Saturday, December 29, 2012
Ahhh, to be back home again, in my “hood”, mi barrio. Every Mexican city has a Centro Historico, an old town, and ours is most special. It’s a place I’m proud to call home.
Our Centro, like others across Mexico, boasts a beautiful cathedral, a lively open air market, a bustling commercial district, government offices, a lovely plaza (in our case, a few lovely plazas), and many mobile carts for a wide variety of good eats from ice cream to tacos.
Mazatlan’s Centro also has a picturesque waterfront area. Our local beach is called Olas Altas (high waves), but the coastline extends out and around from this little beach to spark one’s imagination for a lifetime. We have viewpoints that attract the local lovers on weekends, a lighthouse path that beckons exercise enthusiasts on a daily basis, and a wide malecon (waterfront sidewalk area) for walkers, bicyclists, skateboarders, roller bladers, dog walkers, and sunset watchers.
Plazuela Machado, two blocks from our home, boasts the Angela Peralta Theater which brings in world class entertainment on a regular basis. Next to the theater is the art school for music, dance, visual arts. Around the perimeter of the Machado are wonderful restaurants, and within this peaceful plaza are benches for resting, for chatting, for watching the world go by. It’s our nightly walk, evening entertainment, a place to greet and socialize with neighbors, or listen to some amazing music. Other local plazas within Centro have their own unique charm: Plaza Liones sits next to the local Mexican library, Plaza Republica is adjacent to the cathedral, and Plaza Zaragosa is home to the Thursday night dance invitational and Saturday’s organic market.
The streets of our Centro Historico boast some magnificent old buildings, many restored as comfortable homes, bed and breakfasts, inviting restaurants, or interesting shops. It’s a walking town, a picturesque town, a friendly town, and again, a place I’m proud to call home.
Friday, December 14, 2012
After our final night in the United States, we awakened early for our morning border crossing in Nogales, Arizona. The previous night found us enjoying a recommended Mexican meal in this small border town, and doing last minute shopping for groceries that are hard to find in Mazatlan. The motel manager suggested we use the truck crossing which opened at 6am, so we followed his direction. We were first in line and waited in the early morning darkness as border guards, both U.S. and Mexican, arrived for their shift change. They waved us by at the first gate which put us on the road to the immigration office that all visitors must stop at in 21 kilometers. Still dark upon arrival at this checkpoint, we were happy to be the only ones there. It was as if the officials were more than helpful to us, just to stave off their boredom. We presented our passports, filled out papers, registered our car, and paid the necessary money for all of the above. Oh, and don’t forget the copies. I had to wake the man in the copy booth to make duplicates of all of our documents. I thought the tiny room was empty until I saw the glow of the electric heater; with a little tap on the window he got up off of his mat on the floor and graciously attended to me.
By this time the sun was up and we were able to take in the surroundings. There is nothing particularly visually outstanding about this northern part of the state of Sonora, but this bright blue welcoming sign was enough to make us feel right at home.Feliz viaje! Happy travels!
We were so happy to be in Mexico, heading towards our destination of Mazatlan. As with anything, it’s only natural to focus on the positives of something, someone, or someplace you haven’t seen for a while…and then reality hits. In this case, it was the huge amounts of trash along the side of highway 15. It’s such a distinct difference from the roadsides which for the most part are quite clean in the U.S. Our years of litter consciousness has instilled in all Americans (and Canadians) to take care of their garbage. And don’t forget the hefty fines for offenders. We have been well trained. But to me it seems that this concept is still in progress in Mexico. Not only are there copious amounts of trash on the roadsides, but it’s dirty and dusty trash! There are signs like this to encourage travelers, but sadly I think much of the problem is due not just from the vehicles, but from the local residents. And let’s not forget that the presence or absence of garbage cans does a lot to change this issue. As with anything, education makes a big difference, and we see many young Mexicans who are keenly aware of environmental issues, but some of the older generation still fall into their default mode of throwing their trash on the street.
In Mazatlan we have street sweepers, which are both a help and a hindrance. These low paid workers make their daily rounds keeping our streets clean, but sometimes I wonder if the locals feel they can toss their candy wrappers, etc. because someone will be by to sweep it up.
As they say here in Mexico “poco a poco” – little by little. That’s how change happens… at least that’s how it seems in the case of garbage awareness.
We pass through two Mexican states on our drive down Highway 15: Sonora and Sinaloa. This highway passes through some large towns (Hermosillo, Los Mochis, Culiacan, and others) and the link between these towns is either via a free road (libre) or the toll road (cuota). The cuotas are clean, fast, and relatively free of distractions like speed bumps, civilization, etc. (except for gas stations), and fast. The prices range from 30 to 100 pesos for each section ($2-$8 US) and collectively we pay somewhere around $80 US for the entire trip to Mazatlan. When you pay at the toll booth, you receive a little receipt that reportedly insures you for any damage you may encounter on that stretch of the road. Needless to say, we always use the cuotas.
All the along the cuotas, there are telephone booths for emergency calls. I didn’t really pay much attention to these until we were about two hours north of Mazatlan, in the state of Sinaloa. Every kilometer there not only was a telephone station but also this trio of cans, which was such a pleasant surprise after the reality of Mexico’s garbage issue confronted me yesterday. In my view, this is fantastic progress.
You also occasionally see the green government trucks that travel along the route to help stranded vehicles (known as "green angels”). We used them once about five years ago. We were driving north on a hot April day and got a flat tire. We changed it, continued driving another 30 minutes when another went flat. It wasn’t long before the green angel came to our rescue, drove me to the closest town where I bought two new tires (at an inflated price, of course) and returned me to Tom and our vehicle. Soon we were on the road again.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
We've been back in Mazatlan for almost 2 weeks now, and I have been busy with house cleaning, reaquainting myself with friends and neighbors, and finishing my journal pieces I began during our drive south. I produced at least one per day (minus the machine finishing and binding) and it was a great way to pass the time. I also became more aware of the landscape and signs along the way. I enjoyed it so much that I am continuing these little pieces... we'll see where that takes me.
Our Thanksgiving Day departure was well planned. We’d be up early, do our final bit of packing and put our little mobile home to rest for the winter. Two and half hours down the road a delicious meal was waiting for us at Mark and Michelle’s house (Tom’s niece). We’d also be breaking bread (and turkey, ham, stuffing, desserts, etc., etc., etc.,) with his sister Cathy and other family and friends.Our car was about as packed as our tummies would be later on in the day. Spike-dog had her little nest of blankets in the back, and I had my provisions surrounding me in the passenger seat: my purse with essentials, water, a few small snacks, and my sewing basket, so carefully prepared for the next five days.
The weather was cooperative. Not only were the roads dry but the sky was clear, and provided a brilliant backdrop to massive Mt. Shasta, which guided us down I-5.At one o’clock we pulled into Redding and joined our family for a lovely afternoon with an OUTDOOR Thanksgiving feast. There is no Gratitude Avenue there, but in my mind it’s the journey I take every day…grateful for the freedom to travel, to have wonderful family and friends, and good health to boot.
The Hispanic population is large along this path of I-5 that we were driving on our way to Mexico, but the last thing I expected to see this day was a major billboard along the side of the road near Sacramento that shouted out to me “Vive Hoy”. It somehow was a pre-greeting to our winter home in Mazatlan. How fitting this message (live today!) was to us as we journeyed south: notice the changing landscape, take pleasure in each other’s company, pause along the way to stretch and refresh.
We were happy to be traveling back to Mexico, where “vive hoy” seems to be more of the norm, rather than the underlying feelings of stress and pressure and fear of "whatever" north of the border.
A long day of driving brought us down I-5, then east to Bakersfield and on to the town of Mojave before dark set in. We were in the land of a barren landscape except for the abundance of wind machines along the hillsides and horizon line. We overnighted at pet-friendly Motel 6 and were up before dawn to get an early start for the next leg of our journey. We hoped to get as far as Tucson, or better yet Nogales, before sunset.
As the sun rose that day, we found ourselves on the Pearblossom Highway located within the Antelope Valley of California. This was another long, lonesome stretch within a stark desert setting, but one small patch of yucca trees caught my attention with their balls of spikey greenery growing out of the branches. The name of the highway evoked more than spikey orbs, and I was wondering where I might find delicate pearblossoms in a place like this. They never appeared, and the yuccas also disappeared into the quiet of the desert landscape as it leads into Arizona.
Soon to come: Part 3 - South of the border!