Saturday, May 28, 2016


This is a recent, untouched iPhone photo taken in the early morning near our wheat fields here in Central Mexico! The early bird catches the - photo?

Hello! We just want to let our friends know that now we've got a fair-to-middling internet signal, and that we've moved this blog, and hope you'll check out the new address, even if the old posts look a little weird. Some of the photos didn't make the air trip very well, but the management is trying to fix that. This is an exciting move for us, and we're proud to own the name Galileo In Mexico! We hope you'll sign up to follow the blog. We'll be doing our very best to keep up and let you know what's going on in our corner of the world!

New address:

See you over there!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


I see my one (ONE!) lonely post from last year and I think "I know, I'll write about my Internet connection in Mexico!" But try as I might, I can't make it funny or interesting. So just know this, Dear Reader, that I have a bad one. I swear it got much worse this year, although it didn't seem possible. Like - No Uploading, Ever bad.

The first time I put on my headpiece each year it just seems too BIG!

Galileo is in SoCal for our annual Posadas Dinner Party gig at La Golondrina in the old, historic part of Los Angeles, and instead of writing about farming in Mexico or other exciting details of our busy life (you think I'm kidding, don't you?), I'm going to give you a glimpse into the life of us two professional musicians.
This is the sculpture at the Tijuana border. I think it's imposing but ugly.

I am seated at a desk in a hotel room - the same hotel we have stayed in for several years now. It's not glamorous. Many of you would not choose to stay here. But it's clean (enough) and safe (enough), has internet (see above - this is why some of my friends and family only hear from me in December!) and we're used to it. Enough about the hotel. We're notorious penny-pinchers. We travel a full day to get here each year, leaving Central Mexico and the central time zone early in the morning, arriving at the border still in the morning in a new time zone, getting across said border, renting a car in San Diego and driving to the Los Angeles area and haggling over the price of the hotel. (Bet most of you didn't realize you could do that). We usually have one or two days to get acclimated.
I got to see my friend Chris. Flannel twins.

Practice: maybe you thought that practicing is for beginners. Practice is for all musicians, all the time.
All through the year we practice, learn, and rehearse. For us that involves setting up equipment, as we don't usually practice with acoustic instruments. Since Chon is a composer, we learn new songs throughout the year, to archive them, or to prepare them (arrange and organize) for live performances. Some weeks we have to put our farming schedule first, and put off practicing, but we always return to it as soon as we can.
Impromptu studio - programming drum machine using headphones from a pawn shop.

And Chon is thinking throughout the year about our December gig. We do two to four gigs during the year, and they include my birthday party (June) and Chon's birthday party (December), New Year's Eve, and other dates, like Valentine's Day and Mothers' Day. These gigs often include repertoire we plan to use at the Posadas parties.

The Posadas dinner parties are held in a restaurant that can accommodate several hundred people. We have played nearly every night of each December 16-24 since 1987. Really. The show is pretty much the same each season. In fact, the manager prints us out the very same show order every year. This year they wrote in an extra group of dances by the folkloric dancers, which might not seem really important, but it turned out to be. And it was a different dance group than the one that we've seen every year for many years.

Many of the families that attend have made this a family tradition for longer than we've been hosting the show. Really! So we see children and grandchildren of those families one night of the year every year. And after so many years, you get a feeling of what to expect each night. Since it is a family-oriented show, you may not have a realistic picture of how the evenings might go. Although there are many small families with charming, wide-eyed children, there are often large families and some pretty wild behavior. Take last night for example.

While we were setting up, an ex-student arrived to chat with us. Thanks for coming, Jose!! Planning to stay, he and his friends instead had to leave, there being no room in the inn, ha ha (posadas joke). It was sold out.

When I saw the thin blonde woman walk in, with her extremely high heels and faux leather pants, I knew how it would be. The year before, her large family group had brought confetti-filled egg shells, and throughout the evening had thrown the eggs and hard candies around, one even denting the finish of a guitar onstage. They tend to drink a lot of Margaritas. Who knows - maybe this is their one night of the year to really cut loose! And so they did. There were 25 kids, seated at long tables facing each other on the dance floor, (right in front of us) leaving little room for the marionette show and the dancers. The kids threw confetti eggs at each other, and playfully ground confetti into each others' hair. Their parents could be seen and heard admonishing the kids, to little avail, although the kids really seemed playful and excited, and not hurtful.

We began the evening on time, with some jazzy Christmas carols on the piano. While I played, Chon was fixing the sound to be even better. After the jazzy carols we played and sang Christmas carols in English and Spanish, and then the dancers came to the now-tiny dance floor, a few minutes late. The leader/organizer of the dancers had asked us to let him know when there were two carols left before they began. We told him, but they weren't quite ready. Christmas carols are not long! They are certainly not as long as a three-minute pop song. We sang two more, and then the dancers entered the crowded dance area and presented some short Aztec dances. They have beautiful costumes and headdresses, rattles, and fire! in a fire pot.

Then we played two dance numbers for the audience, one in Spanish and one in English. The kids continued bombarding each other with confetti. Confetti on a polished wood floor seems to make it more slippery but no waiter or waitress bearing large trays of food fell.

Then the Bob Baker marionettes show was presented by the talented puppet master, Eric. I love the show, and have not tired of it in all these years.  There are clowns, a skating bear, a couple in Mexican folkwear, a tall couple in ballroom dance wear, a tall pink cat with maribou and high heels, little boys, a big yellow chicken that lays an egg on stage. I find it delightful. The kids edged closer and closer to the center, making it difficult for Eric to navigate.

The music used for the marionettes is "classic" humorous songs all adults recognize, a Spike Jones number, and even light classical music like Leroy Anderson. Eric has the music on his iPod/iPhone and it's easy to hook it up to our sound system, but difficult to equalize so that it sounds good through the big speakers. Chon does that well. Recently Eric and Chon have discussed making new recordings of the music so it doesn't take so much adjusting.

After the marionette show we did a Posadas Procession, a shortened version of the Mexican tradition of singing groups of people visiting neighboring houses before Christmas. The kids "help" with this, processing around the restaurant, with the dancers carrying a large Nativity scene. Joseph and Mary seek shelter and the story ends happily. We play live music for this. With so many kids it was difficult to walk around.

We followed the procession with more dance music, and then played very brief music for each kid to swing at the piñata (there were two of them, as there were so many kids - the twenty-five seated on the dance floor were joined by others who magically showed up when we announced the piñata.

Throughout the evening the dance floor was occasionally taken over by men wearing Mexican gabanes holding glasses - of - beer? It looked like that. They are the ones who like it when we play rock music. And we do. See how eclectic it is?

The dancers returned for a dance from the Mexican state of Michoacan, the above-mentioned change in our tried-and-true order of events, and at this point we began to get complaints. They came to me, and not to the manager, so it was a little weird. No, it was odd, and I wasn't sure what to say.

One woman, loudly, said into my ear as I was singing, "The Baldwins are leaving! We were waiting for the Mothers and Sons dance, but we have to go!" As soon as I could, I told her that would be the very next thing. The Michoacan dance dragged on. Aside: the dance from Michoacan is a famous one called Los Viejitos, The Little Old Men, and it's comical. Or it's supposed to be. Dancers with masks depicting old men with long pink faces, dance like young men, and fall down, and get up and dance some more, and generally make a nuisance of themselves. To be really good it must have physical humor. It seems mystifying to most of us gringos, however, as it was last night to the audience. I must be missing something. The blonde woman also came to the stage to comment about the Mothers and Sons Dance, and I told her that the program was the same, and it WAS, it really WAS, except for that one little insertion of the Old Men Dance. The blonde woman hissed at me, "NO, it's NOT". They know the order of the show!

Anyway, it ground to an end, and we were relieved to announce the Mothers and Sons dance. We have often thought about changing the music we play for this, but perhaps we should put that idea out of our heads. Then the Fathers and Daughters danced, and we followed this with the Hokey Pokey, (yes, we really play the Hokey Pokey), La Macarena, and then a melange of mostly original holiday rock music, which has really great energy, and many kids and parents were dancing, including the blonde woman, who at one point put one high-heeled foot up on a table so that her pants slid down in the back and we got a really clear view of a body part usually covered up, and later made some dance moves not usually made on family restaurants.

Aside about the Hokey Pokey and La Macarena: these are musical numbers that we have considered changing over the years, usually at the request of the dancers who are sick of it - not much challenge there for a dancer, you must admit. But we will probably NEVER change them, because you now see what happens when you Change Things. And the other night when we began La Macarena, a thirty-something woman who used to be a teenager at the show said to her sister, with a lit-up face, "Oh, this is my favorite!"

And then it was over. We tore down equipment, packed it up and stowed it, and headed to the Valley. We sat and watched an episode of Anger Management and went to sleep.

Our schedule every day of the show - you may think that a three-hour show is just that - three hours. But now you know - there's practice and planning all year. There is instrument repair and wires repair. There is tuning. We leave to go to the three-hour gig at 4 p.m. We set up for 45 minutes to an hour. We eat. That's a lucky part, because the food at La Golondrina is really good, and it's better every year. We play the show. We tear down, and we get back to our non-luxurious hotel aound 11 p.m.  When you have that sort of wire-tired feeling you can't go right to sleep, so you sleep late. Then there is usually enough time to get breakfast or lunch and get ready to go again. It's great work if you can get it.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Harvest 2013

There are plenty of notes and photos about our Siembra 2013.
We planted our fields May 28 and June 6, having purchased fertilizer granules to go with the seed. Many fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides come to Mexico from the US, and receive a lot of suspicious attention from the farmers that purchase them, including fears that Monsanto and other companies might be selling “plaga” of all sorts right along with their seeds to get the farmers to buy something to control them with.

We received irrigation water right away, so everything got off to a good start. I’m not sure whether it was conscious or not, but this planting season was one of little machinery use, and lots of hands-on work. We almost can say we had a peon de planta,  a full-time worker, because Mechin started working for us with the irrigation, and worked all through the summer and fall.

Mechin brought other workers when there was too much fertilizing/weed spraying for one person, and that worked very well. He and another worker both decided that they would not drink until the local fiesta, and as far as we could tell, they stuck to their decision, thus saving themselves a lot of money and the foolishness that often accompanies drunkenness. (Sorry – I’m not on a soapbox here, just stating the observable facts.)

The seeds sprouted and the plants appeared.

They grew.

So did the insect predators. See the holes near the roots of these young sorghum plants? Those are deadly attacks from, I think, gallina ciega (“blind chicken” – eeuuww), the hideous underground herbivorous predator.

Proud farmer.
Even prouder farmer,

We worried, as dry-land farmers do, about having enough rain. But looking back in memory and through my notes, the worry wasn’t necessary in 2013 (OK, perhaps it’s debatable whether worry is necessary or not). At any rate, we got   gentle rain often, with few really heavy storms. But there was plenty of thunder and lightning, usually in the evening and night, and rains all the way to harvest time. It was difficult for some local farmers to get into the fields, and it took quite a while for the maize and corn to dry sufficiently for harvesting.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Starting Over (well, sort of)

I recently (yesterday!) regained access to this blog. Thank you google forum!  That's a pretty good excuse not to have written anything for a long time, I'd say.
The first thing I did was to moderate some comments (I got some comments!) and to peruse some of the old entries. I had thought after not seeing it for a while that I just might not like it. But I do. I still do.
So I have some catching up to do, and this is a start.
Reasons I didn't blog:
1. I really did not notice that I didn't have access to the blog. Because????
2. There was really nothing going on for a while;  no practicing/performing. No farming. Lots of reading (I guess I could blog about reading, but - nah.)
3. We got really busy with farming, and I was waaay too busy to write about it. Really. Busy every single day.
4. We got busy with music, with hours and days of practicing.
5. We were taking care of la señora, who got a horrible infection.
And that's the year, condensed.

So, my dear readers, guess what I'll be writing about very soon!!
La Siembra, practicing, performing, caring for an old, old lady, losing and re-evaluating having a blog.

Can you see where this is going? I hope it won't be boring.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Navidad – Going To Mexico

Our recent annual Posadas Parties gig in downtown Los Angeles ended quietly on December 24th.  As we were setting up several employees asked if the evening would end earlier than the other nights, and Yes, we said. We used less equipment and smaller speakers, and shortened the times between events, so that we ended about 9:15 instead of at 10 p.m.
Some of our equipment, waiting to be stored - up two flights of stairs - the life of a musician!
We trudged up and down stairs and put away our equipment in the storage room. We said our goodbyes to the dancers, the puppeteer and the employees, and drove to our motel for our last night.

In the morning we packed up our equipment and clothing, and went to a local pawn shop to purchase a drum machine we had spotted similar to the one we like to use for recording. We then drove to a cousin’s house near Covina where we enjoyed a wonderful meal with ham as a main dish (thank you, Sylvia!. In spite of all the excellent meats available in Mexico, ham and turkey are two things that just are not of the same quality. I am not embarrassed to say that I had several many servings of ham. I had an extremely enjoyable conversation with Sylvia and her lovely daughter while the daughter made guacamole as Christmas gifts for her friends. They were so attentive I probably talked way too much. I do miss having women friends to talk to, and I probably totally dominated the table talk.

As the afternoon wore on I began to cast glances at the clock and fret a little about leaving on time. Our car was due back at the rental agency in San Diego at 9 p.m., and I hazarded a guess that it would be perhaps a three-hour drive. We left about 6:45 after our goodbyes. While I kept driving at a steady pace for about three hours, Chon napped off and on.

We were on an unfamiliar freeway, and it just didn’t feel like exactly the right direction. When I began seeing signs for San Diego, but not for the airport, I called my sister, who was on the receiving end of a snow-and-ice storm in Arkansas. She speedily looked for directions to the airport (she is really, really good at using the computer), and told me if I saw highway 163 I should take it. As her words came through the phone we were just arriving at the off-ramp, and we zoomed onto it. Her directions were perfect and in a short time we were near the airport; we gassed up the car, checked it in and re-packed our things.

I may not have mentioned that one part of our luggage was a large box (The Box) with digital recording equipment we had purchased in Los Angeles. Chon packed it with clothing for additional protection. It had carrying handles, but it was quite heavy and rather awkward. In addition I was carrying a bag we bought at a thrift shop because it had wheels for ease of movement.

Although we had taken the Volaris shuttle from the Tijuana airport to the San Diego airport, we weren’t exactly sure how to catch it back to the Tijuana airport. Although I was fairly sure of the location, I hadn’t really thought about the lateness of our return, and wondered if it would come. An extremely rude taxi driver tried to convince us that my directions were wrong. We showed up, though, at the Amtrak station, and I got directions for the shuttle stop right outside the door. It would arrive, the attendant told us, at 11 p.m. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:10 a.m., and we were beginning to feel pinched for time. That is to say, this is when both of us were feeling that pinch; I had felt concerned since, say, about 5 p.m. There was one other person besides us at the shuttle stop, a young man who told us HIS flight was leaving at 11:45.
Our luggage under street lights, outside the Metro Station in San Diego, CA. See The Box?
We looked at each other wordlessly. IF the shuttle arrived at the scheduled time, and IF it took zero minutes to officially cross the border, it still would just not be possible for him to make his flight because of the 20-or-so-minute drive to the border. He suspected it, and we knew it. He asked if we would like to share a taxi. There was one parked a half-block away, and before Chon went to ask if it was available, I asked him to make sure the driver wasn’t a complete A. He wasn’t, and it was available. He wanted $50 to drive us to the border, and the other passenger offered to pay half.  That made OUR taxi ride cheaper than taking the shuttle! We got a strong young guy to help carry The Box, and HE got at least a chance to make his flight.

We raced to the border, the cab driver probably in a hurry to harvest more work on this busy Christmas night. The cabbie had lied, however, when he told us that it wasn’t far for us to walk to cross the border; “less than a block”, he said. We tumbled out of the cab and unloaded our gear and began to walk on the new pedestrian path across the border. My bag, the one with wheels, would begin to rock wildly if I walked speedily or held the handle too high, so I brought up the rear.

We sweated our way along the well-lit, smooth sidewalk that led to a small brilliantly lit room where a sleepy-eyed female border agent asked us where we were coming from, and going to. Chon told her that the three of us were a band, and we were making a regular border crossing to play at a party. She waved us past her with a bored smile.

And then we walked, and walked. And walked some more. The sidewalk became a bridge. With many switchbacks. Chon and the young guy made several changes of sides of The Box because their hands hurt. Several times we passed a middle-aged gringo (and he passed us), and one of those times he asked us, panting, if we wanted to share a taxi. Yes, we did. As we finally arrived, panting, at the taxi parking area, we beckoned to him to hurry so he could ride with us. The taxi driver quoted a $20 price (yes, $5 apiece) and amazingly, loaded The Box and some other luggage into the truck and tied the trunk lid down. The four of us piled in, and passed around our smaller bags so that we could fit.

We started off for the airport, and every time we drove across a pot-hole the trunk lid would bang and the gringo with us would mutter “bad shocks”. We made it to the airport in record time, and the young guy and Chon picked up The Box again and carried it to the luggage scanner. We made it through that first hurdle and I had my visa checked. The young guy began to slink away, and Chon called him back to haul The Box to our check-in line, where he promptly and efficiently disappeared. Who could blame him? He DID make his flight, though.

And WE pushed The Box through the lines to the check-in, where we paid for the extra weight. Then we headed with our backpacks to the security check, where we were told that we could not carry our (brand-new, extra-heavy-duty, expensive) instrument cords in our carry-on luggage. (What???? No electrical cables in carry-on? That is not something I have seen listed as being prohibited by the airlines.) I waited while Chon ran back to the check-in counter where the airline workers told him to leave his backpack with them.  As this was simply not an option (great NEW backpack designed for computer, with a fine drum machine inside), he talked them into leaving only the cables with them, and returned cum backpack to the security check-in, and then, finally, we were through, and the rest was easy.

The Volaris flight took off and arrived on time (congratulations, Volaris!), and when we arrived I had my first opportunity (??) to help carry The Box. After only a few seconds I was so relieved that I hadn’t been the one drafted to lug it all the way across the immigration trails!

A friend picked us up at the airport, and as we headed for the highway to take us home, there were hundreds and hundreds of urracas, boat-tailed grackles, in enormous parvadas , flocks, flying overhead.

We got home about 40 minutes later, unloaded our things and went to sleep for four hours.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012


The other day we were in a large music store that sells instruments and music equipment, and the clerk politely listened to Chon describing how we had just arrived from Mexico, and then listened more while he described what we would be doing a few hours later, until the clerk’s eyes suddenly lit up in comprehension, and he exclaimed in astonishment, “Oh - then you are actually Working Musicians!”

Yes, we are. And last night, the third night of a ten-night gig,  was one of those nights when things went right for us against the odds, with some magical moments from  the other elements of the show, and some surprisingly  cursed performances from others.

“We are Galileo, and we will be your musical hosts for the evening.”
Audience participation can be stunning!
This gig is a dinner show, and sometimes the results depend on the audience. Well, OK, the audience ALWAYS plays a big part. Aloof teenagers, timorous children, angry adults with obvious issues - that’s just a fragment of the population, and the holiday season seems to aggravate the best and the worst in each person. Last night the audience numbered eighteen, instead of an average of three hundred. So we made adjustments to our schedule and started late on purpose, since we didn’t have many people to handle. We  played dance numbers, and sung seasonal songs for about a half hour, all the while noticing that not a single member of the dance troupe, normally numbering ten or twelve, had stopped by to wave hello. However, as our last “cue” song was happening, I could see the great feathered  headdresses of the dancers approaching. 

We are the MC's for the show, and I introduced the dancers with a great deal of energy, and they headed to the stage, which in this case is the dance floor, at a slightly lower level than the stage where we are situated. Chon busied himself with the audio equipment,  enigineering changes to the sound as I watched three dancers prepare to dance. Normally there are six to eight dancers. 

The first set of dances is “Aztec Ceremonial Dances”, and of the FOUR dancers present, one played (blew) the conch shell. He was not in costume, and remained out of sight. One dancer, arguably the best, had been elected to play a very large (bigger and taller than a child) drum. The two other dancers were the couple who is the moving force of the dance troupe, an experienced middle-aged couple. Are you counting? Two dancers instead of six or eight. The woman is charming and talented. Her husband is rather tongue-tied and shy, and, well, just not a "born"  dancer. That is to say, he dances. In a professional dance troupe. With a lesser sense of rhythm,  the movements and steps of the Mexican dances are extremely challenging and intricate. But our dancer bravely rose to the challenge

I was watching, amused, to see what would come of this extremely diminished dance group, when Chon glanced up from what he was doing, and with a dreadful scowl, his eyebrows shot up in shock as he saw the dancers. The woman encouraged her partner through the steps of the various dances, until the final presentation, the Fire Dance, when a single dancer (and not usually THIS man!) dances around a burning flame in a stone mortar, at times bringing his feet and legs extremely close to the flame, and for the finale, holding the burning flames high above his head, moving them from hand to hand, then returning the flames to the mortar, and eventually extinguishing them with a bare foot. This he did, valiantly struggling along, until he dropped the flame on the floor, quickly recovered it and returned it to the mortar, and then it just, sort of, went out. And that was the finale of the dance. The beautiful, lithe, slender dancer who was beating the rhythm on the drum, also just - stopped. What else?

We quickly began to applaud, and the audience joined us entusiastically. Yay!

Later in the show, the dance group, scheduled to present a group of regional dances from Mexico, returned, this time with the conch player (to us, the New Guy). So there were the four of them on the dance floor. For some technical reason they chose to use a slower, training recording of one of the extremely fast whirling polkas from northern Mexico, and the “new guy” to us, the one who had blown the conch shell, just danced the polka at the speed he was accustomed to - that is, at a much faster speed.  His partner did not - she valiantly attempted to dance to the tempo of the recording, and to assist her partner to hold back, as well. The steps were right. They just couldn’t really dance it together...

And as for US, well, one of our speakers was blown, and we could not replace it. So Chon used a monitor (a speaker that performers use to hear themselves in the all the amplified sound swirling about),in place of the broken speaker, which made the bass sound normal. I play a bass part for all the songs we perform, with my left hand, on a keyboard. The sound is a “real” bass sound, that I normally like. The night before, it came out of the speaker as a cross between an extremely loud belch and a rattle. At first, hesitant to produce such a sound, I played rather gingerly, but as the night wore on, I became more accustomed to it, and realizing that the audience probably really wasn’t noticing, gave it more energy and volume. Using the monitor was a relief because the sound was good - normal, but accompanied by the worry of the possibility of blowing another speaker.

The world-famous Bob Baker Marionettes are part of the show, as well, and do a twenty-minute set. They are charming, OLD puppets, with fading feathers, maribou, felt hats, and chiffon, and the puppet-master is young and very, very good. He can make a marionette look like it’s tap-dancing. Or doing a provocative (not TOO provocative - it’s a family show!) Santa Baby routine. Or juggle. Or fly. 

Normally, there are twenty or thirty children sitting on the dance floor to see the puppets. Last night? There was one. He was about eight years old. His little sister, maybe five years old, was terrified, and spent most of the presentation tearfully huddled in her father’s arms at a nearby table. Soooo, I went to sit with the boy to get a great view of the routine. Then several other adults decided to join us, too, so there were six of us. Having been charmed by Bob Baker's marionettes as a spell-bound child seeing Hansel and Gretel, I am a serious FAN of the marionette show, and the set was wonderful. All of us were laughing and nudging each other at clever details. I hadn’t known that the big pink cat does funny things with her handkerchief! My face was aching from smiling so much. The lone boy was a perfect audience member as well, and was charmed and thrilled by the up-close-and-personal marionettes. 

And later on, when we had a traditional-styled posadas procession around the area, the adults took part, as well, in the part of the show usually done by youngsters. And the piñata, you ask? Waiters and waitresses joined in, as well as the paying audience. 
I had a wonderful time. And as I chatted with the audience after the show, I could tell they did, too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


We went on a pleasant drive to Atotonilco, a very old Mexican town we have visited before. It’s a drive of about an hour an a half, across the treacherous strip of road where we got our flat tire a couple of weeks ago.

Nearby Jalpa’s patronal fiesta was held over the last weekend. Before we left, we drove to there to buy some bread from one of the vendors before they pulled up stakes and left for another fiesta. There were lots of candy vendors, with marzipan and a variety of candies made from squashes and yams. There were several vendors of kitchen items, and plastic buckets and pans of all sizes.The children’s games were still there, too. The bread vendors carry their ovens around with them, and one had large beautiful bread coming right out of the oven. Chon bought one to take with us to Juana, his sister.
Atotonilco is a commercial center located in the “heights” of Jalisco, and was built in a bowl: to enter the town the drive circles down from the flatter lands of agave and orchards. Its known history began in 1528 (yes, 1528), and the conquistadors arrived in 1530. Known for oranges and lemons, it is also a center for tequila distilleries. AND, there are hot springs there!

The drive to Atotonilco was uneventful, and we saw some workers filling the enormous potholes that had tormented us on an earlier drive, and we arrived after noon. We parked a couple of blocks from the very large templo, and walked to the town square.

The  temple of San Miguel Arcangel was built in the mid-1700’s, and appears to occupy most of a city block. The style is very similar to  the famous temple in our neighboring town Jalpa De Canovas, described as renaissance and  plateresco (florid), with a bell-shaped top. It towers above the city, and is easily seen from the mountains above. It is built of quarried stone. Corinthian columns inside draw the eye up to the light-filled dome. When we entered, a woman was mopping the large area surrounding the altar, and singing. The sound of her voice hung in the air, with a long decay time.

We walked around, found ourselves by the old mercado, and remembered the hotel across the street. We went in and the woman at the front desk answered many questions about the area. Rooms are 300 pesos per night. That's less than $30. Right outside the hotel was a place advertising lunch of chilaquiles and beans for 13 pesos. We bit. It was very good, and we felt fortified for more walking. 

In the mercado Chon made a deal for a pair of huaraches for 90 pesos, and we stopped in at a couple of "cibers" to try to purchase a USB extension cord. It began to rain, harder and harder. We wanted to get to Juana's house before it got late, so we headed back to the car, and back towards Arandas, the famous tequila town. We stopped at our favorite "private label" merchant (in this case, private label means no label at all), and bought a garrafon to take home. We headed past the very old church with its very old, very heavy bell still hanging in its temporary spot, and drove toward Juana's house. 

Out in the open spaces, dotted with agave fields and cattle pasture, we headed down a hill only to see a line of many stopped cars, and a barricade made of a truck that had slipped off the road, and was completely blocking passage. We waited with the other travelers until two large tow trucks manages to pull the truck backwards and onto the roadway again. When we passed the truck, we saw the shaken driver, several transit police cars, and the two tow trucks.

Traveling on, we arrived at Juana's house in cold Josefino. She efficiently prepared us tacos of tasty chicken breasts, with beans and some spaghetti with a terrific cream sauce with rajas. We contributed our beautiful fiesta bread, and left after a short visit. 

We wound down the mountain road, passed through Doblado, and arrived home after 8 p.m.

Sunday, October 28, 2012



We were recently invited to Puerto Vallarta for a brief visit, and it was action-packed.

Daughter Laurel and her family went to Vallarta for two weeks, and ended up cutting the stay short because baby Keely had a bad cold with respiratory problems. 

We left on a Thursday morning and headed for Vallarta, having just repaired a little bulge on a rear tire. We followed Mapquest directions, which proved just fine, and the route we had guessed. We went north, through Guadalajara, and headed toward Tepic on a familiar toll road. As you exit the toll road the road falls steeply down and down. We had a lunch and continued through Chapalilla and some other small towns, at times stuck behind slow traffic. The hilly area is at times open, with pasture or crops, and other times is heavily wooded and shady. That portion of the trip is lengthy. When at last we reached the ocean it was almost a suprise, because we had been waiting so long to see it.

We followed the coastline south to Puerto Vallarta and searched for the Marriott, and overshot it by quite a ways, so we got an idea of the town. Although there are luxurious hotels and many tourist attrations, the town is old and rather charming. Drivers: Vallarta is one of those places where to turn left, you must get onto the right parallel road, called a lateral. Then you may turn left, across the traffic on the main part of the road, on a light. After locating the motel and finding our way to the check-in desk through a light drizzle, we arrived at our room, adjoining our hosts who were in a large suite. They needed the space because of all the things they had brought - crib, stroller, sports equipment. There was a refrigerator and a balcony overlooking the beach, and sea turtle release program. In the afternoons you can attend a release of baby sea turtles on the beach. Breilyn and I went for a stroll on the beach, hoping to see that.

The Marriott is sumptuous, especially for folks accustomed to life in a tiny town. There are many shops and many eating choices, and of course, a pool. Dion and Laurel took us out to a wonderful Japanese dinner, with fancy spatula tossing, and a meal prepared in front of us on a large grill. The fried rice prepared by our chef was very good. Normally fried rice is probably not something one would mention, but really, it was wonderful. We had Mahi Mahi, the “catch of the day”. 

The only negative thing about our overnight stay I could mention is the lack of a good internet connection. I was hoping to update some things on my computer that I usually can’t do at home (I have broad band which is limited in megabytes as well as service). The signal there was not good, so that task was frustrating.I couldn’t add anything to my Facebook page either. But hey, it was a vacation and that was a miniscule disappointment. 

We slept well, and breakfast the next morning was impressive. It was buffet style, with just about anything a person could desire. There was a large variety of fresh juices and aguas, coffee and tea. There was sushi. There were fried potatoes cooked with a dark chile. There were fresh breads, bacon and ham. There were little empandas. There was a woman chef preparing eggs to order in front of your eyes.There were fresh tortillas and cooked meats and guisados. I would have sampled everything if I could have!

Much too soon it was time to get ready to leave - Laurel’s family had afternoon flight reservations. We all said goodbye as they were whisked off to the airport in a large hotel Suburban.

We had decided to try a different route to Guadalajara, and we headed north a ways on the coast. After stopping at a music store and a couple of places that made rustic furniture we found the road we wanted, to Guadalajara by way of a town called Mascota. 

This road went UP. The summit was over 6,500 feet elevation. There were many topes to slow the traffic, and several small towns. The road was not good, and there were plenty of large and deep potholes. But is was a gorgeous drive, and I believe it might have been a shorter, more direct drive.

At the highest elevations we began to see signs advertising products of the region: honey, pottery, and something called “raizilla”, which turned out to be a distilled tequila-like drink; very potent, at 40% alcohol. Like tequila, it is made from agave, but the agave plants are called “lechuguilla” as they have lettuce-like, wider, curvier leavves. It was made illgally for many, many years, but now is being marketed. The bottle we purchased was labelled “Raizilla Ilegal”. The area reminded me of the Sonora/Tuolumne area in northen California, that I have always liked. We felt right at home there, but we had to move on.

As we went down after the summit I was curious about the town of Mascota. I mean, who wouldn’t be? A “mascota” is a pet! But no, the place wasn’t all about pets - the name comes from the tongue-twisting “Teco Amaxacotlan Mazacotla (not Spanish!!) which translated to Spanish means a place where there are deer and  snakes. The conquistadores named it Valley of Deer. Another name was Emerald of the Sierras, and it really looks like a jewel when you see it from the twisting road above the valley. 

Once in town, you notice very clean, rock roads, and closed-off houses. The people were friendly, some girls telling us that the daily wage there is 100 pesos (less than ten dollars). That, combined with the high prices for necessities, makes for a difficult life. (Men are sometimes paid 150 pesos/day for labor, according to the same source.) This is another thing, I might venture, that the area has in common with the Sonora area of California.

As we continued toward Guadalajara and home we stopped at a view point high above Mascota for a couple of photos. At the same spot was a pickup with the hood up, and a family watching the daddy peering into the engine cavity. Chon asked what the problem was, and the man told him that suddenly there had been “oil” spraying all over, and it had soaked the right front tire. After some conversation and thoughtful analysis of our own past experience, Chon decided that it likely was the transmission fluid. And it was. The guy handed us 500 pesos (displaying an unusual amount of trust) and we went back down to the nearest gas station and purchased two bottles of transmission fluid,  returned, and added it to the car. When he switched it on again, the fluid  again began to spew. Closer examination revealed a hose with a big cracked place, luckily near the place it was fastened. The man handily cut of the damaged part and replaced the clamp. During the time we were there, we all made friends. There were two little boys with their mom, and we all shared pretzel chips (thank you, Laurel) and chatted. When we took off again, it was with the phone number of the man, who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and a standing invitation to a big steak dinner whenever we might be passing through.

We follwed a pickup full of happy (obviously drunk) workers down the mountain until they stopped at a bar, then continued along a wider portion of highway, dotted with topes and other traffic-slowing devices until we reached Guadalajara. 

Now - we have a history of making wrong turns while returning south through Guadalajara, but the last couple of times we had gone directly through with no unfortunate deviations. This time we missed a “slight right”, took an off-ramp and got turned around, but it took only about a half hour. Relieved, we continued to the famous toll booth and toward home.

You might think that because of our Good Samaritan points we we had earned earlier in the day, we would have a smooth trip home from there,  safe,  with no problems, but that was not to be. A road between Arandas, the famous tequila town and the gas station about 1/2 mile from our rancho, is famous for its potholes. They can be so large that can they stretch like emormous yawning cauldrons all the way across the road.  We safely navegated around and across several nasty holes, and then an approaching driver blinded us with brights (smarter than this driver, I guess). I should have just stopped right there in the road, but instead, continued to progress. Bam!! We hit a pothole with both right tires, and a few seconds later we had a flat. At about 1:00 a.m.  Luckily, we were only about 100 yards past a gasoline station, unluckily closed for the night, but luckily there were living quarters above, with lights on. Unluckily, the man who answered our calls for help refused to help - said he didn’t have a jack, and wouldn’t come down. 

We thought of calling for help. Luckily, we had both of our phones along. Unluckily, neither phone  was receiving a signal. 

Luckily, I had my laptop. Unluckily, its broadband couldn’t find the signal either.

We had a small, toylike jack in the car. We located it and squeezed it underneath the tire after loosening the nuts. With plenty of cursing, Chon managed to raise the tiny jack with its miniature handle  Once up, tire removed, we heard a quiet creaking sound, and the jack just - well, bent, and twisted under the car, leaving the brake right on the pavement.

We were far from any town. We could see house lights in the distance, and occasionally we could hear the far-off barking of a dog when we walked around the car with the light of our cell phone. No cars passed. Earlier, right after we had stopped and were still full of plans and hope, three or four cars passed us, headed toward town, probably leaving Friday night parties. But now, no cars passed.

I got in the car, as it was getting quite chilly, and rested. Chon was outside, and I thought he was probably resting, too. But after about fifteen minutes he called me out of the car to try a new idea. (That’s just the kind of guy he is.) I staggered out of the car, and searched for the large, flat rocks his idea required. But first, we had to remove the twisted jack from under the car. He had found a thick pipe, and he levered the car up with that while I jerked the jack out with a small piece of rope we had in the car. Then he tried to straighten the twisted jack, and we (he) began to raise the car again, in tiny increments. We then placed one of the rocks under the frame, and moved the jack closer to where it needed to be, and he raised it some more. 

A car passed, the driver ignoring my frantic cell phone light signal. We placed another rock on top of the first, and began to raise the car again. A car appeared in the distance, and I raced to the edge of the road to signal it, hoping to cash in on our Good Samaritan points. This car stopped. The driver was not drunk, or an axe murderer. His had been one of the cars we had seen heading to town earlier. He had taken his wife to the hospital, he said, to get some stitches removed. In the middle of the night. We didn't ask. He told us that higher up into the hills, and lower down into the valley, there was phone signal, but we were in a dead spot.

Luckily, the driver had a jack - and it wasn’t a toy jack! We raised the car, placed the spare tire on, thanked the man profusely, and got in the car to leave. Unluckily, the battery was dead. We had used the lights for a couple of hours, for safety, and to see what we were doing. Luckily, we waved the driver back just in time. We had cables, and the car started up right away. 

We were about twenty miles from home. I drove even more slowly and carefully, and we sucessfully avoided any other mishaps. We arrived home around 4 a.m., unloaded our bags, and fell asleep.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


With the official arrival of summer begins the accompanying money outlay and field work. We had bought many bags of milo, nearly worth its weight in precious metal, and planted on June 7th.

We got some rain on June 20, 21, and 22. On the 23, the day before Saint John's Day, the traditional "rain day", (interesting reading on the internet for anyone who's curious)we got a very good, night-long rain. Here are the brave seedlings on the 24th, and then again on the 28th. Note the very healthy Johnson Grass (see post from last summer for information).

We are caring for three fields this year, and they are off to a very nice start, I think.

Monday, May 28, 2012



I’d like to report a success story (it’s a modest one). One day we saw part of a movie from a DVD. The story was, well, different, and the film featured Marianne Faithfull and a British cast. We only saw the beginning half-hour or so, and I wanted to see the rest.

So last night Chon put it on, from the beginning. About five minutes into the picture, Chon stopped it. I said, “Why are you stopping it? I wanted to see all of it.”

And HE said, “My Friend, (that's what he's called me for 25 years) you speak Spanish now! You didn’t even notice that they were speaking Spanish, did you? I’m just pausing it to switch to the original language.”

And I hadn’t noticed! I laughed and laughed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


This was taken from a view-point about San Miguel De Allende when the jacarandas were blooming.
These two houses are right next to each other in a town called Manuel Doblado.

Blues are featured at the front entrance of the famous old templo in Jalpa De Canovas.

Blue is often used for door color in Mexico. Chon wanted to have the picture he had bought for his sister in this photo.

These friends are merchants in Paracho, Michoacan, in a place that sells different types of artensanias. That tall vase is probably from nearby Cocucho.

More jacarancas in San Miguel De Allende.

I like this photo of Chon's mother (she's 90) blessing a new pump we recently used for the first time to move water into tanks above the second floor. (It works great!)

This plant has been living in this pot in this patio for many, many years. I'd like to find a young one like it to live in the same pot, but - I haven't seen one like it anywhere. I'm trying to propagate one from a leafless "trunk". Know what it is, anyone?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Expat Blog, The Expatriate Community

I am a member of the Expat blog (  Don’t go there right away unless you’d like to get seduced into spending a chunk of time there. If you’re like me, you may get interested in reading a blog about driving in Greece, or a family beginning a new chapter in their lives in India. Or California. Or China, or Canada, or .......... fill in the blank. You'll have Julien to thank if you spend more time than you had planned.

Julien, the founder of the big site, says that he created it seven years ago during his first expat experience , to “gather on a unique platform all the expatriates’ blogs all over the world. Expatriates’ blogs are indeed a great way to get information about real life in a foreign country.”

There are recent new features - a forum (I subscribe to a couple of different topics, and any time someone posts new information, I receive an email - very handy!), guides, albums, a business directory. There are two brand new features, too, for the area where I live part of the year: Jobs and Housing. I expect that these topics will grow rapidly. And it is so helpful to have this information available if you are making a move, or just hoping to make a move. You can do some exploring right from your computer.

So if you are looking for some vicarious adventures in culture or language, or you’d like to research some hard information about a specific place or topic, check it out. And don’t get lost!