Monday, November 15, 2010

Inside Arches National Park

After the second day of hiking the Fiery Furnace, my knees were beyond recovery, so I forfeited the hikes, bike rides, and strenuous activities offered by the less broken-down baby boomers on this trip. Terry had gone on the dome trip the day before, eleven miles of steep downhill and uphill hiking, his calves were killing him. He opted to come with me on a photo expedition into Arches National Park. I lucked out because he’s a geologist so I learned a bunch about the structure of the layers of sandstone, shale, and the underlying salt dome that is the primary reason for the collapse of the Salt Valley. To summerize, a thick layer of salt got laid down about 300 million years ago, and as uplift and erosion finally etched away the layers of rock above, water was able to seep down and melt the salt away, leaving a huge dome shaped cavern that eventually caved in. The rocks that fell down line the valley, and water has since taken away much of the jumble to expose the rock below.

We went to the Windows area and hiked around a bit there and giggled at a Japanese couple we kept running across; the man took dozens of pictures, every one was of his wife posed in front of this arch, that arch, or some nice rock formation. She posed in exactly the same way, near as I could tell. He could have just photo-shopped her image into each one of the arch photos and saved himself (and her) a lot of trouble. I noted that she’d changed from her high heels to a pair of Keds for the trek around the backside of the windows.

Then we decided to take our gear and hike over to Delicate Arch. We read up on the trail and were informed we would see chert rocks. Turns out there were huge boulders of chert! Some had rolled down from above and scattered shattered bits of chert everywhere. At the bottom of a dry stream bed of brown rocks a lone cottonwood in full golden regalia grew out of a sparkling chert diamond floor. It was magical.

Early morning fog in Arches Nat'l Park
The trail was up an enormous platform of sandstone, fallen at a 30 degree angle, and marked by rock cairns. Above that were more climbs across broad expanses of  sandstone, past steep drop offs and little low lying areas, artfully decorated by nature with local vegetation. At the top, a long shelf along a steep and scary slope blasted out in the 1930’s to provide a wide avenue that would only frighten the most fearful people.  Then, across a short ledge, the most beautiful of the arches in the park. The Delicate arch stands all alone on the edge of a bowl shaped structure. The last time I was there, I never dared to cross the ledge and walk around on the slopes of the bowl. Now, with my newfound but still somewhat terrified courage, I did walk over to the arch, looked over the edge on the other side, and took pictures I’d never have taken otherwise. There were few people in the bowl, and no one was ‘hogging’ the arch, as some tend to do, taking pictures of each other. We didn’t see the Japanese couple anywhere. I think the bowl is exceptionally scary, not because it’s so steep, but because it’s such a long way down, a long slope that would not break your fall for 200 feet should you be foolish enough to stumble and topple over.  

The walk out was nice, the sun low and warming, mostly downhill. One little chipmunk raced all over, which surprised us. It was exceptionally exposed on the red rock and ought to be easy pickings for a hawk.

La Sal Mountains
Then we drove up to Devil’s garden and through the campground there. I’ve always wanted to camp there, each little spot nestled among boulders and outcroppings, but I believe it is first come, first served and during the high visitation season it’s always packed.  There were quite a few campers, many in tents in spite of the low temperature and snow during the night. On the way out, we parked at the Fiery Furnace overlook and got some great photos of the distant LaSal mountains and the formations in the Salt Valley with the setting sun.

On Saturday, Terry felt like going back to the Dome area with Irene’s daughter, a geologist, who was guiding that family on the 11 mile trip. I would have enjoyed hearing her talk, but my knees weren’t up to such a steep and long hike. So on Saturday I was joined by Dennis who had injured his shoulder bike riding. I guess I was the go-to-gal for the gimps of the trip. Dennis and I went to a spot outside the park where some petroglyphs are hidden amongst the rocks. Had it not been for his guidance I never would have known they were there, and they were quite unusual. The sign said that area was a cross-roads for several different groups so some of the glyphs were Ute, Anasazi, and even some Navajo, though how an amateur could tell the difference I don’t know. We then drove to the end of the paved road in the park and hiked into Devil’s Garden. The arch I thought had fallen, the Landscape Arch, was not the one that crashed in 2008, it was one nearby. Signs were posted at its location, with photos of how it used to look.  Ropes and signs keep people out of that area as the rocks haven’t finished the entire descent just yet.
Fins of Sandstone, Finland!!

Beyond that spot the trail led up the edge of a fin. It was not a trail I’d ever taken due to timidity back in 2003 when I was last here. I can’t say I wasn’t initially terrified, but I had a bit more confidence and braved it. Actually the fin wasn’t the worst of that trail, steeper and scarier rocks would be up ahead, but none of it was as bad as the cliff we’d gone down on Wednesday. It was a fine hike through many fins, over ledges, the trail marked with worn rock and cairns. It ended at a double arch, with a large rounded portal above a smaller one. We saw people coming and going, but the trail was not crowded. A much longer trail leads down into “Finland” an area with row after row of tall slim rocks. Off in the distance the land stretches out until it was hard to tell whether the blueish haze was land or sky. While it took most of the afternoon to reach the double arches and return to the car, the distance was only about 4 miles round trip. The last of four days in Moab, one of the finest places on earth.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fiery Furnace

Moab: A little bit about this trip. It's a Los Alamos Mountaineer's trip and as such, one is required to sign a waiver that the club is not to be held responsible if you get hurt or die, and no one is responsible, even if one of the other club members does something to cause you to be hurt or die. You acknowledge that you know what you're doing is dangerous and potentially fatal. The fact that I signed all the little initial places and then my full signature at the bottom kept coming to mind as the first day progressed. But I'm here writing, with some sore upper body muscles, bruises, and scrapes. I'm here still. 

Thursday, I'd planned to go out when the sun came up to photograph the red rocks in the snow before it melted off. It was snowing when we got back to the house Wednesday evening and was supposed to snow during the night. I'm sequestered in a little bunkbed in a nook of the stairwell, like a Harry Potter room.... There are 24 people in this huge house, built like a 3-story quad but all hooked together. It's possible to rent 1/4 or the whole thing. Beds are everywhere. What looks like a cabinet for a large TV is really a Murphy bed in the living room, every couch flops out into a bed. All the people are outdoorsy types who bike, ski, rock I'm in a whole new community as an outsider, but made to feel welcome. It's very cool. They do this kind of thing often. I'm going to do more with them when I can. I'm already signed up for the 2011 4th of July trip to a hut in the Colorado Rockies. 

The day dawned without snow. What I'd seen on the cliffs the night before was already melted, steamed off in foggy puffs that hung suspended in the canyons. We drove into Arches National Park, gratis since it was Veteran's day, and headed toward the Fiery Furnace. I'd driven past that area but never went inside. It's basically fins, one after another with garden like areas between. Bill and Tom brought ropes, just in case.......of course. The group was larger, we'd been joined by Irene, David and their son Lee, Kathleen and her daughter, Elena. 

Elena has quite a crush on Tom, she's 13. She does that cute pre-teen flirting......accidentally bumps into him, pelts him with snowballs gathered from little icy bits still clinging to tree branches, prances up ahead glancing back often. Tom, who's forty something, easily regresses to 14, and flings dirt clods back at her.

We parked in a little pull-off near the fins and followed a stream bed to the base of the sandstone monolith, where everyone walked up a narrow shelf and around a huge boulder with barely a place to put your feet. I took one look at that obstacle and in spite of the thorough thrashing my fears and ego had experienced the day before, I balked. "I'll stay here and just take pictures." Tom would have none of that and pointed to a crevice I could just walk up, so there I was, on top with the rest of them. 

That area is spectacular. From the top one can see miles in all directions. The La Sals covered with snow and capped with clouds, red, brown, and green canyonlands between those mountains and our position, blue sky shining through arches off in the distance, cliffs behind us to the west. We were at the back of the fins, and could walk out easily onto the tops of them and look down. Most were at least 10 feet wide so the fact that the drop off was forty feet or more wasn't intimidating. I should have run the battery down in my camera I took so many photos. We hiked to the very edge of the Furnace on the east and after a nice little lunch break headed back toward the cars. On the way somebody spotted an interesting arch formed on the inside of a fin with the hole pointing up to the sky, instead of the hole going through the fin like they usually do. The mountain goat people scampered up to the top of that fin and looked down through the hole. More nice photos. 

We found our own footprints in the damp soil and easily made our way back to the cars. Elena found a better route which most took, but I'd already slipped down into the crack I'd come up. Everybody was waiting for me at the end, stiffling their laughter. The way they'd come down was an easy walk. It's now named the Sherry Crack. Oh goody. 

Kathleen, Elena and I left early to go grocery shopping. It had been my plan to make a Thai meal, but the best laid plans.......often go awry. I'd brought my own skillets, anticipating the kitchens would not be well provisioned. I was right. Our kitchen was lacking a large soup pot, pots big enough for all the rice, etc. However, the group has the entire house, so we raided the three other kitchens for pans, dishes, bowls, and wine glasses. We managed to make a pretty good dinner. It just took a long time and when the whole group was there, it was crowded. The dinner came out in stages, and between times everyone drank wine. The laughter got loud and the food went pretty fast. It was a great end to another fine day in Slickrock Country. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rock Virgin

I seem to be losing my virginity a lot lately. In October, I was an IKEA virgin, now I have an IKEA desk set up in my bedroom at home, the perfect size for that nooky little space next to the bathroom door. Yesterday, I lost my Rock Virginity. Actually I may have lost it once before, in highschool with John Melanson when he and Norman Farquhar dragged my ass up to the top of this enormous boulder and then dropped me off an overhang. But it's been 40 years since then, I'm re-virginated. 

Fearless Leader Bill

Yesterday was a Top Ten Day. I not only lost my virginity, I didn't lose my life......with the help of 4 very competent men, three of whom were good technical climbers. At least three times during the course of the day I thought, "If I am not absolutely careful, I'm going to fall down this cliff and die."

The day started with Bill, the leader of this expedition telling me we were going for a hike. There might be some rock scrambling. I had a vague notion what that meant, but I'll never be so innocent again. They were taking ropes just in case we needed them. Right. 

Tom, a tall lean soft-spoken man from Santa Fe, was the best of the teachers, so calm and organized. Terry was not very experienced either but was ahead of me in the conquering fear department. And Martin was the quietest man I've ever met. I'm not sure I even know what his voice sounds like, but he smiles a lot, and was silently helpful all the time.  

I had an inkling that things would not go well when, ten minutes into this hike we met a wall of rock and these guys just went right up it, like monkeys, hand over fist, feet on invisible nubs. It looked so easy. 

Ok. So with the exception of Martin, they were all 6 feet or taller, Martin was not far behind. I'm barely over 5 feet. They are men. I'm not. My legs simply do not fold up to my chest, because, frankly, my chest gets in the way. They broke out the climbing bag with lengths of nylon flat rope which I'm sure has some technical term, 'beaners', and made a 'swami' belt for me. But unlike John Melanson, they did not haul me up the rock, they simply allowed me not to die if I were to fall. Tom stood under and directed where to find the invisible nubs for my shaking boots, kept insisting I stand up straight and not hug the rock for dear life (how do you stand up straight when all you're standing on is an invisible nubbin of rock??). He said things like "don't use your knees!", after I got to the top finally by heaving a knee up over the edge of the cliff. It was good advice, my knee ached the rest of the day.

For a while, we 'scrambled', climbing up uneven staircase-like rocks that presented moderately easy passage in a vertical direction. There was a large arch, the kind of formation Moab is famous for. After a lot of posing for pictures the plan was to go up a 'fin'. This is a narrow slice caused by erosion of parallel cracks in the monolithic mass of sandstone that constitutes the entire region. It's tall, thin, and the only way up it is to hold onto a cable, thoughtfully installed by someone crazy enough to get up there without it. Of course, Tom and Martin just walked up the thing without touching the cable, and threw down a rope for me. 
Bill coming up the cable on the fin.

At this point, I should mention the weather. When we started out, it was overcast and cloudy, chilly but not cold. The wind was intermittent and not strong, but enough to drive the chill through fleece jackets. Bill had sent me a list of things to carry in my backpack, one of them was gloves. By the time we reached the arch, the high thin clouds had moved on, the sun was out. The temperature was pleasant, and I was grateful for that. I can't imagine all this exertion in hot weather, there's no way I could have carried enough water to sustain the day. 

Terry told me the best way to go up a fin is to ignore the fact that it's only a few feet wide with terrifying dropoffs on either side. Actually, he never used the word terrifying. He did mention that at home, he can walk easily down a length of rail on a railroad and not fall off. This is the same thing. Just focus on the place you can put your foot and don't think about what's on either side. It's true, our minds are our worst enemies. I can walk a rail too, but I'd be crazy to walk a rail 200 feet off the ground! I followed Terry's advice and just focused on holding the cable, leaning back a little, which I must say is sooooo counter intuitive. Turns out, it was way easier than I'd thought. The cable had little burrs in it that would have cut my hands, but Bill lent me some leather gloves. A burr did catch my pants though, and tore a hole. So I now have 'canyon' pants as a souvenir. They would become even more souvenir-like as the day progressed....

At the top of the fin, the land leveled out. This is not to say it was like the great plains of Texas, it was simply humpy without any more forbidding cliffs. We were on top, finally, of that massive sandstone formation that makes up much of the Colorado Plateau. The views were spectacular. Off to the northeast was a land of many fins and humps of eroded sandstone resembling the backs of enormous turtles. Beyond that, pristine snow covered the La Sal mountains, so aptly named with the Spanish word for salt. In the opposite direction we looked down into the canyon from whence we came, to the wide Colorado River in its deep, serpentine canyon, the almost maroon walls bordered by gold leafed cottonwoods. 

Bill had it in his mind that we would 'get out' by going north. He had a map but it wasn't terribly precise, and there were no marked trails other than the occasional cairn. After a while, there were no more cairns and we were bushwhacking, headed toward the canyon he and Tom could see from the highest vantage points. They had spotted a couple of possible routes they called Plan A and Plan B. I'm not sure which one was chosen, but it led to a cliff with an impossible drop, a sheer rock wall. It was now about 2:00 and the weather had changed from sunny to cloudy, from mild to chilly, snow was on its way. 

We backed uphill and took the alternate route which involved going down a narrow canyon between two fins. Even though this is normally hot desert country, the land between the fins gets all the water that runs off them during rain storms and the microscopic bits of rock that weathers constantly from them. It's positively lush down there, full of Mormon tea, tough stickery juniper trees, grasses, flowers, rose bushes, and lots of damp sand. Bushwhacking through the little canyon was slow work. At one point the only passage was past a juniper with a branch that had grown sideways and then bent as it hit the fin wall. The guys moved the branch aside and slipped past it. But the branch was right at chest level for me, and even with my pack off, it was downright painful to get past it, felt like I was being molested by a tree!
Plan A or Plan B???

The little canyon opened out onto another cliff but this one had a few narrow shelves and larger 'stairs' that led to the final major obstacle, a 30 foot drop. Time to get out those ropes again. I was terrified. This was the worst moment of the day, and after 5 hours of scrambling, climbing and hiking, I was tired. I didn't trust my shaky knees anymore but there was no other option. We could see the jeep trail at the bottom of the canyon. The way out was clear, just simply not accessible, in my view. The four men showed no sign of turning back, and I wasn't about to suggest it. I doubted actually, if we could have found our way back to the exact fin with the cable, and that was the only way down on that side. 

Bill set up a belay and this time he wrapped the rope around my waist. Martin simply scampered down the shelves and then slipped down a crack 'chimney' and was on the ground at the bottom. Well, bottom might be a misnomer, he was at least off the cliff. The canyon bottom was still far down a talus slope with a few more shelves to traverse. I sat for a few minutes and just tried to calm down. My heart was beating itself out of my chest. I don't think I've been this scared in a long time. I was looking my own demise in the face and there was no option but to trust these men and the ropes. And hope my knees would hold up. This time, it wasn't easier than it looked. 

Tom and Bill set up the belay with Bill noting there was nothing to brace himself against. Tom suggested a little sapling tree barely surviving in an inch of soil. Bill pushed against it with his feet and it toppled right over. Oh good, I'm going to be held up on the side of a cliff by a guy without a rock to brace against. But Bill dug in his heels and decided his weight alone would keep him from sliding off, in the event that I fell. I took off my gloves, now damp from the sweat of my palms. Just writing this, I'm having to wipe off my hands!

Set up to go, I inched my way down the cliff, hanging onto tiny crevices of rock, placing one foot at a time on the sandy, slippery shelves of rock. In reality though, the sand was damp, held well, and the shelf was wider than it had appeared to my terrified mind when I first looked down. The drop from the shelf to the skree below was still 30 or more feet. That aspect of reality had not changed a bit. The worst part was coming around the corner where Tom was standing. The 'corner' was an overhang of rock with quite a step from my shelf to the one he stood on. He told me exactly where to grab hold of the rock and then he put an arm around my back for support and I inched over to his shelf. There was barely enough room for both of us, but a wider platform, the top of a tower of rock, was below and I got down to that. Terry was already there. The rock we sat on had a gap between it and the sheer wall we'd just come down, forming the chimney. Since I had the rope on, I got to go first. Bill was still way up at the top belaying me. Tom dropped down to the platform and talked me down the chimney. After the terror subsided of being suspended in a crack with just a sloping slab of slippery rock below me, it was kinda fun. I had both hands on the rock opposite the one my back was pressed up against. There were some visible foot holds to stand on and lean against, but at the bottom, there was empty space bounded on one side by a very steep slab of rock. Martin was down there, he held onto the toes of my boots as they slid down the slab. I pushed my back into the wall and inched my way down. I could feel the rope tighten and knew Bill was doing a fair share of holding my weight as I slid. Eventually there was not a thing to hang onto and essentially Bill lowered me to the ground. It was only a few feet and Martin was right there. I had feet flattened up against the slab but they would not have had enough friction to support me if Martin hadn't been bracing from below. Finally I was on the real ground once again. I collapsed into a heap over with the pile of packs we'd lowered earlier.  Terry got down faster but it was a struggle for him too, belayed by Bill. Then Bill had to come down from way up above and Tom belayed him from the platform I think (I've since been corrected, Bill was NOT on belay! It's kind of embarrassing to be belayed if you're a real mountain guy. Not being a guy, I'm spared such ego, I'll take it when I can get it.) It dawned on me after a little bit to take some photos, so I got Bill coming down the chimney , and then Tom who slid down with what seemed like little effort and no rope. Monkeys. They're all monkeys. 

The rest of the way to the bottom of the canyon was a relative piece of cake, though it was steep and sandy with little angular rocks mixed in. It felt a lot like skiing. I tried to stay in the men's footprints so as not to create too much disturbance of the cryptobiotic plants that keep desert soils from eroding. Martin and Tom went on ahead at their faster pace to get the cars. At the mouth of this canyon the paved road leads back to where we'd parked a couple miles beyond.  I deeply appreciated their willingness to 'go the extra mile'.

We walked out on the sandy and sometimes quite rocky jeep trail that followed what is often a raging river, a periodic tributary to the Colorado. Evidence of high water was everywhere, plants mashed over towards the mouth of the canyon, some small trees along the edges with exposed roots, flotsam jammed up against boulders, and slick exposed rock on the river bottoms. It began to rain, a cold spitting rain. I packed according to Bill's list so I got out my rain jacket and was comfortably dry if not exactly warm on the walk out of the canyon. By the time we reached the paved road, it was snowing, small icy splats of snow that didn't stick, but would shortly. We waited under a shelter for about twenty five minutes before Tom and Martin showed up with the cars. This incredible day was finally at a close. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"too" Boulder

After the almost fatal drive from Laramie to Ft. Collins a week ago, I thought I'd better get new tires. Winter is coming and I don't want to be caught in another situation like that with less than wonderful tires. There's a place my friend Dan Day recommended and he called ahead to get me the 'family' discount. While they put on the tires I took a little walk in the glorious fall weather; trees golden, red, and some still green in every direction, the little creek with a sidewalk along it full of squirrels dashing about, children playing in the park across the street, a lovely area. And I spotted a bakery. I don't eat grains anymore but the smell of fresh bread would ease my soul and besides I could pick up something for my mom who is feeling deprived traveling with me and my austere diet.

The bakery was in a small house with little Tibetan flags in the flower bed, nicely landscaped front yard and a large sign: Fresh Baked.

I stepped in through the door to no smells whatsoever. Inside the darker room when my eyes adjusted there was a conference table off to one side, the room had a tall desk with two people behind it who looked at me questioningly.

"Oh, this isn't a bakery?"

"No", said the slim young woman, "It's a dispensary."

There were no shelves full of product, nothing 'for sale' that I could see. Now my curiosity was beside itself. "A dispensary of what?"

"Medical Marijuana" she said, "Welcome to Boulder!!"

Friday, October 29, 2010

Old school memories

I lived in Boulder from the time I was 16 until I was in my mid-thirties. Highschool, college, marriage, three houses, several jobs, and a lifetime were spent here. I remember having a huge crush on a boy named David back in 1971. When he announced one day that he'd joined the Navy for 6 years, I was devastated. I walked from the school seven miles into downtown Boulder across open fields filled with grazing cattle. My eyes bawling tears, it was a slow trip. I grabbed hold of a fence to pass between the barbed wires and was horribly shocked three times before I realized it was electric. It caused convulsions and I thought until the third time, that I was having a heart attack. The current passed from hand to hand thru my broken heart.

Yesterday, I walked to the old school through paved streets, and a bosque of trees along South Boulder Creek. Amazingly there are still a few remnants of open fields and even a few cows, it's not entirely filled with businesses and houses. I don't remember the exact route I took then, but it felt like my life had come full circle. I do recall an old red caboose sitting on a section of train track in someone's yard, and sure enough, it was still there. I remember a little wooden bridge across the creek, and though it may not have been the same one, I crossed that way this time too. In 1971 it was spring, now it's autumn. Pumpkins were for sale along the old road, now a major artery into subdivisions. There is still a little farmland and some people make a few extra bucks off the land. The lake next to the school is cleaned up and features an RV park. The dangerous road alongside the lake was straightened out after the near fatal accident I'd had with Tom, Fred, and Grant in 1970, our junior year. And now, as then, there are no sidewalks, not even a dirt path. One is not supposed to walk along that road, but I did then and now, braving traffic and probably irritating more than a few drivers.

Scary Scary Drive

Friday, October 29

My mother and I drove from Los Alamos up to Salt Lake City a week ago today. We spent the night in Monticello, Utah, a little Mormon town with a Temple, a couple of inexpensive but clean motels, and an interesting little grocery store. I was a bit surprised to see so much Mexican food there, including moles,  nopales (bottled cactus), and pan dulces in the bakery section. They aren't used to foot traffic, we were almost run over by a giant semi tractor trailer that was turning as we crossed the street. I swear the driver never saw us, and probably walking people was the last thing he expected to see in the darkened street.

We drove to Moab the next day and had breakfast at a darling cafe at the north end of town. Most places appeared closed, which seemed odd to me in such a tourist town on a Saturday morning. This little cafe also sold antique collectables from shelves placed in the windows, ledges around the walls, and I think even the furniture was for sale. We placed an order and were given a plastic banana so when the food arrived the waiter could find our table. I've been given little flags, numbers, even colorful bandanas in places like this, but plastic fruit was a first. The coffee was excellent and the food good. We visited with a man who eats there two or three times a week when he's in Moab. He was a geologist at a nearby mine, working on contract, and lived in Ft. Collins Colorado. I love how people are willing to visit with people they've never seen before and will never see again. It's not just passing time, it's that quintessential human experience of visiting, learning something about someone, and maybe in some off-chance, it will somehow change your life.

The drive north through Utah was a stark desert drive with dark low shifting clouds and light play on the BookCliffs and that rough country west of Green River. I would have enjoyed seeing the museum of Natural History again in Price but we were in a bit of a hurry to get to SLC and go to IKEA. You see we were IKEA virgins and had heard how wonderful the experience of an IKEA is. We had no idea. It is situated about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, a huge blue warehouse visible for a couple of miles down the freeway. We got there at 1:30 and didn't leave till 4:30. Didn't buy anything either, that would happen the next day. Just getting out of there required a store map, a compass, and my cunning navigation skills as my mother began to feel quite sick and we needed to leave. However the Swedish meatball plate, greek salad, and the array of desserts made eating in their cafeteria an experience, and one we would repeat on Sunday! We never did figure out what had made her feel sick.

After much driving around in the area where my son used to live, an area I thought I could find my way around in again, we found a hotel and checked in. Mom said she just wanted to rest, sleep cures most ills, so I dressed up and went to my friend Steve's 50th birthday party. He and his wife Sue have lived in SLC now for about 9 years and I've visited and stayed with them often. Our mutual friend Becky from Eugene Oregon was there and we had a wonderful time. There were about 25 people at the party. Sue's old friend Andrea, a chef and caterer from NYC, made the food and was herself an interesting and entertaining person. It was nice to see Jo, Steve's mother and Sue's mother too. Both have moved to SLC to be near the last grandchild for both of them. All the other grands have grown up, but Andrew is 12 and could still use some grandma influence. This is one family that has stuck together. When the kids moved away, the parents followed. So many families are scattered all over and some kids don't ever get to know their grandparents very well.

Steve got to have all his important women there for his big birthday. I was his neighbor 25 years ago in Albuquerque. I introduced him to Becky, my old friend from high school, and they dated for a while. Then broke up amicably, and eventually Becky introduced him to Sue whom he married. So, if it weren't for me, Steve would not have the life he has now. His path would have been down an entirely different road. I think he's very happy with his life, so I feel no guilt.

On Sunday, I visited with Becky and Andrea for breakfast, then Mom and I went back to finish our IKEA experience. I was specifically looking for a desk to put into a 5 foot wide space in my bedroom. IKEA had exactly what I needed, plus we purchased all kinds of other stuff including a bag of frozen Swedish Meatballs, some salty licorice, dark chocolate, and lingonberry preserves. IKEA stuff comes in build-it-yourself pieces, which fortunately all fit into the van and we were on our way.

Early Monday morning, long before sunrise we headed east on I-80. It was raining and by the time we got up in elevation the rain became a blizzard. Huge flakes splatted against the windshield and monster trucks, acting invincibly, zoomed past us and pummeled my view with slush. I'm surprised the wiper blades didn't fly off the car they were moving so hard and fast. It was tense going so when we reached an intersection with a gas station I pulled off and we went in for coffee and a potty break. Of course everyone who came through the door had a weather related story. Further on it was bad news, slick roads, no plows through that section yet, etc. When it was daylight we went on. The roads weren't too bad, slick in places so we never got above 45 mph. I could tell this route to Boulder was not going to be a simple 8 hour trip. We stopped at the visitor's center in Evanston. The wind was howling and snow blew across the road like a blizzard. I had to pee so badly I was about to burst.  I shouldn't have drunk all that coffee at the gas station. The visitor center's electricity was out, so the two ladies running the place wouldn't let us use the restroom. Their toilet flushers are electric! OMG, our culture has become so dependent on electricity we can't even flush the john by ourselves!

My mother noted that the men's room had doors on the outside of the building, so we casually walked out of sight of those women, then dashed into the men's room. Mom held the door open slightly so some daylight would come in, and we took turns using the handicapped toilet. I guess someone else probably flushed it after the electricity came back on. I wasn't about to leave any yellow snow in that wind, even if there had been some bushes to pee behind!

Across Wyoming, there is wind. Perpetual strong wind, and these days: wind farms. I never saw so many of those giant windmills. In one particularly icy stretch, when we could barely go 20 mph, I spotted a ridge and did a quick count of ten, then visually multiplied it to get around 60. I know they cost at least $1million apiece, so that is quite an investment by some company. And every one of them was whirling around like a kid's pinwheel on a stick. I wonder how much of that electricity is used to flush toilets?

In that same area, on the opposing lanes of I-80 a trailer had been blown apart. The tractor and the flatbed of the trailer were on one side of the two lanes, and all the goods, aluminum skin and frame were on the other side. I was busy trying to stay on the road. Mom said she couldn't really see what the contents of the trailer were. Looked like mattresses and boxes of fluffy stuff to me the few times I was able to glance over. There were several emergency vehicles but the tractor was upright and I doubt the driver was hurt. What a mess though!

We gassed up in Laramie and had dinner downtown. We spotted several steak houses, but when we walked up to them after parking, they were all closed for business. We spotted a bar but they didn't serve food. This is a university town! There ought to be bars and food everywhere. Eventually we did find a nice little restaurant that served buffalo burgers and sweet potato fries. So, filled up, we headed south on 287, the old north-south road that goes all the way into New Mexico.

I had no idea what I was facing. The reports we'd gotten from gas stations and truck stops along the way showed little weather in that area, it was all to the north, but as the road climbed in altitude, the road went from dry to wet to black ice. On one hill, I gently pushed the brakes to find I had no traction at all. So I slipped into second gear and slowed down, kept a steady grip on the wheel and just went around the curves hoping we would not go straight off a cliff. Climbing up the pass, a truck was tailgating me and I kept slowing down. He must have noticed he had no traction either because at the top of the pass several trucks were pulled over. I pulled in front of them, and so did he. We just sat there for ten minutes. I tried to quit shaking and spent a little time flexing my hands, they'd both gone numb from gripping the steering wheel.

"What do you want to do?" my mother asked.

"Well, it's not going to get any better, so spending the night here is probably not an option. If we can get to a lower elevation, it should warm up. But who knows when that'll be?"

I discovered that if I kept to the shoulder there was a little snow for traction and the rumble strips gave at least one tire a grip on the road. We oozed down the pass at 15mph and eventually the black ice turned back to wet pavement, and I could drift back into the road. I noticed that nobody had followed. For the entire drive to the bottom of the pass there was just blackness in my rear view mirror. On dry roads we picked up speed and made it to Ft. Collins by 8:30. It was another hour and a half to Boulder but it was smooth sailing after a break in a grocery store parking lot to stand up, stretch, and celebrate our safe passage.

We pulled into the Barta's driveway at 10:00. Sixteen stressful hours after we left Salt Lake City. Whew.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Two days travel.....

Getting home involved two days traveling. On Monday I hopped an ETN bus (super luxury) to Guadalajara. It was like being rocked to sleep in a soft cradle. Most buses have rows of four seats with an aisle. Not ETN. There are two seats on one side, an aisle, then a single seat. It costs $6 more to ride ETN. A movie played but my headphones didn't work. It was an American cartoon so I followed the plot with no trouble.  The rest of the time I worked on my computer and looked out the window at the green countryside. The entire trip took 5 hours. Mexico is quite beautiful this time of year, after all the summer rains, and especially lately with the overflow from the Gulf hurricanes.

I took a taxi to the little hotel where LuLu had promised I didn't need a reservation, but the hotel was full! She had a bunch of construction guys there, staying for the entire month. Mucho trabajo, (lots of work) she said. So she made a couple of phone calls and got me into a much nicer hotel with a pool and the price included a ride to the airport at 6:30 the next morning. It was perfect. Twice the price, but a long cab ride is fairly expensive in Guadalajara. In San Miguel every taxi ride within the city is 25 pesos, about $2. I wandered around Tlaquepaque for a while, got to go into several galleries that had been closed two weeks before. Only two weeks before....seemed like I hadn't been there in a month or more.

Tlaquepaque is an artists haven, lots of galleries, a real touristy place for Mexican tourists, and very high quality work. One artist Rodo Padilla, does these wonderful distorted but amusing figures. The people have proportional arms, head and upper bodies but from the waist down they balloon out like pear-shaped women (and then some!). He also has furniture that is a huge person shape sitting down and you get to sit in their laps. The jewelers are awfully creative too. But I was already loaded up on purchases.

The hotel room was decorated in a very sophisticated Mexican style with tile everywhere, a mosquito netting on the bed, old rustic furniture, leather couches, and a deep tiled tub that wicked the water's heat very quickly. Mental note, don't ever install a tile tub in future construction! The bed was comfy and I got a great night's sleep. Before dawn Victor, the owner, drove me to the airport in his nice new Toyota van. We had a long conversation about Guadalajara, his life as a single guy and owner of two hotels, his vacation shortly to Puerto Vallarta, the fact that he was born in Tlaqupaque and that his parents are disappointed that he's not married yet. But, as he pointed out, he can own the hotels because he's NOT married.

Getting through the customs and other rigamaroll in the US took almost all the time I had between planes, but I managed to get back to Albquerque on time. Yeah! I stopped on the way to Los Alamos to visit with my mother, give her Trini's shawl and some other little presents and then drove home. My son had the house clean, the cat was still alive and a little slimmer (guess he doesn't give her as many snacks as I do) and life is back to normal. Sigh. It's finally over. Oh well, there's always another Mexican trip. I think I'm hooked.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday, last day of the Bicentennial

The rains and cloudy skies continue from the hurricane. We enjoyed Miss Scarlet's company for breakfast and some of her great Cuban coffee, so strong it must be cut with 50% milk. She is a most interesting character. Her job consists of living somewhere (anywhere) in the world and checking in periodically with her company when she feels like being 'on call'. She uses a Vonage VOI (voice over internet) system. They forward calls to her from doctors and hospitals who need a medical translator. She is fluent in Spanish, almost fluent in French, and can switch on Italian in a pinch. She's been all over and has dozens of funny, multicultural stories to tell, in her charming Southern Belle accent. We've gotten into the habit of a large late breakfast, maybe some ice cream later in the afternoon, and then a light dinner or appetizers with wine later in the evening. I like that method of eating, but it doesn't do well when you have to be at work by 8:00 and have a hungry teenager at home for dinner. 

The Instituto de Allende is a large fortress on Ancha de San Antonio, just up the street from the apartment. We wandered through the craft fair again and this time I tried a 'tuna' ice made by a vendor from Dolores Hidalgo. I can't remember the exact name of the sherbet, but it's made from the fruit of the large cactus trees that are ripening now by the thousands. It was not a very strong flavor but it had a clear claret wine color and pleasant taste with tiny seeds that gave it some crunch. The 'tuna' I've harvested (carefully! They are loaded with spines and stickers.) in New Mexcio have large hard seeds that must be culled from the fruit before eating. Ours taste a lot like a cross between peaches and strawberries. This fruit had more of a tart raspberry taste. 

I had never been to the Mercado de San Juan. For some reason I'd walked past it several times but didn't recognize it as a market since it's inside a large building. It's John's favorite and it is huge. The selection of vegetables and fruit is not as good as the Nigromonte but it has a greater assortment of clothes, electronics, bootleg CD's and DVD's, and regular stuff like plastic containers, leather goods, pet foods, pet clothes, pet leashes and collars, poodle accoutrements (bows, perfume, nail polish!) and the like. It's fairly obvious that people in San Miguel love their animals!! In the little towns near Patzcuaro, there were also a large number of animal stores, but they sold vaccinations, insecticide, chickens, rabbits, Purina livestock chow and maybe a leash or two. Very different relationships with animals. 

We drifted over to Nigromonte too, though I was pretty 'shopped out' by then. My mesh bag was getting damned heavy. It began to rain again, a downpour just like the afternoon before at the bull fight. The thunder and lightning was amazing but they didn't lose electricity even once. A pleasant and charming last day in San Miguel, where there is still so much to explore, so many neighborhoods I've not walked through or past, and such a proliferation of artists and interesting people. It's a lot like Santa Fe in that regard. I tend to go to the same old places and forget to go visit the plaza and all the wonderful galleries and nice restaurants. Living here in February, I noticed that I had developed some habitual places and stopped branching out as much. It has been nice to have a different person who has different favorite places along for the challenge. I'm feeling sad that I have to leave tomorrow for Guadalajara.

Saturday, the Bullfight and El Bigote

Matadors arriving to much fanfare.
John used to go to Tiajuana to see bullfights when he was a kid and I had thought I would like to see one at least once in my life. My Cuban Spanish teacher taught us a lot about bullfighting, how it was an art form, how the matadors made the final kill, what distinguished them from each other, how the picadores worked and for what purpose etc. But in my lifetime I've never seen a bullfight. Today would be the day. 

I spent much of the early part of the day shopping at the artisans market at the Instituto and then at the Nigromonte market near the Jardin. I hadn't planned to spend most of my money but there were some very cool things so I did. I bought some necklaces, a painting on bark paper that I will hang in my Mexican bathroom, some little presents for relatives back home, soap dishes to match the Mexican sinks at home, copal incense for my incense loving son, etc. Many pesos later I returned to the apartment. The maid was there for the weekly cleaning. And indeed the sheets had been washed and hung on the roof and were back on the beds. The place hadn't looked that clean even the night we arrived. Good help is really good to find! 

The Queen and her court.

Hurricane Carl is beating up the eastern coast of Mexico and the clouds and rain from that have extended far inland. The clouds looked dark gray and laden with water. The wind blew gently but steadily from the east. We packed for the rain and headed to the Bullring. On the way, in the taxi, we saw a man running with two horses. I mean, the man was running, leading two running horses up the hill. After the taxi dropped us and we'd photographed the beauty queens and the Matadors who arrived by horse drawn carriages, we saw that same guy leading the horses up the hill and into the driveway of the bullring. It was funny to me that he didn't ride either one, they were both saddled. Maybe he liked the exercise. Or maybe the horses were worth more than he. 

The picador and his incredible horse.

Final moments for the bull
I have seen the bullring from the overlook up the hillside, and I knew what street must go past it, but I never saw the bullring itself. Turns out that it sits back from the street, there are houses and stores in front of it. To access it, there are large metal gates that open onto a steep driveway and at the top the land flattens out with the bullring built in a huge circle with buttressed castle walls. Inside the space between houses and the outside of the bullring horses were tethered to rings set into the walls. There were a bunch of guys dressed like matadors, but without the fancy gold and silver accoutrement's. I think these were the toreros, they 'play' with the bulls and distract them but don't kill them. The matadors are the ones who actually make the kill.  The Picador punches the bull with spikes to injure him, wear him out, make him fighting mad, and get him ready for the finesse of the Matador. The picador on horseback was pretty good, he spiked the bull almost every time and exactly where he intended. I felt sorry for the bull but this end to his life was brief. The entire fight only lasts about 20 minutes, 30 tops. I felt equally sorry for the horses. The first bull was quite energetic and went after the horse, jabbing the horse several times with his horns. The Picador finally went out the gate and came back with a bigger stronger horse who managed to keep himself out of harm's way. It began to rain a lot and we were getting soaked. We moved up under the covered portal at the top of the ring, and when I looked back the Matador was finishing off the bull with a final knife to the spinal column. So I missed the finale. A team of decorated horses came in and pulled the bull out of the ring with ropes tied to the horns. 

One aspect of this bullfight that John hadn't seen before, and that I'd never heard about were the 'clowns'. (I'm sure there's an official name for them.) In addition to the bullfighters and toreros, there were about 20 young men who were dressed alike, in similar stretchy pants, shoes and shirts as the bullfighters. We had seen them congregating, hugging each other, crossing themselves, and generally acting high spirited before we went in. After the bull was tired but still feisty, they lined up in a straight row, as if in a line to buy tickets. The front guy set himself up as a target and the entire column yelled and waved their hands. The bull charged the front man and hit him squarely in the chest with the broad part of his head, horns to either side of the man's body. The column collapsed as the bull forced the man into the ones behind him. Those hombres swarmed around the bull, pulled on his tail, grabbed at his horns and tried to extract their friend. Aside from entertainment, I'm not sure what the point of this exercise was, probably another test of manhood. The bull wasn't particularly happy with it either and quickly got away. The front man was bloodied up a bit but strutted out of the swarm to cheers from the crowd.  

The rain let up and another bull came into the ring. The fight went much the same, except the second matador was not as good and I think this bull suffered quite a bit more. It broke my heart. The crowd was not terribly enthusiastic about the matador and less so when the rain came down in earnest. We crowded up under the portal area and even that was not designed to withstand the downpour, the roof dribbled rain on us just about anywhere we chose to stand. The bullring filled up like a swimming pool and when the rain finally let up, men got out in the mud with long flat boards on the end of poles and tried to sweep out the water but it just kept rolling back in. The Matadors in their sparkling finery, red socks and little black shoes jumped around a bit, slid back and forth, and then I think, gave their recommendations to the judges, who called the whole thing off. There would have been 2 other bulls so it was a good day for them. 

El Bigote and the little bull.
However, the entertainment was just beginning. A vacillo, young bull, was let out into the ring and dozens of drunk men and boys as young as 10 years old entered the ring. They used sheets of paper, their shirts, big sombreros, etc. as capes to attract the bull's attention and pretend that they were bullfighters. Most of them stayed by the gates which have a large flat wooden shield to protect the bullfighters. They would pop in and out from behind the shield, taunt the bull, but never let him get too close. They were testing their courage, but they weren't stupid. Except for one middle aged borracho who was wearing a big black fake mustache and blue jeans. He took his shirt off and used it as a cape. He taunted the bull, strutted around, wiggled his butt and waved his shirt. He looked just like Cheech of Cheech and Chong fame. The bull came really close to goring him but he successfully used the shirt to detract the bull from his bare upper body. The more success he had, the cockier he became. Cheers bellowed from the remaining crowd who were still drinking up excess beer, probably now on sale for lack of customers. The crowd was yelling Bigote! Bigote! (mustache), urging him on. Then he made a mistake and turned his back on the bull after he'd successfully gotten the bull to pass. The bull lowered his head and charged. Bigote landed square across the bull's face, between the horns, and he was tossed up into the air. He landed face down and stayed there. I thought he might be dead. 

The other men quickly jumped into action waving and yelling to distract the bull while others grabbed up the injured man and drug him off to safety. A tall thin teenager with a huge white hat was the next brave guy but he had already witnessed the Bigote fiasco. He was a little too cautious so the crowd began to yell Puta Puta. (not a good name…) Meanwhile, Bigote recovered and came back into the ring, mostly to bow to the crowd and be cheered on. He left many fans and probably got dozens of free drinks at the nearest bar, not that he needed to get any drunker!!

The actual Bicentennial Holiday

There was no way to hear El Grito again in Delores Hidalgo at 6:30 this morning, but we did hop a bus and go later in the day. We got off at a Feria, kind of a county carnival with rides and booths. After much wandering about and visiting with vendors and photographing the sights, we hopped another bus to the Centro. The plaza there was decked out with flags, signs, colors and a big stage in front of the church where the first El Grito was given. I imagine the party the night before was even more crushing than San Miguel's. Their Jardin was equally crowded with vendors and people. John bought a couple more hats. I think he's up to 11 now. We wandered around checking out the town, then had a very late lunch, or early dinner at a hotel restaurant that had a buffet. The food was excellent. They had chicken mole, pork in a tequila sauce, Spanish rice, fruit salad, and one of my favorite local dishes: chile en nogada. (Sweet white sauce over a cheese filled Poblano pepper, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.) 

I had heard rumors that Dolores Hidalgo is famous for two things, the start of the Revolution, and weird ice cream. I have a recipe from my Cubano Spanish teacher called Elotes Domingo, which is green beans, but since discovered that elotes in Mexico is corn on the cob, or just corn. (Thanks Joyce Carlson!) Sigh. So no wonder the ice cream I tasted before didn't taste like green beans, it was corn flavored!! Anyway, as we wandered around the plaza looking at hats, trinkets and everything else for sale, I got a small ice cream, Beso de Angel, the kiss of an angel. It was strawberry with almond (paste I think) and dried dark cherries. It was really good. On the list of available flavors were tuna (in Mexico that's the fruit of a cactus, not the fish), elotes, tequila, mole (a chile/chocolate paste for meat usually), beer, avocado, mamay (not my favorite fruit - it tastes like tuna (the fish) to me!), shrimp, cheese and many others - some more disgusting than others. I suspect milk and sugar can disguise or enhance just about any flavor in the world. I also tried fried grasshoppers or some Mexican equivalent, they certainly looked like little grasshoppers. It was interesting, and not disgusting at all, a bit on the sour side, and of course it had been powdered with chile. I enjoyed the taste but didn't buy any. When I'm in adventure mode I'll eat just about anything, but I know, back at home, I wouldn't want to finish off the bag. Not like a bag of potato chips!!

The 45 minute ride back gave me time for a much needed nap. We landed back in the Centro of San Miguel and it was hopping for the night's festivities. We stood in one of the corners of the plaza as horses with riders lined up for the evening parade. There were official looking ropes across the street but nobody paid any attention and crossed over between and behind the horses. Suddenly a horse acted up and people backed up, pushing and shoving. It was all I could do to stay on my feet. After that scare I stuck close to the building and watched people, even ones with little kids, cross the horses. The crowd was drunker than the night before. There were many people from Mexico City and the bars were overflowing even though no one was selling alcohol on the streets. It felt much less like a family affair and much more like a drunk fest than the night before. We decided to bag it and head for the apartment. That was a trip unto itself. The bus we would normally have taken didn't show up. Lots of other buses came and went, but not the one that would drop us right in front of the hotel across the street. It was dark and crowded. No one seemed to know where that bus might stop, some said across the street, others said down the street. Finally we found a small crowd way down the street and on the other side. They were all waiting for the same bus so we joined them. What a strange way to run a bus system. There must be much more to it than the average Gringo can figure out. 

Back at the apartment we could see the sky bursts from the second night of celebrating. It went on for twenty minutes or more. I ran up to the roof but actually the view from our lower balcony was better since we could see under the treetops there; on the roof trees obscure the view. I had visited the roof earlier in the day. It's an interesting place. There are sky lights above rectangular columns that allow the bathrooms and kitchens in the apartments to have a source of light and fresh air. The gas tanks for each apartment are up there in the corners of the building with copper pipes running all over the place taking natural gas to each separate unit. In addition there are some odd looking small buildings that house the water heaters and also a corrugated sink and water tap. I guess you send your maid up there to wash the sheets and clothes, then she hangs them up on the lines that stretch from little building to little building. 

While it is nice to be in San Miguel, I miss the quiet of Eronga. The nights there are silent with the exception of some animals dashing across the roof occasionally. Here one cannot sleep at all without closing the windows. The traffic noise on Ancha de San Antonio and Sterling Dickenson is incredible both night and day. Only from about 2:00 am till 5:00 am is it relatively quiet. In Eronga I was always awakened by roosters and donkeys braying. Here I'm serenaded to sleep by fireworks and awakened by trucks churning up the hill on Sterling. Needless to say, it does not make for a restful night's sleep.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

El Grito and the crush....

Wednesday, Sept.15th

We had purchased copies of Atencion to see the schedule of the festivities for the Bicentennial Celebration of the Mexican Revolution. El Grito, the very eloquent speech saying essentially "Lets throw the bastards out" is traditionally given in Mexico at 11:00 pm on the 15th, followed by fireworks, bands, and dancing. The next day, the 16th, is a national holiday when everyone can sleep in and sleep it off. Pretty smart way to do it, unlike we in the US who party all night of the 4th and then still have to return to work on the 5th if it doesn't fall on a weekend. 

The first El Grito was spoken (shouted) at 6:30 am in front of the big church in Delores Hidalgo on the 16th. They planned to re-enact that one at 6:30 am, but since we stayed up till way past 2:00 on the 15th, I wasn't about to jump on a bus and head to Delores in time for the 'real' El Grito the next morning, 

Wednesday was a beautiful day, as most are in San Miguel. We headed to the Jardin, John wanted to take care of Trini's paperwork problem but discovered the Consulate was closed. I went shopping for food for the next few days, breakfast items mostly. It was nice to be in familiar territory. San Miguel was all decked out for the holiday with huge banners streaming from the buildings, the streets washed and scrubbed, dog and horse poop cleaned up, and some of the teenagers wore goofy fuzzy red, white and green hats with fake mustaches. What revolutionary dressed like that?

Nigromonte market looked the same, smelled the same, and the best fruit and vegetable guy was still in his stall across from the meat section. When he saw that I was buying ingredients for Guacamole, he tossed in a couple of hot serano peppers with the avocados. Since I was on a mission, I skipped looking for ceramics to go with my new Mexican tiled bathrooms. Another trip….

I got half a roasted chicken from Pollo Brenda, and a stack of fresh corn tortillas from the tortilleria next door. Loaded with food in my giant shopping bolsa I headed back through the Jardin area. It happened to be 11:00 in the morning and the lady mayor of SMA (San Miguel de Allende) was giving a rousing speech that ended with El Grito. Finally I got to hear it! The Jardin was full and teenagers in identical running outfits were lined up like soldiers with their right hands in a salute over their hearts, elbows stiffly held upright, answering El Grito with Viva Mexico, Viva Viva.!! It was so patriotic (and quasi military!).

Back at the apartment, I whipped up the guacamole and put it in the fridge to develop the flavors. There's just nothing like guac made with perfectly ripe avocados, fresh fluffy cilantro, and a squeezed lime.  Then I went to find an internet cafe.

After a frustrating afternoon trying to stay online and upload photos, I returned to the apartment to find Bill, the downstairs neighbor, sitting out on the wide walkway in front of the apartments having a glass of wine with John and a woman who could be Charo's cousin. This lady was a trip. She was tiny and slim, perched like a bird on the arm of one of the outdoor couches, waving a glass of wine around as she talked a mile a minute in Spanish and English. She owns a B&B right off the Jardin that is quite beautiful Bill says. He was clearly enamored with her. We were shortly joined by other neighbors and pretty soon a party ensued. I brought down the Guacamole and some chips, Bill brought out another bottle of wine and some beer, and we sat around chatting the afternoon away. A lady from Florida with a heavy southern accent (she's also a DAR) refused to drink her wine from a tumbler and went home to fetch a suitable wine glass. I couldn't help but be reminded of our 'cousin Francis' an elderly southern belle. The major difference was this lady was fluent in Spanish and a fast talker. 

About 9:00, John, Alexa (the southern belle) and I hailed a cab and got as close to the Jardin as we could. It was filling fast. A parade passed in the street on the west side, Hidalgo, Morelos and other heros of the Revolution came through on horseback with a contingent of mounted riders and campesinos with swords and rakes. We ended up under the portal on the east side, but there were vendors all along the opening to the street so there was no passage except at the ends. People were already packed in with only a little elbow room. It wasn't to remain that loose. John chose to be up against the thick stone post holding up the portal and later in the evening I could see some wisdom in that, even if it blocked our view of the ground fireworks in front of the church. 

SMA has the most unusual Parroquia. It is a large parish church, made of pink sandstone and carved in a way that makes it look like a wedding cake. In front is a large stone fenced patio area, a paved street permanently cleared of cars and then the Jardin. The Jardin is a park the size of a city block with thick umbrella-like trees that cast a dense shade and are trimmed up to look like an English hedge. Usually it is filled with benches, walkways, flowerbeds and a few vendors. Tonight it was packed with vendors all facing the streets. Most were selling red,white and green 'stuff'. I purchased a stretch band for my hat and it came with a wrist band for my 'raised fist'. Little kids riding on their father's shoulders waved flags and blew horns. A band played, people shouted to be heard by each other, the noise was soon unbearable. Miss Scarlet, as John dubbed her, gave me some kleenex (clean she assured me) to put in my ears. She then informed us that she much preferred to be in the middle of it all and would find her own way home. I found out later she had gone over to the west side of the plaza, plunged into the crowd and was right under the balcony where the politicians and 'la Reina' gave their patriotic speeches at 11:00. The crowd there was body-to-body and at one point a bunch of gang members pushed their way through creating a terrible crush. She got behind one giant kid, told him he was to be her protector, and so got out of the crowd at the end without being trampled. I guess that southern accent is as charming in Spanish as it is in English!

On the east side, the crowd continued to grow. I was pleased to see that none of the vendors were selling beer or alcohol. The bars were open, but no one was allowed to go out with their glasses, though that's pretty typical most evenings. By the time of El Grito, I was pressed solidly up against the stone pillar. We also had a few minutes of crush that was quite scary. I thought I might actually be crushed to death and was glad I'd told Garret I loved him when we last spoke. I could feel the crowd swaying and pushing and I pushed back. John was in front of me, and a very tall man was behind. I put a foot out in front and one in the back for stability and used the pillar so I couldn't be swayed that way. Bodies pushed up against me and I was squashed into the wall. I thought we couldn't possibly go through the entire night like this! Then the wave passed. We must have had a gang pass through too, but I was too short to see the 'pressing reason'.  After that, we were still body to body but there was a little flex room. If I suffered from claustrophobia I would never have gotten into that mess in the first place. 

11:00 rolled around and the politicians appeared both on the balcony and on the huge TV screen which I could see from my vantage point. Miss Scarlet was right below them. She said she kept trying to back up for a better view, all she could see was up La Reina's nose. 

The crowd was on fire. They shouted Viva! Viva! on cue when some politician gave El Grito from the balcony of the Presidencia. All I heard was a roaring sound in a Spanish accent, punctuated with Ah's and O's. Then the fireworks started, shot off from the top of the Police Station on the north side of the Jardin. The sparks showered the crowd and many of them were still glowing. Some in the crowd had brought pieces of cardboard which they held over their heads. I was glad to be under the portal though it blocked the full view of the sparkling sky. The ground displays went off in between big bursts. I could barely see those with the post in the way. Not important, because I could see the most amazing display of all. From on top the building next to me, images were projected onto the wedding cake church. Images from famous murals of people in the struggle for independence, vines and leaves emerged from the bottom and grew, as Mexico grew as a nation. Buildings, cars, roads, animals and all kinds of human endeavors were projected in faint colors against the pink glowing carved walls. It was amorphous and indistinct but gorgeous. I'd never seen anything like it. Miss Scarlet told me later it was new this year and done by a French company. At various times the church seemed covered with runny frosting, at other times like it was decorated with ropes and flowers like a real wedding cake. Aside from the music and patriotic fervor, that was my favorite part of the festivities. 

After all the pyrotechnic festivities the families left, little kids slumped over dads' heads….. and a rock band blasted away up on the big stage. The party was just getting started. We threaded out of the crowd and down the narrow streets looking for a taxi but none were to be found. We ended up walking all the way back to the apartment. The streets were thronged with cars and people. Up the street from the apartment is a little night vendor that serves up the best tacos. I think we ordered the last plate of four because there was no more meat in the warmer and none cooking on the grill.  A perfect end to the perfect night of El Grito. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Logistics Day

Street scene in San Miguel.
Today (Tuesday) we traveled via bus from Patzcuaro to Queretaro and then on another to San Miguel. Trini and Fidel took us to the Camionera Central and we rode on a super deluxe double decker to Morelia. Too bad it was only for one hour, it was fantastic, by far the nicest bus I've ever ridden on. A sign on the door said it also had WiFi, but if it did, it wasn't working.

My friend Barb calls the days when you change cities "Logistics Days". That was today. Constant toting, standing around, strapping, unstrapping, and surveillance of our luggage while one or the other hit the can. We got onto buses fairly quickly without a lot of sitting in bus terminals, but all the same, we left before 9:00 and arrived in San Miguel well after 6:00. The ride took us up out of the verdant lake region into a countryside resembling Santa Fe and northern NM. Except for the tree sized cactus forests, the landscape appears very similar. Along the way there were farming regions and a few swampy lake areas where cows stood 'udderly' immersed in shallow water eating water lilies. In other 'campos' sheep and goats held sway. I had heard that the Mexican corn industry had been wiped out by NAFTA, which allowed the US to dump super-cheap corn onto Mexican markets. That is probably true. I did see a number of fallow fields with weeds interspersed with corn stalks that sprouted on their own, but I also saw many fields with what is probably a second crop of corn since most of the ears are not quite fully developed and it's pretty late in the season if this were in the US. The markets are loaded with sweet corn and vendors sell corn roasted in its own husks then slathered with mayonnaise and chile powder all over the place. 

Teenagers dressed up for Independence Day.

It was interesting to come into San Miguel from Queretaro. I had only gone as far as the Tuesday Market, up on the flat area east of town last February. This time we came across that plain and down into San Miguel. Because of the Bicentennial there are fairs, carnivals, and festivities all over. The town is decorated with plastic red,white&green flags bearing the likenesses of Allende and Morelos stretched across the streets at intervals of about 10 feet. The Mexican flag is flying everywhere, and as we left Queretaro, there was one that must have been the size of a football field flying near the bus station. 

We had no trouble finding our little apartment, it's right across the street from Hotel Real de Minas where I spent a week in February at the Writer's Conference. There's an OXXO store right next door. It's the equivalent of a 7-11 in the US, only bigger with more real food available. The only problem is that we are at the junction of two major streets so there is a lot of traffic noise and party animals shouting and carrying on. I suspect much of that is due to the holiday. 

The neighbor, Bill, who had the key for us, came in and visited for a while. The woman we have rented from lives here, so I raided her fridge and fixed us some tea and cantaloup. The back wall of the kitchen/living room is painted blood red, and that color is reflected in some picture frames and a table top. Other than that, the house is fairly bland with dark wood furnishings and neutral fabrics. Tiny but comfortable. Bill recommended a Chinese restaurant down the street so that's where we went. The waiter spent much of his childhood in Pittsburgh, so a job waiting tables in a heavily ex-pat American town is perfect for him. 

I'm looking forward to the celebrations. Tomorrow evening the re-enactment of El Grito, the call to arms by the insurgents, will start at 8:30 pm and go on till two or three in the morning. There was an article in Atencion about the men playing the hero rolls. The choice of actor has more to do with horsemanship skills than with how much the man looks like a particular Hero. There have been several horse/people accidents in the past and so excellent skills are needed to keep the spectators alive. I expect the Jardin in the center of town will be packed solid. San Miguel was where the wave of machete armed peasants and a few guys on horseback came when they left Dolores Hidalgo at the start of the revolution. They quickly subdued the Spanish here, but not for long. Eventually all the Heroes were captured and executed, their heads displayed in a plaza in Guanajuato. The names proliferate in streets and towns: Hidalgo, Allende, Morelos, Aldama. It's going to be a blast. I'm so glad to be able to experience this rare occasion.