Wales, May, 1985

Jeanne, Bob and I flew to London, rented a car and set out for Wales, where we would meet our friends from Berlin, Gisela and Wolfgang. They were also bringing another couple, Gisela and Peter. Our objective was to explore Wales, but especially the ‘Little Trains of Wales,’ which are narrow-gauge railroads, used previously for hauling, but now are really just volunteer-operated tourist trains. Wolfgang has a special interest in trains, so we shall see what that is all about.

img740On the way to Wales, we stopped for a night at Burford, staying at the Golden Pheasant Hotel. We were so impressed with this little hotel, as they set the breakfast table for three, especially for us, and gave us all free newspapers to read with our morning coffee.

We explored Burford some, discovering a plaque at the church that said that King img744Henry VIII’s barber was from Burford and was buried here. The barber was an especially trusted person, as every day the barber would be holding a straight-edged razor to the neck of the king—which might make a king nervous, one would think.

img750The next day we arrived in Porth Penrhyn, experiencing the exotic spellings of place-names that img752one encounters in Wales. We pushed on to Fairbourne where Gisela had rented a house. Although we really didn’t img753have explicit directions as to where we would meet, this was a small town and we assumed it would be self-evident. Well, it wasn’t! We booked rooms at the main hotel in town, and soon Gisela showed up there looking for us. It turned out that we stayed at the hotel, because the rented house was not big enough to accommodate all of us. When we were all united, we celebrated with a beer!img781

img754img756We took our first trainride on the Fairbourne img757Railroad—an ‘out and back’ excursion. It was very small but charming. img774

The next day we all took a boat to Barmouth, which was across an inlet from Faribourne. The weather and scenery were beautiful!

 

img775Another ride img797on a railroad—this time the Ffestiniog from Porth Madog Harbor to Blaenau Ffestiniog. This img787is quite a famous one of the Little Trains. It runs for 14 miles each way.

img796

img837From here we could continue on to see the slate mines. There were piles of slate tailings from the mining industry from long ago.img843

img810Wolfie had a detailed map which allowed us to take a long hike to the Abergavenny Castle ruins, walking through sheep img803pastures, going over stiles, img815climbing over fences, etc. We continued on to St. Mary’s Priory, which was a country church img821built in the 13th century.

From here we came to Dolgellau Falls.

img859The town of Harlech and Harlach Castle were next on img858our ‘outing list.’ This is a huge castle, which we img865explored quite fully. There is a plaque in town, which explained that a more recent Lord Harlech had laid the stone of that house in 1908.img861

img873We explored Portmeirion, a bizarre town with elaborate img878Italianate architecture. It was created by a Welsh architect, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, who fulfilled a childhood dream of building a village “to my own fancy on my own chosen site.”

From there we drove on to view Mt. Snowdon, the img884highest point in Wales. The countryside was img885very beautiful; we took walks to view the ‘just opening’ rhododendrons that grow wild on the hills. The pinkish img801hue on some hills would become bright pink in a few days.

Then it was Tea Time in Snowdonia. We often stopped for tea on our travels through img886Wales.

img893One of our walks brought us to Gelert’s Grave. The legend was that in Beddgelert, Llywelyn the Great left his faithful hound, img892Gelert, to guard his infant son while he went hunting. When he returned he was horrified to see the cradle overturned, and Gelert covered in blood. Thinking that the dog had attacked his son, he slew the hound, only to then find his son unharmed under the overturned cradle. Nearby there was a dead wolf, which Gelert had killed to protect the child. Present day promoters of tourism had built a mound of stones with a plaque to commemorate this event.

img899That night the seven of us celebrated with a party at their rented house. Interestingly, we saw the sun setting in one direction and the full moon coming up in the other. Jeanne, Bob and I had brought a couple bottles of wine to the party, which we had bought at the hotel. They were soon gone, in spite of them being some of the worst bottles of wine that I have ever drunk. Still this seemed to img060be the only option in this little town for keeping the party going, so Gisela and Wolfgang made a run back over to the hotel to buy some more. We were dancing, singing, and having such a good time that we didn’t pay any attention to the quality of the wine!

img913Another excursion took us to the Hysbysrwydd, Siop and Parc. (Can you pronounce the name of this place? I can’t either!) From img916there we rode on the Welsh Hyland Railroad. These little trains are such fun to explore. They are mostly all run by volunteers, who give their time, expertise, andimg918 money to keep them going! Not far from here we encountered an accident that had just happened. A man had somehow run into the front of a shop!

img924Another castle—this time Caernarfon, the site of Prince Charles’ investiture as Prince of Wales in 1960. This is img922truly an impressive large castle with a lot of history.

 

img923

At this point our friends from Berlin departed for home, and Jeanne, Bob and I carried on alone.

img933Another train—the Snowdon Mountain Railroad—gave us a chance to admire the img958img927scenery hereabouts. From here we explored two towns—Tenby and then Swansea,which is really a city, with a little detour to see the Brecon Beacons.

 

img964

 

Another beautiful sight was Raglan Castle.  The size of these castles is overwhelming.  We img976img991also visited the second century Caerleon Roman Amphitheatre, or what was left of it.  What a pretty setting!

Our last Wales sight was Tintern Abbey, a img004ruined HUGE church from many centuries ago.  What ghosts must live here!

img018On the way back to London, we went a bit out of our way to see Winchester with its wonderful cathedral. (Remember the song, ‘Winchester Cathedral’?) Inside the img013cathedral we discovered Jane Austen’s grave—she died in 1817, and further down the street was a house where she had lived her last days.

img030On to the London airport. While we were waiting to board our plane, we were delayed a bit while members of the British Royal Family (Princess Alexandra, I think) were being met and greeted. They were whisked away in a fancy car with flags flying. And soon we were jetting back across the Atlantic and home.

Posted in 1985, Wales | Leave a comment

Puerto Rico, April, 1985

img062My colleague, Jim Rice, invited me to join him in speaking to the Puerto Rico Hospital Association in April, 1985. We flew to San Juan, and attended the two-day meeting. Jim returned home after the meeting, but I stayed on a week and drove around the island after spending some days in San Juan.

I checked into an historic hotel, the Gran Hotel El Convento, which, of course, was a img063former convent. It was so enjoyable and fit in so well with the surroundings of Old San Juan, with it’s pastel-colored buildings from past centuries.

 

 

img160img094El Morro Fort was one of the main tourist sights and because of the windy April weather, img083there were many people building and flying kites. These kites were not the kind I was used to seeing—they were gigantic! They were made with long bamboo polls covered with light cloth, and yes, they managed to get them airborne!

 

img085El Morro dates back to 1539 and is said to be the oldest fort in the New World. Some of the walls are 140 feet high, and 15 feet thick. The lighthouse has operated since 1846, making it the oldest operating light house on the island. Just below the fort is the Cemetery of San Juan.

img095

I set out to drive to the west side of the island, to Mayaguez, a town where one of the hospital administration participants at the hospital association meeting worked as the administrator. It was a beautiful drive, offering a surprising variety of landscapes.

 

img097img101I had lunch with him, then went on my way to Ponce.

img102There is a startling retired fire station, now a tourist information center there, with red and black stripes img123called Parque de Bombas. img125Near there was the Museo de Arte de Ponce, whch I wanted to see as there was a famous painting displayed there called “Flaming Jane,” by Frederic Lord Leighton. I looked and looked for it, finally giving up on finding it. I set out from there to visit El Yunque, the Carribbean National Forest, but got so twisted up on the back roads, that by nightfall, a big surprise to me—there was the Parque de Bombas again. I had inadvertently returned to my starting point! So the next morning, I did find and visit the Museo de Arte de Ponce, and “Flaming Jane.” It was well worth it—a very dramatic painting, that I’m very glad that I saw.img124

img140Back through El Yunque and through muchimg112 beautiful foliage, I wended my way back to San Juan.   A wonderful island and a lovely, img196but short visit.

Posted in 1985, Puerto Rico | Leave a comment

#4 (final) Oaxaca, Mexico, April 1, 2014

DSC02454Donna and I walked downtown at dusk and saw the Alameda and the Zocalo teeming with people. The Cathedral looked so majestic at night, even though balloon sellers were everywhere in front of it! We decided to eat at one of the top restaurants in Oaxaca, El Asador Vasco. We were seated at the railing on the second floor, overlooking the Zocalo. What a lovely view,DSC02453 although quite noisy. There were competing musical groups that would lie in wait for the other group to finish the last note, when they would hold forth. Interestingly, the musicians, especially the marimba players, are not very skilled, compared to my experience in times past. We have heard several marimba duos, and they have all been poor.DSC02460


DSC02461Early the next morning (our strategy for avoiding the HOT afternoon sun) we taxied out to Monte Alban. It is a Zapotec site, first occupied about 500 BCE. The mountain was leveled and houses were built as early as 300 BCE; however what we see now was mostly built between 300 to 700 AD, Monte Alban’s heyday. At that time, the population was about 25,000. The site was abandoned between 700 and 950 AD.DSC02530

The site is really big; we started at the Ball Court, that ubiquitous structure of most all of these sites. We went down a stairway (they have thoughtfully installed hand rails!) and came to the Gran Plaza, that huge expanse ringed by many pyramids and palaces. These people had developed glyphs, which were a written form of DSC02478communication. The dot and bar system of hieroglyphs probably means that these were the first people in Mexico to have a form of writing. There are a few faint glyphs visible on the site.

There were also about 170 tombs that have been discovered. I snaked down to the door of one, which wasn’t very deep. Some of the skulls from these tombs show that they had been drilled with holes, a treatment still used to relieve pressure from bleeding within the skull.

Some of the buildings had glyphs/pictures on them, which are records of their conquests.DSC02492 No doubt they were pretty blood thirsty, mutilating their prisoners of war as shown on a series of ‘pictures’ called ‘Danzantes’ DSC02499(Dancers) because they appear to be dancing. Later study showed that they were not ‘dancing’ but had been mutilated.

The site is quite high (1300 feet above the valley floor) which I could tell as we drove up the hill from Oaxaca—my ears were popping. Clearly they had a good 360-degree view to anticipate their enemies coming. I climbed up the Southern Platform (permitted—there is even a handrail) and got a good DSC02484view of the entire city. Imagine what it looked like when the temples and palaces were still on top of these foundations that we see here.  DSC02513

Having seen most of the highlights, we taxied back into the city to have breakfast, after which, we went to see a low-key photographic museum.

Friday we were planning to taxi to the village of Ocotlán to see their weekly market. DSC02549Donna didn’t feel quite well, so I went alone. The large plaza was covered with market booths; additionally there was a regular market building adjacent to the DSC02542plaza. There was also an attractive church that had a museum in the ex-convent. The museum had been assembled by an artist named Rudolfo Morelos, whose works here DSC02577were pictures on DSC02578columns. In this town the Aguilar sisters were renowned for their pottery statues of people. There were many pieces from their workshops in this museum.

The most fun was the poultry area where people brought DSC02574live chickens, turkeys, and chicks to sell. Some of the turkeys were huge! I wound up buying a straw hat, some flowers for our living room, and some lettuce.

On the way back to Oaxaca I asked the driver to stop in San Bartolo Coyotepec, a village that is famous for its black pottery. I had bought some pieces in a market in Oaxaca DSC02595(now to get them home without breaking them!) and was interested to see that in the town, the church was surrounded by a stone and iron fence. Each stone pillar had a black round vase atop it that today anyway, contained fresh flowers. There was a mass going on—maybe a wedding or a funeral—and a big food tent had been set up next to the church.

The pottery is black because of iron oxide in
the clay hereabouts, and because of smoke DSC02589trapped in the kiln. A very famous woman, Dona Rosa Real Mateo, invented the method of making this pottery using two saucers, functioning as a rudimentary potter’s wheel. The pottery is burnished with quartz stones, that gives it its special sheen.

DSC02602Donna and I had a superb dinner one day at Casa Oaxaca El Restaurante. It started with the waiter mixing our salsa (tomato or tomatillo?—we could choose) tableside in a mocajete. This was followed by the BEST large blue-corn crisp tortilla with cheese; Donna had soup and shrimp; I had salad and goat. The whole thing was wonderful, and we are regretting that we don’t have enough days left to eat out in enough places!

The next morning we had our breakfast in Itanoní, a place DSC02603that uses Oaxaca native corn for their hand made tortillas. Unfortunately my dish had been rushed (the fat not hot enough when she fried the tortilla) so it was a bit disappointing. I did try the ‘atole,’ a chocolate-flavored corn gruel drink.

Saturday night Donna and I hosted a cocktail party for six guests. They were Anthony and DSC02606his wife, Sandy (our landlord), John and Louise from second floor of our building; Fred, from first floor, and Gail, my LP Thornetree friend. Sandy had to leave early, as she had to drive her 14-year-old daughter on her first date! To tell the truth, one of
our motivators for having the party was that we had bought too much booze, and had a variety of drinks to serve. Luckily they chose different ones, as we didn’t have that much of each! Donna made great deviled eggs and I made small tostadas—three kinds—chicken with cheese and salsa; mole with crumbly cheese; and black bean with lettuce, tomato and avocado. I thought I had prepared a lot, but in the middle, I fried 40 more tortilla-quarters and made more of the same. Fred brought a wonderful pineapple and mango dish, Gail brought beer, and John and Louise brought Oaxaca Chocolates. We all had a lot of fun!DSC02614


At the party, Gail pointed out that on top of the mountain across the city from us, we can see Monte Alban! It appears as two ‘lumps’ on the top of the mountain, which are the South and North Platforms. In subsequent days, I couldn’t stop looking at them!DSC02617

DSC02645Another dinner at Casa Oaxaca El Restaurant on our last night made a suitable capstone on our trip. We had a lovely table on a second-floor veranda overlooking the Santo Domingo Church.

The next morning we heard our last squawks from our neighborhood peacock! That bird would emit the loudest, most piercing cries, starting about 3:00 AM. He lived on a rooftop of a house very near ours.DSC02640 But it only added to the cacophony of lots of dogs barking, sirens screaming, cats howling, and car horns honking. One has to be able to sleep through lots of noise in Oaxaca—and we did! Oaxaca has now made it onto my ‘short list’ of towns where I may want to spend a few months at a time, when I feel I can no longer jump on a bus every day. It, and the surrounding area, is a very special place to visit.

Posted in 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico | 3 Comments

#3, Oaxaca, Mexico, Mar. 25, 2014

What a nice day. I bought fresh tortillas from the tortillaria about six blocks from our DSC02254DSC02238apartment and Donna made a wonderful breakfast of scrambled eggs and all the trimmings that we rolled into the tortillas and ate with gusto! Then we walked about a mile to the Basilica de La Soledad, which was rich, huge and beautiful. We learned that the Vergin DSC02252
de La Soledad had been robbed of her two-kilogram gold crown, a large pearl and many diamonds in the ‘90s! We were able to compare her with pictures of what things looked like formerly.

From there we looked for a couple of religious stores as Donna was asked by her DSC02260daughter-in-law to bring an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on cloth. We weren’t able to find the right thing so we continued on to the Textile Museum of Oaxaca. We had one positive recommendation and one negative. Luckily for us we agreed with the positive recommendation. What interesting works of art! They were textiles, all right, but what imagination! Some had led lights
built in. It was definitely one of the most interesting museums that we have seen here.DSC02258

A beer on the zocalo refreshed us before we took a taxi to a supermarket where we were able to find Cointreau’s First Cousin, called ‘Controy,’ an orange liquer. When we got home we threw ourselves into making REAL Margaritas, and they really were great! Finally! The Controy label on the bottle imitates Contreau—a rip-off, but a good one!

A couple of corrections to make from my last email—-I had the dishes we ate in the market backwards. The Mexican pizza is a tlayuda and the corn fungus one is huitlocoche. (Thanks, Naomi!) Then I’m told that all orange tiger-striped cats are males, so I should have been calling it a ‘him.’ (Thanks, Carolyn!)

DSC02263The Templo y Convento del Carmen Alto is a very old DSC02265church in Oaxaca, especially the south doorway. An unusual side chapel to Santa Teresita had a sun-like altar, maybe to attract the indigenous people.

Moving on down the street, we came to a couple of street food stands. We thought the food looked really good, so we are planning to return here for breakfast some morning.DSC02267

Next on this street we visited the Salanueva home where Benito Juarez found DSC02269sponsorship when he first came to Oaxaca, working in their bookbindery. The early 19th C. house is furnished in typical middle-class fashion, and the bookbindery has been preserved as are many pictures and papers relating to Juarez. Donna and I viewed a video on his life, but had trouble understanding the Spanish. He came to Oaxaca searching for his sister, who was a DSC02272maid in the Meza household. He eventually married one of the Meza daughters—decidedly ‘marrying up,’ but of course he became President of Mexico so it turned out that she ‘married up!’

The next day we had breakfast at a food stand in our neighborhood. Memelas made of tortillas that the cook made in the stand DSC02276
were cooked on a grill, covered with asiento (pork lard with bits of chitlins) and cheese, a tasty breakfast, (our poor arteries!).DSC02273

 

 

 

We taxied on to the Mercado Abastos, the largest market that I’ve ever been in. It sells all kinds of food—meat, chickens, live turkeys, rabbits, and ducks, produce of all kinds, beans, squash blossoms, ready-made moles of different persuasions; it has restaurants, clothing, household items, artesania items like tablecloths, embroidery and pottery; it has furniture, tools, straw hats (I bought one) and every other thing you can think of. We asked directions to the artisania rugs, but couldn’t ever find them before we were completely exhausted mentally and physically. I hadn’t brought my camera (a rare event) as the market is known for its thieves. Still, I may have to go back later with my camera as it is really a sight to behold!

DSC02277Another breakfast we made at home was ‘Huevos Divorciados’ (divorced eggs) with beans. The eggs are ‘divorced’ because one has red sauce and one has green sauce. That day I met Gail for a DSC02278comida but Donna stayed quietly at home as she was not feeling up to par. Gail and I went to El Quinque, a lovely modest restaurant where we had the comida of soup, enchiladas, DSC02281salad, and guava juice. On the way home I passed by Los Arquitos, the remnant of an old 18th C. aquaduct that they used to bring water into the city from a mountain spring.

The cat is back! He visited us one night—the landlord said that he would put up a barrier to his path into our house. No big deal—he disappears soon after he comes in, in the middle of the night!

Our wifi is also on the fritz. It works intermittently. The landlord tried to get some action from the local wifi provider, but that’s not so easy to do here.

There is a big demonstration again by the teachers’ union here in Oaxaca. According to our landlord, the government is trying to reform teachers’ practices of buying certificates and also giving them to a daughter or son if a parent (teacher) retires. The government wants a competency exam as a prelude to being able to teach, but the union is resisting this. The union has 70,000 members so has lots of political power. I would be curious to hear the teachers’ side of things.

Donna had seen an article in the NYTimes telling about a micro-loan program in Oaxaca for women living in the villages around Oaxaca. Saturday we went on their tour. The DSC02290money we paid for the tour ($50 each) supports 85% of the money used for loans to micro businesswomen (15% is donations). The village is asked by the Fúndacion En Via people (mostly volunteers) if they would like this programDSC02302 to come to their village. If so, En Via advises women who would like loans to join into groups of three. This offers support to each woman DSC02295and keeps the payback rate at 99%. They are presently working with seven villages, and plan to expand this enterprise to more villages. The women are required to take several one-hour business classes before getting a loan.

DSC02328DSC02332The first loan is about $100; if successfully paid back, the next is for $200, and the next for $300. These are interest-free loans. If they want to continue building their business they can take more loans at 30% interest, which is the rate the Grameen Bank (that started micro-loans inDSC02331 Bangladesh) charges.

The tour took nine of us plus two volunteers in a van to two villages where we visited with five women. The businesses were a grocery store, a clothing store, and chickens in the first village of Diaz Ordaz, and in the town of Teotitlan, where everybody knows how to weave and does, DSC02349we visited a weaving business and another chicken business. Additionally one of the women’s daughter-in-law makes piñatas, DSC02341and will probably apply for a loan in the future to expand this idea. The women gave a short presentation and then were peppered with questions. They were very proud of their businesses and very hospitable to us.

DSC02350At the end of the tour we had lunch (included in the price) in Teotitlan at a restaurant with weaving that is owned by one of their loanees. We also visited the interesting church in that village. The church site had housed a Zapotec Temple before the Spaniards razed it and built a
church on top. There are stones from the
old temple incorporated into the church. One of the women spoke Zapotec, and,
when asked, made her presentation in DSC02362Zapotec so we could hear it. She said that her three children understand some, but really don’t speak it fluently. That’s the way with family languages, I think. BUT, she said she was teaching it to her two-year-old granddaughter. One woman made her presentation in rather good English! How did she learn it in that tiny village?

DSC02366On Sunday Donna and I went to the Museo de Arte Contemporáno, in a pretty old house. The art didn’t particular thrill us, but it was a pleasant outing as we ended it with a lovely dinner at Hosteria del Alcala, again in a lovely courtyard of an 18th C. house.

 

DSC02371

 

On the way home we negotiated with the taxi driver to take us on an excursion the next day. Unfortunately our taxi didn’t turn up at 8:00 AM, the appointed time. After waiting 15 minutes, we grabbed a cab that happened by, who was willing to take us on our excursion.

DSC02373Off we went, first to Yagul, an archeological site that Donna and I had never seen. The ball court is supposed to be one of the largest in Mexico, although it doesn’t seem
like that to me; the ‘Palaces’ are extensive—I could barely find my way through that labyrinth;DSC02395

 


DSC02381there are many tombs, now empty; and a statue has been called a DSC02405
jaguar, and a frog. I think it looks more like a frog, but I suppose a ‘jaguar’ is more
dramatic! Most of what is visible today was built about 750 AD. At that time it was a leading settlement in the Valles Centrales around Oaxaca.

DSC02409After about an hour we pushed on to Mitla,DSC02412DSC02415
another archeological site. Mitla is quite unique in that it has wonderful geometric patterns in all its buildings that were made DSC02410form small stones. It was made by the Zapotecs, as was Yagul and many other sites, but someone clearly had some interesting and unusual ideas.

When the Spaniards came, they razed one temple and built a big church on those foundations, which still operates today. While we were there, a profusion of bell- ringings sounded over the valley, which was quite dramatic. This church, La Iglesia de San Pablo, seems to fit into the site and embellishes it, rather than detracting from it.
DSC02406The Zapotec Mitla buildings are beautiful; there are many, many panels of different geometric patterns.

DSC02448A most remarkable sight awaited us on our last stop of the morning. We went to the small village of Tule to see the ‘Tule Tree.’ It is a type of cypress, called ‘ahuehuete’ and is between 2,000 and 3,000 years old! I had seen it years ago, but now, of course, it is fenced off to protect it. The circumference of the trunk is 58 meters (about 188 feet) and the height is 42 meters (about 136 feet), truly astonishing! It towers over the pretty, little 17th C. church in its churchyard, and now one pays 10 pesos to see it!DSC02445

That was our last stop for the morning and we got back home about 12:30 before the strong heat of the day. We are noticing that the last few days are really getting hotter than earlier; should I be complaining after hearing about Minnesota’s winter???

Posted in 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico | Leave a comment

#2 Oaxaca, Mexico, Mar. 16, 2014

DSC01874We did manage to finish up the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca on a second visit. It is certainly a great museum. The funeral DSC01804figures are the most fun to photograph. This time we did rent English audio devices, but discovered that the information DSC01807was too general and quite boring. It was more fun just to look and look. Afterward, again we headed to the Zocalo to have a beer under the Portales and escape the few drips of rain that cooled us off. On the way we stopped in a Mexcal shop and bought a bottle. This is the most popular local drink, which is made out of agave cactus.

Living on this street is interesting. Throughout the day there are vendors that call out certain words or ring a certain bell. Of course we don’t know the codes! We were running low on drinking water when one morning I heard a couple of vendors. I stuck my head out of the window and a man saw me and called “Agua?” I called, “Si,” and two men brought up two huge bottles (up all three flights), lifted one and placed it in the dispenser, and for two empties and 34 pesos, the transaction was done. (34 pesos = $2.50). The garbage truck comes DSC01869every day, preceded by a man banging a wrench on a pan. Then people come out of their houses with the garbage and hand it up to two men in the truck. I notice they sort it, putting aside plastic bottles, and putting any treasures they find in three sacks that hang on the back of the truck. Other vendors seem to be selling propane gas, and I don’t know what.

Sunday at 4:30 we lined up for tickets at the DSC01898Teatro Macadonio Alcalá, an early 20th century theatre, to see a Russian ballet from St. Petersberg. We were in luck, and at 5:00 DSC01979we were treated to “Swan Lake,” without live orchestra, but very enjoyable. The stars were marvelous, the Corps de Ballet, less so. Still, we liked being in the crowd and seeing the theatre as well as the lovely DSC01940ballet.

One morning we walked, and then took a city bus, to the Mercado de Artesanias. Donna DSC01993and I each bought a hand-woven tablecloth. With so many beautiful things on display, it’s hard not to buy stuff! I photographed this woman in the market; the next morning I met her in my neighborhood, probably heading a mile away to the DSC01998Mercado de Artesanias. Right near the Mercado Juarez (the big central market) we stopped in to see the Iglesia de San Juan de Dios. This is a real working-man’s church.

DSC02048The Rufino Tamayo Museum is in a beautifully restored 17th C. house that had been demolished by an earthquake. DSC02020Tamayo, an internationally known artist from Oaxaca, had begun collecting artifacts from the Pre-DSC02017Classic Period (1200 BC to 200 AD) in the ‘50s. In 1974 he restored the house and donated his collection to be displayed in it to DSC02031the city of Oaxaca. Each piece is a treasure and it took forever for us to get through this small museum!

I get so fatigued in museums—I guess it takes a lot of energy to look closely at so many wonderful things. We went home by taxi but then took on our demanding recipe of Tamales de Mole DSC02051Negro. These are made by wrapping them in banana leaves and steaming them for 1½ hours. The problems were that we didn’t have a regular beater, which we needed to incorporate the lard into the masa along with the stock; and our pot in which to steam the tamales wasn’t really big enough. I was anticipating a debacle, but wonder of wonders, they turned out very well! Luckily we have about three more meals of these in the freezer—they are a lot of work. The night before we had made Chiles Rellenos Oaxaqueños with Picadillo, which are also a lot of work. Luckily we now have quite a few leftovers.DSC01999

Our street has many treasures. Just a few feet from our apartment is a purple and orange house, which has a religious shrine next to it. The other day when we walked past, several young men were drinking beer and painting the shrine. There were also flowers in front when we returned. I gather that the shrine-person lived in this house and was being remembered on this day.

DSC02066Donna and I spent some time around the Zocalo on Thursday, enjoying a Bohemia beer. We chatted with the man who rents the apartment on the first floor of our building who introduced himself as he had seen us walking near the apartment.DSC02052

Benito Juarez was the only indigenous president that Mexico ever had. We visited the church, Templo de Felipe Neri, where Benito Juarez and Margarita were married in 1843. Margarita was the daughter of the man that sponsored Juarez when he first came to Qaxaca. We also visited the Palacio with its Bustos murals about the history of Oaxaca, which clearly pictured Juarez. The murals also featured Sor Juana Inez DSC02068DSC02069de la Cruz, a 17th C. nun that is a hero of mine. We rounded DSC01748things out with a visit to the Oaxaca Cathedral, a huge 17th C. building with beautiful carvings on the façade.

DSC02078Friday we started our day with Huevos Motuleños before visiting the Cultural Center, where Donna spent a month in Spanish Class in 2002. We made reservations for a tour next week to support a women’s enterprise, which will take us to two villages where they have businesses. The Amate Bookstore—the best in all of Mexico—was also fun to visit. That evening we attended a DSC02085Guelaguetza show at the Camino Real Hotel. While this is a version put on for tourists, it is quite authentic. Each July the DSC02142many surrounding villages do their traditional dances wearing their native clothes for a big extravaganza in Oaxaca. This ‘hotel’ version included a nice buffet and eight of the village dances. We enjoyed the other people at our table, which included a Mexican couple (we sang Happy Birthday to her), a French woman and a young Japanese woman. The buffet featured three Oaxacan moles, along with many other traditional dishes. The setting was an ancient chapel that is part of the hotel.DSC02115

DSC02219Yesterday we visited the Belber-Jimenez Museum, which features pre-Hispanic jewelry, DSC02227post-Conquest jewelry and 20th century jewelry. Additionally there were classic huipiles, rugs and serapes. One lovely piece had been given to Frida Kahlo by Diego Rivera. The jewelry was exquisite!

We have had a visitor in the middle of the night!  About a week ago one morning we noticed that one of the big flower pots on our living room floor had been dug into and dirt scattered on the floor, as though a cat had been there.  It seemed unlikely since we are on the third floor and it didn’t seem to us that a cat could come through the open windows.  Nothing more happened for a few days and then it happened again, to the matching pot at the other end of our living room.  I asked the landlord about it, and he said that it was a cat that comes in through the windows.  DSC02228We thought maybe if we closed the bottom windows, but left the top ones open, which we like to do for fresh air, that it couldn’t get in.  Nothing further for a few days—but then one night I was not sleeping so I got up to go on the computer and as I glanced through the window, I saw a cat!  I grabbed my camera and with a flash picture caught the villain!  She didn’t come in as we had the bottom windows closed, but she eyed the flowerpot.  What a cute cat!

Sunday we met a new friend, Gail, by the Merced Market.  Gail writes on the Lonely DSC02229Planet Thorne Tree, as do I, and mutual writer ‘friends’ had called attention to the fact that we were both in Oaxaca at the moment.  We emailed and then met for brunch today.  Since Gail has spent several winters in Oaxaca, she was a font of information about the town, which she most graciously shared with us.  We started with interesting, good food at a little restaurant in the Merced market.  A small tlayuda (tortilla with black corn fungus) and a huitlocoche (kind of a Mexican pizza) with Mexican hot chocolate and fresh squeezed orange juice made a wonderful brunch.  On the way to the Zocalo, Gail pointed out many things of interest.  Once under the Portales with a beer at the Zocalo, we listened to a very good Sunday band concert.  They played classical music and show tunes.  I would like to have heard them in a hall as they were a wonderful band.  I did notice, however, that only two of the players were women—a piccolo player and a bassoon player. DSC02233

A Martini followed by some wonderful soup that Donna made finished off our day.  There are so many things left to see and do in and around Oaxaca that it will be hard to pack it all into the time we have left!  Still, we’re enjoying it hugely.

Posted in 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico | Leave a comment

#1 Oaxaca, Mexico, Mar. 8, 2014

Donna and I flew to Oaxaca, Mexico and took possession of our rented apartment for the month of March. The apartment has a lovely view (day and night), and is very roomy with DSC01698two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The kitchen is more than adequate for our DSC01694cooking adventures. On a typical day we have a big breakfast about 9:30, such as huevos con DSC01697chorizo (eggs with Mexican sausage), with beans and fruit, which we enjoy in our dining area. At 4:00 we have cocktails in our rooftop gazebo, and then have dinner—quesadillas, or chicken in peanut sauce, or picadillo, etc. We brought my sister’s BIG Diana Kennedy Oaxaca cookbook, but haven’t started our research on the Oaxaca chiles yet, which seem to be quite daunting. So we’re starting out quite easy with dishes that we’ve made a million times.

DSC01679The first morning we made a trip to the market and ate breakfast at a most charming restaurant called ‘La Raña’ (the Frog) with excellent food and beautiful décor. We followed this with a long trek through the market buying various DSC01769provisions for our cooking. Then we taxied to the supermarket to buy a few cans of things, and other supplies that we couldn’t find in the market, such as gin and olives. The good news about this third floor apartment is that it has a colossal view; the bad news is that we have to carry our groceries up three long flights of stairs.

Another day we made the mostly downhill walk about eight blocks to the Church of Santo Domingo. On the way we enjoyed the street art on our street—DSC01702Panoramica del Fortin. When we arrived at the Plaza Santo Domingo there was a band playing, apparently for the five-day fiesta that is going on.

DSC01732DSC01737DSC01733The church is spectacular—built in 1570, its interior is covered with three-dimensional ornate gold curlicues and saints; it’s huge and these DSC01757decorations go on forever! After our necks were fully cricked from looking, we continued on for four more blocks to the Zocalo, the plaza that is at the heart of the city. We had a much-needed beer under the portales, watched DSC01750two marimba players, and then taxied home.

That evening we again walked to the Santo Domingo Church to see it during an evening Mass when it would be ‘lit up.’ Actually the lights were not very bright so it didn’t photograph well, so we walked down to the Zocalo again, which was really busy—Oaxaca’s living room! Again there were men playing two large marimbas, and many people dancing. I think this is part of a five-day fiesta that is in progress.

When we met our landlord, he mentioned to us that the Mexican singer, Lila Downs, her DSC01761husband and four-year-old child live about 50 feet away from our apartment in a large house that also houses their coffee shop. Lila Downs is quite a successful singer who sang in the movie, “Frida” several years ago. Since then she tours quite often in the USA and, of course, in Mexico. AND my daughter and son-in-law, Cookie and Ulises, are good friends of theirs. Donna and I had a cappuccino at the coffee shop yesterday morning, preparing to introduce ourselves, but alas, Lila and her husband are touring, so not at home. Additionally, Donna happened to mention a few days earlier (before this all came up) that Lila Downs was performing many years ago when she visited Oaxaca—small world!

DSC01771Another jaunt to the market to buy fresh produce (papaya, mangos, salad fixings, tomatoes, etc.) gave us our exercise. We also got fresh tortillas from the tortillaria. They were still so warm that they almost burned my arm as I carried them as I couldn’t put them in the shopping bag with the produce. We also bought some Oaxacan Mole Negro, which we had that evening on tortilla chips with a little cheese.

Time passes! Things change! The original Margarita recipe has always been lime juice, Cointreau, and tequila in 1-2-3 proportions. In the USA, this got modified to something else that was quite sweet and made with lots of shaved ice. I was so looking forward to a REAL Margarita here. Well, Cointreau is a thing of the past. We asked in at least six liquor shops and not only did they not have it, they didn’t know what we were talking about!! We also looked for Triple Sec (another orange liqueur, which one can use in place of Cointreau) but no dice! Time passes! Things change!

Friday we cooked a really good breakfast of Huevos con Flor de Calabaza (eggs with DSC01774squash blossoms) and then walked to Santo Domingo Church to DSC01776tackle the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca. This is a wonderful museum of pre-Colombian history of the area up to the present day. The displays were breathtaking, DSC01813DSC01821especially the highlight which was the treasures of Tomb Seven of Monte Alban, a city that was flourishing from 500 BCE. The funeral DSC01797statues, the gold DSC01818ornaments and the jewelry were wonderful to see. We didn’t nearly finish looking at the museum, but will return for another foray, another day. It is all displayed in the Santo Domingo Convent, which is even bigger than the church. They have done a marvelous job of displaying not only the treasures, but the convent as well.

The many interesting funeral statues were intricate and compelling. We toured the ancient library and saw  beautiful decorations of the convent that have been preserved.DSC01780

In back of the convent is the Jardín Etnobotánico, a huge garden of local plants, especially cactus. This garden has only been growing DSC01790since the mid-‘90s but makes a beautiful sight from the convent windows, especially with the lovely mountain backdrop. Finally when the sundial on the convent roof pointed to 2:00, we headed for home in a taxi. I have been fighting a cold, so we have been taking it pretty easy.

Next week we’ll probably switch into higher gear, both with our cooking and our sight-seeing. Still we are partaking of OAXACA and loving it!

Posted in 2014, Oaxaca, Mexico | Leave a comment

#7 (final) Colombia, Feb. 16, 2014

Well, another challenging bus trip. This one wasn’t so dangerous, but it took six hours to go 80 miles. I had a nice seatmate, Jonas from Germany, so the time went pretty fast with our visiting.

DSC01431I arrived in San Augustin, a small town with many archeological sites around it. I stayed at a hostal that made its own cheese, yoghurt, etc., as the owner is from Switzerland. It’s in a very pretty mountainous area, although that made problems about going up and down. I was in a six-person dorm with a thatched roof. Mosquito nets were provided, although I did not encounter any/many mosquitoes.

First off I went to the Parque Arqueológico, which has a collection of statues and tombs, DSC01339some of which were on this site, and some of which have been moved here. They are from the 1st to 10th C., for the most part, although there is evidence that people had settled in this area way before that. The Fuente de Lavapatas was especially interesting, as a complex of baths showing reptiles, lizards and human figures, thought to have been used for ritual ablutions. Looking off site, the mountains with their DSC01380interesting and beautiful flora made a spectacular setting for these figures. To be sure, they don’t compare with the Mayan figures in the artistic sense, but still they were fun to see, and to contemplate what the artists had in mind.

I heard from my friend, Val, who had Skyped with her sisters-in-law who live in DSC01397Medellin to ask them if arepa were really made of yucca, as I had said, as Val thought they were made of corn—she lived here many years ago. Well, the answer was that different parts of the country use yucca or white corn or yellow corn, so all is correct!

An excursion by jeep took me and six other tourists all over the area for a long day. We DSC01466stopped at a sugar cane processing place, then went on to explore two big DSC01470archeological sites. These sites resemble the Parque that I had already seen, with tombs lined DSC01487with huge rocks, and heavy dolmans topping side rocks around statues guards. One of these was purported to be a pregnant woman—DSC01532I’m glad it was pointed out as I’m not sure I would have spotted that!

A couple of waterfalls (one said DSC01519to be the highest in South America) and some pretty birds DSC01508along with the glorious mountain scenery added a lot to the day. The group was fun—two Russian girls-Didia, and Paulina, one Polish girl living in Ireland-DSC01442Dorota, Jonas, from Germany, Joerg, from Switzerland, Ron, from California and me. We got back to the hostal about 6:00 PM—a long day, but nice!

The following morning, five of the six people in the dorm were rising early to catch early buses. It was still dark and we were on split second timing with the bathroom, when the electricity went out while a Dutch girl was showering and I was dressing. Luckily it didn’t stay off too long. By 6:30 we were all ready to go, Jonas and I to catch a 7:00 bus to Neiva, from which he would go on to Medellin and I would go on to Villaviaja; the Dutch girls were going to Ecuador and Dorota was going—elsewhere, I can’t remember where.

It was a very nice bus ride with beautiful mountain scenery and good roads, for the most part. We arrived at noon and I quickly caught my van to Villaviaja, a small town located in the ‘desert.’ I guess it’s not really a desert, technically, but if it walks like a duck—–.

DSC01547I stayed in a new spiffy hotel with a pool, which I enjoyed as it was very hot there, although it was quite a struggle getting out. DSC01548 4I arranged to have a motorcycle taxi take me out to the visitor’s center at 5:30 PM to catch the last of the afternoon sun, and to watch the sunset. At DSC015617:00 I could walk across the road to the observatory and listen/participate in a DSC01574lecture on astronomy. Unfortunately it turned out that the lecturer only spoke Spanish, and while I can say a few things in Spaish, following an astronomical lecture DSC01578was difficult. Still, (we were about 18 people) we got to look through three telescopes and see the moon (and photograph it), Jupiter, that had DSC01563two bands across it, and other stars like Beetle Juice. Even though I missed a lot of DSC01582the info, it was still fun. The motorcycle taxi came for me as arranged at 9:00 PM. It was sort of like a tuk-tuk, but home made and bigger. As we jounced across the cattle barriers—many of them—my teeth really got to rattling.

The next morning I got an early van into Neiva and then the bus to Bogota. Because of a mix-up, I didn’t get to stay in ‘my’ hostal, which I liked so much, but stayed in its sister hostal nearby. That evening I had a lovely last dinner in Colombia—good pasta and a half bottle of good Chilean wine.

Next morning I had to have another look at the Botero Museum. And then another look DSC01607at the Museum del Oro—I probably won’t DSC01612be here again any time soon, so I shall try to store those images in my brain.

What a treat later that day! I was invited to lunch with an old friend that I hadn’t seen in 10 years. We spent our time together catching up on all our doings. I managed to take the Transmilenio bus to her apartment, and her friend’s driver drove me back to my hostal.

Then I tried to check in for my flight home for the next day, but it said I have to talk to an agent at the airport. Well, I again took the Transmilenio bus and then another bus to the airport on Saturday, and got home at midnight. Now it’s Sunday morning, Feb. 16th and I’m HOME! It was a good trip, but it’s always nice to get home and sleep in your own bed.

Until next time—-

Posted in 2014, Colombia | 2 Comments