The lavanderia is owned by our neighbors Karl and Rosa. Karl is from Houston and is married to Rosa, whose family is from Bucerias. They run a great business - 12 pesos a kilo for our laundry all clean and folded, just like it has been ironed! We sold our washer and dryer before we ever hooked it of life's greatest annoyances has been taken care of.

Tacos Itzel is just up the street from us and is owned by a family who started serving wonderful tacos in their yard. Chickens, dogs and children (with or without diapers) run around underfoot. I know it looks a little rustic, but you will never find fresher, better tasting food. Tacos, enchiladas, burritos, quesadillas, even empanadas made with fresh shrimp. A typical meal here of chicken enchiladas (huge chunks of chicken in a monstrous homemade tortilla, fresh salad) and a large glass of agua fresca (fresh fruit drink, made with pineapple, mango, rice, other good things) for BOTH of us is less than $5.00!!! It is crowded every night, with Mexicans and gringos alike.

These are just a few of the things that make our lives sweet every day. Come and visit, and we'll take you to dinner - our treat!!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A Dog Named Bob

Top picture: Bob in closeup
Bottom picture: Bob enjoying daughter Justine's company

Every now and then, something really nice happens - in our lives, it actually happens pretty often, and we are grateful for that. While I was visiting daughter Justine in Portland, a little dog showed up at our front gate here in Mexico. It camped outside for a few days, and Jerry has a tender heart, so he began to feed him. The dog had a splendid long tail, which dragged rather strangely on the ground.

When I returned home, accompanied by Justine, the dog was very happy to meet us. But on the second day, something peculiar happened: his tail fell off. We could not find it; it was just gone. What was left did not look healthy, so Jerry took him to our veterinario marvilloso, Wenceslao.

Apparently, he had been hit by a car. Wenceslao removed what was left of his tail because it was gangrenous, fortified him with antibiotics and sent him back home with Jerry the next day. A name became necessary: "Bob" seemed to fit him just right, given the condition of his tail (or non-tail).

Bob has turned out to be a good-natured and affectionate little dog, who gets along well with Blondie and Dagwood. He'll be staying with us for awhile...long enough for his tail to heal and to be neutered. Then, we will try to find him a permanent, loving home. In the meantime, a dog named Bob is apparently just what we needed. Who knew?