Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Big Mexico: Ajijic and Lake Chapala

Note to future self: Just because you've been in a place a couple of times, don't think for a second that you know what you're doing there.

Guadalajara, 3:00am, arrived at the bus station with at least 2 hours to wait until buses started running. I was told the only place to catch a bus to Ajijic and Lake Chapala is the old bus station. Oh, I know that place. It's where I caught the bus to Patzcuaro a couple of years ago, and where I came back to fly out. I know that old bus station! It's just a hop away from Tlaquepaque. 

I was told the buses to the old bus station would say Central Viejo, but after waiting for an hour outside in the dark watching bus after bus pass, I hopped on one that said Tlaquepaque. I knew I could take a taxi from there and get to the bus station in a few minutes.....piece of cake. 


The bus driver told me to get off the bus in the middle of some dark street that didn't look at all familiar. That way....he pointed.....the Zocalo. Really? With my suitcase on wheels, and two other bags stacked on top, I rolled off down the bumpy street in the early dark. The streets were deserted, not even roosters crowing. A few windows were lit but mostly it was just really really dark. Since nobody was around, it wasn't particularly scary, but still......

At the end of the long street I saw a familiar sight off to the right, the towers of the two churches. Sure enough the Zocalo was down that direction. A woman street-sweeper was there cleaning up the detritus from the usual Sunday night massive party. She told me to go to the taxi stand. Wow, I remembered where it was!! The taxi driver said it would be $100p to go to the old bus station. What? It was only $20p last time. He looked surprised. No, the bus station is a long ways he said. The old bus station is in the center of Guadalajara. The other is the NEW bus station, but not the BIG new bus station. Yes, that new one is close, the old one is far. 

So, to save myself time and pesos, I ended up spending more of both. 

I have no idea what the landscape from Guad to Lake Chapala looked like because I was asleep the minute the bus pulled out of the station, and didn't wake up till it pulled into Chapala. Still groggy I called my friend Mickey. She said "I have a problem. My house is full of drunks and I can't get my car out, somebody is parked behind me. You'll have to wait a few hours." No way was I hanging around any more bus stations.  I took a cab. 

There had been a party the night before and two guys stayed over rather than drive home. One was in the guest room's bed when I dropped off my bags. I thanked Mickey for the "bienvenidos present"!

Mickey's wonderful house!

Her place is really nice, a large patio/garden where she can also park the car inside the locked gate. A large avocado shades the car, but it's not a good idea to park under it, rock hard avocados occasionally decide to drop.

It's a furnished place, but tastefully decorated with a kitchen any cook would die for, a rare find in Mexico I've discovered, where cooking is an afterthought for home builders. She and I drank coffee and visited for a few hours till her other guests woke up. 

We drove into Chapala to look around. At the "beach" along the lake, vendors sell liquid refreshments. Mickey's boyfriend bought me a "Vampire", almost a quart of red fruity drink that he said had tequila in it. It tasted like it had about six different juices, but no tequila. It was hot so I drank a lot of it right away. After a few minutes, I couldn't figure out why my body kept listing off to one side. 

Lake Chapala in the evening

We stopped at their favorite lunch spot, a little place on the main road through town with outside seating, that specialized in tortas ahogadas, drowned sandwiches. She and I split a shredded beef torta and got a shrimp torta to go. Each of our halves came in their own metal bowl, drowning in a hot tomato-y soup, and served with a large spoon. It was fantastic. The soup was the perfect compliment to the meat and the bread soaked it up so it was easy to cut with a spoon. The next morning, we had the shrimp version for breakfast. Its sauce was totally different, but just as complimentary. Oh my. I can see why she loves living in Ajijic.

I have two friends, Brigitte and Bob, who have a winter home in San Cristobal, and one in Ajijic. Mickey had taken me to her hair dresser for one of the better cuts in my life, and it was only one block from the address Brigitte gave me. So the next morning, I hiked over to see their house and have some excellent coffee under the palapa next to the pool. And what a gorgeous place it is!! They purchased the house about twelve years ago and spent a lot of money remodeling, incorporating an open porch into a dining room, putting in the pool, planting (now large) shade trees, adding a couple of rooms, and completely replacing bathrooms and the kitchen. Brigitte is an avid patron of the arts. She commissioned a freestanding "pantry" with a mural on the front that, well, you have to see the picture to get the full force of it. 

Brigitte's painted pantry. So well done you don't see the knobs to the doors.

We spent some time discussing security issues in Ajijic and Chapala. Apparently the area is no longer the most idyllic paradise for ex-pats. All of their neighbors have been robbed when they were gone and have subsequently put in alarm systems. But in general it is a typical small town with some drug addiction and drug dealer problems. A teenager was recently murdered but no arrests have been made yet. And may not, as the prime suspects are known to be part of a cartel. Mexico really struggles with the side-effects of North America's passion for cocaine and marijuana. 

The Palapa and pool (and Frodo)

Mickey and I have a mutual friend who lives in Australia, we all went to high school together. Jill introduced both of us to one of her friends who lives in Chapala, Stephanie, who in turn invited us to a little party at her place. The house she and her husband purchased sat on barren land with a great view of the lake and mountains. When the house next door came up for sale, they bought it as well, then later on, more vacant land down hill. It developed into a ranchito, with barns, dogs, peacocks, and donkeys, a preserve for the local flora, and the most beautiful garden with orange trees, a pond, petrified wood benches, and a gazebo with a wet bar for entertaining. One of Stephanie's friends owns one of the four donkeys and told me the mask it was wearing was because of an allergy to grass that made it's eyes water. The mask looked like fine mosquito netting and fit around the donkey's face. (A donkey allergic to grass?) She also applies some kind of medicine to its haunches. I thought to myself, what a lucky donkey to be this lady's pet. I doubt if a Mexican farmer would worry if his donkey had watery eyes, he certainly wouldn't put medicine on its ass!!
This is a nasty little fruit, called the Bishop's Cajones.
Decoration only, totally useless.

The party was delightful. The cook was an award winning chile chef, and a well-known classical guitarist with a PhD in music, of Chinese decent, who teaches at a university in Canada. Most of the other guests had equally interesting pedigrees, and were in Chapala for the annual music festival. We had a great time, and I wish there had been more opportunity to visit and get to know Stephanie. 

Typical street in Ajijic in the early morning

The pool!

Brigitte's living room
Brigitte in her kitchen

Mickey's wonderful outdoor living room

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Big Mexico: Mazatlan

Carnival Roman Soldier
My friend Dale spends most winters on his sailboat in the Sea of Cortez. He had shown me photos of Mazatlan after Carnival with the dozen or more paper mache statues lining the beach. On this weekend right after Carnival, they were still in place and they are impressive, huge, imposing, sometimes amusing, and after many years, in bad shape.

I spent Thursday night on the Baja Ferry. This one was not as luxurious as the one from Topolobampo. There was no lounge with Kareoke singer, the cafeteria was small and the 'seating' consisted of comfortable large chairs lined up like a movie theater with three big flat screens mounted on the front wall. They showed two American movies dubbed in Spanish. My seat was a single seat next to the wall, behind the back row. Even if I could have followed the rapid fire Spanish, I could hardly hear it for the roar of the engines. Behind our 'theater' there was the open deck. In the roofed section it was quite warm but smelled of diesel. Further out on the deck, the night air had a chill. After the second movie ended at 11:00, they turned the lights down and everyone went to sleep. Some stretched out on the floors, others laid across several open seats, and many lay down in the aisle which made getting past them on the swaying boat rather precarious.

I slept for a while with feet propped up on the chair in front, then tried lying on the floor behind the seats. I hadn't thought about bringing my towel for a pillow or blanket so used my lumpy purse and slept until too chilled to be comfortable. Quite a few people slept outside on the warm but stinky deck. Somehow the night came to an end.

There was a woman who came up to me and began speaking in heavily accented English. She looked a bit Mayan, very short, stocky, and with the cutest gnome-like smile. Her name was Mariluz. She was born in Chile but has lived in Australia for over forty years. She converted to Mormonism and married a widower with six children, plus she had two of her own. One of her sons is married to a Mexican and lives in Culiacan. She was headed that way to see her first grandchild.

We had a lot of fun talking on the boat, eating our two supplied meals, and then she stayed with me in my hotel since it had two beds, and there was no reason she should have to pay for a room of her own.

I love how this sort of thing develops with people in Mexico and probably other parts of the world. Backpackers hook up with each other, but it has been a rare occurrance in my lifetime. I suppose travel has made me regress to a younger outlook.

I had reserved two nights at the hotel online: Hotel Fiesta. It painted a lovely picture - across the street from the main bus station, someone at the desk 24/7 so supposedly it was more secure, inexpensive (cheap), and near the beach and restaurants. Sounded good. The cab driver however painted a rather different picture when he tried to convince us that it wasn't really suitable for two middle aged ladies. Bad area, crime, run down......Both pictures were accurate.

We went there anyway. It wasn't so bad, it wasn't so good either. The room was clean. The door locked only with a dead bolt. The inside part, where the dead bolt is held in place, had been broken, then repaired with a thin piece of wood that could easily be busted off if some guy were to throw himself against the door. I wasn't planning on making anybody that angry but still, I was not about to leave anything of real value in the room.  Mariluz was a bit taken aback at the poor conditions, the sheets were thin, the toilet had no seat, there was no hot water....There were also no bugs and it was  exceptionally clean. I had my towel but she had to ask at the desk for one.

View of the city

It was three blocks from the beach so that's the first place we went. We took turns sitting on the towel guarding the purses and played in the surf. A fine day with low breezes and few other beach-goers. Then we walked the full length of the beach, shopped at some of the little stands set up on the side of the road, ate lunch at a seafood place that was totally empty except for us, and then walked into the ritzier part of town. She had in mind to take a city tour and seemed to have gotten directions on where to sign up for it. It was a long and hot walk but we found the tour kiosk. The operator let me use his internet for about half an hour so I was able to check in with relatives and friends who hadn't heard from me in a week.

A Dairy Queen was right next door so we got a sundae and sat down to cool off. This part of town is rife with US stores and restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, and Auto Zone. Across the street was a Senor Frog's outlet. It had water pouring down over all the windows making the brightly lit inside look like it was actually underwater. Nice marketing ploy. There were four other Senor Frog stores nearby, all selling clothing and accessories with the same frog design. Who knew such a thing could be so popular?
The Family sculpture, with a distant relative.

Mariluz wanted to go dancing but I was too exhausted and really did not feel comfortable being out very late at night walking back to the hotel in this strange potentially dangerous city. I think she was secretly glad I refused because she fell asleep by 9:00. We had taken a bus to return to our hotel, but neither of us were sure where it was. She could ask people and understand their instructions better than I, so it was just fine with her tagging along for a couple of days.

The next morning we went on the city tour and it was a good trip for the money. The bus took us up to the top of the town's mountain, into the old city where the cathedral and huge indoor market are located, and we stopped to watch cliff divers. It gave me a better mental image of the town and how far apart things are. That interior map came in handy on Sunday when I went walking all over town and needed to be back to catch a bus to Guadalajara by 6:00.

Mass in the market

Mariluz left for Culiacan Saturday night. I found I missed her company. It's nice to have a travel companion, especially one as easy to be with as she. If I ever visit Australia, I had to promise to come visit her and stay as long as I want. I was flattered.

On Sunday the man at the desk agreed to "guard" my bags while I went off to explore the city. As everywhere else in Mexico, buses run all the time. One went directly to the cathedral in the old part of town, where of course Mass was being given. On the city tour we'd gone into the cathedral, It was tranquil, beautiful with 14 Star of David stained glass windows, 7 on each long wall, and chandeliers to light the interior. But on Sunday morning it was packed with people standing, sitting in pews and folding chairs. A loudspeaker blasted and echo'd the words of the priest. I couldn't understand anything but the occasional reference to Jesus.

Cliff divers
Next door to the Cathedral is the indoor market, a huge roof over open air stalls. Huge sides of beef were being unloaded from a truck. Strong young men carried half of a cow on their backs into the butcher shops in the very center of the market. Because the air flowed through so easily, the meat section didn't have the rotted odor of so many other Mexican markets.

Inside is every kind of stall imaginable: clothing (much of it with Mazatlan printed on it somewhere), furniture, pottery, weavings, fresh bread, fruits and vegetables, fish (some stalls specialized and sold only Marlin for instance), sweets,  chocolates, etc. Many trinket sellers followed me around with plastic figurines of turtles, mermaids, frogs, or fish with Mazatlan printed on the base, plus a bunch of other useless crap. I could see buying a hand-painted ceramic fish made by a local person, but plastic junk probably made in China? Makes you wonder who buys that stuff.

Wandering on through town, eventually I arrived at the twelve kilometer long Malecon. It was mid afternoon so I stopped at a restaurant with a sign for their special Sunday meal: Paella. A half order sufficed and was loaded with shrimp, clams, chicken and a little sausage. The couple at the next table mentioned that their paella didn't have any shrimp so the waiter promptly brought them a whole plate of shrimp with two different salsas. I chatted with them a bit. They own a condo and have been coming to Mazatlan for about fifteen years. The man pointed at a huge structure down the street and said it was a mansion that has been sitting, unfinished, and empty for the last ten years. The owner is a notorious drug dealer now serving time in prison.
A Siren

This is how safe Mexico is..... The closest I come to a drug boss of the heinous Sinaloa Cartel is walking past his unfinished mansion.

Pleasant breezes came off the ocean so it never was very hot. Food vendors lined the Malecon and guys selling balloons, floaty toys, and kites wander up and down the beach. Around 6:00 I picked up my luggage and caught the bus. Another night of trying to sleep in a moving vehicle ended at 3:00am with the lights on suddenly. We'd arrived in Guadalajara.

The first fermenter for Pacifico Beer.

The empty mansion

Friday, March 23, 2012

Big Mexico: La Paz, Baja Sur

A float from the Carnival parade.
Back at the Posada LunaSol in La Paz, we got our stuff out of storage and came back to 'regular' life. Some went out to eat, but Lia and I were feeling overfed in general plus we wanted to check out the Festival. It was Fat Tuesday, the last night of Carnival. She had never seen a real street festival in Mexico with all the wonderful music, smells, and food booths. Of course we ended up eating AGAIN, this time a bite here, a bite there. Booths were overflowing with popcorn, special yeast breads stuffed with a sweetened cream, not unlike a very soft cream cheese, the usual carved mangoes on a stick, charales (those little whole fried fish that crunch), roasted ears of corn dipped in butter or slathered with lime-mayonnaise and sprinkled with chile-salt, and so much more. There were con-booths with balloons you pop with a dart, bowls of water you try to get a coin to fall into, funny wooden things you try to stand up on for 10 seconds but which roll out from under you almost instantly.....

The cathedral is undergoing a
Band stands had been set up within ear-shot of each other so the loud music tended to overlap and gave an interesting twist to the street's cacophony. The crowd was dense in the Malecon, the area along the beach and it's parallel street. Hotels overlooking the party were packed with people in the upstairs bars watching the crowds, and hotel guests sitting out on their balconies. We wandered all over until our feet were exhausted. Lia felt like she was coming down with the revenge, so I stopped at a tiny tienda that was open on a side street. I asked for Pepto-Bismol, or something for diarrhea. The woman said "Lomatil" and opened up a box, pulled out a card of pills and cut off two squares with a tiny blue pill embedded in each. She gave me strict instructions to only use one and not the other until tomorrow and ONLY if really needed.  It's powerful stuff and fixed Lia up right away. I gave her the other pill just in case, but I should have kept it for myself, eventually I needed one, too, in San Miguel.

Wednesday four of our group left to return to the states, and the rest of us explored La Paz on foot. I needed to purchase a ticket on the Ferry for the next day, and had to go in person to the Ferry headquarters. Unfortunately all the cabins had been sold and only seats were available. I would soon be joining the masses of people needing to find a place to sleep on the ferry overnight to Mazatlan.  It made me appreciate my comfortable bed at the Posada one more night.

I found everyone at the anthropology museum which Felicia said was full of interesting objects but all the signs were in Spanish, so they missed much of the explanations. We hiked to the Zocalo to an exhibition of exquisite photographs by two local artists. Then walked around till we found the seafood restaurant that our guide had recommended. As a fan of street food and little hole in the wall restaurants, I don't usually go to the gringo-tourist places with table cloths, super attentive waiters, and expensive food that tastes (usually) the same. But Felicia and I shared a mariscos platter of shrimp, octopus, and fish, shared guacamole with the others, and had truly a wonderful lunch.

An old boat used as a planter and sign.
Lia and I walked back to the hotel, exploring the city as we went. We passed a community organic garden which was most interesting. A Canadian woman who lives nearby was there tending to her patch and explained how the cooperative worked. What a nice concept for city people to have a place to grow food, support each other's efforts, and pay only a pittance for the water bill.

Businesses along the Malecon

At the hotel, the Opsahls got the upstairs apartment, which is usually the hotel owner's home when in town. So we had access to a fine kitchen fully equipped. After lunch, the others went to the market to see what was fresh and might be good for dinner.  Felicia is by far the best chef I know personally. That evening she put together a dinner of baked fish with chunky salsa on top, some guacamole and a side dish of stuffed poblanos that was hands down the best meal we'd eaten on the entire trip. If I sell my condo in Los Alamos some day, I wonder if she and Evan would let me move in with them.

Public beach and marina

A fancy hotel and restaurant on the beach.

Another section of the Malecon.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Big Mexico: Whale watching in Baja California

One of those lucky moments captured
by the camera....
After the lovely day in El Fuerte and a long bus ride, we finally got in line at the Ferry station in Topolobampo and waited for a couple of hours before they let us onto the boat. There were guys with uniforms and assault weapons, sniffing dogs, inspectors, and an icy breeze as the line moved along outside that went right through fleece jackets and sandals. It seemed like there were a thousand people boarding that ferry, and while we waited we watched dozens of semi-tractor trailers hauled aboard and rapidly stuffed into the bowels of the ship. I've never been on an ocean-going vessel and truly had no idea how big they are.

The tour company arranged for us to have cabins. They were very nice, with double bunks along each wall and a small bathroom. The closet was mostly full of the four life jackets we might have needed, but fortunately didn't. For people without cabins, and there were way more of them than us, it was a sleep wherever you can - find a place to stretch out - deal. Obviously, many had done this before and came equipped with blankets, pillows, and stuffed animals for the kids. We saw them hunkering down under the stairs, behind chairs in the lounges, stretched out on bench seats, even under tables in the cafeteria once it had shut down.

Dinner was included in the ticket price. By the time we got on board and in the cabins it was 11:30 at night. Some of us had a little dinner. Exhausted we crawled into our comfy beds and slept the night away as we slowly swayed across the Sea of Cortez. The wake up call was sudden and urgent. The staff members ushered people out the door faster than most could wake up. I don't know what the hurry was except they wanted to clean the cabins. We ended up standing in line for quite some time before being allowed off the boat, and then in more lines as dogs sniffed our luggage and then a customs search. Did the authorities think we might have picked up weapons or drugs out there in the ocean?
Diversity of plant life in a land of little rainfall.

The new guides were waiting patiently. The boat was late by an hour or more, so the whole schedule for the day was postponed slightly. We piled into vans and were taken to the hotel in La Paz where most of our stuff would remain behind. We took only what was needed for three days at a beach camp. It took 2 1/2 hours  to trek across the peninsula of Baja Sur, the lower of the two Baja states. Such dry desert. The kind of dry that is prevalent in Arizona, with forests of saguaro cacti. The prominent cactus here is a relative of the saguaro, but not as tall or majestic, and with many more 'arms'.

There were a few citrus orchards near the coast but the further inland we went, the dryer and less populated. It's a mystery how cities the size of La Paz, Ciudad Constitucion, and Puerto San Carlos can exist when the only source of water seems to be the salty ocean.

Our beach camp was on a spit of sand that connects the island of Magdalena with the peninsula. We could see the sparkling lights of Puerto Magdalena at night. A hike over the hill of sand revealed the vast Pacific Ocean,  rolling its huge waves inland, building yet more sand bar. In the dead of night, without a moon, the stars shown so brightly it was easy to see everything in camp, even inside the tents. The lights of Puerto Magdalena turned off after midnight making the sky inky black. The stars looked like pinholes in a dark blanket.

Our camp, looking towards Puerto Magdalena.
There were eight cabin tents set up in two rows, each outfitted with one or two cots, a table, and a battery powered lamp. The cots were quite comfortable since each was also covered with an inflatable camping mattress and a sheet. The sleeping bags left something to be desired, as they were slick and tended to slide off in the night. Next to the tents were two large "army" tents for cooking and eating. Six men attended the twelve of us. Two boatmen, two guides and two cooks. They were all exceptionally good at their jobs. We never lacked for coffee or delicious meals. The guides were both excellent kayakers and we explored the nearby mangrove forests and estuaries where we saw dozens of bird species, and fish and turtles in the water.

The constant breeze meant clothes dried fast.
The weather couldn't have been better. A gentle humid breeze blew off the Pacific most of the time. The days were quite warm, the water cool but fine for wading, and the nights were a bit chilly but not uncomfortable. In the late afternoon, the wind tended to pick up and the waves got choppy, so the best time for whale watching was usually in the mornings.

Everyday, for three days, we went out on the boats to see the whale moms with their babies, or matings. Baleen whales mate in threes. It takes two males, one to keep the female pushed upwards and one to mate with her. Afterwards, the male roles are reversed and the second male takes his turn. We saw several matings, which were rather slow and placid from the surface....a lot of rolling around with flippers lifted languidly into the air with an occasional puffing breath.

Mother and baby.
The mothers and babies seem to swim around rather aimlessly unless the mother is directing her offspring away from the boats. Adults don't eat while in the south, they live off their reserves of fat. The babies, on the other hand, drink gallons of fat-rich milk daily and double in size before heading north with their mothers. Babies are born every other year. A nursing mother doesn't mate until the year after the baby is born, and gestation takes a whole year!

Occasionally a mother will encourage her baby to approach the boats. Some of our group got to pet a baby on the second day, and then all of us were able to pet one during the last couple of hours of the trip, right before we had to head back to Puerto San Carlos!

The camp viewed from the sand dunes.

On the west side of the sand dunes, the Pacific Ocean.


Before breakfast.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Big Mexico: El Fuerte (Sinaloa)

El Fuerte's native son, Zorro. 
Our hotel in El Fuerte was lovely. In the courtyard was a statue of Zorro, with his famous whip. El Fuerte was the birthplace of Don Diego de la Vega back in the early 1800s. His parents moved when he was still a child to the Los Angeles region of California where he eventually became the "Robin Hood" of Mexico with the name of Zorro (which means the Fox).  That was the story printed out around town, explained on the metal plaque by the statue, and even his birthplace had a sign saying as much. But in truth, the whole story was just that, a novel created in 1919 by Johnston McCulley and made famous by Douglas Fairbanks in the first movie shot at his own studio. A wonderful fabrication for the tourists, and I'm sure it has put El Fuerte on the map.

It belongs on the map if for no other reason than it is one of the more beautiful towns in Mexico. I don't know how the townspeople have done it, but there is virtually no graffiti anywhere. The Municipal building, which houses every aspect of local and regional government is huge, restored to it's original splendor and seems too lovely to be a mere government building. The interior of the stair wells and other interior walls are covered with murals by a 'primitive' painter, a self-taught local. Yet, they are expressive and detailed, with scenes from Sinaloa's history and many historical characters.

The Municipal building.

El Fuerte means Fort, and like Zorro, there is a fort up on the hill, looking for all the world like a classic Spanish fort - right out of Disneyland. It was built on the spot where it's thought the original fort might have been. And inside, it is both a museum and the enormous tank for the city's water supply. The museum is full of real historical objects, guns, vehicles, photographs, and artwork. Very much worth a visit.

Some on our tour opted for the early morning boat trip down the river to see birds and other wildlife living in the natural zone on the other side of the river from town. They saw dozens of species of birds, turtles, iguanas and other indiginous species. Some went on the city tour which included the home of Zorro's birth. Several of us went on the afternoon tour of a small Mayo village. The Mayos were the people living in Sinaloa and the western edge of Chihuahua when the Spanairds arrived several centuries ago. They too were devastated by the diseases trailing after the Spaniards like rapid dogs. But they have maintained a semblance of their former lives, still celebrating many of the ancient rituals and customs, and scratching out a living from the arid soils.
Too pretty yard at the Fort.

We visited a curandero, a man who is the local herbalist/healer. He showed us various objects and plants that treat different diseases, including snake skin to ward off bad dreams. He had powdered oregano, dried mushrooms, various leaves and stems with which to make teas, and powdered rocks. He also made his living raising butterflies for their cocoons. After the butterfly is gone, he collects and dries the cocoons, then fills each with tiny pebbles and sews them together on long strips of cloth to be wrapped around a dancer's legs as rattles. I hadn't thought the noise would be very loud but with fifty or so cocoons, it made a substantial noise. Around his house were many vines and bushes with butterfly cocoons attached. They'll emerge in April and he'll have a whole new crop.

We then went to another home where the women were making tortillas and gorditas over a comal. The comal was white and very slick. Our guide showed us how they get it that way. He took a piece of dry bone from a cow and rubbed it on the surface of the hot griddle. You could smell the bone 'melting' onto the surface. After it 'fires' on, the surface is slick as teflon. We got to look around the house. It consisted of several small buildings with a single door and roof. One had a concrete front porch but the others were dirt all round. Connecting the buildings were long ramadas, branches put up over poles stretched between upright poles to provide shade. It was quite nice temperature-wise, but it was still winter. I can't imagine how much relief there will be when the temperature soars in the summer. They had an outhouse off to the side of the walled yard that consisted of some draperies over poles to provide privacy.

Our hostess, cooking tortillas over a hot fire.

After we had eaten some tortillas with chile and salsa we were given a short lecture by the home's owner about how the Mayos live now, what their economy is like, how much the government has helped them to survive the drought, and about some of their overnight rituals. Then a man came to dance for us. Another fellow played the guitar and a harmonica for the first dance depicting a coyote prowling around. Later he danced as a deer. Each dance told a rather elaborate story and during the overnight festival, the ceremonies end with the deer dance. It was quite moving, and the man did an excellent job of mimicking the movements of a deer while it grazed, drank water, and in its death throes after it was shot by a hunter. Three men accompanied the deer with rhythmic beating on a stick laid over an upside down gourd which produced an amazingly loud drum beat.

Back in town, Felicia and I went in search of a paleta or ice cream cone. At the Michoacan ice cream store we found paletas (like a giant popcicle) made from the pulp of the little oranges called narajitos, plus a generous addition of chile powder. They were fantastic and a welcome cooling off for what was becoming a pretty hot afternoon. Wandering around we found the produce market, various stores, a bar with a sign that said nobody in a uniform may come inside, and a Chinese restaurant called Chinaloa!

The river with city on one side, and
natural preserve on the other.
We had stored our bags with the hotel, and were waiting around till almost dark to take a bus to Los Mochis where we were destined to catch the ferry for an overnight ride to La Paz. Evan and I went for a photo expedition along the river. There was an interesting structure that appeared to be an outdoor room on the roof of a house, covered with netting for drying meat. I knocked on the door of the house. A bunch of dogs and a couple of cats dashed out when the woman opened the door. She sold me a large bag of the shredded jerky which I think is the best I've ever eaten. What I don't understand is why all those animals wanted OUT of that house!

The river walk is a nice concrete roadway that probably will be expanded in the future because it only went about half a mile. Along the way were homes with orchards of those naranjito trees, sprays of bougainvilleas, blooming fruit trees, and plenty of farm animals inside  large pens. The town seems prosperous and well cared for. There was little trash, few run down homes, even the vehicles looked fairly new. For a state as infamous for drug cartels as Sinaloa, it appeared this little town had never heard of them, certainly nobody was quivering in fear.

Bougainvilleas abound.

View from the Mayo Village

Thin slices of beef drying on the roof of a house.
Mural of the Deer Dance in the Municipal building.
Mayo man putting on his
deer head for the dance.

Deer dance and gourd drummer.

The gorgeous 'fake' fort housing a museum,
and the city's water tank.